My Dearest Mary, April 8, 1917 We are at Vimy Ridge now. I am sitting in my dugout, endlessly gazing at the artillery barrage outside. The sun is starting to set, and the light is pouring the entrance. Today have been a harsh day, and I will take some time to write a letter to you before I slumber. The significance about writing to you today is because it may be my very last letter. Tomorrow, we are going on an all-out assail. It is going to be the day that will not only change my own fate, but also fate of thousands of warriors.
I have been through a lot in the past battles, but the war has never been as devastating. Thousands of men have fallen from machine guns and shell fire. In the open fields of No Man’s Land, we stand no chance if we continue to stay exposed, so we dug deep trenches for cover. To the side of the filthy trenches, we dug rooms for our warriors. I am very nervous right now about my fate tomorrow. However, I am confident that I will defend my country’s honour. After years of conditioning, the warriors that survived are all ready for one final assail to claim the hills.
Today was just another like the rest. We woke at 4 o’clock in the morning to the echoes of the rain, then hastily practised some drills with my platoon. Before long, we took defensive sniper positions until noon, when we were able to stand down for only a short moment. The trenches are flooding, but we must not get off guard. In the afternoon, our armory exploded after being struck by a shell. The unfortunate ones have perished in the explosion, and we also lost many crates of guns and hand grenades. In the bright side, the guns that got destroyed were just more of the infamous Ross Rifle.
These guns are a pain to carry around. The length and weight limits our mobility through the battlefield which isn’t a problem if it’s worth extra inconvenience. However, these guns are not even good for the trench warfare! I was almost killed when the gun got overheated, because I could not hold off the advancing wave of enemy. My comrade tried to take them down but his gun got jammed by the dirt! Luckily, we were miraculously saved by a perfectly shot shell. Many of us are stripping guns off the dead British soldiers, specifically the Lee Enfield. This is not legal, but it is our last resort.
My sergeant just told me today that a group of British is coming soon to inspect this situation. Finally, we got signaled “all safe. ” We were able to return to our dugouts after a long and extremely tiring day. Even so, we don’t have time to rest just yet. The moment I am writing this, we are packing up and preparing for tomorrow. If we fail, then we will perish. But if we conquer, we may finally have a chance to return home. I was transferred to the 4th division one month ago. Each of our 4 divisions have closely adopted on a plan to attack the hills, currently run by the Jerries.
If we closely follow our procedure, we should have no problem. I received your previously letter a week ago. Well responding to your question, life in the trenches is a living hell. In the hot and dry days, the trench walls are crumbly and rough. The jagged walls make us unable to stay in the sniping position for long, and we quickly get dehydrated under the direct sunlight. The smell of the rotting corpses builds up more when it is hot. When it rains, the trenches erode so much we constantly have to enforce it. The trench does not have drainage, so we are forced to operate in waist-high water.
Many of the comrades get infected with gruesome diseases such as the Trench Foot, as a result of staying soaked in dirty water for too long. The trenches are infested with mice, insects, diseases, and human corpse. Even worse, the trenches smell like chemicals and rotting carcass. We are always cold, wet, and hungry. Large pests such as huge rats dwell in the trenches, feeding off the bodies of the fallen. In here, we often see rats that grow to the size of a cat! Smaller pests such as Lice will even feed off the ones still alive. Lice thrive in our clothing and hair, and the only time I can get slightly cleaner hair is when it rains.
However, corpses are the worst in the trenches. It takes up space, smells horrific, and filled with diseases. Most of the men here are very determined carry on despite the conditions, but determination itself will not help. Are low on food, and don’t have nearly enough energy to work to our full proficiency. Most of the time, we are starving. Even when we are satiated, we quickly get hungry after our drills and chores. In certain occasions, such as last morning, we get treated with good bacon and bread. However, our main diet consists of food that disinterests us at sight.
Most of the time we eat bully beef, which is often so bad made I’d rather starve. Sometimes, the beef is so salty I instantly thirst for water. At other times, it comes undercooked we can even see the raw red colour. In the morning, we usually eat bread with some nice and good tasting jam. Unfortunately, the jam is not nearly enough to satisfy us. Other than water, we get to drink some sweet type of tea. I don’t drink it, though, because it tastes awful. As a snack, we get to eat hard biscuit. As slang, we call these biscuits jawbreakers, because they are really hard enough to do it.
Without any type of liquid, I doubt we can even digest it if we swallow it. The dull and hardly healthy meal leaves many men vulnerable able to different type of sickness. The good thing is, all the men here are much too gallant to be affected by these problems. We have already lost so much in the war, so we will be responsible to conquer in honour of the fallen. It is starting to dip into the dead of night. I cannot stay up for any longer, as tomorrow will be the day to decide my fate. I will get some slumber now, and write to you as soon as I can, if I have a chance. With best of love to my supportive and caring family, Arthur J. Wilson