France 20/12/17

My dear Amy:

Just a few limes to you in answer to your letters of 30/9/17. Needless to tell you that your letter was very welcome indeed. I have not much news or rather not much paper to write news on so I am afraid that this letter will not be as interesting as it might be.

The weather here is bitterly cold and it makes this life slightly worse than it usually is. It does not seem as though there is to be a steadying off of the fighting this winter but a concerted fight all along the line. Fritz knows that if he is to do anything it must be done before America comes in so he is busy preparing. But we are ready and in fact I would rather like to see him come for he would get more than he would care for. The character of the fighting around here ever since Sept. has been of the worst possible. The German system of defence was of his latest pattern and is a formidable (???)  Instead of making a system of trenches that our artillery could smash to pieces he introduced what we term “Pepper boxes” These boxes were of concrete reinforced and about five to six feet in thickness. They were let into the ground and just showed enough to allow for the use of the machine guns inside. He built these on every ridge he had and with machine guns he would sweep every inch of ground cover and our artillery could not smash those boxes because of their thickness. In those he would sit and wait for us to advance. He had every advantage and we every disadvantage. He held all the ridges and we – none. In spite of it all he was slowly forced from ridge to  ridge until he has lost them all and is now on the flat beyond. The other day I stood on the height of these ridges and looked back over the ground we had taken, and over the ground we had held for two years.  I marvelled that we had held on so long and had forced the Huns back. If people could see it they would say “how is it that we can only force him back a thousand yards at a time?” They would (???) that he was ever forced back. His organisation is wonderful. His leadership good, his aircraft ahead of ours but as a (???) soldier he is not much good.

However it will go on for some time yet, although this time it was over. It is beyond a joke. He sights and experiences here on Flanders are awful at times – in fact one, unless he saw them, could not believe them. I have seen human bodies used as temporary (Reg  ???? and as ???? )for moving guns over. I have seen bodies and parts of bodies scattered all over the place lying decomposing. I have seen roads along the sides of which men, horses and wagons have been lying in broken tangled masses. I have seen men killed by shells fall in the mud of the road and the traffic go on just the same. Nothing is safe. (???) are blown to pieces; farms, houses churches buildings of any sort are smashed to bits. Roads are smashed and mended and smashed and mended – men are smashed and patched up if possible and sent back to be smashed again. Ambulances and dressing stations are smashed. Railways and trains and motor lorries and guns both great and small are smashed and so it goes on. As fast as they are broken they are replaced.

Bit by bit ground is gained but over that ground lie British and German dead in all attitudes. The work of our artillery is magnificent but awful. To hear some of the bombardments at night is to hear a roar that can never be forgotten. The artillery work that preceded our advance of Oct 4 was splendid. In the evening, about 7:30 they would have what the term a ‘Demonstration Bombardment’ and then again at midnight and then again at dawn. For an hour every one of those guns would pour its leaden iron hail on to the Hun lines. The artillery barrage that opened with out advance on the morning of Oct 4th I will never forget. As we followed along behind that line of bursting shells we passed over Huns lying dead everywhere. Those that came through were wither killed by us or taken prisoner.

But enough of this, I’s just the war. I did not know that there was another little Neil Reid cousin. I will drink his heath this Christmas. Amy Please send me over the leg of the turkey – but of course Christmas will be long over when you get this. But never mind. If fate is kind I will be there Xmas 1918, if not then 1919 and if not then I am afraid – never.

Amy, did you ever wonder what it was like to face a German machine gun, to hear the bullets whistle around your ears and cut your clothes to pieces, to know that you have got to take that gun. Tus a funny sensation. Did you ever wonder what it was like to hear a big 12” shell come screaming at you and burst with a terrific roar just close at hand. Did you ever wonder what it is like to stand on the ground feeling as large as the side of a house and about as helpless while about 20 huge Gotha planes fly overhead. Did you ever wonder what it feels like to be on patrol crawling up to Fritz’s wire in front of his trench and for him to suddenly send up a brilliant flare and open out with a machine gun. Did you ever wonder what it is like to lie flat on the ground while machine gun bullets bite the dust just in front of your nose.  ‘Tis a funny sensation. Did you ever wonder what it is like to bayonet into a man and pull it out again.  ‘Tis a pleasant sensation. Did you ever wonder what it is like to sit in a dugout and write a letter while the guns are growling.  Did you ever wonder what it might be like to leave the battlefield and go to Paris for five days leave. And to walk along the lovely boulevards and along the Seine to visit the tomb of Napoleon, the palace gardens at Versailles, the Palais Royale, Notre Dame, the Bois de Boulogne or to stroll through the Tuileries gardens along the bank of the river Seine. ‘Tis very pleasant indeed. But did you ever wonder what it must be like to come back and sit in the wet mud looking at old fritz.

I used to wonder what it would be like to experience these things. I have found out and I do not wish to know more about them.

There is a trail that calls me homeward every night and day

In my dreams loved ones beckon far away

Through its shadow and its sunshine someday I will roam

Down that long trail winding

The trail that leads back to Home

Give my love to all at Home and every wish for a happy New Year

I must close now Amy. ‘Tis late and I am weary. Write often dear cousin, your letters are very welcome.

                                                                                                    With fond love

                                                                                                    I am your affectionate cousin


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Letters from the Front