22 May, ’17.
My ownest Kiddie: —
Tonight we move on to the last stage and the most desperate one of our adventure.
It’s raining, cloudy, wretched. Even in this trench where we have a roofed funk hole, it is bad. Up there, it will be unpleasant. It is our portion: days and nights spent in watching and waiting — the nervous strain about to the limit all the time. The regular trench stuff was a holiday to it. Then you went about your business peacefully, each side attending to his own affairs safely behind barbed wire. For diversion, both sides threw over a few trench mortar bombs, or made a raid, or something. The trenches were as near real protection as they could be made; moreover, the enemy not having been living there recently, didn’t know more about your line than you did. There were communication trenches, and bays in the front line to prevent enfilading, and one shell was confined in its activities to the particular bay it dropped in.
Up here we have none of these things, no wire, no anything, just a narrow ditch. The material dug out, being mostly chalk, shows clearly like a dirty white snake across the countryside.
Nothing runs to schedule. Each side periodically gets “the wind up”, owing to their state of nerves. Up go the S.O.S.’s and over comes the rain of steel and iron. If it’s a false alarm, this gradually dies down like a storm, the flares resume their normal colour and regular frequency, and each side carries on — watching — waiting as before. Sometimes it is not a false alarm, and then there is “dirty work at the cross roads”, and three lines in the newspaper the following day. . . .
I shall always contend that the Canadians should not be sent in the same place twice. Their temperament is different to the English; they like change. Sitting under shell fire is not good for any one; but I think less good for them. In a war of movement and attack, they are splendid. Look at Vimy Ridge. Then again I may be wrong, because look at Ypres which has been all “hold.” Still, a new front, if only a mile away, has an interest the old front has not. It is better not to know the danger, in my opinion. This is the last trip for a while, and a few weeks’ polishing buttons and ceremonial parades will work wonders to our nerves. I guess it’s all pie for us compared to Fritz. I don’t know how he stands it at all. The more I hear of his last attack on us, the less I understand it. He came over in droves to occupy our trench — overland. He had no communication trench; there was nothing to gain; it wasn’t a strong point. They must have known, even if they consolidated it, we should merely blow them out again with artillery. If the relief had not just been taking place, he’d never have reached it; as it was, he only held it an hour or two. Going and coming he must have lost a great many men — for what? Of course, it may all have been part of a big plan of which I know nothing; but, on the face of it, it looks just like a useless killing for nothing. I am convinced now that he comes over, doped. Every one seems to agree on that. I guess he needs it.
Well, I didn’t intend to write about the war — just a note merely — to say au revoir.
I know you would wish me a good trip — and a safe return. If you get another letter it will be from more cheerful surroundings.
. . . . Good-by, dearie — I’ll be holding your hand.