Feb 5, 1916

Dear Miss Griffis;-

Your very interesting letter of Jan 2 came to hand some days ago when we were out in divisional reserve. In your letter you asked a number of questions which I shall try to answer before my superfine paper runs out. Usually my stationary is a field message book but for very special correspondence with particular people I use envelopes & paper that came in a Christmas box. However – to get on with my answers. I may be court-martialed for giving you this information but shall risk being sent home. We do six day shifts in the trenches. During that time we sleep in our clothes and in the fire trenches the men are not allowed to take off their boots except to change socks. At the end of the six days we move out to billets just behind the firing line and are then what is known as brigade reserve. At the end of six days we again relieve in the trenches and after another tour of duty go back to divisional reserve. The divisional reserve billets are pretty well out of the shelled area and everybody feels pretty safe there. Besides the men have practically no fatigues to do and get rested up a bit. After 6 days in divisional reserve the whole program begins again.

No, I have never seen Miss Bailey over here but saw Miss Gardner several times in England. I heard that she went to the Mediterranean but no late news of her. I believe that the nurses that went to the Mediterranean had a pretty hard time of it and that several died. My sister is still at No 2 Canadian General Hospital, France and expects to go over to England on leave about Feb 18. I am trying to arrange mine to begin on that date and if I can manage to make it we shall meet at the Cecil Hotel London. You may be sure that I am eagerly looking forward to the rendezvous for we have not yet been able to see each other since coming to the war. I have not missed a day from duty for 13 months. We are allowed eight days leave from Boulogne to Boulogne and a day extra if one’s destination is the North of Scotland. I think I shall declare myself from the Shetland Islands and try to work an extra day in London.

You ask about our rations and I must say they are very good. I do not think that ever before an army has been fed like this one. Now and then of course there will be a shortage in certain articles but on the whole very little complaint is heard. When the battalion is in the trenches my two orderlies and I have our rations come together and one of the orderlies does the cooking. About the only extra I buy is oatmeal to make porridge in the mornings. In the way of luxuries we get a daily ration of rum apiece when in the trenches. In addition to my duties as M.O. I help to issue the rum. Each company issues its own rum, but some of the extra detatchments such as bombers, snipers, signallers, M. Gun men, and wiremen get their issue at the dressing room dugout. My corporal measures it out in a teapot. The wiremen I mention are the chaps that go out between our own and the German trenches at night repairing old and erecting new barbed wire defences. They sometimes work within a few yards of the German parrapet and are certainly entitled to get a drink of rum when they come in.

I saw for the first time a real live Hun a few days ago. He was a prisoner who had just been brought in wounded. The other two battalions of our brigade who occupied the trenches at the time made a raid into Fritz’s lines and captured four prisoners besides doing a lot of damage. Unfortunately one of the prisoners was killed by the German fire when the party was coming back. The German I saw was in a Field Ambulance and had received a bayonet thrust to make him come along with his captors. He was a big fine looking chap and very capable looking. He had the rank of sergeant and wore the iron cross with two bars. He was a Prussian and had been here only a few days, having come from the Russian front.

Capt. Selby called to see us last Sunday and said that it was his intention to pay us another visit this week while we were in the trenches. I was expecting him to day but he did not show up. I was just as well pleased he did not come as it was a rather lively day for shewing visitors the trenches. Our artillery started it at noon and there was a fairly steady exchange of “Iron Rations” until dark. We did not have anyone hit although one of our trench kitchens was blown all to bits. The aeroplanes were quite busy and we saw one fight right over our heads. Our biplane was chasing a German and had a M. gun turned on him. We were disappointed in seeing the Hun escape to his own lines.

From Calgary papers that have just come to hand you must have been led to believe that we had been roughing it up with Fritz in capital shape. The whole story was a pure hoax and somebody should be put in jail for that sort of thing. Just let me thank you for your many kind offers of assistance and also for the papers and magazines which are much appreciated. Goodbye.

Sincerely yours

Harold W McGill

P.S. That bovril was fine.

H.W.McG.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I find it amazing how Harold McGill can recount the war horrors he sees with such a polite demeanour. In some ways he is perhaps protecting Miss. Griffis from what he is actually experiencing, however he does describe his experiences in some detail. Perhaps writing such as this helped the writer to ‘process’ what he saw.


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