To his Wife.
Aug. 2nd, 1915.
1 am very worried about my leave---it looks more and more like falling through. We are still "here" and while we remain here I have no hope of leave.
Don't worry about Warsaw or anything, just keep smiling---live as economically as you can---and make up your mind that after the War we shall be able to make up for the lean years with a vengeance---and a clear conscience.
We are fearfully busy to-day---not with blessés ---tent mucking etc. and above all fly slaying and I only had four hours' sleep last night so au revoir, Dearest, I'm going to turn in at eight and it is already half-past seven. I must wash and make down my "bed"---a waterproof sheet, overcoat, tunic, and waterproof cape, very comfy when you are tired as I am I assure you. I have had two nights in a bed lately and quite a number in blankets.
Bless you both.
To his Son.
Aug. 4th, 1915.
DARLING LITTLE Boy
I heard all about you and those carpets---I hope you helped them to find Gram a nice one.
Are you getting very tired of waiting for me to come home? I suppose you are used to me being away by this time though, aren't you? You will have to get used to me when I come back more likely.
When I come back for good-which won't be for a long time yet---I'm going to start your ed-u-ca-tion young man! Ed-u-ca-tion! I hope you know what it means because I don't and if I start your education and we neither of us know what it means we shan't get on very well, shall we? We should have to make a start by finding out. You might ask Gram and Mummy and Auntie Lal what Ed-u-ca-tion means and let me know each of their answers if you've time. In the meantime be a good little boy and keep your eyes open and always put your feet down flat, chew your food well and breathe through your nose.
Bye Bye---I may perhaps come home for a few days before the end of the war. Won't it be nice if I do?---but I'm not sure and it will be only for a very few days just to see you and be off again.
To his Wife.
Calypso dear---I wonder if Vally asks as many questions as ever? If he does be a dear and try hard not to choke him off. Children must ask questions---of course it's trying when one is tired or thinking of other things to explain why cats have tails etc. but do your best. Don't just say "I don't know" and leave it at that. Say "I don't know---we'd better ask---so and so. In short keep his mind enquiring even the most foolish things rather than taking anything for granted.
I am now back at the main dressing station so you needn't worry about me so much for a bit. They have shelled us as far as this it is true, but such shelling is not a daily or even a weekly occurrence.
We came back rather suddenly: at twenty-five to eleven came a cyclist round to the billet when I was having a wash: "Parade full marching order eleven"---I just got my coat rolled and my haversack and water bottle on and bolted to the parade and off we marched here.
And now we're right back under canvas full fifteen miles behind the line enjoying---or about to enjoy---perhaps---a month's rest. I am in charge of one of the bell tents (temporarily named "Hope Cottage") and fourteen inmates thereof ---rather a crowd. Our tents are pitched in a tiny field, bounded on two sides by ditches and on the third by an eight foot stream and dotted with enormously tall poplars---a few more and it would be a wood. There are some willows by the water many chickens here and I must knock off to catch post.
It poured all night but our tent kept the actual rain out, though of course a certain dampness prevailed. We shall dig drainage to-day and then it won't rain any more.
The Sergeant Major has told me that unless something happens my leave request will go up to the A.D.M.S. again next week so there is hope of my getting it during that (next) week. Please let me know at once if you fix a date out of London next week. It would be awful if you did and I had to be in London half the time, wouldn't it?
We seem to be in for a fairly rational sort of rest after all. Some of the boys deny the possibility of such a thing and things certainly began badly but I am of a hopeful disposition and---well, the weather is better for one thing and the Sergeant Major instead of putting the "police" under arrest for allowing a woman into the camp selling fried potatoes, informed her, through me, that she could come every day at breakfast and dinner times
We have just had our third parade to-day and have been dismissed but told not to go away--- "be ready to fall in again." Oh for a nice shell swept billet where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest
To his Son.
Cockyolly Bird to his little Master.
Oh Cookery Coo I am having a time! He stuffs me into haversacks and drags me out again and leaves me head downwards all night. The Germans have blown the mess tin I used to live in when he wasn't using it into a norful shape, so he's left it behind where the bangs are and, my, what a journey I've had!
Back there he used to sit me on his kit every morning when he went on duty to look after it for him, and he used to open that case with a picture of you in it so's I could have you for company. But one day he found me crying over the photo---I got homesick you see---so he took me out with him the next day to the hospital and showed me to two little French boys that were there---Oh horrid little boys I assure you Vallie! They wanted to keep me as a souvenir! They ask for everything they see and get quite rude and say "English no bon" if they don't get it. They were begging for "souvenir cigarettes" all the way here but they don't get any from our division now, nasty little cadgers!
I've got a fearful lot to do---this is a rest camp, you see---so good-bye. I may come home to see you in a week or two just for a few days---if he comes he's promised to bring me.
Your old pet
COCKY OLLY BIRD.
[NOTE.---Harold Chapin was home on leave from August 8th to August 15.]
To his Wife.
Aug. 23rd, 1915.
I'm back here-found the 6th still in the same quarters---and I'm thoroughly unsettled. I'm homesick and Vallysick and Yousick. It's like the first fortnight back at Boarding School or the first week with a strange company. Why the devil have I had so much of this mild, lonely, unhappiness in my life? I seem to be always being lumped off on my own away from the people and places I care about.
I found your letter written week before last on my arrival here---it cheered me up after a gloomy journey with almost comically woebegone companions. They sang the most beautiful songs in the train all about how much better it would be to "stay at home"
"About the streets to roam
and live on the earnings of a lady typist
instead of going to War and having various specified parts of one's corporal being removed by the agency of high explosives.
This letter started the day before yesterday was interrupted to do some quite useless incinerator building which kept me busy all yesterday and this morning. This is still a "rest camp." It is characteristic of military life that the three months of full duty which we have just come through and which even in orders has been referred to as a hard time, was really a period of well blended work, and rest tempered by common sense and the sense of usefulness, whereas the period of "rest" which follows---and which was held out to us as a sort of reward for accomplishment---is really a pleasant little hell upon earth with no organised labour to speak of, but innumerable useless fatigues, the whole rendered doubly maddening by a lack of nous and exuberance, of illnature hard to credit in the same people who carried on the full duty period. It's all very illuminating---if only one could get the light of it out of one's eyes.
We are still infernally uncomfortable. Thirteen in a tent on wet ground (it rains every day still. Boots etc. unless well wrapped up are always wet by morning---inside and out.
H.P.D. talked a lot about getting me a Commission, but he only mentioned A.S.C. as immediate. I wish you'd ask him about the possibility of Artillery. I'm not sure but I think that would tempt me. It's fascinating work: either field or garrison guns.
Aug. 26th, 1915.
I have just received your letter in which you say you are beginning to feel "jumpy," really you mustn't write like that when I fail to write: I do my very level best and when I cannot get a letter off to you it worries me quite enough as it is.
The other day (for instance) I was going to write to you first chance. I started a letter before breakfast even. After breakfast I was packed off on a job (a mere lark really---trip with the tug-of-war team) which spun itself out till six p.m. and the post when we got back had gone. That sort of thing is always happening. Please make up your mind (i) that I write every day I get the chance (ii) that you'd know very quickly if anything amiss happened to me.
Things are very peaceful here. We have taken to road sweeping as a new hobby. The inhabitants do absolutely nothing to keep the village clean.
And now we are on to a new job---cleaning harness and generally "squaring up" the transport lines. We have styled ourselves "drivers' batmen" which is a very sarcastic description if you could but understand it---perhaps you do. Batman is an Indian term, isn't it? We are rather hot at inventing new names or ranks for ourselves. How about "Clerk to the Incinerator" "Chief-latrine-Artificer? " "First Lord of the Scaby Tent" (otherwise "Scaby-King "---which is the ordinary designation of the man in charge of "scaby-cases" and not a joke at all).
As a matter of fact helping the transport is rather a lark---hard work but still a lark. There are many who grumble ---and talk the usual nonsense about not having joined to do this that or the other thing but judged independently of their effect upon one's personal dignity (imaginary effect), most of the jobs one gets out here can be done in about half the time allotted to do them in and can be done smoking and talking and are consequently anything but irksome. Give me jobs any day rather than parades and inspections and guards.
Let me have an answer to my query about Artillery as soon as you can manage it.
Sergeant Tully (my best friend among the sergeants with whom I used to go for an evening stroll three or four times a week) has gone back (back doesn't necessarily mean to England) with kidney trouble: he's had it before, I fancy the damp here did him no good. I shall miss him, he was a good old chap and a gentleman although his calling was that of a railway signalman in private life. I never heard him express an ungenerous or indelicate thought.
We still sleep twelve in a tent and much of our time is spent in "cooting" our shirts and underwear.
We are beginning to give up all hope of ever hearing a gun fired again. All we ever see here are the aeroplanes setting off and returning---we are quite a dozen miles from the front line. The good news from Riga bucked us all up enormously ---though unfortunately it reached us in very exaggerated form:---ten battleships and four transports and we were rather let down when the next morning brought it down to "one Battleship and nine minor craft with four barges or barques." Still at its lowest it was very good news and out of a grey sky.
To-day's news of the attack on Zeebrugge is heartening too, though---of course---not important in itself. I still see no reason to despair of getting back this winter. Big wars end swiftly and unexpectedly and the Balkans look like coming in against Turkey at last which will quite certainly end that drain upon our resources.
Love and bless you.
To his Son.
MY BLESSED BOY
How are you and how do you like Devonshire? I hear you've got a bathing suit. How useful! Do you ever bathe in it?
There are two brown calves who walk about our camp who are very anxious to be remembered to Cockyolly Bird---they were great friends of his, and several of the chickens who hang about for crumbs while we're having breakfast send their kind regards to him---they are all rather jealous of him though. He used to tell them the most awful whackers, about his flat in London and his houseboat on the river and this and that and the other thing. They didn't know how much to believe, but---as one old hen said in my hearing: "even if it's all pretence he must have seen a flat in London to pretend so well---and that's more than we've ever done." He's impressed them fearfully.
Love to you my darling---be very good to your nice mummy. She's a jolly sight too good for you and that's my advice to you. Try to be good enough to deserve such a good mummy,
To his Wife
Aug. 27th, 1915.
I am extremely well. Things in the 6th are improving. Milk in the tea now regular, plenty of vegetables in the stew which is now quite palatable---though monotonous. Also we have found and developed several shops here which cook us quite decent meals. Pork chops and omelettes with well cooked potatoes and also chips and coffee may be bought at the camp gate in the mornings---and also hot rolls.
Rumour hath it that we are to do "Divisional Sick" for a spell, which will keep us out of the line the 4th and 5th taking their turn there. If the war is going to run into the bad weather, I hope we stick to the divisional sick which means a permanent abode---probably in a sizable townlet. The other possible jobs for a Field Ambulance in this sort of permanent trench warfare are divisional washing and baths and convalescent company. They are not deemed such honourable occupations as dressing stations but we have won our spurs already and would like to rest on our laurels until "the advance" comes along. I have just had a most excellent pair of boots issued to me---as they happen to be brown will you send me in the next parcel either a tin of kiwi (you know the red shade I like) or of a stuff called somebody's "Toney Red" also I should like some handkerchiefs---only one or two in each parcel, though---at intervals.
To his Mother.
Aug. 30th, 1915
MOST DEAREST MATER
Your second letter just received. Consider: for this letter to catch to-morrow's outgoing post from the division I must put it in our post bag before six p.m. to-night. Ere I write the next word---"Corporal Chapin"---I reply "Sir" and am given some job probably a light one---very likely more of a joy-ride than anything else (we are having an easy time still) but nevertheless one that prevents this letter being finished before six p.m. perhaps that joy-ride of a job lands me back in camp at about dusk---Six o'clock post bag gone to mess: to-day's post missed. This involves the fact that---as we are only allowed to post one letter a day---Calypso, to whom I should write to-morrow will have to be postponed another day. Perhaps that day we shall be moving: no posting letters, even if opportunity to write them, for a couple of days. Where are we then? Thursday, and a letter posted Thursday leaves us Friday crosses Saturday (if the Channel is clear) and probably reaches her in Devonshire on Monday. There's a very natural week's delay in writing, easily to be lengthened by---say---moving to an advanced dressing station the day after moving in general (a fairly common lot); the channel boats not running for a night or two or some other contretemps.
You people in Blighty have no idea (I'm not surprised) what the mere moving, feeding, housing etc. of troops involves. Remember we do everything for ourselves. You are so used to having innumerable things done for you in civil life that you forget they are done:---the removal and destruction of refuse and the obtaining of water are examples. Another point: no civil contingency ever demands the sudden quartering of twenty to thirty thousand men in this or that locality with absolutely no reference to its suitability or capacity for housing them, and at a day or two's notice. I am more and more impressed with the enormous capacity displayed by those authorities who are responsible for the roads. You can't just say to the Umpty umpth Division "you will relieve the Ooty ooth Division on Tuesday." You have got to arrange for a dozen thousands of infantry with artillery, ambulances and A.S.C. to come up a certain set of roads while another dozen thousands come down another certain set;---that they are not in "Sommevere" at the same time as it wouldn't hold 'em---and also that "Sommevere" is not left empty or even half empty---for the Germans to walk into; that certain parts thereof are under observation (balloons generally) and can only be evacuated at night and that certain roads thereto are under fire.
Do you see what an enormous thing the new administration of war means apart from the fighting?
It's coming on to rain. I hope we are not in for a wet night. We are still under canvas. Thirteen to a tent, my little lot. Room enough for our heads but our feet feel the pinch.
The theory is feet to the pole. The above (scale) diagram shows how we retire to rest about
8.30 P.m. with beautiful fidelity to the theory. The next
shows how we not infrequently find ourselves at about 2 a.m. when we are slowly aroused by a feeling of cold caused (i) by having left our waterproof sheets and rolled more or less on to the cold ground and (ii) by the exile having revengefully taken our top layer of tunics, greatcoats and capes out with him to make a bivvy (bivouac) with.
It is raining I must go inside. Love.
To his Wife.
Sept. 1st, 1915.
Thanks very much for your latest just received. This letter may be broken off at any moment and I shall post it at once. We are waiting for the whistle to toot, fall in, and start packing our waggons, for a move---quite an unimportant one as far as we know, not up to the line. I shan't be sorry to leave this part of France---it is decidedly damp---night mists and unlimited dew in addition to getting all the rain of the neighbourbood and I am rather rheumaticky again. Not acutely by any means. just stiff joints and hard lumps in the muscles in the mornings.
Don't encourage Vallie to talk about God, there's a dear. It really troubles me very much to think that he's having his little mind, even slightly, swayed by. . . . . . .
I can't remember how I meant to finish above My meaning is:---tell him all the fairy tales or nonsense stories you please but about God and religious subjects only tell him what you yourself unfeignedly believe to be true: if nothing, tell him nothing. I want him---as I did---to find a definite religious or philosophical attitude (which means more, really, than a credo) towards what he sees---what he thinks he should do---what he fails to understand---for himself. One cannot learn an attitude or acquire it from others it is at best a pose. One must make it for oneself, and by giving a child an idea that the cosmos is a sort of toy shop run by a tyrant (tyrants could be benevolent---don't misunderstand the term) with a curious hobby---the rewarding of certain acts and the punishment of others and the forgiveness of certain of the latter acts as a reward for "repentance"--- coupled with a belief in the tyrant's existence---to teach a child this is to give it an altogether unreal cosmos to face and adapt his attitude to and build to.
Fairy tales are quite different. They are confessed imaginings; not told as authoritatives---at least by intelligent people.
Ring off. Love.
Sept. 4th, 1915.
Yours just received (dated Monday). We left ------ in the rain and marched here in rain and pitched our tents in the rain. Yesterday the rain let up a bit in the afternoon but it began again in the night and has rained all day (4 P.M. now). Tents flooded and sopping. I am on guard to-day. The guard tent is half an inch deep in mud inside and surrounded by a quagmire of yellow clay. We are encamped in a brick-field
Sept. 7th, 1915.
The parcel has just arrived. Willet, Roffe, and I are now digesting the raspberries and cream; thanks very much for them and the other things.
It is a fine afternoon but threatening rain clouds are about. It rains about two thirds of the time here---and is very cold at night but we manage to keep pretty cheerful. We are encamped in a brickfield. Bricks, I may remind you are made of clay. The tents on the upper slope---as yet unexcavated---are fairly dry and the water drains off pretty well from around them but it drains down into the dugout part, where the guard tent is and where the cooks cook, and having got there cannot soak away or run away: clay being non porous and there being no lower level for it to run to; so it just sits on the ground and is wet and gets puddled into a yellow liquid of the consistency of house-paint, with which we are most of us splashed to the eyes and which is just too thick to drain into the gullies and soak-pits we dig for its convenience.
We are fairly high up here and can see a goodish stretch of the surrounding country. The captive "Observation" balloon over "----- " (in whose unsafe shadow we made our first main dressing station in that town) is just visible five or six miles away to the northward. It's curious: ever since we came up from the base now nearly six months ago we have been within long eyeshot of that sunlit sausage. The country has varied enormously in our half dozen different abodes around it and the feeling of them has varied even more:---The crashing excitements of "----- " the desultory bullet dodging at "----- " (the only place where we've had any real experience of rifle "sniping") the rustic peace of our last valley and --- which I shall always think of as a place wherein the civil population leave their arms and legs lying about the doorsteps with the flies buzzing over them.
The sun is coming on wonderfully. It is quite hot. I shall fetch out my blanket and kit to air and dry. It's astonishing. Six weeks ago I was complaining of the heat and not without reason. Talk about the English climate! This is infinitely worse and more variable---also more wetter.
Loud cries---Willet very pale and excited grappling with an enormous "coot " (otherwise louse). He makes a point of looking supremely surprised whenever he catches one on himself as if he were immune.
Sept. 8th, 1915.
We did a sudden move on Sunday just after I had closed my letter to you. 4.15 peace ---myself asleep against side of tent undisturbed by rumour of an early departure for the following morning (we get so many rumours) 5.15 we were parading in full marching order 7.15 we were here unloading our waggons in double quick time in the glorious certainty of being let out into the town if we unpacked in time to get out before the estaminets closed. We succeeded and returned about 8.30 to sleep on the stone floors of a school room cheered by "a few."
We have been in this town before. It was here that I was ill three months ago. We are about a mile from our old premises though. Struck rather lucky: a very adaptable school building---no stairs, stone floors, all rooms with doors at both ends and also opening into each other---make ripping wards. We have spent two busy days scrubbing, cleaning windows, crawling over glass roofs, digging, painting, whitewashing and generally making the place a show hospital. Scarcely any patients yet to disturb our efforts---or for our efforts to disturb.
We are under canvas in the playing field adjoining the play ground.
I do like to be at work again. Altogether I feel much cheerier. I hope to goodness I have no more "rest camp" for the period of the war. The weather is fine that too is a heartening factor.
You'd love this part of our work, dearest, I can just picture you with a hundred odd men at your disposal attacking an unsanitary, dirty building and turning it into some hospital. Money no object and labour unlimited---nothing too much trouble to undertake and every job started within two minutes of its necessity being realized.
Post off-must finish.
Heaps of love to my dears.
To his Mother.
Sept. 13th, 1915.
Thanks for your letter. I am very glad to see that you reached Belfast alright.
. . . I must make the effort to remember that she is the baby who used to be "lootin' forward to that" in a deep contralto voice: and who looked so sweet in her little Dutch caps and who was ill on the other side of a disinfected sheet on the top floor of the "click house." . . .
Don't you dare to think this sloppy. With a baby of my own whom I haven't seen familiarly for nearly a year and with very fresh recollections of men who have died near me---their little collections of letters and photos---their weakening, wearying oft, talks about their home people, their chums out here, and how they got their wounds---their gentle deliria in which it all came out again this time more freely---sometimes in the first and second person instead of narratively in the first and third---sometimes even in a strange medley of narrative and dialogue, objective and subjective, sometimes sung to tuneless chants, sometimes to popular melodies. Remember that I know---not apprehensively nor vividly but just as a matter of fact---that I may be providing just such a pathetic entertainment for some other listener one of these days, and don't dare to call me sloppy in wanting to have you all at home on the firm basis of affection.
Weather's gorgeous again. Nights chilly and early morning fresh, but the sunny parts of the day piping hot.
To his Wife.
Sept. 13th. 1915.
We are very busy here, making the place ship shape. I am corporal of guard to-day: opportunity to write letters, otherwise a beastly bore and a tie. Corporal of guard does not stand on sentry post, you know, but has to be always within call of the sentries and goes hourly rounds. I feel rather weary to-day. I met in the town last night three howitzer battery friends whom I had not met since the great days in May. They had just been paid and I had just been paid and the result was twenty-five among the five of us plus cigars. I stuck to Malagar (do you know the drink? A second rate white port I should describe it as but served small) and came through well though my bed was not made as precisely as usual. I believe I could have slept on a bag of tent-pegs. Still I feel weary to-day.
Your letter just arrived. Thanks so very much for its length, but how dare you "must stop" when you want to go on and I want you to. It's beyond all understanding or belief how a letter bucks me up---and a long letter---Oh my dearest I'd like sixteen pages per diem.
The weather is very decent again. Lucky for me to-night. We haven't got a tent for guards. Such sleep as I shall get will be in a bivouac made of three waterproof sheets tied to a fence---this I shall share with the changing pair of sentries "off" duty. Rather cosy. Of course the guard must not undress or even remove boots---
Above interrupted by a horse breaking loose---easily caught again. The horses do an awful lot to keep us entertained: adventurous brutes, they have become----you should see the "horse lines" in a real mess.
Just think of it!---six months we've been in this beastly neighbourhood and in another month we shall be "in the winter" as we say in the army. Not that winter weather is to be turned on by the A.S.C. on the first of October but the authorities, wisely foreseeing that winter comes along then abouts, have chosen that month as the one in which Winter shall be considered to begin so we shall soon be getting an extra half hour in "bed" in the morning and one or two other Winter Campaign concessions.
There's no blinking it---British troops do bring prosperity wherever they come in France. I suppose the average man spends his franc a day on eggs, butter, drinks and extra delicacies. What a contrast to the poor French fellows who never seem to have a pair of sous to rub together! War's a rough enough business even on the British commissariat and pay but---
Off Guard. I was burdened with a prisoner the latter half of my guard. Like most of the minor criminals of the army whose examination by the C.O. or their company officer I have witnessed I disliked him more for his defence than his crime. Were I a C.O. I should say: "Two days pay stopped for the offence and twenty-eight days field punishment for the defence.
Sept. 17th, 1915.
We had a jolly day up at the line yesterday when a party of us went up to work at a new aid post in course of construction. We did an amazing amount of work slaving like navvies with pick and shovel at a communication trench linking the aid post with the works. I understand that the Engineer officer in charge of the job has complimented the C.O. on the working parties he sends up. Certainly we do work well when there's anything to do. It's the idiotic "made" work we don't put our hearts into.
The weather is splendid. There was a little rain in the night before last (I happened to be on guard) but that was the only rain we have had since we came here Sunday before last. It's rather nice revisiting a town we have been in before: we know the shops and the estaminets and the people. Every night when nothing prevents it I go and have café au lait in the garden of the farm down near our old quarters. Madame there gives us "beaucoup du lait" in large bowls ---about three-quarters of a pint I should think---piping hot and just nicely flavoured with a big dash of coffee.
It is a month since I was home on leave---six months since we left England. How many more, I wonder. Fine, dry, weather, my dear, will make a difference. Armies the size of ours are fearfully weather bound. Many a man who "went west" in the May attacks would be alive now if his boots hadn't been so caked with mud.
Love to you dear. I want to get the war over and get home to you and the Duck and Emma.
To his Son.
Sept. 18th, 1915.
My Son-bird, how are you? I'm quite well but a little stiff in the joints. We've been doing a lot of digging: making a trench to carry wounded people up and down, and we've walked miles and miles back from the place where we did the digging and we are tired.
We are not very near the Germans here, but we can hear them banging away in the distance sometimes, and last night all the sky was lit up in their direction by a big fire---houses burning.
Yesterday--too---while we were up digging near to them some Germans climbed up a tower behind their lines, and we had to bob down into the holes we were digging to prevent them seeing us and then our cannons banged at them and they came down from the tower in a hurry.
I do hope you are a good little boy. It's so much nicer to have a good little boy at home than to have a regular little pickle. Please write and tell me if you are a good little boy---I shall be so pleased to hear it.
Love from your Doody.
To his Wife.
Sept. 24th, 1915.
This is my ideal of happiness: (under war conditions) to arrive back, after a hard day's navvying among the nice big bangs (I really do like the noise of guns---unhealthy taste, eh?) to come back to camp and tea healthily tired, to come back by the first batch of cars thereby ensuring a wash unhurried and evading the wait by the roadside at " ----- " and to find a letter from you waiting for me. I am sure you think my effusions over your letters mere civil romance but they are not. I cannot exaggerate the pleasure I feel when I wade into a letter from you.
I am so very glad that you are to have the blessed with you again. I hate to think of you and him apart. It makes me feel altogether too "scattered" (compris?) to have a son here, a wife there, a mother somewhere else, a sister elsewhere. Keep him with you all you can and talk to him about me a lot. I do so want to come home to you both.
We are launching forth in many directions: beds (for patients of course) and a young drug store under a roof of its own; no longer housed with the Quarter Master's store. At present I and some score of others are going up to the line daily doing the most glorious navvying: knocking cellars into each other and whitewashing the whole into operating rooms and waiting rooms, and bearers' billets; digging special R.A.M.C. stretcher trenches to connect them (A) with the general communicating trenches and (B) with each other and filling billions of sandbags to protect the entrances to these cellar-stations. I love the work, three days I slaved at a part of the trench where it traverses a mine-yard and came back a Frank Tinney at night. Yesterday I was housebreaking with hammer and chisel or pick connecting up cellars by holes knocked in walls and making bolting holes to get in and out through. Also we go investigating the rows and rows of empty houses (the line where we work passes almost through a mining townlet now deserted) bagging chairs, mirrors---there are many quite good ones unbroken in the midst of the chaos of bent girders scattered walls, roofs, pavements even.
Everybody seems very high spirited out here and grumbling is a thing of the past. I suspect that the weather is reason. Day after day is glorious---though night after night is cold.
As the weather grows colder my appetite increases: cake most acceptable.
Posting this the morning after writing it. Was called away to interview M. Le Directeur des Mines apropos d'une affaire forte dificile, je vous dis.
Love to the dear---I wish I were going to see you both again soon. Wanted!
[The above was the last letter ever received from Harold Chapin. The following unfinished letter was found in his pocket-book after his death. It was written some days before the Preceding letter.]
To his Mother.
I dunno if I did or did not write to you the day after that letter to Calypso. We've had a good few days lately when 6 o'clock parade (6 o'clock a.m. you understand) and dusk were linked up by a day's work and march so that no letters were written, and I dare swear the censor was correspondingly rejoiced.
Our days spent trench digging (special communication trenches we dig, pour chercher les blessées not for wicked men with arms or what would the Geneva convention say?), our days spent trench digging are a great source of enjoyment---curious, because they involve a bolted breakfast---a seven o'clock start, an hour's jog in a hard, springless, G.S. waggon, a halting, single-file march of a couple of miles and a day of back breaking work at pick and shovel followed sometimes by march and G.S. waggon back, sometimes by a long march and no G.S. waggon. The secret of their charm is the feeling of doing something actual compared with the messing about cleaning waggons for inspection and everlastingly tidying up camp to get it dirty again. Those trenches may never be used but if ever it is necessary to bring in wounded from the fire trenches to the aid posts under anything of a bombardment they will mean endless lives saved. It's a pleasant thought. I haven't seen the Lloyd George speech you mention.---I didn't know he'd written anything lately. Do you know---coeval with his rise in popularity I am getting a bit sick of him. He strikes me as being all enthusiasm and no judgment---no sense of fitness. On the tide and with the tide of universal approval is not the best place for a Welshman. I prefer the "brave man struggling with adversity" to this popular idol playing with his admirers, being rude to them just to show how well he can apologise etc., etc.
Books---yes, I want a pocket Browning mit everything in it! Is such a thing to be had, I wonder? Of course I've got sizable pockets. Still it's a tall order.
Anyway I want "Paracelsus" and "Men and Women" particularly. I am on guard and writing letters for the next two or three days (I may only send off one a day). Our supply of corporals is not quite adequate to the demands made upon it and this will be my fourth night on guard in a fortnight.---Rather fatiguing work, involving a night of cat naps fully dressed and booted and a final rise at a little after 4 a.m. to call the cooks and "duties," hoist the flag and remove the lamps and finally (at 5 a.m.) to call the camp in general.
(Sunday in fact)
Oh, my dear, I wish you could see your golden haired laddie sitting by the roadside waiting for a waggon,---time 5 p.m.
I have been for two days digging through the slag heap of a mine! A mine! Our trench happens to go that way I am as black as a coal heaver.
About Harry Chapin
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