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Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.
-- General Douglas MacArthur
Excuse me if this letter is badly written as I am writing sitting on some straw with a box as a desk: besides, my pencil is just about two inches long. However, though writing under difficulties, I will try to write a long letter as I have much to speak of to you.
As it will just be about New Year's when you receive this letter, I will begin by wishing you a prosperous New Year. I received all your letters and also those from Aldea and others. Your last one came to me on the day we went into the trenches for the second time, and I have not had an opportunity too write to you until now. Many interesting things happened in the trenches this time. I will try to tell you everything as it happened.
After leaving the trenches last time, we spent about six weeks, on working parties. We were billeted near a nice little town about seven miles back of the firing line; one of the few places along the front that has not been blown to bits by the Germans. We would walk about three miles everyday over the most wretched roads, sometimes in a downpour of rain. When it rains here it is generally accompanied by a cold penetrating wind. I think it was with pleasure we heard we were to have a few days in the trenches.
We moved on a Sunday night from our billets to a place about three miles closer to the front line into reserve. On Friday night we moved up to the front line. It was a tramp of some three miles and a half by the road, but unfortunately for us we found that the Germans were shelling the road, so we had to go by a longer way, over a wretched trail, over a steep hill. As I was carrying a very heavy pack, you may judge that it did not improve my temper any. Besides, I had just got over an attack of grippe. We arrived eventually at the front lines without any incident of importance. All was quiet along the lines, and we soon were shipshape. It was raining a little and misty.
That night I stood guard with another chap. We took spells of two hour shifts through the night, so you may judge we had not much sleep. In fact, you do not get much sleep in the trenches, one has to steal it between his various duties. When you consider that we do our own cooking, having to travel a considerable distance for water, and to rustle our own wood besides, you may judge we are busy. At night, of course, we take our spells on guard.
Our first day in the trenches was not very eventful, until about one o'clock in the afternoon, except that my troop sergeant, Sergt. McBane, was wounded in the foot by a stray bullet about ten minutes after arriving in the trenches. Pete Catt knows him I think. About eleven o'clock a.m. I had a cup of tea, and crawled into my dug-out to have some sleep. I was awakened about two hours later by a very inferno of noise. Word had been passed down the line in the morning that we were to lay low that afternoon as a big bombardment of the German lines was to take place. But it appears they started the show. Inside of a dugout is about the last place in the world to be in a bombardment, so you may be sure I wasted no time in vacating mine. We went through one of the severest bombardments that afternoon, which our line in that part had suffered for nearly three months. It is heartbreaking to suffer, because you must sit down and pretend to like it, hoping your artillery is giving them the same dose. Time and again, shells landed quite close to my bay, covering me in a shower of mud and rubbish, but fortunately we escaped serious damage on our part. Two six- inch shells struck the parapet right in front of me, but luckily they both failed to explode, otherwise you would not have heard from me except on the casualty lists. I have a small bit of shrapnel that struck the trench quite close to my head.
One shell, a six-inch one, went through the parapet and landed right between Speechly's feet but it too failed to explode. All the boys were not so fortunate, however, as one shell landing on the parapet further up the line exploded, killing one and wounding six. Two of the Coldstream boys were in that lot, Malcolm and Malan K. They are both suffering from shock. The bombardment lasted about three hours, and in that time they put about 350 shells in our part. But I tell you, we have the satisfaction of knowing that the Germans got as much and more back.
The most serious losses from the bombardment were in the 3rd C. M. R. They lost over fifty wounded and killed that day, including a Major, a Captain and one Lieutenant. "B" squadron was not in the trenches, so they missed the fun. After the bombardment the remainder of the time in the front line was very quiet.
A Ticklish Position On the second night I was put on listening post. That, I think is the most wretched duty in the trenches. You are on duty for one hour and off two. Your duty is to take up station at a spot about sixty yards in front of your own trench and lying flat on the ground to listen for every sound. You must keep keenly alert the whole time and report any suspicious movements of the enemy. The night I was on duty it was raining, and most miserable. We had to lie down right in a mud hole with the rain pouring down on us. There was a large party of Germans working about seventy yards away. We could hear them quite plainly. Of course, we reported it when were were relieved, but as the message was lost or not properly carried forward, the O.C. never received it.
In the morning we found that the Germans had built a strong barricade across an important road. You may be sure there was the devil to pay then. As we were not to blame however, we did not get into trouble. I tell you, you have to be wide awake to put anything over on the Germans.
The night after I was on listening post we were relieved and went into the support trenches. I was fortunate enough to be put on guard over ammunition, and still more fortunate in being billeted in an observation station. While there I witnessed a splendid piece of work by our artillery. The observation officer spotted two transports of the Germans moving along a piece of road. Of course, our artillery opened on them. The first shot landed about thirty yards in front of them. The second landed right under the leading transport; horses, wagon, driver and all were lifted into the air. I think I saw a thing there, which I am not likely to have another opportunity to witness during the rest of the war. We have since been moved back again, into reserve now, and may be out of the trenches for a few days. At present, we are doing night work parties.
I think that is about all there is to tell, except that wer are all well, I saw "Nick" just after receiving your first letter. Also, Walter, Jacobe is still in the same troop with me. I don't think I need anything at present; tobacco of course is always welcome. Mitts and sox are always useful too. Give my best regards to everyone and wish them all a Happy New Year. Good-bye
Your friend C. J. Bessette
Note: by Private Clarence Joseph, Letter from France to Marjorie Christienin British Columbia 1915
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