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  • Michael Ritchie

October 17, 1916

Updated: Sep 19, 2019


Dear Mother and Father,

Well after a pretty fast trip across I am now in France. It was a fairly good trip although some of us were showing signs of sea-sickness. As for myself, I was too tired to feel that way inclined. I slept like a log until I wakened up in port. I believe I’ve made more or less of a dash for it.

My first look at a German was decidedly to my advantage. We saw quite a few on the docks when we landed, working under the guard of a French infantryman with baggy blue trousers. They had P.G. stamped all over their clothing which stands for “Prisoner German”. They were a funny collection all right. With them, feeling their superiority were some French black soldiers and they certainly were black.

Most of these French villages are dirty, messy places as far as I can see. I did not have much trouble getting what I wanted. With the little knowledge of French that I have and a few gestures I generally get what I want.

Norman Hatton has been wounded but one fellow told me it wasn’t sufficient to send him back to England. Got a funny letter from Steve. He had most of his stuff stolen before he got up the line. I don’t wonder as he had things all just thrown together. He and I were in Folkestone the night he was warned to be ready. We got back at 1am and he was told he had to be ready at 5:30am, so there was quite a bit of hustling around.

Am bringing him a pair of breeches. He had the seat of his own torn by shrapnel beyond repair.

I did not get a shrapnel shield before I left as a couple of fellows who had been across for some time said you generally wore them religiously for about ten days and then throw them aside. It also impedes your movements by its weight.

Have run into quite a few fellows I knew back in Canada since I landed.

After a little gas helmet practice and a few pointers, I expect to go right up the line. Am at present at the base.

Dupuy and Armstrong are not the only subalterns in England.

This pad I just picked up off the table. I don’t know who it belongs to but anything will do.

Some underwear would be welcome now as the weather has changed here considerably. It is raw damp. At present it is raining heavily.

Will likely have my hands full for quite a while now and will try and write at every opportunity. It looks like a pretty stiff proposition ahead yet.

Well I will close, thinking of you always.

Your loving son,

Vincent

This letter was actually pretty easy to make out the whole time through. I don't know if it is because I am getting better at transcribing these or if it was just more legible than the rest. There wasn't a whole lot to research for this one, most of what he wrote were observations. When he saw his first German was an interesting one, as he says "They were a funny looking collection all right". His comments on the black French soldiers was also interesting. I'm not sure if they were directed by him not seeing many black men in Peterborough, or not expecting to see them as soldiers while in France. That whole paragraph has some odd observations within it.

The other thing that has come up in many of the last letters is his winter underwear. When will he see these? Who knows. He is definitely anxious to get them though.

He again mentions his friend Steve. I have yet to figure out much about this man because he never mentions his last name, and unfortunately Steven is a fairly common name. I will keep looking as I suppose this man was a good friend of his. He does mention another man by the name of Norman Hatton. I was able to find some information about him as well as the sheet that points out his injury that was stated in the letter. I was pointed towards a great search site by the Canadian War Museum's Archives where you can look up any soldier from WWI and it has all of the paperwork that was done on them scanned into a pdf for viewing or for download. The site is here.



He mentions in the letter that he just picked the pad he was writing from off the table and he doesn't know who it belonged to. Below you can see emblem of the battalion on the top of each page. It was from the 98th which was from Welland County, Ontario which is in Niagara. I found a collection of pictures from the WWI regiments from the Niagara here. The pictures of the 98th are on the 10th and 11th pages I believe. This pad probably belonged to one of the men in those pictures.





The last thing I want to point out, is that he seemed to see coming to France, to the war front, as a sort of reunion with all of his friends from Canada, He did not seemed too worried or scared that he would be up at the trenches shortly or about the "gas mask" training that he would soon be receiving. Just seemed interesting to me.

*With the help of Eric Edwards and Nathen Moore again, I have figured out that the officers that he mentions are Frederik Dupuy and William Armstrong. There is a little bit more about Dupuy in one of the next letters, and here is some information and the files about Armstrong.

Thank you again for reading and I hoped you enjoyed this letter. Feel free to share and let me know if there is anything that I should add.

Michael Ritchie

#1916 #canada #CanadianMilitary #WWI #WorldWar1 #France #LettersFromVincent