From: MacKinnon, Dr. W. T. M.
To: Mrs. T. B. Morse
June 3rd, 1915 At the Front. Somewhere in France
………But when the war is to end no one knows. The only tip I can give you is that when you hear of the Allies having taken Lille, you may count on the war being half over. You have probably seen my letter to Mrs. Clark in The Register, and know of some of the things I have done and seen.
I have been up near the fighting line for several weeks in command of a section of a Clearing Station. We are working under canvas. I have forty-four big hospital tents for the accommodation of five hundred patients. My personnel consists of four medical officers and thirty-five non-commissioned officers and men. We live in tents and do our cooking out of doors. During the recent active fighting we were very busy and several thousand cases passed through our station. On one busy day we dressed, fed and sent to the base 1036 wounded men. Recently, we have been working behind the Canadian Division, and several hundred wounded Canadians have passed through our hands. This is the first time a Canadian Station has worked behind our Canadian troops. The Canadians are now out of the trenches getting a much-needed rest. In the recent engagement they more than sustained the excellent reputation they made at Ypres.
A recent German criticism says that the Canadians are the best fighters in Europe today. They have certainly given the Germans a bad time of it whenever they have been in the lines. I was at Ypres for a day during the big fight in April. It was certainly a terrible affair. I was at the Canadian Field Ambulances, where the wounded were being brought in a constant stream from the front. I saw many of the victims of gas. The smell was so strong on their clothing that they had to be kept outside the buildings. Several died before they could be moved to a hospital. The noise of the guns and the clatter of the convoys going and coming to and from the front were terrific. Later in the day I went up to Ypres, two miles away. The place was being shelled by the Germans, but we got up to what the soldiers called Hell’s Corner. The city was in ruins. We did not find any wounded, but saw many dead horses in the streets and several dead civilians lying where they fell when trying to escape with a few of their belongings. As we were standing by the car a shell whistled by us and landed in a house about 40 rods away. We took the hint and left at once. Another shell followed and struck a house just at the moment we passed it. We put on more gas and did not wait to see the result. About a quarter of a mile further another landed in the rear of a house as we flew by. The occupants were all out in front with their household goods, waiting for an opportunity to get them away. It is a most pathetic sight to see the inhabitants leaving the danger zone. The aged are put in wheelbarrows or dog carts or sometimes even in baby wagons. Children, too small even to walk, are compelled to try, and you see them trotting along clinging to their mothers, who are loaded down with bundles of all kinds. Every kind of cart you can think of is brought into service. The stream of refugees sometimes extends for miles. When night overtakes them they sleep in the fields, if there is no shelter for them. Where they are going they do not know. Their only desire is to get away from danger.
At the hospital we see some awful wounds. Fine fellows, who have done their bit, maimed or disfigured for life, yet all anxious to recover and return to duty. When they come to us they are bloody, dirty and muddy. We give them a mattress of straw and two blankets and at once provide them with hot soup and cocoa. They are then washed and dressed and given, if possible, clean clothing. Their wounds are dressed and they are then sent by ambulance train to the Base or to England. Cases too seriously injured and cases requiring operations we keep here until they are better as the result of treatment.
We have had a number of wounded German prisoners recently. One man had a broken thigh with bone protruding. Gangrene had set in and amputation was necessary. His last words as he went under the anaesthetic were “Gott strafe England.” He recovered and was sent to England. Another convoy is coming in with more wounded, so I must stop.
Major W. T. M. MacKinnon
Address: First Canadian Casualty Clearing Station, British Expeditionary Force, France
Berwick Register, June 30, 1915
Contributor: This letter is transcribed from, and courtesy of, the Berwick Register newspaper, Berwick NS, by Phil and Stephanie Vogler and reproduced here with Phil’s kind permission.