Neil – Mother: 29 Oct 1917

Cambridge Hosp
Dear Mother,
Still here you will be glad to see.  I expect you are worrying at this very moment about us living on issued rations among the snow on One Blanket Hill; whereas actually we both have the afternoon off and have just come up from a cozy billiard room where we have been playing for two hours at the rate of 1 1/2d each per hour.  We eat on the average seven meals a day – tucker is very cheap at the canteen.  We go to the theatre three times a week.  We have four blankets, a pillow and our overcoat and a fire going in the barrack room practically day and night.  Our washing is done for us free of charge.  So you see at the present moment we are not deserving of any great sympathy on account of the hardships we are suffering.  The only fly in the ointment is that we are frequently pulled out of bed about 1 am to transport poor devils from France from the train to the Hospital.  I am still in the operating theatre the novelty of which has just about worn off.  There is plenty of work doing but every one has to work here.  One does not mind so much when one is doing something useful which will someday provide an answer to ones grandchildren’s impertinent questions as to the part one played in the great war.  What a lot of “ones”, but I had to keep them going after having started with one “one”.

I am getting rather slow writing letters.  I’ll have to buck up a bit.  I have received a number of letters from you all.  I’ll read them again as they come out of my pocket and comment if necessary.

First one Aug 12th from you.  Very good of Dickenson, I shall look forward to the duff (plum duff, ie plum pudding) .  Roy (Neil’s brother aged 18)  in his high glee concerning the lowering of the age limit (probably the age limit for the compulsory military service ballot) deserves to be spanked.  Stick a needle in his arm if he feels heroic about France – that will cure him.  Poor old Norman Donald will be feeling rather sorry he answered Yes to those questions of Gunsons.  I am afraid your hopes of a grand reunion of the whole Dam family Xmas 1917 will not be realised now.  The long long trail seems to be winding on a long way yet, but you never know what may be around the next bend.  By the way we are in continual communication with Vic who is now at Codford.  You hope we shall get a job away from the firing line.  As far as I can gather we are fairly well out of it on the average for 9 months of the year and rather warmer work for the other three months.  But of course there are an awful lot of NZMC men who have been in it from the beginning and never hit anything hard.  We got the butter and the cake all right both of us.  The butter was excellent and came in splendidly not as a substitute for margarine but as an addition to it.  You see margarine is so expensive that they very seldom give it to us for breakfast or supper.   Trots cake was all right, but mine was rather severely gassed.  We ate the part with only white mould on it but we could only eat the raisins  of the part where the mould had gone blue.  We did not get peritonitus or anything and the mould did not affect the taste at all, so that on the whole the cake was about A2 – fit for partial active service.  It was very welcome in spite of the way it had been treated en route – the tin was very badly bashed.  I knew Selwyn Miller pretty well, he used to attend St Stephen’s B.C.

Second, a letter from Roy 20-8-17, I shall reply to him later in person.  Meanwhile you can inform him that a Home Service Acting Sergant Major (without pay) of Senior Cadets renders himself liable if he is impertinent to an Active Service  Medical  Corps man.

Third a letter from Dad 17-8-17 They will all regard this letter to you as a reply to them.  It is easier than writing separately and it comes to the same thing.  Dad’s letter is three pages and two margins long – you remember what he used to say about letters that exceeded 3 pages.  There is a lot of news in it and it cheerfully expects to get submarined, but there is nothing further to comment on.  I think Gorries idea about  you all writing once a week a very good one and I am pleased that Gorrie (as Dad says) is keeping him up to it. 

Fourth, a letter from Gorrie x6-8-17.  He hopes we are having better weather here than he is there. He is deeply disappointed then.  I appreciate what Kipling meant  when he said “And this damned English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones”.  (Part of the lyrics from Mandalay – “An’ the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones”); He, Gorrie, expects we are in France and wishes us better luck than Vic had.  On the whole I think about the same luck would do us   Our mouths are watering already in anticipation of that xmas cake and the butter which are about due now and which we shall not wait till Xmas before eating.  Many thanks to you both.  Gorrie hopes he’ll get drawn as he objects to the uncertainty.  I’d give a lot for a bit of the uncertainty he objects to in Akd for a while.

Fifth, a letter from Dad 9-9-17.  I hope Sept 20th was a lucky day for Gorrie.  If it wasn’t send us his number.  He expects Roy will take some holding in when he turns nineteen.  Well, you have asylums there for the purpose.  Lesia is pretty certain not to pass.  We sent that cable from the troopship lying out in the stream – not from London.  He says Mac does not like drill – did he ever know anyone who did?

By the way you remember the arrangement that the cost of the frames for those enlargements would be borne by us.

Sixth one from you 2-9-17.  We took for granted you would tell Mrs Musker and Auntie Bella (Christina’s eldest sister) when we mentioned Alec’s and Charlie’s names.  (Neil’s cousans – Alvin’s note.  Possibly the 6th and 7th children of Isabella Matheson [Christina’s eldest sister] and William Young.  Charles Maxwell Young would be 33 in 1917 and Alexander Matheson Young would have been 31 in 1917.  Source:  We charged ’em 2/- each for mentioning them.  Some sharks aren’t we!  Your hope that Norman would not go to France as quickly as Vic did is certainly realised.  I am beginning to think we may never go there at all.  There are rumours of bad trouble in Ireland and in Italy and we might possibly go to either.  France seems about played out anyway.  Everyone pretty well has been there.  I’d sooner go to somewhere entirely fresh.  There is no word yet of our going back to Ewshot from here.  We may still be here (in England) ‘Xmas.  We may cable you then if we have both the money and opportunity at once

Ever Yours