Search The Archive

Search form

Collection Search
Date: October 29th 1917
William & Georgina Mercer
Richard Mercer

[transcription and footnotes have been provided by the collection donor]

Oct 29/17[131]

Dear Father & Mother:-

Received your most welcome letter to-day with money enclosed. I received a letter from you the other day but have been in the line[132] since and haven't had time to write you. Tom was killed yesterday afternoon just before we came out of the line[133]. Some of the boys saw him get it and they say he was hit in the head[134]. I really can't believe it. I don't know what the Tracy's will say. They will feel it awfully. Walter is still alright. He happened to find me while in the line[135]. He seemed quite well and cheerful. We little thought that poor Tom has just got it. I saw Leicester the other night and we had quite an evening together[136]. Well, I will close for the present. Hoping you are both quite well.

With Love[137]

[131] The Borden War Diary notes the weather as " Fine" with cleaning of guns and spare parts in the morning and bath parade in the afternoon. This letter has probably been written after Bath Parade when the men would have had a little time before supper.
[132] On Sunday, 28 October, 1917, the date Pte. Tom Tracy was killed, the Borden Motor Machine Gun Battery War Diary recorded the following: 
"YORK CAMP (near POPERINGHE) BATTLE - PASSCHENDAELE Partly fine. At 10 a.m. an Order was received from the group commander Major J.C. Brittou to fire on the S.O.S. line D.12.A.4.8 to D.6.Q.4.4. This fire was maintained throughout the day. (Appendix No 11). Orders were received to reconnoitre new Battle positions near HAMBURG. An attempt was made to dig these positions, but this could not be done on account of Enemy Observation. At 4 p.m. in accordance with Operation Order #134 from 1st C.M.M.G. Bde., this Battery was relieved by "A" Battery 1st C.M.M.G. Bde. (Appendix No. 12) There was heavy shelling on the way out, but we suffered no casualties. Total ammunition expended during the Operation = 138 000 rds."
[133] Pte. Tom Tracy ( 911023) was killed during the final stage of the Battle of Passchendaele. The battle had been raging since July 1917.  He was killed on 28 October 1917 and at the end of the Canadian Corp's "First Phase" which gained between 400- 1,000 yards, cost 2,871 casualties including 598 dead. He is buried near the spot where he is killed, however, the gravesite was lost during the ensuing battles and he becomes another "Unknown Soldier". In just over two weeks of battle more than 15,000 Canadian soldiers were casualties. The death toll was over 5,000 with many bodies never recovered. The Canadian Corps was the military unit that finally captured Passchendaele on 10 November 1917. The total Allied casualties from Passchendaele are estimated at over 250,000. Poisonous gas was prevalent throughout the battle.
[134] Later in a letter written on 24 December 1917 Pte. Richard Mercer provides an account where he witnessed the death of Pte. Tom Tracy. In this instance the Borden Battery and the Yukon Battery must have been sited beside each other and clearly within view.
[135] Pte. Wylie is with the 46th Battalion (Saskatchewan), 10th Infantry Brigade of the 4th Canadian Division of the Canadian Corps that was in active combat at this time. More research on the activities of the 46th Battalion is required at this time.
[136] This letter is unusual in that it makes light of the death of a very best friend with a reference to a party later. One can only assume this is how one best dealt with all the death and also how one was required to record it in censored letters that were being mailed home.
[137] To understand the Passchendaele experience are the comments of a British gunner on the effects of poison gas in addition to the mud: 
"Surely the God of Battles has deserted a spot where only devils can reign. Think what it means, weeks of it, weeks which are eternities when the days are terrible but the nights beyond belief. Through it all the horror of continual shell fire, rain and mud. Gas is one of the most potent components of this particular inferno. Nights are absolutely without rest, and gas last night is the crowning limit of horrors. The Battery that occupied the position before we came was practically wiped out by it, and had to be relieved at short notice, and the battery that relieved them lost 37 men on the way in." p. 199, The Imperial War Museum Book of the Western Front, Malcolm Brown (1993), Sidwick and Jackson