Wounded in WWI, a soldier writes home to Canada

Charles “C. E.” Clarkson left behind his wife and five children, one being Nelson’s Charles (Chuck) Clarkson.

Charles “C. E.” Clarkson was raised in England and immigrated to Canada as a young man. He volunteered and served with the 16th Scottish Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1914 at age 25. He saw action in the First World War at St. Julien, Belgium, near Ypres, where he was gassed and wounded. He was paralyzed for 16 months with post-traumatic stress disorder and spent almost two years in hospital. He returned to Canada and settled near Chilliwack, where he married and in 1929 moved his family to Saskatchewan for 13 years.

In 1942, the family moved to Maple Ridge. He died in 1947 at the age of 58, having never fully regained his health after the war. He left behind his wife and five children, one being Charles (Chuck) Clarkson who has lived in Nelson since 1973. He too volunteered and served his country overseas in the Second World War with the 6th British Airborne Division, seeing action in the Battle of the Bulge (Ardennes) and the Rhine River Crossing. He also served 16 years with the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1954-70.

Below is a handwritten letter the WWI veteran penned to his brother in Canada while recovering in an English war hospital.

Dear Brother,

A line or two to let you know that I am progressing favorably after my little shooting experience.

Well we certainly gave the enemy hell on the night of 22-23 April. You will know all about what the Can Scottish did by this time. We made a “Charge” in the moonlight and lost pretty much all our officers and a big majority of the men. It was hell I can assure you and the gas the enemy used “got our goat” but we did not turn back, “oh no!” We just kept on going ahead all the time until we had driven them back. The French had to retire owing to the “gas” and we were in billets at Ypres when they started shelling it we “cleared for action” (new term of mine) and dug ourselves into “Mr. Earth” on the bank of the Canal (Yser) this was at about 7:30pm.

Well at 8:30pm we started up the road to St. (Saint) Julien arrived at the village of St. (Saint) Jean and got into “open order” and started across in the direction of the “Huns”.

Found them digging trenches round about St. Julien well we laid down flat until 12 (mid) when the order came to “advance”, and well! – what with “Jack Johnsons” and shrapnel, machine guns and rifle fire it was —! I don’t know how we faced it but we got to where M.Hun was. Then there was a scrap! Cracked skulls, “pig sticking” and such a row!

I heard a cheer when we started the “Charge” and then it was every man for himself. We lost a lot of good men and I really don’t know how many of us are left. We did the “Charge” (16th) and were supported by the 10th Battalion but when we got to the front trenches it was hard to tell who lead and who supported, but anyway we drove them away and won a little glory from Sir J. French and also the whole nation. I tell you it is worth while being called a “Canadian” here now. Nothing is too good for us at the hospitals.

Well enough of this dope for awhile, we have three bars to our medal now. Neuve Chapelle, Hill 60 and Ypres. Well my wounds are getting along OK. Have been in bed three weeks and looking forward to be out tomorrow for a little while. Have one at each end (left foot and head) but I got one or two of those “Huns”. Certain of one I have his bayonet and bolt from his rifle. Well by the time you get this I will be OK again and probably at home for a rest.

We are well looked after here, a little monotonous, but it is good to be in a civilized country again after the ravages of France and Belgium. They caught a [unreadable] and nailed him to a fence and started bayoneting him. When we are in the trenches it is not so bad, but when the order comes to “Charge” well it looks a “little hot.” I have seen some of them though just before the fatal order start a row among themselves and one often hears the remark – “Wait until after the Charge and then I’ll have it out with you”. All the time thinking of petty affairs. In the middle of an attack somebody will just ask you for a “fag.” Maybe it’s the last he’ll ever smoke, he’ll light it then off he’ll go for the Germhe with bayonet fixed and as cool as cucumber.

It is queer but you never feel the danger at all until after you’re hit and then you think you will get another and in most cases will begin to shiver a good deal. I just managed the first trench when “bing” and your humble felt a little sick. I crawled on hands and knees for about 2 miles to “dressing station” there were more than I too. Well the ambulance were busy that night and lots of poor devils couldn’t move. I remember one man a Sergeant (16th) wanted me to cut away his arm, it had been blown to pieces and hung in shreds. Another man got in the way of a “Jack Johnson” and we never saw him again (or any part of him). Well it was a nasty mess and a little rest will do some of us good.

Well now a word about the attention we received. We arrived at the dressing station and a bandage was put on the wound, from there you are shifted to a “Clearing Hospital” where you get a little better bound up and if you are then fit to travel are sent out of the way altogether. (If very bad you are kept at C.H. for a little while). Well you arrive at some stationery Hospital in France (Boulogne in my case) and are there tended to by the best nurses in existence and if you will not be ready for fighting in three weeks you are sent to “Blighty” (slang for England) if only a very slight wound you are kept in France.

In my case I left Boulogne and went to Havre stayed there a week and then was sent over here and can say that, throughout, ever since I was wounded I have never had any cause of complaint and if all the hospitals are like those in Boulogne, St. Omar and Havre (France) and war hospital Reading (Eng) well we can rely on the wounded being comfortable, happy and soon back again in the firing line. We are allowed any visitors we like here and the grounds are kept in perfect order by skilled men.

As for the wards well I never thought it was possible to for such cleanliness to be maintained. For it is only by the untiring efforts of the “Sisters”, that we are kept in a good healthy and cheery condition.

Well dear Brother do as you like with this letter send it to the paper or not but we all while wounded perfectly happy. I have just got out of bed for the first time 17th but will be OK in a week or two.

Your loving Brother,

Chas

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