the toughest job I've ever tackled in my life
France – Trenches 16th April, 1916
We are back once more in the old home and glad of the spell although billeting is pretty good if you strike a decent place, but here in the trenches things are pretty quite – nothing doing at all with the exception of an occasional shell or two, which sometimes has a tendency to make one's little heart palpitate, for I'd rather Abdul's 8.2 than Fritz's 4.7 – they are some shell.
We came in on Thursday night, passing along a sap about one mile in length, and it's a work of art to walk along without getting a bath for it's full of water and you walk along a wooden pier affair fifteen inches wide, somewhat rickety and terribly slippery. In some places it is six inches under water and if you step over the edge or slip, you are a lucky man if you only go down to you r waist. Oh Blimey, we thought, fancy having to fetch a man along this on a stretcher, around all the bends, but as things seemed pretty quiet, we thought casualties would be fairly scarce unless they shelled us. But alas, the last two nights I've spent in trying to get chaps down to the dressing station which is well over a mile back.
On Friday night, just on 12, we got the call. It was pouring rain and the thermometer had got jammed down in the bulb somewhere. Anyhow, after a nightmare of a time, we arrived back at 3.30, and if it wasn't for a Red Cross trolley affair that cuts off half a mile we wouldn't be back yet. I don't know how many times we fell off the track and nearly killed the chap but it was the toughest job I've ever tackled in my life. It was not so bad last night as the moon was bright and the boards were fairly dry. I hope they keep their heads down tonight. The trenches are not all but breast works. There are only two of them, the Fire trench and Supports. Our dugout, which is a box measuring six feet long, three feet high and four feet wide is just at the side of the fire step and houses two of us – not much room to walk about in – but it is fairly warm at nights. It has rained almost incessantly since our arrival and on two occasions has tried to snow – the whole place being one vast bog, but nearly every man has had a huge pair of sea boots issued to him so I have been able to keep fairly dry.
My word, it's great fun being a soldier. We only stop in for a week and then go into reserve again and so on.
I won't growl. I think will will be relieving the Canadians at La Basse soon and then working in conjunction with them. At present we are at Fleur Baix, just at the side of Armentieres. I think I told you in my last that only 10%, or so of the people had fled, but on more minute inspection, I find that fully 50% of them have gone. There are field half ploughed, the plough left deserted and all sorts of farm implements left out to rust.
The Germans set fire to two more houses last night. It seems they like that sort of thing.
The other stretcher bearer in the dug out with me is a teacher from a R.C. School in Malvern, a bonza chap, came with the third reinforcements and we get on first class. I could not help laughing at his expense one day at our last billet. A little French chap came round selling cakes and so Hugh (Massie) began talking to him in French – he's not bad on the lingo – but after a short time he got into difficulties and could not make the nipper understand and at last he turned to Hugh and said “Can't you talk English?” The youngster had been taught by the Canadians and could speak splendid English. I've got no idea of the language but know enough to get a feed whenever I go into an Estaminet.
I often wish that you could see us, the way we get about in our shrapnel proof helmets and high sea boots, and I'm sure you would like to see the way we “Pig it” in our dog kennel. We can't dig dugouts on account of the water. As it is, there are dozens of pumps going everywhere to try and keep us from drowning and then they only barely succeed.
I wish they had not confiscated my camera as I could get some great snaps. It is about time I rang off, so I'll say goodbye, with Love.