W-MCP6-1.462 TO THOMAS B.MCQUESTEN from his friend Dr. Norman Leslie
Oct 15 1916
To: Thomas Baker McQuesten [ Whitehern] Hamilton Ontario
My Dear Tom,
Yours received and glad as always was I to hear from you.1 I have got as I remember one package--Bull Durham tobacco from you, but I have received one package not named, of pipe tobacco, and I have received two packages from Miss McMeekin's florist [&?] Drewery's Drug Store. These as I infer are her own private gift to me (warn squalls) and I am taking them as such. So one of your packages has probably gone astray. But please have your card put in so you get the benefit of my prayers, not as unknown, so all will then be right and proper as should be.
As you say, I should get leave to Canada, and believe me I am going to have a try. As for resigning, I think I will stick it out though when I have spent six months or more up, I think I will have a try for England. I never have been there and should have little trouble in getting it as I have spent about two years in France. Still I don't know but what I like France and probably will be dead keen on getting back. My life at the Front I like. True there are certain times when one wishes he hadn't but those times are not frequent, and one has to take the thick with the thin, and at that my position is so much better than the first lines, that I really by comparison am quite safe. The recent fighting in which the Canadians have figured and that well has been severe but the losses compared with what was gained are slight.
I have gained a great respect for the Germans as a dugout builder. [Diagram included] These dugouts are up to 30 feet deep, sloping shafts generally two, sunk into the chalk, and at its bottom generally a passage with small rooms cut out. These stairs at one time were away from the direction of fire, but as the dugouts changed hands, what were the back doors, naturally became the front doors, and as Fritz had the range of these dugouts the porch became a [sorting?] place. Some casualties resulted from this, but down below, one was safe tho' alarmed for to have a shell hit above you or near you caused a disturbance which did not make for comfort. The dugouts themselves, some of the ones taken over [were?] terribly dirty equipment British and German, and smell very badly from more horrible causes. The Germans had made bunks and on these were pillowcases. These often were blood soaked and horrible. Some did not have the dead cleared out till our own men did it. Some of the sights on the road and trenches recently taken were horrible. Seared themselves into my brain. I know dead in all sorts of attitudes and conditions. At that time it was impossible to clear them. We had enough to do with the living and it is not right to risk the living for the dead. But we clean up quickly and are decent burying as soon as possible so by now all will be gone and identified. What war really means I know now. The sights, sounds and conditions are terrible, but shining through it all, the manly virtues; courage, steadfastness and self sacrifice. The officers and men hold and advance through hell and after it all as willingly risk themselves again to help the wounded. And the wounded themselves take their often heavy burden and bleak future with a bright courage that often is heart breaking. They are truly a fine lot. As for souvenirs, there are lashings of them and our men came out with a great many odds and ends. I could have got heaps but ongoing in and out, one if he is wise and of a prudent nature, travels as light as possible. There are sounds in the air which are the best physical stimulants I know of. One does not stand on the order of going, but goes.
I am becoming agile and can hurl myself on my face with true circus like dispatch and neatness, and I have not much practice at that. So the less equipment one carries I find the better. I believe in burrowing into the breast of Mother Nature. So few souvenirs for me but a whole skin.
But to go back to dugouts. Fritz wrought well but he left his card on many. After my first tour I itched in the wrists [thru'?] the chest tummy and knees. Lord it was awful. I tore myself to pieces. The itch is back. I became almost naked and unashamed. I scratched in public and before rank. Ralph [?] came into my dressing station when his lot took over, and even in the face of [itchist??] and the cloth did I undo myself and scrape, scrape. The Duke of Argyll was a truly great man and to be blessed.2 But the itch is now gone, praise be to perseverance and chirurgical skill and certain cunning unguents. Never did I know a better patient.
If you want to send me some tobacco as you hinted, send me some [Brahadhis?] Guards Mixture. Drewery knows the kind. A man here, like the sick, takes fancies principally because he pictures the place and the friends it comes from. I get lots of Colton here, the best, but like great desires for the kinds I knew. I can picture the places at home; not homesick now, but a sort of dream land where I was happy and did not know it. I am happy enough here all right, but it is different.
I guess old lad you are having a hard time of it running the whole ranch by yourself, but as you have a fair (not physically) head on yourself, you will do it properly I know. Am glad to
Hear Logie is doing well. He is a clever man. I heard from George. He sent me a pipe on my birthday, the first knowledge I got of him, and a pleasant one. He is doing well I think, and I am most glad. The old story about blood being thicker is most true I find, and I watch his progress with anxiety. He is showing his good qualities and a great deal of feeling and good sense, which
makes him a fine fellow.
But I find I have written a prodigious long letter and most disjointed one I fear, and as the candle is down and as alas I now am like the early lark I will say goodnight.
Your old friend,
P.S. Please remember me to your mother and sisters.
1 Following is a list of some of the letters (in our archive) from Dr. Norman Leslie to his friend Thomas Baker McQuesten about his war service in WWI from 1914 to 1918. The letters begin on the ship going over to England and continue through his service there and as surgeon in France in the trenches, which he describes graphically. For the full chronological list see:
2 GOD BLESS THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
"How many times have you scratched your back against a tree, post or other object, being unable to reach an itch? An old story, confirmed by the recently deceased MacCailein Mor, is that the eighth Duke of Argyll, on seeing cattle and sheep being irritated by flies and other beasties dining on their nether regions, erected posts on his estate against which the animals could rub and scratch themselves. This caught the attention of the nation and, whenever Scots would scratch their backs against a post or other object, it became a custom to use the phrase, 'God bless the Duke of Argyll.'"