Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Betty Johnson of London to Hugh Walter Dickson in Rosemont Kansas 1917
Whetstone Middlsex, No. 20
Nov. 29, 1917
My Dear Uncle Walter,
I am sorry I have been so long in answering your very welcome and interesting letter First of all Jack returned to Canada on the 25th or August this year to be discharged owing to wounds. He has had four wounds, been passed. The last time wounded was in the capture of Courcelette and advancing when a German jumped out of a shed hole and shot him at close range through the right shoulder and fractured the shoulder blade. He was in the hospital nearly a year and cannot lift the right arm from the shoulder. The wound wouldn't heal. He brought the Hun's helmet home that shot him which I have here with many other trophies.The matron of the hospital where he stayed asked me if I had heard about his triumphal entry into Shrewsbury when wounded and I said, "No, I hadn't." Apparently he was perched on the top of a Red Cross car wearing the helmet and looking very dilapidated when everyone cheered him. Large numbers of people meet the Red Cross trains and welcome the men in many ways. A French custom seen every day at Charing Cross now is to pelt flowers into the cars at the men. It is very impressive and pathetic.
Jack is in Montreal. He spoke of coming down to see you and of taking trip to New York, but he will wire you before he comes. His chum killed the German and his hat was the only thing Jack said was worth saving. This was about the time of the Somme attack and Jack was in the Hospital in France at Rouen. At that time Alice's husband "Jack Thacker" had to take draft of men from England to Rouen, and as he had several hours to spare before returning he sat on a seat outside the General Hospital here little dreaming Jack was inside.
About 14 days before Jack was wounded I had a field card from Bert saying, "I am wounded and in the Hospital." I felt thankful one of them was out of it as I had been worrying very much. The Somme push was just starting. About three hours later I received the following wire: "On His Majesty's Service." "Regret to inform you A. V. Dickson 10222 is seriously wounded at 22 General Hospital Commiers France. He may be visited and should you be unable to bear expenses you will be sent out at public expense. Wire whether you wish to go and whether able to bear expense or not at once." I received my passports and papers within 24 hours and about eight hours afterward was by his bed. I went on a troop ship. We were sending 3,000 men a day at that time and I had a Y.M.C.A. car to meet at Boulogue (an ordinary passport takes 3 days). He had been shot through the head by a sniper and was blind. The bullet passed under the shrapnel proof helmet in behind his ear and out at the temple. He was shot from behind while stooping to pick up his rifle, being very tall his head was above the trench. He was in an American hospital, the whole staff was from New York and they were all extremely nice and kind to me. I stayed in a Y.M.C.A. Hut behind the lines and close to the hospital for 8 days when I returned home. His temperature caused the greatest anxiety. A second operation performed while I was there and at which 14 surgeons were present, removed some pressure from the brain and restored his sight. He has recovered; however, but is deaf in one ear has attacks of giddiness. He is acting instructor at a military school now in the north of England. Since I was in France this hospital has been bombarded by enemy aircraft, and some of the staff killed.
My husband was in the battle of the Somme and did not get wounded. He held a wood with the remnants of 4 regiments for 48 hours and until reinforcements came for which he was afterward mentioned in Dispatches by Sir Douglas Haig in the New Year Honors. He has a much safer post now and it is in the Royal Engineers. He was transferred owing to ill health, but has entirely recovered now. He has met a number of the American staff and likes them immensely. He had a terrible tale to tell of his experiences in the Somme attack. He was a Town Major for a short time at Amines. A sort of Lard mayor but military representative and is responsible for the town. He nearly went quite crazy and said he would rather be a "town crier." Every complaint is made to the Town Major. If the military want 3,000 bullets at five minutes notice, if the dustbins are not emptied, if soldiers have misbehaved in billets or stolen a chicken, they all come to the poor Town Major. Charlie is in Egypt and has had injuries three times, he has just returned to his unit fit again and the last time was only back 8 weeks before being taken ill again. Alice's husband is in the Royal Garrison Artillery and is in France. Being a heavy gun he is about eight miles behind the front lines. He is Captain (acting Major) and said when he was home a few weeks ago that in September alone he sent 600 tons of shells over the Hun lines. I'd like to write 2 pages on how I hate Germans but the paper is too precious.
The food question here is very serious and people are eating anything on bread. Alice has just written she hasn't been able to get any butter for three weeks. I have been for weeks without sugar sometimes. I did get one-fourth pound of butter yesterday but do not know when I shall get any more. Also I believe the country is being skinned of cattle to feed the armies; so I do not know where we should be if it wasn't for America's help. I usually see my husband twice a year and he was home last, two months ago. I hadn't seen him then for seven months. We had an air raid nearly every night whilst he was home and he said it was worse here than behind the lines in France. After about five nights of little sleep the children were all looking worn out. I know when the guns close to me are firing, enemy air craft is pretty near. It isn't until these guns fire that Newton wakes up, generally I sit in the safest corner of the house in a corner where middle walls meet. Open stairways and near glass or doorways are very unsafe. I listen for the nearer guns to fire; and can tell if the firing gets nearer, which course they are taking. I can tell if they are driven off, because the guns gradually die away. When they are close I can hear the engines overhead and the perpetual firing makes a dreadful noise. The shells screech as they pass over the house mingled with a noise like rattling stones on corrugated iron which really is the small pieces of shrapnel rattling down the roof. The warnings have made an immense improvement as every one with common sense takes cover. I was out in the west end once when a warning as given, and I sheltered in a theater I was passing as the first gun fired. Since we have decided taking reprisal it has been much better in fact we have only had the once which were brought down by the French. The bombs have nearly all been dropped in poor quarters where I believe the panic is great partly owing to the large number of aliens. We had a day raid once when the boys at Newton's school were placed in the basement. It was only a tiny preparatory school, but one boy fainted and another was taken ill.
The shoulder strap is of a German of 111 regiment removed after he was killed in the Somme. I have a number of different regiments, --- regimental, l always marked --- the shoulder. I wonder if you will be kind enough to allow cousin Bertha to read my letter I owe her one; and am very sorry I have not answered but hope she will forgive me. It will save me writing two long letters. I work very hard and get little time for letter writing. This is about the 6th letter I have started to you. I spent Christmas with Alice, we shall both be alone. I only wish now that some of our boys had joined the navy instead. I hope Walter meets Jack in America. Newton is simply mad to join the navy. He wants to go to Osborne but my husband thinks it is no career for a man as the pay is so bad. I will send some snapshots a little later. I have some recent ones but none printed.
With much love. Believe me.
Yours very affectionately,
Original Letter and more at Past Voices