• Michael Ritchie

July 8, 1917

Updated: Mar 11, 2019


Dear Jack,

Received your letter OK and sure am glad to hear from you. I received the tobacco and pipes all right also cigarettes and peppermints and thank you very much for them. It is awfully good of you Jack.

Well how are things in Toronto? I suppose business had died down a bit as it naturally would. Do you get down home regularly? It cheers the folks up to have you with them on Sundays the longest day in the week. Agnes must have had a good time while she was home. I wish we were all together again. I certainly would appreciate it now to refresh me. You still have that notion in your head that you would like to join the Mechanical Transport. You are the only boy the folks have with them now and I am doing this end of the job for the family, so it calls for you to stay just where you are regardless of anything else you would be turned down because of your side, which is all right in doing your work now but would knock you out in no time with the hardships you would have to undergo out here. Also, you would not be included in the 1st class if conscription was to come out force. Now be sensible and stay where you are. Father and Mother would not say no but nevertheless it would be a big blow to them and probably more than they could stand.

Well Jack. I will have my leave shortly and will cable you from London. Romaine Stevenson had a crash in something as he is in hospital so he says.

Herbe Dixon is now in England and Junking looking him up. Met Jock M Lean not long ago in a town back of the lines.

Would like very much to have a picture of Gordon’s baby, give my regards to Aunt Maggie and Uncle Jack. Gordon and Phylis hoping they are all well.

Well Jack it is pretty hard to tell you anything about Vimy in a letter. It certainly was a wonderful sight. The morning of the 9th was rainy and dull.

When the guns opened up it all seemed to cut loose. Of course the Bosche had been pretty well bombarded the three or four days previous. In most cases the Bosche shoved up his hands. But as it is an old back of his our men shot quite a few of them. Three or four machine guns held out for quite a while. One of our Sergts. cleaned up on three crews bayonetting nearly every man on his gun. He was killed while cleaning up on the three crew. He was given the VC, the only one in our division.

The tanks were a great sight galloping along and plunging in and out of shell holes. The Bosche shelled them pretty heavy. One stopped near me and the crew came out. A 5.9 hit in front and got the whole crew. They drew quite a lot of fire but outside of this one incident they seemed to be unaffected by shelling. Whizz bangs merely bounced off them. About 50 Bosche made a stand at one point and after some pretty heavy work they were smashed up.

The shell craters made by our guns were tremendous and the ground was churned up like as if, well it is pretty hard to imagine. Some of the shells punctuated fourty foot dug outs.

Well the 9th was pretty rough but the days following were worse. The Bosche started to come back then. We were so close to some of his guns that he would shoot point blank at our works and snips with whizz bangs at anybody showing. With a glass you could see the gunners working their guns and in broad daylight he would bring up his ammunition regardless.

Well this reads like a lot of guff but I will have some great stories to tell you. The best idea you can get is from pictures. I have seen familiar spots in pictures in London papers and boys I know also.

Well Jack this is a pretty poor attempt but all I can say. Write me a few lines soon.

Your Loving brother,

Vincent

Well this is a very informative and interesting letter. It goes to show how Vincent seemed to be alright with telling his brother a lot more about the combat that happened at Vimy then he shared with his parents. This gives us a little better idea of what actually happened in the eyes of a soldier during that pivotal battle and the days shortly after.

I believe this is the first letter that I have that is addressed back to his brother. I don't know a whole lot about his brother. What I do know is that he goes by Jack, but his full name is John Russell Eastwood and he was born in 1890, so he is Vincent's elder brother by 7 years. If anyone from Peterborough would be able to fill me in on the blanks of his life, and maybe help me figure out why Vincent thinks his side would stop him from being effective over in France. One thing is for sure though, Vincent is adamant that Jack stays in Canada and lets Vincent be the only one from the family that is risking their life in the war. The division that Vincent talks about in the letter, the "Mechanical Transport" seems to be a part of the army that focuses on supplying the army through the war. If anyone else has more information about that division I would love to hear about it. I see that the name "Mechanical Transport" didn't start being used until April 1918 officially, but that is about all that I could find.

Now, in the letter, Vincent talks about a Sergeant that attacked a machine gun crew, using his bayonet to kill the crew before dying. The Sergeant mentioned is Sgt. Ellis Wellwood Sifton, who won a Victoria Cross for his brave actions. In the War Diary of the 18th for April, this is what is stated for his actions:

"An act of conspicuous gallantry[vi] performed by Sergt. E.W. Sifton of “C” Company. A M.G. was holding up his Company and doing considerable damage. Sergt. Sifton, single-handed, attacked the Gun crew and bayoneted every man, but was unhappily shot by a dying Boche."

The site for the 18th Battalion also has a page dedicated to Sgt. Sifton which you can find here. He was obviously a very brave man and fully deserved the medal that he received.

There is a lot of other things I could touch on in this letter, but I think the words Vincent writes down speaks fairly well, but I will add another link or two for you below:

- Vincent talks about the tank crew being taken out by a 5.9, I believe he was talking about this.

- Vincent's friend Romeyn Stevenson seems to be in hospital (not sure for what a the moment), his information is here.

There is a couple of different words that I had some struggles with, I will post the letter below and hopefully someone can help me out.

Thank you all for reading, please share and let me know if there is anything that I missed or that I should add. If there is someone from Peterborough area that might be able to help me with some of the names he mentioned. There are a lot that I believe are not military that I have been having trouble finding.

Thank you again,

Michael Ritchie

#WorldWar1 #WWI #VimyRidge #CanadianMilitary #Canadian #VictoriaCross #France #18thBattalion

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