Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Letters Home to Dutton, WWI Part Two

Dutton, Main Street, ca. early 1900s (Robert Moore Postcard Collection, Elgin County Archives)

     Thanks so much for your interest and comments on the various postings of last week's blog! As a result of the positive feedback I have decided to continue with the Dutton Advance letters and finish off the First World War this week with two more. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any information on the featured writer, William Mitton through Elgin County Archives, which would have been nice to add. If anyone knows anything about him or any authors featured in this week's post, I'd love to hear it! I try to add faces to names whenever possible.

     Without further ado, here are some more letters that local boys sent home to their families and the people of Dutton, courtesy of the Canadian Letters and Images Project:

June 9, 1916

But Uses "Sausages" for Instilling Fear
Apt Description of Scenes at the Front
Jas. G. McMillan, formerly inspector of mines in New Ontario, and who enlisted with No 1 Tunnelling Co., in December, writes the following interesting letter to his father, Mr. Donald McMillan, Dunwich.
France March 15, 1916.
We have been on the British front since March 2nd, being for the first week attached to mining companies of the Royal Engineers, and then put in place of one on a position at the front. Mail addressed as before will reach me alright, but it should be now sent to the Army Postoffice, France, instead of to London. I believe we are officially known as the First Canadian Tunnelling Co., R.E. One section of our company is still on the Canadian front, but will join us shortly. I am down at headquarters now, but will be going back to-morrow. We are four days up and four days here. We have certainly the better of the Huns in artillery on this front, although they give us a good many shells, too. It is surprising how little damage is done by all the shelling that goes on. One will rapidly get used to it, like one does to handling explosives, I am sure. Of course the damage done buildings is extensive, and there is a limited danger zone, but it is surprising how seldom they get anyone with shells. Rifle grenades which are shot up into the air from rifles and fall into or near the trenches are fully as dangerous. Another of their devices for instilling fear into the hearts of Britons is a sausage. These sausages are immense cans of high explosives that are thrown wobbling over the front lines, and after lying for a few seconds burst with terrific noise. They say it is quite possible to dodge them even if they light close by. We have similar devices known as footballs, which are thrown from trench mortars, for wrecking things on their side. A person is comparatively safe from rifle or machine gun fire behind the parapets, which are built up to the height of a man. This sort of fire is kept up mostly at night against working parties along the front and is brought to bear almost continuously upon the communication trenches.
The ordinary routine throughout the day is to keep up the sniping and artillery fire, then as the light begins to fail the infantry on both sides start to let each other know they are there, and keep up rather heavy firing for about an hour. It is at this time that the machine guns start for the night. They are too easily located to keep up their fire during the day. The last shells of the day are usually sent over at this time. All night long flares are sent up for the purpose of locating parties at work on the parapets or on the wire entanglements.
Judging by the great number of flares he sends up Fritz is rather a nervous individual. It is rarely necessary for us to light up the front as he does it nearly always for us. Of course it is only necessary to show even the smallest light to bring machine gun or rifle fire upon you. A noise will often start it as well.
The shell fire is carried on more on the chance of catching relief parties. Our dug-out is at the head of a communication trench, where it joins the support trenches. This vicinity is quite frequently shelled a couple of times in the afternoon, always about the even hour. The closest shot, however, so far was one of our own shells which fells 200 yards or more short of the German lines. It exploded ten yards away but did not burst the case. The case might just as well not have gone through the door of the dug-out.
Casualties here are not very numerous, except when an attack is made. In the last four days I knew of a sergeant being shot by one of our machine guns, another was shot in the back by a bullet that came right through the parapet, and four were injured by the discharge of a rifle grenade.
For myself I am in the best of health, and hope you all are the same.
Dutton, Main Street, ca. 1909
April 26, 1917
Viewing The Sights Of Auld Reekie
Pte. Sam. McFarlane, of the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, who recently visited Edinburgh, writes to The Advance as follows:
It would take too long for me to tell you of the many picturesque places, the bonnie sights I have seen since I started my furlough. Edinburgh is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. The streets and buildings are superb, the beauty spots are many and varied. The interesting historical places should be called legion, for they are many.
I have seen the British Museum, Forth Bridge, Scott's monument, and garden, Knox's house, Holyrood Palace, Burn's residence, while in Edinburgh, St. Giles' Cathedral and a great many other places, but I lingered longer in the Kirkyard of old Grayfriars than any place else. Here are martyrs' prison cells, here the gravestone where the Scottish Covenanters signed the solemn league and covenant with their blood.
As I stood upon this hallowed spot there arose in my imagination the silent stern-faced Scot coming forward to sign his name, followed by his bowed wife, who sighs with trembling hand but stout heart; the buoyant youth full of life and disregard for the troublous times that are sure to follow; the sweet-faced maiden full of trust and hope. More and more follow.
What sought they in the old churchyard in the dark hours? Freedom to follow the dictates of their own conscience, freedom from oppression and tyranny.
For the same reasons millions have place their names on the muster rolls for active service, and have vowed to do or die to liberate the weaker nations of Europe who have been ground under the iron heel of the worst tyrant since there was first light.
The castle here is a volume in itself, obsolete now as a source of defense. It is very romantic and historic.
St. Margaret's Chapel, the smallest church in Scotland and oldest building in Edinburgh, stands close to the prison. I stood in the dungeon where the Marquis of Argyle slept his last night on earth previous to his execution, his head replacing that of Montrose on the Talbooth.
Queen Mary's apartments were in that day, I suppose, considered elaborate, but they would not cut much ice now-a-days. I looked out a window where her infant son, afterwards King James IV. of Scotland and I of England, was lowered out and taken to be baptized in the Catholic faith.
The gun carriage which bore the remains of our late lamented Queen Victoria, is in the hall, the same room where the young Douglases were lured to a banquet, given a mock trial and murdered.
     I am so glad to have found this archive and be able to keep the memories of both the Dutton Advance and our local heroes alive and in print. Stay tuned for future posts from the Second World War, which could feature some local celebrities we all know and remember!
Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

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