FROM THE START of the war, several English- and Scottish-born Sheridan residents had relatives serving in the British Expeditionary Force. Chief among them was Alexander Petrie, partner in the Bentley & Petrie men's clothing store, whose brother Robert was with the famous London Scottish Brigade.
A Perthshire house painter by trade, Private Petrie was a bomber when he distinguished himself at the 1917 Battle of Cambrai to such an extent that he was awarded Britain's Military Medal. He was later promoted to the rank of lieutenant and attached to a light trench mortar battery.
In his letters to Alexander, Robert Petrie not only describes incidents from the war, but discusses life on the British home front, his impressions of America's war preparations, and much, much more.
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State Historic Site
From "Somewhere in Flanders," October 15, 1917 (published November 16, 1917)
We are settling down to another winter campaign. I was hoping that it would be all finished before another winter. The weather all through has not been kind to us. At the start of each push, the rain started and hindered operations. However, on the western front, everything is secured and what we have won, Fritzy will never be able to retake. Perhaps his successes in Russia may make them hold out longer, but I don't think what he gains on that side will be of any great service to him, and the Russians will wake up one of these days. I don't for one moment expect that Russia will tolerate German rule, and when this is all over, I hope no country will tolerate militarism. If so, the sooner we have another flood, the better.
It is a difficult job keeping the trenches free of water and sometimes have to wear gum boots with the kilt floating in the water. ... There are a good many of your officers knocking about the trenches now, taking notes. I heard Fritz intends giving the Sammies a hot reception, so we shall be all watching you when you arrive. I have no doubt the first American will be anxious to make a show and, if you can stand the shell fire, you have nothing to fear from the man.
The artillery fire in this war is frightful, but one gets used to it, and it is surprising how few casualties there are after a "strafe." This kind of warfare involves far more hard work than actual fighting. We are always digging and improving the trenches which are seven feet deep, two wide at bottom and five feet wide at top, so you can see there is some labor.
From "Somewhere in France," December 8, 1917 (Published January 9, 1918)
We attacked the Hindenburg line and went further than our objective, which our lot nearly always do. We held on to what we gained for ten days, the Boches bringing thousands of fresh troops up to try and drive us out. However, we managed to consolidate and left the place when fresh troops came up.
We had a good many casualties, but the Hun must have lost heavily during his counter-attack. He tried the white flag dodge, but we took no notice and he had to leave his trenches and run for it. I did good work as I was in charge of my platoon bombing section[deleted by censor]. He gave us a terrific bombardment and again failed to get us out. The fighting was nearly all done by bombing and thousands of them were thrown by the [deleted by censor]. I am indeed thankful to have again escaped any injury.
The fall of Russia has probably given the Boche more heart, but he has a different problem to solve on the west front. Attacking in mass formation is just what we want.
From "Somewhere in France, " Undated (published January 24, 1918)
It will give you great pleasure to know that I have been awarded the Military Medal for my part in the Cambrai battle along with the London Scottish. I can't give you any account, but Mrs. Petrie will send you the London Gazette. ... One does not like to blow their own horn, [but] I am very proud of having won it in such a distinguished regiment where honors are hard to get because of its ranks being made up of the best material of any country. ... When it was read out in orders, there was quite a scene and made me blush.
It is some compensation to poor Nance, who has had a rough time, but has done her part splendidly. She never complains, and your goodness to her from over there has very much pleased but not surprised her. I am glad to have earned your generosity, Alex, and hope to be spared to wear my medal. ... I am looking forward to see my dear little ones. It is now over a year since I saw them, but they are all well and child-like pleased I am out here.
From "Somewhere in France," Undated (published March 15, 1918)
I have just returned from leave to England. .. It was indeed a great joy to be with the wife and little ones again after thirteen months in this land of strife and bloodshed. Naturally they were a little distressed at my leaving again, but not too much, for the wives and children are getting used to that sort of thing over here.
They are beginning to feel the pinch of the war a good deal at home, and Mrs. Petrie has to go out sometimes for hours to line up for food. ... Food, especially tea, sugar and margarine, is very high and served in small quantities. I think there ought to be a scheme for rationing all commodities, especially to soldiers' families. There is plenty of money being earned by the home mob, and they appear to be discontented because they cannot buy more than they are entitled to. I suppose these things will right themselves eventually, but it seems to me they are slow in taking form, perhaps because of certain interests. ...
From "Somewhere in France," March 3, 1918 (published April 6, 1918)
We have had splendid weather up to the first day of this month. Ithas lived up to its reputation by coming in like a lion and sincerely hope it soon calms down again. However we can look now forward to the better weather. It is bitterly cold with a little snow.
Yes, Russia is reaping the fruits of her folly, but expect the Boche will find something to do to keep the people in order for some time to come. They will likely soon tire of being ruled by the sword.
You seem to be moving over there with war preparations and we are beginning to hear of your doings over here. Of course it takes a long time to get an army together but when you get full strength, no doubt you will be able to compete with your neighbors the Canadians, and perhaps with the London Scots. In any case, we would not be jealous of them no matter how well they do. They have taken over part of the front but we seldom see each other.
Your taking over the railroads and starting rationing so early is a step in the right direction, not waiting like we did till there was a shortage.
I see by the papers your troops are taking over some town in France to serve as a holiday retreat for American troops, but I should think they would be allowed to leave to England, as most colonial troops go there.