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Date: December 26th 1916
Beulah Bahnsen (wife)
Ralph Watson

26 December, ’16.

My Dearest Lal:

Xmas has come and gone. It was horrible weather, rained all day, and a gale of wind blew so hard even walking was difficult. As far as was possible we had a good time; I cashed the P.O. the day before Xmas eve — there were four of us to share it and it lasted till this evening. We didn’t have any parade Xmas day, so we spent it visiting various friends in different billets. I had just moved to mine, the new one; it’s a sort of washhouse back of a cottage, just room for three — about six feet square. We have a little stove and the woman in the cottage, being a little more civilized than the general run, we can use her coal pails to wash in and so forth. There was no Xmas dinner, such as the papers say all the troops get. The issue was the regular tea at noon — with the addition of prunes. At night, the usual “Mulligan”, or stew. However it didn’t make much difference to us, as we ate in the village. Just as we got to bed, Xmas Eve, all the surrounding batteries started a big strafe and continued till twelve o’clock sharp, as a sort of Xmas box to Fritz, I guess. It made such a row and shook the place so we couldn’t sleep. One big gun throwing heavies over sounded just like the street cars approaching, as you wait often, no doubt, at the corner of Second Avenue; the light in the sky was exactly like summer lightning as you have seen it flickering scores of times.

Today is very clear and, as I write, Fritz is very busy shelling our planes which are up in great strength. I have never seen him hit one yet.

I think they are getting a bit more lively on this bit of front. You remember my telling you about that ruined village I was in one night? For some reason, Fritz took it into his head, the other day, to put a few more shells into it, and one fell on four of our boys who were cooking their grub. It was rotten luck; but they never knew what hit ’em, I suppose. Also — probably you didn’t — but you might have seen something like this in the papers: “In the Arras section, we made a raid, capturing fifty odd prisoners.” This was when four hundred of our boys went over the top here the other night. It was a very successful raid. They stayed in Fritz’s line an hour and a half, and only lost a few killed.

The other day, they asked for volunteers to take machine gun corps instruction. I thought it all over very carefully, as I would rather like to be a machine gunner — but I finally turned it down. I want to get a job as Battn. stretcher bearer. It’s a rotten job, of course, and nobody wants it; but I rather think I would be more use binding up wounds than I would be just carrying a gun in the ordinary way. I got quite a little experience in the ward at Boulogne, which will be a lot of help. Moreover, I think it’s interesting — much more so than merely being in the line.

During the big wind the other day, our Y.M. tent blew down, and I was unluckily on the party working at night to fold it up — so we have no place to go to write or anything. It was a new institution for us; we have only had it about a week or so. As the wind tore it very badly, I guess we’ll have to go without one now.

Several batteries have started another strafe and the window of my little shack is rattling to beat the band. The big heavy, I think, is a new addition; it certainly sends over some pretty husky shells, very much to Fritz’s annoyance. I suppose the planes have been sending down some fresh ranges this morning and that will be the reason of the extra bombardment. The old woman in the back yard goes on calmly with her washing, merely remarking to me “Bon for the Allemagne.” Nothing seems to excite those old people now; they have seen so much of it. The thing that surprised me, and what I can never understand, is why Fritz doesn’t shell this town. He must know we are here; his planes manage to get over every now and then. Also all within a mile of each other are three or four coal mines, all going full blast. I should imagine he’d go to great trouble to put ’em out of business. Also, he never makes any attempt to bring down our observation balloons which, on a day like today, are up all along the line. On this sector, we simply have him beat to a standstill in every department.

If only he’d get worse and quit; but no such luck for another year, I’m afraid.

My little house looks very cosy tonight. I’m all alone. We got a little table, swiped an old chair, the stove is going fine, and I’ve just made a mess tin full of tea (strong). Later, I’ll manage some toast. We are well stocked with Oxo, cakes, café au lait, and a plum pudding, also some canned butter. Somebody rustled up some shelves which are decorated with home photographs. It doesn’t look much like active service in France, until you notice the other war decorations: gas helmets, rifles and so forth. Did I tell you I was through the gas school — tear-gas. You go and stay in a big dark shed full of it. Rather weird it is. It’s to test out the helmets. It smells of pineapples; the gas Fritz uses is more dangerous as it’s colourless — I dread that — and being buried — more than anything.

Anyway, one may go through Ypres and the Somme, say, and never get a scratch, and another get hit by a bit of our own aeroplane shells miles behind the line — so I don’t suppose where I personally go matters much. It’s written — and what is to be will be, and only time will show.

Original Scans

Original Scans