January 13, 1917
Dear Mother & Father,
Just received your letter of the 24th of December and cannot understand why you are not receiving my letters. I write on an average of one letter a week but sometimes things are not favourable to letter writing as you can quite understand.
About two weeks before Christmas I had a little touch of grip, not sufficient to go sick on but still I wasn’t feeling up to the mark. For one reason or another I did not write for about twelve days but that would not account for you not getting a letter for five weeks.
I am feeling fine now and am pretty well fixed. Things are just what could be expected out here. For about two weeks before Christmas I received about two boxes a day from home and elsewhere so you see I am certainly getting my mail. Aunt Mary sent me a box of tobacco and cigarettes which I received last night. She certainly has been awfully good to me.
From your letter I take it that Agnes did not get home for Christmas. They will surely let her away for New Years then.
We are watching the peace talk pretty closely out here. We get a London paper the next day after it is printed so we get 1st hand information. It looks as if the new Emperor of Austria is going to try and break free from Germany and try and save what remains of his country by gaining a separate peace.
We expect pretty heavy fighting in the spring. I think we have the upperhand out here now. The bosche seems to have very little fight in him. When you get to close quarters with him he shoves up both mits and begs for mercy. Of course he will put up quite a fight when he has the advantage.
I suppose Father you are in our new office now. It must be quite a place now.
Receive the Examiner quite regularly and so I keep track of all that is going on in Peterboro. I suppose by the time you receive this letter Capt. Burnham will be in to see you with a line of talk. The Col. expects to get back to Canada. He is now in England. Major Watt is still in our midst.
6:30pm mail in and a box for me. Your box of the 4th of December arrived. Have just finished prying into the corners etc. The cake is in splendid condition. The icing hasn’t even been chipped. The candies were all present and correct. Would like to be home and get Jeans usual lusty thumps on the back. Everything is right to the spot. The boxes certainly go good.
Received a Christmas card from Mr, & Mrs, Duncan Walker, also one from Marjorie and Norah Hatton.
Have not as yet a very big stock of souvenirs but have a few cylindrical stick bombs of the German’s kicking around under my bed. They are perfectly harmless as the detonators have been removed. I use one for killing rats with. They are not very dangerous anyway.
You see many funny sights out here that you often laugh over. I have a little short fellow on my patrol. One night I started out with seven men to do a bit of work and the trenches were in bad state. When I got to the point where I was to start from I discovered I had only six men. So, immediately sent every man back to find out where he had got to, thinking that he had probably beat it but we found him almost up to his arm pits in mud and hollering for help. He happened to be the last man through and had got stuck. It took us about ten minutes getting him free and he was some mess.
Another night I was getting some bombs for some of my men. One box fell about five feet and the bombs spilled out all over. Some of them might have had the pins knocked out in the fall, so everybody kind of stood still for a moment, when one little runt repeats the title of one of Bairnsfather pictures. ‘It her harder Bill. They generally sizzle before they go off so we all listened and as there was no sizzle we picked them up and stowed them away. The mills bomb is a wonderful little affair and certainly has the Bosche cylindrical stick beaten. The German is a firm believer in H.E. and that is all most of his bombs are filled with.
Received Margaret’s Cosmopolitan and it is good of her to send me them as we rarely get any good magazines out here, you can occasionally get a few English magazines, but no American papers. I certainly appreciate them.
Am going out on a sniping course shortly, so that will be a little change and a rest.
I have a good man for batman. I have had him ever since I came out here. As well as being a batman, he is a good companion and follows me everywhere I go. My man Friday and is always on the job. He lost his brother on the Somme or rather he has been missing ever since then.
I met a Capt. Bell out here Father. He said he knew you very well and wished me to remember him to you. He is a M.O. and during the absence of our M.O. he was attached here.
Well I hope you have received some of my letters by this time. I was thinking of sending a cable by Jean Harstone but thought you would have received some of my letters by now.
I hope you are all well and hat Grandma is able to get around again. It won’t be long now until we finish up our job out here. The bosche seems to be pretty well shaken.
Well I will write again in a couple of days. With love and kisses.
Your Loving Son,
The contents of the letter above are a pretty even split between stories about his soldiering, mixed with his personal thoughts and talking about home. He obviously has a lot of people that care about him back home from all of the letters and packages that he continuously receives. He gets everything from tobacco, to candies, to a Cosmo magazine! He seems to miss home pretty bad, though that is to be expected in a situation like that.
He has some pretty interesting stories he shares with home, most of them seem to be involving grenades, or as he refers to them bombs. He stores some German stick bombs under his bad as souvenirs and rat killers apparently. I find it humourous how he explains in great detail to his parents how they are no longer harmful. It reminds me of a regular teenager who is doing, or has, something dangerous and is trying to play it down for their parents. He comes of as very easy to relate to in that moment. He mentions the 'mill bomb' within the letter, which to us would look like a regular hand grenade we see in movies and video games. I bit of information can be found on them here, as well on the stick bombs that the Germans were using here.
Another thing he mentions quite a bit in this letter is the expectation that the war would be over soon and that the Germans were back on their heels and looking for peace. He mentions that the Emperor of Austria, who was Charles I, was looking for peace. I didn't find anything specific mentioning that, here is a site that explains a lot of the peace talks and tries for peace through the war. There seemed to be something that Charles wanted to do, but could not accomplish it because they could not separate themselves from Germany.
One word that caught quite off guard, to the point where I was sure I was reading it wrong, was when Vincent mentioned his 'batman'. I was confused that he would have a hero in a cape by his side in the trenches. After doing some research I realized that batman was the title given to a servant to a Officer in the military, which explains why he was following him everywhere. It is a word that I have never come across but I am happy I now know it. There is a little information on them at this site. If anyone knows the origin of the name and anything else about them I would be happy to hear about it in the comments below or through the 'Contact Me' page that can be accessed through the tab at the top of the page.
The last thing that I want to touch on, because I am interested to see if anyone has anymore information about this, is the Bairnsfather picture that he talks about in one of his stories. I believe that he is mentioning Bruce Bairnsfather, who was a cartoonist, as well as having movies come out, of a character named Old Bill, who is a World War I British soldier. During WWI I'm not sure what the circulation of these comics would be and if they would have reached Vincent and his men. If anyone has anymore information about this or what comic/movie Vincent is referring to that would be very helpful. A site that I found with a good amount of information on Bairnsfather and Old Bill is here.
That is about all for this letter. I am not posting the full letter as it is not hugely photo friendly and most of the words I have figured out. At some point I will scan all of them and put them all up. The link for the War Diary for the 18th is here if you would like to keep up with what the Battalion is doing. As always please like, share, and comment with any additional information you might have.
Thank you for reading,
#1917 #18thBattalion #batman #France #christmas #grenades #bomb #millsbomb #Bairnsfather