Monday, March 11, 2013

4 November 1915 Somewhere in Belgium

Dear Mother,

Received your welcome letter of Oct 17 yesterday and also Norma’s and Maude’s enclosed. I had one from Bill and another from Mae and Maude on Sunday.

So Bill has gotten into the 81st. It is only a newly organized Batt. I understand, so it will not likely be sending over drafts for sometime. He will no doubt be relieved from carrying a pack in the band, but I don’t know whether I would rather blow a horn or carry a pack. I know I would a hariged (?) sight rather carry the infantry kit than that of the Fd. Amb. In the infantry the pack is placed on your shoulders where it does not bother your movements but we carry most of our stuff bandolier fashion and it presses on the chest and passes under one arm.

Well we have been doing very little this last 2 weeks and we are getting pretty soft. It has been very wet and so we have not been able to get out very often. I was up to a village about 3 miles away yesterday and when I got back I was pretty tired. I am getting awfully fat as all I have had to do was help keep the hut clean and after that there was not much to do but eat. We get all we can eat but there aren’t many frills. Mostly bread, stew, tea and bacon in the morning and jam at night. And to crown it all, we have been getting a tin (1 1/2 lbs.) of butter between 10 men nearly 3 times a week. We have a stove now that we picked up as we passed through “Wipers” (Ypres) and so we can make toast. We are living like princes and if it was not so wet and muddy we would be “jake” (ok).

We are being issued with waterproof capes (long ones that fasten closely around the neck and come down to the boot tops). They have a slit for the arms and so we can be dry and warm now. I expect an issue of new boots soon so we are alright now as far as the wet and cold goes.

Oh no, we are not in as dangerous quarters as the infantry . Of course when the infantry are in the reserve or line trenches is the only time they are in any real danger and when they are in the billets, they are further back than we are. In the trenches there is not much chance of getting hurt if you are careful and do not go sticking your head up over the parapet. There is more danger from civilian snipers than the German snipers. There are a few unscrupulous Belgians who snipe at British soldiers every chance they get. A young lad 16 years old was caught red handed and was shot after a court martial.

The Red Cross is not much protection and the ambulances go around with big bags hung over the red crosses painted on the sides of the car. The fellows who are issued with Red Cross arm bands soaked them in strong tea for awhile so they would not show so much because when they are new they show up too well and offer a good target for the snipers. However we have had no casualties yet and only one man slightly sick.

Say there are a terrible lot of words scratched out in this letter but it is very dark in the hut as we have no windows and I can hardly see what I am writing.

Everyone is asking me what they should send me. Even Uncle Will (William Skilling) and Aunt Aggie (Agnes Skilling Orford) have been very anxious to send me some things, but if everyone was to start sending me a lot of stuff, I would be overloaded. I’ll tell you something – not to bother sending what we can get here. Medicine like aspirin, court plaster etc. chocolate. As a matter of fact the small shops in the villages are much like those of the English villages except that things are very dear and we cannot buy very much before we are broke as 1 franc a day(20 cents) is all we draw in 2 pays a month amounting to 30 francs a month. Small bars of chocolate cost from 2 d. to 6 d. apples from 1 1/2 d. to 2 1/2 d. each other things very much in proportion.

No Norma, we do not have much of a chance to “parlez-vous” where we are now. The Belgians just here speak Flemish which is very much like Dutch. They say “nien” and “yaw” and go clacking around in their wooden shoes. I got a small pair the other day and am sending them home along with a painting I picked up at “Wipers”. We get fooled sometimes when we are trying to display our knowledge of French and get a perfectly good English reply from the woman in the shop. They all tell us that they learned English since the soldiers came last fall.

If you can get a good map with a small scale of Flanders and Belgium, you will be able to follow the places where we go from time to time as we are at liberty to tell our friends where we were a month from the date of writing. A month ago today we were running a Dressing Station at Dranoutre. In a letter to Ettie a while ago I outlined a few of the places we had been and she will no doubt let you know what they are.

Did I tell you that the King and Prince of Wales along with King Albert and Field Marshal French (Foch) had been to review the 2nd Ambulance Division a while ago. We only sent 4 men and a Staff Sergeant and all the other units sent the same proportion of their strength.

Congratulations Norma for becoming President of the ? out of such a large class. I guess the new (Teeswater) Town Hall will be quite an improvement. Does it seat any more? Where did they hold the Fall Show Concert?

I suppose you send these letters around to the rest. I will not have so much time to write after we take over the hospital as I have had this last week and I’ll address all my letters home and then they can be seen on from there.

I am enclosing a few picture cards of some of the places we have been at. I sent a few last week and will put the rest of them in this letter.

Well I think between this and the letters I sent to Orville and Bill you will have all the news of the week so I’ll ring off for this time. I am feeling fine and hope everyone else at home is just the same.

Your loving son,

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