Memorial Day got me to thinking about my grandfather Roy Hebert.
He dropped out of school in the eighth grade and earned a living as a journeyman glassblower in Ontario, Canada. Perhaps seeking adventure, as a 17-year-old he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army.
A few months later he was on the front lines in Belgium, fighting in Passchendaele, where the Allies ultimately took 300,000 casualties.
My grandpa was among the wounded. He spent more than a year in a British hospital.
While there, he wrote this six-page letter to my grandmother on stationery emblazoned with the Canadian flag. To me it’s a reminder of why it’s so important to honor our troops for the sacrifices they make:
Well Myrtle you asked me if I could tell you about my experience so I’ll try to tell you a little of it. You know if I were to tell all, I’d be writing for a month or so.
I’ll tell you about the Passchendaele scrap in Nov. 1917. Just before we went up to Ypres which was our horse lines we had a few week preparation in a place called bastric. We got to our horse lines about four p.m. and at 7 p.m. half of our boys had to go up to the front line (two) of them being (brothers) and they just got a few hundred yards when (one) got both of his legs blown off and and the other wounds about the body which I witnessed on the morrow when I went up top to bring them their rations. On the third day we, the other half, went up to the front line and took our positions on the left side of the village at the back of it as we had not captured the village as yet.
At 6 a.m. the next morning the barrage was to start so we fixed a few shell holes in a hurry. We pulled a few dead Fritzies in the holes to keep dry. Then got the machine guns ready. At 6:30 a.m on Nov. 6, the day of the battle, he put up a barrage on us and I’ll bet in a half hour of time there wasn’t a square yard of ground that wasn’t freshly turned over by shells.
At 6 a.m. we put up our barrage and the infantry went over the top and captured the village. After they captured it they were relieved but we had to stay and hold the line for nine days after which is the worst part of the battle. We were shelled continuously besides aeroplanes firing at us with machine guns and dropping bombs on us. But the good Man was with us for there was five duds, 9.6s, which came in our emplacement one right after the other. All I got in all that time was a slight wound on the right hip and a scratch on the back of the left hand when a big piece of shrapnel to the protector glanced off my wrist watch, beside being buried by a shell one night.
Then for a rest we came out of the line on the 10th day and pulled ourselves along in the mud from Passchendaele to Ypres, which is about six miles. We had a few hours sleep then the next morning we started on a five day march from Ypres to Mericourt.
Just before we started, while we were waiting ,Jerry dropped a bomb out of a plane into a shell hole with about five dead mules in it and half full of green water which was about 20 feet from where I was standing. It buried and covered me in rotten mule flesh and water also mud. But the mules were all that saved me and many others …
As tea is on the way, I’ll close hoping to hear from you soon and often. I am as ever. Yours truly,