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Grand Bank Soldier: The War Letters of Lance Corporal Curtis Forsey
“The Germans started to shell us and give us some hot machine gun fire. A lot of our men died that day. . . . I got a piece of shrapnel in the ankle but continued to carry on until 11 o’clock when I got two bullets in the left thigh [and] I fell into a shell hole full of water . . .”
Curt Forsey’s description of the scene at Ypres, Belgium, September 29, 1918
Grand Bank Soldier consists of 51 letters that Lance Corporal Curtis Forsey wrote to his mother and father back home in Grand Bank during the 19 months he was on active duty in World War I. He saw action with the Newfoundland Regiment at Passchendaele Ridge, at Bailleuil, and at Kieberg Ridge, where, in late September 1918, he was wounded by two bullets and a piece of shrapnel. Forsey was recuperating in an English hospital when the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. After the war he returned home to manage the family business, Patten & Forsey. Curtis Forsey died in 1993, a respected community leader and a man who lived a life of honour and integrity.
No doubt for quite a while you have been waiting for a letter from me, especially knowing I have been wounded, but you can stop worrying now as you can rest assured I am OK.
I suppose you would like to know a little about the stint would you.
Well to begin with we went in the trenches on the night of Mother’s birthday Sept 20th. We went there expecting to attack next on Sunday morning but somehow didn’t and we stayed then until Saturday morning and then it started. Our trenches were dug directly in front of Ypres.133 I may say that the trench I was in was through a graveyard (civilian).
Our barrage opened out at daybreak and over we went with the Belgians on our left, and believe me twas a barrage.
We continued to advance until about noon with no resistance until we gained our final objective.
Another body of troops passed through us and kept up the advance.
Sunday morning came and we went over again without any barrage as our artillery had not shifted up.
The Germans started to shell us and give us some hot machine gun fire. A lot of our men died that day. Anyway first of all I got a piece of shrapnel in the ankle but continued to carry on until 11 o’clock when I got two bullets in the left thigh about a foot below the hip bone. I fell into a shell hole full of water when I got it and of course that soaked me.
Then I turned to get back before the wounds got stiff.
Well I walked for about 2 hours and came to a Belgian dressing station but it was filled up & I got taken aboard of a car & taken down to Ypres and got my dressing done.
I had a box from home before going in with a towel in it so tell Mother when I got hit first that was what I used as a dressing. I was in front of Roulers134 when I got it. No doubt you are very interested in this advance as I believe it will mean a lot.
I don’t know I [am] sure if I will get to Blighty. I hope I do as I’m about sick of France. I have no pain at all so you can rest easy.
I’m expecting to go under operation this afternoon. I was warned for it a long time ago but they haven’t come for me yet.
I wonder how Jack and Rog Lench and Ren Riggs got along. I haven’t heard a word about them. I hope they are alright.
Rheub Osmond135 was killed and also Douglas136 from Brunette.
Osmond I think was killed the first day.
It is so long since hearing from home that I don’t know how she is going at all.
This is very poor writing I know but it’s the best I can make of it in bed.
Will write again soon.
I remain Your Son,
132. British Expeditionary Force casualty hospital at Boulogne, France.
133. Ypres (commonly called Wipers in the period following the war) is a town in West Flanders, Belgium, which was the site of three major battles during the war. It was the third battle at Ypres (July 21–November 6, 1917), the October and November part of which is also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, that resulted in the Allied forces securing the area, which eventually enabled them to make advances in Flanders and northern France.
On Friday, September 13, 1918, the Newfoundland Regiment, as part of the 9th Division under the command of General Sir Hugh Tudor (1871–1965), were dispatched to a section of the front to the east of Ypres. It was there, during September and October, that the Regiment took part in fighting at Polygon Wood, Keiberg Ridge, Ledeghem, St. Catherine Cappelle, Ingoyghem, pushing the Germans out of Belgium, closer and closer to their own border. It was at Keiberg Ridge on September 29 that Curt sustained the injuries that would place him in hospital for the remainder of the war.
134. Roulers is the French spelling for Roeselare, a town in the Belgian province of West Flanders. 135. Private Reuben Osborne (1898–1918), Newfoundland Regiment #3421, son of Frances and John Osborne of Grand Bank, was killed at Keiberg Ridge, near Passchendaele, Belgium, on September 29, 1918. Part of the shell that killed Osborne hit Curt in the ankle. Reuben Osborne is buried at Birr Cross Roads Cemetery, Belgium. His father was originally from Stone’s Cove, in the bottom of Fortune Bay, near the western entrance to Long Harbour, and his mother was from Mose Ambrose, near the southwest side of the entrance to Fortune Bay. The family arrived in Grand Bank in 1911 from Hoop Cove, which was also situated on the west side of Long Harbour. Although often referred to as Osmond in Grand Bank, the family name was Osborne. His brother, Wilson Osborne (1900–1980), was Grand Bank’s last blacksmith, operating from his forge on Water Street until the late 1960s.
136. Private Aaron Keeping Douglas (1896?–1918), Newfoundland Regiment #2904, son of Sarah Jane Keeping and Andrew Douglas of Brunette Island, was killed when a discarded shell exploded at Keiberg Ridge, near Passchendaele, Belgium, on September 29, 1918. He is buried at Dochy Farm New British Cemetery, Belgium. His name is incorrectly listed as Andrew Douglas on the plaque attached to the Grand Bank War Memorial.
About the Author
Bert Riggs (born December 21, 1954) holds a B.A. and a B.Ed. from Memorial University and a masters in information studies from the University of Toronto. He has been an archivist at Memorial University since 1989 and currently is head of the Archives and Manuscripts Division at the university’s Queen Elizabeth II Library. He writes a weekly column for the St. John’s Telegram, is a bencher with the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, and is chair of the board of the Resource Centre for the Arts, owners and operators of the LSPU Hall.
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