Search The Archive

Search form

Collection Search
Date: September 21st 1916
Brothers & Sister

Written by – Pte. W.H. Donnelly
#161308 C. Co.,
France, Sept 21 [1916]

My Dear Brothers & Sister

Here goes for a start upon a letter to you apart from dear old father and mother. I want to write you a good long one if possible have been longing for quite a while to do so, but could not find an opportunity.

You know that the old folks worry a lot, very naturally so, and that plain, bald facts from me would only tend to downhearten them when we would all prefer to cheer them up. Besides, things which the rest of you will take as natural sequence under existing circumstances and consider more matter-of-fact, they would not see in the same light.

Naturally you are anxious to receive more detailed news from me and I will find it a pleasure to give them to you if I can. But this letter is going to be a difficult one for me to write. And I may not succeed in finishing it tonight. But I hope to get it away soon and sincerely trust that I may succeed in making things clear and that you will not misconstrue my meanings.

I won't go into details now re our experiences previous to arriving in France. But we though that we were under rather extreme hardships and rather unnecessary strict discipline regarding minor matters of small importance. Since coming over here we have gradually learned that we are only amateur students as yet regarding the difficulties to be overcome entailed by war.

But though they gradually become more difficult as we progress it is a wonderful experience in that it makes a man wonder why he ever used to complain when he really was living in luxury and did not know it – teaches him something of what real difficulties are and how much easier they can be overcome when a fellow simply makes up his mind that it "has to be done" and that to get busy and go at it for all he is worth is the only way to finish it the quickest.

I have come through my first fight. I happened to be one of the hottest pulled off during the war. In a way I was not in it at all. A big attack on a very strong Hun front was planned, the planning having been under way for probably weeks before. Our brigade together with another was detailed to enter our trenches via communication trenches last thrusday eve. and to get into position and make ready along about a three mile front in the trenches. Promptly at a given time on Friday morning our artillery – all sizes and all the way from about one mile to eight behind us opened fire at once almost to the second – shelling the front enemy line and forming a barrage (smoke cloud) in front of same.

Of course Fritz did not keep still and look on. He opened and kept up an awful fire with guns and guns. The barrage being formed the boys were ordered to charge and they went out over their trench parapet almost in a line, then so to speak carried on independently firing from a shell hole until they regained wind, reloading and running forward to another under both shell and rifle fire from Fritz's trenches. Fritz of course was not taken entirely by surprise and had his rifles trained upon our front, ready, our boys really losing more while getting out of their trenches than afterward.

The Germans infantry fired steadily until the last moment but then when our boys charged with the bayonet for their trenches they – hundreds of them – dropped their rifles, leapt upon the parapet and held up their hands pleading for mercy. Some of them got it and some got ––. The balance who did not surrender beat it back to their reserve trenches.

By the time the boys had taken possession, more men rushed in from behind to "mop [?]" dug-outs, taking charge of prisoners, etc and to dig in and reverse the frontage, etc. in preparation for a counter-attack. Then part was detailed to go forward about fifty yds and dig new trenches for our front when ready, the original enemy front to be used for our new reserve.

But say! It was something spelled with a capitol H – No use lying about it. The artillery which of course really never ceases firing on both sides was much quieter than usual for some time previous to the appointed time and then when she spoke the only way to make a comrade in the trench hear for hours was to bite his ear when talking to him. When I came out over the field to headquarters about 4 AM Saturday there must have been from three to five thousand acres with not a blade of any kind of growth left and every inch of it resembled a potatoe patch just harvested, with the hills not in rows of course, none of uniform depth, save being from three to fifteen feet.

If you are not already tired I will try to tell you of how with the gun when the scrap began, several more detailed to do so, followed with ammunition and the balance had to remain behind according to orders. One of the carriers fell down with the ammunition from exhaustion. I beat it out and carried it to the gun where I found about one hundred or more men disorganized without an officer or non-com to dictate. The bulk of us took cover in shell-holes for a few minutes, but I could not lie there doing nothing to [?] so I beat it into Fritz's [?] with the 12th platoon of the 27 and helped for a while reorganizing the trench, etc. Then I was detailed forward to help in the new front and dug nearly all day with my head down and bobbing it with my steel-hat towards shells when they came close.

In the evening the Princess Pats came in under heavy shell to our flank and a brigade of [?]illies on the left. They rested a few minutes and then charged Fritz's new front on the hill [?]. But when they arrived all they had to do was take possession as every sausage had fled back about another mile.

We stood to awaiting a possible counter-attack until about 3:30 AM when we – our party, I mean of about twenty men of the 28th, mostly, knew we were of no more use and came back. We had lain in the mud all night, rather stood, kneeled and lay turn about and sure was tired. The only way we could keep awake was to keep shovelling. Immediately I would stop I would slide into the mud (it rained most of the night) asleep. [?] of us were asleep when a shell burst about five feet away and buried us about three feet deep. But our comrades dug us out in a few minutes and we were none the worse.

Coming back we ran into wounded every five yds. and some of us did what we could for them, carried them on stretchers to dressing stations until about [?]AM when we had to quit, being done in. One poor fellow wanted me to kill him. He had lain there about twenty-four hrs. with a bad shrapnel in side, the stretcher-bearers during the first 24 hrs. merely having time to dress a wound temporarily and go on to the next. None were carried off until sat. morn about 7AM.

Curious to say and quite a surprise to me, being my first experience, I was not worried a particle with my nerves though shells were bursting all around us for twenty-four hours. Some were badly wounded a few feet away, but it always appeared to me that worrying would help none and that all a fellow could do was to plug away, be careful to keep low and if it was to come, it would come. Of course I was not entirely void of excitement [?] and was even "afraid" frequently.

However the fewer of similar experiences I have in future, the better pleased for me. War is Hell. It is awful and may God grant that this will very soon end and that war shall never again be used to settle disputes. It is an awful fool way of doing so.

I have given you a poor description, but you understand my deficiencies. Wait till I dish about all the news with you.

I was glad to learn of you taking a holiday, Harold and sincerely hope that you thoroughly enjoyed it. Overwork is a foolish game, remember and you have been at it too hard and steady for quite a while now.

Say Jack you saw him – Mr. Labour, I mean while "out west". See anybody else while south little you old sinner? Speak the whole truth to a fellow. How do you like Calgary, Vern after so much north? Are you working in Calgary? I hope you have struck a good position again.

Yes, Ev – if your opposition is bigger than you as you say, keep good terms even if you are quite and Rustle her. You will be glad to quit the back, old boy.

Bob Silver[?] is permanently at Shorncliffe, I guess, though he might come over. One never knows where or when he is going. If I see him again, I will give him you message, Harold.

Guess you two – Chirsty Matheson, and Mordecai Browns' catcher, I mean think you are it, eh. Good for you! I would sure like to see you going to it a few times.

Well I must close though I have not said what I wanted, seemingly and am disappointed with this letter.

May all that is good attend you all is my earnest wish and when I come back to dear old Canada (the only country) and I feel firmly convinced that I am to come, I hope to find you all as fit and feeling as fine as I am glad to say I am myself at present.

Remember that I do love to receive those letters. Regards to all who may care for them.

With Love in Abundance from
Brother Bill

Original Scans

Original Scans