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This day in C of I history: In the trenches of WWI

From the Nov. 16, 1916 issue of the Coyote comes insight into life inside the trenches of the Great War from Andrew Bennett Thompson, who attended the C of I from 1914-1915. The son of Rev. and Mrs. Charles Thompson, Andrew was born in Hwangyen, a province of Chekiang, China while his parents were missionaries. He enlisted with the 72nd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Vancouver in September 1915, and crossed to England with that unit in April of the following year. After training in England, he entered France in August 1916, serving with the Battalion’s bombing section. Later, he was transferred to the signalers.

With the British: Former C of I man writes letter of interest about the life at the front

To those of the old students who know Andrew Thompson, the following will be interesting. He is yet remembered for his enthusiastic support of the English cause in political science class.

Extracts from letter of No. 129816, Pte. A. B. Thompson, “D” Company, 14 Platoon 72nd C.E.F. Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, c/o Army Post Office, France.

“Somewhere in France and Belgium,—

August 14—We left Southampton and arrived here safely on Sunday morning. We spent the whole day in some sheds with cobblestone floors. I slept in a horse trough and it was very comfortable on the whole. I am a real soldier now and I sleep anywhere. I have seen several batches of German prisoners and they seem quite cheery. The imperial soldiers say the French make the prisoners work very hard on the docks, and I guess they do all right. This is a base here, and one can see warehouses and supplies.

August 18—We arrived here Tuesday, leaving Havre on Monday. One would hardly believe that there was a war on here. The country is fine and the crops good. We are only three of five miles from the front and there is no sign of war. We saw only aeroplanes and balloons on the front and there is no sign of German ones. We have them scared off the map. Yesterday we went through a practice gas attack with our helmets on. We expect to go into the trenches tonight, but what part of the line I don’t know. At last I am to have a hand in Strafing the Hun, and freeing the world of a pest.

In the trenches August 28—We came up to the trenches on Saturday evening. We did not take them over, but were here with Imperial Regiment for instruction. The first night we (scouts and snipers) found places where we could, while the rest of the battalion mounted guard, and were on various working parties. It was very quiet all day, and one would not believe there was a war on. We were all watching two Imperial snipers. One of them bagged a German observer. Believe me we moved, for in three minutes oil boxes and whizbangs began to land. One trench mortar near us in the reserve began sending over shells and attracted no end of fire. Two whizbangs landed very near to us. Last night we slept peacefully. There were, of course, the usual number of star shells, which did not bother us as we were not on working parties. Just now we are having a big bombardment. We have them beat nearly 10 to one in artillery. Our shells going over with a kind of a hissing and gliding sound, like a cable-way on Arrowrock Dam (Idaho).

In the base camp, August 31—Tuesday and Wednesday were uneventful days. We left the trenches Wednesday for camp in mud and rain. Though the mud was deep and sticky and everything was soaked, we were happy and joking. We have one death, and three or four wounded.

In the trenches, Sept. 16—None of us had any idea that we would be in the trenches for so long a stretch, since we came in on the third of this month. The battalion has had about five deaths and some wounded. Two were caused through our own shells falling short. About sixty of our battalion went over on a raid last week and brought back the only two Germans they could find. When they got back, our guns opened fire for about an hour. Fritz sent back three or four. My, but we have them on a cinch. Their first line is battered to pieces and their barbwire flat. The only thing they seem to have is machine guns and snipers. On part of the line they don’t dare to show a periscope.

Sept. 20—We left the trenches and came to this work camp. We all thought we were going to a rest camp. All along this communication trench we could see old trenches which had been discarded. Tomorrow we start in working again, then into the trenches again, and then for a real rest.”

Five months after this article appeared in the Coyote, Private Thompson was killed in action by machine-gun fire during the advance at Vimy Ridge on the morning of April 9, 1917. He was buried on the ridge but later his remains were re-interred in the Canadian Cemetery at Givenchy-en-Gohelle.

This article contains information from the C of I Coyote student newspaper and the University of British Columbia Record of Service 1914-1918.