Sunday, October 27, 2013

9 June 1916 Flanders

Dear Folks,
Have handed the hospital over to 4th Ambulance and are now in a camp behind our old one. We were intended to go up to the Advanced work (our section) but as two of our Dr’s were posted to other units, it left our section short of officers and so we had to stay behind. We have since got some more and will be able to go up when our turn comes around in a few days.
Well since I wrote last there have been some pretty exciting times. On Sunday night we sent 100 stretcher-bearers up to help clear the wounded from the copse. Half of them came back the next day and the rest stayed for two days longer. They were “C” section as they had been there before and were a little bit acquainted with the country. They report having a very exciting time and I only wish I could have been there.There was only one casualty. He was wounded in the leg and arm and will likely get a permanent blighty. The patient on his squad was killed and one of the boys had his arm around the patient when he was hit. Pretty narrow escape eh? We all wear the new steel helmet now when we go up there. It certainly saves scores of lives. One of our boys got a big dent in his, as big as a fist. Certainly saved his life.
The boys got great praise from the authorities. They had been carrying wounded out of the front line which is only 25 – 30 yards from Fritz’s front line and in full view of him. Their flares were falling right around them and they were forced to go overland not having any communication trenches. Some of the poor fellows had been lying there for as long as five days and were in very bad shape. Gangrene had set in in a lot of cases and all were in bad condition from lack of food and medical attention.
The bombardment was exceptionally heavy and the enemy evidently thought that they would have a complete walkover but they soon found out that those who were alive were very much alive, and the number of Germans left on the field testified to that. We had one German in the hospital here. He was a young looking chap about 25 – 26 and a very good looking chap. He certainly didn’t look starved and was in good condition. He only stayed with us a short time and we didn’t get much of a chance to quiz him.
I was very much disappointed that I could not get up but I’ll try and get up next time. We were lucky to get off with only one casualty.
I am quartered in a hut here and I got to work yesterday and made a bed. It is a dandy affair and is just like a spring mattress. There are 6 of us in this hut together, a double bed in two corners and a single in the other two. We made a table and bench as well so we are pretty comfy. We will only be here for a few days though, but we are enjoying ourselves while we are here. The roof is thatched with straw and is quite waterproof.
It is too bad about Al Ryan but I guess he was pretty sick though. I was glad to know you got rid of Mrs. Orr. She should have more decency than to impose herself on people like that way.
I hope Orville doesn’t have any more trouble with that fellow. It has caused him enough worry now. I don’t see how they can hold him libel for the costs.
I got Mae’s letter and also the parcel from Rose. I was glad Mae succeeded in getting her choir into Massy Hall. But I guess she …. and she will be very glad when the strain is over. Is she taking a playground for the summer?
Well I must ring off and get to bed. Hope everyone is well.
Yours lovingly,

Sunday, October 20, 2013

9 May 1916 Flanders

Dear Mother, Father and the Rest:

Your letters of Apr. 8 and 16 came ok. The one I had not rec’d last week was sent to the 5th Engineers by mistake and came a day or so after I had written.

I was glad to learn that Orville had won his case alright. If he had lost it would have meant a lot to him. It will relieve his mind of a lot of worry now. I guess he will need all his time to get and look after help for it will likely be more scarce than ever this summer. The problem of getting the crops harvested in the west this summer is going to be pretty serious.

Have been working nights in the hospital for a week now, but it is not very hard and as things have been rather quiet we have not had much work to do. Our section is taking over the hospital tomorrow and I go on the Surgery. Have most of the dressing to do etc. We were to have taken over on Sunday but we all got innoculated and have been under the weather ever since. This dose was a very heavy one and we are excused duty for at least 24 hours. Temperatures go up and it gives us a bad headache and also a mighty sore chest (that is where they inject the serum). It is a good deal better than running the risk of contracting typhoid. It is surprising the small number of typhoid cases out here and also all the other diseases. We have to deal mostly with cases of influenza, trench fever, minor injuries such as sprained ankles etc. Occasionally we get a few cases of measles, mumps and once in a while a case of meningitis. These are rare however.

Had a letter from Bill the other day. He has been transferred to Shorncliffe Camp and will be going through the same tactics as I went over last summer. Just as he was going up to his first exam he was quarantined on a/cc of one fellow in his hut catching the measles. They are certainly strict about any of those contagious diseases and any suspects are isolated immediately.

The weather over here has been great up until yesterday when (it) turned cold and today it has been raining all day. Everyone in the tent has been in bed all day for on a wet day with no where to go, and when there are 10 men in a tent, the only way to get any peace or comfort, is for everyone to crawl into his blankets. We all felt good and ready to do that today for the innoculation made us all pretty miserable.

This is Wed. and I am writing this in the surgery and must get it finished now.

Word came in this morning that Jack Lumsden, a Vic boy and friend of Bill’s, had been killed last night. His body was brought in shortly after and is going to be buried tonight. A shell struck the YMCA he was running and he had a fragment strike him on the forehead. He must have been killed instantly. He was still on our strength although attached to the YMCA and he was one of the most popular boys in the unit.

Have had a very busy day in surgery. Been on the dead jump since 7 o’clock this morning and it is nearly supper time now. There are two of us on the job and we try and let each other go for an afternoon or part of it every other day.

Saw Billy Redburn the other day, he was down here with a convoy and came over to our camp to see me for a few minutes. They have moved down here since though and no doubt I will be able to see him often. Stanley Johnston of Gorrie looked me up the other day too. He had been next camp to ours, up where we were before we moved and I didn’t know he was there. Both boys are looking well.

Have only a short time to write and must not let this letter go any longer. So will make “a noise like a door and close”.

Love to all,

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

2 May 1916 France

Dear Mother, Father and the Rest:
This is Tuesday afternoon and I have a few minutes to write before supper time so will get a letter started anyway. There was a Canadian mail today but none from home. It will likely be along tomorrow. Got one from Mae however. I am doing night duty in one of the tent wards so that is how I can write during the afternoon. I can generally get a few winks sleep at night and do not need to sleep all day. I have a bad attack of spring fever I think, for I am just so lazy that I haven’t enough energy to do anything.

The weather here is simply great and has been just like Canadian May weather for over one week. The fields are getting green and the roads are all dried up. It sure is a treat after so much mud and rain and we can stand lots of this kind.

Have had a pretty easy time since coming here and have been to a band concert nearly every evening and one night a concert party from England that is touring the front giving concerts came to the YMCA marquee and gave us a dandy concert. I believe I sent the programme to Ettie. They had a violinist who was great and played a selection of the best pieces. I have been very fortunate in being able to go to so many concerts lately. I try to go every chance I get. 

Had to stop there and now I am on duty and have a full ward but nobody very sick, mostly sprained knees and ankles and some mild cases of trench fever. I had one very sick fellow last night and had another man to help me out as it was necessary to sit up with him all night, so we took 2 hour shifts. His temperature was 105 degrees and we had to keep cold cloths to his head etc. He put in a bad night but by 7 this morning we had his temperature down to 103 degrees. He was sent on today to a hospital further back.

Did I tell you I had seen Clare Brink? Saw him the other day as he was passing the hospital and went over to his quarters with him and had a chat. He is looking fine.

We were awakened the other night about 1 am by the gas alarm and had to get up and dress but were not called out. The gas alarm is a screeching siren and can be heard for miles. It sounds It sounds something like a steamboat whistle and when it sounds in the middle of the night it has such a weird spooky sound that you expect something dreadful is going to happen. We have had two alerts this last week but in neither case did they amount to much as our artillery stopped all the infantry advances and with our gas helmets, we are not troubled with gas even if it should come in this far.

There has been no word yet about a transfer and I’m beginning to think that Gen. Logies’ order has been squashed, the bringing men back from the front. I understand that the Bruce Battalion (160th) is up to strength now. They did the trick in short time alright. Where are they going to train?

I have not had any word from Bill since a day or so after he landed so do not know what he is doing.
What is the opinion of the people over there about the rebellion in Dublin? They were soon squelched however but I guess a lot of damage was done to property etc.

There has not been a great deal of fighting on our front in the last 2 weeks but previous to that, there was some pretty stiff scrapping as I suppose you would see by the paper a/ccs. Some of the Battalions lost so heavily in officers that several privates were promoted to Lieuts. on the field. It looked odd to see a couple of stars stuck up on an ordinary service tunic.

So you have gotten rid of the cow. That was a pretty good price to land for her wasn’t it? It will mean a lot of work cut out and you won’t be tied down so much now. You will all have more time to knit etc. ha!ha! Teeswater is surely going some pace when there are so many festivals and concerts. The new hall is being put to good use.

I must stop now and get my patients tucked up for the night. I’ll write again when I get your letter. Hope this finds everyone in best of health.
Harold Skilling

Sunday, September 22, 2013

25 April 1916 France

Dear Mother Father and the Rest:
Since writing to you last time we have been moved and all 3 sections are together now for the first time since last October. Our section is just doing fatigues for the others at present and we never know when we are going to be called to do some job or other.
All last week we were having a rest and with the exception of a parade at 2 pm could have most of the day to ourselves. As luck would have it, the weather was rainy and we had to stay in our huts most of the day. However we were able to get into town one or two afternoons and got to see a vaudeville show that is running there. The troupe is called “The Fancies” and is entirely made up of soldiers. The management are constantly on the look-out for talent in any Battalion in the Division and if possible they have them transferred to the theatrical troupe. Nearly all the sketches are original and written by the players. They give a dandy 2 hour concert every night and they always get a crowded house. There is a movie show in the town also and “the Coldstream Guards” band plays every day afternoons and evenings alternately. The pictures are good too but the Guards’ Band is a real treat. There are about 50 instruments and they play a splendid variety of selections. There is a system where the different regiments of guards take turns in sending a band out here to give concerts etc. Each one takes a 3 month turn.
Since coming down to our camp here we have been blessed with good weather all but a day or so. Good Friday and the next day it rained steadily all the time but since Easter Sunday it has been just great. We are under canvas here (some of us) and can well do with a spell of sunny weather. All the tents have to be daubed with brown or green coloured paint to make them inconspicuous from the air otherwise a Taube would spot them and have a bomb on us before we knew where we were at.
I rec’d your letter of Apr. 1 ok and was glad to know you are all well. You certainly must be busy when there are so many socials etc. going on and everyone is so busy knitting . I am sure that is all foolish stuff about soldiers having to pay for sox. I have never heard of an instance of it and I am sure it is not so. That is one thing they do for us out here. They give us lots of warm clothes and a bath (shower) and clean underwear and sox and towel as often as possible, at least once every two weeks.
There is also a good supply of food and we seldom if ever go hungry. Of course there are no frills but with lots of good bread (and it is good) jam and often butter and tea with bacon in the morning and stew at noon, if the grub is cooked well, the boys have no complaints.
I don’t think it would be worthwhile sending pyjamas. They are more use in the hospitals than to us, besides it is hard to carry too much stuff like that.
There has been no word rec’d here yet about a transfer. One of the boys told me he had heard in a letter from Canada that I was going back. Is it common talk that I am going back? It is a corker how a rumor spreads eh?
Is Ontario really going dry? The reform wave has struck Belgium too and after today April 25 no English beer or stout is to be sold in the estaminets here. Nothing except a special French beer. I think something like “Social Option” stuff. It will be a good thing for the boys and the army as well.
I understand Captain Brink is quartered here just now and am going to look him up first chance I get. Have not seen Billy Redburn for sometime but there are rumors of his outfit moving forward to another trip up to the Advanced D. S. soon again. We can never tell what is coming off though. There has been some pretty stiff fighting going on around our division recently as you will have seen by the casualty lists and paper o/ccs. The tide seems to be turning down in Mesopotamia however and things ought to be happening down there before long.
It is time for this to be posted so will ring off for this time. Hope everyone is well.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

11 April 1916 Flanders

This letter from Harold has been damaged and the bottoms of 2 pages are missing.
11Apr1916 01
Dear Father, Mother and the rest,
Your letters, papers and parcels have all come to hand in good time. Also a letter from Bill who reached London O.K. He reported having a dandy trip across and they did it in 9 days.
We are having an easy time this week as our section is supposed to be attached to one of the new Fd. Ambulances that have just come out for instructional purposes. We are not doing anything in reality and have a chance to write letters and come into town and go to the movies. I got Norma’s parcel a day or two ago along with a few bundles of papers and …….
…….orgy for nearly everyone in our hut seemed to get a parcel. I got one from Bill posted in Toronto and one of the boys had just come back and was loaded down with things. Norma’s cake was fine and so were the caramels and maple sugar. The jam-jams in the other parcel were good too and soon disappeared once the boys got a taste of them.
No one knows what we are going to do when we shift from here. There is a possibility of several things but we do not know anything for certain. All leave has been cancelled and those on leave in Eng. have been ordered back. That puts me further back than ever. I am thinking I’ll be lucky to get away on my leave by next Easter.
i have not heard anything from Col. Weir yet. I suppose there is a lot of red tape attached to it and that it will take a long time ………
……boys have gone back to take out Commissions all in the Imperial Army. There is also some word of some more of the Meds. who are with us going back. Their names have been taken (3rd year men).
Sorry to learn that Geo. was sick again, Mae. How is he coming along now? How is the Prohibition Campaign coming? Heard rumor yesterday that the Legislature had passed the bill. Have not seen any mention of it in the Eng. papers.
Well have you been getting any warmer weather over there yet? This week has been pretty cold here but the leaves are beginning to come out on the trees and the Belgians are getting their……..
……. seem to be about the most important crops over here. What has Father decided to do about going west? Was Will down very long? I saw Norma’s piece of poetry on the Bruce Battalion in the news that came yesterday. It was pretty good. I don’t know whether I mentioned getting  Vern’s letter or not. It came to hand some time ago.Is the term at school being made any shorter thru’ the lack of farm help? How is the school going Vern?
Well, must ring off as my stock of news is about depleted and I want to get some more letters written while I have a table to write on. I don’t very often get a chance to have a table. Hope everyone is well. Love to all.
Yours lovingly,

Friday, September 20, 2013

9 April 1916 Somewhere in Belgium

Dear Mother, Father and the Rest:
Rec’d Mother’s letter of Mar. 11 with Norma’s enclosed and was glad to get them and to know that everyone was O.K. This week has not been very eventful but for some of the other ambulances, it has been pretty busy. Our turn will come soon enough and by the rumors floating around, it will not be very long. At present I am in charge of a few cases of measles (that did not develop). They are sort of isolated but are not sick. I expect they will be discharged in a day or so and I’ll be given an outside job then I guess.
There has not been any word received here yet that I am aware of about going back. I am not very enthusiastic about going back to join the 160th, but I am not going to decide until I see what the offer from Col. Weir says. The chance of getting back to Canada is very enticing but the thoughts of going back and doing the same old grind of training with a bunch of raw recruits (you see I am a veteran now. ha!ha!) does not appeal to me very strongly, especially if it’s only to be a Sergeant!
I have not had any word from Bill yet. But I expect he is in England. It will be 3 weeks from tomorrow since he was due to leave Toronto and it should not take longer than 2 and a half weeks to make the trip.
How is the proposed trip West for Father coming on? I guess Will Guinn would want to take him back. He would just be in time to see Bill before he left for Toronto.
I had to stop at the end of page 2 as it was time to feed the patients. I have a few minutes to write before the night man comes on duty.
Did I ever acknowledge the papers you sent about the Ottawa fire and also the Sunday Worlds from Toronto and the Onwards? I got everything that was sent I believe. It was nice of Miss Sharpe to send me those things. I wrote her a short note thanking her.
Norma is blossoming out to be some poet. That one on the Bruce Battalion in the News, was it the one she composed? You were asking about those shirts. Well I got them alright but I have not tried them on. You can send some underwear (light if you like ) knee drawers and short sleeved shirts. I can get them washed alright and it gets pretty hot over here in summer time. It is pretty hot some of these nights, but it not from the weather but from the artillery fire. It makes you shiver instead of sweating. Some nights we can hardly get any sleep for the din and it fairly shakes the huts where we have our quarters. One of our battalions got a pretty bad cutting up the other night. We were ordered to stand to and 3 of our ambulances were ordered out to help carry the wounded. We had an inspection of iron rations, gas helmets etc. and were ordered to stay in our huts and sleep with all our clothes on. The artillery was making so much noise that it was almost impossible to sleep but we gradually dosed off. When we awoke in the morning things had quieted down.
It is beginning to look as if the French had the Germans pretty nearly stopped at Verdun.
Opinion is pretty well divided here as to when the war is going to be over. It seems to be more generally thought however that it will not last the summer. The statements of prisoners seem to be pretty well divided as to the conditions in Germany. Some say there are not great shortages of food and that they are all “fed up” with the war, while others say they are sure to win. A month or two ought to see something decisive happen.
Things look like prohibition in Ontario this summer alright. We have some hot arguments over here sometimes but there is enough of its effects apparent, from even Belgian beer, to make a temperance man out of almost anyone. The chief reason why the field pay is held to 30 Francs a month is just because most of it would go to the “estaminets”. Some of the infantry men claim that the rum issue is the only thing worth living for. We do not have it issued to us, but when we do work like we were doing at the A.O.S. last week, it is sometimes given to any who want it. I worked just as hard as any of them up there, and I got along just as well as any on a bite or two of bully beef. At the most critical times some of the fellows will trot over to the estaminet and get “boozed up” and on a pay night it is a corker. In a couple of days the same crowd are trying to bum a penny or two pence to get a drink. Same crowd every time.
Well I must ring off and get this posted and let the night orderly take over. Hoping everyone is well at home.
I am your loving son and brother,

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

3 April 1916 Somewhere in Flanders

Mr. John Skilling

Teeswater, Ont.


Dear Father:

Re: My assignment money that you were inquiring about:

I have left an assignment of $15.00 a month  dating from April 1915 (inclusive) to O.R.Skilling, Toronto to be used by him as he sees fit and to be kept for me when I return or in the event of my not returning, to be given to Mother. $15.00 has been taken from the amount to buy Christmas presents. The remainder is still with Orville I believe.

The remainder of my pay which amounts to $18.00 for a 30 day month (at the rate of $1.10 a day) is accumulating at the Canadian Pay Office in London, Eng. with the exception of the 30 Francs a month that I draw out here and also an amount equal to my assignment ($15.00) which is always kept to my credit at the Pay Office. All other payments or stoppage etc. are duly recorded in my pay book which will be returned to you, in case anything happens to me.

I do not think my insurance would be affected by any transfer I might negotiate. The “City of Toronto” pays the premiums on the policy which is $1000.00 payable, in case of my death while on active service, to Mother. I have no written agreement or paper of any sort to show. I signed the agreement etc. which is something similar to the attestation papers signed by a new recruit.

There is nothing else that I know of that need to be put in a statement of this kind. All personal property of dead soldiers are always returned to the next of kin by the military authorities.

Your loving son,

Harold R. Skilling

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

2 April 1916 France

Dear father,

I wrote to you yesterday but as I did not have very much time I could not answer your letter. Had I known that I would be able to write today I would have put everything in one envelope.

There is a prospect of our moving again shortly so that if I do not get this written now I'll possibly not get a decent chance to do it for some time. I haven't got your letter with me at present so I'll tell a little of what I have been doing for the last couple of weeks.

There has been considerable shifting of troops during the last couple of weeks and our unit has been moving all over the lot and when we have not been on the move there has been lots of work.We have been stationed up at an ADS (advanced dressing station) since leaving our DRS and the work has been the hardest and the most exciting that we have had yet. I was stationed up there for 11 days and during that time we had to look after the wounded.

The wounded began coming in on the 22nd and all day at a very alarming rate. We thought that we were going to be swamped and and in fact we nearly were. As the day advanced we had to give over our own quarters and also our blankets to the patients and later when we could not accomodate anymore, we stowed them in neighbouring dugouts. About half were serious, very serious cases and several died before we could evacuate them. I worked from early morning on the Wednesday till dark the next day assisting the doctors and as soon as it was dark we started over land with five stretcher cases.

The previous night we had two of our own boys slightly wounded and three others suffered so badly from shell shock as to render them of no use to us up there. One other was sent back as incompetent and to perform other general duties. That left us very shorthanded and when the big rush came the next day, we did not have nearly enough men to cope with it.
I was sent out in charge of a party of 15 men and five stretcher cases with only 15 men. Each stretcher necessarily was undermanned and we were in a pretty bad fix. I got 11 squads away okay and took the fifth myself with one other fellow. He was our latest draft and had only been here a short time. Besides being unused to the work, he was very small and we had a great big strapping fellow who weighed at least 180. To make it worse he would keep fidgeting on the stretcher and throwing the blankets off. We got along fairly well until this youngster's sling broke and he could not stick it out any further so we put him in by the side of the road and I sent him on to get a little help from the fellows who were on ahead. While he was gone I got help from a couple of soldiers riding in a limber- waggon going the same direction as we were so they offered to give me a lift. We met the relief party just before we got to the ambulances. 
That carry to the cars is a terrible strain and the whole round trip is about 6 miles. Between dark and daylight I made four trips bringing back a big load of rations on the return trips. The last was made in broad daylight and I was done in record time for we were expecting a bullet or a shell over us at any minute. We were back in bed by 7:30 am and I was roused again at nine to go on duty in the surgery. We had 10 cases still left to go that night, Thursday, and more coming in. I was on duty all day and made two trips that night again. Then after getting to sleep at about 1:30 AM, I was awakened at 4 AM by a big bombardment and after standing to for more than an hour or so, I went back to bed and slept till about 4:30 PM. During the rest of our stay up there things were not so hot.

I suppose you will be wondering what I am going to do about the 160th Battalion. Well if that proposition had come last January when I was sitting around the Château doing little or nothing I would have been inclined to jump at it. Now however, the spring activity is underway and there promises to be some excitement and action I am not so anxious to go back to England to put in another summer training. I don't think I would consider an offer to go back to Canada to be a recruiting officer. ( I have not received any official notification of any sort yet. ) To go to Canada would look too much like "cold feet". Some people are too ready to make accusations like that and I would not want to give anyone a chance to say that about me. If any offer does come through, I'll perhaps have had enough of the " big scrap " to want a trip back for a while. I doubt very much if the war will last until the 160th get out here. I'll be expecting a letter from Bill some of these days telling me about things. He was there with you and interviewed Col. Weir and besides it does not take very long for a letter to go to London. 
I am not looking for a leave to London for a long time yet at the rate the leave is going at present, I'll get mine about next Christmas or thereabouts. There are lots of advantages in such a promotion especially if it were a commission. To go as a sergeant would not be a great deal ahead. I do not think there is much chance of promotion here as the medical students etc. will come in before most of the others. I am not at all envious of any NCOs on our unit and am not at all anxious for their jobs. The only advantage a sergeant has over a private is the fact that he does not need to take orders from everyone. The best man is not always given the job. Of course it is pretty hard to please everyone and an NCO has his hands full if he intends to be popular with both officers and men. The pay is $.25 a day more and worth every cent of it. 
I got mother's parcel and also one from Mrs. Sharp. It was awfully good of her to remember me. I'll write her first chance I get. This is Monday morning and I must get this away on the noon mail so must hurry. I'll not put anymore on this sheet but write the statement of my affairs on a separate sheet. Hope everyone is well.
I am your loving son,

Harold R Skilling

Monday, September 2, 2013

1 April 1916 Somewhere in Flanders

Dear father,
Received your long and very interesting letter sometime ago but I have not had time to get it answered for we have been head over heels in work the last three day three weeks. I had not finished reading your letter - which came to hand on March 26 - when I was ordered to pack my kit and get ready to move up to our advanced dressing station. We have been extremely busy up there during the 11 days of my stay and as we were in dugouts as dark as our cellar and a very limited supply of candles. Outdoors when it was not raining water, it was raining shells or bullets. You can easily imagine then that the environment was not conducive to great literary efforts. I am not going to attempt to answer all the mail that I have received lately as I have only time for a very short letter just to let you know I am well and to expect a letter soon. We have had the hardest two weeks work up here that we have had since coming here and there they there is some satisfaction in being at some real work after all the inaction of the winter. We handled 60 wounded one day and transported them on stretchers to the cars - a 6 mile round-trip under enemy observation practically all the way. I worked for over 40 hours with only one and a half hours sleep and then a snatch of grub when I had a minute to spare. Some of us did four roundtrips to the cars carrying a patient each time but one from dark till daylight of one night. All our wounded must be evacuated at night and as it was dull weather and rainy, the darkness was so thick we could only feel our way. We had two men wounded slightly and three sent back suffering from shell shock. I have been very busy since coming back to camp looking after one of the wards but will try and find time to answer your letter fully at the first opportunity. I hope everyone is relieved. I feel "Jake" myself.
Your loving son, Harold Skilling

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

11 March 1916 France

Dear everybody:

It seems an age since I have written home or received mail from home either but there ought to be a Canadian mail along today surely. I have been so busy since we moved here that there has not been much time to write anyway. Last Saturday we moved from the Château over here. This is the DRS for the 3rd division and it will not be very bad here when we get settled. As the weather gets better we will not have so many patients. We have room for about 120 or so but at present we have only about 15 patients here. We only keep them for seven days and then either discharge or evacuate them to some other hospital. It is quite a change here from the Château. But I suppose we will soon get tired of it here just the same as it gets monotonous at all the other places. 

There is a village here and a railway but not very many troops. We are the only Canadians here and when the other section first came here they were considered quite unique by the French but they will soon stopped showering us any favors when they find out that the British Tommies do not like it.

When we were at the Château we got a bunch together and started to learn a few songs but when we came here we were lost without a piano. The other day however one was discovered in a house at the other side of the town. They were only too glad to let us use it and whenever we can we are going over there for an hour or so to practice. She sets out coffee for us when we are through and won't accept pay for it.

We can only stay for an hour as there is a rule that all soldiers must be in their billets by 8:30 PM. We get nearly got pinched by the MPs the first night we were up. We were making too much noise in the streets after hours. We bluffed him out however.

Our billets are pretty fair but not as good as at the Château. We are in a loft over a driveway and it is pretty draughty. It is dry anyway and we can pinch enough blankets from the hospital to keep us warm. It is not necessary for us to be there very much so we do not mind if they are not very elegant.
The hospital is in an old factory with most of the machinery taken out. It has all been nicely whitewashed inside and looks real clean and bright. I am working in the surgical ward and have considerable bandaging to do. We occasionally get a real serious case and these are immediately sent down to the casualty clearing station (CCS). I think quite a percentage of the accident cases are incurred when the patient is drunk. We have 35 here now who were hurt when they were drunk. One fellow was run over and we thought for a while that his leg was broken. Another was riding a bike when he was pickled and fell off and broke the bike and hurt himself. He was taken away this morning to court-martial. Any cases like that do not get much sympathy from the medical officers and they are sent back to their unit as soon as they are able to do light duty. Very often they get punishment besides. I think that is one reason why they do not pay us anymore than (£ or $ ?) 6 a month.

I am writing this on Tuesday p.m. and this makes it two weeks since there has been a Canadian mail and I guess it's about the same length of time since I have written home. The weather has been splendid this last few days but there is very little to do just yet. The artillery still keep banging away at each other. I suppose you have seen before now that we have had one death. One of our farriers had been so badly wounded that he had to have both legs amputated and died the day after he was hit. He was working in a civilian blacksmith shop next door to the hospital at LaClytte, not here and a shell came along and wrecked the place. It just missed the hospital by a few yards.

I suppose Bill is in England by this time and I am looking for a letter from him every day. I have written care of Jeffs so he will get my letter just as soon as he arrives in London.

I am enclosing a few snaps of the village here. I would not even attempt to spell it myself it is pronounced 'God wears velvet' and at couple of Bailleul. There is a place downtown where they have a camera and I am going to try and get some photos taken. They do a pretty good job in postcards. I'll have one taken with my new equipment on.

Well there is nothing startling to write about so I'll bring off. I'll write you when the mail comes in and let you know if I get any. 
Your loving son and brother,
Harold Skilling 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

28 February 1916 France

Dear Everybody,

I guess you will be thinking that I have forgotten you this week but I wrote to Mae and I suppose she will have sent my letter on home. There is so little to write about these days that when I write one letter, I nearly have to make a copy of it if I want to write anymore.

I received your letter of February 7 okay and was glad to get it. So your good spell of weather has said you farewell. We were just the same here. There has been snow on the ground now for a week and for a few days it was very cold. It has been milder yesterday and today and the snow is melting pretty rapidly.

I was glad to hear that you had got my diary. Did the other souvenirs get home alright. They should be there by now. I sent some trench papers home too. The stationary warfare that has been in progress all winter has made a paper possible and the idea has been taken up by several of the Battalions. There are some very smart little issues are among them and the issues are always sold out very soon. The "Listening Post", the one I sent you, has been suppressed and I'll not be able to get anymore of them. They had been saying some things about CMRs that I suppose would be apt to stir up ill feeling between the two units and they would not be likely to work well together. 

I suppose Will is has left long ago and will soon be in England now. I will know doubt be hearing from him before long from London. These are several of our boys applying for commissions and as I said in my letter to Mae, it is the only way to get out of this unit and I am going to try and work at some way (to get out).

There are very meagre reports coming to us about a big scrap down at Verdun. I guess that is the commencement of the big doings for the spring. It was just a week later than this last year when Neuve Chapelle was fought. The weather can be more dependable now and when the mud begins to dry up, more elaborate and stronger trenches can be made.

I think the best way to buy the yarn would be several different weights and let each lady knit what she can work with best. For summer wear I think the best kind is about the thickness of the ones Ettie sent me. That weight are not so apt to make the feet sweat, if there is much marching to do. I am well off for socks now but if you like you can send a change of light underwear (knee drawers). They are much better for summer wear than long ones and we must have some kind..

Have your letter of February 13 to hand now and will answer it also. This is now Tuesday and the weather has turned mild and rainy again. Tomorrow March 1 so it looks as if March will be coming in like a lamb. That is if the Germans do not start anything before midnight. There are lots of rumors about a big strafing that is to come off soon. There(they) are apparently having a big and important scrap at Verdun.

You were asking about whether there were any cases of soldiers having to pay for articles sent from the societies at home. I have never known of a case. In fact we are exceptionally well supplied (Canadians) and socks etc. are to be had just for the asking from  P.M.(?) stores.

I was up before the "beak" this morning and got a reprimand. We have some five NCOs here particularly our orderly Sergeant who since the new Major came, has had a squad up in the orderly room every morning. The other OC knew what he was and did not pay any attention to him, but he is taking advantage of a new OC and is working out a lot of old grudges. He had nothing against me but of course it is expected that the OC will always back up his NCOs and has been doing that alright but he will soon have this Sergeant's number alright. He is about the meanest and sneakiest NCO I ever ran across and that is saying some.

Well I must ring off. There is absolutely no news of note so I have to call these few pages a letter. Hope everyone is well. I am feeling fine.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

23 February 1916 Somewhere in France

Dear Mae and Toronto folks,

I received your letter of February February 6 just a few minutes ago and as I have not not much to do this evening I will try and get a few letters written. Yours was the only letter I got tonight and the only one from Canada for about a week. Well I was mighty glad to get your letter and it was real newsy too. Just the kind of a letter you like to get when the job you are on gets stale. It sort of makes you forget it for a while.

Say when you speak of writing letters in the form of a diary reminds me that I sent mine by a fellow who went to England on leave and he was supposed to post it from there. I believe he got on a grand drunk just about as soon as he landed, so I am wondering if he posted it alright too. Do you know if it got home okay ...

The remainder of this letter seems to be missing.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

18 February 1916 Somewhere in France

Dear Mother, Father and the rest,

I received your welcome letter of January 29 yesterday and was pleased to learn that everyone was okay. It surely is a funny winter for Ontario to be having. No snow and very mild weather like you reported in January. We have only had one snow flurry and it was all gone off the ground in less than half a day. It is raining more this month than the last and when we get past this, we have the rainy part of the season gone and no one will be sorry. I do not think it has been as bad this year as last, at any rate not as bad as I had imagined the winter weather would be out here. It is no doubt quite bad enough in the trenches. There has been quite a bit of scraping up a little north-east of us and a couple of our battalions were ordered up there as a reserve. They had only come back to rest too, after being in the trenches for five months and the trenches that the Canadians hold our about the worst on the British front. You see the country around here is so low that it is easily flooded and in the rainy weather it is quite a contract to drain it effectively.

Well I was quite surprised to learn that Bill had taken the Commission bug so suddenly. It will no doubt go through. I should have thought he would have waited until he got over here or at least have tried to get into some Canadian unit. I think he would like that much better than the Imperial Army. There are about a dozen of our boys going up tomorrow to parade before the Colonel for Commission. I don't know how they are going to get on, but if they are all successful in getting them, it will make quite a hole in our unit. I believe there are quite a few Canadian boys going after Commissions in the Imperial Army but I think they are sort of given the preference too.

If  Bill gets it okay he will be over here pretty soon. How long does he think it will be before he gets away. He will be attached to some of the Derby recruits I suppose unless he would get the chance of getting on a reserve unit that sends out reinforcements. He will be getting to England at the best time of year for training at any rate. I had a short letter from Mrs. Jeff's yesterday. She invited me to stay there if I am going to be in London on my leave and also Bill has an invitation as well. I am not sure that I'll stay in London when I go but I would like to stay for a few days. We get seven clear days in England and if I go to Scotland I will not have much time to stay in London. However all this is mere speculation for my number on the leave list is 191 and they are only at number five now. You can judge when I'll get mine from that. It is more than I can do if you can. They will no doubt increase the number going very shortly and as all the senior NCOs and officers who do not take numbers get away, there will be a quicker run on the numbers of Privates.

I'll write to Bill as soon as I can and ask him when he is expects to be in England. He will no doubt be writing me himself in the near future and telling me all his plans.

There seems to be more going on over there than there is here, for we hardly find enough interesting news to fill a letter and if it was not for the letters we have to answer, we would not be able to write anything. It is lights out now and so I'll be I'll have to ring off and get to bed. I'll finish this in the morning if I get time.

Yours lovingly,

Thursday, June 6, 2013

12 February 1916 Somewhere in Flanders

 Dear Mother, Father and everybody,

I received mother's and Maude's letters okay a couple of days ago and was very interested as usual. Maude said that Bill had received word that he would be leaving February 1. According to that, he should be in England in a day or so, or perhaps by now. We were two weeks on our way from Toronto to Bristol and were on a very slow boat at that. I will be looking for a letter from from him some of these days. I hope he was able to get home before leaving.

There has been lots of artillery fighting this afternoon over by Ypres and they certainly have meant business judging by the sound. It is just one continuous roar. All the papers say in a time like that is "there was a slight artillery bombardment about Ypres yesterday ".

Maude was asking in her letter if Uncle Will (William Skilling, his father's brother) sent me a check at Christmas.  Yes he did, for five dollars and wrote me a nice letter too. I got it cashed the other day over at an estaminet for Fr.25. That is losing a little bit on it but it was the best I could do and was glad to get that for it.

Say mother, you can try some of your new domestic science cookery on me if you like ha! ha! I wish you could do up a nice juicy apple pie like you used to make on Saturdays during the winter and send it over. "Can't be did though".

Tell some of the people in Toronto to send some of Eatons overseas chocolate or some other plain chocolate i.e. Cadbury's etc. not milk or nut. It is very hard to get decent stuff like that over here at any decent price and it is never issued to us. I wish they would give us that instead of some things that are issued to us.

How did Orville make out with his auto case? Tell him to write and tell me all about his business. I guess you will find find it hard to get help now. I guess I'll not know the twins when I get back or Grace either (his brother Orville's children).

I have lost the fellow who was with me on the desk job and have more of it now. It is not a very slavish job and the only thing about it that I do not like is that I have to stay inside most of the time and the hours are long but then there is nothing to do outside anyway. So what is the diff. There is a concert company at Bailleul that gives concerts nearly every night to infantry brigades that are resting there. I am going to try and get a pass some night and go down for a couple of hours. They get off some pretty original stuff.

I must try and get one of the papers published by some of the battalions. They are pretty amusing and get some idea of the way the soldiers live in the trenches etc. There are movies in most of the villages where troops are billeted now and shows are held quite frequently. Some class to war nowadays, eh?

I am anxious to hear from Bill for if there is no chance to get with him I want to get into something else for the "spring opening". Sure the British used gas at the Battle of Loos and it was fairly good success too although it was the first time it had been used extensively.

What do the people around home think of the fire at Ottawa? Are there any new theories? We have not heard very much about it yet nor just how much damage was done. Did it stimulate recruiting any?

Well I must ring off for now and get to bed. Hope everyone is well. I am fine.

Heaps of love to everyone.
Harold Skilling

Sunday, June 2, 2013

8 February 1916 Somewhere in France

 Dear Mother,

Received your ever welcome letter January 16 with Norma's enclosed. Also had one from Mae and Bill.

I am not going to write to Bill just now as he will no doubt be leaving Canada before the letter would arrive there. However I'll get into communication with him just as soon as I find out where he is going to be stationed in England and then I'll try and make arrangements for us to have a few days leave together. We are sending about five or six away every week now, but as my number is 191 it will be a long time before I get mine. However the number of men going on leave will doubtless be increased shortly. I am looking forward to getting away by the end of April or May at any rate.

If at all possible I am going to transfer into Bill's Brigade when they get here. The 7th Brigade I believe came out last week so as the 8th Infantry Brigade that Bill will be with is here already, so he should not be long coming out after they reach England. I am not sure whether I can transfer out of the 2nd into the 3rd Division or not, but I am going to make inquiries just as soon as I have something definite as to when Bill will be here.

There is very little doing up around here these days except artillery and air fighting. Number VI Field ambulance had a German patient the other day but he didn't talk much. He was a Sergeant. There was also an officer captured the other day. He seemed to think that all the Germans had to do now was beat the Canadians and then walk over to Paris and London. He had come from the Russian front and had been in 37 engagements.

What is Archie Gillies in? I didn't know he was over here at all. Mrs. Button would sure be the one to buy to good advantage but she would be apt to quibble too much over a cent or two and get the Patriotic League in wrong with the trades people.

Say that was a good drubbing the hotel people got and it will make them sit up alright. Are they making very good progress in their Temperance Campaign for prohibition by July next?

Does Bill expect to get home before he comes away? He said he was going to try for a four day leave and also a pass to Stratford for a week end. They are a hanged sight more liberal with their passes this winter than last. All I could get was a single day last March.

Say everybody has been going to send me a program of the school play but I never received one so far.  The news has been coming quite regularly and I received the issue of January 13 sometime ago. I also got the letter from Miss Howie and am sending her my address. I got Maude's two bundles of papers although they were a month old.  They had been held up somewhere I guess. Say I would not bother sending the Sunday World and Star Weekly because they are sent to nearly everyone who comes from Toronto and so I can get a chance to see it often. Send the Globes though for no one else gets them and I can get more news etc. out of them than any other Toronto paper.

I suppose you think these are nearly useless letters but they are is there is so little going on that would be of interest to write about that I have quite a job finding material for letters.

Mae was asking me to tell of some of the cases we have to deal with. I haven't seen a badly wounded man since I left LaClytte.  All we have here are "sick" officers. This is the kind of a job that makes me sick of the Field Ambulance and I am going to get out of it the first chance I get. We have had so few as six patients here and it requires 50 to 60 man to keep the place in running order.  I don't know why they can't give us a little more leave. Of course every part of the service is inactive now but we seem to get the worst deal.

Tell Vern to write and tell me all about the hockey team etc. How is the drilling going with the Teeswater platoon of the 160th?  Well I must ring off now and get my dinner. Hoping everyone is real well. I am feeling fine.

Lovingly, Harold

Monday, May 27, 2013

1 February 1916 Somewhere in France

Dear Mother, Father, and everybody,

Received your letter of January 9th today and also Vern's which was enclosed. The mails have been very irregular and it is two weeks since I got a Canadian mail. Was sorry to hear Vern was sick and also to know that Orville was being taken up. It might cost him quite a bit before he is through.

Well what kind of a winter are you having over in Canada? There has not been any snow here yet but lots of rain though. On the whole I think we are having a comparatively mild winter and even if it is wet, there is very little frost.

There has been very heavy artillery firing all along our front this last day or two and I think the 6th Brigade infantry went after the "Bosche" pretty hard a couple of nights ago and got a prisoner who has an Iron Cross and has been in 37 engagements. He no doubt would be very glad to be taken prisoner I should judge.

We are still at the Château and are still in the dark as to when we shall be moving from here. I hope it will be soon for nearly everyone is completely disgusted with this place and we have been here nearly 2 months. I hope you got my diary alright. I haven't put a single entry in my new one yet as there has been absolutely nothing to mention and I don't suppose there will be as long as we are here.

I was agreeably surprised yesterday to receive a box of apples that I had given up for lost. They have been on the road since November 1st and did not arrive until January 31st. I was sure surprised to get them but they were very wholesome. There were about 30 apples in the box and were in good condition although they may have been frozen but I'm not keeping them long enough for them to go bad on me.

I'll try and get you some stamps, Vern. I'll send them along as soon as I get any.

I was over to the place where Billy Redburn is and dropped in to see him. He looks fine and seems quite well etc. I stayed for about an hour and chatted and then I had to get back.

I am enclosing a photo of O'Leary, Wilkins (from Arthur, ON) and Carlisle and myself. It is not very good of us as we were just holding ourselves in to keep from laughing and so looked more serious than ever. I must try and get my Kodak if I can before I go on my leave. I can leave it in England with Bill if he is there when I go. It is of no use to me here now.

I also am enclosing a letter I received from B. Skillings OSC wife of that man in Scarborough England. I had already sent him a short letter in reply. I had a letter from Mr. Munroe the other day it was a very nice letter and they wanted to know if there was anything they could send to me seeing that it is so far to send to Canada for things I would like in a hurry.

How well is the Teeswater platoon of 160th coming along. Are they training in town. Everyone seems to think that there will be some decisive movement soon. Everyone at least hopes there will be.

I got Maude's parcels this afternoon and everything was in good condition but the pickles and the big onion. The latter had become bruised and was going bad. While the pickles had the seal broken and the wax was all mixed up with the contents of the jar. Everything else was fine and the oatmeal jam- jams were especially good. Neither they or the date cakes were dried out and you can make it a pretty sure bet that they were not very hard to take.

I was on the border this afternoon and got Vern a couple of Belgian stamps, a one centime and a 10 centimes (one penny). The one centime is used for sending postcards to places in Belgium only. It is worth only 1/5 of a cent. I'll get some more for you Vern, first chance I get. Some French ones too.

January has been the most uneventful month I have put in since I joined the Army. We have just been putting in time here. That is, our section. But B section have been doing more. At present we have only eight patients and have been as low as six. There are between 50 and 60 men looking after this place and it does not seem a very square deal. I would give a whole lot if I were out of the Field Ambulance but there is not much chance of being able to do so apparently. I am looking out for a chance to get into something else. I want to stay with the 4th brigade if I can. Write and tell me all about how Orville is doing with his case and how everything in general is going on.

I am feeling fine and hope everyone at home is the same. We had our first casualty last week. One of our men was hit on the head with a piece of stray shrapnel. It was not serious however and might not appear in the paper.

Well news is so scarce I'll have to ring off for now.

Your loving son and brother,

PS the sort of socks I have been getting are the kind that seem to be the most common. H.R.S.

Monday, May 20, 2013

24 January 1916 Somewhere in Flanders

Dear Mother, Father, Norma and Vern:

Harold Skilling (rt)with the Lickley Brothers

Received a big consignment of Canadian mail last Thursday and it was the first decent batch I have had since a long time before Christmas. The letters had all come through in good time and it just seemed like Christmas all over again even though it was 20th of January. Everyone was full of Christmas news and I was so glad to know that you all had such a good time. You would have nearly as big a crowd at home as ever and I guess you would be all tearing around as usual. I was sorry to learn that you were sick on Christmas day, Mother. I was in the hospital then too, but not very sick. Santa Claus was as good as usual I see and he certainly was to me. I sent a card to each of the ladies who packed my box from The Patriotic League thanking them for their part in preparing it. Also to Mrs. Hughes, Colvin etc. who put things in the parcel you were sending. Everyone must have been very busy at home with so many entertainments and dinners coming off. So the school play was "some ripper", eh?

How is the (160th ) Bruce Battalion coming along? I hope they get it going well and make a success. Be sure and let me know all about it when you write. Are Norman Farquharson* and Donald Stewart** going to be in it? Surely they are not going to give those two youngsters commissions! They will have the time of their sweet young life over here if they ever get them.

I am glad the skating is going alright. Tell Vern to write me all about the hockey team etc.

I was out this afternoon to get some photos that four of us boys had taken together and when I could not get them because they were not done, we went over to see Billy Redburn. It is the first time I have seen him since last October. He looks fine and is having a pretty fair time. The good spell of weather we are having is materially decreasing the sick list and neither our place here or there are very rushed. He has some very nice souvenirs that he makes in his spare time. I have not been able to get very many but I guess there is lots of time yet before the war is over.

Say Mae was telling me about some wonderful cures she had for constipation. I wish you would send it. Maude was saying that Bill expected to be leaving for England by the middle of the winter. I hope he gets over here before I get my leave, for then we might possibly arrange to get our leave at the same time. Tell him to let me know when he expects to get over here. Billy Redburn is number 17 on the leave list and expects to get away shortly.

Say I wish you people at home would have some snaps taken of yourselves. I believe Bill had some photos taken. I guess I'll see him in England before long. There has not been a Canadian mail in for almost a week and so I have not had any letters to answer except those telling me about Christmas and there is really nothing in them to answer and there is absolutely "nil doing doing around this joint". I think I'll keep this letter until tomorrow and and enclose those photos of the boys and perhaps there will be a mail in then with some letters from home. The news comes regularly and I like to get it. Say Orville, write and tell me all about the "biz" . They say there is all kinds of demand in England for Canadian eggs etc. How did you make out on your storage stock? Have you much difficulty getting men? If you get time, write and tell me all about things. I must write to Floss so will ring off for tonight and get it done.

Photos are not finished so will not wait for them. Ask Orville if Dr. Fish has joined the Army. He can tell me where to write. I am real well and hope everyone at home is.

Harold R Skilling

*Norman William Farquharson, a friend of my father-in-law Edward Ray Jackson, died in France March 22, 1918 on his first night night in the trenches. See photographs and more on Ray's blog
**Donald Wilfred Stewart joined the Bruce Battalion in August 1, 1916 and later served in the Royal Flying Corps; in 1941 he joined R.C.A.M.C. and served on the hospital ship "Lady Nelson" (M.D).

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

16 January 1916 Somewhere in Flanders

Dear people at home,

I got mother's letter of December 19 several days ago and should have answered it sooner but I'll get it done now. The mail coming from Canada is very irregular and it takes at least three weeks for a letter to come through. However I guess it is about the best we can hope for just now as nearly all the fast boats have been commandeered by the government for transports and only a few of the old slow boats are left to make regular trips across.

In your letter of December 19 you spoke of getting the first of my Christmas mail. I guess in the next letter you will be telling me all about your doings at Christmas. Things have been plugging along here just the same. An occasional artillery duel is all that ever happens and they do not bother us much. You spoke of our hospital being shelled. Well it wasn't exactly our dressing station but only the village where it is situated. There were three men killed but they were artillery men who were where they should not have been. There was very little damage done and their marksmanship was very poor. They have the built a big shell proof dugout for the patients who might be in the hospital if it ever was shelled again. It is about as safe place as we could get for unless a shell dropped right on to it (which is practically impossible), nothing would be hurt.

Well we are going to get our leave at last and the first batch started yesterday. There were only three went but I expect after a few weeks it will be increased. They had decided to run it alphabetically but after the first batch had gone it was decided that lots should be drawn. Well they did that and I got number 191 out of 210 who drew. I think I'll go up to Scotland for a few days. We get six clear days in England eight days altogether, two for  traveling, and a free pass to wherever we want to go. I think when I get away that I'll get my pass made out to Greenock and stay a few days in London. While I am there I can get some decent clothes out of my kitbag at Jeff's and also draw some money which is not allowed us till we get to England. It is a little far ahead to make plans yet since at the rate they are going now, I will get my leave in approximately 100 weeks ha! ha! In drawing lots, the fellow who came after me drew number 13. He was a Smith.

Last Sunday when we were coming back from a bathing parade, a small squad of us stopped at in at the house by the side of the road and got a woman to take our pictures. She had gotten hold of a camera somewhere and she makes a pretty good job of it. She took two exposures but I could only get one kind. I'll try and get some of the others sometime soon and send them too. I didn't look quite such as simpleton in the other one as I do in this. You will notice those straps I have coming over my shoulders. They are not from my braces but are the straps of my waterproof cape.

I sent a box of souvenirs the other day but more as an experiment than anything else. There was a casing from an 18 mm shell nose and a shrapnel bullet also and a French bullet. The rod with the disc on the end was part of an anti-air gun shell and fell close to where I was working one day. The shell fragments are pieces that came from high explosive German shells that bombed our village that time I referred to in the first part of this letter. I sent my diary to England by a fellow who borrowed my haversack and he is going to mail it from there. I did not like to trust it to the mail here.

There is a patient here in our hospital who comes from Kinkardine I believe. His name is Major (?) Commerton and he is in the 18th Battalion. Do you know him?

Monday morning

Just got the start of another Canadian mail this morning. There were news came up to December 23 but no letters from home. I expect there will be more next time and as we only get mail once a day it will likely be along tomorrow.

I see by the news that the 160th Bruce Battalion is nearly an accomplished thing now and when it gets over here I think I'll try and get a transfer into it.

I'm glad they soaked to the hotel keepers at home and am anxious to see what they got. I also see that Jim Little and Bill Hiscox are Captains now. I wish I could get into the infantry or some other corps than the ambulance for there is such a petty bunch of NCO's here that they are continually stirring up trouble. One sergeant what even went so far as to have another up in the orderly room for a very trivial offense. They just seem to be itching to get one another up on the carpet every chance they can get.

Well news is about the scarcest thing around here just now and I only wish we would get out of this château. I think probably we shall next Saturday and I hope by then we will have our new Webb equipment with packs etc.

Well I guess I better ring off for this time and get at my work. Hope there is a letter tomorrow to answer. I am feeling fine and hope everyone at home is too.

Harold R.Sk.

PS I See by the news that the school play went off fine. Tell Norma to write and tell me all about it. H.R.S.

Friday, April 19, 2013

30 December 1915 Somewhere in France

Harold writes his last letter of 1915 to his mother in Teeswater.

Dear mother,

Well, I am back at the Château again and busy from the time I get up till I go to bed - in fact I have a 24 hour duty shift to commence at seven tonight, and I am just trying to get a line or two written this afternoon.

I got my discharge from the hospital on Tuesday after being transferred to our new divisional rest (station) ( D.R.S.). I was among the first batch of patients to go there. It was a pretty draughty place when I was there - only two days - and I was not a bit sorry to get back to my section again even if it is to be a general "flunky" at the Château.

I will not get very much time to write while I am here and it seems an age since I have written any letters. I have a big bunch to get done too, for the people who have sent things to me at Christmas all have to have an acknowledgment sent and there are quite a few of them.

Parcels have been very slow in coming and I have only gotten two that I had any notification of so far. The one from Mrs. Rumble which arrived on Christmas day and the one from the Teeswater Patriotic Society which arrived today. Everything in both of the parcels was okay and the sweater is just dandy and fits like a glove.

I have not tried on the shirt Mrs. Reid sent but it came at a very opportune moment. I'm crummy and I've had to burn an undershirt and it was the last clean one I had, as I lost another while I was in the hospital. I had taken it to a woman in the village before I took sick to be washed and she moved away before I got better.

I'll try and write each of the ladies a card anyway and thank them for their part in the parcel. Oh yes, I got Gert's while I was sick too, and have not written to her yet. Ettie's and Bathurst Church's came during the first week. Mrs. Rumble's apples have not arrived; they were reported to have been sent about November 1. The chicken has not arrived either but surely none of the rest will be long now.

I suppose you will be getting ready for New Year's celebrations. Was Bill home for Christmas? I guess you would always have a big crowd during Christmas and New Year's. I got Maud's papers and also the Teeswater News are coming along OK and the last I got was December 9th. Where did you get the idea that I got those clogs while scouting for wounded in Ypres? When I was up there I was scouting for firewood etc. We used to have to depend on that place for our firewood to supply our cookhouse and huts; also that was where we got the stones for the huts. That was how I got access to the houses hunting for stones and pipes etc. I got those boots in another village though, made on the premises.

I guess you will be wondering what kind of a time I had at Christmas. Well, I was sick all day and things were not very bright. But we had a fairly decent day all the same. A Christmas stocking was given each patient in the morning from The Toronto Patriotic League and then we got a turkey dinner with a Victrola concert in the afternoon. Mrs. Rumble's parcel came Christmas night and was transferred to D.R.S. on Sunday morning and came over here on Tuesday morning. On the car I came over here on last Tuesday, Charlie Scott a member of "B" section came along and was on his way to Canada. He is going on with three others to finish their courses in medicine and come out with commission in R.A.M.C. when they get their degrees M.B. (M.D. ?). The others are Bill Scott, Walter Barnes and Harold Irvine who was in London with me. I told Charles Scott, who is son of Rev. Dr. Scott of Toronto, to phone Orville when he gets there. I had no chance to see any of the other fellows before they left.

I didn't get time to finish this last night so we will try and get it away on the mail tonight. I am off the latrines (?) job and I'm holding down the desk today. I hope I'll get a chance to catch up with my correspondence here. I think I'll stop trying to write to very many and confine myself to about two or three letters a week. A whizbang will have to do any others that want to hear from me.

I just got out of the hospital in Bailleul (?) in time, as the village was shelled on Wednesday and over 100 shells were dropped around the village. One fell about 50 yards from the front of the hospital. There were 18 casualties but only three killed, 2 soldiers and a civilian. None of our boys were hurt. P.P.C.S.I. were just marching through at the time and had to lie in the ditches for a couple of hours.

Things are pretty quiet here now however after the big cannonade (?) we had the Sunday and Monday preceding Christmas. It was north of our lines and none of our brigade was hurt except that the gas the Germans sent over, drifted over part of the line. We were coughing away back at the hospital and were getting pretty husky throats before it cleared away. It was not bad enough back where we were for us to put on our helmets, but up at the front line they had to use theirs and they say they worked like a charm. When the Germans started to charge behind their gas, they didn't get a hundred men over their parapet. The artillery had the range perfectly and just blew them back - and up - so quickly that it was the only attempt they made to come over. Our guns kept at them though and from all accounts will take some few work parties to make their trenches habitable again.

Be sure and write soon and tell me all about your Christmas etc.

Your loving son,

Sunday, April 14, 2013

20 December 1915 Somewhere in Flanders

Harold writes to his parents from somewhere in France on his father's business letterhead.

Dear Mother and Father and the rest,

Here I am a patient in our own hospital but I'm not very sick, just stiff from lying down. I came in late Tuesday night and have been here ever since. I will be out in a day or two however and I will be good and hungry so that I'll be able to enjoy my Christmas eats. If I get all the Christmas parcels that they say they are coming, it will be a miracle if I don't get sick again. It is lucky that I had not been indulging before or I would have blamed it on too much eats. But I was playing football last Monday and Tuesday for a while and I got a good sweat on and then caught a cold. I will soon be okay now but will write more fully about Christmas and answer your letters as well. I got Mae's and Mother's and one from Rose (his brother Orville's wife). I am glad that the picture got there but I hope the boots are not lost. I had them parceled in a strong cardboard box and of the two parcels, it was the more securely tied up. No I do not think I wrote any letter between those two dates not that I have any recollection of anyway.

Everything points to a pretty good Christmas here, as good as we can expect for active service anyway. There will be lots to eat and lots to eat it too. According to the description of the contents of my parcels, there is about enough stuff coming my way to start a young store. Don't send anymore clothes for goodness sakes till I get what are on the way and see what is in them. I expect a job doing rifle guard next week so maybe I'll be glad of all that yet. The trick is to carry it when we move. We had a slight sniff of gas yesterday morning (German), not successful though. I find this is the last sheet of paper I have brought in my pack so I'll have to ring off now and get this away on the noon mail. I will write more fully later.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

8 December 1915 Somewhere in France

Dear Mother,

This is Wednesday morning and I am trying to get a small bit written at this while I can. It is a splendid morning and is a great one for walking. I had an easy time easy night last night and had intended going up to the next village to see Billy Redburn. However the S.M. put that idea on the blink by announcing a muster parade for inspection of gas helmets and of course everyone must be on that parade. Since there is no use going to bed and no time to go to see Billy I'll just try and get this written.

I hope you get the few little souvenirs I sent for Christmas. They are not very much but the choice of stuff here is very limited and it is hard to get stuff through the mails. I sent to Toronto and told Orville and the girls to get something for you and father for me. I hope it gets there by Christmas too. It no doubt will if it is not delayed too long by the extra rush. The parcel you sent on November 5 got here on Monday December 6, just a month from the time it was posted. The cake in the bottom of the box was in fine shape and is a dandy cake. Several of the fellows who sleep close to where I do, had a piece and ever since they are hovering around at meal time like flies around a tin of jam. The cookies were pretty dry but good just the same. I guess it is not very practicable to send eatables such as cookies and doughnuts so far, at least when it takes a month to get here. The maple syrup and nut candy and nuts were all fine and dandy. I have been about the luckiest fellow with parcels the last week or 10 days and have sure been living high. I had a great big parcel from "the Bathurst Patriotic Club" and it had nearly everything in it that you could imagine. There was not much to eat (except chocolate bars)  but in a big pair of socks they had crammed two leather bound pocket diaries, a toothbrush, shaving powder, two pencils, envelopes and one bar of Ivory soap, a housewife with scissors in it, a towel. Each article was contributed by a different person and nearly all had a small Christmas tag on it. It was a good parcel for a soldier and I can tell you I appreciated it too. I had another one from Ettie the next day and it was peach. Two pair of socks one pair from Laura Haynes. They are dandy and both pair fit like a glove.  They are the first ones that Ettie ever knitted too, a pair of wristlets and a couple of handkerchiefs. Say by the way, I have about enough of them. I also got your ? There were three or four in the Bathurst parcel and also a can of insect powder and a comb. ha! ha! Mighty handy stuff too for most of us are getting like a cage of monkeys now.

There was a lot of eats in Ettie's parcel too. Peanut butter, candy, etc. etc. and of course it was good. Aunt Aggie had one land along too and it was full of figs dates candy and nuts. I had a letter from Mae and she says there is another one from Toronto on the way and that Mrs. Rumble also was sending one. They are not to hand yet but will no doubt soon be here. Some of the fellows do not get very much and when it comes pouring in to me, it hardly seems as square deal. I try and divey up as best I can and they all seem to appreciate it.

We are not getting very much to do just now and we have only been having an occasional wounded man where a while ago we were getting from 5 to 15 a night. It is a pretty good record for the 4th Brigade considering that they hold the trenches  (which hardly deserve the name ) that have seen some of the heaviest fighting of the war and where the Princess Pats made some of their famous charges.

You were asking in your last letter if I was getting fat. Say you would hardly know me. I cannot button my tunic when I have on a sweater and it is two sizes larger than the one I had last fall when I joined. If I wasn't getting fat I should worry because I am not doing enough work to take anything off me and with the parcels I get.

It is such a dandy clear day that the air is chuck-full of airplanes and au pom-poms and anti-air guns are busy. They very seldom seem to hit anything but I suppose they keep the airplanes from taking too many liberties etc.

Well this is Friday morning and if I get this away by noon it will likely leave England on the Saturday midnight mail and probably get home before New Year's.

I got a big Canadian mail yesterday and there will likely be more along today
but it is coming very irregularly now and will no doubt be worse as it gets near Christmas.

I think I have received everything that has been sent to me and I always try to acknowledge it. I guess I'll have to drop a "whiz-bang" (a field postcard) whenever I receive anything just when I get it and then you will know as soon as possible. In Mae's letter she seemed to think that possibly some things had gone astray. I do not think I have lost anything yet. Don't worry about me writing too many letters. I only write two or three a week. I try to write one home at least once a week and that will do for everyone. I might sometimes drop a letter to Ettie (and) to some of the others when I have time. By the way I'll enclose a letter I received from Mrs. Skillings of Scarborough. I got it sometime ago but have not answered it yet.

Oh yes the boxes I get are fine but do not weigh them down with fruitcake please. There will be lots of that and Christmas pudding etc. floating around here by Christmas  -that is if it can float-  and the hospital will likely be full of fellows with gout etc. they will all be calling it "trench feet" though. We get all the clothes we can possibly use or carry so any extra you have, send it to the Red Cross first and the fellows in the trenches will get it. If you have a good hot bath you might send it across. I haven't had a good one for nearly a month so possibly you will see how the insect powder comes in handy eh! I haven't had to use any yet but I have a "little 'itch in my arrangements".

Well I must ring off now and get this posted and then turn in.

Yours lovingly,

Thursday, April 4, 2013

6 December 1915 Somewhere in France

An incomplete letter to his mother in Teeswater.  

Dear Mother,  

Received your letter of December 12 yesterday and as usual was very glad to hear that everyone was okay. I guess you would be so busy at Christmas time that you could hardly turn around. I see that you expected your usual crowd at Christmas.  

I got your parcel with Ettie’s, Mrs. Nixon’s, Mrs. Calvin’s and Mrs. Hughes’ contributions but failed to find your own. In its stead was a note from the postal authorities to the effect that, as the enclosed parcel of potted chicken was in a high-state of decomposition, it had been removed and destroyed and the remaining part of the former parcel repacked. So I guess it is not practicable to send stuff like that so far. Everything else was in good condition and I must write to them all and thank them. I have written to Mrs. Nixon and will drop a line to the others to as soon as I can.  

We are at the Château yet but expect will be leaving in another 10 days or so for our D.R.S. I don't know for sure just how long we will be there but I guess it will be a month at least and from there we will go on to our dressing station where we were last.  

Yes, we have been seeing quite a bit about Ford's peace expedition but I am afraid it is not going to be of much value. Oh yes, it was our own hospital that we were building the sandbag barricade for. It is not sand we put in the bags, only earth or anything else like that, that we can get.

Since we left our advanced dressing station there has been quite a bit of artillery firing around there and on one occasion two or three days after I had been sent on to our D.R.S., the village got quite a drubbing from the German artillery and the hospital handled 18 casualties in the afternoon. Our men got off okay and there were none hurt at all. I understand that since that bombardment (these were about 100 shells thrown over) there is a big dugout being built (bombproof) for the patients from the hospital to be carried to in case of a bombardment (say excuse this mixed up composition but I am writing this at the desk and people are continually…