Wednesday, March 6, 2013

2 November 1915 Somewhere in Belgium

Dear Bill,
Received your welcome letter today and I guess it is the ‘advance party’ of a new Canadian mail. So you have at last gotten rid of the bally books. Can easily imagine how war will be almost a picnic compared with a whole summer of book selling. So you are in the 81st Battalion band. Say it is rather an uncommon coincidence to have 2 other Skillings in the same Batt. isn’t it? I guess before this you will be back in Toronto and in barracks at Ex. (Exhibition Grounds Camp). I think you did well to fight shy of the Field Ambulance and whatever you do keep out of the A.M.C. for they are the most grumpy and grouching bunch I ever had anything to do with. I guess they get the same kind in every corps. I think ours is the worst because there is so little to do and they get sitting around doing nothing and kick at the grub etc. for pastime.

I believe the bands are acting as regimental stretcher bearers and some of them are in the ranks doing duty as riflemen. The regimental Stretcher Bearers are not protected by the Red Cross but wear a band around their arm with S.B. on it. There are no bands over here acting as bandsmen (musicians) near the trenches but they bring their instruments over and sometimes play their battalions on route marches or give concerts back in the billets.

The only objection to enlisting with the C.F.A. (Canadian Field Artillery ) is that they will not be as much chance of getting over here as in the infantry. I don’t know whether you would be able to get a quick draft over here from the band or not for bandsmen are apt to be scarce and they might want to keep you. Is there any chance of the Batt. coming over as a unit? If you could, get into the C.F.A. as a signaler or into the Signal Co. of the 81st. In the C.F.A. you would have a horse to ride and no pack to carry and there is more to learn than in the infantry and a good deal more interesting. (Harold is concerned about his brother as he knows he has a rheumatic heart.)

I have been trying to get a transfer out of the 5th Field Ambulance but it is too late for that I’m afraid. It is fine for you to be in Toronto for the winter. If you ever get over to France we will try and see if you could get a claim put in for me. There is some regulation to the effect that an older brother can claim a younger especially if the elder is in a senior unit.

There is a spell of rotten weather on here just now. It has rained nearly every day for about 2 weeks and is still drizzling away. The huts we are in have no windows and we have to either burn candles or open the door.We got a stove the other day as we passed thru’ “Wipers” (Ypres). It is a terribly racked place.

This is Thursday morning and I have been cleaning up the place ever since I got up until now and I want to get this finished before dinner. We have not been doing anything yet this week except the ordinary work around the huts. I think we are going to take over the hospital tomorrow.

There are not many surgical cases coming in, mostly sick last night for instance there were 2 wounded and 16 sick (mostly from being in the wet trenches). There was also a young girl about 18 years old brought in. The Germans had been searching the ground around her house for a concealed battery and a high explosive shell hit their house. Her father and mother were both killed and she will lose both legs and probably an arm if she gets better which is very doubtful. Her legs were just a pulp.

I am sending home an oil painting I picked up at ‘Wipers’ and also a pair of Dutch wooden shoes that I bought from a man who makes them. I also got a dog skin up at the dead city and am keeping it as a sort of cushion. It makes the floor just a little bit softer to sleep on.

Well I must ring off now and write home. Do they send my letters onto you people at Toronto? Tell them to send them for I’ll not have so much time to write when we take over the hospital.

Write and tell me how the 81st is getting along. what are your officers and NCOs like? I saw the photos of a couple of them in the Star Weekly. One seems to be a regular youngster.

Write soon.

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