Friday, August 20, 2010

Harry Wellington Swanson #6406

There are two dates given for Harry Swanson’s birth - in his attestation papers he gives his date of birth as April 12, 1873. In the Ontario Canada Births, 1869-1911 there is a declaration signed by his brother on  16th. Of March 1931 that he was born April 12,1870. He was born to David Swanson and Mary Whyte. In his 1914 attestation papers he says St.Mary's, Ontario, and in the 1917 attestation papers Scotland. By 1914 he was living in Windsor. The second attestation paper suggests that he returned to Canada (probably wounded), and re-enlisted. To trace him further means finding his record of service file at Library and Archives Canada.
Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada

In a letter published in “The Windsor Evening Record” (1) Harry Swanson wrote:

“It makes a fellow feel pretty good when he gets a letter from someone at home, especially when the bullets are flying around. They are coming pretty thick just now. We take shifts of five hours on and eight hours off. The heavy batteries have started on our left; I suppose they are going to take another place over there. We captured three miles of trenches  the day before yesterday, Feb. 9, and one mile and a half yesterday, Feb. 10. I am not allowed to say in my letter where I am, but I am here and on the job.(2)

This isn’t war, Harvey, this is hell, and then some. The Germans are using all kinds of bullets on us, from dum-dums to split noses. (3)They are using a lot of flat-nosed bullets that expand about four inches, and when one hit’s a man in the forehead it takes very nearly all his head with it.

This has been a beautiful country, but you ought to see it now. The Germans have destroyed everything in sight, the church spires and convents being a special target for their big guns. One of the men who left Windsor with me - he lives in the east end- got struck with a piece of shrapnel, which took a pound or two of ‘steak’ with it. He is getting along fine. I am not allowed to tell what his name is.

We are going out of the trenches tomorrow for a few day’s rest, then we have to come back and face the music again. I have been very lucky so far: I haven’t had a scratch, but some close shaves. The Germans have the greatest spy system in the world and we are picking some of their spys (4) up every day. Some of the French, too, are selling their own country, but you know what we do with them.

If any of the boys would care to send us a few cigars or cigarettes I would feel like a millionaire. We have plenty of money, but we cannot buy anything. By the time we get a place the Germans have taken everything and there is nothing left to buy.”

(1) The Windsor Evening Record, April 7, 1915.

(2) The 1st. Battalion at this time were just outside of Ypres undergoing training. Unfortunately, the unit war diary starts after this date. We do know that the war diary of the 1st. Field Company (engineers) places the engineers at Neuf-Berquin in Northern France near the Belgium border. The infantry would be near. At this time the Canadians were occupying trenches under the supervision of British Battalions as was outlined in an earlier posting of a veteran’s interview.

(3) The terms dum dum and split nose are almost interchangeable. Both refer to hollow point bullets designed to expand on contact.

(4) I know - it’s spelled “spies” but I try not to correct their spelling. It’s hard not to. Perhaps I should put a red sp. next to the word?

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