Evelyn to Fred
Sep. 3, 1917
My Dearest: -
This is Labour Day of 1917. What were we doing last year? Really, I forget. That wasn't the time the Duke of Connaught reviewed the troops was it? That day seems years and years away.
Ora got up at 4.30 a.m. and left at 5.30 for Belleville. Isn't that awful train connection and service? I suppose there are many girls to-day starting out for pastures new. Ora hated to go, and it seems lonesome without her. I can scarcely realize that soon I'll be going back to Calgary, and that I won't see her again for a year at least. As she left this morning I wondered what the coming year would bring to us. I realized then that I am still young, for hope sprang up in my heart, that next year might see us happier than this.
We went out for a drive this afternoon - to a little village called Kemble, which, strange to say is in the Hamilton Conference, while this is in Toronto. If you saw this city at all, you saw that it is surrounded on all sides except the water front by two ridges of hills, much like the Niagara escarpment, which run out along the Sound to the Georgian Bay.
In our drive to-day, we climbed these hills, and the road running along the water, a few fields back from it, we could look across the Sound to the opposite hills, and away out over the Bay. Great and small splashes of blue and cold grey clouds covered the sky through which the sun shone fitfully. Once across the background of a grey cloud, a bird with a white breast flew. It seemed like being on the top of the world, so near to the clouds and the wind.
There was a tang of autumn in the air, and once I saw three or four small maples with their scarlet fall dresses on. They seemed to stand shyly on one foot, as if conscious that they ere the first to don such brilliant garments, and consequently felt as if they were making themselves conspicuous.
There is a birthday book I was just looking through, a Browning book. This is the quotation beside which Fritz’s name is written in Wray’s handwriting
“He who did well in war, just earns the right
To begin doing well in peace, you know!” .....
A few weeks ago we were eating substitutes for potatoes, now we are using them because we have so many and they're so good. I only wish you could have had a plateful of what we had tonight warmed up with a little "onion" in them. We all seemed to be pretty keen on them. Father has a part of a lot right back of us, some on some man’s farm and some more some place else. You know he isn’t fond of gardening, but he set himself to “produce.”
To-day we had parsnips out of our garden. Isn’t it wonderful how much more use a garden is? Potatoes, parsnips and cucumbers to-day. We haven’t any tomato plants, and have to buy tomatoes.
Oh, you are very near me dearest, and ever, ever in my thoughts.
Yes, I was disappointed in your pictures, but so were you in mine. And I have that good one of you. We took some snapshots at Beamsville which I hope will turn out well, so that you may have them to look at occasionally.
I am glad I came home; I was beginning to get a little homesick. I think Ora and I mean more to each other than ever before. She is very undemonstrative, isn't she, but very, very warmhearted. I think she is very much like father. I don't wonder that Art likes her because she's fat, for she's so good to hug that way.
I slept late this morning, but got up in time to help get dinner. Getting meals and washing dishes is all the work we’ve done to-day, except that I did a little sewing, Lorna continues to amuse us immensely. Tonight mother was telling Mrs. Robson about the trouble she had in bringing me up, and was telling her about me sticking a needle in her three times and getting spanked that many times.
Lorna and I had been playing and she was sitting on my lap. She looked at me with a shocked expression on her face and said “Did oo do dat?” She’s a lively little kiddie. You ought to see Dave look at her. If you ever saw absolute adoration in any man’s eyes, it’s there when he looks at her. When we have a little girl you won’t like her better than you do me, now will you? Of course that’s a perfectly silly question to ask, but I just want to feel you kiss me, and say what I know you’ll say.
We have some old blankets here, one blue and white checked one my grandmother Slaght made, and a red and white striped one Grandma Kelly gave father. There is also a blue and white coverlet my grandmother Slaght made, and a better one Grandma Kelly gave to Aunt Clara. Uncle Jim gave it to father a little while ago. Your mother said you were admiring the old things she had; there is nothing like being frank, is there sweetheart?
Oh, you old dear, how I wish you and I were in front of a grate fire, in a big chair. May the time soon come when we may be, and you'll get enough loving to make up for the dreary time when you're away. I am thankful always for you, and for my own dear folk who mean so much to me.
Fred to Evelyn
Tues. Sept. 4/17
Still no news of our departure. All sorts of rumours are afloat - one that we shall not go at all now because the 5th Division is supplying all needed reinforcements at the present time. I have ceased to speculate although I don't pay any attention to the last rumour. I wish we did have some idea however, for the C.B. isn't lifted. Since Saturday we haven't even been able to get permission to leave the camp lines for a few hours.
This morning we had the hardest route march yet. It was about 8 miles and we had only 3 brief stops. The day was hotter than we have experienced for 6 weeks. It really does look as if the weather had settled now. The farmers will rejoice, for wheat and oats are dead ripe and badly lodged. ... The crop losses in this country from the bad August weather must be enormous.
Yesterday I opened the little box of salted peanuts which came last week with the cake. They are delicious, - much superior to the prepared ones which you buy, - in fact they are the best I have ever tasted. Everything else that came in that box has been despatched. Good things don’t last long in this camp.
Still no Canadian mail. I thought surely there would be some today, but no! I wonder if a mail boat has been sunk. I do hope I get another letter before I leave England. Life seems so empty when there aren't letters. Somehow, when I don't hear from you for a long while you seem far away, and then your letters bring you near again.
Today I took 3 time exposures of the hut interior today, which I hope will turn out well. I cleaned the lens today and possibly that will make an improvement in the pictures. What I have taken so far have been disappointing. Our armourer serjeant has a camera of the same size which has taken some excellent pictures.
In today's casualty list Clarence Smith's name appears among the wounded. I didn't know he had gone back to France. You have heard me speak of Yale Smith of the Court House, haven’t you? He too has been wounded.
I'm glad Clarence has received his Blighty(1) for now he'll be back here for Xmas - which is the goal of everyone's ambition. Everyone speaks well of the hospitals - of the food, the care, and everything connected with them. Perhaps the contrast to their field experiences makes them prejudiced judges, but the well night universal verdict is - "The best time I ever had."
It's bed time now and I feel a wee bit tired tonight so I'll say goodnight. Pleasant dreams my darling. Here's hoping there will be a letter from you tomorrow.
Wednesday evening Sept. 5/17.
My last wish was fulfilled. There was one letter from you today - that written on Aug 15th - just as you were leaving "Aux Sables." There must be others written between Aug 8th and 15th. Very likely they will come tomorrow.
Oh, my darling, I'm so sorry you have been ill again. If you haven't by this time become quite satisfied that the doctor diagnosed your case correctly, please don't spare any expense to get the best opinion possible. And don't go back to work unless you feel perfectly well. Your health is of first importance and if you can't preserve it while doing a law student's work, give up the law.
I am so glad you tell me about yourself. I agree with you that we should be perfectly frank with each other and I would worry if I thought you were withholding from me news of your real condition. Isn't there a remedy for anemia? I should think plenty of rest with lots of exercise and good nourishing food would build you up again. But whatever the doctor advises you will do, will you not please, dearest?
I also had 2 other nice long letters today - one from Mother O and the other from Margaret. Poor Mother O! She is anxious about Wilfred and I believe has changed a great deal herself - with a broader outlook than she used to have.
But she still can’t realize that though she is his mother she must let Wilfred live his own life and that even a mother must at times stand aside and not interfere, - especially when there is a daughter-in-law. It must be hard but after all it is the way of life.
Her letter was long and bright and interesting, though there were one or two sentences which seemed to hold a hidden meaning and to be very pathetic. I am taking the liberty of quoting a couple. "Do you know Fred, I would be almost glad to know that he had enlisted and was where you are" and "I would rather see him taken as Everett Fallis was than to lose his Christian principle and forget his God." - and yet again - "I fear he is getting careless and selfish and bitter."
Isn't it hard that often times our best loved ones do most harm from the very excess of their love? I can't help feeling that so it is with Mother O. and Wilfred & Ruby. All unwittingly she has been to a very large extent responsible for his present state of mind, ... I wish I could help for I hate to see a wasted life - particularly of man of such fine parts and character as Wilfred, but I don't see what I can do.
Perhaps I might do something if I were home but even that is doubtful for meddling in such matters usually makes them worse instead of better. But we can both pray for them dearest, and when you return to Calgary be as kind as you can, will you please?
Mother O. enclosed a few more very helpful verses, which I shall send to you in a later letter. They are really a prayer, and a woman who treasures such bits of prayer song as she has sent me must have experienced a real prayer life.
I was sorry to learn from Margaret's letter that Lina [Moyer] will not go to Calgary with you. From her standpoint I think she is wise, but I was counting very much on your having someone with you this year. I don't like your being alone so much. You will try to get someone else will you not, dearest? Do you think you and Laura could get along together? From what Elmer says I believe she would like some such work as the L.T.O. Perhaps by the time this reaches you she may be back in Calgary with you.
Anyhow, please try to get someone. Those were nice letters of Mrs. Brown’s & Miss Burgoine’s that you enclosed. You have made some very nice friends haven’t you? I am sorry Mr. Brown has been ill so long, and hope he is better now. Will you remember me to him particularly when you see him. Sometimes I fancy we take him too much as a matter of course because he is quiet and undemonstrative and neglect him.
Margaret's letter too was an exceptionally good one. After I have answered it I shall send you at least part of it. I think her life has broadened and deepened during the past few months - yes - and sweetened also - for I fear that she was becoming a little cynical and bitter during her last year in hospital. I hope you have had a good visit at Beamsville this time. With good night wishes and kisses.
Thurs. noon. Sept. 6/17.
I have just had dinner consisting of roast mutton, potatoes and another vegetable, and apple pie. For the past few weeks meals have been very good. The cook in the serjeant's mess now is A1. Not many of the army cooks make pastry that doesn't taste gluey, but his is much better than what one would get in an ordinary hotel.
I have now about half an hour before the afternoon parade and I want to mail this letter before then so that it will catch today’s outgoing Canadian mail. Didn't do much this morning. Had a swimming parade and a little company drill. This afternoon there's to be a route march again. Still no news of our departure.
This morning there was some more Canadian mail I got another Globe, a U. of A. news letter and one from you written Aug 10, 11, 12 & 13th with a brief note from Ora. I suppose Ora is now back in Belleville so I shall write her within the next few days. Now that you will be leaving Owen Sound soon, I shall also write occasionally to your father and mother.
Today I sent a letter to J.H. Woods. [Calgary Herald] It isn't meant for publication but he may use it if he wants to. I merely expressed my appreciation of the attitude of the Herald about conscription. I do wish Army rules and regulations allowed me to speak more frankly but there's the rub. We who could tell things that would surely awaken Canada to the military needs have our tongues tied. Surely there would be very little opposition to conscription if the facts were known. I do think the Herald has shown unusual moderation and singleness of purpose in its attitude to war questions and politics generally, don't you?
This morning my bank book came back from the bank. The balance is £25 4s. 1d. with no interest added since May 10th. Apparently interest is added only half yearly. I am leaving the pass book in my trunk at Elmer's hut.
I am so glad, dearie, that you told me frankly about yourself. You will do as I suggested last night - get the best medical attention you can and take care of yourself, will you not? If you think you would be better off at home, why, give up the office work, store the furniture and give up the apartment.
I do want you to look after your health. I can't bear to think of you as sick, and now that I am too far away to look after you, you will be more careful for my sake, will you not? You must do this for me, as well as for yourself. If only I could be with you! Never mind, we shall be together again some day, and then I'll try to make up for all we've missed.
Your own Fred.
Sept. 4, 1917
Do you like my name for you sweetheart? Do you? Oh my dearie, how dear you are to me! And it seems as if you must soon, soon be home again. We have a wood fire in the grate, and I was sitting on Daddy's lap in front of it. My two dear men you are. Not every girl is so fortunate as to have two such good men as I have.
It feels like fall tonight. The day was sunny, but cool. The rest of the party went for a nice drive, but I have to begin to deep quiet now. So I stayed at home and rested, and wrote to Ruby. I have felt conscience stricken for some time because I did not write to her before, but now I feel as if a load were off my mind.
Father brought 22 ears of corn home from his farm, and we had some of it for supper. It was a little small, but so very good and sweet we certainly enjoyed it. We had corn, warmed up potatoes and cucumbers, all of our own growing, and everyone had such an appetite. Does it make you hungry dear, when I tell you about all these good things?
Mrs Robson and I went down town this morning and she bought some towels. This afternoon she and mother went down, and I sent and I got some towels for your mother's Christmas present. I'll make them now while I have the time. I got four big ones and two little ones, of nice quality. I know she'll be pleased with them. I do feel like giving our parents nice things, especially when they are useful and are needed. I'll soon have things pretty well ready for Christmas. What do you think about the Geographic for our fathers?
Do you think Don’s [Albright] would enjoy it? I should think they would. Did your father, or did he tell you that he has leased 20 acres of his land to the government and is doing experimental work on it? Some day he may be the head of an experimental farm in Alberta.
To-day I got a couple tax notices, but I think they are for the lots your father and Mr. Tinlin own, so I’ll send them on. Mr. Tinlin was telling me they’d come to me, but I told him they’d be in his name. That’s one time I was mistaken.
To-day I was reading the report of the trial of those Esquimaux. It would have been unjust to hang them, yet the others must know that murder is punished. It seems to me thought, the poor creatures may have thought the priests were going to kill them. They should not have pointed their guns at them. But of course, one never knows the real circumstances.
It reads like the story in our histories of Father Lalement, and another. If I had been home, I might have been able to hear the trial. It must have been the strangest that a Calgary courtroom ever witnessed.
I was reading to-day a book written by Mr W.D. Flatt, called “The Trail of Lane.” One chapter is about the old pioneers. He says his grandfather and his uncle came over as Hudson’s Bay men, from the Orkney Islands, and that his grandfather brought a prisoner from a Western Post to Little York, and shortly afterwards severed his connection with the Company. You’d love his descriptions of the forests that used to surround Burlington Bay. Father has two copies, and says I may have one.
I’ll try to hunt up those editorials of which you spoke. I noticed in yesterday’s paper Sept. 3 how R.B. and Carvell were at each other’s throats, and Carvell asked R.B. if he wasn’t going to close with prayer. He was so filled with righteous indignation in his defence of Hon. Robert Rogers. That would have been interesting to watch, n’est-ce-pas?
I read in The Guardian where a Frenchman, whom the crowd took for M. Sevigny, was molested at Valleyfield Que. That’s where Hazel is going to teach. She said in one letter she didn’t know what had would happen to her, for after her stay in Montreal she changed her opinion of the inhabitants of bas Canada. Maybe that wasn’t a fair test, but you know what Crispin Smith told us about the government of Montreal. Hazel said a Y worker told her it was the worst city for the white slave traffic in America, I think she said. And do you remember how quiet and peaceful it seemed that day we were there two, is it only, two years ago?
Four years ago now we were being engaged, or maybe it was finished. Do you remember the day we went over to Toronto, dined at the Prince George, and bought roses and candy? We didn't love each other so much then as we do now, did we dearest? But we must always be glad for our start. I have thought of a nice game to play. Let's keep track of everything pleasant that occurs on our lucky days - i.e. Fridays and the twelfth of every month. Likely I'll be the first to forget, but you must remind me.
This morning I went into a book store, only to find in crowded with boys and girls. Yes, it's the first day of school. The old feeling comes back, excitement at being in a new class, having new studies and new books, getting time-tables arranged - and seats.
It also seems as if pears, plums, peaches and apples are mixed up in the feeling, also a touch of fall. Do you remember it too dear? Or were you worked too hard?
I always want to hug you when I think of you as a little boy, because you didn't have your fair share of play and fun. I'll try to make it up to you when you come home. You have always worked so hard, Ferd dear, that it seems you ought soon to have your reward. I am so proud of you my dear. I need never droop my head on account of my husband.
I’m glad you liked the candies. Those socks were from Ora, I thought I told you - the rest of her Christmas present. Do those little fruit drops, when I use them for packing, get stuck together and to other things? I’m going to try getting milk chocolate at the wholesale house. Mrs. Robson says they do.
By the way, here’s Walter’s address - 346925, Gunner Walter R. Scott 23rd Howitzer Battery, C.F.A. France.
I am sorry you did not come up so well as you wanted to in your shooting, but now they won't make you a sniper. Oh, if this wretched business were only over. We pray it may be soon.
There, the clock has struck nine, I suppose you are sleeping now, but sleeping or waking, I know you are loving and loved by
Evelyn to Fred
[Sep. 5 ,6 & 7]
Will you please forgive this pencil. I haven’t a pen filler home and my pen is in a chronic state of emptiness. I am upstairs in the attic in bed. I like sleeping up here, it’s quieter, and although there are only two windows that will open, yet when the door downstairs is open it give plenty of air. I stayed in bed to-day till after two o’clock.
I'm coming along in good shape and my disease in no way affects my appetite. For my dinner I had a little meat, potatoes, bread & butter, tea and three ears of corn. I have started to drink milk too.
I had a letter from Laura to-day. I must say for her that if at times she does appear dictatorial, she generally has a second thought on the subject. I think we shall get along well together and of one thing I’m certain, she’ll make me go to bed in good time. She will be ??? to have someone. I sincerely hope we can arrange things satisfactorily.
To-day came a letter from the National Securities saying that there would be a slight advance in rent. I don't know how much. I'm not surprised, for houses are hard to get in Calgary, and rents are going up.
Lora thinks we could get along comfortably in that suite, and I think so too. I should really hate to leave it, for you and I, though we were sad there, yet we found it a loving home.
My darling, sometimes it seems as if I can't stand it for you to be away where you are, but then one can do a lot when it's necessary. Things have not been as pleasant as they might have been for Laura. I'm sure her letters to Elmer will be brighter when she gets at some kind of work. I think too, that since she has been home, and ??? I have found how lonely it is to be alone, that we shall each be a better companion for the other.
Now I'll roll over and go to sleep. You are the whole world to me my darling. My arms ache for you, and my lips grow weary waiting. Goodnight.
Dear, dear Ferd:
This is Thursday night, the sixth of September. I see I have dated the other page August. I hope I’m not always so much behind the times.
I wish you could have seen us at our supper tonight. Father was away, so mother brought hers upstairs too, to eat with Eve. There are trunks, packing boxes etc. all around the room, but it’s large and airy, and I tell mother there’s more to see up here than down in one of the small bedrooms. Well, mother sat on the end of a box and I sat up in bed. She turned the crokinole board upside down on the bed for a table. The tray was put on the hollow in the centre.
She attached the toaster to the electric fixture and set it on a high chair which we drew ??? the bed. We had toast, bacon, honey and coffee. We hadn’t had any meat at noon, so we weren’t being extravagant. Tell you where I am costing a lot though; my pills cost a cent each and I have to take one after each meal.
I have been reading and sewing and sleeping - and thinking all day. Poor father had some hard work to-day. They have a town deaconess here, to whom the reports of casualties are sent; she informs the pastors of the relatives who go with the news, or if they are not at home she goes herself. Daddy had to go to-day. It is a humane way of sending the news, but any way is terrible enough. I wonder if you realize how much what you told me of your "feeling" does to keep my spirits up.
I had a nice letter from Hazel to-day. She said she sent you that copy of “World-wide” on account of an article in it about Sir Douglas Haig, which she thought you would appreciate. Isn’t she thoughtful. She said she didn’t have time for cake or candy to send with a couple pairs of socks she sent recently, and feared it was a meagre parcel.
About socks, can you tell me about how long a pair lasts? And did Hazel send you any white ones? I hear some say they like white ones, and others that they like grey better. The both cost the same. I thought white would be a little easier on the feet.
Did I tell you we unravelled the pair Mrs. Clarke sent and that mother knitted them again? They were so tight you could not have worn them. They are done now, but mother had to put in white toes, because there wasn't enough of the other wool. They are so lovely and warm, I'll not send them until the weather is a little colder.
Yesterday school began in earnest. You may remember that this place is just across the road from a school. I could hear the children spelling and saying their tables. I told mother I knew what “piece” they were studying from the words they were spelling in unison.
Did you see the report in yesterday's paper about a man named Thompson being fined £2,500 for selling his potatoes a price above that fixed by the government. It seemed a stiff sentence, but I wish some profiteers in our own country would get one like it.
Also did you notice that the ex-Czar and his family are occupying a fifteen-room apartment in some place in Siberia? The four daughters have two rooms between them, the ex Czar and his wife each have one and the son has one. Besides a few living rooms, the rest of the house is occupied by servants. There is no garden - all their out-of-doors is a piazza - they are on the second floor. That's a drop with a vengeance. Probably they are glad they have not met the fate of some of their ministers ...,
The paper suggests that the new Federal Elections Bill will give the franchise to women who are relatives of men at the front. Clearly the government is going to make sure of conscription being upheld.
Oh dear Ferd, I talk and talk and talk, but what I want is to look into your face, and to feel your lips on mine, and to hear you say a few words, just a few. You know what they are, do you not sweetheart. Why did you go walking so much on Sunday the nineteenth of August? You said you were thinking so much of me. Were you just so homesick that you had to work it off? It is sometimes very hard to control one's thoughts and not to think about the things it is unwise to think about, and I succeed very well. Do you know what I dreamed last night? That we were in London together... I should not care so much about being together in London if only we were together somewhere.
I am glad the mails are running more regularly, but you don't get very many letters at a time now, do you? I think I'll go to sleep now sweetheart, and write more in the morning.
Friday morning. [Sept. 7]
The children are at recess across the road. Why when children play is there such a lot of squealing? You'd think everyone was making as much noise with his voice as he possibly could.
It’s a lovely bright day again. Last night for a while the moon shone in on my face - I was pretending you were home again, and planning a house and how we'd use it. I'm not going to have my Saturday afternoons "workdays" when you come home. I think I've maybe learned how to plan things better and not to waste so much time.
Should you like the Saturday Evening Post? They have reduced rates to soldiers now. I think we might send it to Art for a Christmas present. How last year we hoped we'd never have to send any more Christmas presents overseas.
My darling, I love you.
Fred to Evelyn
My darling, -
This will not be a very long letter for it is near supper time and our draft expects to fall in about 7 o’clock.
At last we have received definite orders for France. Last night the 2nd 31st draft left, and tonight the first 50th - of 255 men. Probably the 2nd 50th will leave tomorrow, although no orders are out yet regarding it. Yesterday a call came for a 3rd draft of 50 men for the 50th. When they go the reserve will indeed look deserted.
I don't know what time we'll entrain tonight but it is likely we'll be travelling all night. I am not at liberty to tell you the ports of embarkation and disembarkation even if I knew it. I have a pretty good idea.
This afternoon we had pretty much to ourselves but I went out for a walk and to get a real fill-up of blackberries - and I succeeded. I can't say that I ate so many I couldn't eat any more, but I certainly had a stomach full of really nice big ripe ones. The wild blackberries here are much larger than in Canada - and far sweeter. After I returned I lay down for half and hour in an endeavor to get a little sleep for if we are to be up all night I'll need it.
This morning we got up earlier than usual for a muster parade at 5.30. At a muster parade everyone must turn out, cooks, tailors orderly room staff etc. It was the earliest a good many had been up since the last muster parade.
I don't know what arrangements for Canadian mail there may be in France, so I'll mail this here. I am enclosing a few more developed films and a few little wild flowers I picked last evening. They stood up so brave and fresh and sweet in the rain they reminded me of you. You are the flower of my life.
Elmer called at noon to say good-bye, as he is going to London on combined business & pleasure for the weekend. I have just returned from a call on Herb Peters and Douglas Robinson. Herb insisted that I should accompany him to "Tin Town" to have something to eat before I leave, but when I assured him I had just got up from the supper table, where I had a double sized meal because of going away, he asked me to call again at 7.30 and we'd go together then to get some eats. At the time I thought we'd parade at 8.45 but I have since learned it's to be 8.05 so I'll not have time to go. In that event he will come down to see us off.
In your last letter you quoted that verse - "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." I often read that Psalm. There are so many psalms of wonderful comfort aren't they? The little book you gave is always carried in my breast pocket. I read it every night and many of my favorite passages are under lined.
Oh my darling, how much our religion means to us, doesn't it? It keeps me strong and unafraid for you, for “He shall give His angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways.”
I have no fears for the future and I pray dearest that your mind may be serene and your faith unshaken. Don't worry if my letters are more irregular than in the past, for I may not always be able to write. Remember no news is good news and whether I write or not, my thought and prayer will always be for the dearest, bravest and best wife man ever had. A world of love and kisses from
Evelyn to Fred
Sep. 7/17 Friday evening. 6.35 P.M.
You remember “The Children’s Hour”,
Between the dark and the daylight
When the night is beginning to lower
Comes a pause in the day’s occupation
That is known as the childrens’ hour.
He must have meant about this time of day. It is too dark to read without straining the eyes, but I thought I’d write to you a bit though I have nothing in particular to say. But since I can’t lie in your arms, saying nothing but just loving you, I’m rambling on.
This again is Friday, but nothing particularly nice happened. I had comb honey “to my tea”. I suppose if you had had it, with toast and raw tomatoes, you would think that a “nice” thing, well worth recording.
I have been lying here all day, sewing a little and reading a little but mostly thinking of you. There are some things I'd like to tell you dear, and yet I can't. They'll have to keep until I can tell them to you with my lips; but then the time telling them, happily will be past and thus they will vanish along with other dreams and nightmares.
I was smiling at an advertisement of United States tires. It speaks about the supremacy of the air of the Allies on the Western front. You'd almost think the U.S. had been vitally instrumental in gaining the said supremacy. It makes one smile, but all the same, we are glad to have them in at last. One shouldn't be too critical, especially when parts of one's own country are acting as they are.
According to the proposed law, I shall have a vote in the coming Elections. I don't want to vote for R.B. [Bennett] and yet J.I. [J.A. Irvine] seems hardly up to standard size. I think however, he'd vote for conscription and maybe for a Union Government. In a way, I'll be representing you, so please give me the benefit of your advice. I wonder if you realize how much it means to me to be able to talk things over with you, even at a distance. At least it seems to bring us near together while we read and while we write.
I’m dreadfully lazy - I suppose I ought to write to Edith Adams and Edith Phillips and Elleda - and ad inf. and this is really a good opportunity for doing it but I let the time slip by. When I’m not on my holidays there are so many things I have to do, it’s rather fun just to refuse to do things.
You speak often of Jimmy Barnes. Who is he besides being a serjeant in your battalion? You said his wife sent him the Onwards. Should you like your wife to send you them? What does his wife do besides teach in the Sunday school? Or has he children to be looked after. Did you notice in the Globe the other day that a brother of Gordon and of Norman Weir had been killed?
Was Carlton McNaught’s wife overseas with him. In to-day’s paper it spoke about Mr. McNaught’s birthday party at the Exhibition and about his son Capt. McNaught with his young wife and son being there too. Sometimes I’m cowardly enough to wish you were deaf or something.
Clara used to ask me what I said writing every day, but if she knew that I’d written twice to-day, she would be quite bowled over. When we went out to the Beach, she was writing only once a week to Gordon, but competition with us speeded her up on her output, so Gordon ought to thank us.
A kind old lady here has sent over grape juice for me to drink, bottles of it. I wish I could send some on to you. Wasn’t that good of the old lady? She makes it for the church too, and she’s always bringing over bread, etc.
I wonder where you are now darling, I pray most earnestly for you, and try to trust that all will be well with you. My love follows you wherever you go, you know that, don't you Ferd?
Saturday, Sep. 8, 1917
My Own Dear Ferd:-
Saturday night again! Last week we had a houseful, and tonight “we are but three.” The week has passed very quickly, in spite of the fact that I’ve spent a lot of it in the attic. I don’t mind it, it’s mother who has carried my meals up to me who should care. I went downstairs for supper, and am now nearly better, and feel quite well satisfied with my condition.
Last night and the night before mother brought her work up and sat on the end of the bed: And last night daddy came up too, and we all visited. It was so funny I had to laugh, to see the two of them, on the foot of the bed, in about as uncomfortable positions as you could imagine. Dad is so funny, he knows perfectly well why I’m staying in bed, yet several times he as come up, looked out the window, yawned and said “Why don’t you get up?”
My thoughts have been with you almost constantly since I awoke. I have been reading a little book The Story of the Psalms by Van Dyke, which I think I'll send to you. I know you have very little time for reading, but it illuminates a few of our favourites and has brought comfort to me, I know it will to you too.
I have been analyzing my feelings to some extent, as to how I miss you most. Of course, being thrown into business isn't my choice of work - I am a home woman, but I can interest myself in that. But I miss your comradeship most of all, your ready sympathy and understanding. So often you understood without my saying anything at all.
Yet I am glad that it is thus that I miss you, for it is proof that our love is the purest and deepest kind. I am sure we never quite realized, until it made us suffer for it, this deep current of love and understanding. It is something to have learned to know it.
Father is going to bed now, so I'll turn out my light. Goodnight my husband, my lover and my friend.
This has seemed a long day. I didn’t get up until noon, but the afternoon seemed long. Mother was going to stay home from church with me tonight, but I told her not to, that I’d write to you. Daddy was afraid I couldn’t keep the fire up- in the grate - imagine - because the wood is rather green. It has been like fall the last few days. Rather peculiar too, isn’t it?
In to-day’s ‘Onward’ there was a letter from Sgt. Rounce. Haven’t I heard you speak of him? I’ll wrap “The Friendly Road” in a copy of “Onward.” It ou The parcel ought to move some, n’est-ce-pas?
I saw in the Guardian a report of the death of Lieut. Marwood of B.C. in an explosion near Bramshott and thought it might have been that accident at Longmoor. It's six months now since you went away. Soon you will have been that long in England, and you ought then to be having another leave. You haven’t heard anything from our friends at Charing or Sellinge, have you?
In yesterday's Globe were directions for a sleeveless sweater to go on over the head and come close up around the throat. Would one be of any use to you? I'd love to make it, if it would be useful to you. Would you have it of khaki or grey? Or would a chamois jacket be better? Also, will you need wristlets and some sort of mittens or gloves. Please tell me anything that will keep you warm, dearie, and I'll get it for you. Will you give me your chest measurement?
As for that other jacket of which I spoke, you leave me in doubt as to whether it would be wise or not. It would be warm though, wouldn’t it? Of course, you yourself do not know what is for the best, any more than I do.
Before you receive this, you will have received the box from home. Don’t tell them if it didn’t carry well, because I packed it. Tell me, do those boxes carry as well as the tin ones? The latter are rather sticky, but I think they have a delicious flavour. I was sorry I couldn’t get more sugar in, but it didn’t seem to pack in well with the cakes.
Do you know of any men who don't get any parcels at all? Hazel says she has some women at home, anxious to know of such ones. Mother told me the other day of an English boy from here, who had received a card from the League or some church organization, and he wrote that that was the first mail he'd had since he went over, and he'd been there a long time. He had a brother here in town too.
The loneliness of some poor chaps must be awful, I don't wonder they get drunk. I understand too, dearie, what you have preached so much to me, the meaning and influence of the home with an open door. One can't, though, do everything, and so one must make a choice after deciding what is the most important thing to be done. It seems now as if we were selfish, and as if we could do so much better if we were only given a second chance. I sometimes wonder how we should have developed if it had not been for the war.
It will soon be three years since we started housekeeping in our house on the hill. I have been thinking to-day of some Sunday afternoons we spent there, when we lay down on the big couch, or sat in front of the fire and read. To you, under your conditions, those times must seem very far away - but very dear. I am glad we have such tender memories of our home. They help us to construct for ourselves happy visions of the future.
You asked me some time ago to find out how many had received your cards. I know the following did - Mr. Clarke, Mr. Macleod and Mr. Carson - Miss Cummer, Miss Scott and Miss Burgoin. I do not remember having heard the others say. Have you heard anything from Captain Shouldice lately?
It made me laugh when I read what Elmer said about his trip. It is so characteristic of him. Maybe he wasn’t allowed to go through Edinburgh castle. You know dearie, it is so much more interesting to see the inside of such places. Yet I can’t understand him not being interested, though there are people constituted that way. Aren’t we fortunate in having so many tastes in common? Now, Roy for example, is crazy to go abroad, while Elizabeth would rather go to California.
Has Fritz written to you yet? Elizabeth sent her love to you. I am so sorry dearie, but I don't feel towards her or him as I should like to, I feel that I don't want to go there when I have what I have in my heart. And I am sorry, for I looked forward to being chums with her, and I think she did too. And she does seem lonesome, for women friends I mean. Oh, I must stop being such a mean thing. Dearie, do my letters seem petty and small to you? Would you rather I'd keep my nastinesses out of my letters. Why dearie, I can hear you speak and feel you put your arms around me and love me hard.
Goodnight darling, I hear the people coming from church.
Evelyn to Fred
Sep. 10, 1917
Your letter of the 24-26 of August came this afternoon, but I could not bring myself to write to you until tonight, when now I am upstairs in my attic room, all by myself. I always want to be alone when I write to you. I wonder how it will be when Laura and I are together. We shall have to each take a room for our writing.
The news your letter brought was not unexpected, my dear one, though it seemed as if my heart stood still for a time. From your viewpoint, I think you’ll be glad to have it over I cannot face the thought of what it may mean for you, and so I try not to think of it, but to look forward to the days when you’ll be home again. I know well, without your saying it, that you would do anything you could to save me pain and anxiety. You have done all that you could sweetheart. It means so unutterably more than I can say, to know that you are a Christian, that I can trust you absolutely, and that you love me.
It seems rather strange to me that you should not have been chosen to be on the instructional staff, and I feel sometimes a little bitter that you have to go in reduced rank. However, that is a small matter compared with the fact that you are going at all, and I try to think this, that "All things work together for good, to them that love God."
This is the time to show whether our religion really means anything to us. You have shown yours does, I shall try my darling to prove mine liveable. Dearie, if you should want to cable me, will you send it to the apartments. Then I should know it came from you. I expect to go back to arrive home about the middle of October, but I haven't seen the doctor yet. I do not need a doctor however to tell me I feel better.
I am letting father read most of your letter. He has been trying to think that you'd be kept in England as an instructor, now he says maybe there's as much danger in England as in France. But there is no use worrying - it can't help you any. It isn't heartless not to worry - it's only common sense - if one can do it. I have thought of you so much these last few days, and in such a way, that I was not surprised to learn from your letter where you probably are.
I don't feel like writing any more tonight dear. There isn’t much to tell you about. I didn’t get up until late, then I knitted and mended a lot of stockings and socks for mother - that took me nearly all afternoon, and this evening I read a book, though there were lots of letters to be written.
Got a notice of your Mutual Life Premium 47.95. I was looking up in my black book, and saw two years ago premium for accident policy. You aren’t keeping any up now are you. I also got word from Dr. Patrick that the rent will be 40.00 from Oct. 1st and that if I didn’t want to pay it, they would take my notice from Sept. 1st if given within three days. I suppose our sub-tenants would stay on, but they won’t get the chance. I was afraid the rent was going above 40.00 - I expected it to be that, even from the 1st of September.
Your negatives came through all right. I'm so sorry you hadn't received the box when you wrote, but you should have had it in a day or two.
It has been so cold to-day that we had a fire in the furnace. Just imagine in Ontario in the beginning of September. It will likely soon be warm again.
Goodnight my own sweetheart.
Sep. 11, 1917, Tuesday.
My sweetheart Ferd:-
This has been a remarkably busy day for me. Although I had my breakfast in bed, and wasn’t downstairs until eleven, I did quite a bit. I ironed until dinner was ready, and after we had finished the work, daddy took us for a nice drive out to the farm to get some corn. It isn’t getting large very fast as it has been so cool for the past week.
It was a lovely day, and it’s the first I’ve been out for a week. We were home by three o’clock, as mother had to go to missionary meeting. Then daddy took me down town and I did some shopping and walked back. After coming back I wrote seven letters, two to Mutual Life - one enclosing premium and the other interest on the loan, one to Dr. Patrick, on to Mrs. Tulk about keeping the suite for October, one to Mr. Tinlin enclosing tax notices, and one to Hazel Fleak.
I felt as if I were back at work again. Oh yes, another one was to the Union Bank at Winnipeg saying that C.P.R. stocks were held on my account. That brought us up to supper time. After the dishes were done we took some rice-puddings for the W.C.T.U. booth at the fair, over to the lady’s - the one who gave me the grape juice.
When we came back we packed boxes - one for you and one for Art. I do so hope you get yours, it's the best one since the Hamilton box. It contains about three pounds of sultana cake, about 9 dozen rocks, a dozen sultana biscuits, a package of cream cheese, tooth powder, walnuts, sugar, after-dinner mints, chocolate and a face cloth.
I shall not start sending socks for a time, though you did not tell me how many pairs you had in reserve. I rather hesitate to send this box to Bramshott, but I am sure they’ll forward it, and I think you’ll get it quicker than if I wait for your address.
A vetirnary - I don't know how you spell the creatures - came home tonight. He saw Art a short time ago. He says he is well in the rear - out of danger. I am sincerely glad for Ora's sake. She knows this man's wife, and one day the latter told Ora that vets were about the same as doctors - that their studies were about the same. Fancy! Ora was quite insulted. Of course this man is a captain. His wife was a milliner, and they had nothing. She went back to her trade this last winter, but this spring she bought a car and has been on a five weeks' tour. She was telling father tonight some of her experiences and he says the money she's had to spend is shameful. I guess the women who get money from the Patriotic Fund aren't the only ones who spend foolishly.
This morning while in bed I heard the kids singing. One room was singing “There’s a silver lining” when another room broke in with “Jesus bids us shine, with a clear pure light.” No one finished first and soon were chanting morning
m-o-r-n-i-n-g- morning - n-o-r-t-h north to the while the others were still shining in their small corners.
Tonight I attempted to play the piano, almost the first I’ve touched it since I came home. I played over a little song I always liked, you may possibly recall the air. It is a simple one and the words are these.
Ah, since I kissed you
The world is sweetly changed to me
The flowers bloom brightly from the tree
All Nature seems one holiday
In plumes and garlands of the May.
Ah, since I kissed you
The memory of silent years
Of blighted hopes of blinding tears
Are swept away, and lonely hours
Are spanned by love’s undying flowers -
Ah! since I kissed you.
I thought of times when you would read and lie on the couch, and when I’d play softly and you’d drop off to sleep. I wish for your sake, that I could play and sing well. I really have spent quite a lot of energy and time learning to play, but it’s so easy to forget it.
I have read the 46th Psalm. It was written at the time when the armies of Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem in the time of Hezekiah - when the armies were stricken dead outside the walls. The people of Moscow sang it after the retreat and defeat of Napoleon. It brings comfort to us, even as it did to Luther , who wrote “A mighty fortress is our God.”
Oh my own darling, I hold you close.
Owen Sound, Sep. 12 1917
Dearest Ferd: -
Again this is the twelfth of the month. I’m not just sure when we moved into our house on Fifth street, but it must have been about this time. Do you remember what we had for our first meal? Tomato soup. I hope it may not be so very long sinc until we eat together again in our own home.
You are very near me all the time sweetheart: If thought could help you, you would be helped indeed.
I do not know whether or not to send you David Grayson, I had hoped you would get it in England, and some Sunday afternoon could take it off into some quiet spot to read it. I’ll let you know if I send it.
I was reading “The Watch Office Dog” - the last page in the Journal. Here is a joke. At one of Billy Sunday’s meetings, a Japanese cook was converted. Soon after his conversion, - his mistress gave a big dinner party. Course after course came on, until the end, when a fine large cake was served. As Mr. Sunday had finished his service with prayer, the Japanese thought he ought to have a religious ending to his service. He did not know much English, so he used the text that had brought about his conversion. On the cake he had iced “Prepare to meet thy God.” That’s rather a silly joke though, hardly worth the telling. I’ll bet that Japanese didn’t know how to write, if he didn’t know how to speak English.
The news from Russia is not very cheering but one never knows what is going on there. The best thing to do is to expect no help from them - I made up my mind to that long ago.
Father was speaking to me about Saskatchewan bonds - his banker told him they were the best investment now - cost 90 and their interest is 6%. At least, that’s what he thought it was - he’s going to find out for sure.
You are so far away and I know so little about business. I hate to buy Steel Co. of Canada. But then - let’s be cheerful - maybe I won’t have anything to buy it with. But that C.N.R. was not divided last week.
Do you honestly mean you think I don't criticize much? I don't want to, but it seems to me I do a lot. I felt ashamed of what I'd said, for dearest, daddy and mother are so good to me, and so are your father and mother, but of course they don't have the same chance. Why dearie, I don't know what I'd do without them when you are away. I wish I could tell you how much I love you. And you mustn't say I have the hardest part. You have never complained a bit about going away, and you have had more to give up than many. May God keep you in every way, my true brave and loving husband.
Your own wife.
Fred to Evelyn
Somewhere in France.
My dearest, -
This is Wednesday evening and I haven't written you since last Friday before leaving Bramshott. Since then so much has happened and the hours have been so full I haven't even written a word in my diary. I am sorry that the censorship doesn't allow me to give names of places nor any military information, but as I said before you are not to worry about me and always consider no news as good news.
Well we fell in at 8.10 last Friday night on our battalion parade ground for inspection. Despite the fact that many of the fellows were "broke" they had managed to get enough beer and other things to make them happy and lively - a few even being fairly well "tanked." Of course practically all of the battalion came to see us off. After waiting around for nearly an hour we marched to the brigade parade ground where we were joined by drafts from the other battalions in our brigade. Here we had another wait of more than an hour.
Douglas & Herb came to say goodbye and Herb insisted on giving me something. I assured him I had all I needed but he finally went to the YMCA & came back with 3 candles and a cake of maple sugar. I really had my pockets all full and thought the candles unnecessary but I took them - and as he predicted they came in most useful later.
About 9.45 we started off accompanied by the bugle band and also the battalion brass band which has come over here with us and will henceforth be on duty with the 50th in France. The night was cloudy and on the road to the station where the trees overarched the road it was very dark indeed and needless to say, our fours were sometimes fives, sixes or even sevens.
But it was a happy crowd and as we passed through Liphook the darkened streets were lined with citizens many of whom reached out their hands to grasp ours as we passed - and more than once the outstretched hand contained an apple or a pear.
We had not very long to wait at the station for we pulled out exactly at 10.50 p.m. We eight serjeants-that-were - Swanson, McKenzie, Farrant, Anderson, Davidson, Jones, Hayden and myself managed to get into the same compartment. Even with only 7 the place was full enough, what with equipment packs etc.
First we had a lunch of bread & margarine sandwiches, & cheese put up for us by the serjeants’ cook., - a can of pork & beans produced by Hayden, a can of jam contributed by Swanson and a parcel of homemade cake, nuts and raisins by myself. Do you wonder where these last came from?
You may remember my speaking of a Mr. Dugdale who used to be in the L.T.O. - who came over as a serjeant with the 187th. Well just before I left he gave me this parcel, saying, “I had 2 boxes from home today and thought you might like a bite to eat on the train.” Wasn’t that nice of him? Well, we all made a pretty hearty meal and about midnight tried to dispose of our persons so as to get some sleep.
Farrant immediately stretched out on the floor under the seat. Swanson occupied the aisle and the rest of us did the best we could on the seats. After a few fitful dozes I came to the conclusion there were too many jagged edges about for comfort and I too slid down on the floor beside Swanson. Before midnight there were so many halts we didn't expect to reach our destination before morning so it was with a start that we jumped up at 3 a.m. in response to a gruff "Hey there pile out!" No extra 40 winks for us!
We lost no time in scrambling into our equipment and tumbling out on to the platform where all the men were already lined up in their respective platoons. It was one on us, for although we all (with the exception of Anderson who obtained his stripes in France) had been reverted to privates the day we left, our stripes were still on and we were expected to help the conducting N.C.O's. Being 3 a.m. it was quite dark but we had only about 5 minutes' march to our billets.
Do you remember the place we visited 3 years ago where in the afternoon we had quite a chat with one of the sailors from a warship in the harbor? That is the place we sailed from - and the end of our railway journey. Our billets were in residential hotels along the water front - a great long row of which have been taken over by the government and used for purposes of a rest camp in the transportation of troops. A considerable area right down to the water's edge is enclosed by barbed wire fencing, thus giving the use of part of the beach for the troops.
The hotels are used as barracks or billets, all furniture having been removed, of course. Long low buildings have been erected on what was formerly the street for wash houses, cook houses etc. Several thousand troops can be accommodated and I believe there is a constant stream of arrivals and departures. The night we were there I believe there were about 7,000 troops in these billets.
No lights were allowed. We were marched to the hotel fronts and then told off - the required number to each room and hurried in - up dark stairways - scarcely knowing who were behind or before - but we got in somehow. Our room was about 20 ft square and 25 men occupied it. Hayden & I were the only 2 serjeants. We had no idea where the others were.
As I said, no lights were allowed and so the best utilization couldn’t be made of the space. Each man flung down his pack & equipment and sank down on the floor beside or on top of it as circumstances would permit. It was only a few seconds before loud snores told us that at least some of the fellows were not sighing for feather beds.
Hayden and I were side by side and had fairly clear floor space to stretch out upon except that Mike Clarke, whose boots are number 11, couldn't find space for his huge bulk without stretching his feet out either on or under ours. As he had imbibed rather freely it wasn't easy to get him to move.
Besides, we didn’t know whether he had any more space on the other side. So we doubled and twisted our feet around and over his as best we could. An inordinately sharp knee bone tried its best to bore a hole through the small of my back, but in spite of these little discomforts I slept soundly until about 4 o'clock. Then there was light enough to enable me to shift to a more comfortable position and I knew no more until reveille at 5 o’clock.
At the reveille there was no lingering in bed - save the mark! We all tumbled out and washed & shaved - in cold water - and lined up with mess tins for breakfast. Each house or hotel had orderlies, who brought the grub from the cookhouse and stood at a small table cafeteria-fashion, in what served as a hall in peace days. Those billeted in the house lined up on the street and piled in getting each a piece of bread, a large slice of cold beef or bacon - very good ladleful of porridge, and a cup of tea, as he passed. It was a very good breakfast indeed. We took it up to our room and ate in Japanese fashion sitting on the floor.
After breakfast we had a couple parades for roll call etc. and the rest of the time to ourselves. We wandered down to the beach and watched the bathers in the adjoining area. It was a lovely morning - and the sun shining through the blue haze made a lovely pathway on the water. Scarcely any boats were in the harbor - only a few life-savers as I took them to be, manned by a single oarsman who watched for bathers in distress.
Some of the men went in for a dip, but after I watched the scene a short while I returned to the room and shined my equipment etc and then had a nap, - after first changing my quarters so as to be with the other serjeants who were in the room below us.
Dinner was at 12 - and very good too - especially the pudding which contained a lot of stewed plums, apricots etc. After dinner we had another parade then were allowed out in the town from 2.30 to 4. I strolled up through some of the same streets, - along the same promenade - which was lined with soldiers in khaki and hospital blue.
Scarcely any men except a few old ones could be seen in mufti. Of course there were women, but nothing like the scene of pleasurable life of ante-war days. I stood on the same spot from which we watched the warships 3 years ago, and longed for your presence, dearest. After the war we shall visit the place again shall we not?
One thing struck me about the town - that the trees all looked blighted. The leaves were dead and withered, not because it is time for them to fall but from some other cause. I wonder if it is from poisonous fumes.
Saturday evening Sept 15/17
I did expect to finish this before but ever since arriving here last Monday we have been on the jump from 5 a.m. until after dark. We have no lights except a little candlelight, and anyhow when night came we felt like going to bed. Have been at the Canadian army base depot, and tomorrow morning we leave at 6.30 for our brigade depot.
Expect to ride nearly all tomorrow in boxcars. The day following we shall have a march of about 15 miles - not quite so far as we had last Monday. In addition to our equipment & packs from here we take rifles & bayonets, ammunition, steel helmet, gas mask & gas box respirator, so we shall have load enough.
I am so sorry I haven't written but I simply haven't had time. Don't think though I am not well for I feel fit as can be. The grub here has been much better both in quality & quantity than at Bramshott. We are well fed.
This week's experience shows me dearie, that I may not be able to write every day hereafter so please don't worry if you don't hear from me but I shall do the very best I can. If it doesn't jolt too much tomorrow I'll write then. But now must quit so as to get a good night's sleep. Have been short of sleep this week - from 5 to 6 hours per night.
Good night my own dear wife. God bless and keep you. Your Ferd.
P.S. It will probably be some time yet before we get into the front line.
Fred to Evelyn
Sun. Sept. 16/17
My darling wife, -
It is now 8 o'clock a.m. and our draft is out on the parade ground with rifles piled, equipment & packs lying on the sand beside them, the men standing or sitting about in little groups talking, or an occasional one lying stretched out with pack for a back rest reading or writing. The sky is heavily overcast and a few sprinkles are falling, but our tents have been struck and we are waiting orders to move.
The sky is heavily overcast and a few sprinkles are falling, but our tents have been struck and we are waiting orders to move. We fell in at 6.30 had roll call & inspection then paraded to the cook house for our rations - each man getting a can of bully beef 4 army biscuits and a bit of cheese tied up in a clean cotton bag. After that we were told to strike tents & clean up our lines which we have done. I understand we are to have a church service shortly and that we shall probably entrain about 9 o'clock.
Our tent party is going to try to keep together in the car. Did I tell you who we are? McKenzie, Hayden, Swanson, Farrant & myself - ex serjeants. Nease, Hunt, Carman Riggs & Hodson ex corporals, & Privates Gilmore & Whitlaw.
Here at this base camp there have been 12 in a tent. It has been fairly crowded but being more accustomed to stow ourselves & belongings in a small space than when I was at Sarcee, I think I have been as comfortable here as there. The only bedding we had was a blanket each and we found it sufficient.
We will travel today in box cars - 40 in a car. In addition to our rations our party has 1 can pork & beans 2 cans jam, 1 can McConachie (audio link) - ie - a prepared ration of beef, potatoes beans & other vegetables, all cooked together - some Huntley & Palmer biscuits, & some margarine left over from breakfast. So we should fare pretty well.
In my last letter I left off at our port of embarkation, didn't I? That was last Saturday. At 6.15 we embarked. There were 3 boat loads and we were packed in until the decks were black. We had an escort of course of several destroyers which formed a screen around us. The passage was smooth and lasted only a couple of hours Very few got sick. About 9 o'clock we were all disembarked and began a march of about 2 miles - possibly 3 - through a large French city to the rest camp on the outskirts.
The night was cloudy and it was very dark. Every window blind was down. Not a street lamp was lighted and only when here and there a door opened to a small slit as we passed and a bit of light fell across our pathway did we get any evidence that the city was not deserted. Scarcely any one was on the streets except ourselves and the measured tramp of our feet upon the uneven cobblestones had become far too common a sound by now to excite more than a passing interest.
One is fairly staggered as he thinks of the millions of armed men that have tramped that same road in the past 3 years. The last mile to the camp was up a long steady hill and no one was sorry when the top was reached. It didn't take long for us to get allotted to our tents.
Are moving off - Goodbye dearest.
Am writing this now but will write more on the train.
Evelyn to Fred
[Sun. Sept. ?16 or Sept. 23, 1917](2)
Letter damaged - indecipherable parts denoted by ???
My Own Lover and Sweetheart:-
I think three years ago we must have been in our own house, for we spent only two weeks at Fritz’s, did we not? This has been a perfect autumn day - and I spent practically the whole of it inside. When not at church, eating or working, I was sleeping and resting and thinking of you.
Do you know what most of my thoughts are about? The time when you’ll be home again ??? pictured your homecoming in so many ??? ways, but any way will be happy, won’t it?
The paper announces that Major Bishop, from here, is returning on leave. He is a “flyer” and has won all sorts of medals. Won’t his parents be proud of him, and so glad to see him? He is appointed instructor in a school of aviation now, I believe.
Yesterday when we reached home there was a parcel here for Ora. She had told me to open it as there was a napkin ring in it for me, and that I was to take my choice but I want her to see them both, so I think I’ll send them on. I think they are supposed to be made of shells. One is gun metal in colour, with a raised design on it of a bird - a swan or something like it, with an arrow in its breast, and a crown over its head. I like it best I think. The other is brass, with a shield and a wreath of leaves around the shield with “Ypres” engraved on it.
Then too there was a jewel case from Nice. I don’t know what the wood is, maybe ??? or sandalwood, any way, it’s beautiful. The box is about ??? and is lined and padded with red satin. There are ??? at the top with a place for a watch, three places for rings, and two little places for pins etc. Ora will be so pleased with it - It is her birthday present, and something is from the V.O. I don’t know whether it’s the ring or part of the box.
The people around the corner are Greeks, keep an ice-cream parlour. For some time the woman has been saying she was going to invite mother and father to the christening, and yesterday Mr. Georgas asked father. He told him it would be some fun. Last night we heard ??? bleating in their yard. Mother saw them [in the?] the house to-day, and in the afternoon ??? was hanging on the line.
They are having a Greek priest come up from Toronto tomorrow. I should like to see the ceremony too - mother said she’d ask Mrs. Georgas if I could come too. Anyway if she doesn’t get me an invitation she’ll tell me what happens, and I’ll pass on the information. A young lamb costs about fifteen dollars, so you see it costs to be a Greek Catholic at christening time. There are three Greek churches in Canada, in Toronto, Winnipeg, and I forget the other city - probably Montreal.
I was reading to-day the report of the American Bar Association. I should have liked to hear Elihu Root’s speech, shouldn’t you? Sometime I’m going to send you to a meeting of it. Can anyone go, or must he be a delegate? If he must be a delegate then I’ll send you as the Canadian delegate. [How] would you like that?
I didn’t tell you how much I appreciated your letter telling about Tennyson’s home. That was a good description, dearest. I should like to pass it on to my friends, and I must type it out when I get time, or get Miss Scott to do it.
I wonder how you’ve spent to-day. One place you have been - that is in the thoughts of your own wife.
Fred to Evelyn
Monday Sept. 17/17
My darling, -
Improvisations are the rule rather than the exception in France so there is nothing novel in my substitute for a flat-topped desk: it is my water-bottle supported by my knee. It is 6.10 p.m. and I and some of our crowd are lying in a second growth of alfalfa in the shade of a fine row of tall plane trees which line a little stream in which a number of fellows are bathing, washing feet etc. A swarm of very small flies is more attentive than welcome but minor inconveniences such as these must be put up with.
We arrived here about the middle of the afternoon. Here refers to a small dilapidated French village used as a billeting place for moving troops - and it appears to be deserted of all civilian inhabitants except a few decrepit men, bedraggled women and ill clothed boys and girls, who are much in evidence with heavy baskets of green peas, indifferent apples, poor chocolate and an occasional tomato.
Ever since we landed in France our line of march has been beset by these amateur vendors crying "Apools, chocolates!" They have a very peculiar way of mixing the coinage. For example today I asked the price of a package of chocolate. "One franc 4 penny" was the answer. We thought the troops were "soaked" in England, but what they do there isn't to be compared with prices here. Apples and pears are very plentiful and yet the cheapest is 3 ha'pence [halfpence] each.
The chocolate in France is very poor in quality and the pieces are about 1/2 the size in England, with the price, quality and the pieces nearly twice as much per bar or piece. I think possibly the reason they give prices in terms of francs and pennies instead of francs and centimes is because at present prices the centime is too small a unit to reckon with.
Our bunch has stuck together well and we intend to sleep tonight under a near-by stack of wheat sheaves rather than in the place where we were billeted. It is a long rough shed with ground floor, and is to accommodate 70 for the night. It isn't comfortable. It's almost sure to be "crummy" [lice] and noisy, and the stack looks very inviting. Last night was our first experience of billets and it was too good to last, but more of that anon - I'll resume where I left off in my letter yesterday.
It was a lovely day. In fact “sunny” in France has been true to her reputation ever since we landed - a pleasant contrast to England’s cloud and rain.
By 10 o'clock we were all entrained - I don't know how many for there were Imperials as well as Canadians - possibly 3,000. Except for officers, the accommodation provided was box cars about the size of those you saw in England. Each was supposed to hold 40 men but we had only 36. But at that, what with equipment and packs - there wasn't room to stir about much.
Fortunately we had plenty of ventilation, for the big sliding side doors were open and there were also smaller sliding doors near the top of the car on both sides. As for myself I felt the need of sleep and I, Swanson & Nease & a few others stretched out and contorted ourselves around and over our equipment. All told I slept about 3 hours.
It’s remarkable how one in the army can rest quite well in the most cramped position with all sorts of hard points sticking into him, while in civil life he couldn’t rest at all. Many a time lately my feet have been above my head: I have been twisted into all sorts of shapes and yet I slept soundly & restfully.
At noon we had dinner consisting of McConachie, biscuits some bread & margarine swiped from the breakfast table, cheese & apricot jam - a very good meal.
I didn't see much of the country we passed through until late in the afternoon, but I know that for the first couple hours it was very unkempt and forsaken looking. The villages don't look clean and neat like the English hamlets, but the squalid mud or plaster huts and farmhouses opening out into the barnyards seemed quite in keeping with the unkempt, bedraggled looking peasants. One has to visit the continent to see what is really meant by a peasant class. They can't be compared with the English working class.
I know the country is drained of its men by the war and that the women and children are war-worn. Such a dazed and sad look as seems so settled on the women's faces - and how much black one sees! Of course many of the peasants can't afford black clothes but even at that the frequency with which one meets black crepe dresses tells its own tale of how France has been stricken.
At first we passed through many orchards, and the trees, despite lack of care in pruning and cultivation, seemed well laden with apples & pears. Beans were much in evidence and the eaves of every farmhouse and cottage had their strings of beans hung up to dry. The grain fields were in stook and looked fair, but as we got nearer our destination the appearance of the country changed. The crops looked full and the countryside showed evidences of careful and intelligent tillage and farming methods.
Fine herds of cows were grazing on clover or lucerne, second growth. Field after field of beautiful sugar beets, in clean straight rows, showed that although the men might be in the army women and children were doing their part in keeping up production. To look at the farms in this part one could hardly think that nearly all men of military age were away, did we not see women in the fields and boys of 9 or 10 years driving binders or the heavy French carts. And everywhere one saw the same look of resigned determination and saddened weariness.
Although yesterday was Sunday, shops were open and work proceeded as usual in the fields. And that reminds me - one of the most striking contrasts between France & England is this: In England the prominent feature of every village & hamlet is the church. In France churches are for the most part conspicuous by their absence and even where they are to be seen somehow they give one the impression that they are neglected and play but a small part in the life of the community. The estaminet(3) is everywhere, but the church is of little importance, I fear, in the life of the French people.
About 3.45 we arrived at XXXXX.(4) After detraining we had to wait around in the public square until about 4.30 when we lined up at the cook house for tea, biscuits and mulligan which we ate under the trees. The we were marched about 3/4 of a mile to the outskirts of the town of XXXXX for our billets. 20 of us were allotted to one billet and there appeared to be some mix-up so our bunch of 9 - Farrant, McKenzie, Swanson, Hayden, Nease, Hunt, Carman, Riggs & I struck out for ourselves.
I made use of my half-forgotten French & finally found a farmhouse which had accommodation for 10 on the barn floor with fresh straw for a bed. You must understand that the French farm buildings are in the form of a quadrangle with house joined on the one side to loft and on the other to cow shed, pig pen & hen house, with the barn proper opposite, the central opened space being the farm yard - which being interpreted means the manure heap.
The side of the house next the street is often - as was the case with the place where we found lodging - a solid wall with occasionally a small window but no door. The doors all open into the yard. Along the house-side of the yard there is a flagged path about 3 ft wide.
Wednesday morning, Sept 19/17
My own sweetheart,-
Darkness compelled me to stop at this point Monday night and I haven't been able to resume until now, when for a wonder we were told by the R.S.M. to "bugger-off" for a couple hours i.e. - to "beat it." I am in a Y.M.C.A. tent a few miles nearer the line than on Monday - in fact at Canadian divisional headquarters. It is a lovely sunlit morning and I should like to stroll about outside in the fields or woods if it were not that I'd rather talk with you.
I was telling about our Sunday night billet. We got located about 7 o'clock and at once set out to make ourselves comfortable. We hung our equipment under the loft, changed our boots for light canvas shoes and then madame invited us into a spotless kitchen where the charcoal stove shone like a mirror. She arranged wooden chairs around the room and we talked for a time as best we could - I and Hunt being interpreters. If not exactly fluent the conversation was at least intelligible.
Things looked so nice we ventured to ask madame to make us some tea. "La thé? Non!" but she would make us café au lait, after the cows were milked at 8 o'clock. That sounded good. Meanwhile we busied ourselves in washing at the street pump near by etc., etc. Monsieur brought me a large basin of hot water & I had a nice hot footbath.
About 8 o'clock the boy of 12 drove in 3 beautiful cows and soon madame was busy with the milking. Farrant got a cup from the kitchen and went with it to the stable, as a result of which he, Swanson & I each had a cup of warm foaming new milk fresh from the cow. Hunt, Carman & Riggs had gone up town, so coffee was prepared for the other 7 of us. By this time we had all gathered into the kitchen where the father & son were joined by a little girl of dix ans, and another fine self possessed daughter of 17 who greeted us with "Bonjour messieurs!" as she entered the room. There is also an elder son away in the army.
While chatting about the stove, where, by the way some of our socks were hung to dry, we decided to have a little party and asked the family to join us. Two small tables were drawn up. Goblets were placed for the coffee and we brought forth from our packs 2 tins bully beef. 1 of pork & beans 1 of jam & some army biscuit. The coffee was poured - Such coffee, and then from a large earthen pot about 1/3 of a glass hot milk or cream was added to each goblet. We sipped it. And you may imagine the beatified expressions on our faces as we settled back in our chairs with real enjoyment.
A happy thought occurred to Farrant so I turned to madame with "Voulez-vous donner nous du pain?" "Oui, monsieur!" and she went to the pantry and returned with one of the great flat round French loaves of real home made bread. It may have been made of rye and barley flour, I don't know, but it was sweet and light and oh so good. We each had 2 large slices, a second helping of coffee, and the jam and other things disappeared quickly too - all but the bully beef and biscuits and these we left for the family. The reckoning was 5 francs 7 pennies, and in addition we gave a franc to the little girl.
About 9 o'clock we left for our beds of straw, satisfied we had had one of the most enjoyable meals ever. There was a truly homelike atmosphere and we enjoyed the social intercourse possibly nearly as much as the café au lait and bread. The people are not exactly ordinary farmers, neither are they of the real peasant class. We were much surprised to see electric lights and a modern cream separator showing a degree of prosperity about the ordinary peasant proprietor.
I don't think anyone had better billets, if as good. Some we saw were horrible - dirty filthy stables to sleep in, and stinking manure heaps to wash in! The French villagers seem to have a wonderful liking for manure odors - and some of the tumbledown, dirty streets we passed on the way to our billet looked like a very hot-bed of filth & disease. I suppose things are much worse than in peace time because there is no one left to keep things in repair & cleaned up - but even in ordinary times many of the places we saw were not fit to be called by the name of home.
We all slept soundly & well, until 6 a.m. Then we arose, washed & dressed and walked about a mile to our cook house where we each got tea, army biscuits & a tin of sardines - packed in Norway - and very poor they were. However I am getting to like the army biscuits very much, and they are so nourishing. I can always do very well if I only have plenty of them. The grub so far in France has been superior to what we got in Eng.
Oh, I almost forgot to tell you that the opposite side of the street from our billet was a sloping hillside with magnificent oak, beech & plane trees and in the morning while dressing I listened to one of the most charming bird songs I ever heard. Again the war seemed far away and I thought if only my darling were with me how we should enjoy the quaint French town the green grass, the beautiful trees, the birds - everything.
After breakfast we got ready to march again. There was a long delay in starting. We had to draw rations for the day & the following morning's breakfast each man getting a cotton bag containing biscuits, & 2 tins of bully beef. Then to our great surprise and delight, we were ordered to turn in our packs and they would be transported for us.
About 10.30 we set out and marched with only one halt until 1.10 when we had half an hour for dinner. I enjoyed the march very much. We passed through lovely farming country - wonderfully well tilled - particularly the sugar beets. Sleek cattle grazed on the clover. Women & boys were harvesting wheat and oats.
Some binders were used but for the most part scythe, sickle or cradle were the implements. The country is quite hilly and our march was up and down one succession of hills. We went through a couple towns and saw in the distance huge slag heaps from the famous mines of this district. Still there was not much evidence of the proximity of the battle line, although aeroplanes were more frequent.
After dinner we marched only about an hour before we halted for the night at the place where I started this letter - truly a tumbledown deserted village if ever there was one. We slept well by our oat stack though all got rather cold. Still I think we were as warm as those in the shed - and we didn't have any "crumbs". We are very fortunate in escaping so long. Nearly everyone has them before he gets this far. It's dinner time now, so will close & write more as soon as possible.
Don't worry though dearest if letters are irregular for it's awfully hard to get time to write every day.
God bless and keep my own dear wifie.
I have been thinking dearest, that my next letter may not reach you before your birthday so in this I'll tell you that before I left Bramshott I left instructions to have an album of photographs taken in around Bramshott by our armourer serj't, Serjt. Rounce - sent to you for your birthday. I think they are excellent & I hope you receive them in good shape and enjoy them - both for their own sake and because it is intended as another slight reminder of my unchanging love.
May every succeeding anniversary of your natal day be happier than the last.
Your own husband.
Fred to Evelyn
Friday, Sept. 21/17
My darling -
Little did I think before I joined the army that I'd ever be a scullion in the King's Kitchen, yet such has been my lot today. McKenzie, Hayden, Nease, 4 other men and myself have been on cook house fatigue today. When we were warned for duty yesterday we thought we'd have plenty of time to ourselves & planned to do some washing etc but from 7 o'clock this morning until now, 4.15 p.m. we have been busy as bees. Four of us were until 10 o'clock washing pans, dixies etc. while the other four peeled onions & potatoes. Then there was kindling to break up, water to carry, bully beef & McConachie tins to open, meat to grind for tomorrow's breakfast hash, etc., etc.
This afternoon was largely a repetition of the forenoon's work. Really I have almost enjoyed it, and the humour of the situation has been ever uppermost in my mind. Hayden & McKenzie both said that, like me, this was for them their first fatigue since joining the army. I used to think it would turn my stomach to wash greasy pots and pans as they do it in the army but I found that if anything my appetite for dinner today was keener than usual. One advantage the kitchen fatigues have - they get fed a little better than the rank & file.
For breakfast we had all the oatmeal porridge we wanted - which by the way is the first we've had since we left the base last Sunday. Then there was hash, tea & bread & bacon. For dinner we had shepherd's pie made out of bully beef & McConachie & potatoes, bread, tea & stewed onions. Supper will provide us with bread, rice, jam, cheese & tea.
All our work has been done in the open under the shade of great old beeches & oaks with the clear French sunlight making checkered shadows on the ground all about us. It is an ideal spot for a camp so far as cover is concerned, for it is doubtful if any of the Bosche [German] aeroplanes, which make daily excursions within sight of our camp, can detect our presence in the woods. Every day since we came here we have witnessed the bursting of our anti air craft shells high up in the air all around these marauders. They generally return safely although we saw one brought down on Wednesday.
Today there was the most exciting battle yet, but after manoeuvring back & forth in - and out among the bursting shells for perhaps 15 minutes Mr Heine(5) rose to a height where he looked like the veriest speck in the sky and he got away safely. One thing that has surprised me is that we have heard so little of the roar of the guns and seen so few aeroplanes. I don't know how far we are behind the firing line - perhaps 8 or 10 miles, but except for certain parts of the day and night we don't hear any gunfire at all, and while there is nearly always from 1 to 6 of our aeroplanes to be seen - and in the afternoons 4 or 5 of our captive balloons, I had expected to see many more.
Did I tell you our camp is situated in an estate owned by Sarah Bernhardt(6)
, loaned by her to the government for the duration of the war? Even now
with the park cut up by roads and with tents & huts in the most unlikely
places it is very beautiful - quite as beautiful as the lovely English
estates that I have written about. It's supper time so must go to work
again. Will write more tonight.
Sat. morning. Sept. 22/17
Yesterday afternoon the water went off, and it isn't on yet. I am not sure of the reason although the cook said "it was turned off by the authorities because this area had exceeded its supply." I think I have told you that water is carefully husbanded here and is none too plentiful at any time. There was no water to wash the kitchen utensils with last night so we did the best we could with sand etc. and as there were no greasy pans we managed fairly well with most things.
It was expected that the water would come on again any time so Nease, Hayden, Whitlaw & I stuck around to finish up the washing and put water on for cooking & tea in the morning. For tea alone it requires 11 large cubical pots holding perhaps 6 gallons each. Well we waited and waited but no water came. Finally we were given a lunch of some rice left over from supper, which had kept quite hot in the big pot and jam & condensed milk. Rice and jam makes a most toothsome combination. If you don't believe me, try it.
About 11 o'clock we went back to our huts for our ground sheets and great coats, and then we stretched these out on the tables, and lay down and went to sleep. The heat from the bake ovens, which had fires on all night, kept the kitchen warmer than our hut would have been, and I think we slept more comfortably. I know that I, for one, had a good sleep, except that about 12.30 a drunken officer came in for some lunch & kept us awake for quite a while, and another interruption came about 4 o'clock. It was a beautifully clear, starlit night and perfectly still, except for the continuous boom of the distant guns, which kept up their steady pounding all night.
This morning we awoke about 5.30, made ourselves each a piece of toast and then beat it to our hut. Without water there couldn't be any tea or porridge for breakfast, but the troops regaled themselves with dry bread & McConachie. Nease & I each had a tin of sardines, which we had saved from our last night's supper, so we did very well. It is now 10 o'clock and there is every prospect of a dry dinner too. The poor kitchen fatigues are having a hard time cleaning pots & pans with chalk and sand, but our work is ended and for being up late last night we have the morning off and are all writing in the Y.M.C.A. hut.
I was a dirty looking object until a short while ago. I hadn't shaved yesterday morning thinking I'd have time later in the day, so 2 day's growth of beard with smoke & grease & grime the accumulation since yesterday noon when the water went off made me a sight to behold. But this morning I discovered some water in a horse trough down the valley with which I managed to shave and rub the worst off. Our clothes kept fairly clean because we were furnished with blue overalls and a long blue coat or smock such as Chinamen often wear. I do wish we could have a picture of ourselves as we were working yesterday.
This morning about 7 o'clock one of Fritz's(7) aeroplanes paid us a visit despite the close attentions of our anti air craft guns. It was great to see him sail straight on amid and above the bursting shells apparently regarding them as little as if they were flies. He dropped a bomb a few hundred yards behind our Y.M.C.A. in an open field and a couple more about half a mile on our right - doing no damage After dropping the bombs he made for home at wonderful speed - and away up in the clouds.
I fear dearest you will think me careless about writing. I am not, but the days are getting so short it so hard to find time. Our hut is dark by 8 o'clock and we are so crowded that when the fellows gather in I find it almost impossible to write. I haven't written a line in my diary since arriving in France, though I intend to start again today. We finish drill at 5 p.m. but after supper we have a good deal of cleaning to do.
Wednesday night I went over to our transport lines about 1 1/2 miles away to get my mail. All of the draft's mail is being held there but the corporal in charge said he couldn't give any our until he received an official list of the men who were here at the school. (Perhaps I have forgotten to tell you we have been transferred in a body from the divisional base to the divisional school a few hundred yards away).
We haven't had any mail since leaving Bramshott. I understand the list went to the transport lines yesterday so we should get some mail tomorrow. There is always a great deal of delay in getting mail when one first comes to France, but they say it is very regular after it starts, letters even being sent to the front line trenches.
Do you remember McCallum who use to be in the recruiting office? He has been in the front line and is now here at school for an N.C.O.’s course. He told me that it was 6 weeks after he landed in France before he got any mail. It followed him about from point to point, and one moves so frequently that until the mail clerk finally locates him he need not wonder that poor postal clerk has difficulty in locating him.
You see, the trouble is when a draft leaves Eng. the mail goes direct to its battalion, while the draft goes first to the army base, then perhaps like us to divisional headquarters, to school etc. Meanwhile the mail is held for a time at the batt. then sent to the base, & so on. However I expect I shall get mine tomorrow or next day.
Thurs. night I did some washing. The water here is very soft - not hard as it was at the base. Of course we don't get any warm water - and haven't since coming to France. The kitchen takes every bit of that. We have to wash, shave & wash clothes in cold, but when it's as soft as it is here I don't mind.
I have been thinking, dearie, that from now on I shall scarcely be able to write to anyone but you. I did think I'd write to your parents & mine, but my experience in France so far, added to what I been told by men who are in the battalion, makes it clear that when one has a bit of spare time he has to use most of it in catching up sleep.
So, if you think they would be interested, you might have extracts of my letters typed and sent to them. I'm sorry it has to be this way, but unless I get an agreeable surprise, I feel sure my time for writing will be very little indeed. Now don't let this worry your dearest for I am in first class health, - getting plenty of good food and feel A.1.
If only I could know that you are well and could see you sometimes. Oh, how I love you my own brave little wifie.
Fred to Evelyn
Tues. evening, Sept. 25/17
My darling wife, -
My pen has gone dry and the Y.M.C.A. across the road has no ink so I must use this pencil. True, I still have the tube of ink powder I brought from Bramshott but I am saving that for emergencies. Not only ink but paper too has changed.
Yesterday I received a parcel from Mother O. containing a nice pair of socks, some chocolate & 2 pads of writing paper & envelopes. When you see her please thank her for me, for I may not be able to write for some time it is so difficult now to get any spare moments.
Yesterday's mail also brought me a letter from Elizabeth and 3 from you posted Aug 18, 20 & 29th and today there was one from Ray and 2 from you posted Aug 23 & 25th. Oh yes and I got a couple Globes and a U of A. news letter. Some of the Globes are missing.
Perhaps I told you that the mail department is very careful of letters & boxes. The former are forwarded - even to the front line trenches, the boxes are held, but papers are distributed if the one to whom they are addressed is away. This is the first mail since I left England. You see it was being held for us until we arrived at the battalion.
I last wrote you on Saturday morning Sept 22nd. At that time I though I'd have the afternoon to wash etc. but at 12.40 we were ordered to be ready at 1.30 in full marching order. That of course meant to join the battalion. Well we fussed around on the parade ground with full packs, having inspection after inspection, until about 3 o'clock when we set out after leaving behind our former R.S.M. - Davidson, Nease, and a few others, as instructors at the school. They didn't rise in the men's estimation by seeking what is called a bomb-proof job. Besides it will only be for a couple weeks and one might just as well get into the game now as later.
A little after 4 o'clock we reached our transport lines where we had another wait until about 5, when we set out again arriving at our destination about 6.15. Then ensued the usual bustling about, inspection, getting assigned to huts, etc. etc. We had just got our equipment off when we had to fall in for a working party up near the front line. We protested that we had no supper, but n'importe! We had to go.
There were no rations here for us and the battalion expected, quite rightly, that we had been provided with 24 hours' rations before we set out - and so we should have been for that is a rule of the army, but the failure to do this is only one of the many incompetencies of the school which, so far as I can see, exists primarily to provide berths for useless, surplus superior(?) officers.
But to resume - we were already late in starting so we had to hurry off. A few fellows managed to get a few biscuits from Y.M.C.A. or canteen. I luckily had a tin of bully beef & one of sardines & a couple biscuits, which I shared with some other fellows on the road. What with marching & standing most of the afternoon with full packs we all felt tired enough to go to bed - to say nothing of that hollow feeling at the pit of the stomach but away we trudged.
Luckily we carried only rifle belt & bayonet, but marching in the dark over unfamiliar ground - along the ties of a narrow gauge railway, over a path winding in and out & up & down over shell holes so thick they overlapped, then over cobblestone & brick road for a little over 2 hours - we felt very little like working I can tell you.
It was historic ground we marched over, but we didn't think much about that - not half so much as we did of the terrible pace the officer set up for the first couple miles, which was all up hill. He was trying to make up for the lateness in starting, little heeding our tired condition to begin with. But we stuck it.
As we got nearer our destination - and I was amazed at the extent of ground beyond this ridge over which the Hun has been pushed back - the frequent rat-tat-tat of a couple machine guns filled in the pauses between the boom from a few batteries, that spoke at intervals, while in the direction of the enemy's front there was a never ending succession of Very lights(8) rising & falling in graceful curves and lighting even our pathway perhaps 2 miles distant.
All along the way buildings, trees and every manmade thing had been razed to the ground. Nothing remained but a vast waste of shell holes. Nothing did I say? No! For all along the road we saw faint streaks of light from dug out entrances - silent evidences of the fact that great numbers of men inhabited the subterranean regions. Yes, and at one place we heard from the bowels of the earth the music of a violin and not far away even a player piano.
How incongruous it seemed with the surroundings - and yet it seemed natural too. That is one strange feature of this life - how one comes to regard everything as a matter of fact and to cease to be surprised at anything. It is quite dusk now & I can no longer see to write so, goodnight, my own darling.
Wednesday noon Sept. 26th
Usually we have from 1 1/2 to 2 hours for noon although here orders change quickly and we must be prepared to move anywhere at a moment's notice. It's now 1 o'clock and I am sitting on the ground with the hut wall for a support. We have finished our dinner of white bread - (Did I tell you all the army bread in France is white and of excellent quality?) mulligan & tea.
The grub here is good and we have all we want. Of course there isn't a great deal of variety but it is of the best for its kind and well prepared. For breakfast we usually have bread bacon porridge tea & jam or beans or fried corned beef. Dinner is usually bread & biscuits, tea & mulligan. Supper gives us bread & biscuits, tea, cheese jam & rice or meat. Everyone is well satisfied with the grub. It's much better than the rank & file got in Bramshott.
But to go back to last Saturday night - About 10 o'clock we came to a dugout by the roadside, from which a serjeant & corporal appeared, and beside which was a great stack of shovels etc. We were then told off in parties & our party of 25 were given a shovel each. We fell in again & after a few minutes more marching came upon 8 limbers or waggon carts, each drawn by a pair of mules, with a driver who rides the right mule. We were assigned 3 to a cart and started off for the place where we were to work. I lay down in the bottom of the limber and in the 5 minutes ride had a good rest despite the jolting of the heavy waggon over brick stones, railway ties, etc.
Our objective was a great pile of brick which we were to load up & then cart away to the road over which we came to repair it. Whether the pile was the remains of an old brick plant & yard or the wreckage of buildings, I don't know. In the darkness it loomed up larger than anything else on the site of the village through which we had passed.
Such a scene of desolation & destruction! Here and there a fragment of a wall remained, and for some little distance the ornamental iron posts & portions of an iron fence attested the prosperous & comfortable homes that had once been there. But as we passed along there wasn't a sign of living thing except ourselves. Earlier in the day we had seen gaunt, blackened stumps of trees blasted & killed by the terrible shell fire of earlier days. Such there are near our camp, but here not even a stump remained. All was levelled to the ground.
Only 2 limbers could get into the place at one time so we had to wait until the first 2 pairs had loaded & this gave opportunity for another nap. To make a long story short, each loaded & unloaded our cart twice. The moon & stars were shining, the air beautifully clear and there wasn't much doing in the shape of firing. A few machine guns kept at it in the distance and one of our heavy batteries at intervals sent some whizz-bangs(9) singing through the air over our heads, to which Fritz occasionally replied - but none fell very near us. It was a quiet night.
When we had finished unloading our last cart there were still 2 others to follow, so we made for our rendezvous, and almost at once every man had flopped down upon the chalk bank and was stretched out in slumber. It seemed but a minute, although in reality about half an hour, when I awoke with a start at the serjeant's words, "If you want a cup of tea boys hurry up, & follow me."
Without more ado, a number of us hastened after him along a path winding twisting turning up & down over shell holes, past dugouts, over a narrow gauge railway to the entrance to an underground passage. This led down to an immense dugout improvised from a vast old beer or wine cellar.
It was a huge place and in the candlelight I could see vast numbers of men on the floor sleeping or undressing, or talking or eating, while some were calmly searching through their clothes for the little friends that stick closer than brothers, and are everywhere present. I don't know how many were there, but it looked like 200 or 300. A weird sight, do you say? No, it really looked homelike & comfortable.
But we hadn't time to linger, we pushed on through another passage, through the ubiquitous gas curtains until we came to a smaller chamber and over a cubby hole in the wall we saw the red triangle of the Y.M.C.A. Behind the improvised canteen a man, all perspiration with his work, was handing out free drinks of tea in cups, bully beef tins or anything that would hold liquid.
The supply soon ran out and then the crowd now became a packed mass of eager humanity - waited until the first drinkers had finished and many were the eager outstretched hands for the empty mugs. The tea was piping hot and oh so good & refreshing. It made me feel like a new man. My weariness dropped away like a blanket, and the long tramp home which a few minutes before had looked impossible ceased to worry me. Again I vowed that if I ever got the chance I'd do all I could for the "Y."
Friday afternoon Sept 28/17
For the past week I have washed, shaved & bathed out of a shell hole. Today for a change I had a Bosche helmet and it makes a very good basin indeed. In spite of the scarcity of water I bathed my feet & changed socks and now my feet feel much more comfortable. We have such a tremendous amount of footwork that I have decided above everything else to look after my feet - and they haven't given any trouble yet.
Yesterday I was on them from 7 am to 2 3.0 this morning, marching, carrying rations, water, etc. The day before I had got up at 6 a.m., and was on a working party at night which prevented my getting to bed before 3 a m., so Wed. night I had about 4 hours sleep - last night rather less.
I have time for only a few lines then I must send this off. To go back to my story of last Sat. - we got home about 3 a.m. and there was a hot supper awaiting us of tea, bully beef, bread & jam, which you may guess we devoured eagerly. Then we turned in & slept until nearly 8.
After breakfast we had church parade and all afternoon Sunday were out on manoeuvres. But we got to bed about 9.30. On Mon. we were up at 5 - had breakfast at 5.30 & fell in at 6 for a 4 mile march to the rifle ranges getting back for dinner about 2 p.m. Since then until night before last has been easier but for the next week I don't expect much rest or sleep.
As far as I know I haven't got lice yet, but they are sure to come. It's a common occurrence for a man to be out on the grass with shirt off searching diligently for "crumbs" - and usually finding them too.
Re a few of the questions in your last letters - don't think of sending pajamas or underwear. One suit is all I can carry. We have so much truck to pack that everyone reduces wardrobe to a minimum. When in the line there is no opportunity to wash clothes, and when one goes out of the line he is taken to the divisional baths, where he leaves the underwear which he has been wearing & gets another suit. He only receives one, no matter how many he may turn in.
This plan of course has its disadvantages - for you may draw a decent suit & again you may get one full of holes and either several sizes too large or too small for you. All such clothes have been fumigated but notwithstanding, they are usually "crummy."
Most fellows also leave towels & socks - but I am trying to keep these & wash them myself. No the only things in the line of clothes that would be useful are socks, for one needs plenty of good thick socks, handkerchiefs & face cloths, which I also find useful for drying my mess tin etc.
At present I am well supplied with the first 2 and fairly well supplied with the last. "Eats" of course are always welcome here, particularly when one is in the line. Usually a battalion is in the line for 8 days - 4 in front line & 4 in supports and then out of the line for 4 days in reserve.
I am not at liberty to tell you where we are at any given time. But I may tell you that this morning McKenzie & I walked nearly 4 miles & back to get some things at the "Y.", strawberry jam, canned pineapple, biscuits, chocolate. Even carried a couple cans of water more than a mile.
Your last letters were very full of news and very dear - this - particularly the last part seems awfully staccato and disjointed. I do hope I'll get a little more time to write in the next few days, but I can't tell. I must finish this now so as to get it out tonight, and then I must have a sleep, for I'll probably be on a working party again for most of the night.
The weather continues fine & warm. There hasn't been any rain or cold yet. Am glad to see by the Globe that the western crops are much better than anticipated. Am also glad that the Liberals seem to be coming around to a definite stand for conscription & against Laurier.
Someone sent clippings from a Calgary paper, giving an account of the Forum meeting when Art Smith & Clifford Reilly spoke. If only I dared, I could give Art ammunition that would make his arguments absolutely unanswerable. Tell Art I'm proud of the stand he is taking and I only wish I could help along in the good work, but of course the censorship prevents our telling even things that are published in the papers such as what front we are fighting - whether we are holding the line or are in reserve etc.
Oh my darling, I love you more than ever before, and I am so proud of you for your bravery. I do hope you are feeling well again - and please don't overwork. That psalm "Thou shalt not be afraid etc" - I read over & over again with such a sense of comfort and I always pray that God will take care of you.
Your own "Ferd."
1. Blighty - from the Hindustani word Bilayati meaning England, i.e. home. Also referred to a wound severe enough to warrant being sent home.
2. Date undetermined due to damaged letter.
3. Estaminet - a small café-bar where soldiers would congregate.
4. XXXXX - Denotes letter has been censored.
5. Heine - Current American slang to describe Germans.
6. Sarah Bernhardt. 1844-1923. Celebrated French actress.
7. Fritz - current term used to describe Germans. A diminutive of Friedrich.
8. Very lights - a system of coded signalling which used flares fired from a Very pistol. Named after the U.S. inventor, a naval officer, Edward W. Very.
9. Whizzbangs were small-calibre, high speed field gun shells which were heard only an instant before landing and exploding. The term also referred to an Army field postcard which classified a soldier's circumstances. Those sections that that were not applicable were struck out.