The Victory Easter Monday
Tuesday, Apr 11, 2017 11:15 am
From the June 8, 1917 Olds Gazette
The following letter written to Mrs. Morgan, Harmattan, was very kindly given (to) us for publication and is a most realistic account of the great advance by the Canadians:
April 22nd, 1917
My Dear Ivon:
We came out of the line yesterday for a rest after the hardest trip the Battn. ever experienced. The going over the top and wiping away all of the German lines on Easter Monday, the commencement of our innings, tremendous tho it was, was not as hard or trying as the rest of the trip.
The villainous weather was the worst feature and made everything three times as hard as it would have been. Personally, I returned from hospital and rejoined the boys just in time for the work in hand.
My boots were worn out and unfit and I was too late to get properly equipped so took the only pair available, which were small and quite unsuitable. However, I did not expect to be on feet very long on the trip, as apart from becoming a casualty there seemed to be a universal assurance that if we made our objective we should be relieved within 48 hours.
So you can imagine what I endured with my feet during two weeks of the hardest kind of carrying on in the heaviest battle order and the mud and grease so that one had to be digging in his toes all the time and just gripping with them in order to surmount the everlasting succession of shell holes and trenches, every inch of the ground having been thrown backwards and forwards with shells and left in the shape of a very rough sea.
Also vermin bothered me terribly. As a specimen of the chance we had for rest and sleep, I put in two (not the worst nights) in a funk hole with my companion. The place was too low to sit up in, was quite too short to lie down in and so narrow that one of us always had a large part of the other man’s weight.
We carried rations and water in addition to our tremendous war equipment and ammunition thru mud so stiff it strained our hips to pull each foot out, thru liquid soup mud up to our knees, in pitch darkness across deep trenches into which we fell and crawled out on hands and knees thru a snarl of woods where trees were blown about with shell fire and the roots bare, and under a hot and very close shell fire, etc.
But let me tell you about Easter Monday, when we swept the Huns out of all their lines. Had been in the trenches two nights, two men to a bunk, no blankets, very cold, no sleep to speak of.
We ate some bread and jam and about 2 a.m. move out and commence to assemble. A long weary time with such great weight of equipment on us until signs of coming light. Tea was passed in gasoline cans -- cold the one I sampled. More light. Fix bayonets independently. The rum is passed, I go at it very sparingly. More light, pass the word -- 5 minutes to go. We shake hands and wish each other a soft ‘blighty.’
The whistle, and the German shell bursts, which had been among and around us is drowned in the roar of our barrage the greatest concentration of gun fire this old earth has ever witnessed and we rise in a cloud above the parapet jostling each other in our huge bulky equipment, and commence our slow trudge to the German front line.
In spite of our barrage ahead of us the German fire seems terrible, men fall in front and on all sides of me. Bullets whistle so very, very close and one shell which exploded on my right knocked me over, but I had no sensation of shell shock, tho the noise and concussion was terrific, nor did I feel more than annoyance at it; I knew I was not hurt but merely bowled over by the blast.
I laboriously rise again and continue the tramp. My chum and I keep in touch, our barrage lifts from the Hun front lines and we push on and into it. A few prisoners and dead Huns. I begin to feel better -- I am hunting not being hunted.
Out again and follow our barrage. Within 50 yards of our marvellous line of bursting shells we flop down in the shell holes, just our head and shoulders and rifle out. I did not get a shot at anything. A little rest and our barrage has lifted again and away we go after it. Soon after this game became pleasantly interesting. All expectation of hurt had left me in spite of the casualties we continued to sustain; still we were certainly hunting not being hunted now.
We shoot at Germans running away. Streams of them run our way with their hands in the air and an idiotic half smile of would-be inoffensiveness on their face, but having come through our barrage I guess they may be forgiven their expressions. We feel their pockets for bombs and pass them on. We are laughing and jeering now, and still we stagger on with our great weight. Again we flop in the edge of a shell hole and pot at Germans who are beating it.
I notice that our lads just to the left of me are dropping Huns and I am in a comfortable shooting position, the weight of material capped with a full sized pick stuck down the back of my equipment is quite easy now and I get a chance … I don’t think he would be any encumbrance to the Red X …
At last we reach the German communication trench and travel with less risk in it to our objective. We recognize the Nine Elms and other marks we have told of – our immediate bit is done. I look at my watch, it is 7:30; we went over at 5:30.
Among things I noted enroute was the wonderful silence of our wounded. I saw one man knocked on his back by a bullet. He calmly reached up above his head and replaces his steel helmet then rolls over into a shell hole…
Near to our objective several machine guns have escaped our artillery and take a toll in our ranks but they are finally bombed to hell. I take a piece of the machine gun belt they have emptied at us, as a souvenir.
Advancing, I wondered how thickly permeated the ground must be with shrapnel and rifle bullets, seeing that they were lying so thick even on the surface. I pocketed a few souvenirs. We halt at our objective while the other brigade passes thru us to further advance. I notice sky larks singing to the thunder of our barrage. But a partridge which came flying back thru the barrage seemed quite perturbed and sought cover under a big snarl of rusty wire.
The barrage plays for 20 minutes just ahead of us while the other brigade comes up. Now the weather which had been moist and dull clears up to brilliant sunshine, and we stand on the highest knolls of the parapets to see the greatest sight the world has ever shown.
As far as the eye could reach in each direction the slow steady inexorable advance of our mighty hosts. The sun sparkling on a thousand bayonets; ever following on the heels of our roaring blazing zone of shells. Lines of German gun pits with their gins visible are passed by. Horses trying to take some away are turned about thru our lines.
Thousands of German prisoners stream back, many carrying their own and our wounded. Far away on our right the sky is filled with dint and smoke from a huge mine explosion, and I remember the feeling of relief we experienced when we found ourselves across “no man’s land” to the Hun front line without being buried alive. Also on the far right a tank is visible coming down the hill. To the left the cable of a Hun observation balloon is cut and the balloon goes skyward spinning round while the occupants become prisoners by means of their parachute.
Subsequently I was around over the battle field a great deal and was able to observe many things, notably the terrific effect our artillery on the trenches and personel of the enemy, also the tremendous debris of the battle, the arms, ammunition, equipment and men lying everywhere … but everything seemed quite natural and belonging to the day’s work, so to say.
I mean the sights did not seem to affect us anything approaching it would do in ordinary life, and here by the way I make a note of something which is surely rather remarkable. Tho’ 42 years of age and having travelled so much and led such a varied stirring life (tho’ of course I had seen plenty of our wounded before) and tho’ I have lost both my parents, yet until this mix-up on Easter Monday I had never in my life looked upon a dead face.
Some days later we were up to the front, holding the front line for 48 hours and so had a good look at many of the guns we had captured, and the German trenches, dugouts and equipment of all kinds. We made quite free with the rations and stuff they had left. They went in such a hurry they had no time to set traps.
Some of the lads got some pretty good souvenirs, but of all the vast loot and trophies captured the private infantryman could only possibly carry a few ounces. Owing to our already great load. Practically all I brought out was a piece of machine gun belt the Huns emptied at us.
I saw a number of encounters in the air, several times an aeroplane coming down in flames within a short distance of me, and once one of our own machines was driven down right beside me, both occupants wounded with bullets but making a very good landing.
One Hun dugout we occupied one night had a big dead Hun sprawled across the little space and we had to step over him all the time. I stayed with him to take charge of the place with our equipments while the rest of the lads went on a ration carrying party. Thirty feet below ground in that narrow apartment with the light of one candle and the good Bosche monopolizing so much of the room did not seem in the least bit queer or uncanny to me. I wonder if it seems so to you reading of it.
Tell Annie that vermin belt she sent me was Jake as long as it’s chemicals lasted; I should like another any time. Mine is No. 8 Co’y. I’ll never be able to write so long a description again.