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

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