Sudbury, May 12, 1915.
Dearest Mother, —
Went to the Post Office and found your letter. It was good to hear from you, and your feeling about the Lusitania. The dishonor to the flag is great, but it seems to me more a dishonor to manhood and humanity. I can see very little patriotism or flags or countries; it is more a struggle of mankind to defend the principles of humanity and chivalry which the Creator has handed down, even though the defenders themselves have abused and sinned against the very principles they now defend. It is as though the world has sinned to a point where it divided, the one half going over the bounds of human possibility, the other stopping and reaching back to former good and true tradition to resist the impulse of the lost half to swallow it up as well.
I feel that we are only at the beginning and must really fight for existence. Germany has shown herself to be a terrible menace, and she is beginning to feel confidence in her own resources to defy the world. No country or flag can be mine except the United States, but if I could go to this war as a citizen of the world, I would pray to be allowed to do it.
* * *
Toronto, May 15, 1915.
Yesterday afternoon Mr. I—— called me up and said that Mr. H—— was about to be built in the Muskoka district; I saw Mr. H—— and he said that if I wanted the job I could have it. It is a position that I could have desired only in my dreams. The bridge is a good size and on a curve, which requires special engineering work to lay out; and not only that, but the centre piers will have to be sunk to rock-bottom, through about forty feet of mud by means of compressed-air caissons. Not only will I have complete charge of all the engineering work, but, as the contract is to be carried out on a cost pus per cent basis, I will also have to keep strict account of all labor and material and be responsible for any waste or uneconomic methods in the construction. In other words, I will be General Manager of the whole job, and this will be even harder because I have only two helpers when I could easily use five. My ability will be taxed to the utmost, which is the desire of my heart.
And yet, mother, I went in to Mr. H—— this morning and told him that I could only accept the position with the understanding that, if the United States declared war and called for volunteers, I would leave at once. I am so full of that, it drowns out every ambition or desire or thought of the future that I have. I have nothing but a great big desire to give myself to help in this battle against evil.
* * *
Bala, May 19, 1915.
I want to tell you what I said in that letter that never reached you. The affair of the Lusitania has gone through me again and again. I feel as if I could not just go ahead as I have since the war started, making plans for my own advancement, or my own family’s welfare. It is not the isolated case of the Lusitania, or that Americans were among those to suffer, but the realization that it has brought of the actual conditions in Europe and the German attitude. It seems to me that the only remedy is in the thousands of men who feel called to offer themselves for whatever they are worth. Just now, it seems to me that America is in an impossible position. Honor demands that we enter the war, humanity that we stay out. I will do nothing until the United States course is definitely decided; but above everything in the world, I want to go to the war, and I want you and father to tell me that I can govern myself by what knowledge and judgment I have, with the surety of your confidence in me to do right. I think I can manage to serve in some way, if only you will give me the inspiration of your approval and trust, you and father.
* * *
Toronto, May 24, 1915.
I can’t say how grateful I am that you can feel able to give me for whatever purpose may be intended, for now I shall definitely plan to offer my services in some capacity in the war. This bridge-work here came in such an unasked, unexpected way, at a time when such opportunities are almost unthought-of, that I feel that I must keep on with it at present; but if I cannot enlist here, I will plan to go directly to Europe in the fall.
* * *
Bala, May 27, 1915.
Your letter came yesterday a.m. It almost answered the thought in my last, — I mean the following guidance as well as one can see it, — and I feel just as you do about seeing this work through if I can. Of course I have thought of Red Cross work, but there are many who are only fitted for that; and many Americans who would only think of doing that. My wish would be to go into the Army and let the Superior governing decide my duties. However, there is no doubt a Guiding Hand in all these matters. I believe in following, just as you; but I think there is inward guidance as well as outward. What I meant by humanity restraining the United States is the fact that, in spite of all our failure in national protest against outrages, still our very spirit has been standing between the nations and their people that are in Germany’s power. The thousands of Belgians who have nothing in the world are fed and clothed by us because Germany in the nature of our ‘friendly relations’ cannot help but permit it. This would be cut off in case of war. Through us the Allies are able to be in some way cognizant of the condition of their prisoners of war, and Germany cannot openly resent our investigation and supervision in such matters. Our representative in the German Court in a guaranty against open ill-treatment of the thousands of interned and noncombatant enemies in Germany. Once the United States declares war, a great silent circle will be stretched around the space enclosed by the German lines, and what will happen inside that circle is all conjecture.
* * *
Shaw’s Creek, August 12, 1915.
Your letter came yesterday, and it was a comfort and help to know that you feel as strongly as I do about the war and are making it easier for me in my plans. I still hope the United States will have an awakening, but if affairs are not definite by fall, I still want to do something, whatever it can be; and the first thing logically seems now to try to enlist in Canada, if there is any branch of the service that will have me. My eyes will undoubtedly be a stumbling-block; but there must be some way. I can’t think that I would be useless.
* * *
Shaw’s Creek, August 25, 1915.
Mother dear, I think it is nearly impossible for me to get in with them. The eye examination is still one which only a piece of luck would allow me to pass; and I am an American, which is in my disfavor, even if I am willing to take the oath of allegiance. I think the Hospital Corps will be my best chance, and if I am not able to get into the regular army service, there are some independent organizations. The best chances are, I think, in Canada, so I will try here first; but it may be that I will have to try America, or my first plan of going to England. Things must work out, as they always do. I know that in those moments when the thought of my possible going away comes, and for a moment seems overwhelming, it would help to think of the women and children, still unhardened to blind terrors, who have been stricken, — I do not mean killed, but have had all that was humanly dear and comforting snatched horribly away, — and the victory that must be gained to put an end to all this horror. Remember that your strength is the mother strength that sacrifices itself for the children and the weak. I am your child, but no longer a human child with the necessities of human children; and yet, mother, in the greatest way, the spiritual way, I need you more every day, I need you more every day, and in that need you are always giving and helping me, and are always with me.
* * *
Bala, September 30, 1915.
The work here is finished. There was some talk of putting in two additional piers, but it has been decided against, I am glad to say, for I think it would have spoiled the proportions. I am going in to Toronto, where I have a few construction plans to finish up; then up here for a final inspection Monday or Tuesday; and then, I hope, home. I am going to try to enlist here, because being in Canada is a definite chance, and I want to feel that I have not lost any opportunity. However I am certain my eyesight will debar me.
* * *
Toronto, October 2, 1915.
I have wonderful news. I have been accepted, the thing we have wanted and prayed for so long; and in the Engineers, where the work will be constructive, as you wanted so much. I will tell you just how it happened. I made up my mind I would go to the Armories this afternoon and do my best to get in. I went into the Armories and asked where to go to join, and was directed to a room upstairs which was full of people, principally sergeant-majors, by the amount of chevrons. I went up to one and said that I wanted to enlist, and he asked me what regiment. I said I didn’t know, and asked him if there were any engineers recruiting. He said, ‘Yes,’ and directed me down about half a dozen corridors, asking my way as I went.
In the last corridor a soldier was standing, writing something on the wall I asked him if he could tell me which room was the Engineer’s office, — there are no signs, — and he said, ‘Which Engineers do you wish to join, the Pioneers?’ Then I saw that he was an officer, captain or lieutenant, I do not know which. I must have looked blank, not knowing what varieties of Engineers there were. So he took me into a room and began to tell me about the Pioneers. It is a regiment formed to do all kinds of construction work, railroads, highways, trenches, sanitary sewer work in camps, etc.; just exactly the thing we thought of. He said there was going to be lots of hard work swinging a pick, probably, and the likes of that, and the men are a rough crowd, — tradesmen of all sorts, carpenters, masons, plumbers, pipe-layers.
Well, as he talked, I almost grew sick, because it was so exactly the thing I longed for, and I was sure I couldn’t pass the eye-test. So I said, ‘That just suits me if I can only pass the physical examination.’ He said, ‘There won’t be much trouble about that by the look of you.’ I had left my spectacles at home! He saw that I was a University man, and said that I had a good chance to become a non-commissioned officer. Then he took me to the recruiting-room, and I was given my application papers, and went up to the doctor.
You can imagine that I was nervous by that time. I stripped, and went to the doctor after they had measured me up. The first thing he did was to ask me to read letters on a card across the room, and, of course, the letters on the last line were just too small for me to read; they jumped and danced, and, strain as I would, I just couldn’t see them. I told him I was nervous, so he gave me plenty of time, and switched me over to a card by the window instead of the electric light. Finally, I blurted out a guess. I was not sure whether I was anywhere near right. Anyway, he thought it over, and said he thought he would give me a chance. …
Doesn’t it seem like Providence again, mother, after all the waiting, and the work at Shaw’s Creek just nicely finished up. Much love, dearest mother, to you and father, and thank you both for making me feel that I can do this with your blessing.
* * *
In Camp, March 22, 1916.
The trenches twist and turn so, a precaution against enfilade fire in the event of the enemy’s occupying any position, that we seemed to walk miles before we reached our destination. It was a new support trench about forty yards back of the front line. Saturday night, I was on a ‘carrying party,’ whose duty was to carry timber, wire, etc., from a material pile to the working party. Sunday night we went in again, and I was in a digging gang. Some of the new work had fallen in, and we had to remove the sand-bags and dig down in front of the screens and push the latter out, wire them back, fill up behind them, and put back the bags. It sounds simple enough, but the digging was the worst I ever struck. Sticky mud that clings to your shovel, so that you can only get rid of one shovelful out of every three, and that by effort. After two or three hours of it, I am all in and ready to admit it. We usually work from sundown till about midnight, although whatever task is given has to be finished. …
* * *
April 13, 1916.
A soldier must live from day to day, with no thought of the future, just a steadfast purpose of carrying out orders and being stronger and steadier than he naturally is; and faith and trust in God’s purpose make it possible for me. Do you not think that the war is making people less selfish in the world and in the United States? Surely it must, when in so many places people are sacrificing their dear ones and their money for a cause. Even if it seems to some more a question of honor and family, or national tradition, than justice or freedom.
I often think of the rank and file of the German Army, and even the junior officers. They are suffering untold hardships, and showing magnificent bravery in the face of heavy odds, as much, or perhaps more, than the soldiers of the Allies. Although one must be here to realize that men have risen to a height of courage and endurance in this war that people living in modern civilization never dreamed of. Surely, some gain must come from this tremendous effort and conquest of self, and Germany must not be entirely a loser, when her sons, even if forced, have paid such a price. I hope for a Europe of republics and personal freedom as the only adequate result. Of course, we strain against national characteristics or nature that makes submarines and Zeppelins possible. Such things are the result, it seems to me, of forced acquiescence in tyranny and wrong government, and time must wear it down. The races will never be able to understand each other; but you have her the cries for reprisal, much more horrible than the deed if carried out, and we know our South, the dealings with the Negro there. Freedom, and then the conquering of self, are the great hopes that the war holds out, and it is more than worth that.
* * *
April 18, 1916.
Yesterday, I had yours and father’s letters of March 31st, and a Fraternity notice forwarded, a dear little colored picture of the ‘frog footman’ from Billy, and a lovely note from Father S——, saying that I was being prayed for twice daily in the school chapel. How much that means to me! You say to tell you what your ‘bit’ can be. Dear mother, that is it. You are praying not just for me, but for all of us out here, and the German soldiers too. I often think of you at early mass and in ‘St. Savior’s,’ and so many other times of the day, praying. That is the great thing, for it all lies with God, and in his own way He always answers prayers; so when I think that you and father and Father W—— and Father S—— and so many others are praying, it is a great comfort and strength. When I am under fire, I pray not only for protection, or a worthy dying, but for courage, not to lose my control and to help others.
This is one of my ‘green envelope’ letters, so I can write out. Our work is not so dangerous, or, what is worse, does not require so much endurance as that of the infrantry, who are on duty for two or three days, and constantly subject to attacks or bombardments. We work for three or four hours, and then go back where we can rest and get a new strength for our spirit; and then, of course, our danger just now is not great, though once or twice we have been in bad positions; and that reminds me that I have another ‘cross day’ for you, April 14th.
We never know when we will be called on. As the spring advances there are indications of a new activity. So you can pray, and I rest in the strength of your prayers. I could easily write you without letting you know that there as danger, but I know you are brave and strong, I can feel it, and you are always near me, so I tell you special things in order that you can pray specially and give thanks specially. So the one great thing I need is courage and self-control in danger. Not only for myself, but for others. There is nothing which so encourages and gives heart to the weak as the strength and coolness of others; and there are many boys here, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, full of bravery, but too young for a man’s steadiness. Pray for them, too.
There is something I have wanted to ask you, in case, as Dean S—— put it, the soldier should ‘pass through battle into peace.’ Will you write to Nurse H——? otherwise, I do not know how she will get the news.
I am glad that I have been able to write all this to-day, for I wanted you to know and be with me, yet I wanted you to know, too, that I am happy and not in an fear or strain, but just as you are, going about my work each day, trusting in the comfort of being ‘safe in the hands of the one disposing Power.’
* * *
Boulogne-sur-Mer, April 26, 1916.
Dearest Mother, —
The dearest old lady, who is a regular hospital visitor, has just been to see me and given me this paper to write to you. It is really the first chance I have had, for the sisters here are terribly busy, and one hates to bother them. I was wounded in the left shoulder by a piece of shrapnel, very early, about 12.30, Eastern morning. … Everything would be fine were it not for the fear of your anxiety. The wound is a small one, and has never given a minute’s pain. I was taken to a clearing hospital in a field ambulance, arriving about 6 a.m., Sunday, and left Tuesday afternoon, arriving here about Tuesday afternoon, arriving here about 11 p.m. We came on the hospital train, which was a beauty. This is a lovely hospital, in a big casino, right on the seashore, and every one is lovely to me. Yesterday the doctor removed the shrapnel, a little round bullet, so now I am all right. ...
To-morrow, or the next day, I am booked to go to England. Is not that fine? It is like having an Easter vacation. I will write again very soon, and cable my address when I know it. Very much love to you all.
* * *
King George Hospital, London, May 26, 1916.
Dear Father Ward, —
Your letter of April 7th, with the Easter card enclosed, was forwarded to me from France, and I received your letter of May 5th last week. Does it not seem a coincidence that the Lenten season so exactly confined my stay in the War Zone? We landed at the dock in France shortly after midnight on Ash Wednesday morning, March 8th, and I was wounded as near to midnight on Easter morning as it could possibly have been. I had looked at my watch about five minutes to twelve and as nearly as I can judge was hit about ten or fifteen minutes later. It is a Lent I am not likely to forget. …
The life out there is certainly very much disassociated form that of an ordinary mortal; in fact, you can only realize it while you are actually there. I have completely lost my memory of the realization already. In a way, it is living in the constant shadow of death. The hardships in living—wet clothes, rough food, lack of washing—are only incidents which one might undergo anywhere. But there is always the consciousness that one must soon go back to face danger. Yet the surprising thing is, how easily the burden of anxiety is thrown off once you leave the firing-line. In our case, of course, we usually reached camp on our return about 4 a.m., with a feeling of wonderful peace, ate a breakfast of hot tea and biscuit and cheese, then had a dreamless and very refreshing sleep, and woke up about eleven for our real breakfast of bacon. Then the rest of the day until supper-time was spent in a care-free spirit.
When you are on the firing-line, unless the fire is rather fierce, and always in the lulls which come, there is the same feeling of a strain slipping off one’s shoulders. So that actually the time that one is under a real strain is not very long. I suppose one of the greatest fears a man has to fight is that his nerve will give way or that he will be cowardly in some way.
I have found in every trying circumstance that praying in a wonderful comfort. I do not know how a man can go through it who has not a belief in God to fall back on.
Your letters help me very much, with the knowledge of your prayer and what you say about God’s Presence.
A man fully realizes his own physical futility in the face of modern warfare. There is nothing then to fall back on but his will-power, and I know that mine is worthless excepting I have the spiritual help which comes from my belief in God. Your words all help and strengthen that, so you are and will be a great help to me in the future.
(On his recovery, Abbey was given a commission and returned immediately to the front.)
* * *
December 18, 1916.
Dearest Mother, —
I am still in the trenches, my tour not being over until next Saturday; but I am not in the front line, but in the supports. We only stay in the front line three days at a time. I have just been reading over the little Manual of Prayers for Workers, which you sent me some time ago. It is fine, especially the plea for duty before everything. There is a paragraph by Dean Church on ‘Manliness—which takes for granted that man is called to a continual struggle with difficulties and makes it a point of honor not to be dismayed by them,’ and ‘Quality—which seizes on the idea of duty as something which leaves a man no choice.’ That is the quality which I need most now, the strength to do my duty, and I pray for it hourly, and I know that you do it for me, too. When I get out into billets my letters will be more interesting, but here there is little or nothing to tell you now. I can tell you, though, that my thoughts are with you and rather and with your anxieties and cares. You must just go ahead bravely with your duties as I must. Remember that I am well and happy and of a good heart.
* * *
Christmas Day, 1916.
To-day is my second Christmas away from home in my twenty-eight years. What joy it will be if God grants us one together again after this long separation! I am going to start by telling you where I am. Picture a little French village, with one long, narrow, cobbled street. At one end the street leaves the village and crosses over a deep railway cut and then wanders away through the rolling country. I should have told you that the village is on a hilltop. From the railway bridge, the street runs perhaps a hundred yards, then turns ninety degrees to the left and runs down hill. … The houses are low, one-storied affairs of stone or white plaster, and tile roofs, and are lined right along the street. … There are several larger houses, with courtyards in front with high walls. It is all beautifully picturesque in spite of my description. … Altogether it is a very picturesque old place, and less than four miles from that famous streak of mud which separates the Allies and Germans. The men are living in the loft of the barn, a big lone place, and they have straw and bunks and brazier fires; but it is pretty cold and dark there just the same. Still, the magnificent spirit of making the best of grim situations keeps them happy and cheerful. They sit at the long table with candles, and write letters or play cards, or around the braziers, and sing and tell stories. Just now they are patiently waiting for their Christmas dinner, which is due in about 15 minutes. I hope it will be a good one.
Sunday morning at eight our chaplain had an early celebration in the Y.M.C.A. hut, which I went to; and, by the way, we have a splendid chaplain. Then I spent the morning straightening up my things and getting them clean, with my batman’s assistance. In the afternoon, we went and had a bath, which was a great luxury; and then at six the captain took the whole company to an evening service in an old factory which had been fixed up as a cinema hall. It was just a big, brick building, bare to the roof, with benches and a platform at one end, lighted up with two or three lamps. … The place was filled and the services was a hearty one. We sang Christmas hymns, ‘Hark the Herald Angels,’ and some that I did not know, and had an address. I do not think that I will ever forget the circumstances. It reminded me of the picture that I sent you of the French soldiers. This morning, the ‘Padre,’ as they call the chaplain, had another early service at eight, to which I went. … It is strange to be back again in this life at the Front, and now I am more really in it than ever, doing the actual infantry duty. Two nights last week I was out in ‘No-Man’s Land,’ between our lines and the Germans, in charge of a barbed-wire party, and managed to feel quite at home and comfortable there. It is a wonderful experience, and if one can live through it, will change life.
I am sure now that I can never go back and go on with my own work for myself. If God wills that I do go back, I must go into service of some sort; perhaps I will be able to go into the church, and your long-cherished hopes and prayers will be fulfilled. Life, here, is such a feeble little thing, so uncertain from hour to hour, that one cannot help knowing that it is a gift and entirely in God’s hands. I desperately need that courage of duty to help me in my work, and if I have it ow to face death, then I must have it afterward to face life. It is very late now, so I must stop.
With my dearest Christmas love to you and father.
* * *
January 1, 1917.
This is the first day of the year, which I hope and pray will bring us all peace. What a strange time we have come to live in, with nearly the whole world involved in a terrible struggle and conflict! How little you thought, when you were a child with the echo of the terrible Civil War in your heart, that you would some day have a son in the battle-line; and now, although we know that Germany is desperately anxious for peace, and Austria even more, yet we know too that we must go ahead and fight until the invaded countries are free and the menace to future generations destroyed. When one thinks of the thousands of men who have given their lives that this victory may be won, and when one realizes that now, as we keep steadily on, we can surely win, the thought of anything else is weak and dishonorable and unworthy of God who is guiding us. I often think of Nurse Cavell and how bravely and calmly she gave her life for the cause; that should help you too, for she was a woman just as you are, and the same sort of woman, I imagine. Thousands of splendid men have given their lives, and women have given their sons and husbands, and we coming after must offer the same thing and be willing to give it, too, for it is a common cause. If we stop and think for a minute of the terror and misery and tragedy that have been wrought, and we know that this can be spared future generations if we press on to the finish, how little one life seems for one to give; and yet it is all that is asked of us.
Mother, if you could only see these boys in the ranks, cheerfully enduring the most frightful hardships, and facing horrors with the most inspiring and indomitable courage and determination, your heart would nearly burst with joy and pride, and you would know that God was going to give us victory. Just now the trenches are in a frightful condition of mud and water, and it is utterly impossible for the men to keep dry or to have dry dug-outs to sleep in. They are in a state of misery, as far as physical comfort goes, for days at a time; and yet they stand all night, often for sixteen hours at a stretch, in pouring rain and under intermittent fire, looking out over the parapet into the darkness of ‘No-Man’s Land,’ guarding humanity; and if you walk along and ask them how they are getting on, the answer will be a cheery, ‘Everything fine, sir.’ Then they will go out at night on working parties and stand in water up to their knees and try to shovel mud that won’t shovel, for four hours at a time, perhaps without any supper; and let a bombardment start, they will quietly take their posts in exposed positions, and stay there or drop. This is just trench-routine. You know what they did at the Somme, advancing into the mouth of an indescribable hell.
These are just New Year’s thoughts, and come chiefly from the thought of that final peace which I hope this year will bring, and the peace which the enemy is spreading abroad in a final endeavor to stem the tide.
* * *
January 4, 1917.
You have so answered my thoughts, as to the event of my finishing my work out here. It is a tremendous comfort to think of you facing the issue and ‘carrying on’ so bravely. After all, that is what we are called on to do in this life, wherever we are, and the final moment for all of us may come at any time. We both trust in God’s will and direction; that is my greatest need and much depends on it. Do you remember that I used to give you dates for Thanksgiving, for mercies shown to me? Another one is December 20th. I have told you how comfortable I am here in my farmhouse billet, with bed and fire and man to look after things. There isn’t much free time until after 9.30 in the evening, for we have lectures of exams from dinner-time until then. Usually I am quite tired, so my letter-writing is a little dull. Germany’s attitude toward the smaller neutral states is becoming threatening. Surely the U.S. cannot suffer another violation of neutral territory.
Dearest mother, good-night; one of my chief helps and desires now is writing to you, so you may be sure letters are always on the way.
* * *
January 31, 1917.
I am writing this in a front-line dug-out. This is our third day in the line, and we have three more to go, I think possibly a few more. It has been quite cold and the ground is still covered with snow. Last night it snowed quite a lot more. It is a very pretty picture, and a new one to me, to see the trenches in this condition. The nights just now are very moonlight, and one gets to like going through the trenches and out in the saps. So far things have been in the saps. So far things have been very quiet. Last night was especially so, and this morning I was on duty at six o’clock, just as day was breaking, and it was the most beautiful rosy dawn. The guns had been quiet for an hour or to, and some sweet-noted birds were fluttering around. Things of that sort bring home the realization of the peacefulness of peace. It is hard for me to feel justified in deliberate hostile planning, and yet one cannot help doing it. I must remember that, although perhaps these men desire peace as greatly as any one, yet they are the tools of those who have destroyed peace; and we can only gain our end by continually harassing and destroying them, and wearing down their morale. It is a grim business, and I hope it will come to an end before many months. What everything really hinges on is a concentrated offensive, and I hope that it may not be long in coming. I have not seen a paper now since last Saturday, and one is quite isolated here, so I do not know what developments may have taken place on other fronts. There are always rumors circulating. Time passes quickly enough, but one longs for the day of decision to come. However, it is not for me, who have been here but a little more than a month, to be impatient, when some have been here two years.
Dearest mother, good-bye for a while.
* * *
February 21, 1917. Ash Wednesday.
Here we are at the beginning of another Lent, although it is not quite a year since the first time that I came to France. This week I have had your long letter of January 26th, one from father, and the crucifix. It is just the same as the first, and I am glad to have it again pinned inside of my breast pocket. Thank you for having it fixed and sent so quickly.
My letters do not seem to have any news in them, because there is so much to repress that I long to tell you. You must know how much I think of you, and long that you could be spared all this anxiety, and yet I know that you rejoice to bear that part in the victory that must be won. Dearest mother, you will never know how much I owe to you for strength and courage and inspiration to carry me through this.
I am sitting here now in my room, writing at a big round-fronted table, by the light of two candles. My books and various possessions are on the table, and it reminds me in a way of my Toronto table. My high bed, with its white sheet and counterpane and white pillow, is at my right side, and on the left a casement window which opens into the barnyard. The door is right behind me and opens into the kitchen, and on both sides of it I have hooks to hang my clothes on. A little while ago they were all in there by the stove, the children chatting away; but now they are in bed. Some time ago, too, madame gave me a soft ‘Bon soir, monsieur,’ and went into her part of the house, which is on the opposite side of the kitchen.
I love the politeness of the French people and children, the infinite compliment they are able to express in their ‘monsieur,’ without the slightest trace of servility. Say ‘Hello’ to the veriest ragamuffin, and you will always receive a polite ‘Bon jour, monsieur.’ Madame Duployez, who does my washing beautifully, and whose husband in civilian life is a coal-miner, entertains me in her kitchen and living-room as nicely as I have ever been entertained, and I always enjoy my visits there. If you receive a letter in French, you must answer it in the same language. It is very late. I must write oftener. Forgive the apparent dryness of this. Dearest mother, you have how much love and thought I have for you always.
* * *
April 7, 1917.
I am going to start my Easter letter to you to-night, and finish it in the morning. I had a wonderful mail the other day. Four or five letters from you, dated February 24th (marked ‘damaged by sea-water’), March 10th, 12th, and 16th. Besides those, I have your letters of March 1st and 4th. The last letter had your beautiful Easter card, so your timing this time was just right.
I am rejoicing with you in the great decision of the country to join the Allies. It has been a wonderful inspiration and encouragement to every one out here, and a joy to me, and I know what a great relief and comfort it is to you after the long strain of waiting and suffering. Now we are giving and fighting for our own flag and native country. I am looking forward to Easter with that happy thought in my heart and soul. It is late now, so, dearest mother, I will say good-night.
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Happy Easter, dearest mother. I have been to the communion service in the Y.M.C.A. tent, and now have just finished my breakfast. It is a beautiful, sunshiny spring day, one of the loveliest we have had for weeks. After the service, the chaplain handed out copies of this poem. I am sending it to you as an Easter memento of the firing-line. It is very wonderful, and I think the epitome of what one feels out here. I am very well and happy just now, and we are all full of the inspiration and encouragement that this great new Ally, the U.S., and all the fine success of the French and British farther south, have given us. It is only a question of pushing steadily and determinedly ahead now, and we will win. There are lots of strong men here, and lots more ready to come from England and America, so we go ahead with that thought in our hearts. I wish I could tell you more about things now, but perhaps that will come later. To-day I am in a comfortable wooden hut on a hillside, right in the centre of every kind of activity of a warlike nature. This section of country is entirely given over to the military, and it is teeming with life. Well, dearest mother, I must stop for a while now. My dearest love to you and father always.
From your son Edwin.
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Beyond the path of the outmost sun, through utter darkness hurled,
Farther than ever comet flared or vagrant stardust swirled,
Live such as fought, and sailed, and ruled, and lived, and made our world.
And oftentimes cometh our wise Lord God, master of every trade,
And tells them tales of his daily toil, of Edens newly made,
And they rise to their feet as He passes by, ‘gentlemen unafraid.’
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In the Field, April 22, 1917.
W. B. Abbey, Esq.,
523 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.
Dear Mr. Abbey, —
I would like to write you concerning the death of your son in action on the morning of your son in action on the morning of April 10th, about 9 o’clock. It is my duty to write even more, because I thought very highly of him as a gentleman and a friend. At the time of his death, he was in charge of one of our most dangerous posts. It was a strong point in front of our trench and a little distance over the crest of Vimy Ridge. It was necessary to hold it in order to deny to the enemy the approach up the hill to the crest. Because of the loss we had suffered in the post, it was almost decided to withdraw from the post during the day, but your son came and argued that he could continue to hold the post because of its importance. In this he showed his fine devotion to duty and disregard of danger. On his way out to the post he was shot and killed by an enemy sniper.
His grave is marked by the Graves Registration Committee, and later a suitable mark will be set up by the battalion.
The chaplain later read the service over his grave.
I would like to assure you of my genuine sympathy in your great loss. I feel a sense of personal loss myself, for one doesn’t often meet such fine fellows. In my brief experience with him, he had always shown himself a gallant soldier and a thorough gentleman.
A. P. Menzies, Major 4th C.M.R.
[Found in soldier’s kit, forwarded to his mother from Ottawa]
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France, April 6, 1917. Good Friday.
Dearest Mother and Father, —
We are going up to an attack in a short time, and I am going to leave this note to be sent to you in case, by God’s will, this is to be my final work. I have made my Communion, and go with a light heart and a determination to do all that I possibly can to help in this fight against evil, for God and humanity. I do not think of death or expect it, but I am not afraid of it, and will give my life gladly if it is asked. It is my greatest comfort that I know that you too will gladly give all that is asked, and live on happily doing all that can be done, grateful to God for his acceptance of our sacrifice. To-day the news came to us here that the United States had joined the Allies, so I go with the happy consciousness that I am, and you are, fighting for our dear Flag, as thousands of Americans have before us, in the cause of Liberty. It may be comfort for you to know that I have a great company of comrades, men and officers all filled with determination and cheerful courage.
My dearest love to S—— and H—— and their dear children. My heart is full of gratitude for having such love as they have given me. My dearest love to all my friends, all who have loved me and whom I love.
Now, dearest mother, and dearest father, I will say good-bye for a time. You have given me my faith which makes this so easy for me, and a wonderful example and inspiration of courage and unselfishness. All my love, and God bless you both.
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