Tuesday, September 24, 2013

2 May 1916 France

Dear Mother, Father and the Rest:
This is Tuesday afternoon and I have a few minutes to write before supper time so will get a letter started anyway. There was a Canadian mail today but none from home. It will likely be along tomorrow. Got one from Mae however. I am doing night duty in one of the tent wards so that is how I can write during the afternoon. I can generally get a few winks sleep at night and do not need to sleep all day. I have a bad attack of spring fever I think, for I am just so lazy that I haven’t enough energy to do anything.

The weather here is simply great and has been just like Canadian May weather for over one week. The fields are getting green and the roads are all dried up. It sure is a treat after so much mud and rain and we can stand lots of this kind.

Have had a pretty easy time since coming here and have been to a band concert nearly every evening and one night a concert party from England that is touring the front giving concerts came to the YMCA marquee and gave us a dandy concert. I believe I sent the programme to Ettie. They had a violinist who was great and played a selection of the best pieces. I have been very fortunate in being able to go to so many concerts lately. I try to go every chance I get. 

Had to stop there and now I am on duty and have a full ward but nobody very sick, mostly sprained knees and ankles and some mild cases of trench fever. I had one very sick fellow last night and had another man to help me out as it was necessary to sit up with him all night, so we took 2 hour shifts. His temperature was 105 degrees and we had to keep cold cloths to his head etc. He put in a bad night but by 7 this morning we had his temperature down to 103 degrees. He was sent on today to a hospital further back.

Did I tell you I had seen Clare Brink? Saw him the other day as he was passing the hospital and went over to his quarters with him and had a chat. He is looking fine.

We were awakened the other night about 1 am by the gas alarm and had to get up and dress but were not called out. The gas alarm is a screeching siren and can be heard for miles. It sounds It sounds something like a steamboat whistle and when it sounds in the middle of the night it has such a weird spooky sound that you expect something dreadful is going to happen. We have had two alerts this last week but in neither case did they amount to much as our artillery stopped all the infantry advances and with our gas helmets, we are not troubled with gas even if it should come in this far.

There has been no word yet about a transfer and I’m beginning to think that Gen. Logies’ order has been squashed, the bringing men back from the front. I understand that the Bruce Battalion (160th) is up to strength now. They did the trick in short time alright. Where are they going to train?

I have not had any word from Bill since a day or so after he landed so do not know what he is doing.
What is the opinion of the people over there about the rebellion in Dublin? They were soon squelched however but I guess a lot of damage was done to property etc.

There has not been a great deal of fighting on our front in the last 2 weeks but previous to that, there was some pretty stiff scrapping as I suppose you would see by the paper a/ccs. Some of the Battalions lost so heavily in officers that several privates were promoted to Lieuts. on the field. It looked odd to see a couple of stars stuck up on an ordinary service tunic.

So you have gotten rid of the cow. That was a pretty good price to land for her wasn’t it? It will mean a lot of work cut out and you won’t be tied down so much now. You will all have more time to knit etc. ha!ha! Teeswater is surely going some pace when there are so many festivals and concerts. The new hall is being put to good use.

I must stop now and get my patients tucked up for the night. I’ll write again when I get your letter. Hope this finds everyone in best of health.
Harold Skilling

Sunday, September 22, 2013

25 April 1916 France

Dear Mother Father and the Rest:
Since writing to you last time we have been moved and all 3 sections are together now for the first time since last October. Our section is just doing fatigues for the others at present and we never know when we are going to be called to do some job or other.
All last week we were having a rest and with the exception of a parade at 2 pm could have most of the day to ourselves. As luck would have it, the weather was rainy and we had to stay in our huts most of the day. However we were able to get into town one or two afternoons and got to see a vaudeville show that is running there. The troupe is called “The Fancies” and is entirely made up of soldiers. The management are constantly on the look-out for talent in any Battalion in the Division and if possible they have them transferred to the theatrical troupe. Nearly all the sketches are original and written by the players. They give a dandy 2 hour concert every night and they always get a crowded house. There is a movie show in the town also and “the Coldstream Guards” band plays every day afternoons and evenings alternately. The pictures are good too but the Guards’ Band is a real treat. There are about 50 instruments and they play a splendid variety of selections. There is a system where the different regiments of guards take turns in sending a band out here to give concerts etc. Each one takes a 3 month turn.
Since coming down to our camp here we have been blessed with good weather all but a day or so. Good Friday and the next day it rained steadily all the time but since Easter Sunday it has been just great. We are under canvas here (some of us) and can well do with a spell of sunny weather. All the tents have to be daubed with brown or green coloured paint to make them inconspicuous from the air otherwise a Taube would spot them and have a bomb on us before we knew where we were at.
I rec’d your letter of Apr. 1 ok and was glad to know you are all well. You certainly must be busy when there are so many socials etc. going on and everyone is so busy knitting . I am sure that is all foolish stuff about soldiers having to pay for sox. I have never heard of an instance of it and I am sure it is not so. That is one thing they do for us out here. They give us lots of warm clothes and a bath (shower) and clean underwear and sox and towel as often as possible, at least once every two weeks.
There is also a good supply of food and we seldom if ever go hungry. Of course there are no frills but with lots of good bread (and it is good) jam and often butter and tea with bacon in the morning and stew at noon, if the grub is cooked well, the boys have no complaints.
I don’t think it would be worthwhile sending pyjamas. They are more use in the hospitals than to us, besides it is hard to carry too much stuff like that.
There has been no word rec’d here yet about a transfer. One of the boys told me he had heard in a letter from Canada that I was going back. Is it common talk that I am going back? It is a corker how a rumor spreads eh?
Is Ontario really going dry? The reform wave has struck Belgium too and after today April 25 no English beer or stout is to be sold in the estaminets here. Nothing except a special French beer. I think something like “Social Option” stuff. It will be a good thing for the boys and the army as well.
I understand Captain Brink is quartered here just now and am going to look him up first chance I get. Have not seen Billy Redburn for sometime but there are rumors of his outfit moving forward to another trip up to the Advanced D. S. soon again. We can never tell what is coming off though. There has been some pretty stiff fighting going on around our division recently as you will have seen by the casualty lists and paper o/ccs. The tide seems to be turning down in Mesopotamia however and things ought to be happening down there before long.
It is time for this to be posted so will ring off for this time. Hope everyone is well.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

11 April 1916 Flanders

This letter from Harold has been damaged and the bottoms of 2 pages are missing.
11Apr1916 01
Dear Father, Mother and the rest,
Your letters, papers and parcels have all come to hand in good time. Also a letter from Bill who reached London O.K. He reported having a dandy trip across and they did it in 9 days.
We are having an easy time this week as our section is supposed to be attached to one of the new Fd. Ambulances that have just come out for instructional purposes. We are not doing anything in reality and have a chance to write letters and come into town and go to the movies. I got Norma’s parcel a day or two ago along with a few bundles of papers and …….
…….orgy for nearly everyone in our hut seemed to get a parcel. I got one from Bill posted in Toronto and one of the boys had just come back and was loaded down with things. Norma’s cake was fine and so were the caramels and maple sugar. The jam-jams in the other parcel were good too and soon disappeared once the boys got a taste of them.
No one knows what we are going to do when we shift from here. There is a possibility of several things but we do not know anything for certain. All leave has been cancelled and those on leave in Eng. have been ordered back. That puts me further back than ever. I am thinking I’ll be lucky to get away on my leave by next Easter.
i have not heard anything from Col. Weir yet. I suppose there is a lot of red tape attached to it and that it will take a long time ………
……boys have gone back to take out Commissions all in the Imperial Army. There is also some word of some more of the Meds. who are with us going back. Their names have been taken (3rd year men).
Sorry to learn that Geo. was sick again, Mae. How is he coming along now? How is the Prohibition Campaign coming? Heard rumor yesterday that the Legislature had passed the bill. Have not seen any mention of it in the Eng. papers.
Well have you been getting any warmer weather over there yet? This week has been pretty cold here but the leaves are beginning to come out on the trees and the Belgians are getting their……..
……. seem to be about the most important crops over here. What has Father decided to do about going west? Was Will down very long? I saw Norma’s piece of poetry on the Bruce Battalion in the news that came yesterday. It was pretty good. I don’t know whether I mentioned getting  Vern’s letter or not. It came to hand some time ago.Is the term at school being made any shorter thru’ the lack of farm help? How is the school going Vern?
Well, must ring off as my stock of news is about depleted and I want to get some more letters written while I have a table to write on. I don’t very often get a chance to have a table. Hope everyone is well. Love to all.
Yours lovingly,

Friday, September 20, 2013

9 April 1916 Somewhere in Belgium

Dear Mother, Father and the Rest:
Rec’d Mother’s letter of Mar. 11 with Norma’s enclosed and was glad to get them and to know that everyone was O.K. This week has not been very eventful but for some of the other ambulances, it has been pretty busy. Our turn will come soon enough and by the rumors floating around, it will not be very long. At present I am in charge of a few cases of measles (that did not develop). They are sort of isolated but are not sick. I expect they will be discharged in a day or so and I’ll be given an outside job then I guess.
There has not been any word received here yet that I am aware of about going back. I am not very enthusiastic about going back to join the 160th, but I am not going to decide until I see what the offer from Col. Weir says. The chance of getting back to Canada is very enticing but the thoughts of going back and doing the same old grind of training with a bunch of raw recruits (you see I am a veteran now. ha!ha!) does not appeal to me very strongly, especially if it’s only to be a Sergeant!
I have not had any word from Bill yet. But I expect he is in England. It will be 3 weeks from tomorrow since he was due to leave Toronto and it should not take longer than 2 and a half weeks to make the trip.
How is the proposed trip West for Father coming on? I guess Will Guinn would want to take him back. He would just be in time to see Bill before he left for Toronto.
I had to stop at the end of page 2 as it was time to feed the patients. I have a few minutes to write before the night man comes on duty.
Did I ever acknowledge the papers you sent about the Ottawa fire and also the Sunday Worlds from Toronto and the Onwards? I got everything that was sent I believe. It was nice of Miss Sharpe to send me those things. I wrote her a short note thanking her.
Norma is blossoming out to be some poet. That one on the Bruce Battalion in the News, was it the one she composed? You were asking about those shirts. Well I got them alright but I have not tried them on. You can send some underwear (light if you like ) knee drawers and short sleeved shirts. I can get them washed alright and it gets pretty hot over here in summer time. It is pretty hot some of these nights, but it not from the weather but from the artillery fire. It makes you shiver instead of sweating. Some nights we can hardly get any sleep for the din and it fairly shakes the huts where we have our quarters. One of our battalions got a pretty bad cutting up the other night. We were ordered to stand to and 3 of our ambulances were ordered out to help carry the wounded. We had an inspection of iron rations, gas helmets etc. and were ordered to stay in our huts and sleep with all our clothes on. The artillery was making so much noise that it was almost impossible to sleep but we gradually dosed off. When we awoke in the morning things had quieted down.
It is beginning to look as if the French had the Germans pretty nearly stopped at Verdun.
Opinion is pretty well divided here as to when the war is going to be over. It seems to be more generally thought however that it will not last the summer. The statements of prisoners seem to be pretty well divided as to the conditions in Germany. Some say there are not great shortages of food and that they are all “fed up” with the war, while others say they are sure to win. A month or two ought to see something decisive happen.
Things look like prohibition in Ontario this summer alright. We have some hot arguments over here sometimes but there is enough of its effects apparent, from even Belgian beer, to make a temperance man out of almost anyone. The chief reason why the field pay is held to 30 Francs a month is just because most of it would go to the “estaminets”. Some of the infantry men claim that the rum issue is the only thing worth living for. We do not have it issued to us, but when we do work like we were doing at the A.O.S. last week, it is sometimes given to any who want it. I worked just as hard as any of them up there, and I got along just as well as any on a bite or two of bully beef. At the most critical times some of the fellows will trot over to the estaminet and get “boozed up” and on a pay night it is a corker. In a couple of days the same crowd are trying to bum a penny or two pence to get a drink. Same crowd every time.
Well I must ring off and get this posted and let the night orderly take over. Hoping everyone is well at home.
I am your loving son and brother,

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

3 April 1916 Somewhere in Flanders

Mr. John Skilling

Teeswater, Ont.


Dear Father:

Re: My assignment money that you were inquiring about:

I have left an assignment of $15.00 a month  dating from April 1915 (inclusive) to O.R.Skilling, Toronto to be used by him as he sees fit and to be kept for me when I return or in the event of my not returning, to be given to Mother. $15.00 has been taken from the amount to buy Christmas presents. The remainder is still with Orville I believe.

The remainder of my pay which amounts to $18.00 for a 30 day month (at the rate of $1.10 a day) is accumulating at the Canadian Pay Office in London, Eng. with the exception of the 30 Francs a month that I draw out here and also an amount equal to my assignment ($15.00) which is always kept to my credit at the Pay Office. All other payments or stoppage etc. are duly recorded in my pay book which will be returned to you, in case anything happens to me.

I do not think my insurance would be affected by any transfer I might negotiate. The “City of Toronto” pays the premiums on the policy which is $1000.00 payable, in case of my death while on active service, to Mother. I have no written agreement or paper of any sort to show. I signed the agreement etc. which is something similar to the attestation papers signed by a new recruit.

There is nothing else that I know of that need to be put in a statement of this kind. All personal property of dead soldiers are always returned to the next of kin by the military authorities.

Your loving son,

Harold R. Skilling

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

2 April 1916 France

Dear father,

I wrote to you yesterday but as I did not have very much time I could not answer your letter. Had I known that I would be able to write today I would have put everything in one envelope.

There is a prospect of our moving again shortly so that if I do not get this written now I'll possibly not get a decent chance to do it for some time. I haven't got your letter with me at present so I'll tell a little of what I have been doing for the last couple of weeks.

There has been considerable shifting of troops during the last couple of weeks and our unit has been moving all over the lot and when we have not been on the move there has been lots of work.We have been stationed up at an ADS (advanced dressing station) since leaving our DRS and the work has been the hardest and the most exciting that we have had yet. I was stationed up there for 11 days and during that time we had to look after the wounded.

The wounded began coming in on the 22nd and all day at a very alarming rate. We thought that we were going to be swamped and and in fact we nearly were. As the day advanced we had to give over our own quarters and also our blankets to the patients and later when we could not accomodate anymore, we stowed them in neighbouring dugouts. About half were serious, very serious cases and several died before we could evacuate them. I worked from early morning on the Wednesday till dark the next day assisting the doctors and as soon as it was dark we started over land with five stretcher cases.

The previous night we had two of our own boys slightly wounded and three others suffered so badly from shell shock as to render them of no use to us up there. One other was sent back as incompetent and to perform other general duties. That left us very shorthanded and when the big rush came the next day, we did not have nearly enough men to cope with it.
I was sent out in charge of a party of 15 men and five stretcher cases with only 15 men. Each stretcher necessarily was undermanned and we were in a pretty bad fix. I got 11 squads away okay and took the fifth myself with one other fellow. He was our latest draft and had only been here a short time. Besides being unused to the work, he was very small and we had a great big strapping fellow who weighed at least 180. To make it worse he would keep fidgeting on the stretcher and throwing the blankets off. We got along fairly well until this youngster's sling broke and he could not stick it out any further so we put him in by the side of the road and I sent him on to get a little help from the fellows who were on ahead. While he was gone I got help from a couple of soldiers riding in a limber- waggon going the same direction as we were so they offered to give me a lift. We met the relief party just before we got to the ambulances. 
That carry to the cars is a terrible strain and the whole round trip is about 6 miles. Between dark and daylight I made four trips bringing back a big load of rations on the return trips. The last was made in broad daylight and I was done in record time for we were expecting a bullet or a shell over us at any minute. We were back in bed by 7:30 am and I was roused again at nine to go on duty in the surgery. We had 10 cases still left to go that night, Thursday, and more coming in. I was on duty all day and made two trips that night again. Then after getting to sleep at about 1:30 AM, I was awakened at 4 AM by a big bombardment and after standing to for more than an hour or so, I went back to bed and slept till about 4:30 PM. During the rest of our stay up there things were not so hot.

I suppose you will be wondering what I am going to do about the 160th Battalion. Well if that proposition had come last January when I was sitting around the Ch√Ęteau doing little or nothing I would have been inclined to jump at it. Now however, the spring activity is underway and there promises to be some excitement and action I am not so anxious to go back to England to put in another summer training. I don't think I would consider an offer to go back to Canada to be a recruiting officer. ( I have not received any official notification of any sort yet. ) To go to Canada would look too much like "cold feet". Some people are too ready to make accusations like that and I would not want to give anyone a chance to say that about me. If any offer does come through, I'll perhaps have had enough of the " big scrap " to want a trip back for a while. I doubt very much if the war will last until the 160th get out here. I'll be expecting a letter from Bill some of these days telling me about things. He was there with you and interviewed Col. Weir and besides it does not take very long for a letter to go to London. 
I am not looking for a leave to London for a long time yet at the rate the leave is going at present, I'll get mine about next Christmas or thereabouts. There are lots of advantages in such a promotion especially if it were a commission. To go as a sergeant would not be a great deal ahead. I do not think there is much chance of promotion here as the medical students etc. will come in before most of the others. I am not at all envious of any NCOs on our unit and am not at all anxious for their jobs. The only advantage a sergeant has over a private is the fact that he does not need to take orders from everyone. The best man is not always given the job. Of course it is pretty hard to please everyone and an NCO has his hands full if he intends to be popular with both officers and men. The pay is $.25 a day more and worth every cent of it. 
I got mother's parcel and also one from Mrs. Sharp. It was awfully good of her to remember me. I'll write her first chance I get. This is Monday morning and I must get this away on the noon mail so must hurry. I'll not put anymore on this sheet but write the statement of my affairs on a separate sheet. Hope everyone is well.
I am your loving son,

Harold R Skilling

Monday, September 2, 2013

1 April 1916 Somewhere in Flanders

Dear father,
Received your long and very interesting letter sometime ago but I have not had time to get it answered for we have been head over heels in work the last three day three weeks. I had not finished reading your letter - which came to hand on March 26 - when I was ordered to pack my kit and get ready to move up to our advanced dressing station. We have been extremely busy up there during the 11 days of my stay and as we were in dugouts as dark as our cellar and a very limited supply of candles. Outdoors when it was not raining water, it was raining shells or bullets. You can easily imagine then that the environment was not conducive to great literary efforts. I am not going to attempt to answer all the mail that I have received lately as I have only time for a very short letter just to let you know I am well and to expect a letter soon. We have had the hardest two weeks work up here that we have had since coming here and there they there is some satisfaction in being at some real work after all the inaction of the winter. We handled 60 wounded one day and transported them on stretchers to the cars - a 6 mile round-trip under enemy observation practically all the way. I worked for over 40 hours with only one and a half hours sleep and then a snatch of grub when I had a minute to spare. Some of us did four roundtrips to the cars carrying a patient each time but one from dark till daylight of one night. All our wounded must be evacuated at night and as it was dull weather and rainy, the darkness was so thick we could only feel our way. We had two men wounded slightly and three sent back suffering from shell shock. I have been very busy since coming back to camp looking after one of the wards but will try and find time to answer your letter fully at the first opportunity. I hope everyone is relieved. I feel "Jake" myself.
Your loving son, Harold Skilling