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.