A letter published in the November 4, 1915, edition of the Kingsville Reporter relates some of the experiences of Private “Harry” Sirverns, late of Kingsville, Ontario. The letter covers the early experiences of the 18th Battalion as it goes into the line and furnishes another lens from a foot soldier of the war from his perspective. Though, like his brother Samuel, born in England, he fully identifies with his adopted community and writes a summary of his experiences from September 15 to October just after the October 13, 1915, death of his friend, “Scotty”.
The letter speaks volumes on its own…
From Pte. Harry Siverns
Somewhere in Belgium, 1915.
We Kingsville boys of the 2nd Canadian Contingent wish to thank the people of Kingsville for kindly sending tobacco. As we have not time to write to everybody we know in town, someone suggested that we should ask a favor of you, that is, to print this note o thanks in your paper. You can picture us sitting around a small fire, the back of the trench, or in our “dugouts” and while smoking Canadian tobacco we recall the good times we spent in and around Kingsville.
No doubt many of our friends are anxious to know what we have been doing since we left England. I, (Harry Siverns), will give you a few notes from my diary.
We started away from Sandling Camp at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 14th, reaching Folkestone at 9 p.m. and boarded a transport at 9.30 p.m. Everything must have been arranged fine for we were on our way across the channel in fifteen minutes after boarding the vessel. About half way over we were rammed by another vessel. Out first thoughts were that the Germans has torpedoed us. We waited for a few seconds (they seemed like hours) to hear the explosion, but of course no explosion took place. While some of our fellows were rushing on deck the ship gave an awful lurch; this was due to the other vessel backing away from the gap she had made. It was lucky for us that our transport was a paddle steamer for the paddle was knocked right off on the starboard side. However, we landed at Boulogne at 5 a.m. after being towed to port. The journey should have been made in two hours and a half.
The Battalion rested at a camp just outside town until 5 p.m., entrained at 6 and reached —— [St. Omer, France] at 10 p.m. For some reason or other we were told that we only had to march three miles but we marched all night or should I say all that night and morning and billeted in a school at —– [Eecke, France].
The next morning, Sept. 17, we started another long hike. How we managed to reach our destination I really can’t tell you. One fellow, who had blisters all over his feet, would not drop out. He took off his shoes and bound up his feet with his puttees. We couldn’t help cheering him as he started away again after a short rest on the road side.
On Sunday the battalion was inspected by Prince Arthur of Connaught. He said how pleased he was to welcome us on behalf of the boys of the 1st contingent.
Monday Sept. 20, was a great day for us. It was a pay day. As everyone was “broke” tow weeks before, you can imagine what kind of a time we had in the little village close to the billets with 15 francs in our pockets. On Thursday, tow of the enemy’s aeroplanes were brought down by our anti aircraft guns. 2 a.m. A Coy marched into the reserve trenches. The Germans shelled our headquarters but they did not do any damage. Monday we left the trenches and were billeted in a barn about two miles away. We left the barn early the next morning and a good job we did for the Germans shelled it soon after we left and blew it to pieces. On Wednesday, Sept. 29, Captain Hellum [Hallam] was killed by a sniper. He was a good man and a fine soldier. Thursday we lost another A Coy man, Wm. Frew. He often spoke of Kingsville and the people he knew there. [He] was with B Coy in the support trench when he was hit by a stray bullet.
While our platoon (No 3) was in No 5 redoubt or supporting point, the enemy tried to shell us out. They fired 31 “coal boxes” (6 inch) shells in a field close to us but not one did any damage. These shells are called “coal boxes” on account of the black smoke they create on exploding. The “Whiz-bangs,” 3 inch shells, travel almost as fast as a rifle bullet and make a noise when travelling through the air just like one saying Whiz-bang very fast. We can hear the Jack Johnsons and Coal Boxes coming for quite three or four seconds before they burst.
On Oct. 4 our Brigade moved to another part of the line. On Oct. 11, I, along with 9 other men were sent to help B Coy’s bombers. B Coy had been in the trenches two days then. Sgt. Maj. Aikman, Corporal Hammond Gardiner and Malcom Campbell are in B Coy as most of you know.
Every morning about six o’clock our fellows would greet the Germans by shouting “Good morning, Fritz,” and they would shout back, “Good morning, Eighteenth.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 13th, we were told expect an attack about 3.30. Smoke bombs were given out all along the line and men had orders the throw them on a given signal. The signal was one flare to be sent up from the 20th Battalion lines if the wind was favorable. The 20th Battalion threw the bombs and made an attack. They gained what they wanted. About 3.45 the enemy started to shell our trenches. Two brothers of B Coy were killed by pieces of shrapnel and for or five others were wounded. Among the wounded was our old comrade, Malcolm Campbell. A bullet hit him in the side of the head and came out on top. He died the following morning. He is buried a short distance from where I am writing this letter. We have fixed a rude cross over his grave and on it is written, “Rest In Peace. In loving memory of Malcolm Campbell. His Country called him and he answered.”
We Kingsville boys will miss “Scotty” for a long time to come.
We get the Kingsville Reporter every week and read it with interest. We are always anxious to know what is taking place in town. Thank you in anticipation we remain
Very truly yours
Source: Kingsville Reporter. Page 1. November 4, 1915.