Gunner Bert Cox
Envelope Addressed to:
Mrs. Chas. H. S. Cox
Black Rock , Barbadoes, BWI
Oct, 24th 1918
My dearest Mamma,
We've put in some very toilsome and yet interesting days, since last writing you; in hot pursuit of the enemy, whom, on several occasions, we could not find, for hours, owing to his speedy retreat.
In a very short time I hope to be dating my letters from Belgium instead of France . As I have said before, the war map would change considerably this fall, but I don't think that many anticipated such a complete collapse. Although at many points, he is putting up a very stiff fight, as he did at Cambrai. All the prisoners we take now, have the same tale to tell, that they are fighting a loosing war; and that's bad stuff for their troops.
Cambrai is a nice city; large buildings and Cathedral and although many of them are damaged by shells and bombs, it is not anything the wreck that Arras or St. Quentin are. Of course, the Hun blew up all the bridges over the canal which runs through Cambrai and set fire to several places which illuminated the sky for miles and miles for nights before we took it.
At present, we are having a great time with the civilians. You'll wonder how on earth I come to be in contact with civilians in the midst of battle. So I'll explain: We left civilians for the last time on Aug. 8th, when we kicked off the battle of Amiens. Since that time, until the present, we have been advancing through towns that have been battle fields over and over again, consequently, no one was in them. But now we are taking from the Hun, places that have never been battlefields.
Just a mere walk over for him in 1914. Therefore the remainder of the population ( he has taken many away to work in Germany), are still here, living a life of bondage for 4 years. You can quite understand their enthusiasm and joy, as we drive the enemy out and take possession. They can't do too much for us. They won't take any money, but about all they have to offer, is coffee and cocoa; and any beer and wine that has escaped the eyes of the Hun, is ours for the asking.
The Union Jack is flying from every window.
While I write this in a nice warm room, the lady of the house is singing The Marseilles (the French National Anthem) and finishes up with "Vive les Canadians!"….. …. " Vive la France". Then we have another cup of coffee!!
These people have been supplied with food right along by the American Relief Fund, for which they are very grateful.
The Boche, as these people call them, have stripped them of every bit of brass. The Germans are very short of brass and of course, so much is needed for ammunition.
The weather has been rotten and the visibility very poor, owing to heavy fogs for the past 2 weeks, consequently, the enemy has been able to evacuate without being seen; and lucky for him, too. If we had had bright days, so that our planes and balloons could have observed his retreat, and then have directed the fire of our heavy batteries on the roads, he would suffered great casualties. Such cold days too, to be standing around, it seems like Heaven to get back to the billet, around the stove.
We have a lovely big stove in our room and we all sit around in a circle and toast our feet and discuss "war "and "leave", in the evenings. The horrible part of it is that we are so much on the move that these comforts of home only last a day or two, and then our next move might be into an open field, when the pick and shovel come back to their own again!!
My long boots have paid for themselves already. Nearly all the boys have been going around with soaking wet feet and my socks have not been even damp. It was a great investment.
We can't get a thing to eat from the canteens, now. Haven't been able to spend a franc for the past 2 weeks. They say there are more supplies for canteens at the base than there ever has been, but they can't get it up to the front, as they are using every available means to bring up ammunition and guns and things most necessary to hasten the end of the war.
I happened to be about 15 miles behind the lines, a few days ago and one might have thought it was Broadway for the amount of traffic. But considering the times we live in, the army rations, as a rule, are not bad at all.
You certainly would laugh to hear the conversation that is going on around me. Everybody "parley vouses the ding dong" One word, French and the next one "English--Frenchimind". It's really good!
Next to the ever present subject of "war", the topic of the moment, is "leave". The boys are going and others coming back, every day, with great accounts of their trips. Evidently, the girls are just as keen on "les soldats"as ever.
Alex Mc Lennan came back today from his home in Scotland. There are only 12 to go, now, before my turn comes, which should be within the next two weeks. "Leave" is a far more important event in the life of a soldier than it might seem on paper. The programme is as follows: About a week before he goes, if he happens to be at the guns, he is brought down to the horse lines, where he is in one degree more safety. As at such a time, he is likely to become nervous and hates to take chances. This is termed "sweating on leave". Three days before, he gets a bath. Two days before, he gets a complete new uniform which takes all the next day to be fixed up. Sewing on the colours and putting on badges and shining up buttons etc.
Then as soon as he receives his 40 and one documents, he departs with broad smiles and given all kinds of good wishes by those who would like to be in his shoes. So, you see, it's quite an occasion!!!
We hear that the Major ( who was wounded) is very keen on coming back to the Battery if he does not loose his hand, and we hope he does, ( the former) as he is an awfully good head.
I had not heard from B/dos for a long time and was very glad to receive your letter of Sept. 19th along with Leila's yesterday.
The YMCA 's hold services on Sundays in "peace times", but it's naturally impossible in the present state of war. They certainly do their part.
The deafness I spoke of on Aug.8th, soon went away. It is the only time it has ever affected me. Most of the fellows wear cotton in their ears, but I never do, unless the gun is in a gun pit, and then the concussion is fierce.
Well, I must bring this book to a close. Now, don't worry, and remember about no news being good news, if you do not happen to hear.
We have, and are, putting up with some awful rough stuff, in fact, I would not go through this summer again for a fortune, but one never hears a kick now aday from the troops. There's an awful difference in the temper of the men when we're winning and when we're losing. We're all buoyed up with the good news, whereas, the other side must be terribly downhearted, for our guns of all sizes are strafing them day and night.
Lots of love for Papa, Ina, Leila and self from your loving son,
PS : I go to Paris on November 13th. (note: Bert reached Paris the day before Nov. 11th - The Armistice)