..it is quite harmless, except to render your eyes useless

FRANCE SUPPORTS 2nd July 1916

I suppose you have no objections if I write you a few lines once again, although things are quite still. There is a new mail beginning to filter through – May 16 – but none so far from you. I got one from Aunty Eff and one from Miss Couch, who said my last letter was scratched out and censored dreadfully. She seemed very grateful to you for showing her some of yours. Aunty Eff was saying how you roused her up for her intention of going to San Francisco. It was a wild scheme wasn't it? Whatever was her idea? It has been a another funny old Sunday, not a bit different from other days. We haven't been able to have a Service for a long time, but I think this Sunday will end that for a good while.

I was roaming through a ruined and deserted village yesterday morning, when I came across a room strewn with band music. It had evidently been the library of some fairly large band, for there were parts for pretty much every known instrument, and pieces from small stuff to grand operas. Probably it had belonged to the Armentieres Band. I took a couple of pieces back with me to see how the tunes went, but I don't care for the French style of music. I suppose every nation has its own idea of things. While we are talking of bands, the 23rd have suffered an additional loss now their Bandmaster got killed – Tommie Balch. Dad has played some of his father's compositions when he was in the “Austral”. He composes a lot of music for bands. There is only one band left in the Brigade now – the 21st – and they are nothing without their Bandmaster.

We have just finished our Sunday evening's tea. We have got some tinned fruit from the village and that made a welcome addition to our bread and jam. We've been discussing what we would have if we were home, and didn't our mouths water, and that brings to my mind how in the early hours of this morning we went out with two or three casualties, when we got mixed up with the contents of some Lachrymatory shells. My word, you should have heard us bless the Huns whilst our eyes were red and sore, the tears running down our cheeks and splashing on the ground. It was a case of “Water, water everywhere” with a vengeance. We looked a sad lot in the dressing station. The Doctor, A.M.C. men and us all doing a silent weep. The stuff has a great smell – a kind of essence of almondy smell, but of course, it is quite harmless, except to render your eyes useless. Well, you put your goggles on and the effects of the first dose have passed.

Our Brigade raid passed off alright last Thursday night, the Germans, for the most part, being too cowed to put up a fight. Our chaps, after killing a good number, came back with eleven prisoners, mostly very young chaps. A couple could speak very good English. They all seemed very glad to get out of it all. One chap said we had no hope of ever breaking through, but we believe differently.

My word, the Stretcher Bearers had some work to do that night, worse luck, and one got recommended. I believe he was great, went back and forwards from our line to Fritz's repeatedly. He's our bass drummer, with a heart of a lion. I didn't see him for we were away at the time with a case of our own, but everybody is talking about him.

Ernie is here writing just by. He got your birthday card and thinks it great. He's sending it home to his cousins to be kept, although he's not too keen on spending too many happy returns of the day, but thank goodness neither he nor I will see another birthday at this game, and we are looking forward to Christmas dinner a treat. They needn't trouble about for us this time.

Thanks very much for the papers which have been arriving safely. We have been getting our papers first lately. In fact, I haven't got half the letters from the last mail yet and now there is another mail in, but I suppose they will trot along in due course.

They are strafing some of our planes but, as is generally the rule they waste thousands of pounds worth of ammunition all to no purpose. A flock of eighteen passed over our heads a couple of nights ago and I think did some damage about Lille. Even then, the Germs didn't get one, although they were in a bunch.

Well dear Mother, I wish you could warm some water so as I could bathe my peepers. They are still sore from last night's affair, but I guess tomorrow will set that right. Hoping you are quite well. Your loving son.

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