“…the dead were lying on all sides…’’
Somewhere in France, Aug. 15, 1918
Miss Millie Dobbs,
25 Howland Ave., Toronto, Ont., Canada
I think if you look up your back correspondence you’ll find you owe me a letter or two or else the post office is guilty of mail “hoarding,” for I haven’t heard from you in about two months. However, I won’t hold it against you if you’ll do better in the future.
I was going to write you about two weeks ago but we had a sudden move, travelling “light,” and in the hurry I forgot to stick any stationary in my haversack. We have been travelling ever since and around these parts you couldn’t buy note paper if you had all the money in the world.
What came to my rescue was a box just received from Nell. Included in the box was…notepaper and a cigarette lighter, which at this particular time is a veritable Godsend. We have been without matches for a couple of weeks and when I’d want to light a cigarette I’d have to hunt up someone that had one already going and I wasn’t always successful.
I presume you have read all about the scrapping which has taken place the past few weeks and like the rest of us, read it with much satisfaction. In that case you will know the Canadians have been into it “up to the neck” and believe me, she’s been some scrap. We had them going back so fast that we could scarcely keep up with them, and as for prisoners and guns, I didn’t think they had so many in Germany.
I am writing this on a spot that a week ago was occupied by Germans. The country is absolutely bare, houses all stripped and pulled to pieces. The shelling has completed the operation, churches are dismantled and desecrated, crops cut or destroyed. You will understand now why we aren’t able to buy anything for love or money. It isn’t here to buy.
Our battalion didn’t suffer very heavily in comparison to the ground we gained but I lost several good friends in the casualties. Among them our Commanding Officer, Medical Officer, Regimental Sergeant Major and one whom you know, Tommy Ellis, who was badly wounded and died before reaching hospital. He was certainly a good lad…and was generally liked throughout the battalion. I was certainly sorry to hear of his death and could scarcely realize it for a day or so.
One scarcely realizes what war is until it “gets” a good friend, then it comes home with a vengeance. However, it’s all part of the game and we have to take our chances with the rest.
I was following closely on the heels of the troops that “went over the top” and it was surely some experience. The dead were lying on all sides, both our own and Huns, but I’m glad to say the Huns were far in the majority. War material and ammunition scattered in all directions, some of the dead still standing at their post or with their hands on their machine guns and you could almost tell by the position in which they lay, just how they had fought. This probably would seem uncanny to anyone not used to seeing such sights but it’s surprising how hardened one becomes, so that you pass a dead person with no more than a glance than you would give to a dead sparrow.
I managed to get a beautiful German revolver out of the mix-up but I scarcely know what to do with it. Walt wanted me to get him one and this would surely suit him down to the ground, but the trouble is, you can’t carry or send that kind of stuff out of the country…There’s a severe penalty for anyone caught sending them out—leave is forfeited, there is a courts martial, etc., etc. and the risk is scarcely worth it.
…At present I am acting quartermaster for about 200 men, my chief job keeping them supplied with rations. Our instruments are stored again and I have half the band on a burial party. Fine job, eh?
Well Sliver, let’s hear from you occasionally.
I don’t get the chance to write as often as I’d like, but I do my best.
Bye Bye for now. Yours, Garn xxx
Selection from the letter collection of Sergeant Dobbs, to his sister Millie and his brother Walter
George Metcalf Archival Collection
© Canadian War Museum