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Clarence Joseph Bessette
2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles
1 April 1890 B.C. ~ 5 June 1916 France
"I have a small bit of shrapnel
that struck the trench quite close to my head. One shell, a
six-inch one, went through the parapet and landed right
between Speechly's feet, but it too failed to explode. All
the boys were not so fortunate, however..." Clarence J. Bessette 10 Dec. 1915
"INTERESTING LETTER FROM THE TRENCHES"
"Lumby Man Gives a Graphic Account of Life on the Firing
The news is permitted this week through the courtesy of
Christien of Lumby to publish the following letter recently
received from Clarence J. Bessette of that place, who is a
member of "A" Squadron of the Second C. M. R. He writes:
December 10, 1915
Miss Marjorie Christien
Excuse me if this letter is badly written as I am writing
some straw with a box as a desk: besides, my pencil is just
about two inches long. However, though writing under
difficulties, I will try to write a long letter as I have
much to speak of to you.
In the Trenches
As it will just be about New Year's when you receive this
will begin by wishing you a prosperous New Year. I received
all your letters and also those from Aldea and others. Your
last one came to me on the day we went into the trenches for
the second time, and I have not had an opportunity too write
to you until now. Many interesting things happened in the
trenches this time. I will try to tell you everything as it
After leaving the trenches last time, we spent about six
working parties. We were billeted near a nice little town
about seven miles back of the firing line; one of the few
places along the front that has not been blown to bits by
the Germans. We would walk about three miles everyday over
the most wretched roads, sometimes in a downpour of rain.
When it rains here it is generally accompanied by a cold
penetrating wind. I think it was with pleasure we heard we
were to have a few days in the trenches.
We moved on a
Sunday night from our billets to a place about three miles
closer to the front line into reserve. On Friday night we
moved up to the front line. It was a tramp of some three
miles and a half by the road, but unfortunately for us we
found that the Germans were shelling the road, so we had to
go by a longer way, over a wretched trail, over a steep
hill. As I was carrying a very heavy pack, you may judge
that it did not improve my temper any. Besides, I had just
got over an attack of grippe. We arrived eventually at the
front lines without any incident of importance. All was
quiet along the lines, and we soon were shipshape. It was
raining a little and misty.
That night I stood guard with
another chap. We took spells of two hour shifts through the
night, so you may judge we had not much sleep. In fact, you
do not get much sleep in the trenches, one has to steal it
between his various duties. When you consider that we do our
own cooking, having to travel a considerable distance for
water, and to rustle our own wood besides, you may judge we
are busy. At night, of course, we take our spells on guard.
An Inferno of Noise
Our first day in the trenches was not very eventful, until
o'clock in the afternoon, except that my troop sergeant,
Sergt. McBane, was wounded in the foot by a stray bullet
about ten minutes after arriving in the trenches. Pete Catt
knows him I think. About eleven o'clock a.m. I had a cup of
tea, and crawled into my dug-out to have some sleep. I was
awakened about two hours later by a very inferno of noise.
Word had been passed down the line in the morning that we
were to lay low that afternoon as a big bombardment of the
German lines was to take place. But it appears they started
the show. Inside of a dugout is about the last place in the
world to be in a bombardment, so you may be sure I wasted no
time in vacating mine. We went through one of the severest
bombardments that afternoon, which our line in that part had
suffered for nearly three months. It is heartbreaking to
suffer, because you must sit down and pretend to like it,
hoping your artillery is giving them the same dose. Time and
again, shells landed quite close to my bay, covering me in a
shower of mud and rubbish, but fortunately we escaped
serious damage on our part. Two six- inch shells struck the
parapet right in front of me, but luckily they both failed
to explode, otherwise you would not have heard from me
except on the casualty lists. I have a small bit of shrapnel
that struck the trench quite close to my head.
One shell, a
six-inch one, went through the parapet and landed right
between Speechly's feet [Lorine's Note: I believe this is Thomas Speechly from B.C. who also enlisted in the 2nd CMR on 8 Dec. 1914. See notes below], but it too failed to explode. All
the boys were not so fortunate, however, as one shell
landing on the parapet further up the line exploded, killing
one and wounding six. Two of the Coldstream boys were in
that lot, Malcolm and Malan K. They are both suffering from
shock. The bombardment lasted about three hours, and in that
time they put about 350 shells in our part. But I tell you,
we have the satisfaction of knowing that the Germans got as
much and more back.
The most serious losses from the
bombardment were in the 3rd C. M. R. They lost over fifty
wounded and killed that day, including a Major, a Captain
and one Lieutenant. "B" squadron was not in the trenches, so
they missed the fun. After the bombardment the remainder of
the time in the front line was very quiet.
A Ticklish Position
On the second night I was put on listening post. That, I
think is the
most wretched duty in the trenches. You are on duty for one
hour and off two. Your duty is to take up station at a spot
about sixty yards in front of your own trench and lying
flat on the ground to listen for every sound. You must keep
keenly alert the whole time and report any suspicious
movements of the enemy. The night I was on duty it was
raining, and most miserable. We had to lie down right in a
mud hole with the rain pouring down on us. There was a large
party of Germans working about seventy yards away. We could
hear them quite plainly. Of course, we reported it when were
were relieved, but as the message was lost or not properly
carried forward, the O.C. never received it.
In the morning
we found that the Germans had built a strong barricade
across an important road. You may be sure there was the
devil to pay then. As we were not to blame however, we did
not get into trouble. I tell you, you have to be wide awake
to put anything over on the Germans.
The night after I was
on listening post we were relieved and went into the support
trenches. I was fortunate enough to be put on guard over
ammunition, and still more fortunate in being billeted in an
observation station. While there I witnessed a splendid
piece of work by our artillery. The observation officer
spotted two transports of the Germans moving along a piece
of road. Of course, our artillery opened on them. The first
shot landed about thirty yards in front of them. The second
landed right under the leading transport; horses, wagon,
driver and all were lifted into the air. I think I saw a
thing there, which I am not likely to have another
opportunity to witness during the rest of the war. We have
since been moved back again, into reserve now, and may be
out of the trenches for a few days. At present, we are doing
night work parties.
I think that is about all there is to tell, except that wer
well, I saw "Nick" just after receiving your first letter.
Also, Walter, Jacobe is still in the same troop with me. I
don't think I need anything at present; tobacco of course is
always welcome. Mitts and sox are always useful too. Give my
best regards to everyone and wish them all a Happy New Year.
Your friend C. J. Bessette
Diana Source: The Vernon News, newspaper. 20 January 1916, The Lumby Legion's Remembrance Scrapbook. Mailed to me by: THE
ROYAL CANADIAN LEGION, Branch 167-Phone 547-2338, Box 191,
Lumby, B.C., V0E 2G0. Ada Sampson.
Notes from Brian L. Massey: The 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) formed part of the 8th Brigade of the 3rd. Canadian Division. They served in France and Belgium during WW1.
Note from Lorine: Clarence was born in Lumby British Columbia 1 April 1890 to Peter Bessette and Virginia Martin. A farmer, he enlisted in the CEF on 8 Dec. 1914 at the age of 24. Sadly, Clarence did not make it home for he was killed only a few months after writing this letter, on 5 June 1916. He is buried in France.
He is one of the soldiers found on the online CEF database. His attestation papers can also be seen - FRONT ~ BACK. He is also found on the Virtual War Memorial
Thomas Martindale Speechly (mentioned in Clarence's letter) was born 17 Feb. 1896 in Staffordshire England, and enlisted in Victoria, British Columbia the same day as Clarence. View the front of his attestation papers
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