Turning back the pages: A soldier’s letter home

photo is men from the military guarding the concentration camp near Field, BC in 1917.

Often glimpses of the past that I share with you are quite clinical. Facts and dates that show when a person was born and then carry through their time spent in Golden.

Much of this information comes from obituaries. It isn’t often that we get personal information to share, just the bare bones stuff as many of the people we write about were gone before we started to gather this information.

The following letter is an exception.

W.J. Taylor came to Golden to work at the Bank of Commerce and then enlisted in February of 1915. He was wounded three times, with the third in 1916 being the most severe. He was sent to the Ontario General Hospital at Orpington, Kent. From there, he went to a convalescent camp at Bromley and after several changes, was transferred to the Canadian Machine Gun Corps, where he went to Crowboro for a course. He was then moved to Seaford and he took a position instructing on the gun.

Interested in getting back to the front, he went to France, still instructing on the gun with the rank of Sergeant. Excerpts from a letter he sent home in July 1918, give us a small peek into the personality of the man.

“Life here isn’t so bad. We are some little distance behind the lines and are billeted in the village. Fritz hasn’t strafed us yet, but there is a fair-sized mining town a few kilos from here that he lobs one into occasionally.

We have had very hot weather recently and the nights being clear, his planes come over every night bombing. It looks pretty to see the searchlights on one, but much better to see one come down. He seems to be getting vicious and even giving hospitals a share. I note in tonight’s paper, really yesterday, that he did a lot of damage in one place. One flight commander was brought down, and I reckon he should be court-martialed and shot for what he said. The court-martial might be dispensed with. I reckon if things keep on going as they are, this is liable to develop into a war of extermination. He shells places where he knows there isn’t a soldier, just out of cursedness.

A short time ago, I was in a village that, earlier in the war, was the scene of some pretty heavy fighting. There was quite a lovely church there, but, of course, it was partially wrecked by shell fire, but all the statues practically had the hands smashed, most likely by rifle fire.

Some people blame the German officers for everything that has happened, but the common soldier isn’t any better. It isn’t likely that an officer is going to use the statuary of a church for rifle practice.

“It seems a long time since I pulled out of Golden, but I can’t say that I have found time hanging in my hands. The days pass quickly here, about as quickly as in the line. I suppose it is really because we can’t settle down to anything here. I met a few of the Golden boys out here. Sammy Shaw was the first one I ran into. Then once I was at a place close to the 72nd Battalion, so I went over and saw my old chum, George Soles. I was happy to see him looking so well, and with the D.C.M. He brought me around to Parks Dartt and Gordon Parson. They were looking well, some of the 54th were close by, and I saw Ed Weston. I met another fellow named Docking, who came down from Athalmer when we were going. I saw Alex Beattie at Seaford, and once down the line, I thought I got a glimpse of him, going past in a motor lorry.

I have been thinking of the prospects we have after the war. I had to sign some papers to say if we were going to take advantage of the government’s offer of land when we get back. Also, the amount of money we expect to have, and a lot more questions that would require a palmist to put us wise to. One chap said $25,000 and had to see his company officer as a result. He was entirely right because he had just come into some property and money from an uncle a short time before. But I suppose that it isn’t worth worrying about after the war until that time comes. The guns are keeping up a steady roar, which keeps this hut on the wobble. Perhaps Heinie has a few more men than he has rations for and wants to get rid of them.”

He closes by saying, “I could, of course, write a lot more, but the censor might think I was encroaching on the privileges of a war correspondent, and my work gets a little marking in pencil to make it look better. Please remember me to anybody I know still living in Golden.”

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