Trench Life


Monday, March 1st.

This is something quite new, writing a letter in the trenches. We paraded at 5 p.m., marched to the edge of the town, where we waited till 6.15, when it was getting dark, and guides met us and brought us up to the trenches. As I said this afternoon, these are de luxe; the officers we are with had me in to dinner with them. We had bully beef and potatoes, welsh rabbit, cake, jam, bread, butter, whisky, and coffee, with cherry brandy and cigarettes to follow. Then we went round the sentries to see all was well, and now I am in my own bedroom. It is a dug-out on a side trench, about six feet square and about four feet high. Opposite the door is the bed-canvas on a frame two feet from the ground, with straw pillow; beside it a box for a table, with a magazine and weekly paper, with a candle burning; and beside the door a fireplace made of a biscuit tin and burning charcoal. Over it are two pictures from an illustrated paper. The carpet is empty sand-bags, the sides are boards with mud outside them, roof corrugated iron with earth on top. They dig a space out, put in the wooden props and sides, put corrugated iron on top and fill in the top, etc., with earth, hang a bit of canvas or rubber sheeting on top; and who could be happier?


Monday, March 8th.

We paraded at 5.30 at our billets, and had a long trying march in pitch black with very bad roads. In some places the water was three inches deep across the road, and we had to pass motor transports, etc. It rained nearly all day, but cleared up by night, but was still very dark and cloudy. When we arrived near the firing line we picked up more stuff, as everyone had to carry 24 hours' grub, coke, kindling, etc. The men were terribly ladened down, but were splendid. We met our guides, and marched down a road and across a ploughed field-you can imagine its state after the rain; had to cross two plank bridges, step over a wire, and at last stumbled into our trench. On getting in every man "stands-to," that is, stands up at the parapet at the place he will fire from, and peers out into the dark where one knows the German lines are. The other company then fell out, our chaps take off their packs, etc., sentries are posted, the men heat some tea in a brazier and try to snuggle into a tiny dug-out. I report to the outgoing C.O., sign for shovels, etc., he is leaving, find out what has been happening, and all the news, and then start my rounds. As we have some detached posts, this means floundering around in the dark in thick mud, speaking to each sentry and seeing that all is well. We had some supper first, then I made my rounds, which took till nearly three o'clock, then turned in for a couple of hours, and then we stood-to till it was light enough to see all was clear. This brings it to Sunday morning, which was another wet, cheerless day.


March 23rd, 1915.

...In the trenches themselves one has to look out, as there is lots of water under the narrow planks which have now been put down, and a false step means you go over the top of your gum boots in water which does not smell exactly like eau-de-cologne. The company officers have pretty comfortable dug-outs in the trenches, and always seem to have plenty to eat and drink. It does not sound very exciting, does it? The main feature, I think, is the weirdness at night. Every one is on the go. Working parties out in front fixing the wire, others inside working at the parapet, and so forth. Fatigue parties bringing in the rations and fuel, and listening posts and patrols coming in reporting if there is any movement in the enemy's trenches. We come back from the right along a road running parallel to the trench, and only a short distance behind it, consequently the bullets come cracking over, but it is not "aimed" fire, and as all the fatigue parties for the right section go along it, and no one has been hit, we regard it as pretty safe.


March 24th, 1915.

...Things with us have been very, very quiet this last week. We thought at one time it might be just the reverse. Our friends opposite are almost rude-they cut us dead; ignore us. We try to get a rise out of them, but no, they won't answer. When we first came their snipers were very active, but whether it is because they don't want to shoot or because we give them six shots for every one they fire us, things are different now. They have a sense of humour, though; one day they stuck up on the parapet a wooden horse such as a child might play with. Our chaps shot it down; they put it up again with a bandage round its neck, and one round a hind leg. They call out at times such things as, "We no shoot, you no shoot." "We are Saxons and you are Anglo-Saxons." "If you come half-way we'll give you cigarettes." "Hello, B. C., how would you like to be walking down Hastings Street?" They seemed to know and apparently did know exactly when we took over. Their system of espionage is perfect.

Mary Plummer, With the First Canadian Contingent (Toronto: Hodder & Stoughton, 1915), pp. 52-53.