Saturday, 2 February 2013

'My washing water is frozen every morning'

Freeze-up in France
How soldiers on the Western Front must have longed for the winter to finish!
Even those who were used to temperatures falling well below zero were finding things hard going by the end of January 1917.

This medic, for example, came from central Canada where severe weather is the norm, but he certainly wasn't feeling at home in France. He wrote home: 'We are having real winter weather now, colder than anything experienced last year. There has been quite a depth of snow lying for the last 10 days and the ground is frozen hard. The temperature could not have been much above zero this morning which is very cold for this country. Fortunately we are not in the trenches but in billets in a village behind the lines. It is none too comfortable in billets but I hate to think of what it must be like in the trenches.

'The day the snow started we marched 10 miles in a thick storm. A hard wind was blowing and the storm at times looked almost like a blizzard. The roads are now covered with ice and frozen slush. This mess makes very bad going for horses. I have sick parade now at 6.30am and this means getting up at 5.30. My washing water is frozen in the room every morning.'

Six months later, though, life was transformed as can be seen from this letter he wrote in June 1917 which makes it hard to believe there was a war on at all!

'Yesterday was the Brigade sports day and the program lasted all day. It was blistering hot but everything went off well.Our unit won a number of events including 1st and 2nd in the mules race.

'This morning after church parade a few of us got our horses and rode off to our swimming pool which is about 3 kilometres away. The pool is an old disused quarry filled with water. It must be about 500 feet long, half as wide and very deep. It makes an ideal place for swimming although I must confess that I shouldn't mind having a chance to take a dip in the sea again. However, we all enjoyed both our ride and swim. The day is too hot for walking. 'I noticed some children out picking wild strawberries. It made me think of strawberry shortcake. Lord! It seems to me to be years and years since I have seen or eaten a piece of strawberry shortcake.'

It's good to see that soldiers knew how to enjoy themselves when the opportunity arose; after all, another harsh winter was only months away

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