17 November, ’16.
My dearest Lallie: —
Today has been bitterly cold — roads all frozen hard, almost like Canada. It must be the very devil in the trenches. I remember it was rotten last February; but then it was mostly wet, slushy snow, not hard, dry cold like this. We are somewhere between Arras and Bethune. Late this afternoon, I went with some of the boys for a long hike to see if we could see “something.” We jumped an auto truck and went several kilometres in that. We wanted to get closer up the lines; but we didn’t make it and all we saw was a bunch of aeroplanes being shelled with shrapnel. We came back in an old French farm wagon. Every village and hamlet — quiet old-world places, two years ago — is now full of troops, wagons, water carts, and all the paraphernalia of war. All seems to work like clock work. Every one seems just to have his own job and be doing it cheerfully without fuss — Wherever you look on every side road are lines of big auto trucks, and in and out go fast motor cars and auto bikes carrying the despatch riders. The roads are in splendid condition, kept so by Fritzies — who seem perfectly happy and contented. Each one carries a mess tin like ours, and over his shoulder a gas helmet. ' Even the kids in the street carry them. In places, too, are gongs marked “gas alarm” in case it should come over. At all cross roads, everywhere, is a sentry to direct traffic, etc. The organization seems perfect, and everywhere you breathe the utmost confidence in the very air.
During our walk we dropped in on the 6th Field Ambulance boys — that is, the Ambulance attached to our Brigade, the 6th. They are billeted in a whacking great French chateau. In peace time, no doubt, it was a beautiful home. The conservatory is now the men’s mess, and leading from that, in what I imagine must have been the drawing room, a room all panelled in marble, are rows of stretchers on old packing cases. It’s a ward where the 6th boys look after sick cases. Two of the stretchers were occupied by Fritzies — both of them all smiles. One said he had been just six days from leaving home to getting captured. They said they were tickled to death to be out of it.
Field Ambulances are divided into companies or sections and take turns going into the trenches. These boys go in next week again. Of course they live and have everything much better than we do; it has always seemed peculiar to me that the infantry, who after all really win the war — have to take all the dirty end of everything — grub — billets — every darn thing. And, after it’s all over, the boys who go home behind the brass band will be all these base and staff boys; the fellows who won the war will mostly be pushing daisies right here in France. . . . This district hasn’t been shelled much — Adjoining us is a coal mine; a shell has taken the big chimney half off — a darn good shot, if it wasn’t a fluke, — but the mine is doing business night and day as usual; you can see three or four of these mines round about and all are going full blast.