One Young Man In The Salient
( Originally Published 1917 )
THE city of Ypres, which Sydney Baxter had entered some few months previously, was now a heap of ruins. The whole country was desolate : the once picturesque roads lined by trees were now but a line of shell holes, with here and there leafless, branchless stumps, seared guardians of the thousand graves. On June 7th, 1915,
Sydney Baxter writes :
" We have been having a very lively time, a second touch of real life-destroying warfare. Many of the boys have been bowled over_ We have had a series of heavy bombardments shells everywhere, so that it was a matter of holding tight where we were. However, I was again fortunate, and have proved to myself and to the Captain that I can hold my head whilst under heavy shell and rifle fire, although it's impossible to keep one's heart beating normal under such conditions.
" We are now entrenched for a day or two, but it is not over-lively. A corporal who was a fellow bedrnan of George's and mine at Crowborough has just been killed. The poor chap died in agony.
" It is indeed comforting to know that so many are petitioning ' Our Father ' to spare me, if it be His will, through all the dangers and hardships of this uproar, and the confidence that the friends have in my return is very helpful. I have had the feeling that God will give me another chance of doing more work, but the thought of being killed has not the terror it had. The idea of joining George perhaps gives this comfort, but of course I know that it does not rest with me—unless of course by negligence.
" Will you include, please, two fat candles as you sent before."
June 16th, 1915.
" MY DEAREST MOTHER,"
Just a short note in reply to yours received this morning. I am still as per usual. Depends on how much sleep I get as to how I feel. As was able last night to get to bed before 3 o'clock, and slept on to 10 o'clock this morning, I am Ai.
"We got drenched the night before last every one soaked to the skin. We came out of the trench, and as there were no huts or dug-outs ready for us, we had to stand out in the rain for over an hour when we arrived at our destination,
As the weather changed next day we managed to dry our things. It was a funny sight to see chaps walking about in pants, and some with sandbags for trousers.
" It is rumoured we are leaving here to go but being a rumour it won't come true. However, I shouldn't mind a change. We are all fed up with this spot.
THE ALCOVE DUG-OUT,
July 8th, 1915.
How I long to be within the walls of our dear old church Some of the fellows can't realise or understand when I tell them my church life and work are so much to me. I owe all my happiness to God through my home and to the associations and work at the church. I hope it will be His Divine Will to spare me for fuller activities and to make up for the sins of omission.
Don't imagine for a minute we learn French out here. We rarely see a civilian, and when we do we say, ' Avez vous du pain ? and the reply is generally How many do you want ? ' They know more English than we do French."
The fight for Hill 6o and the struggle with the Canadians against the Hun at St. Julien has weakened our division, and we are to be transferred further south to a quieter part of the line.
" We are not sorry, for we feel sadly in need of a rest, and Ypres and its environments are. literally a shell-swept area of countless graves. The H.A.C. has relieved us, and we marched back the other night to huts a few miles behind the line. The following evening we marched still farther back, crossing the Franco-Belgian border to the rail-head. We are having a few days' rest, spending- many hours cleaning- up, not only our clothes and equipment, but our ceremonial drill and exercises."