• Michael Ritchie

October 30, 1917

Updated: Mar 11, 2019


Somewhere in Flanders

Dear Mother and Father,

Am just rolling in for the night. Have got a nice warm coke fire going in a brazier and plenty of straw on the floor. We are at present in tents so they cool off pretty rapidly towards morning. We are getting on into the winter months again and are now getting the rain, mud and cold again. It has been raining and blowing all day but tonight it is bright moonlight and I feel like taking a long walk to work off some excess energy.

Mail seems to have jointed up somewhere but expect the odd letter tonight when the mail is sorted. In fact the mail call has just this instant so I will await my luck.

Received a letter from Jack about a week ago and he mentioned that you were not feeling up to the mark Mother. I do hope you feel better now. You must keep good care of yourself. I also received a fine box from Aunt Lillie and the girls. It certainly was good of them to take all that trouble. I am going to undertake a letter in thanks tonight.

I certainly do hate writing letters. I make about ten attempts to start on each letter and then give it up generally in disgust. I certainly do have a wonderful time getting started. Tonight I am going to write several letters if I sit up all night and use up this whole book in doing so.

Have been allowed the privilege of wearing the rank badges of captain until it comes through proper. The seniority list has been all muddled up and is now being gradually straightened out. I have been sent in for it several times but it has always been returned as not put in properly wise etc. as have all the other promotions. I am in full command of D Coy now, so have settled down after being in command of every Company one after the other in the battalion. “D” Coy is the company I was originally in on coming out here so I know most of the old timers that are left.

I bought a little Primus oil stove and it is worth its weight in gold. It burns gasoline and we can get enough from motor lory parts to keep it going.

Jack was telling me in his letter that he had been up before the board and was available for non-combatant service. I do hope that he does not be able to join in the ranks. I should think he could get exemption on good grounds.

I suppose the Dominion elections will be coming off shortly. I have not kept in close touch with them outside of your letters. I believe we have a vote out here. If so either party (one party or the other) will have a huge majority because of what I can see we are all of about the same mind out here.

My best friend in the battalion has gone back to Canada. Pierres is his name. He said if he happened to be near Peterboro any time he would drop in and see you all. I think he went to the London district as an instructor of the new men being draughted. He is a Devonshire man buthas lived in the States for sometime. I hope he calls to see you. A lot of chaps who have been with the battalion for a couple of months and have returned to England wounded or sick have gone on these jobs. I was just thinking that it would be a good thing to work from both ends. Of course some of these chaps have a lot of pull etc. One chap was over here about four months.

I am glad to hear that you have received all my souvenirs O.K. The flare pistol seems to have made quite a hit with some people. Jack was saying that Uncle Jack was quite interested in it. What do you think of the helmet. The cockades inside go on the fasteners for the chin strap. It has been badly banged about as I have carried it around on the cook wagon ever since the 9th of April. Was the badge complete on the front of it. I have often wondered if the chap who wrapped it up took the badge off. It had a badge with the background of a spread eagle in brass with a centre piece of a star, like the diagram with SUUM on it or something similar along with another word.

The sword was carried by a Bosche artillery non-commisioned officer. I had to dish some of the souvenirs I go on the 9th.

I wish you would send me a big pair of lined buck-skin or cow hide gloves with good warm wrist bands. Something that can be worn while riding or in the trenches. Something sewnable and fairly water tight as well as half respectable looking. Pretty dial does except of what a glove should be at?

It is not an awful long while until Christmas is it and it looks as if I would spend it in France. The war news doesn’t look very promising but I suppose we have to keep on going to it until it is finished up properly. Now that the States are starting to crash into with all their weight things ought to move more rapidly.

The zep. raid on England ended rather disastrously to the Huns but they keep on bombing occasionally. I saw a Bosche plane one night in the search light rays and shells bursting around it . At night it is a wonderful sight. When they ship their load of bombs I can tell you it is a terrific noise. They rush through the air with a whistling noise and when about ten come altogether I can tell you it is nice to be at a comfortable distance.

Of the heavy underclothing you sent me last winter I have two good suits and it certainly is fine underclothing. I have a suit on now and I can tell you I need it this weather.

Well it is getting late so I will say night night and roll in. Love and kisses to you both and the rest of the family. Going to sleep thinking of you both and what you are doing. The One above is controlling all these little things and it is all to a purpose probably beyond our reasoning but nevertheless. To that end.

Your loving son,

Vincent

For someone who claims to not like writing letters, this last one from Vincent is a long one. Thankfully for us it contains a ton of observations and information that helps us paint a clearer picture of what it must have been like while overseas in WWI. Since the letter itself was fairly long I will try to keep this write up portion relatively brief.

The first thing I want to touch on is a couple of the products that he uses that he mentions within the letter. The first one, which is in the second sentence, and confused me a bit is the mention of having a coke fire. After some research, it seems that they weren't burning a beloved soft drink, but the coke he is referring to is a converted coal product used for heating and fuel. You can read up a bit more about it here. The other product that he mentioned was a Primus stove that he had bought and was using for heat. Here is a bit on that.

Souvenirs have been a common theme in his letters and this one is no exception, and it brings some very interesting information with it. The way that he describes the helmet that he obtained and sent home is remarkable. I haven't been able to find any good websites to see a similar helmet, but a quick google search for the words he was describing will give you a pretty good idea. The second word that he couldn't remember was most likely Cuique, so the helmet would read "SUUM CUIQUE" which is Latin and loosely translates to "to each their own" or "may all get their dues" and was common on helmets from as far back as the Prussian period and in Germany was usually associated with the Black Eagle. He also mentioned a flare gun, which seems to be a big hit back home, as it should be. I think this would most likely be the model that he sent home. Sorry the website is in German but the translation is pretty good if you put it through google translate.

He mentions that his best friend from the Battalion was sent back to Canada around the time of this letter and I think the name is Pierres? I haven't seen a similar name mentioned in his letters before so I am not 100% sure, but if someone would know exactly who that is and would share it with me that would be awesome!

The last thing that I want to mention is actually in reference to the first thing in this letter. "Somewhere in Flanders" is what he writes at the top of the page. This is unique because he rarely ever puts on his letters any idea of where his location is. Looking at the War Diary for the 18th for October, you can see that during the time the letter was written they were stationed at a place called Godewaersvelde, which is a mouthful indeed. This small town is actually in Northern France and just on the Border of France and Belgium. On the other side of that border would be the Belgian region of Flanders. So he wasn't technically correct but very close.

Under you will see the pages of this letter, I had some trouble with a couple of the words so if you could help me decipher some of those I would be very grateful.

Thank you all again for reading this letters and going through this experience with me. I am glad you all are finding it as interesting and exciting as I am!

Thank you,

Michael Ritchie

#1917 #WorldWar1 #WWI #18thBattalion #souvenirs #DCompany #flanders #primus #coke

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