April 21st, 1915,
"Somewhere in Belgium"
Our trip up here from our last billet was a great success. We moved last Saturday at 1.30 in the afternoon. The right section had left the day before. I was in command of fifty men and fifty-three horses, the Major and Greene having gone on two days before to see our new position and have its points explained to them by the French artillery officers whose positions we were taking over. The other officers, Ross and Lovelace, had gone the day before with the right section of the battery. Harry Crerar was in command of our lot which consisted of half of each of the four batteries in the brigade and half of the brigade ammunition column. It was a glorious afternoon and we had pleasant chats with each other as the line of march moved slowly along. About the middle of the P.M. we crossed the Belgian frontier. We got to our billet at 6.30 in a Belgian farm-house, the usual sort of place, a nice pasture for the horses, barn for the men, and the kitchen floor for the officers. The people were much nicer to us than the French, especially when they found that we were Canadians. They were better looking people than the French among whom we were - nicer and cleaner in every way. After the men were settled the housewife cooked me some eggs, and with coffee and delicious bread and butter, I feasted like a prince. They offered me a mattress but upon the whole I preferred not to have it and stuck to my Wolseley and the tile floor. The family was numerous - three generations, the youngest tailing off to about three years. When they had all gone I sought my Wolseley and slept comfortably till about .30 when, to my disgust, the family got up and lit the kitchen stove which was just at my head. From that time on I got only snatches of sleep, as the room got too warm. Finally when Monsieur began to smoke an evil-smelling pipe I fairly had to get up and out. It twas a most glorious Sunday morning, warm and bright and still. We had heard very heavy firing the night before but in the morning there was little to be heard except an occasional air-craft gun "loosing off" at an air-ship.
Sunday P.M. at 2.45 we were on the move again, marching as far as …… It was a very wonderful and, in spite of all, a very inspiring sight, and for anyone with any pride of race, one of the great moments. The road was a great paved throughfare running straight over flat country between rows of trees, paved in the middle with cobbles. These cobbles are the whole width of the street in the villages, and the horses slip and fall. (My horse came down with me that afternoon but I suffered nothing more than a slight twist of my ankle.) The road I speak of had a roadway on either side of the cobbles on the turf, quite passable now, though in Winter it must have been mud one or two feet deep, and as in many places the cobbles are not wide enough for vehicles to pass, you can imagine the trouble. However on Sunday it was dry and our column kept to the right, leaving the cobbles clear. On the other side there was an almost unbroken stream of vehicles going back, and the middle was left free for motor traffic - motors of all kinds - staff officers flying past at thirty miles an hour, despatch riders on motor cycles, probably doing more, motor lorries with heavy loads doing their ten or twelve, and motor ambulances coming down with wounded (there had been a heavy fight just the night before) and others going up full of stretcher-bearers for more.
Then there were troops of all kinds both on the road and by the side, horse, foot, and artillery - infantry going along in squad from the baths looking fresh and clean, - infantry playing foot-ball in the fields, - infantry sitting beside the road shaven and clean, - further on more of the real thing, - infantry coming back from the trenches from the fight the night before where they mined and blew up german trenches on the hill-side, and then charged the trenches. (I met a friend of mine from the Hospital at Versailles. HE asked about my ribs and I asked him if he had been in the fight. Yes, he had been in it. "We had a hell of a scrap. The men are splendid, worked like blacks. - Yes, we did well." He looked rather white and tired but very fit. The men were splendid. In spite of the losses they had suffered the night before they were cheery and bright, trudging along steadily, carrying, a good many of them, german souvenirs, (one of them was carrying a Prussian helmet), accepting cigarettes from our men who looked on them with a good deal of respect, looking quite ready for anything - they are Scotch As we got further on we were overtaken by some motor machine guns, rolling along like a huge tin box on wheels, with a little cock-pit in the middle and a wicked-looking little gun poking its head out. They were manned by naval men looking very cheery and fit, - they will take some stopping.
Further on an ammunition column passed us on the trot, going hard over the cobbles - evidently their battery is waiting for more shells - and they leave us; we are only moving at a walk. Anything which wants to go faster must take the cobbles in the middle. Ammunition waggons have more uses than one. We met one on the way back which had picked up an old Belgian woman who sat quite contentedly in the back, her head appearing above the side.
About 6.30 we arrived at ------ a name which would sound familiar to you if I could mention it. Everything was quiet though it has been shelled severely since, one whole square covered with the debris of fallen buildings.
There is nothing of much interest except to notice how puny and trivial look some of the spots which we have been reading about so constantly. In the round house at the railway station some of our men are playing foot-ball, the most curious place I have yet seen turned into a foot-ball field.
Another mile or so, and Ross meets me and then the Major and Lovelace, and we come into our position in the dark, although there is enough moon to help us a good deal.