Letter from E.L. MacNachtan
BELGIUM, May 5th, 1915.
My Dear Dad:
1 was greatly relieved to get your letter to-night. It was sometime since 1 heard from you and 1 was beginning to feel anxious. I am glad to hear that everything is O.K. Your letter of the 14th of April and Nora's of 12th with a few lines on the back reached me to-night.
I'm sorry that you are not getting my letters, Dad, for I have written regularly and particularly so since we came up here, for I realize the anxiety of those at home just at present. I suppose several letters of mine will reach you together.
We were rushed up to this position on the 23rd of April, the day after the Germans got through by the use of that diabolical gas. We rode up in broad daylight, perhaps that will show you how badly we were needed. If the amount of artillery that is up here now had been behind our Canadian Infantry, they would not have been so badly cut up. They made an everlasting name for themselves and for Canada, but they paid a terrific price for it. The effects of this gas are pitiful to see, a great many of the victims passed us on their way back for treatment. They are practically blind and nearly smothered.
We got into action about 4:30 in the afternoon of 23rd. No digging in or no cover except that afforded by a very thin hedge. As soon as we got our lines laid out we started into 'Gun Fire'. The way we pumped shells at them was glorious to see. The infantry in front of us say that our fire effect wasn't human. It was hell. They told us there was a sheet of flame all along the parapets of the German trenches from the bursting of our shells. The second day, we fired between twelve and fourteen hundred rounds in two hours. We worked all day and the whole of the nights were spent in digging. It was an act of Providence that we got the opportunity to dig, for the German artillery found us and they sure did find us too. We were firing about thirty minute intervals when a high explosive burst about 100 yards in front of us and then about 100 yards behind, two more got us in the 25 yard bracket, then I knew we were in for it. Their line was perfect, right in the centre of the battery, after that it was whiz! bang! all day and we started to have men hit. I swear the shells were not more that two feet above our gun wagons, which we use for protection. I stood up to take some shell out of the wagon body when one went whiz over my head. I felt the rush of air and the concussion as distinctly as one feels the discharge of one of our own guns when near it. I told you the last of the day's happenings in my last letter.
Major Beattie came to see us that afternoon. It was from him that we got the idea of what was in front of us. I think we gave the Germans a very fair repetition of what they gave our poor boys the previous day. We made a direct hit on a German gun and put the whole business up in the air, that evens the score with them, they blew up one of ours - the very one I was working at, by the way.
It is about the same thing every day, quiet for a while then all our Batteries open up and between the noise of their explosion and that of the German shells of all sizes, it is indeed a bedlam.
One of our boys had a shell explode directly under him, it threw him ten or twelve feet in the air and apart from a bad bruising and shaking up, he is very little hurt. We are beginning to call ours the 'Lucky 4th' - long may it continue.
They shelled our billet day before yesterday. I think they were searching for the Battery, they did not find it but they found our poor hut. It was blown full of holes. Splinters from those big shells fly for a quarter of, yes for half a mile. I saw one of the 'coal boxes' burst under a French ammunition wagon. It was a long way off, but through my glasses it seemed to lift wagon, limber horses and men completely clear of the ground. I fear it killed or wounded all the horses and men. The big shells are 17 inches in diameter. The English Tommies call them 'tram Cars: from the peculiar rumbling roar they make flying through the air. It is exactly like a tram-car or street car as we Canadians call them.
It is getting dark and my head is aching from the 'daily row' so au revoir.
4th Battery, 1st Brigade, C.F.A.,