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Date: May 20th 1917
Beulah Bahnsen (wife)
Ralph Watson

20 May, ’17.

Last night, we got in without incident of any kind. It was a fine night, and we were in time to get a sleep. I am more than usually lucky in the funk hole allotted — at least by appearance. It’s one of those trenches not connected by a communication trench; you must go overland. Mine is quite secure from shrapnel of the overhead variety, and safe even from shell fire of the other kind, provided they don’t drop too near and cave it in. The trenches all along this new country are getting better and better. Each relief fixes them up a little bit better, until eventually they get to be regular homes and safe from ’most everything but direct hits. . . .

Rations are now getting like they are having at the Somme — abundant. I imagine the same amounts go to a brigade or division all the time. When a push comes and the numbers decrease, there’s more to eat for every one. There was a more pleasant surprise, this morning, when gasoline cans of strong hot tea arrived — right overland — also butter and bread and so forth. It’s amazing what a difference lots to eat makes on your outlook in the line. There was mail, too. I got a letter from B. with some more envelopes. He says his commission is gone through, and asked me to even picture him bathing in the sea in Blighty. Some fellows have all the luck. I miss K. this trip — another lucky devil, enjoying a course of some sort in a town away back, though another fellow we know well got shot to pieces with nerves and is gone to Blighty for a complete rest.

The chap bunking with me is an unconscious humorist, he just said, — “Gee, listen to those birds singing. I wish I was on my old chicken ranch, listening to them. Six days of this yet, and the world was made in six days!”

Mentioning the birds, it’s curious; but you see ’em all the time right out in No Man’s Land — the only things besides the slackers at home that don’t seem to realize there’s a war on.

My “roomy” is a philosopher of sorts. Lying on his back, smoking, he says, “Can you imagine anything more absurd than this: a peaceful summer day, and millions of men lined up, just like this, in holes in the earth, afraid to walk out in the field? They call it freeing the world. The absurdity of it all, as if we were born for this!” — and so on.

And — isn’t it just too utterly absurd? A few men you have never seen, at a gun eight or nine miles away, send over a shell trying to kill a few more that they don’t know and haven’t seen either — and all the world busy at it! How preposterous, when we could all be enjoying life, and doing work, and good, around! What thoughts crowd up when you let yourself think of it! The Fritzies in the trench over there don’t really want to kill us; they want to sit quiet just like we do. They’d be just as sore as us, if anything started right now. Dozens of ’em are writing letters and reading just as we are.

Yet — we are the goats. The fellows who really want the thing are miles and miles away from the shells and the hardships. They know they will live, whereas I don’t know I’ll even live to finish this letter. After it’s over, they win anyway — because we have lost years or months of happiness, and our health in any case impaired for good. The old times had it all on us. Their kings led ’em into battle, and took a chance, too.

Yet if I hadn’t come, I’d have despised myself forever! . . .


I notice I am getting most awfully thin. I guess that must be why so many of those nice bits of shell splinters don’t plunk me. My luck simply won’t go that way at all. A lovely opportunity occurred the other day; only about a hundred yards from the dressing station, I was talking to the two chief stretcher bearers — everything all stage-managed to perfection. Heinie plugs a 4.1 over, and the two other fellows get the splinters. Now if I had just had a nice piece in the arm, had been all nicely fixed up and gone over to the dressing station, got the ambulance there for the clearing station, then the train — all French hospitals busy — so bang straight through to Blighty, then a nice stiffness would develop, a few boards, the first one, saying “I think this man had better go back to Canada.” How’s that for a nice little program, eh? . . .

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Original Scans