In France — behind the lines.
Sunday afternoon. 4 December, ’16.
My very dearest Lal, —
I have got hold of a green envelope, probably the last I’ll get for a long, long time. They don’t issue them here; I got it by luck and good management! Do you remember the letters you wrote, when you thought I was going up to a Casualty Clearing Station? You were worried about it being dangerous, when most of them are safer than England. If you worried then, what will you be doing now? And how can I say, “Oh, that’ll be all right.” I might — should — say that to any one else; but what’s the use of talking a lot of hot air like that to you? On the other hand, what’s the use of dwelling on the black side of things? This war is so “different.” In any other we might talk of “our noble cause”, “the clash of arms”, “death or glory”, and all that kind of thing; but this one is so vast, one wee atom of a man so small, the chance for individuality coming out so remote, that it has developed, for a single Unit, into merely a job of work to be done: eat, sleep, and work. You don’t fight; you can’t call dodging shells, machine-gun bullets, and bombs, fighting; it’s fighting all right, when you “go over”; but a single battalion doesn’t go over so very often, even at the Somme. I wish I could make you “get” the atmosphere. “Heroics” are dead here, a charge is not the wonderful, glorious thing we were told it was. I have even begun to wonder if it ever was, or if the poets and historians and “Press agents” of those days have been just kidding us.
No one wants to go into the trenches, yet no one (who is any one) would dodge out of it. Every one wants a soft Blighty wound, with the chance of getting to where there are no whizz bangs, and you go to bed every night. Every man I have spoken to: German, French, English, Canuck, are sick to death of it; yet to quit without a definite decision is out of the question, and no one would think of it. And how on earth am I to tell you not to worry and all that; how on earth is a husband (like me) to write to a wife (like you) about his feelings on and before going into the front line of a war like this? None of us are heroes. To read of “Our splendid Canadians” makes us ill. We are just fed up, longing for the end, but seldom mentioning it, and hoping — when we think of it — that when we do get it, — it will be an easy one, or something final. Our main effort is to think and talk as little of the war as possible. The mail is far the most important thing; the next, “What’s the rations today?”; the next, “What’s the job today?”. Of course newspapers are anxiously bought up — but we know the newspapers don’t tell us much. And the thing is so big anyway that no one can possibly grasp even a fraction of it.
There is one new thing I’ve learned, and that is that it won’t be good to be a chap who stayed at home, when the boys return. This thing is just a bit too serious. We know what it is here. Also, the distance between the fellow at the base and the fellow in a fighting unit is “as a great gulf fixed” — far, far more so than the innocent boys at the base dream of. Again, as you know, the later Battalions formed in Canada don’t remain as a unit, but are drafted as reinforcements to older ones, N.C.O.’s of course reverting to privates. Well, I don’t think I should like to have to say I belonged to the one hundred- or two hundred- and- umpty something. The question always is — “Why?” “Out of a job”—or “Did the girls make you join?” How long have you been in France is what matters. . . .
I’m not sure if you would like me to talk about how I feel regarding the possibility that I might “get it good”, as they say; — but, dearie, I don’t think about it. I did a lot at first, but don’t now. Thinking about it could do no good; in fact, I fancy a man couldn’t do his best, if he perpetually had that thought in his mind. As regards your future, in case I got killed, well, I have thought that all out; but I am not going to say anything about it — mainly because you are so much better than any man could hope to be — a higher type, dearie, altogether. It is much too sacred a thing for me to “talk” of, sitting on the floor of a barrack room, surrounded by poker players, all sorts of people, — I couldn’t.
Regarding the kiddie in that event, my views on her future so exactly coincide with yours, that there is nothing left to say. I have told you before that I consider you a perfect Mother, — more I cannot say. Billie will be in perfect hands; she will have a Mother such as I should choose if I had the whole world to pick from.