Dear Mr Mc Isaac,- It seems that a great while has elasped since your interesting letter reached me.
I remember the occasion, but not the date, It came just before we were going into the firing line for the first time.
Well do we recollect the queer feelings that shot through us when passing between the high ragged walls, and through a bare hut, along communication trenches, gradually getting nearer and nearer the enemy. It was the sort of feelings that one has on going to the dentist's.
There are certain misgivings when looking at the periodicals in the waiting room, but once in the chair there you are! And there you stop until your Commanding Officer, the dentist, gives you permission to leave. So it was with us on that first night.
With the coming darkness began the continual cracking of rifles, setting up short quick thuds or dying clatters, according to weather the bullets hit a mound of earth or a distant stretch of barbed wire entanglement in front of the German trenches. The bursting of star shells every ten minutes, we discovered, were not illuminations merely to interest the opposing parties but were occasions when the sentries must buck up the courage to look over the parapet to make sure no sly german was creeping up to our trench with bombs in his pocket.
It was my turn off guard and in spite of the cold, a blissful sense of security behind the tall mound of sand bags produced a calm doze, when there was a terrific flash and the sound of twenty doors slamming. We were told by the experienced and paternal "regulars" that it was a trench mortar sent over to the enemy's lines by one of the Guards Regiments on our left.
After four months out here, we now consider it not worth while waking up for such minor items on the
nightly programme of the firing line. You have no doubt heard indirectly that on one or two occasions we have fully
understood "War" with much deeper meaning than the dictionary can give.
The extensive manoeuvres over this tremendous frontage are simply moves in a great game of chess, in which the men are little more than pawns. Individuality is very little known, and sentimentality certainly unknown. A man is valuable just because he can fire a rifle or drive a waggon.
The loss of a General is lamented by his Commander-in-Chief for his brains, his personality is only a secondary consideration.
It is hard to think of battle in this light, but the gruesome sight we saw after an attack made by another Brigade about a month ago, makes one wonder at the inestimable price paid for a few yards of ground.
We have been under shell fire a good deal lately, and our nightly marches to and from the trenches
have often been along long roads peppered on either side with basin like shell holes. To avoid observation we have
filed past battered walls and buildings reduced by either shell contact or by vibration of the surrounding ground
to mere framework, the skeleton roof supporting one or two stray tiles.
For eight days we were in the neighbourhood of a large French mine. Parts of it resembled the store of a dealer in scrap iron. Girders, parts of steel framework, fragments of machinery, jutting out among scattered heaps of stones and brick dust, showing that shrapnel shells had rushed that way.
Once or twice we have passed families pushing barrows or prams containing a few household necessaries away from home, or mothers and little children walking heavily away from their native village towards midnight or the early morning hours. Some old people have preferred to stay in danger spots with the risk of bombardment to leaving "home sweet home".
Our periods in billet have usually been very pleasent and there are times when life out here is as enjoyable as a Cooks tour.
It is then that the pages of my diary refer to matters alittle more interesting than platoon drill and musketry exercises.