France, April 23, 1917

Dear Miss Griffis;-

I have your letter of April 15 and am delighted to know that you are safely on this side of the Atlantic. Did you sleep with a life preserver on when you were crossing? Your letter reached me the night we came out of the line and the day following that splendid box of chocolates arrived. We are all busy eating them up and I simply do not know how to thank you enough. You have put me everlastingly in your debt by the very many kindnesses you have done me since I came to France. Although I may be crude in the expression of my gratitude it is none the less deep and sincere.

Your last Calgary letter reached me in the trenches a few days only before the one announcing your arrival. I had not expected to hear from you in England for some time. I wrote to you just before the big battle but it will be a long time before you receive the letter for I addressed the letter to Calgary.

I am very pleased that you met Major Hewgill. He is one of the best and a fine soldier. His is one of those sunny natures that, as Oliver Wendell Holmes puts it, slopes to the South. He is very popular in the battalion and we would all be very pleased to see him back.

The past month has been a very strenuous one for all of us. You would read all about the big show in the newspapers. The enemy is now “over the hills and far away” and we are at present in tents on a site where it was unsafe to show one’s nose above ground 2 weeks ago. It was by all odds the most spectacular battle I have seen. One of our officers remarked that a show manager would require to charge 10 dollars a seat to put on as good an exhibition. We moved into our assembly trenches during the night before and there waited for morning. It was a moonlight night but partially cloudy. We were shelled on our way in but nobody was hit. We had some breakfast at 4:30 A.M. and afterwards waited for zero hour which was 5:30 A.M. It began to drizzle rain just before the fateful hour. Promptly on the minute the whole sky behind us lit up with a sheet of flame from hundreds of guns, and our barrage opened with a noise like a terrible peal of thunder. There was a wonderful display of fireworks for miles along the German trenches caused by the bursting of our shells and Fritz’s frantic S.O.S. signals. It looked as though the sky were raining fire. It was still too dark for us to see our boys going over the wall.

Our brigade had to wait until the first two lines of German trenches were taken and then push through the first attacking lines to reach the most advanced objective. We had to wait for over 2 hours in the trenches. When the time came the whole battalion got out of the trenches and advanced overland. We sustained some casualties going through the German barrage but not many. After we got over into the captured territory we came up on some high ground and could see for miles to the right. It was a splendid sight. Our barrage was sweeping over the country like a blizzard and close behind it we could see our troops advancing in thousands. The whole country seemed crawling with them and the sight must have put the fear of retribution into the German hearts.
My first R.A.P. was a wrecked German concrete machine gun emplacement. I soon afterwards got into an unfinished dugout. When our troops took the village they were attacking I moved up and took over the German aid post. There was one wounded German in it and all sorts of dressings and supplies. We had boiled German potatoes for dinner and they tasted just as good as though they had been obtained through the ordinary channels of commerce. We found a good stove, coke, and in fact all the comforts of home in Fritz’s dugout. His blankets came in very useful for the night of the battle was bitterly cold with quite a fall of snow. We had quite a few German wounded through our hands and I am becoming quite used to being addressed as Kamerad.

We had wretched weather for our last tour of duty in the line. It rained nearly all the time and was cold enough for January. Personally I did not suffer much discomfort for I was in comfortable quarters in a cellar recently taken over from Fritz. We had a kitchen range with a small stove in nearly every room into which the cellar had been divided, also easy chairs. The Germans certainly knew how to make themselves comfortable but of course they simply stole anything they wanted from the civilian population. We shall not be able to work this system until we get into Germany.

During our last tour in the line the battalion scout officer and an N.C.O. went out and captured a German patrol consisting of one officer and a man. They wounded the officer in the arm and put a bullet through the man’s cap before they surrendered. The officer had been in British Columbia and could speak good English. He belonged to the 5th Prussian Guard. He said, “It iss a long time since I haf seen ze maple leaf.” I told him his men were getting a good chance to become acquainted with it these days. He was not a bad sort of a chap though for a Prussian officer.

Give my love to all the Calgary nurses in your party.

Yours ever,

Harold W McGill

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  1. I have not finished reading all these letters but I could not fail to put in the comment that I think that it is a great thing that someone is keeping history alive and I particularly appreciate that these letters come from my fathers old “outfit”. I knew many of the men of the 5th Field Ambulance and cared for Fred Noyes #1697 when he was in Sunnybrook Hospital in 1956. I will read the rest of the letters and will be interested to know who is responsible for them being printed. Have you read “Stretcher Bearers at the Double” which is the regimental history from 1915 till about 1936″?


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