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