Sunday, February 17, 2013

16 October 1915 Somewhere in Flanders

Somewhere in Flanders ( near Mont Noir, France)

Dear Mother,

This is Sat. morning and I have a few minutes to myself so I’ll try and get a line or two written home. It seems a long time since I have written a letter home but it can’t be more than a week and a half.

Harold Skilling
c. 1915
Well I got your letter on Monday I believe and sent a card home acknowledging it for I have been so busy that there has been no time to write a letter.

We are in a French chateau conducting an officers’ rest station. It is a sort of hospital for officers who are suffering from nerve trouble or shock. Most of them are pretty fussy and require a lot of attention and even our own officers who live here are making a picnic out of it.

It is a 4 storey building and is situated on a high hill so that it is a splendid outlook over the country around it. I am going to try and get some cards with a picture of the place on it and will send one or two.

A funny thing occurred last week when our section came over here to relieve the section of the 4th Field Ambulance who were here. When I was going through the house I ran up against Billy Redburn. His section was on duty here before us. I hope that we will be able to get out of here next week for I am not struck on the job. We have to take our turn at it no doubt though.

I got most of the papers from home but the one with my letter in, I got from Billy R. I had no idea I had written two columns, but if you are ever going to put any other of my letters in the paper, I’ll have to take more time in writing them so that I can correct them etc. The letter I sent home about my trip to London was a good deal different from the one appearing in the paper.

I am glad that Maude was feeling better when she went back and I hope she gets real ok again before long. I got Mae’s letter the other day and was very glad to hear from her. She is getting along splendidly with the “mill”. (?)  I guess when you all have read my letters you wish that I could use one too. Well I have been compelled to write in so many different positions etc. that I can’t write half as well as when I left home.
Tell Mae to ask Geo. if he knows a Dr. Burgess. He comes from Owen Sound and is one of our Captains. Someone was saying the other day that he only graduated a short time ago. “Red” Irvine’s name is Harold Irvine and comes from Sarnia.

Has Bill enlisted yet and what has he joined?I suppose he will be writing me soon and telling me all about it.

Things are very quiet just now but the big scrap that Mae referred to in her letter occurred just on our right. I do not think any Canadians were there. The noise of the bombardment could be heard plainly however and it was simply terrific. The booms of the guns sounded like distant thunder, and they kept up their roaring incessantly for hours at a time. For five days since coming here there has been heavy bombardments going on in that same district and if the nights are clear, the star shells and flashes of the guns can be seen distinctly.

An officer of the 20th Battalion came in here the other night and he is in my ward. Capt. Hedges is his name from Toronto. He told me that where his Battalion is now was held by the Princess Pats and where a lot of the fighting has been done. He says that the stench is something awful and when they are building up trenches that need repair or new ones, that often they come upon bodies buried there. The place is simply alive with rats and mice. This officer is just suffering from shattered nerves and says it is a recurrence of an attack he  had before.

We are having a comparatively easy time here but I have long hours. I have been put in charge of a ward to see that things are looked after and cannot get out hardly at all. When the fellows get back home, the fellows say they will be first class chambermaids and bellhops. Ha ha!

I had to hand in my Kodak so don’t send any films. I was going to send it home but the Col. is keeping them for us in case the order is cancelled so we can have them when we are going home.

Sometime now if you can, will you send a box of doughnuts or biscuits. Don’t send any soft stuff like tarts etc. for they get some rough handling and only send stuff that will keep as it takes about 3 weeks for parcels to come through. Tell Mae not to send any medicine or drugs as I can get all those things here as we carry a goodly supply and also we get chocolate or at least can buy it. Our rations consist mainly of bread, bully beef stew and cheese with jam, on occasion a tin of butter (so called) but we never get butter and cheese on the same day. If you send any sox be sure that they are good and thick especially in the heel, and only 1 or 2 pair at a time.

Well I had better ring off and I’ll try not to keep you waiting for so long for another letter.

Am feeling ok as the picture of myself that I sent to Ettie (Redburn) will show even if I do look mad. Hope everyone is ok.

Your loving son,


  1. Ruth,
    Even our soldier boy complains about his editor's free hand with his letters back home! The description of what he is hearing and witnessing of the bombardment not far away must have been frightful. I can see why from this letter you are so interested in the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker. Harold's letters bring the experience close to home.

  2. Mary,
    Yes, the content of the letters makes the stories of WW1, like Pat Barker's, very real!
    Thanks for commenting!