Letters from the Front: James Milne

The following are excerpts from the letters of James Milne sent to friends from 1914 - 1919 and published in the Cranbrook Herald.

The Military Cross and Bar – awarded for distinguished and meritorious service in battle.

The Military Cross and Bar – awarded for distinguished and meritorious service in battle.

Jim Cameron

The following are excerpts from the letters of James Milne sent to friends from 1914 – 1919 and published in the Cranbrook Herald. He enlisted in Cranbrook in 1914 with the 12th Battalion, 1st Contingent. he remained on the front lines for the majority of the war.

Nov. 17, 1914: How are you getting on? I suppose you want to know all about our trip over the pond. To begin with, it was very long and tiresome. We were sent to Plymouth owing to the presence of German submarines in the Channel near Southampton. Plymouth is a very pretty place — almost as pretty as Cranbrook girls. Three of us got a car. Of course we overstayed our passes a few hours but didn’t get caught at it. We landed at camp and just got settled when it started to rain and it has been raining ever since. Well, the 1911 drill book is all out of gear now by the arrival of the 1914 and I hear that there is another in press that is different again.

Would you believe it, I was lucky enough to be appointed platoon sergeant. I did not expect it.  This being the first day they didn’t do a thing but give us six hours drill. I enjoyed it very much. We had a four mile march in the afternoon. I think I will take a trip to London about Thursday as I want to spend all my money before I go to the front as I would hate to be found dead with money on me.

Dec. 17, 1914: We are quartered in comfortable quarters and no complaint to make except that we are all anxious to get to the front. The men are all tired of review drill and want get on the firing line.

Dec. 24, 1914: I am indebted to your Royal Highness for a lengthy and interesting diary on the doings in Cranbrook since I left that burg. I might state that I am suffering from an attack of tonsillitis and general debility, due to the fact that I was detailed for a 24 hour guard. I am somewhat better now. Had a nice glass of stout a while ago which you know is good for a cold. Of course it is hard medicine for me to take; nevertheless I must down it and take my medicine. It don’t look as though the war would be over in a day. Pleased to see that Cranbrook is still sending out her share of volunteers.

Tell Tisdale that if he isn’t too busy he might answer my letters and also interview the B.C. government and Col. Mackey as to why we have never received our pay from them. I’m pleased to note that the ladies all send their love — so comforting — it is rather cheerful as we are slightly isolated from the fair sex here. Do not forget to write any time you can. I will try to keep you posted as to my whereabouts.

Apr.1, 1915:  I haven’t been doing much myself lately but expect I will have to get busy pretty soon now. I have no idea when we will be sent to France, but I suppose we will get there on time as I don’t think Kaiser Bill is licked yet. After we get through with the Kaiser we will return and start something there.

July 8, 1915: It is quite evident we don’t know the game but we have one advantage, the longer the Bulldog fights the harder he fights, so let us hope that the spirit of the Bulldog Breed still lives in this generation and that there will be no surrender until we reach Berlin, or till there is nothing left to surrender. How are chances to get a few shells from Cranbrook? It’s a shame to have men out at the front at the mercy of the foe with nothing to reply will, but I think that will be rectified soon now. Hope you don’t let the town die a natural death while we are away. Quite a number of my pals who went to the front have tried to stop bullets, with the result that they are back here in hospital and quite a few under the sod in France. One fellow reported here this morning who had been shot in the posterior. I think the sniper must have been behind the lines because a Canadian shouldn’t get shot in the rear.

Dec. 20, 1917: The air in the Hun cellars is not very good and by the way would you mind building me a dug-out some place around there as I won’t know how to walk around a house when I get back and, besides, someone is apt to slam a door and in that case you might find me under the bed or down the cellar. Well, this is a great old life sometimes and on the whole it is not too bad if you live the life on the lines of the old proverb: “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” it is the only system. Give my best to all, except “slackers.”

January 30, 1919 [three months following the German surrender]: I’m stationed with my battalion at Bonn [Germany] not far from Cologne. It is a very nice place. The people appear to be well dressed but the butcher shops and grocery stores are rather empty. I went deer hunting with two other officers on one of the Kaiser’s ex-preserves. We commandeered two ex-German soldiers as beaters. The deer were plentiful and we had some good sport.

James Milne earned the Military Cross and added a Bar to the cross during the final days of the war. During his four years of combat he rose from the rank of Sergeant to Captain. Following the war he returned to Cranbrook and took up his former job with “Pop” Worden’s City Transfer Company until his retirement in 1943. James Milne died in 1952, age 73, one of the many thousands whose sacrifice was great but, both amazingly and thankfully, not ultimate.