Arras Front, June 18, 1918

Tuesday          Weather good today. Fritz fairly active thru out the day and night especially harressing [sic] the roads His Italian offensive appears to be a failure according to the papers Slugged amm[unition] tonight weather is fair am well back fairly good

ammunition MIKAN 3395370

Slugging ammunition has got to be hard on the back, but Percy continues to improve after wrenching his back a few days ago.

Fritz may be harrassing the roads, but the Canadian artillery is getting ready for the promised raid, by cutting wire (and concealing their purpose by firing on trench mortars and machine gun emplacements “and dropping odd rounds” in the general vicinity). (1)

The Austrian offensive on the Italian front, launched June 15th, is indeed not going well. After the Austrian success at Caporetto last autumn, the Italians have been regrouping with the assistance of British and French troops and when the Austrians try to cross the Piave River, they are met with stiff resistance. “The news from Italy is most heartening,” say the Canadian newspapers. “At no point on the long mountain and river front attacked has the enemy made a breach in the Allied line. The Italians on the Piave have retired at several points, but they have prevented anything in the nature of a break through, and are fighting with steady courage that bodes ill for the Austrians who have crossed the river and appear to be unable to secure room enough on the west bank to permit the use of their great concentration of infantry.” (2)

Observers in the United States are suggesting that the Germans may have to move some divisions from the Western Front to Italy to support the Austrians, fearing the effect an Italian success would have on the “already turbulent internal situation in Austria.” (3)

Another battle in an ongoing war has been carried out by Jack McTague. Tomorrow is bath parade, he tells his mother, and he will be able to turn in the shirt he received three weeks ago for a new one. “I think there will be no weeping or gnashing of teeth when we part,” he tells her, and he is thankful that there are “no smart young ladies to be passing remarks.”  For it is “an almost seamless shirt, with plenty ventilation, I assure you. No sleeves, no tail, and spaces at the sides, where seams once were, and across the back.”

Lice MIKAN 3396705.jpgHow has he come to this ruin of a garment? “You see the day after I got it at the bath, I had some manual labour to do, in the course of which I raised a fairly good sweat. That was the start, at noon I took the shirt off and believe me, my little friends were abounding in every niche, corner and seam.” He spent a good hour picking lice out of the shirt by hand, then doused it with creoline, and finally came up with a novel treatment. Given that lice lurk in the seams, he considered “the usefulness of each seam separately, [and] came to a decision as to those which I, or rather  the shirt could best do without.”


The first photograph from Library and Archives Canada (MIKAN 3395370) shows Canadian artillerymen loading their limbers from a roadside ammunition dump; it was taken last month. The second (MIKAN 3396705) showing a man picking lice from his shirt is from the same source.

For more information on the Italian front, see Vanda Wilcox. “Italian Front.” 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War.

Jack McTague’s letter is very kindly made available by Timothy McTague.

(1) War Diary of the 13th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. Vol. 17: 7. June 18, 1918. Library and Archives of Canada.
(2) War Summary. The Globe (1844-1936). Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers. June 18, 1918. 1.
(3) “Germans fear for Austrians.” The Globe. June 18, 1918. 1.

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