May 7th, 1915.
It was indeed good to get your letter a couple of days ago and to hear all the news from God's country. I think it will be in a very special sense, God's country when this business is over if much of Europe is to devastated as the country around here has been.
You will have been much interested in the campaigning of the last two weeks near Ypres, and perhaps in view of all the nonsense that has been talked about the Canadians in the past, a little puzzled to know how much of what you see in the papers to believe. For once in a way, I think the newspapers are within the mark of perhaps I had better say that the conduct of our Canadian infantry has been so splendid that too much cannot be said of it.
We have been through a certain amount ourselves, and have suffered 25% casualties but we have not been through anything like the infantry, - nothing!
You know how through no fault of their own they were left with an impossible task on their shoulders. Their German gas was directed at the Zouaves just on the left of the 5th Royal Highlanders of Montreal, who were on the left of our position with the 48th on their right. When the gas made itself felt the Zouaves were driven from their first line trenches. The effects of the gas are so bad that one cannot blame for this; the fault was in the failure to have proper supports. Their retreat left the 5th Royals with their left wing s to speak, in the air, and they were in immediate danger of having their flank turned.
Their first move was to advance their reserve company which was about half a mile in the rear and bring it up on their left. Our Major who was forward in our observing station saw the Highlanders sweep forward through the Zouaves whom they in vain tried to rally (if all stories are true they finally fired into them in exasperation) right on into the gas and into the deserted trenches. From that time on the 5th Royals "stuck it" in the most magnificent way against heavy odds. As the Germans advance on the left continued they were forced to bend back their left to avoid being surrounded, and finally they were so bent back that they were fighting back to back. This position they maintained till next day when they got orders to retire and in the retirement I fear they lost heavily. I hope they have not perished without making the people at home realize that they and the other battalions have raised the name of Canada higher than it has ever been before One wonders if it may even have some influence on the people who are making money and political capital our of the war. According to one account I had, Norsworthy met his death while vainly trying to rally the Zouaves, poor chap, the gas had finished them for the time.
What is true of the 5th Royals is true of every other battalion. They have all been weighed in the balance and not found wanting. I saw Richardson, our old Queen's football and hockey player, on the Sunday - when things were still bad. He believed himself then the only officer surviving in his company, and he was unhappy that he had survived his friends. Their battalion along with the rest of the 3rd Brigade had been in reserve and had been rushed up to fill in the gap. They were in an advanced position, holding it strongly when the germans advanced on their flank having deceived our people owing to the use of French uniforms. The 2nd Battalion was ordered to retire and in the retirement were the target for a perfectly hellish fire from rifle, machine and heavy guns. It is Sunday week that I saw him. He has evidently been in it again since for I hear his name is among the wounded.
The papers here say and I hope it is true that the heavy Canadian casualties have stimulated recruiting at home. That is the only proper answer We all hate and loathe the whole business but the job must be finished and it is foolish to suppose the germans will be easily beaten. I wish all the people who have written articles to prove that the Germans are short of ammunition could have been with us the last fortnight. A month ago I never could have believed that the Battery could be under heavy and continuous shell fire and have a man left. Apart from the effect on towns and fixed fortifications, however, shell-fire does extraordinary little harm and for all their cleverness the German shells seem ineffective. The Jack Johnsons and Black Marias when they light in the open country are very useless because they burst only on percussion and the soft ground deadens them to an extraordinary extent. The other day I saw one fall within about six feet in front of a gun belonging to a battery near us. It made a hole at least fifteen feet deep and thirty feet across but not one of the crew of that gun was injured. Of course, a shell like that, landing on a hard foundation, would create frightful havoc, but luckily, the ground round here is soft.
Another amazing thing happened the other day when a man was blown about 20 feet into the air by the explosion of a shell, and got off with two broken legs.
However, this letter is running altogether too much to blood and iron and one would almost imagine that I was becoming a serious soldier.
Tell Frank that I am rather "off" german bayonets at present. Churkas' kukris have it over them like a tent! In the first place the name has such a nice squiry sound and then it has a most fascinating twist in the middle. It is indeed an attractive thing.
A party of Zouaves are driving a bullock past us "pour manger". The ruined farms round provide fresh pork and veal. I was going to say ad nauseum, but that does'nt sound nice and you can correct it.
Our present dwelling is the underneath side of a hedge in which we have our guns placed. We sleep under the hedge at night and live under it a good deal of the day as we have to be very careful to avoid being spotted by aeroplanes. If we are out in the open when one comes over we stand still and in the words of
You hold yourself like this,
You hold yourself like that;
By hook or crook you try to look
Both angular and flat."
Personally, I think we imagine they see more than they do but as the price of detection is likely to be a heavy shelling, we do well to be over-cautious The german planes have been driven from the sky only in the newspapers.