1 Vimy Place
Ottawa, Ontario K1A-0M8
April 13, 1917
I am writing to you to tell you about my experience in France. I was in the northern part of France, which is about 175 kilometers north of Paris. When the war started, Canada was still considered part of the British Empire. This meant that once Britain declared war, Canada was automatically at war. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been in France and to fight in the war. We thought that we would have been home for Christmas in 1914, little did we know that the war would last three years.
On April 9, 1917 the attack began and it ended on April 12, 1917. The significance of the battle was to take hold of Vimy Ridge. The ridge is surrounded by barbed wire and trenches. We were battling the Germans. Germany had captured Vimy Ridge early in the war and transformed it into a strong defensive position, with a complex system of tunnels and trenches. Canada used mustard gas and the Ross Rifle as their main weapon. The allies were Canada, Britain, and France. The Canadians fought because we are a colony of Britain, and if Britain went to war we would too.
We did everything in muddy trenches, this is where I wrote this letter. These trenches were six feet down and six feet wide. The conditions were miserable and horrendous, muddy and cold, and we had to share our trenches with rats. Rats infected the trenches in millions and grew on human remains. They would grow to the size of cats, spreading infection and contaminating food. Lice was also a never-ending problem which caused us to be constantly itching. The lice caused trench fever which would take about 12 weeks to recover. Trench foot was another medical condition. It is a fungal infection of the feet caused by cold and unsanitary conditions. This could turn gangrenous and result in amputation.
We would face the enemy across a narrow strip of land between the opposing trenches, It was a freighting place to be in “No Man’s Land.” There was mud, barbed wire and shell craters, and was swept by the enemy machine gun fire. This is what we had to cross when we went “over the top” of the trenches and launched an attack. The dead and injured who fell in “No Man’s Land” often could not be recovered. There were sand bags layered like a fence all around the front of the soldiers with barbed wire no more than half a meter away. The trenches were in zigzag formation so that if an enemy got into the trench they could not shoot down every solider. The trenches were the only safe place. The unbearable thunder of the shells and the rattling of the machine guns made it difficult to hear even your own thoughts. The sleeping conditions were horrible with the risk of being bitten by rats that may have disease.
Our daily routine in the trenches began with the morning “stand to.” One hour before dawn everyone was expected to climb up on to the fire step to guard against a dawn raid by the enemy. We would release gun fire, shelling and small arm fire, directed into the front line. This would make ensure our safety at dawn. This was repeated at dusk to guard against a surprise attack. We would then clean our rifle equipment which was followed by an inspection by the officers. Breakfast would be served next.