“Dear Bertha” – letter home from France, 2017

Letter sent home from the battle fields of France from James Ernest Brown who was homesteading north east of Oyen when he joined. After the war he settled north west of Castor in the Lauderdale district where he farmed. His sister Bertha, that he wrote the letter to, later married Will Hewitt from Bulwark.

Lance Corporal Donald Archibald (Archie) Brown

France, July 6, 1917
Dear Bertha,
I went down this evening to inquire about Archie Brown. Sorry I could not do it sooner but this was my first opportunity.
I talked with his platoon Sergeant and several others. The Sergeant told me that he was killed instantly and also where he was buried.
I will try and look up the place if I get the opportunity and will see what has been done and will do my best to get it attended to.
He was a Lance Corporal and was in charge of an advanced bombing post. The shell that killed him wounded several others I understand.
He was killed within a few hundred yards of the place I told you in the last letter, that is the village taken on the day he was killed. I can remember the time quite well. It is one of the times I will never forget.
From what the Sergeant told me I was probably about five hundred yards from him at the time.
I am going to see his brigade padre as I think he can probably give me some further particulars and if he were to write he would undoubtedly be able to take more liberties with the censor than I.
This is about all I can say except to repeat that I will see what has been done and can be done to mark his grave.
Three of us were detailed for a certain duty that night or rather morning and we had rather an exciting time. One of us, the corporal, got separated and the other chap and I had to carry on. We succeeded in doing the job and when it was over we found him but until then thought he had been hit. The work I was on gave me a good view of all that took place.
During the attack there were many thoughts crossed my mind aside from what I was doing. There is a picture of one stage of it that will always remain in my mind. Just as it was clear enough to see a distance I could see our boys going over.
Machine gun bullets were cutting the grass and whizzing past and over us. You could see them cutting the grass quite plainly. Fritz came back with a hard bombardment of heavy artillery and his big black stuff (shells) were breaking in all directions.
Thru all of this the boys walked calmly on, not a waiver could be seen anywhere. The distance they had to go and the mud prevented them from hurrying so they went at a fair walk.
What seemed to be miraculous part of it was the small number of men being hit and dropping out compared to the amount of missiles flying.
One other thing that impressed me was how human nerves could be controlled and made to face it. Yet this is easy to understand by anyone who has been thru it.
If the “slackers” in Canada could have seen what I did that morning their souls would indeed be dead if they were not touched and if they would not carry on now the goal is in sight without being conscripted.
The man who is physically fit and not tied down who is fighting conscription will have a hard time when we get back.
What they deserve is to be dumped in the Atlantic and Pacific and allowed to swim to a happy land that is not worth fighting for. I cannot understand the creature he is not a man who still holds back at this stage of the game.
There is no room on this earth for two things war and civilization, one or the other has got to go under. So long as might is right there will be war and there is no such thing as civilized warfare, it is a myth.
Of course there is only one way for civilization to hold its own against warfare and that is to fight it.
There is not much I can say about this except that we upheld the reputation that this brigade won on ____ ____ April ____ 15 and were highly complimented by the Army Corps, Division and Brigade commanders. (the blanks were purposely left by the writer in the letter due to security reasons as letters home were heavily censored.)
One General told us that our Brigade colours which we wear on our shoulders should, after that performance, mean more to us than the lambskin apron to the mason or the cross to a christian.
You will doubtless know all about it after the war and should it not be my fortune to be spared to tell it, you may then be some satisfaction to know that you were represented there and to Mrs. Brown to know that she was represented at what was one of the hardest fought battles and best victories yet fought by this brigade and had others done as well there would have been a different tale to tell.
Easter Monday was easy compared to it.
If Mrs. Brown has lost her bread winner she can proudly look to the future knowing that her welfare has been paid for in advance. Next to the stain placed on Canada’s name by the slackers would be the stain caused by those who have been protected refusing their obligation to those who have suffered.
As you know I have always said that the folks at home have the hard part. But I am sure any mother would sooner have their son die as Archie Brown did than die a slacker at home in Canada.
If I be spared to return I will be able to give some particulars I cannot write.
To Mrs. Brown, the loss of her son should be alleviated to a certain extent by the satisfaction of duty done. In greatest danger there is always a great satisfaction in knowing we have played the game and to a mother it must be some comfort to know it was her influence that made us equal to it.
I just heard last night Fred Townsend is missing. I saw him about three weeks ago. The Oyen bunch have been unusually hard strapped now.
Dinner is up so I must quit.
As ever,
J.E.B.

 

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