Wednesday, July 27, 2016

2 Nov. 1916 Holeyn Hall Wylam-on-Tyne

Dear folks,

I suppose you had quite an anxious time during the period between cables. You will likely have the note I sent from France and possibly some of my letters from England by this time. so there is no need for anxiety. I am just as fit now as ever I was and would ask to be marked out next time the doc. comes, if it wasn't for Bill's leave. As it is, I am going to request another week here. I think it will be granted when they know the reason. The Sister in charge seems very decent; I have explained to her.

Had a letter from Millie Mitford and ...ith Howson this morning. they gave me a very pressing invitation to stay at their place during my stay in London. I'll be glad to go there and to lose sight of soldiers and barracks for awhile.

I have been taking some nice long walks during the last few days. the weather has been just like Indian Summer - only not so nice. The country up around here is not nearly so pretty as it is in kent where 2nd Division trained last summer.

Friday Nov. 3rd

Was interrupted yesterday and did not get any more written. The weather is not so nice today so I am not going out but will try and get some more letters written. I have been having some good times with the Victrola during the last few days. It was away getting repaired so I didn't bother to look over the records. There must be about 200 or so and all big ones. I never listened to such good ones before. There are lots by Caruso, Melba, Scotti, Kubelic etc. All the grand operas etc. I could listen to them all day. The thing's never stopped going all day. I'm scared someone will be busting it or some of the records. Some of them cost 1 pound and some a guinea.

I was talking to the Commandant ( a woman) last evening and told her about wanting to stay another week. she said it would be alright if the Canadians did not have to be transferred to one of their own convalescent homes. she had had a communication asking how many Canadians were here that were fit to travel. there are only two. She expects some word from the RAMC doctor on Monday. If we are not marked out on Monday, everything will be "jake".

Tell Mae and the Toronto people not to send along a lot of stuff just yet anyway. I'll send for things I need after I see what I am issued in shape of kit. I'll be able to get nearly everything I need as I am in England now and won't require so much as I would in France. I am afraid most of the parcels that have been sent will go astray because likely everything will be sent to France. All my letters have been coming through ok. It keeps me pretty busy answering them.

There is nothing very eventful happening here and consequently not much news. Will let you know anything that turns up of importance.



Tuesday, July 26, 2016

30 October 1916 Card from Newcastle

28 October 1916 Holeyn Hall Wylam-on-Tyne

Dear folks:-

Well, I've put in a week at the Convalescent Home now and am getting along nicely. Have just come in from a walk down to the village 1 1/2 miles away. It makes me pretty tired to walk that far but I've not noticed my side get sore this time so I guess it is going to come along alright.

I got Mother's letter from Calgary and Father's from home on Oct. 1. I guess there was some flying around at our house for a few days getting everyone ready to get away. It was nice that you had company all the way. I'll bet you were loaded fit for a winter's campaign, and tried to carry it all.

Had a letter from E.R. (Etta Redburn) Oct. 5. She mentioned Father receiving the first cable from Bill. I thought that there was a quicker service than that with the official casualty list. I was hit on Sept. 28 and it had not appeared by Oct. 5.

Had a letter from some of my chums in the ambulance corps since coming here. They had quite a smash after I left. Two horse ambulances got smashed up. The horses were killed and also 1 man. The crews were all wounded. It is lucky that they were not full of wounded when they were hit for they can hold as many as 12-14 sitting cases each.

Bill is still at Lark Hill and it is beginning to look as if we are going to make our "leaves" coincide. Had a letter from him yesterday. He was in charge of the gun detachment that made a record. From the time of unlimbering the gun till reporting ready to fire & firing, it was only 35 seconds. I have sent a letter to my C.O. in France to see if he can recommend me for a Commission in the R. F. A. I'm not sure whether he will do it or not because as soon as I finish my leave, I'll be struck off the strength of the 5th Fd. Amb.(automatically). I'll see what he'll do and if he won't do it perhaps the C.O. of the base depot will.

There is not much to write about here. We get up at 7 am and all we have to do is eat our meals and lounge around till 8:30 pm when it is bedtime. The weather has not been very nice but when it is fine we all generally go out for a stroll. There are lots of books and magazines here so I spend most of my time indoors reading or writing letters.

That part of my old letter, Pa, that had to do with my assignment pay: That $15 is an amount equal to a month's assignment, which is kept out of the remaining $18 of the month when the first assignment was paid. That is for April 1915, $15 was paid to Orville, and $15 was kept to my credit at the pay office; I could draw the other $3 the next month ie I could draw the $18. they still keep the $15 of April 1915. I'll draw that "apres la guerre". (after the war, Pa)

I reported my throat here on two occasions and they only give me a gargle. The head Sister told me to report it to the throat specialist at 1st Northern General Hospital when I report back there for my uniform and pass. (I wear hospital blue now).

There is a concert here tonight. I think they put on something like that every Sat. night. We had some fine singers here last week.

Well, I think this is about all the news just now, so I'll ring off.



Saturday, July 23, 2016

19 October 1916 1st Northern General Hospital Newcastle-on-Tyne

Dear Mother and Gert:-

Well, things have been in a muddle at home, haven't they? I hadn't an inkling as to what was going on until Bill came up to see me on Saturday last. He brought up all the recent letters he had rec'd from everyone and read me all about the happenings.

I hadn't had any mail from anyone for about a month. So I was wondering what was going on at home. Today I was fairly overwhelmed with mail. It had all been sent on from France. I got 19 letters & cards and a regular armful of papers. I was most of the day at reading them and have only finished. It is now nearly 6 pm and, as we have our tea at 4:30 pm and supper at 7 pm, I can get a letter written to you before supper.

Well, I'll not go into details of how I got to 1st Northern General Hospital for by the time this reaches you, you will have rec'd my others and also the one Will (Bill) wrote when he was here.You would likely be en route for Calgary when Will sent the cables. I wrote a letter to Floss a few days ago telling most of my trip across. Probably she will have sent it on to you also.

Well, I have been getting along nicely and have been allowed up and about for three or four days. They are crowded for room here so any who possibly can go to Convalescent Homes are being sent. I go tomorrow. I'll likely be there for 2 or 3 weeks but I am going to try and make it spin out till Bill has finished his Gunnery course at Salisbury then we can have our leave together. He will be finished at Lark Hill by November 20th at the latest. I'll likely have to " swing the lead " a bit for I'm getting better far too quickly. That's the worst of being healthy. I have a small fragment of shrapnel still in me. It jags against my ribs when I twist or stretch but the doctor here says the x-ray people could not find anything definite. I was x-rayed in France and they found it but of course they could not do a second operation there. If it gives me much trouble, I'll report sick and see if I can't have it taken out.

Well Gert, how are you feeling these days? I'm sorry I neglected writing for so long. Since we started our long trek from Ypres to the Somme, I haven't had time for much of anything. They even objected to letting us eat our meals in peace and sometimes hauling us out of bed in the "wee small 'oors" was another favourite stunt they indulged in. We were worked to death when we got down to the real thing. When an action was underway, it was slave like mad, and when the Division was out we were all in and could sleep our heads off. The first trip in for the 2nd division the weather was fine except for the last two days. It takes just about 20 minutes of rain to make a morass out of the ground down there. A water-soaked ploughed field isn't a patch on the ground there. Carrying stretchers over that kind of ground is the most tiring thing you could imagine. Just to walk from our advanced post to where we slept ( about 2 miles) was enough to make me feel "all in".

Bill wants me to take out a commission and try for the R.F.A. I have not decided. I can't do much until I get discharged from hospital.

Write me at my old address until I let you know differently. Well, I have a batch of letters to answer so will ring off for now. Hope Gert is ok and yourself.

I'll soon be fit as ever again.



21 October 1916 Holeyn Hall V.A.D. Hospital Wylam-on-Tyne

**out of sequence

Holelyn Hall V.A.D. Hospital

Dear Father:-

Well, how are you making out batching it? I guess you will be away most of the time.

I have been getting along far too satisfactorily to suit me. I could only stick the hospital 10 days before I was considered well enough to be sent to Convalescent Home. I am not sorry to leave the hospital for it was not particularly nice there but of course was quite tolerable. this place seems much better. Most of the patients are up and sit down to the table to eat. a staff of voluntary aid nurses wait on us and do all they can to make things nice for us, The food and recreations are much superior to those at 1st Northern General Hospital. they have a much better chance to do it here for there are only 50 patients.

The "Hall" is a country house given over to the government for the use of convalescent soldiers. It is mainly supported by a man, Balliol Knott (known as James Knott), who lives close to this place. He is President of Prince Line of Steamships. He has donated several things to this place in memory of his 3 only sons who have all been killed in the war.

I am feeling better all the time and the only thing that is worrying me is how I am going to stick here long enough to enable Bill (Bill Skilling ) to finish his Gunnery course. He will be finished in about 4 weeks and then we can have our leave together. We each get 10 days or so at the end of my hospital term & he is at the end of his instruction course while he is waiting to be gazetted. If we manage to work it so that both our leaves will come at the same time, we will likely take a trip to Scotland. By the way, I had a letter from Charles Munroe (a cousin) and a small volume of Burns' Poems came to hand today. He wishes to be remembered to you.

Bill came up to visit me when i was in Newcastle hospital. He brought along all the letters he had rec'd recently. I had not heard from anyone for over a month and so I was glad to hear all the news. I hadn't heard that mother had gone to Calgary or that the kids had gone to Toronto. Are you considering the trip out west. There won't be so much to keep you now.

Bill wants me to apply for a Commission when I get fit again and try to get in the R.F. A. I think I'll give it a try anyway. The only thing I am fishy about is getting a recommendation from my old O.C. I would have no difficulty in obtaining that if I could be paraded before him personally but he might be inclined to quash it if I wrote him. He is so inconsistent that a person never knows how to take him. A lot depends on the humour he is in at the time.

I suppose you got the two cables Bill sent. He also wrote after he had seen me and sent word to Bert Mitford who was leaving for Toronto last Sunday. He will phone the folks at Toronto.

I only came here yesterday so will write and tell you all about this place when I find out more about it.

Your loving son,


Thursday, July 21, 2016

6 October 1916 France

Dear Folks,

A brief note is all I can write just now as I am still on the broad of my back. I am a patient in #18 General Hospital just now awaiting transfer to England which will come when the Dr. thinks I am well enough to travel.

The wound is in my right abdomen and a piece of shrapnel penetrated my liver.

Was carrying a wounded German when I got hit. Was fixed up immediately and sent to CCS and was operated upon the same night i.e. September 28th.

Passed through Billy Redburn's dressing station on my way down. He said he would drop you a note. That is why I didn't write sooner. Also wrote to Bill in London & told him to cable you. You have no doubt rec'd it long before now.. It is not serious and no need to worry. Expect to be sent on in a day or two.


Harold Skilling

P.S. There is a man in same ward from Lucknow. His name is Habick. Was in the hotel business in Lucknow.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

20 September 1916 France

** Blacked out by censors

Dear Folks,

This is Wed. afternoon and I have just a few minutes to write during a lull in the business. I have been working in a dressing station exclusively for slightly wounded and we have been so busy that we have not had time for anything else but work & sleep since last Friday. I guess you will have seen the reports of the Canadian's work in the papers. They have been very successful in their attacks and especially the 2nd Division. We have had 100 stretcher-bearers up in the "scrap" clearing wounded during our Division's turn in the trenches. Our boys were very **........................and .............................................................................................................. one shell and all of my section and my pals. They were all killed instantly except two who died soon after. One patient they were carrying was not hurt at all.

The artillery fire was terrific and they were caught in a barrage. The next day one other fellow was killed and 4 wounded. The fellow who was killed the next day was waiting for a commission and his papers came for him the day after he had "shuffled off".

The casualties in the infantry were heavy but we are not finished yet and we are going to get some of our own back that we lost at Ypres.

Prisoners are common and are put to work helping to clear wounded or any other job that comes to hand. They surrender freely when it comes to a showdown but fight and snipe when they think they won't be caught.

About 25 men were left in charge of the dressing station when the bearers were sent on the advanced work. With just that many men we handled, fed & treated as many as 800 in hospital and dressed and sent on an additional 500 making 1300 that passed through our hands in 24 hours. Fortunately, they were all only slightly wounded and shell-shocked.

Rec'd your letter of Sept 4 yesterday. So Vern is going to the city eh! Has Norma a school yet? Saw Billy Redburn yesterday. He came through alright.

Must ring off. Will write more fully later on.


Harold Skilling

12 September 1916 France

Dear folks,

Canadian mail came in last night and got 2 from you. It was the first big mail for nearly 3 weeks and it seemed longer than that since I had gotten a letter. Have been doing a lot of travelling and marching since I wrote last but we are nearly finished now and are ready to go up the line anytime. There is very little I can tell you about where we are etc. but you will see all about the Division movements in the papers.

So Norma has decided to go to Stratford Normal Scool. What is Vern going to do?

Say can you send some parcels along as soon as you like? Don't bother putting in much variety. Just a light cake is as good as anything. Get some of my money assignment money from Orville and use it to get things with and pay postage etc. Be sure and do that now.

Haven't heard from Bill for about 2 weeks. There will likely be a letter from him in a few days.

We have been in our present billets for nearly a week now but expect to move out soon. But we are not informed as to where we will be going. Evidently the way things are done here is to give each Division a certain amount of work to do and they can stay till they get it done or else get too badly cut up to do it.

There is no more time to write just now so I'll have to ring off. I'll let you know just as soon as I can how things are.


Harold Skilling

Monday, July 18, 2016

3 Sept 1916 France

Dear folks,

Have not moved much since I wrote last but there is no telling when. Route marches etc. and Company drill has been the order of the week.

My section has been chosen to run the hospital and we have been accommodating about 20 patients every day. We have not nearly as much equipment as when running a dressing station. So we cannot give as good service. However we are not expected to give as much when under conditions like we are here.

We had two or three days of heavy rain and wind at the first of the week and our tarpaulins that we had as shelters blew down. The whole unit except duty and fatigue parties were away route marching even if it was storming. We got just about as wet as the others trying to keep the shelters from blowing away and putting them up again. it was pretty uncomfortable and cold but we got an extra blanket each so we had a fairly comfortable night.

There is great speculation as to where we are going. They told us one place but orders of that kind are always subject to change at a moment's notice. We are attached to the 5th Brigade at present but I am not sure whether or not it is permanent. In addressing letters just omit the Brigade #5 Fld. Amb. 2nd division will get me ok.

Have not had a letter form home since writing last time so have nothing to answer. There is very little news so I'll ring off. Am real well. Hope everyone is the same at home. What are Norma and Vern going to do?


Harold Skilling

19 September 1915 Behind the Lines in France

Dear Mother:-

Well, here I am in France at last and at present we are having a day's rest in a farm yard.

We are not allowed to tell very much and so do not expect very long letters. I will write as often as I can however, and let you know how I am. I suppose I (you?) got the cards I sent some time ago.

We have been constantly on the move these last few days and finished up yesterday with a 20 mile march to the farm where we are now. We had our first good sleep in a week last night when we were billeted in a barn loft. I had a peach of a sleep. We were in bed at 7:30 last night and I didn't wake till 7:15 this morning. It was the first time I slept without my clothes or had a blanket for nearly a week. Everyone was dog-tired and wringing wet into the bargain for it was fearfully hot. The rest last night just fixed us up fine and I feel as fresh as a daisy today. My feet are ok except the heel of my right foot. the shoe rubs it so be sure to send me and extra heavy pair of sox and put a double heel on them.

We had a church parade this morning and had our own chaplains speak. it was our first church service since coming to France. I don't know how long we will be here but I wish they would settle down for a day or two and let us get a mail. There was a few Eng. letters today but no Can. mail. There is one in France some place but it will likely be along soon. I haven't had any for about 2 weeks.

The weather ever since we came is fine and seems very settled.

I hope everyone at home is ok and tell them all to write. We haven't done anything to write about yet and any of our movements would be scratched out by the censor as we have to hand all our mail in unsealed. If you can get any paper about this size you might send a little as I have a small case to hold this size of sheet. If you can get a good small map of the Allied front in France, get Mae to send it. It is a good thing if we get lost.

Well, I guess I'll have to ring off as I have some washing to do if I can get any clean water.

Love to all,

Friday, July 15, 2016

20 August 1916 France

Dear Folks,

This is Sunday morning just before dinner. I have spent the morning cleaning up etc. for a rumoured inspection. There is no word of it coming off yet. My boots won't be any the worse for a good rub with Dubbin, however. There was no church parade today as our Chaplain has gone away to join another unit. I guess there is no preacher to take his place. Therefore church is "napoo".

Your letter with Rose's enclosed came to hand ok. I was sorry to learn of Orville's motor accident. It was lucky that it didn't turn out more seriously. He seems to have bad luck on his trips up home by motor. It would pay him to take the train.

There has been very little of interest since I wrote last time. We are out on a route march nearly every afternoon and our routine just now reminds one of what we went through in England at this time last year. It will soon be a year since we landed in France. We have been "moving in circles" as it were, ever since. We have been in nearly every town in this district, with scarcely a second visit to most of them. In that Trench Paper I sent home a few weeks ago, there is a good list of the principal places in this neighbourhood that we have been (i.e. Canadians). You want to keep it as a souvenir. I sent one to Floss and Gert as well as Toronto.

I had a letter from Bill day before yours came. He is in London now at the R.H.A., a cadet school. He likes it there. No doubt you will have heard from him before you get this so I'll not tell you what he says about it.

Say, when you write, tell me what Battalion Bruce is in. When his Battalion comes out, I may be able to see him. have not seen anyone from home for quite a while now. Hope your real hot spell has passed off before now. It has been rather showery for the last week here and a lot cooler.

There is so little to write about that I'll have to ring off. I am real well. Hope Orville is feeling better and everyone else too.


Harold Skilling

Saturday, July 9, 2016

15 or 16 August 1916 France

* Bolded text was blacked out by the censors

Dear folks,

This is Sat. night and I am up the line again writing this outside my dugout. There is a party of 50 up here from our unit making a big dugout to be used as a dressing station and to quarter the personnel of the medical units. We are working in 3 shifts of 8 hours each and mine is from midnight to 8 am. We have to extend a galley along a tunnel and it is a pretty tiresome job. There are several shafts bored in and some are not too bad to work in but the one where I am is pretty damp and there is a long narrow tunnel where we carry the earth out after we have shovelled it into sandbags,  that has about an inch of water in it by morning after being cleaned out before we go on duty. We call it "Rheumatic Alley". The dugouts are good and deep and will be safe against shell fire if they are ever finished.

We are always pretty tired when we come off duty in the morning and pike it to bed just as soon as our breakfast is over. It is pretty hard to get a good sleep in the daytime for our bunks are in one of the tunnels that is still being worked and the men have to carry the sandbags along through the aisle between the rows of bunks so there is always more or less noise going on.

It is a good change to be up here after being so long at the D.R.S. but I don't think I would like this work all the time. it is the worst shift we are on too because it means an 8-hour shift without a break. All the other shifts have a meal at about half time but there is no such luck for us at 4 a.m.

I got your letter yesterday and was glad to know that everyone was well and having a good time during the holidays. It is too bad that Orville could not have stayed longer. Tell Mae I got her birthday parcel. It came on the right day alright and one from Bill on the next. Those strawberries sure were great. They had not leaked a bit. I was wishing it had have been a half gallon jar. We must be thankful for small mercies though. The maple butter and fudge was good too and all the other things came in handy too. Thanks ever so much.

I am having a fine time sitting here watching one side of an artillery duel. Fritz is trying to find one of our batteries but apparently can't do it for it for it still keeps sending a salvo for every one it gets. Shells from both batteries pass right over my head and occasionally a "weary willie" hums over labelled for some place away back behind the lines.

There is not much news to tell just now so I will ring off and get some more of the letters written. I want to write to Bill and Gert. Say, one of the letters enclosed in the letter you sent was one of my own. I guess you had intended sending it somewhere else and got it in the wrong envelope. There was nothing much in it anyway. It was dated May 28 I think.

Love to all,

Harold Skilling

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

29 July 1916 France

Dear folks,

This is Saturday afternoon and a beastly hot day. I am glad I have no long route march to make today. it is just like the day we marched up here about a year ago when we first came out. A 20-mile march under the same conditions would get most of our goats now. I know I am not in as good condition as I was after 4 months training in England. A Brigade of Canadians (from the West just passed and are sweating to beat the band. I saw that Harry Hyslop in the ranks, but did not get a chance to holler at him. He is a Sergeant.

There has been very little change in our usual routine here but there is always a little excitement going on up the line.

We can hear the bombardments every night but, as we do not get any wounded here, the effects of these bombardments are not apparent. Frequently, though, we get cases of 'shell shock' who are badly shaken up by being near a shell when it burst or probably been buried. All they require is a little rest and quietness. It must be a terrible experience to be buried like that. It frequently happens by a dugout being hit when occupied by the men.

We have had quite a week of sports, however. On Tuesday our new Chaplain arranged a concert and we got together a fairly long program on short notice and made quite a success of it. I sang in a couple of choruses. We decided to give it over again tonight for the patients and have been practicing every day all week and we have gotten up a dandy program to be given tonight.

The Sergeants played the Officers at indoor baseball (only it was outside) and beat them by 1 run. then the next day the NCOs played the privates at football and got a trimming. Last night there was a game scheduled between the 15th Battalion (Toronto 48th) and an Imperial team, but for some reason the 15th Battalion didn't turn up and so as not to disappoint the English team we got a scratch bunch together and played and gave them a beating of 5-2.

It wasn't our best team by any means as 50 of our men are up the line on a working party and most of our best players are with them. Tomorrow "C" section is taking on "B" section for a game of baseball.

I was glad to get your letter of July 10 & 12 and to know everyone was well. Vern must be getting to be quite a musician when he is being invited out to play like that. Have they raised the Normal term to two years? It will make quite a difference. I am glad that you had such a nice time on your birthday and was sorry I could not send something. I will be 23 myself on Monday.

Well, I must ring off this time as my time is up and I must get to work. will write soon again.


Harold Skilling

Monday, July 4, 2016

21 July 2016 France

Dear Mother,

Just a line to get this started . I have had no word from you this week yet but no doubt it will be here tomorrow as some Dan. mail came through today but not very much. I had a letter yesterday from Bill. He is billeted at Keble College Oxford and seems to think it is a pretty "Jake" place. he seems to think that they were turned down on this Canadian proposition and now he will go after Imperial Artillery hard (?). Possibly going to Sandhurst to complete his course.

I had a nice long letter from Orville. He says he is not quite so busy now and it is a good thing for he must surely need a rest after such a heavy spring and so much worry.

There has been nothing of note happen here since I wrote last except the events on the Somme. We have to depend on newspaper reports & the wireless bulletins for our news and do not get it any more fully that you do.

The weather has been ideal for aircraft observation and both sides have been taking advantage of it. this morning one of Fritz's came across here and of course our anti-aircraft shells were blazing away at him and he came right over our hospital. The fragments of the aircraft shells were buzzing all around and one piece of the fuse weighing about half a pound hit my tent and came through one section of the roof. As there was a double roof the second section stopped the piece. It was lucky for one of the patients was sitting directly under where it hit.

The only excitement we get now is football and our team played two games this week and won and lost. There is another one tomorrow.

What do the people in Canada think of the advance on the Somme? It looks good to us here and if it continues will no doubt make a very appreciable difference in the length of the war. There are 3 months of good weather yet and a terrible lot can be done in that time if we have the ammunition and the guns, which we undoubtedly have now ( and capturing a lot of "Heinies" every day in the bargain). Well, I'll not write any more at this until tomorrow and then I'll answer any letter that might come.

Saturday P.M.

Your letter came today and also one from Mae and I'll get right at them and get them answered so they will go in the next mail.

I don't know whether Mae intends me to forward her letter on from me to Bill or not. She may have taken carbon copies of it. If not it is better to send any letter like that to Bill first - as long as he is in Eng. Anyway, for them it will not have to be censored as it is going from here to him.

When is Orville coming up to Teeswater? You must be sure and go back with him. Has Father made up his mind about going out west yet? It will be winter again soon and he won't want to go then. What has Vern decided on? Well, say, there is not very much in your letter that requires answering and the news is absolutely "na poo" so I'll ring off and get this away.

Hope everyone is keeping in the best of health.


Harold Skilling

Sunday, July 3, 2016

14 July 1916 France

Dear Folks,

This is Friday afternoon and I have a few minutes in which I can write. When things get running nicely there is more spare time for us and I can generally get a couple of hours spare time in the afternoons to go for a walk or write.

It has been rather damp and rainy most of the week but looks like clearing up today.

I was away on a long tramp day before yesterday and the country over here certainly can grow things. Everywhere you look hop poles are sticking up into the air and the vines are reaching the tips of the poles and they have hop patches stuck in every little hole you could find. They grow lots of beans out here too, and they are sown as thickly as field peas and grow about 3 feet high. they have been in blossom for about a week now and look fine.

There has not been anything doing of much importance on this front since we came back here and we do not handle any wounded. We are not in very close touch with the front line at present. We do not hear very much more about the big advance down south than we get in the papers. Of course, there are lots of rumours floating about, but it is not often that they are confirmed.

Do you remember me speaking about Gilmer in my letters? he was with us at Maple Copse and was wounded (slightly) up there. He left us shortly afterwards to take out a commission and we heard from him the other day saying that he was down in the fighting on the Somme and expected to go into action any day. His home is in Attwood (Ontario) and he is a 3rd year Med. student.

One other of our boys left for a commission to England and was only away two weeks, mostly a vacation to Scotland when he came back attached to a Battalion of the 2nd division. It was a surprise to him to get going away for he had no intimation of it as it had been worked from the other end. it is very difficult to get a commission in the Canadian Army now (that is from the ranks out here). In a letter from Bill the other day, he said he expected to get a commission in the Canadian Army after all. It will be a good deal nicer than being in the Imperial's (British Army) anyway.

I was glad Maude got up home to help during Norma's exams. How is Gracie? (cousin) I guess she would be having a whale of a time up in the country. So Aunt Em (Emma Ruxton Watson from Michigan ) is coming over in August. Aren't you going any place yourself, mother? You certainly need a rest and I'd try my best to get away someplace for a few weeks.

Has Vern decided to go into banking? I think a little while longer at school would be better until he knows himself what he wants to do.

I got Mae's letter too and I can make it out alright but I cannot answer it like that. Too big a chance. It is better to say anything right out. How were Norma's exams? Hope she made out alright.

Well, it is time for my afternoon medicines so I'll ring off and get this away. I had a parcel from Zion Church and one from some other patriotic League in Toronto from a Mrs. Carmichile I think. I have the address somewhere and wil write them. i have no trouble getting rid of sox etc. while I am in the hospital as there is always someone who is glad to get them. Hope everyone keeps well.



8 July 1916 Flanders (or possibly now in France)

Dear Folks,

This is Saturday night and I have just come off duty at the hospital and am going to spend the evening writing letters. I have had two letters from home this week and one from Mae although it was an old one;it must have been delayed somewhere.

I was sorry that you had not fully recovered, mother, but you will no doubt be on your feet again before this. Why don't you take the summer off for you must surely need a good rest. Is Norma going to take that position in Toronto? So Vern is making lots of money selling tea. That is a good job for him this summer and if he works at it steadily he ought to make a good bit by the end of the summer.

Was I telling you in my last letter that I had seen Jack McMeecham? I went down to his camp last Sunday and had a chat with him. He was all through the fighting at Ypres and never had a scratch but had some narrow shaves. He wears kilts and looks pretty good in them. He had a letter from Orville a few days before and let me read it.

The weather here has been rather rainy this last week but, on the whole, it has not been too bad. We have a D.R.S. here and it accommodates about 150 or so patients and, in a pinch, it can be almost doubled. Just now, however, we only keep about 100 on hand, and so in case of a rush, we can accommodate a lot more if necessary. There are no wounded, just sick, and they require considerable attention. All cases of sprains, influenza come to us and we are busy from 7 am to 7 pm attending to them. the hospital is a tent hospital and has several wards, each a large marquee that can hold 20 stretchers easily. One man has charge of each tent. I like the work only the hours of duty are long, 12 hours, and it is hard to get a relief. I would much rather be at the advanced dressing station for we can have a good deal more freedom there (that is so far as Fritz will let us). Our NCOs do not bother us up there but back here they fairly dog the life out of us.

There is a special hospital here that "B" section runs. It is a hospital where all cases of  "Self-inflicted" wounds are taken and they are kept there pending an inquiry or if necessary a court-martial and then if guilty through carelessness or of deliberately wounding themselves, they receive a sentence varying as the evidence shows up the circumstances. There are about 60 patients there now and as soon as their sentences expire, they are shipped over to England if they are still required to be in hospital.

The country is just great these days and the first chance I get, I am going to get a day off and take a long walk through the hills here. The highest point in France (in this part) is only a few minutes walk from here and a splendid view of all the country can be had from that point. If a fellow only had a wheel or a horse, he could get over some ground in a short time for the roads are great here and a person could surely enjoy a few afternoons out riding or walking.

Well, I want to write two or three letters tonight so I'll sign off and get at the others before it gets too dark.



Saturday, July 2, 2016

30 June 1916 Flanders

Dear Folks,

This is Friday and our section is running the main dressing station and are having it fairly easy just now. We expect to move to the D.?S. in about a week or perhaps less and in the ordinary run of events we will be there for a long while. But here's hoping that there will be an onward move before the end of another month.

We have two or three detachments up at several advanced posts and they seem to be having a fairly lively time, as during the last week there has been intermittent bombarding nearly every night and they are nearly always as bad just behind the line as in the trenches. One of our boys was wounded day before yesterday. A machine gun bullet grazed his scalp and it was a mighty close shave for him. He was one of our reinforcements.

We handle wounded here but do not keep them any length of time. Some we do not touch but send them right on to C.C.S. where they can be properly looked after and receive a permanent dressing or where an operation can be performed. Most of the wounded cases come in at night and as I am on the day trick (?) I do not see so many of them but we have our hands full in the morning with the sick parades. I have to look after the dispensing and am able to do most of it.without calling Compounder who is a qualified druggist.

I saw something the other day that is a very rare sight. There were two Taubes cruising over our lines and 3 of our planes gave chase and after several bursts of machine gun fire between them, one of ours put on speed and came up between the two Taubes. They began to blaze away at each other and all of a sudden our plane turned right over and began to fall. It was up about 3-4000 feet when it was hit.and after flopping down through the air the pilot regained control of his machine just before it reached the ground and managed to land right side up. We heard afterwards that neither the pilot nor the observer was killed but it is almost a miracle that they escaped.

I guess you will not be having Mae home for very long this summer. Are you going any place, Mother? Tell Norma to write and tell me about her exams. I was very sorry to learn that you were sick Mother. I believe you are working too hard and are worn out. Don't you think you should go away for a good rest now that you have got rid of the cow? You should not be so tied down.

I haven't heard from Bill since I wrote before but am looking for a letter any day now. Say, you all want to be careful when so much typhoid fever is around. Why don't they inoculate the people of the town? All we soldiers get it and typhoid is the most rare of all diseases of that nature and we are in a position to become infected with the disease if anyone is.

What sort of a time are you going to have tomorrow? Are they celebrating in any of the towns around home? There is no difference in the days out here. Same routine for seven days in the week regardless of the occasion. the only thing we have to relieve the monotony is a little bit of extra work.

Say, can you tell me what Bruce Neilson's (a cousin) Battalion is? They might be out here some of these times and I might possibly see him. One of the boys saw Jack McMeechan who used to work for Orville. He is in the 42nd, a kilty regiment. He was asking for me. He was through the Ypres battle and was o.k. after that although his Battalion got a terrible cutting up.

Well, the supper gong has gone so I'll ring off for now . Hoping this letter finds everyone well again.



Friday, July 1, 2016

25 June 1916 Flanders

Dear Folks,

This is Sunday evening and I am back at the headquarters. We were sent back from the A.D.S. last Friday which made it a week exactly since we had gone up. None of us wanted to come back as all the boys are far more contented up there than back at headquarters. However we all have to take our turn and we will get ours again soon no doubt.Just got word a few minutes ago that one of our ambulance drivers had been hit. He was on his way to one of our A.D.S.s and got a nice cushy wound in the shoulder.

We had a pretty quiet time up the pike but a week ago today we had a little excitement. Fritz seems to favour Sunday to do his strafing and the last Sunday he sure lived up to his regular form. he lashed up over a hundred heavies into the town close by our dressing station and we were very fortunate in getting off as luckily as we did for a whole Battalion was billeted in the town and only 2 or 3 were killed and about half a dozen wounded. i helped carry one of the seriously wounded down to the surgery but he died shortly after reaching there. There were about 40 or 50 men eating their supper in a house when a shell burst right in the place. Most of the casualties occurred here. I can hardly see how any of them came out alive.

There has been no Canadian mail in for a long time and I have no letter to answer this week yet. I have had one from Bill (Skilling)  though and he is haveing a pretty fair time. He was becoming anxious about me as three of my letters had gone astray and it was about 5 weeks since he had heard from me. After the heavy fighting at Ypres, he thought i must have cashed in.

It seems funny up around our A.D.S. to see all the gardens growing behind the wrecked houses. The civilians have all been ordered out and only come back occasionally to look after their gardens etc. Once in a while a .... roots a few potatoes but they have to take a chance on that. Some of the fields around the fighting are plugged full of duds (that is what shells are called that do not explode on striking the ground but just bury themselves). sometimes just a slight jar will detonate them and they are not disturbed at all as too many lives were lost at the beginning of the war by trying to dig them up. There will be some of these Belgians blown up after the war when they begin ploughing those fields.

The weather here is just typical June weather and is great for fighting. Apparently, the Russians are having similar weather for they are showing up the Austrian and German armies over on that (Eastern) front. Opinion over here seems to that the next month or two will see the climax of the war. We ought to make a good showing for we are about as well prepared as we can expect to be and are able to give Fritz as much or a little more than we get from him.

Well, I'll write again when I get your letter to answer. I am real well and hope everyone at home is the same. Hope Norma makes our o.k. in her exams and also Orville in his case with the lawyer.


18 June 1916 Flanders

Dear folks,

This is Sunday morning just before dinner and I must try to get this started at least  for we never know what time we can call our own and when a letter is started is seems easier to go back to it.

I am up the pike now at the Advanced D. S. and it is fairly quiet just now but there is plenty of work reinforcing our dugouts with sandbags and covering them up with green sods to make them inconspicuous. Then at night there is guards to do, a 3-hour stretch every other night and we take a day each in the cook house. There are 3 stations to run: the A.D.S. and two regimental aid posts. Most of the work is done at night as we are almost under the nose of Fritz observation balloons and anything that escapes him is pretty well concealed. They turn the artillery on pretty well everything that looks suspicious and no battery dare fire when an enemy balloon is up especially is the day is anyway bright. Of course, our balloons show the same little courtesies to Fritz. As a result of this strict observation, there is comparatively little to do in the daytime and as there is very little night these days everything is crammed into the few hours of darkness.

We have the new daylight saving time in force over here now and so save another hour of daylight. It came into force about a week ago.

I suppose the papers over there are all crammed full of the accounts of the latest fighting around Ypres. it was about the worst that the Canadians have been through and the casualties were very high with a larger percentage than usual killed. I was on guard night before last and saw one of the fiercest bombardments that has taken place for a few days. It only lasted for about an hour before dawn. I was on the 1 to 4 am shift and it started at 2:03 and lasted to about 3. it was on a front of about 1/2 a mile  and the sky was lit up continuously with great livid flashes. The roar of the high exploding shells bursting is enough to strike terror into the most iron-nerved man that ever lived. The cases of shell shock are becoming more frequent and the bombardments are becoming more severe.

There were some German prisoners through town the other day and they say that we don't know what a bombardment is. The place to see the effects of a severe shelling is to get on their side of the line. They were taken prisoner in the midst of heavy bombardment and that is how they know what shellfire is on our side of the line.

The prisoners were all taken and given a shower bath in the divisional bath house and got a clean change of clothes.

Well, there is a fatigue being called to fill sand bags and I'll have to ring off and post this on the ration waggon.

I was glad of Mae's success in Massey Hall. I got the papers from Rose but the one of May 24th with the account of the competition was missing. All the other days were there. Hope Norma succeeds in her exams. Tell her to write & tell me all about them etc.



15 May 1916 Flanders

Dear Father, Mother & the Rest-

Rec'd your letter of Apr. 23 o.k. and also the parcel of Apr. 13. The cake was getting pretty old but all the other things were in good shape. I am afraid if the weather is going to be warm it will not do to send things like cakes or fruit because they will only be spoiled  by the time they arrive.

I was glad to know that you had the girls home for Easter. It would be much pleasanter. Has Mae decided about going out West? Last letter I had from her she was thinking seriously of it. Did Father's land deal drop(?) through? You haven't mentioned it lately.

I am still at work in the hospital and am kept fairly busy.  Some days are slack however and we can get a few minutes to write letters. I had a letter from Aunt Aggie last week and one from Chas. Munroe and Millie Mitford. Both of the latter want me to go and visit them when I am on leave home. It is as far away as ever and I am trying to see if I can't change numbers with someone who is leaving the unit. I must write Belle Ruxton some of these days. I had a letter from her a long time ago and I don't think I answered it.

Billy Redburn and I were over to spend the evening with Clair Brink on Saturday. He has a nice hut to himself but is kept pretty busy during the daytime. We had a nice evening chat together.

I have been getting the Globes that Rose sends right along and also got the parcel from the Patriotic League. I acknowledged it to Mrs. Gillis. Say, don't put my name in the paper any more than you can help. Miss Fairbairn gets all mixed up in her statements and she is apt to get somebody in to trouble sometime.

This has been a very commonplace week and there has not been anything out of the way happen. We never know though when things will start.

When do the school exams come off. I saw by the news that only students who were going to work on the farms were to be excused from exams. Is Vern going to do that? I guess Norma will be going to Normal next fall. That won't leave very many at home. I hope Mae repeats her success of last spring and carries off the prizes at the choir competition. I guess she will write and tell me all about it.

There's absolutely no news to tell so I'll ring off and get this away on the first mail that's going.


Harold Skilling