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From the Trenches

Exracts from Letter of a Delta Boy – Written from the Firing Line

Belgium, Oct. 12, 1915

We got your letters from home yesterday, the last dated Sept 22.  You were quite correct in your surmise that we would get them in the trenches.  We are just finishing our second six days, and have had good weather this trip, and rather a quiet time.

Yesterday the Huns (in the trenches opposite and about 50 yards away) put up a sign “Belgrade captured by us.”  We have not had it confirmed yet. 

They set off a mine on our left which did quite a lot of damage – blowing down a long section of trench, but it was fired out between the trenches and damaged their own as well as ours.  Our field guns opened in retaliation and more than squared accounts.

Our artillery is very efficient and always there when wanted.

The fields behind the trenches are full of guns and I have often been within fifty yards of one when fired and been unable to locate it.

I don’t find this work hard on the nerves, in fact I can’t say that I have been really scared as yet.  One becomes indifferent to rifle fire, and we have not been shelled to any extent.  Our sappers give us the cheerful news that they think the Germans have a mine below us here, but no one is worrying.

This trench is about four feet deep with sand bags up to seven feet and with a firing step two feet six inches – the “bags” are about eighteen feet – three or four men to a “bag.”

One of our aeroplanes has just made a thorough reconnaisance above us and as a result our batteries are firing shrapnel over our heads, and getting a few replies – when we promptly duck.  The Huns are amusing themselves by shelling another ‘plane and the sky is full of white smoke puffs.  Our planes have a white ring on the wings and the Huns as Iron cross.  We continually see enemy aeroplanes being shelled – our superiority in the air is so great that a Taube is seldom seen.  I have seen the Germans waste thousands of shells on our aircraft without doing any damage.

From what little I have seen there is nothing to justify one in being pessimistic over the situation.  We seem to be superior in nearly everything, and must greatly outnumber the enemy.

I suppose you wonder what our sensations are on first being under fire.  I was surprised to find that I was not nervous, and to see us just now you would not imagine for a moment that we are under fire.  We have been very fortunate so far and it has been splendid training for us.  The life, of course, is rather rough.  We sleep with our boots and equipment on.  I have only had my clothes off twice since crossing the Channel (Sept. 25).  From what I can gather the climate here is much the same as at home.  There have been no heavy winds such as we had in England, and no frost as yet, but it is cold at times and there is little room for exercise. We sleep by day and work – or rather keep watch – by night. There is no moon now and nothing to prevent a Bosch sneaking over and dropping a bomb amongst us as a souvenir. They have a new star shell now – one with a parachute which floats for over a minute. Must stop as we “stand to” in a few minutes.

4 pm – We have just finished a two hour’s bombardment – some noise. The shrapnel was bursting all around but mostly in the supports. We made a “feint attack” and I fancy gave the Huns a bad scare. They sent up a lot of rockets, which I took to be a hurry call for reinforcements. We threw a lot of bombs – I threw two – which made a dense smoke and hid our line, then we opened rapid fire and I think our guns smashed their trenches badly. There was a continuous shriek of shells just over our heads from both sides. Then our guns ceased fire and we lined the parapet. Altogether it was a pleasant afternoon. I enclose bit of shrapnel which struck near me. While reading your last letter a bullet struck the parapet, splashing the letter with mud.

Reprinted form The Gazette, November 12, 1915

 

“Somewhere in Flanders’

May 29th, 1915

It is a far cry from Vancouver to this part of the firing line, but I couldn’t help wishing some of you could have listened to the bombment of “Aubers Ridge” and the German trenches in the immediate neighbourhood on a recent Sunday morning.

About 2:30 a.m. I was awakened by the singing and twittering of birds in the trees overhead – at 4:30 a.m. we were all up and ready.– at 5 a.m. punctual our guns started, and pretty soon every gun and howitzer along our line was busy, from the 15 inch howitzer, which throws a projectile weighing 14 cwt, an effective distance of eleven miles, down to the smallest caliber gun.

I’ve never heard anything like it in all my life, and no description however graphic, can possibly convey to you the very faintest idea of what it was like.You must try and imagine the worst thunder storm you ever heard on the prairie, add to this the vibration and noise of a heavy freight train travelling through an interminably long tunnel, multiply all this a thousand fold and you may begin to realize something of the racket and noise.After the batteries, siege, heavy, horse and field had rained thousands of lyddite and shrapnel on the German trenches and wire entanglements for nearly an hour the bombardment proper ceased while our infantry advanced to take the trenches which our artillery had been shelling so assiduously.

After such an experience one would think that nothing, not even a fly, could escape being hit, but when our infantry clambered over their own trenches and started in a perfect line to advance and capture the enemy’s trenches they were met with a raking fire from the perfectly concealed machine guns of the Germans, which swept the ranks and mowed our boys down in hundreds, many of the poor beggers dropping within a short distance of the enemy’s trenches, wounded and unable to move, were compelled to lie there, because no one could reach them to render assistance, those who were not wounded had to dig themselves in with their entrenching tools, and await the dusk of evening to get back to their own trenches.Later in the day another attack was made, but although our guns still continued to shell the enemy in various places, it was decided advisable not to waste any further lives as the enemy’s positions were much too strong.Reading the home papers since I read that one reason that the attack was not the success it might have been was that there was a dearth of high explosives, but personally my own opinions are not in consonance with the said critics.One thing is certain, however, that if we did not attain the success we might have it was no fault of the men who fought like heroes – and another part of our line was busy gaining position after position.

A few hours after the scrap started I met scores of wounded coming back from the trenches, the worst cases being conveyed in motor ambulances to the nearest hospital, others able to walk were coming down the road wrapped up in bandages, their khaki torn and blood bespattered, muddy puttees and boots, some of them minus caps, and yet even the youngest looking of the bunch with a smile, many of them with a “Woodbine” between their lips.

Seemed funny to me that even when the bombardment was at its height and when the earth seemed to tremble as though by an earthquake, the ordinary daily avocations of the French provincial town were going as per usual, men, women and boys working in the fields, even the tiny mites toddling across the roads, running the risks of either being run down by the stream of ambulances, motor cycles, ammunition or convoy parties. I suppose it is a sort of Fatalism, or perhaps the familiarity that breeds contempt.

All around here there are lots of houses that are mere shells from former attentions of the German gunners, and even yet an occasional shell is dropped over, and yet the people are still occupying them; most of the Churches are mere ruins, one near here is just a pile of brick and masonry, but a portion of the tower is still standing, and doubtless visible from the German lines, as they still pay it attention.

As I write the German anti-aircraft guns are sending shot after shot at a couple of our airmen overhead, but although at times it seems as though they must be brought down they are just emerging from a ring of smoke puffs and gradually getting out of range.  This is a daily occurrence on both sides and though I used to think an airman had a poor chance of escape I now know he stands a better chance of escaping than if he were below.

Must now ring off, but if you have not had an overdose in this I may repeat these notes on a future occasion.

Yours, etc.,

“MAC”

Reprinted from The Gazette, November 12, 1915

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Interesting Letter from a Delta Boy from the Old Country

Extracts from letter of Private Stuart Honeyman, 29th (Vancouver) Battalion:

Dibgate Camp, Shornecliffe, July 27, '15.

You should see the fellows when the Canadian mail comes in. I was lucky last night and had three letters, so was quite happy, although very tired. We had been out all day with packs on, doing various manoeuvres, and at noon struck a bathing-place where we had "bathing parade." We had been out from seven p.m. so were "some tired" - but the mail altered things entirely. That rumor about our moving to another camp did not come true - as usual - and we are still here amongst the sand, which the wind keeps travelling around merrily, making our food often a bit gritty - aids digestion, you know.

The Y.M.C.A.'s are very good here and a great boon. They have soldiers' clubs in nearly all camps. There are two here, one to write in and where service is held twice a week, and another which has a "bar" where tea, cakes, chocolates, post cards, etc., are sold, and writing materials provided free. There are generally two or three ladies who "run" the bar, who are very nice and who do it for nothing. One girl in our tent holds a golf championship. She looks big enough to hold two or three.

There are golf links immediately below the camp where we see the players chasing the "elusive pellet." The counrty is very pretty and great for skirmishing, only that these packs of ours take all the enjoyment out of it.

There are two destroyers, three submarines, one cruiser and an airship in the channel out here now. We guess that they are looking for hostile craft. A dirigible came so close to camp that we could see the occupants.

The weather has been very nice since the rain or we would melt "intoirely" [sic] with these heavy packs on. We have been issued British army boots - seven pounders with horseshoes on the heels. Leckie's look good to me now.

The Canadians have been to the front a great deal lately, making brilliant charges, but they are too impetuous and get cut up with machine gun fire. We get trench work two or three times a week so will soon be quite proficient in the art - for it is an art. We line up in a single line and number off by fours, then numbers one and four step back two paces and dig a circular trench from the end of number two to the end of number three, which, of course, stops cross fire. A trench without loop-holes is no good at all - they get to such close quarters it would be suicide to poke one's head up to fire.

They are manufacturing shells here as fast as they can - everything that can be used is being utilised. The people seem to be just waking up to the fact of how unprepared we are for a war of this sort. Next spring there ought to be shells enough to "start the war," as Kitchener said.

I think we have been counting too much on France and Russia, and doing nothing but train them, and a machine gun is worth about a hundred and fifty men. There are all sorts of rumors about what Kitchener is going to do, but the men from the front say we will never fight our way to Berlin. They say we are to get a powerful air fleet together - over fifteen hundred - and drop bombs all over Germany. It is practical enough, but I think it is just talk.

The Russians being forced back is not looked upon as a source of weakness here; they are supposed to be just out-manouevering the enemy by retreating. They must be short of equipment and ammunition, though, for I think a lot of our ammunition will go there when the Dardanelles are forced, which should be in a month, barring accidents.

Tell the Delta boys from me that there is lots of room for them over here, and will be for some time. I hope you are all as well and as well satisfied as we are.

London, June 30 - When I used to write to you here I never thought I would be writing to you vice versa. We came to London on Monday evening and went to Garrick's Hotel. We then went to get some supper and landed in a vegetarian outfit. Douglas wanted ham and eggs but the waitress told him he was in the wrong place. We had a good supper, anyhow, after which we went to Garrick's Theatre and saw "Oh! Be Careful." It was very good. Next morning we went to the National Gallery and the British Museum (going some) and came to Girdler's Road in the afternoon. We went down town later and went to another theatre - all alone, and didn't get lost. We are some scouts. One of us always takes the lead, and if he is wrong the other side takes it. If he is wrong we ask a "cop."

We went to Buckingham Palace this morning but did not see the King. I wanted to see his daughter. We saw them change guard. They are a little smarter than we are, but then they don't have so much pack drill. From there we went to Westminster Abbey and had a guide take us round and show us all the kings' tombs, etc. It certainly is magnificent. We ran into a chap then who knew all about the government offices, so he very kindly pointed out the War Office and the Prime Minister's house and everything else. He also pointed out to us Lord Curzon, Lord Kitchener and Bonar Law, so we had a good time this morning. I had enough sighteeing by that time, so we went to another show and back here to dinner in the evening.

The streets are rather dark at night but it doesn't stop the people from going out, for they are crowded. I think the story about things being so cheap in London "durn foolishness" for most things are dearer. You can't get a good seat in a theatre for less than "five bob" - we paid three last night and had to stand up at "Watch your step." Of course, there is nothing very good on at present - just revues and vaudevilles.

We were at the Overseas Soldiers' Club last night and saw some names we knew in the register.

12 p.m. - We are just in from the Coliseum, and I am "all in" and have seen enough for one day. We went to town in the underground for a change. Only got lost once, and I was right this time. I think we will go to the Zoo in the morning and also to St.Paul's. Must go to bed now.

Reprinted from The Gazette, July 24, 1915.