Ward 9 North Evington Military Hospital Leicester, Eng,
June 15, 1916
Before I start I have to apologize for the letters I am forced to write with pencil these days. I have never used a pencil for letter writing except when absolutely necessary. It always looks to me like an indication of lack of respect for the person to whom I write, but just now I cannot use a pen and you know I think too much of you to fail to do the proper thing when possible.
I am still lying on my back and must continue to do so for another 3 weeks or more. I have not been able to raise myself up since June 3, the day after Fritz hit me. As I look back I feel that only the Hand of Providence enabled me to get through that day and use a rifle for 4 or 5 hours after I was wounded and when I think of that 6 miles I managed to go from the time I left the front line trenches a great feeling of thankfulness possesses me. I think the fact that I over did it then has caused the excessive weakness that I am only slowly overcoming now. As I lie here though I cannot but have constantly in my thoughts, those other fellows whom I have come to know so well who were less fortunate than myself. The great majority of them I shall never see again and when I think of the sadness that their absence will mean over in their Canadian homes, it brings to me more fully the tragedy of war.
I have seen sights that persons who have read and heard all that was ever written about this war, could never realize, without seeing for themselves. To see the battalion of over 1000 men, all in the pink of health and spirits in a few hours reduced to a scattered mass of dead, maimed, or suffering with every conceivable manner of wounds, until only 150 were left able to walk, was my experience with our own regiment. And they were as fine a lot of fellows as I have ever seen.
The other battalions suffered almost as badly. In making attacks to reinforce us in the front line they were mowed down by hundreds. But it is great satisfaction to know we have now recovered every trench that was lost.
I have often heard about coolness and determination and even heroism and I must confess that a good deal of the newspaper talk always sounded like hot air to me but ever since that day on the 2nd of June I have been wondering at the indifference to danger, the cold matter-of-fact manner, and the absolute absence of nervousness or excitement that was in evidence everywhere. It just seemed like a great game. When a shell would kill three or four and wound half a dozen, the dead would be laid out of the way and the wounded bandaged up and helped in every way possible. When the Germans attacked, all that were able to stand up would keep them back while any wounded that could not stand would be busy cleaning rifles or handing ammunition to those firing, if they were able to do it.
I wish I knew for certain about Hawthorne. We did all we could for him, but Steve was shot through both arms and I could not help carry him, and all his particular friends were either killed, or wounded so badly that they could not carry him, so when we got the stretcher bearers to promise to take him out when they could, we felt we had done the best we could. I feel almost certain he is dead for he was so nearly gone when we saw him last that he did not seem able to live more than an hour or so and he had been unconscious for several hours. So far as I know the stretcher bearers did not carry him out and they said they had brought all the wounded, so I have almost given up hope of him being alive.
I am anxious about Jim Brown too. But I cannot seem to get any word about him. There are so many that will always be classed among the missing that we shall never know what happened to them. There were so many attacks over such a large area that they are scattered everywhere. Such a great many were buried by shells filling in trenches and smashing down parapets that they will not all be found. As I walked along both front and support lines I came across the most terrible sights. There would be arms or legs lying around with no sign of the rest of the bodies, and the blood was in pools and spattered over trenches, [illegible] and in fact everything.
Since writing the above I have just received a nice parcel from my friends in Cornwall containing the most beautiful bunch of pansies, such large ones and every color that pansies grow in. They are quite fresh and make a very pretty bouquet on my dresser. The parcel also contained a box of chocolates, and a razor which will be most useful for I lost everything I possessed except the clothes I had on when a shell scattered my belongings all over Belgium. Everyone is good to us here. The doctors and nurses will do anything for us, and the orderlies are good fellows. In fact the people of Leicester seem to be constantly on the lookout for an opportunity to be of any assistance they can. There are not many Canadians here and most of those that are here now are moving to Epsom, near London tomorrow. As soon as I am able to travel, I shall be sent to a Canadian Hospital too as we were only sent here temporarily owing to the Canadian Hospitals being full.
Do you remember once saying you would like to be a Red Cross nurse? It would be like a dream to have your little form flitting around here. I am afraid I should be tempted to stay wounded a long time. I am sure you could do everything that the nurses do to the hole in my side, just plug it full of linen gauze and put a fomentation on it twice a day, then bind me up like a London ballet dancer. About two thirds of the nurses are volunteers, not really trained nurses.
It seems such a long time since I heard from you that I am getting real hungry for a letter. I don't know when my mail from the front will be sent to me. It seems to take a long time. I am still hoping I may be able to see that brother of yours, I hope they will put him into a cavalry corps for it is certainly much safer.
As soon as I arrived here I cabled to my mother that I was not seriously wounded and was doing well so that she would not worry about me, for mothers usually do think a good deal about their boys, undeserving though they may be. My mother has been very ill lately, but I was glad to hear through my cousin in Surrey that she is much better now.
The weather at present is very cold, nothing like June is usually. It is remarked upon everywhere as being exceptional. I hope Manitoba weather is more like June should be. With all the lakes and rivers you have around there, you would need some warm weather to make good swimming. About this time last year I was swimming in the Qu'Appelle river. I would like to be there now. But I suppose if we are patient such hopes may be realized again.
How are you enjoying yourself this summer? I hope there are lots of picnics. I do enjoy the outdoor sports. In fact I like to be outdoors most of the time. Nothing suits me much better than a real good Hackney driver, and of course, real good company to balance the weight on the seat of the buggy. Will you take me for a little spin behind that frisky horse you were telling me about if I ever happen to accidently find myself in the Ninga country? I will be willing to hold the lines, provided of course that it does not take more than one hand.
Just now I am the only one in the ward. There are 32 beds and 26 patients but the others are able to move around and are at present in another ward listening to a concert. There is a concert in the building nearly every night, sometimes London artistes and sometimes they come from Leicester. Leicester is about the size of Winnipeg. I hope to be able to go to some of the concerts in a few weeks. I have just stopped to look at my writing. Isn't it fierce? Yet I suppose I should be thankful that I can write at all. So many of the fellows got hit in the hands or arms. Poor old Steve is worse off still for he got it in both arms and must be pretty helpless. I heard through the Red Cross Society to whom I wrote for information that he is still in Boulogne. I wish he were here. I have just been talking to one of our sergeants who is in this hospital and he says he had a letter from the front saying they were not allowed to send the names of casualties so in case Jim Brown or any others have been wounded, I shall not be able to find out until the casualty lists are published.
I discovered hidden away in my pocket book a few Winnipeg Street Railway tickets that I have carried for over a year. They have been within a few yards of the German trenches and have survived the greatest bombardment that the Ypres salient has ever seen, so you will surely be able to travel a few blocks on them next time you go to Winnipeg.
With every good wish from an old bed-ridden "Has been",