‘We were simply blown to pieces.’ The Patricias’ stand at Bellewaarde, 8th May 1915

In its first major battle, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry suffered eighty percent losses during fighting at Ypres. My great grandfather, No. 29 Sergeant Walter Stamper, survived but was taken prisoner. He described in a letter to his wife and daughter his experiences of battle, captivity and deliverance to Switzerland where he was interned.

Walter Stamper Letter 1

15th August 1916 My Darling Girls, I hardly know how to write to you, I seem to have so much to tell you. I must start at the beginning and try to tell you my experiences in Germany. First of all there was our capture, of course you know that was on the 8th May 1915. We were simply blown to pieces. There was just ten of us left in our Company, most of us unable to help ourselves; those that were to badly wounded to walk they shot and bayoneted them. These, they made us lay on the ground beside them whilst they dug themselves in. All the time the shells and bullets were flying around us, and I can tell you I never expected to see any of you again. To amuse themselves they threw stones at us and called us swine, one of my men could not keep still as he was suffering so from a wound in the head, got up and was promptly shot by them through the stomach he died about two hours later in great agony. We laid there from ten o’clock in the morning until six at night when we were fetched into the trench and robbed of everything we had. We were then taken back and threatened if we did not give information about our troops we should be shot. We were lined up three times for that purpose. At last we reached Roullers [Roulers], where we were put into the church with a lot more of the 28th Division. We had nothing to eat from Friday night until Sunday morning, when they gave us some sour bread and a drink of water. At three o’clock they gave us a slice of raw bacon and put us on the train for Germany; at Courtran [Courtrai] the Belgians gave us a good meal of Sausage, bread, butter and coffee, after that we got nothing only kicks and went on until we arrived at Giessen where the whole town turned out to insult us. We arrived in Giessen about 1 o’clock Tuesday morning and then started our starvation diet, soup made from maize, horse beans, chestnuts. We were supposed to be getting meat but you could not find it in your soup and the potatoes were so bad you could not eat them. You can guess we were pretty well starved until our parcels started to arrive. Now that is all altered here in Switzerland, we are practically free with the best of food and beds; we are staying in Hotels, you cannot realize the reception we received, as soon as we crossed the border it started, and it was nothing but one triumphant journey until we arrived here. We were smothered in flowers, chocolates, tobacco and cigarettes. We stopped at all the principal stations enroute. We had a splendid breakfast at Montrean [Montreux] and another here. I am feeling better already and hope to be myself again. I will tell you more next time you can write as often as you like now, fondest love and heaps of kisses. From Dad.

Q 54694 SimonJonesHistorian

Soldiers taught bookbinding while interned in Switzerland. The Sergeant on the left is my great-grandfather. © IWM (Q 54694)

In 1917, judged to be of no military value, he was returned to England for medical treatment. Even though he was by this time 47 years of age, he sailed back to Canada and re-enlisted at the first opportunity.


Walter Stamper in Switzerland with the children of internees who have come from the United Kingdom, including my grandmother age 17 (left), 22 July 1917.

Join me on a battlefield tour with The Cultural Experience:

Simon Jones Battlefield Tour Somme Poets 2019

The War Poets: Words, Music and Landscapes, 10th-13th July 2023

First & Last Shots 1914 & 1918

Medics & Padres in the Great War

Walking Ypres 1914-1918

Walking the Somme, Summer 2023

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