Some of you will be getting this Remembrance Day newsletter a bit later than was intended (i.e. beyond 11 November). Computer problems and a nasty cold made it impossible for your devoted editor to do otherwise under these circumstances.
In this issue, we introduce you to Norman Jesse Rogers of Middle Sackville who signed his Attestation Papers to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force overseas on October 27, 1914. The Tantramar Heritage Trust received three letters of Norman Rogers from Karen Eames, a Rogers family descendant who lives in Sako, Maine, and to whom we are very grateful. We present here two of the letters written by Norman Rogers during World War I. The first consists of extracts of a long letter from Norman (probably to his family although it is unclear) describing in detail what life on the front was like (or, as he says in the opening line of this extract: “to give you an idea of what fighting is over here”) in April, 1917, and the second, a shorter letter to his sister Rita. Upon reading the first one, I felt that this single powerful letter was enough to bring to life the reasons why we need to remember Norman Rogers and all those youth who fought in war and gave their lives in order to allow us to live in freedom and vote in national elections as we so recently did. The longer letter will surely pull on your heart-strings (as it did mine) and I, for one, will remember Norman and his letter every Remembrance Day from now on: if it doesn’t move you, nothing will! The shorter letter from Norman was written on October 24, 1918, primarily to inform his sister about his new bride and includes his responses about family news that Rita had passed on to him in her latest letter. This letter also includes an interesting short note on the Spanish Flue, spreading widely at that time. At this very dramatic point in Norman’s life, his future with his new bride, family, and friends back home, obviously all mattered considerably to him. Please note that all the spelling in the letters was left as I received it: these may be due to our errors in transcription although I am unable to confirm this.
Norman died in Winnipeg on October 27, 1940. He was 49 years old. We shall remember him.
— Peter Hicklin
World War I – A Letter from Norman Jesse Rogers
Norman Jesse Rogers was the oldest child of George Leban Rogers and Priscilla Estabrooks. He was born at the Rogers’ home in Middle Sackville on February 26, 1890, and went to school in Middle Sackville. He moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in his late teens (or early twenties) and was employed as an office clerk. He also joined a Militia unit of the 18th Winnipeg Rifles and, on October 27, 1914, he signed his Attestation Papers. In May, 1915, he embarked for England on the S.S. Carpathian as Private Rogers. On 2 May, 1916, he was appointed Lance Corporal in the field, promoted to Corporal on 26 June, 1916, and Sergeant on 22 September, 1916. On 22 August, 1917, he suffered a gunshot wound (or shrapnel) on his left arm. He was granted permission to marry on 1 August, 1918, and was Struck off Strength to Canada on 3 September, 1919.
Extract from Sgt. Norman Jesse Rogers Letter from France
November 3, 1915
I want to give you an idea of what fighting is over here. Will say all that I dare and hope I will say nothing that will be scratched out by censorship. I cannot give you our position. You probably know pretty well where we are. Left England in the middle of September, landed in France safely passing the many mines in the channel that had been left afloat by the Germans when our battleships were shelling Ostend. Between that time and the first day of last month we were working our way curiously towards the long-looked-for firing line. All this time we were within hearing distance of our guns and within seeing distance of our firing line at night. The firing line can be seen a long way at night probably ten miles, on account of the continual ascension of star shells (flares). We came into contact with many of the first division battalions while in our travels. Being accustomed to the sound of guns and seeing the firing line at night we were not the least bit nervous when we were lead right up to the nearest point to the Germans, not more than 35 yards and within a few days we were like old soldiers, no fear whatsoever. I have learned since that a man is safer in the firing line than he is between the firing line and reserve trenches, providing he does not get curious or careless by looking over the parapet (front part of the trench). (Rear part is “parados”). We never look over the parapet in the daytime, we watch the German trenches by means of periscope. You know what that is – we are able to stay two or three feet below the top of the parapet and watch by means of glass projected above the parapet. We never fire over the parapet in daylight. We snipe with a periscope, which is a frame with a periscope attached into which we fix our rifle. It allows us to shoot with our head about three feet below the top of the parapet and rifle on top of the parapet. If you have never seen it you will hardly believe it, but with it we can get an accurate sight and the rifle is resting on the parapet and is steady. Of course, the rifle is in danger, if discovered by our enemy (as you will understand later).
At night when we are unable to see with a periscope, we have to get up with head above the parapet and watch. We do not stay up but dodge up and down, watch and fire, the majority of firing is done at night. We cannot be seen above the parapet in the dark except when the flare goes up, neither can we see them, but we can always see the outline of their trenches which we fire at and take a chance of hitting some German who is looking. They very often put out in front of their trench a working party; if we discover them we give them some rapid fire. They do likewise. Their style of trench fighting is practically identical to ours, something like – “You hit me and I’ll hit you.”
There are two classes of Germans that come into their trenches on our front – “Prussians” and “Saxons.” The Prussians are real fighters and the ones that hate the British. The Saxons seem to have a soft spot for us and do not try so hard to do as much damage to us as possible. We can always tell which are in their trenches by the nature of their fighting and movements. We could tell them by their appearance if we could see them but they are very seldom seen. The Prussians wear the helmet. The Saxons wear a Kharki cap similar to ours. Personally, I have seen the head and shoulders of one German since going into the firing line. He was in Kharki. I cannot understand his actions but he deliberately rose above the parapet and fired. I think he must have been dared by one of his mates. He was greeted with a few sniping shots by some of our fellows but I don’t think he was hit. Others have seen them occasionally but very rare. We can talk with them quite easily as is done sometimes. The Saxons seem quite friendly. The Prussians always swear at and curse us.
The Trench I could not give you a description of it as it is almost undescribable. You never could imagine what it is like except you had seen it. It really is not a trench but a fortification; rifle bullet cannot penetrate it. It takes considerable artillery shells to tear it down. It is built of sand-bags, both parados and parapet – some places ten feet high, other places twenty feet high. We have sidewalks in all trenches. This is on account of the mud getting knee deep in rainy weather. These star shells are fired from a gun, special for them. They are very large and give a very strong white light. One light will show a person any moving article within a radius of 100 yards at least.
Forgot to mention the length of the Communication trench leading to the firing line. It is anywhere from two to three miles. Imagine how well we keep covered going into the trenches.
There are so many weapons of war that I do not think I could name them all. Here are some, – Rifle bullets from both rifle and machine gun. The Germans also use a telescope sight, an automatic rifle and explosive bullets (Grenades). Both hand and rifle of all descriptions – dozens of different kinds, – Underground mines which are treacherous as we never know when we may go up in the air.
You, no doubt, have heard of the damage done to our neighbor Winnipeg battalion when one of these mines were exploded by the Germans beneath our trenches. Artillery is the heaviest weapon of all. It kills and wounds more than anything else. It is also of all descriptions. The two kinds used daily are shrapnel and high explosives. We are safe enough from shrapnel when under cover as they explode by time fuse generally in the air. The high explosives explode on percussion or contact and will kill dozens if it should light among them. It is impossible to make trenches and dug-outs to stand the blow of these shells. They will make a hole in the ground all sizes, – the largest I have seen is about 20 feet across and 10 feet deep. The short range guns fire a small shell, both shrapnel and explosive and we call them “Whiz-bangs” – that is what they sound like – no sooner out of the gun than they explode. The longer range guns fire larger shells, – they are sometimes in the air before exploding, can always tell which way they are going and have time to get under cover. The largest guns of all fire similar shells but larger and higher explosives. The German high explosive shells we call “Jack Johnstones” and “C.P.R. Coal boxes.” The nick name is a good description of them. They are fired so far behind the German lines that we cannot hear the report of the gun but we can hear them coming through the air, they sound identical of the C.P.R. freight train, as they rattle along – they explode when they strike the ground and it looks like an upheavel of a coal mine. Thus the name.
It is nice to be in the center of an artillery duel, shells passing both ways high over our heads and exploding both sides of us. Artillery shells are dangerous but they do not seem to worry me much. The only weapon that I do not like is the rifle Grenade. I will tell you why I do not like it later.
We are in the firing line 6 days at a time and out 6 days at a time. First we go into the firing line for 6 days and then we come out to camp a short distance behind the firing line for 6 days; we are still under fire at this place; we are held here as a first reserve, liable to be called out at any minute should anything happen in the firing line. We do considerably fatigue at this camp, such as carrying rations, etc. to the firing line. After that 6 days is completed we again go into the firing line and after doing 6 days there we go farther back from the firing line to a rest camp, held as a second reserve and not liable to be called out except that the battalion in the firing line gets wiped out and the first reserve are having trouble. We are quite out of range of the guns at this camp. That covers 24 days and we might say we are 18 days under fire and 6 days not under fire. That is the general routine of our trench duty. After this 6 days rest we again go into the firing line.
I forgot to mention in connection with the trench that we do duty there as follows, – 2 hours on and 4 hours off, that is we never get more than 4 hours of sleep at once – this we do from the minute we enter the firing line until we come out, day and night, we do not get our boots or clothes off, very seldom sleep in the same place twice, sometimes on the firing step, sometimes in a dug-out. Always have a great-coat, water-proof sheet and blanket, which is our bed. The muddier the ground beneath our water-proof sheet, the softer the bed. Sleep with our rifle and part of our equipment on, containing considerable ammunition.
The food in the firing line is good. It is brought up fresh every night. Drinking water is scarce. There is plenty of water but we are not allowed to drink it on account of so many bodies buried in the vicinity. The water we drink is sterilized and brought from a long way off the firing line.
The casualties which you no doubt hear of from day to day, of our battalion are few in comparison with those of the rest of the battalions. We have been extremely lucky I think, considering the bombs, grenades and artillery shells that have fallen in our vicinity. As mentioned before, when that underground mine blew up a section of our neighbor battalion, we, being the first reserve, were hurried out in the middle of the night to re-inforce them. Their casualties were many as you no doubt have heard. Arch, Tom and I were selected among 50 men of our battalion to go on this party – and Jack also, and our officer volunteered to take his platoon, which included us all. The Germans had blown up the trench, advanced – a few of them but soon returned as it was getting too hot for them. Men were blown to pieces, buried alive, suffocated to death, killed and wounded when that mine went up. There was no trench left. It was all filled in by upheavel of earth, men, sand-bags, rifles and the whole surface of the earth seemed to go up into the air and come down with a sprinkle, leaving the ground quite level. This is the place we held all that night and next day. We also volunteered to bury their dead. Tom and I were on this party of ten men. Arch missed this job. It was not a very pleasant job to start but being good and strong physically we soon got so that we did not mind it at all. We buried eight, laid them in “peace and in pieces”. Two of them had been blown 150 yards from where they were standing and killed instantly.
The weather since landing in France had been fine except the last ten days which has been quite miserable, as it has rained every day, making the mud very deep and the sides of the trenches very muddy which we are always up against. This, of course, makes us mud from head to foot, our clothes wet through which we have to wear day and night and sleep in. Our feet are always wet and the nights are very cold. I believe we are going to be issued with goat-skin coat, waterproof waders, knee leather boots, waterproof cap, and when we get these we shall be alright for the winter. We have not suffered any from the rain or cold but it has been slightly miserable, so much of it. Two or three days would not be bad but ten day is too much.
We got an issue yesterday. I think it is the most sensible issue we ever got. It is in the shape of a waterproof cape, made of duck, rubber lined and buttons down the front well below the knees. It is really a coat minus the sleeves, with a slit on each side to put our arms out. We can handle a rifle quite freely with it on. It is very flaring at the bottom and will cover our whole pack as well. It is a swell thing, nothing cheap either.
This country around here is very similar to England, hilly and lots of trees. The whole land is dotted with nice farms and villages. They were nice once but have all been shelled by the Germans and are now pretty well broken down. The villages in particular are practically destroyed, being a good mark for artillery fire. The inhabitants of the farms have all left their homes, of course, they also left their villages at the time of bombardment last year but some have returned since. The farms are inhabited by British troops. We are at present billeted in a farm, the house and one barn have each a shell-hole through them. We are sleeping in the barn with lots of straw, a swell place in comparison to the trenches. If the enemy knew we were here they would soon root us out with shells.
Since being under shell fire, there is no doubt but what we have all had many narrow escapes, as rifle bullets and shrapnel are flying around us all the time, we know not how close they come to us unless we are hit. We have all picked up shrapnel that has fallen with speed enough to ask us to move, right beside us. There is considerable more bullets and shrapnel that pass within a singeing distance from us, than what hits us. I cannot explain why this is but it is true.
Personally, I have had three narrow escaped that I am aware of. First while sniping with Tom’s rifle a German bullet delibrately aimed at me, hit the barrel and cut it in two pieces. I know not how close the bullet glazed my head.
Second, while sniping with my own rifle, a bullet glanced off the chamber carrying away the sight, very close to my head.
Third and worst of all, was a rifle grenade exploding within 6 feet of me and not one piece of shrapnel hitting me out of probably from one to 500 pieces of shrapnel flying in all directions. These rifle grenades can be heard ascending the air and a fellow had a few seconds to get under cover. They are forced up a blank cartridge from a rifle and fall with their own weight, therefore, they cannot be heard coming down. They explode in contact. The Germans had fired many of these and they had been going away over my head. This particular one I could tell was aimed shorter and I was sure it was going to fall right on top of me, so I made a dive for cover but instead of running away from it I ran right beneath it, it dropping on the firing step on a level with my head, exploding, and the shrapnel flying upwards in all directions. Shrapnel always flys upwards when it explodes in contact. Had it fallen into the bottom of the trench at my feet, I would have gone up with the shrapnel and came down in pieces also. I consider it a miracle and myself mighty lucky. The explosion gave me a slight shock, making me feel quite numb and dead for about 15 minutes. I have some souvenirs of that grenade among my collection. I do not want another to drop so close. They are the only thing that gets me nervous because you do not know where they are going to alight and explode.
Tom had one narrow escape when a bullet passed in front of his face hit a sand bag and filling both his eyes with sand. Arch and Jack I do not think as yet have had any close ones.
The health of us all has been good in general. Jack has had a cold which we have all had but his was a little worse than ours. Tom is now in the hospital with a slight attack of La Grippe but will be with us again in two or three days.
As to myself, I have not had a sick day since joining the army, don’t want any. Some would rather be sick than go into the firing lines you know. Arch has had nothing more than a cold. Must have another Yildiz and go to bed. Will finish this tomorrow.
Well, this is a nice sunny day, quite warm. Have been out all fore-noon fixing up caved in trenches caused by the rain and just now got word that I have to go on a bathing parade, a walk of about 8 miles return. This bathing parade is one good thing that we get and we have never missed one every 6 days as yet. The Army Corps have a large building for this purpose fitted up with about thirty large tubs, hot or cold water and plenty of soap. We leave our dirty underclothes and get clean ones. You can see that we can keep clean alright.
Another thing that might surprise you is – We have not as yet been troubled with lice or any other bugs. I do not think any of our battalion have been troubled with them. I do not know how other battalions are fareing in this respect.
I am getting fat , guarantee I weigh 160 lbs. at present. My mustache – started since landing in France, is coming along fine.
Have had some interesting letters on tennis from Herman and Lewis Booker. Believe you have had a very successful season but regret to hear that you did not come out on top of the Anglican League with all your good players. You will also miss Bill in Tennis and Church as well.
I will soon have both sides of these 9 pages finished so must wind up. This is a very long letter; in fact, the longest I have written in France. I have also taken a chance and have said considerable more than I dared to say when writing to others. Probably I have said too much. I hope not and I hope they do not happen to censure this letter. If they do and if any of the words or sentences are crossed out I wish you would let me know so that I will have an idea of what I should not say when writing again. You may show this letter to whoever you wish. I can trust that you will not show it to anyone who might by chance get any information for our enemy.
I must tell you that the mail from Canada comes over in good time. We are very glad to get it at any time, of course, but best of all it comes right up into the firing line while we are there. It is awful nice to be able to watch the movement of the Germans with one eye and read a letter from Winnipeg with the other.
Another thing. I know people in Canada are sending many things to the soldiers here and are anticipating sending much more. Many things received here have been useful and many things useless. The useless articles are generally left behind as the soldier cannot carry them The main things that strikes a soldier’s heard is EATABLES, SMOKING TOBACCO or CIGARETTES. SOCKS are also appreciated.
If this letter has suggested to you that we are downhearted or sick of the firing line, you want to forget it right now. We are just as happy and as well looked after as we ever were in Tuxedo or in England, the reason being, we have got into the long-looked-for firing line. We are just as happy there, 30 yards from the enemy, as we were 10 miles behind the firing line.
I could write for a week and could tell you many interesting trench secrets if I were allowed to do so.
Regards to Bill —
Letter from Norman Rogers to his sister Rita
October 24, 1918
Your letter of Sept. 29th received a few days ago. Sure was pleased to hear from you, had begun to wonder whether all your husbands had gone to the war or not and you were all fed up. If you are, please have a heart, you have not the slightest idea in the U.S. or even Canada any idea what war means to the people at home. The people in this country are sure having their experience of it, but are getting along marvellously under such trying times. It certainly is wonderful the way they carry on their system of rationing, everybody, rich and poor alike get equal quantities, and I know they are all getting sufficient. There has never been a serious shortage of food, and the prospects for the coming winter look better than last. The only thing that I miss over here is chocolates or candy of any description. It is impossible to buy it anymore.
Now for a few words about my wife, which I know you are anxious to know. We were successfully married, and happily so far, on Sept. 7th. Had a honey-moon of two weeks, which I certainly enjoyed, have just returned from a four days leave with her. We are only allowed leave one every six months but I shall manoeuvre to see her at least once a month. She stays at her home. I would have her with me if this town was a little bit respectable and there was some half decent accommodations to get. She is very anxious to come with me and I am just as anxious to have her, but I know that a soldiers camp is no place for a wife of mine. I knew her a full year before we married and consequently know her pretty well. She is of a happy, good-natured disposition, agreeable in all things. I think she is quiet satisfied with her Canadian husband, and I feel that we shall live quite happy. I am just dying to get back to Canada with her, and make a home and show her some real live country. I know you will like her because she more like a Canadian girl than any other English girl I have met, not quite as independent as most Canadian girls. Her name is Ellen Laura (May) should you want to know. I have shown her your letter and photograph and she says you look like me so has taken a liking to you. She is going to write to you some time soon and also send you a photo of us as we were married. She slightly shorter than I am but not so much as you would think by the photo. Be sure and reply to her letter so that I won’t have to answer for your neglect.
Quite surprised to hear that you had another girl. I am getting to be some uncle. You may think that you will be aunt to mine before long, well you are going to get fooled in that line, because there is nothing doing until I get back to Canada anyway. Shall have luggage enough to carry back without carry any kids.
Regret to hear George and Bea both have fallen victims to that epidemic sincerely hope that they recover alright. I imagine that it is the same epidemic that we are having in this country, the Spanish flu, it sure is attacking nearly everybody all over the world, and is carrying off many people in this country, especially young people.
Have not heard from Clinton since I got married, but my wife had, he has had quite a severe attach of the flue, but has passed all danger. Have not heard from Jack for a long time am beginning to wonder whether he had come through all the recent heavy fighting that the Canadians have had. Heard from home not long ago, they all seem to be getting along O.K.
Must quit now, the war situation looks pretty good these days, but I don’t think peace is as near as we would like it, but the Germans are getting cleaned up now and it cannot last much longer.
Kindest regards to all, and lets hear from you again soon.
With brotherly love,
This newsletter of remembrance would not have materialized without the work, dedication, and assistance of Erich Zerb, Al Smith, and Colin MacKinnon. On behalf of Norman Jesse Rogers and his descendants, we thank you. – Peter Hicklin
Please Pay Your 2020 Membership Now!
It’s that time of year again! As we look forward to 2020 and future projects and events, we count on the support of our members to keep us going. Your membership fees not only allow us to fulfill our mandate of promoting preservation of heritage in the Tantramar region, but guarantee you’ll stay informed of everything we’re up to.
Membership rates are $30 per household/institution, $20 per person, and $5 per student. There are many ways you can pay this.
- You can send a cheque to Tantramar Heritage Trust, 29B Queens Rd., Sackville, NB E4L 4G4.
- Drop by the office at the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre.
- Call (506) 536-2541 and give your credit card number over the phone.
- Pay on our website using PayPal at https://tantramarheritage.ca/join/.
While you’re at it, check out our new website and let us know what you think. And don’t forget there’s a Donate button on every page Any amount you can add to your membership fee will be gratefully received (and you get a tax receipt for it).
If you drop into the BHC to renew your membership (winter office hours are 10 am to 2 pm, Tuesday to Friday) take time to visit the new Railway Exhibit that heralds the arrival of the ICR to Sackville 150 years ago this month.
Next fall will mark the start of our 25th year of operations and a big part of our success and longevity is thanks to you, our members. We hope you’ll continue to support us!