MEMOIRS OF THE GREAT WAR 1915 - 1918
In the early part of 1915 I was operating an elevator
in one of the larger buildings in the city of Victoria, British
Columbia, for which I received the enormous sum of seven dollars
per week, six of which went home to help feed the multitude
(eleven all told) the remaining one being kept for myself. At
this time the War was just getting underway very nicely and
although we were thousands of miles from the battle fields of
France there were many incidents which told us there was a ter-
rific crisis going on over there.
It was in April of 1915 that the good ship "Lusitania"
was torpedoed by a German submarine and many persons lost their
lives and a lot of ill feeling was created amongst the people
of Victoria against the German element residing there; for no
sooner had the so-called victory been made known when they
began celebrating on behalf of their fellow-countrymen, a very
foolish thing to do for the troops stationed there were very
indignant over the affair and proved that such a thing was
quite out of order by raiding and putting them out of business
It was now my one ambition to join up right away so
that I could get to France before the war was over, so I went
to the recruiting station and offered by services to my country
and to help right a great wrong which we believe had been done
by the War Lords of the warring nations. I was then seventeen
years of age and was doubtful whether I would be accepted, being
under age. My doubts were confirmed, for after passing the
"Medical Officer" I was turned down for being under age, much
to my sorrow. But I was determined to go, so a few days after
I returned much the same as before, but a year older. This
time my efforts were a success for I was taken on and attached
to the 50th Gordon Highlanders. And what a struggle I had to
get those umpteen yards of kilt on the right way! I shall
never forget it; and how chilly it was too. And believe me,
I was some proud Kiltie when I finally got everything hooked
on. It was an old saying later that we were just made to hang
things on anyway.
I did my first sentry-go the very next night, with
a feeling of importance mixed with nervousness and sleepiness;
in fact, it was one of the longest two hours I had ever spent.
For the next two months we did nothing but drill, with
an occasional turn at "Cook house" fatigue; that was peeling spuds,
washing dishes, etc., a novelty at first which we soon became tired
In June I was transferred to the 62nd Battalion and sent
to the training camp at Vernon, B. C., where several Battalions
were in training. This camp was all under canvas, which was some-
thing new, as our previous one was composed of buildings. Here
we were given a more strenuous training, long route marches with
full pack, along dusty roads, and the thermometer reading around
90 in the shade, but we did not seem to mind that part of it for
we knew we were on our way.
In the latter part of August volunteers were called for
draft of a hundred men to be sent to England, of which I was one.
Before going I was given six days leave to visit the folks at
home. It took too days to get there so that only left me two days
to spend at home, not very long when one has to say goodbye, per-
haps for good; however, fate brought me back, whether for better
or for worse remains to be seen.
Well, the time came when I gathered my belongings, said
"goodbye" to the folks and my friends, but alas! I had left it a
little late, for when I arrived at the depot the boat was just
pulling out. I just stood there not knowing what to do, for I
knew only too well that if I was late getting back the draft would
be gone and I had visions of being court-martialed with a crime of
desertion against me. However, I noticed a well-known clergyman
amongst the crowd whom I knew, so I asked him to write a letter for
me to the commander to the affect that I had missed the boat and
would therefore be a day late. Naturally I was quite put out over
the unfortunate incident, and there was nothing left for me to do
but go back home and start again the following day. That night was
the last time that I had the pleasure of sleeping in a real bed for
almost two years. The following day I left in plenty of time so
there would be no danger of repeating yesterday's performance, and
finally did get away, without feeling the least bit homesick. Odd?
Well, rather. The boat trip of four hours to Vancouver was always
interesting to me, provided of course that the water was on its
best behaviour, for I am a good sailor in port. Arriving in
Vancouver about 8 P.M. we found the troop train already waiting
for us. The trip to Vernon took only twenty-four hours and it
seemed that no sooner had we got nicely settled when we had to
dis-embark, having reached destination. Naturally, my first
thoughts were--had the draft gone without me? But on reaching the
camp I was told that it had not, but was scheduled to pull out the
And so it was on the 26th of September, 1915, that I
actually started on my long journey for parts unknown. The "Fall-
in" was sounded and after saying goodbye to some of the boys we
paraded for the final inspection by the Commanding Officer of the
Battalion--to assure himself that everything was in order before
we departed. That done, we headed for the station which was not
more than a mile from camp. Twenty minutes later we arrived and
were herded into the waiting cars with a shout of "Are we down-
hearted? NO!" The train moved slowly with it's human freight and
we were actually on our way.
What a wonderful six days! I shall never forget them.
The first day took us through the "Rockies", but unfortunately we
did not see very much of them as that part of the country was
traveled by night. The next was taken up mostly with Alberta.
The reception we got from the people at the different stopping
places was such as never to be forgotten by all we boys who traveled
across Canada in those dark War days. The time did not go slowly, I
can tell you, for there was always lots to see; poker games were very
much in evidence and a crown and anchor board was going strong in
almost every car. One or two places the train was side-tracked when
we were given a little exercise in the form of a route march through
some small town just so we would not lose our appetites. These
marches always created considerable excitement amongst the town-
folk, who looked with eager eyes for someone they might know. Often
friendships were renewed in this way.
Through Saskatchewan and Manitoba harvest operations were
in full swing and it was indeed difficult to realise that not so many
miles away, "over there" a war was on--for how long, no one could tell.
And the thing that worried most of the boys was "would we get there
before it was all over?" Had we knows that it was going on for so
long perhaps we would not have been quite so anxious.
At last we were at Montreal where we were to leave the
train for the more dangerous part of the journey across the Atlantic,
where German Submarines were always on the look-out for a victim.
It was not long before we filed out of the train, marched down to
the docks and on to the boat; the Scandinavian", which was to
paddle us across the pond. For hours it seemed troops were being
crammed into that old hull until its sides seemed to bulge with the
weight of its human cargo. All corners filled, the gangway was
taken in, the hawsers let loose, and once more we were away. Down
the St. Lawrence River we went,--a happier bunch of boys you never
would see. The meals dished out to us here were not quite as good
as those on the train, although not too bad considering the great
number on board. We slept in hammocks, on tables, on deck--in
fact anywhere and everywhere. I spent a good deal of my time on
deck, for the weather was getting a little rough now, and the meals
did not seem to interest me at all. Two days out from England
we were met by two destroyers which escorted us for the remainder
of the trip, and without being torpedoed we duly arrived at
Portsmouth, thus finishing the second leg of our journey.
Here again, the trains were ready waiting for us. It
was indeed surprising to note that very little waiting was en-
countered considering the number of troops that were being
handled each and every day. What odd looking trains they were
too, with their numerous doors, so unlike our Canadian trains;
we could not help laughing at them, they looked for all the world
like toy ones; the novelty was unique.
So on the 10th day of October we experienced our first
train ride in England. And believe me--they sure could travel
for the size of them. We arrived at our destination about 8
o'clock in the evening at the village of Hazelmere, in the county
of Hampshire. It was raining hard when we got off the train. I
remember only too well how we were stalled at the station for an
hour or more, for there seemed to be some mis-understanding as to
where the camp at Bramshot really was. Eventually we got away,
and after a march of about two miles we arrived there, tired, wet
and hungry; so after partaking of a little nourishment we all hit
the floor, and although it was mighty hard we soon fell asleep.
On awakening the next morning I found the camp to be
large, with hundreds of huts capable of housing from forty to fifty
men---a regular war village with Post Office, stores, theatre, etc.,
like hundreds of others which were scattered all over different
parts of the British Isles.
Our training here consisted mostly of long route marches,
plenty of drill, and the usual turn at guard. During our stay
here I went to several villages and towns in Hampshire; for in-
stance, Grayshot, Godalming, Guilford and others, the names of
which I have forgotten. But our stay here was very short indeed
for at the end of five weeks we packed up and were sent to Sand-
ling, near Folkstone where we were to join the 48th Battalion,
also from Victoria. Here we started some real training and it
certainly looked more business-like to us. The following are
extracts from letters which I had sent home while in training
here and which were published in the Daily Colonist of Victoria,
"BASE COMPANY OF 62nd BATTALION QUARANTINED" Pte. Kenneth
Foster writes of experiences before leaving for France -- Battalion
movements in England. Following are extracts from letters
received by Mr. Walter Foster from his son Pte. Kenneth Foster,
who was formerly a member of the 50th Gordon Highlanders, and who
left here a year ago at the age of seventeen years for overseas
service, leaving British Columbia with a draft from the 62nd Bat-
talion, last September. Ken Foster was a Victoria Boy Scout for
some five years before enlisting, and two brothers are in the
Canadian Expeditionary Force. Writing from St. Martins Plains, he
says:--Feb. 8th. Received your letter today along with the four others
--but what an awfully long time it was coming; I guess the reason is
that all Canadian mail is quarantined. We have now been quarantined
for five weeks, and you can guess how we feel about it, with sentries
all around us. The last few days we have been making hurdles. These
are wicker-work screens, averaging ten feet by six feet and are used
for placing in the trenches to keep the walls from caving in, also
for the floors. We are getting quite expert at building trenches.
Tomorrow, we are going bomb throwing; it is quite exciting. They
make a noise just like a blast. The quarantine may be lifted this
Saturday. We have a pretty good idea that we are going away shortly
Feb. 14th. I should call our hut very unlucky. Another case
of measles has broken out, which means another sixteen days. Well,
I guess the worst is yet to come. Our captain brought us in a
gramophone tonight, that makes it a little more cheerful. Nothing
new today. Bombing and mining in the afternoon. This morning we
had a bath.
March 1st. The Battalion is going Friday or Saturday, but as
we are still quarantined, we shall follow when it is lifted. The
pioneers are turning in all their extra kit. Tomorrow we go to a
wood about four miles away, to cut down trees for the construction
March 30th. You will notice we have moved again. They keep
moving us around all the time. I have had it pretty tough this
week. Went on guard Sunday and am still on. Of course there is
no chance of getting any sleep. I suppose you have heard of the big
storm we have had here, the worst for 50 years. Well, I was on
guard at the Folkstone waterworks, and, believe me, I was pretty
near all in. I just forget how many people were killed, it was an
awful lot. Hundreds of trees were uprooted and sent crashing
through houses. The Battalion has had a number of casualties
already, and I hear there is a draft going over next week, which
is good news, as I come first on the list. Since the Battalion
went away everything in upside down. The 62nd is at Bramshott
where we first went.
April 16th, 1916. You will notice that I have been moved
again, having been transferred to the 10th Brigade Machine Gun
Company. I was really glad to get out of the Base Company. There
are two of the old boys with me. After completing a three weeks
course at the school here I will go to an advanced school for two
more weeks, and then over to France. Sir Sam inspected 40,000
Canadians last Monday. The Pioneers were among them and about
12 were decorated with the D.C.M. The 48th is having a hot
time of it, having made a charge on their own, and getting cut
up rather badly. Did you hear of the Zep. we brought down? It
caused lots of excitement--all the lights went out.
April 22nd. J. B. (He was killer later) and I went to
Folkstone yesterday, and had a ripping time. Got our pictures
taken also. Coming back we missed the train, which made us half
an hour late and we are consequently up for orderly room tomorrow.
As it is our first offence we may be let off, but we should worry.
The 62nd boys are having a tough time of it, not having had any
grub since they got here. Many of them are in the hospital.
They have been in barracks for three or four months, and have now
been put under canvas, which along with the climate may account
for the sickness. I have not had one day's sickness since I left
Vernon, and have gained 20 pounds. Now weight 165 pounds. You
can put it down to scientific feeding.
I like this Machine Gun School fine. I don't wish to
peddle it too strong, but I hold the record here for blindfold
"stripping and assembling a gun". I am going to Napier Barracks
next week to finish the course, and then over to France. I hope
my pay book was sent to London to be balanced and I have $65.00
to my credit up to and including February.
The letters you have just read will give some little
idea of the kind of training we were going through during our
sojourn in England. At that time I must have been anxious to
get to France, as you will have noticed by the letters; however,
most of the rumors about going over seemed to prove "false
alarms" for on going back to that particular time I find that
it was some six weeks before I finally did get away. The strip-
ping and assembling of a "Lewis Machine Gun" blindfolded was a
very important factor for a Machine Gunner, enabling him to make
repairs at night. It certainly came in useful to me later.
We were now stationed at "Napier Barracks", which was
located only a short distance from Folkstone, Kent. They were
more substantial than any other place I had hitherto been to,
being build of brick, regular peace-time barracks, reminding me
more of a prison than anything else; however, being merely a
temporary home, it did not matter very much what it was, for
there was plenty of amusement; almost every night we journeyed
The good news comes at last, ten of the best "Gunners"
are preparing to re-inforce some unknown Battalion in France,
This was in the latter part of June, 1916. Sailing from Folks-
tone we crossed the Channel and after two hours of ups and downs
we duly arrived at "La Havre, France". The day was hot and the
roads were dusty and the camp proved to be about five miles from
La Havre. Although a comparatively short distance it seemed as
though we would never get to our destination, due no doubt to the
excessive heat and the extra heavy equipment which we were then
carrying. Finally we arrived at the camp, tired but happy. Here
there were hundreds of tents which made up the base camp where we
were about to take our final training before proceeding up the line.
The accommodation here was limited, which made it necessary to put
from thirty to forth men in each tent. The training ground was a
mile from camp and was made to resemble the front line as much as
possible. Each day we would go up to the "Bull Ring", as it was
known, and do our stuff, which consisted of:--Bayonet fighting,
bomb throwing, open war-fare and the use of the gas mask (a
crude affair to what we had later) in a dug-out filled with one
of the most deadly gasses used at that time. If we came out of
this ordeal without any ill-effects the Gas-Mask was all right.
Some of the boys would come out looking quite ghastly, but they
soon recovered on emerging from the gas chamber. This training
went on for some time. About the middle of July we were given
the final once over and certified O.K.
The next thing was to get our emergency "First Aid
Kit" and "Iron Rations". The latter consisted of one tin of
"Bully Beef" and two or three "Hard Tack" to be used in case of
emergency only. The next morning we pulled out according to
We arrived at the station expecting to see a string of
Pullmans waiting for us like we had been used to in England and
Canada, instead, we were introduced to a string of "Box Cars"
(the Ancient Variety) with the words "40 Homs or 8 Cheveux" in-
scribed thereon, which in English, means 40 men or 8 horses.
I have a sneaking idea that the 8 horses would have been more
comfortable than was our luck, for it was necessary that we lie
spoon fashion in order to obtain a little shut-eye; then the end
man would give the signal and every one would turn together.
I never saw anything as slow as those French trains, for
it took us three days to cover 200 miles to our destination, which
I learned on our arrival was "Popperinge" near "Ypres". It was
dark when we unpiled ourselves, so I was unable to determine just
how far from the front line we were, but I figured it was not so
very far away for the guns could be heard quite distinctly and the
flashes were plainly visible. The order un-pile was given, and
we proceeded on our way to "Scottish Lines" which was about six
miles behind the lines. It was 12.30 A.M. when we crawled in.
And now for a little lunch and a few hours sleep thought I, but no
such luck. No sooner had we got nicely settled down, when the
Sergeant Major appeared on the scene with orders that we prepare
for a trip to the front line at once.
And so it was after a very scanty repast we sallied
forth in single file, perhaps never to return; who could tell?
For two miles or more the going was not too bad, just a wagon road
with shell holes scattered here and there, and up till now I was
holding my own, five or six from the front or leading man. The
pace however, proved to be too fast for me and I began to fall
back towards the rear, but fortunately the order was given for a
halt and once more I was in my original position. Surveying my
surroundings I discovered that we had stopped in a small village
that had been subjected to a very severe attack of shell fire,
which had reduced it to a complete state of ruins. A few walls
were all that remained, which stood out against the sky-line like
phantoms. I thought to myself that if whole cities were treated
with so much disrespect, what could we expect? Here my thoughts
were interrupted with the order "Fall In" and once more we were
on the move.
Passing through the village we left the main road and
followed a trail across country. Here the going was much more
difficult, so that it was with some effort that I was able to
keep in touch with the man in front of me and it was not long
before I had lost sight of the rest of the boys completely.
Then the S.O.S. would be heard--"Cut off in Rear". Other well-
known phrases were, "Wire under Foot", "Shell Hole to the Right"
and "How Much Further". For an answer to the latter we invariably
got this "It won't be Long Now", so that there was nothing else
for it but to lean on our chin straps.
So far things were fairly quiet except for an occasional
gun or two which could be heard in the distance. Then there was a
blinding flash and roar. My steel lid went one way and I went the
other. I just lay there wondering which part of me was hurt the
most. The Sergeant, realizing something was wrong, called a halt
and came to the rear. When he saw me stretched out on mother
earth, naturally he wanted to know what ailed me. I said, "That
one landed pretty close, didn't it?" "That on didn't land at
all," he said, "It went." It was one of our own shells and what
he told me was not exactly what a parson would say. With that,
I picked myself up, and we proceeded.
Several things told me we were getting close to the
"Line". The aroma of dead bodies was strong on the night air.
The rattle of machine guns and the Very Lights sounded quite close
now. In fact, they seemed to be all around us, this being due to
the formation of the line, which was knows as "Ypres Salient" or
better known to us as "Hill 60". It was more like Hell 60.
Here we entered a railway cut which I learned later was
used as support lines and not more than half a kilometer from the
front line. The 4th Battalion were billeted here in dug-outs along
the cut. After parking here for fifteen minutes we entered a com-
munication trench which led right to the front line. Needless to
say, there was considerable water in the trench, which was over-
come by "duck-boards" placed 18 inches or so above the bottom of
the trench. Sometimes the water would get a little higher than
usual, then the boards would float. That would mean wet feet and
naughty words. Of course one could walk overland in preference to
the trench. That practice, however was not encouraged, because
Fritz had a bad habit of sweeping the country with machine guns
during the night.
And so it was, after thirteen months of training I arrived in the line of the famous "Hill 60". Officially transferred to the Machine Gun Section of the Second Canadian Battalion.My initiation took place that morning, for no sooner had I located my "dug-out" and was comfortably settled for a little well-earned rest, when Fritz sent over a flock of "Minnenwerfers" as an official greeting. Anyway one of them buried itself adjacent to my "Stucco Bungalow" and with a loud report, the thing went off, partly demolishing my temporary home and putting me out of action for a few minutes. However, after getting dug out (I was half-buried)I was soon back to normal.
That was my first experience of actual shell fire, an every
day occurrence, I was told later, and practically nothing to what
was in store for me. Quite enough for me though.
I was indeed glad when daylight came, because things
invariably quietened down at that time. Also for the daily rum
issue, about two tablespoonsful. Then came breakfast. It was
brought up the night before and consisted of bread and cooked
bacon (three men to a loaf). These things were brought up in
sacks, so that it was necessary to spend some time removing vast
quantities of said sack, before it was in a fit condition to
consume. The tea came up in four-gallon oil cans and invariably
tasted of different varieties of oil, with very little milk, if
any. Otherwise it tasted all right. Other articles on the menu
consisted of -- "Blackberry and Apple Jam," Hard Tack, Bully
Beef and occasionally a small portion of cheese, if we were
lucky. Then would begin the arduous task of warming the bacon
and tea, with the aid of a piece of rag and candle shavings or
anything that would create a little heat, with the minimum amount
of smoke. That ordeal over, some of us were permitted to pipe
down for a few hours shut-eye.
So making myself as comfortable as possible, I laid
down on the hard ground, and being exceptionally tired I was soon
in the land of dreams. It was not long however, before I was
rudely awakened by two inconsiderate young rats, who were playing
tag around my head,--enormous thing they were, overfed by the size
of them. That put me off sleep for the rest of the day. It was a
beautiful sunny morning so I decided to crawl out of my hole and
get acquainted with my new surroundings. There was, however, very
little to be seen. Just one mass of trenches which were in a very
sad state of disrepair. Shells had actually leveled them off in
some places. Not wishing to have a hold drilled in my skull I
ventured not across those death traps during the day time, for
they were invariably marked by "Hun" snipers, who, in most cases
used explosive bullets. Turning back I came to one of the boys on
duty, to whom I introduced myself. He asked me what I thought of
the lay-out. I said it didn't impress me very much, not very
healthy for one thing and too darned hot for another. "Oh," said
he, "You will soon get used to such small details; wait till
you've been here as long as I have. Those are merely two of
the unpleasant little obstacles which we have to contend with
during our sojourn in this God-forsaken place." A shell landing
altogether too close to suit me finished our conversation as far
as I was concerned. It was back to the dug-out for me and a little
shut-eye if possible. It was, for I slept soundly all day.
It was dusk when I was finally aroused from my sweet
dreams by the platoon Sergeant, with a "Snap out of it, young
feller!" He then informed me that I was detailed to go out
with the ration party that night. So, after taking on a little
fuel, I reported to Company headquarters, where seven more of the
boys were already waiting. Two from each platoon. As it was not
yet dark we were told to go down below and have a smoke before
Headquarters were usually fortunate enough to park
themselves in a deep dug-out, far away from harm, but not down
on the farm. These were from twenty to thirty feet deep. But
for all that they were far from being bomb-proof. Cigarettes
out, we made our way to the communication trench, the same one
we had travelled the night before. Except for the continual
rattle of machine guns, an occasional Very light, the old whiz-
bang swishing by, the stench of dead bodies and our own silence,
one would hardly realize that there was such a thing as a war
The ration dump was, I should judge, about two kilo-
metres from the front line. Here rations and ammunition were
brought from the railhead by the Battalion Transport if there
was no light railway in the vicinity. Whenever possible the dump
was located near a Crucifix. There is one to be found in every
French village, and in nine cases out of ten they would be prac-
tically undamaged, no matter how severe the shell fire had been.
A mere coincidence perhaps, but, one never can tell.
Arriving at the dump it was a simple matter to grab a
couple of sacks containing the following articles, Bread, Cheese,
Jam, Cooked Bacon or Beef, Cigarettes and Tobacco (perhaps). Tied
together they were easily carried over the shoulder, or as an al-
ternative, two four-gallon cans of water or cold tea. I usually
steered clear of the latter because they were devilish awkward
things to carry. The most important sack of all was that contain-
ing the mail and the Rum jar. Needless to say the N.C.O. in charge
attended to the latter. I have often thought since what a wonder-
ful system of distribution it was to feed an army in time of war.
To my way of thinking, it was nothing short of a miracle.
Well, let's get back to Headquarters while things are
comparatively quiet. Fritz may decide to strafe us on very short
notice and for no apparent reason. Ration parties were his
favorite meat. However, we arrived back all right about 2 A.M.
and then joined our respective platoons, where we stood to till
Looking over the top during my first night on the
firing step, I saw all kind of funny things. Staring into so
much black nothingness I would see an object, which, after a few
minutes, would move cautiously towards me, and not wishing to
raise any unnecessary alarm I asked my partner if he saw something
moving about in front. No, he said he couldn't see anything.
Must be that old tree stump you see. Even then I was not con-
vinced. So to prove it and set my mind at rest, he fired a Very
Light. Sure enough, there was the remains of a tree which had
been snapped of by a shell. I felt more easy now and was wonder-
ing what I would have done had it been a whole flock of Germans
after my blood. This time I saw and heard it. Something was
crawling right in front of me, it was about the size of a dog.
Instantly I had one hand on my Lee Enfield and the other one
grabbed a Mills Bomb, when my Buddy casually remarked that there
were an unusual amount of rats around the last few nights. And
once more my pulse went back to normal. I was indeed relieved
when the first sign of dawn finally appeared. Then for a rum issue,
a bite to eat and then to my dug-out for four hours. The routine
for the day was, two hours on duty and four off.
At the end of three days the Battalion was relieved and
sent back for a couple of days rest, where I had my first wash and
incidentally a bath. Already a great number of "Cooties" had
made their habitation in my underwear, so that a delousing operation
was absolutely necessary in order to enjoy a little peace.
It was a grand and glorious feeling to be able to walk
around on deck so to speak, with the knowledge that there were no
"Hun" snipers looking for my scalp. The only possible danger now
was from the French Mademoiselles. But, being somewhat backward
where the women were concerned, I was comparatively safe from that
danger zone. And yet, for all my armour plate against such a
calamity I almost fell.
Here the Battalion was billeted right amongst the French
people, in their homes, in barns, in fact, anywhere and everywhere
there were troops; every available space was occupied. They, the
French people, certainly had a lot to contend with those days,
more than the rest of the world realized, and in most cases they
did all that they possibly could for us, even to the extent of
supplying eggs and chips at two francs per head. Also, they did
an enormous trade in beer and wine, which could be obtained any-
where and anytime. Their children were brought up on beer, and
they seemed to thrive on it too.
Our present location was a village (I forget the name)
not far from "Poperhinge", five or six miles from the front line,
if I should judge correctly, far enough away to feel comparatively
safe from the Hun and his dirty tricks. It was, however, a common
occurrence for the odd shell to come sailing over and land uncere-
moniously in different parts of the village, regardless of the
women and children who still stayed by the ship. How many were
killed will never be known. I can vouch for some who paid the
extreme penalty for remaining in their own homes. I don't
suppose they had anywhere else to go had they wanted to. All is
fair in Love and War though.
Our sojourn here lasted for three days, when I learned
that the Battalion was not to return to the Salient, but was to move
South at once, where, no one knew, no one ever did know, it was
always go, and keep on going until told to halt, never knowing
from one day to the next where our destination would be -- what
So the following morning, after an early breakfast we
were on the road for parts unknown. It was a wonderful morning
(to go swimming) with the clearest of skies, and everybody seemed
happy, including myself, some singing, some whistling; and some
of the boys were dropping out with sore feet, for the cobble-
stoned roads were extra hard on one's motive power. The sun
too, was blazing down unmercifully, I was getting a little groggy
myself, but managed to hold on till the next hourly halt of ten
minutes was made. Fall in, and off again. If ever time travelled
it was then, during those ten minutes, just like greased lightning
if there is such a thing. If any of you ladies are overweight and
wish to reduce, put on a full pack such as we used, about 70 lbs.
Then march for a whole day on hard bobble-stones, in the middle of
Northern France, as I remember it, was not exceptionally
hilly, so that most of our marching was done on the level. Had
such a War been staged in British Columbia it would have been a
much different story.
At "Cassel" we made a stop for lunch. That was indeed
music unto my ears, for, already my shoulders were aching quite
a bit and my feet were beginning to drag. It was not long then
before I had my harness off and my mess tin out. And now for a
raid on the "Cook House". It always followed in rear of the
Battalion, the cooking behind done on the road. This ordeal over
I laid down to take "Five", but alas, no sooner had I dozed off
when the "Fall-in" sounded and once more we were on the move.
The first half hour after lunch was always the most difficult
part of any day's march.
At last, after the very first all day march with full
pack we arrived at our billets for the night. This particular
village had been selected by the "Billeting Party" which composed
of an officer and one man from each company provided with bicycles
(lucky dogs), who would then detail so many men to each house,
whether the occupants liked it or not. They would then mark the
number of men and their respective Company on the door of said
house or barn, whichever it might be. In this manner the Bat-
talion was distributed all through the town, and in most cases
all available space was occupied. If the parking space was not
sufficient in one place, half the Battalion would to on to the
next place. Then half that stayed would have the laugh on the
other half. But the joke was reversed the following morning when
"Reveille" was sounded, for the half that went on had another hour
to dream. But, as I said once before, all is fair in love and war.
Day after day this went on. Kilometre after kilometre,
we ate them, but mostly in the form of dust. Sometimes we would
travel by motor lorries and sometimes by train, or freight cars to
be exact, which traveled at the speed of sixty miles per hour--
perhaps. But owing to the War, the speed was reduced to about
twelve knots an hour so the boys could run alongside for exercise.
My longest day's march was from seven in the morning till
eleven-thirty at night, when we covered approximately forty-five
kilometres. After which we boarded one of the afore-mentioned
over-land limited. I was too tired that night to do or think of
anything but sleep and sleep I did. The hard floors or the jerking
of the cars was no barrier to the sand-man. When I awoke the sun
was already up and most of the boys had, by this time, broken their
fast. I did likewise. Bully beef and hard tack was on the menu
that morning and every other morning for the next few days. This
mode of travel was hardly in the pullman class, but was a decided
advantage to that of wearing down cobble-stones.
The next leg of our journey was made via motor lorries.
It was even worse that the former method, so that any one with a
weak heart was surely due for an attack. Riding a camels hump in
a bathing suit would have been duck soup compared to some of those
trucks. However, we all survived the trip and it didn't cost us
Back to the daily grind one more, wearing down the roads
of France with a number ten army boot. It won't be long now though,
for we are headed toward the scene of action. In the distance can be
seen some of our observation balloons, as yet mere specks, but
growing larger every hour.
Two more days march brought us to the town of "Albert" on
the "Somme" and incidentally our final destination after three
weeks on the road. A fairly large place that bore mute evidence
of the War, with scarcely a building that had not been hit by
shells and deserted except for the troops billeted there. The
church, a large one, was damaged beyond repair, on the top of
which stood a figure of the "Virgin Mary", hanging at right angles.
It was generally supposed that if it ever fell Germany would be
victorious. Whether it remained in that position or not, I could
The Battalion remained here for two or three days, so
that we might check over our equipment, ammunition, emergency
rations, etc., before proceeding to the "Line". I must say that
the prospect of staying here any longer than was absolutely neces-
sary did not appeal to me at all because Fritz was shelling the
town day and night. Therefore it was with some relief that we
received orders to pack up.
And it came to pass that we relieved an Australian out-
fit on the last day of August 1916. Our position lay directly in
front of "Albert" at what was once known as "Pozieres", and what
was now only a few piles of bricks, so severe had been the shell
fire in this vicinity. Nothing was left standing, so that the
only protection we had were cellars where houses had once stood.
I never saw a more complete attempt at annihilation, in fact it
was a first-class job. I thought to myself, here's where we come
in for some dirty work. My assumption proved to be correct before
many days had passed.
For four days we held the fort here, under a continual
rain of shells, causing quite a number of casualties amongst the
Battalion. Sleep, to any great extent, was practically out of
the question in such a hold as this was, when minutes seemed like
hours, and hours dragged by like days. It was quite evident that
men could not stand the pressure under these conditions for any
length of time.
On the morning of the fifth we were relieved by the Fourth
Battalion. A fact which made me truly thankful and, I have to admit
that I had plenty during those four days. My second baptism of fire
and still I lived to tell the tale.
It was no wonder that "Fritz" was sore in this sector,
because there had been a big allied offensive during July and
August when the line was advanced some five to six miles, so that
continual counter-attacks were being launched in a final effort
to recapture some of the lost ground, all of which, however, proved
to be unsuccessful.
Our quarters now were located in ex-German dug-outs.
Deep? I'll say they were, with beds, tables, chairs, etc. In
fact, comfort was the Huns first consideration. It was not long
then, under those conditions before we caught up on sleep. After
that came the delousing operation, of which there were numerous
methods. I shall not discuss them at this time, but will be glad
to do so on request.
The following incident is one that I shall never forget,
because it concerned one of my best friends. Four of us had gone
forth this morning on a tour of inspection through death valley.
Souvenir hunting was the true nature of our expedition. Mathews
was his name, and he had me on edge all the time. He would pick
up "duds" and attempt to remove the nose-cap, foolish boy, con-
sidering that he knew nothing about them and there were four
reasons why he should leave them alone. I was one of them. Any-
way, he decided that discretion was the road to take for a long
life and left it alone.
Our wanderings led up into all sorts of queer places, one
being an enormous crater which the British had blown on the German
front lines, just previous to the attack. Here whole companies of
Huns had been blown to pieces, many of them being buried alive.
Death Valley was indeed an appropriate name for this graveyard.
Rifles, ammunition of all kinds, equipment and helmets were scat-
tered everywhere, including human arms and legs, yes, and even
By this time we had been rambling around for two hours
or more, when someone suggested we go back to our quarters if we
intended horning in on the "chow" lone. So in single file we
climbed out of the crated and headed for home. We had been going
for about fifteen minutes, when something exploded directly behind
me, with a loud report. Instantly I looked around (I was third
man) and through the cloud of black smoke I saw Mathews, who was
in the rear. He was lying on his back. I went and told him to
get up, but he did not move. The others by this time had come
back to see what was wrong, but my fears were already aroused, for
there was a scarlet spot on the side of his head, just above the
left ear. I felt his pulse and found he was dead. Killed by his
own hands. It was a sad trio that walked into headquarters that
afternoon with the dead body of one, who, not long before, was full
The accident occurred in this manner. Mathews had
evidently picked up a German rifle grenade at the crater, though
none of us noticed that he had it. Anyway, he must have decided not
to keep it and evidently threw it away and being a percussion type
it was detonated on contact with the ground. Fate did the rest. I
was indeed lucky that I did not meet the same fate, for I was not
more than ten or twelve feet away. So much for that little outing.
Mathews was buried with full military honors not far
from the place where he met his tragic end. I might say at this
time that my one great ambition is to visit the old battlefield in
France, where poppies now grow on the graves of those who gave their
lives for the sake of humanity. Some day my hopes may be realised.
One can never tell.
On the night of the eighth we journeyed once more to the
"front line", this time to the accompaniment of Tanks and Artillery.
Evidently there was going to be a show, and very soon too. Every-
thing was moving toward the front line that night, just one mass of
men and machinery. Guns were lined up wheel to wheel.
The Battalion was located in the same place as before.
Arriving there about three in the morning we were told to get some
sleep if possible before the show started at zero hour, which was
so far an unknown quantity. All the next day we kept low, resembl-
ing a flock of ground hogs more than human beings. If "Fritz" had
got wind of the number of men that were ready to pounce on him, it
would have been complete annihilation for us. Evidently he did not,
for it was exceptionally quiet during the day.
At four in the afternoon we took up our position at the
jumping off trench and without exaggerating, the boys were shoulder
to shoulder, just one mass of humanity waiting to be slaughtered.
A snort of rum all round and we were all ready to go. It is
almost impossible to describe the feeling I experienced while wait-
ing to "go over"--the suspense was terrible. I was shaking as though
I had an attack of "St. Vitus' Dance". That condition, however,
deserted me when the artillery barrage opened up at four-forty and
exactly at four-forty five on the afternoon of the ninth of Septem-
ber, 1916, we went "Over the top" at Pozieres on the Somme front
--an incidentally my first trip over and my last for some time.
Four outstanding features were characteristic of the 2nd
Battalion attack on the 9th; It being the first time
that Tanks were used successfully. It was the first daylight attack
ever attempted on a fairly large scale. The first Canadian V.C.
for 1916 was awarded to Private Leo Clark at that time, and it was
the first time that an official "Movie Man" cranked away at his
camera thus securing the first actual pictures of Canadian Infantry
in action. I witnessed this unusual procedure as shells burst all
I learned later what actually took place on that September
afternoon. From the beginning the 2nd Battalion ran into considerable
opposition. The Artillery had not effected a destruction of the
enemy defenses to the extend hoped for, with the result that no
sooner had the boys jumped the bags than they faced a savage rifle
and machine gun fire. The first waves melted--the succeeding ones
fared little better. The men dropped into shell holes and returned
the enemy's fusilade, working their way over "no man's land" in the
usual short rushes. The advance was slow and costly, but gradually
we obtained superiority of fire and with a bound the heroic remnants
of the Battalion covered the last few yards, thereby gaining their
objective, which was a salient a little over a quarter of a mile
long held by the enemy and giving them observation over the back
country in the rear of the British lines, which had to be taken
before preparations for the offensive of September the 26th could
I was number three on the Colt Gun, or in other words,
spare parts carrier. Number two carried the tripod, number one
the gun, and the remainder carried ammunition. We climbed the
parapet and made for a shell hold not more than twenty yards away,
set up the gun and commenced firing. No sooner had it started when
it stopped, when King, who was number one, was hit in the arm by a
piece of shrapnel from a shell that landed nearby and practically
severed his arm. Unfortunately he died later from loss of blood.
Patterson, who was number two, promptly took his place at the gun
and commenced firing. Five minutes later he got his with a bullet
through the hand. I was the next victim. Apparently we were there
for the sole purpose of being shot at. So taking my place at the
gun I started firing at the only target I could see through the
dense smoke, which was a number of the enemy, who were evidently
standing on the firing-step of their trench. I had overcome my
nervousness by this time and things were going along very nicely
until--the gun must have got too hot (it was air-cooled) and it
stopped. I tried with all the speed I could to get it in action
again, but without success. I had worked on it for about ten
minutes when I happened to glance toward the German lines and just
at that moment I got mine, with a bullet through the left shoulder.
Odd though it may seem, I saw the fellow who plugged me.
He was about two hundred yards away and if I'm any judge it was a
good shot from that distance. Had it been a fraction of an inch
to one side I would have been pushing up daisies now. Later I
found out that the bullet had grazed the collar bone, tipped a
lung, scarred the main jugular vein, put a groove in my spine, and
finally came to rest in a can of beans which I had in a small
haversack on my back. So that my first actual time in action only
lasted fifteen minutes.
How long I lay in that shell-hole I could not say, as I
was out for the count of ten and then some. When I first came back
to life some one was dragging me back to the trench. My legs were so
numb I did not know whether they were still with me or not. The
thought of being paralyzed was a little too much for me, I passed
The next time tat I "came to" was just before dark. I
was then laying in a cubby hole with my legs stretched out in the
middle of the trench. I have a hazy recollection of Hun prisoners
stepping over me with their hands high in the air and they were
saying "nix good". Then I started coughing and spitting blood. Of
course I didn't know just where I was hit, not the nature of the
wound, so that the sight of blood coming from that quarter spelled
nothing but a peaceful death to me. From then on I was in a sort
of semi-conscious condition, with only a hazy recollection of what
took place after that.
When I finally regained consciousness it was ten o'clock the
following morning, that was on a Sunday and exactly seventeen hours
after I got hit. I was then carried out to the nearest field
dressing station which was located in a cellar on the main road
to Albert. On my arrival there I was dumped unceremoniously on
the floor, which was by now filled with wounded, or it may have
been a morgue for all I knew. I could hear the stretcher bearers
talking with someone, it was possibly the M.O. and this is what I
heard: "Is he badly hit?" "Yes, sir, a serious case--been out all
night--can't get far in that condition." Cheerful, was it not?
Anyway they bandaged me up and gave me a drink of water and then
left me till the ambulance arrived.
I was put aboard some time during the afternoon. What a ride
that was to be sure. Could I ever forget it? It was two horse
power, with the springs all dried up. The roads were dotted with
shell holed and the driver hit every one of them. In fact I was
buffeted about like a trans-Atlantic air-plane. My wound was pain-
ing considerably by now, every bump increasing the agony. All that
could be heard from inside was, "Ouch, have a heart". It was now
that I lost what little respect that I had for the Huns, when he
started shelling the ambulance. Would we ever get out? I was
beginning to wonder if we would ever do so alive. Some of them
were landing too close to suit me, by the CRUMP, CRUMP, CRUMP,
which could be distinctly heard above the rumble of the wheels on
the cobble-stones. I shall refer to this trip as the "Agony ride
through death valley".
At last we arrived at Albert much the worse for wear, but
without any further casualties, where I was placed in one of the
clearing stations nearby. And from there further back to field
hospital which was under canvas. Here I stayed till about the end
of September. Lying in bed I remember listening to the bombardment
of the twenty-sixth when "Regina Trench" and "The Sugar Refinery"
were taken at Courcelette. I was told that our attack on the ninth
was successful, also that it was the first daylight attack ever
made up till that time. This was a regular death chamber for there
was hardly a night that someone did not pass out.
My once paralyzed legs were by now almost back to normal, a
fact that cheered me up considerably.
My next move was to the base hospital at Rouon, where I stayed
for a few days before proceeding across the channel to Blighty.
On my arrival at Southampton I was asked what part of England I
preferred to go to. As a matter of fact, owing to the condition
which I was in, my destination did not concern me in the least.
Anyway, I said drop me off at the first place we come to. It was
London I was thinking of.
An ambulance train passing through a town always created con-
siderable excitement, for no matter where we stopped there would
always be a large crowd at the station to greet us. I was for-
tunate in securing a lower berth, so that I had a fairly good
view of the surrounding country. That gave me the feeling that I
was glad to be alive. The ambulance trains were a hundred per cent
comfort and a great contrast compared to the agony ride along the
Albert Road three weeks ago. In fact I enjoyed this trip so much
that I was almost sorry when we reached our destination which was
Chester, in the county of Cheshire, and incidentally one of the
oldest towns in England. Parts of the wall which once surrounded
it are still standing. It also contains several very old churches.
Ten of us were eventually carried on stretchers and deposited
on the station platform, where we waited in a drizzling rain for
fifteen or twenty minutes. Here the people asked me all kinds of
questions. Where I was hit, how old I was, where my home was and
others too numerous to mention.
It won't be long now though, for the motor ambulance arrived,
and once more I was freighted to some unknown destination. What
a life of uncertainty. Where to now? thought I.
Half an hours ride brought us to the hospital which was an
old skating rink before the war and located on the top of a hill,
in a small "Burg" called Frodsham, also in Cheshire.
It was not long before the nurse (a cute little blond) had
me washed, ironed, dried and between the sheets. Almost too good
too be true. Then cocoa and something to eat for the other part of
me. It was a grand and glorious feeling, I'll tell the universe.
I can't say whether I slept very much the first night or not. I
have a faint recollection of someone holding me hand or perhaps that
was only a dream. There were other nights though when it was no
dream. But 'nuf said about that.
When morning arrived I discovered that my new home was much
better than a lot of others I had been in. The ward was very well
lighted with oodles of windows. It contained fifty beds and all of
them were occupied.
This was a V.A.D. Hospital and maintained by the people of
the village who supplied all the eatables. The nurses gave their
services "Free Gratis". A great deal of credit was due them for
the good work they did during those doubtful and trying days. I,
for one, shall never forget the attention given me at Frodsham
Hospital during the five months that I was a patient there.
It was only now that I learned the true nature of my wound,
which was not so serious as I had at first thought, but painful
nevertheless, especially when being dressed, which was done twice
a day. Two months or more had elapsed before I was acquainted
with the exact location of my wound, and by that time I was well
on the road to recovery.
A good many concerts were given, which afforded us many
pleasant hours. It was in hospital, after becoming an up-patient,
that I learned to play billiards. I am reminded at this time of a
very amusing though painful incident that occurred the first day that
I got up. I was going down to the main dining room when one of the
boys (evidently glad of the event) slapped me on the back with a
glad-to-see-you-up-sort-of-feeling. The result was another knock-
out. However, after a few minutes I was none the worse for the
unexpected outburst of enthusiasm on behalf of a fellow patient.
I had been up about two weeks, when I decided, with the aid
of a walking stick, to venture forth into the village which was a
mile and a half from the hospital. It was down hill most of the
way which made the going comparatively easy. On reaching the vil-
lage the first thing I spied was a "Tea Room" which I entered and
partook of a little nourishment and a much needed rest. The return
trip was not quite so easy, for the half mile hill proved to be
quite an obstacle which retarded my progress and wind pressure
considerable. However, I arrived back none the worse for the
experience, with a severe reprimand from the nurse for going to
I must say that the days from then on went altogether too
fast to suit me. There was one other Canadian there besides
myself. I think there was too much fuss made over us by the
nurses, two of them in particular. Many pleasant hours the four
of us spent together, roaming the nearby woods, etc. In fact it
was beginning to get serious with me. A case of love a first
sight, but on second thoughts--I took another look.
In February 1917 I was examined and pronounced fit to leave
the hospital for the convalescent camp. So reluctantly I said
goodbye to the nurses and boys whom I had become intimately acquain-
ted with, and then took my departure for Liverpool where I stayed
for two weeks before proceeding to Epsom which had been converted
into a convalescent camp.
Here I underwent a light course of Physical Training so that
at the end of six weeks I was in fairly good shape. My first and
only black mark was scored against me there (I should have had
more) and that was an oversight on the part of the Officer in
charge. We had to be in barracks by nine o'clock those days, but
one night I was marked absent, with the result that I was awarded
two days C.B. But the injustice of it was that I was in my bunk
all the time.
There was plenty of amusement at Epsom, with concerts, picture
shows or the odd poker game and Crown and Anchor. The two latter
were excellent methods of relieving one of his spare shillings.
But what did it matter? I would win one night only to lose the
next. It was the same with us. Snatched from the hands of the
grim reaper one time and then sent back again to all the horrors
of war, perhaps never to return. Fortunately fate dealt me a good
hand, so that things turned out fairly good for me. I must confess
that I have become quite a fatalist since those days.
Hastings was my next point of interest and one of the most
picturesque seaport towns in the south of England. My sojourn here
only lasted for about two weeks and then on again to Seaford.
Back to huts again. That was enough to make a parson swear.
After sleeping in real beds it required some effort to go back to
those conditions again. In fact it was just like starting all
over, with the familiar kit inspections, drilling, bayonet
fighting, etc. -- I was fed up with all that stuff.
It was here that I met my brother Alan. He was a bugler
in the 103rd Battalion, a mere kid at that time, not more than
fifteen years of age. He and I had some great times together while
we were in Seaford. Besides doing his stuff on the bugle, he was
also assistant manager of the camp Theatre.
Seaford under ordinary conditions may have been a very nice
place to live in, but during the war it was just an ordinary seaside
village with a strong odor of fish and overflowing with troops,
where the people charges us two shilling and sixpence for fish and
chips, a price unheard of in pre-War days. They were real profit-
eers. However, the price did not prevent us from enjoying a mess
of them one or twice a week.
It was here that I almost met my Waterloo by the hands of
an old woman, who approached me for a light tough of a shilling. I
noticed however, that she was very much the worse for booze
(probably been drinking 'arf and 'arf) so I refused to give her any
money and told her the best thing she could do was to go home and
sober up. That made her real good and mad, and she made a counter
attack with an empty beer bottle, with the intent of doing me bodily
harm. But I was too quick for her, for it was a simple matter to
disarm the old dame in her wobbly condition. Then she went home
Well, as I said once before, my sole object in being
here was to get in a fit condition in order that I might rejoin
the Battalion, which was in great need of reinforcements owing
to the heavy casualties which they had suffered during the Vimy
scrap on the ninth of April and later at Fresney on the third of
May, 1917, when almost half the Battalion were put out of action.
A monument has since been erected on the "Ridge" in memory of those
who fell there.
One the tenth of May I went before the Medical Board for
one more final examination, when I went through the regular ordeal
--something like this:-- The M.O. speaking. "Your number?" (which
I quoted for the Nth time). "Name?" Rank? Age and when wounded, etc.,
of which they already had a record. After which the following was
tolerated: Say ninety-nine--cough--say Ah. Does your shoulder
trouble you? Which I answered in the negative. That was a lie,
but I wanted to get out of Seaford at all costs. Do you wish to
rejoin your Battalion? I did, (there was no alternative apparently).
All right, said the M.O. you can report tomorrow morning in full
marching order. Next.
And so it was, on the eleventh of May and incidentally
my nineteenth official birthday, that I again crossed the channel
for the third time. And it was just as rough as ever.
Four or five days later I was back in my own company,
eight months after I left. They were out for a month's rest and
stationed at Berlin, which is some eight kilometers to the west
It was during my sojourn here that I became intimately
acquainted with a young fellow, about my own age, whom I adopted
as my official side-kicker. He was a Dane and came to Canada
just previous to the commencement of the War and enlisted in 1916,
eventually being drafted to the second Battalion, which unit he
stayed with until they were demobilised in April 1919. He was
absolutely fearless in the "line" and went on several raiding
parties across "No man's land" and never missed a single show
that the Battalion took part in. He was slightly wounded once,
but not badly enough to be sent down the line. He is now back in
Canada and working at Ottawa, from which place I hear from him
quite often. I should like to have a chat with him and discuss
some of the good and bad times we had together. Carl was in my
platoon, so that everywhere I went he was sure to go.
During our stay in Berlin we were never idle for there
were always guards to do, and machine gun drill and inspection
every morning. Then once a week we would attend the bath parade
which would be carried out at Bruay, about four kilometers away
and the best baths we ever went to. Regular shower baths used
by the miners, for it was a mining town. The miners were mostly
old men and boys.
A great improvement had been made with reference to the
Machine Gun Section. When I left there were only four colt guns in
the Battalion, and these had been replaced by four Lewis Guns to
each company, or sixteen to the Battalion. The extra guns, I can
assure you, gave us a great deal more confidence. They played a
great role in our ultimate victory over the enemy. Besides the Lewis
guns there were a number of Vickers Maxim water-cooled guns and it was known as the Brigade Machine Gun Company.
I may as well give a description of some of the other
fighting units. There was the light Trench Mortar Brigade. They
handled the Stokes Gun, the shell of which was cylinder shaped
about two feet long and very effective. Next in line was the heavy
Trench Mortars which fired a projectile weighing half a ton and
known to us as the Flying Pig, on account of its likeness to a
porker when in the air. Then came the Artillery with from their
eighteen pounders or Whiz Bangs up to and including the sixteen
inch gun which was mounted on the railway. Each Battalion was also
supplied with Mills Bombs and Rifle Grenades, which also were very
effective. Then there were such useful articles as: Air-planes,
Tanks, Motor Transport, Observation Balloons, Apparatus for the
release of Poison Gas, Pigeons and Light Railways. They were all
dependant on each other and each one doing their darndest to put
the finishing touch to the Bosch.
Now isn't that a nice little collection of paraphernalia?
And all used for the purpose of killing one another. How much
better if all those efforts had been utilized in saving life instead
of destroying it. And what is the ultimate result? Germany, within
ten years, will be in a position to repeat the performance, if she
so desires. The import of German goods into Britain and Canada has
caused considerable unemployment. Our asylums are filled to over-
flowing and crime is on the increase. And now, let's get back to
our billets in Berlin.
I must now tell you about the "Cootie" races which were
held once a year. Only thoroughbred "Gray Backs" fully registered,
were eligible to complete in these annual events. All "Cooties"
taking part must be under two years old and a resident of the owners
shirt for at least six months. The race was managed in this manner:
six of the most lively "Cooties" would be selected from each shirt
and lined up at the starting point. The shirts would be placed about
twenty centimeters away. They're off---but they will soon be on
again, for they are all headed in one direction, towards the shirts.
The first prize of "one De-Lousing Outfit" goes to the shirt that
gets all the "Cooties" back first. Do you feel a bite? So do I.
All good things must come to an end. We were to leave
Berlin the following day for a trip to the Lens sector. Here we
found that Fritz was in one side of the town and we were in the
other and a very unhealthy spot it was too. A busy mining town
before the war, but now a mass of ruins. The front line was
composed of cellars connected by short trenches, some of which
contained beds, chairs, tables, etc., which the people had left
behind in their hasty retreat.
Here, the regular routine was carried out--stand to during
the night, ration parties, wiring parties who would repair breaks
in the barbed wire entanglements in No Man's Land. And then snatch
a little sleep during the daytime if it wasn't too hot or too cold.
Firing would start at dusk and continue throughout the night till
dawn appeared, mixed with a few "Pine-apples" and "Minnenwerfers"
which would lop over at intervals. The latter could be easily
distinguished by its red tail of burning fuse. Over and over it would
turn, followed by a thud and then a familiar c-r-r-r-ump. No
matter which way one looked there was the continual flash and rumble
of the guns in every direction. At regular intervals "Very Lights"
would sail upwards as a red streak and then burst into a dazzling white,
illuminating the ground for hundreds of yards. The smoke from
burned powder was sickening--I can almost smell it yet.
Talk about dirty tricks, Fritz had them all beat with
this one: he would send over a few harmless shells containing a
combination of tear and pepper gas which we were supposed to in-
hale freely, then when we had got to sneezing and coughing violently
Mr. Hun would send over the real gas. That was duck soup for him
because it was impossible for anyone to keep a mask on with an
attack of the sneezes.
And so it would go on, each side waiting for the other
to make a break. Six long days of this and then back to supports
for another six days where we were sometimes able to have a wash
and a shave if the water which we got from shell holes was not too
dirty. From twelve to fourteen days and sometimes more for each and
every trip which we made into the line. And during that time we
would never take off our clothing or equipment and perhaps never
wash our dirty faces. You may be able to form some opinion of how
we looked after a trip in the "Line".
Supports was not, however, all milk and honey exactly,
for every night we would be on a working party of some kind or
other such as--digging trenches, carrying ammunition, repairing
the wire out in front or reinforcing the front line if necessary.
We were like so many wild animals, working during the night and
sleeping by day.
Needless to say, our main hobby was watching air fights
between hostile aircraft and our own machines, which never failed
to create a good deal of excitement, especially when an enemy plane
was brought down, when the cheering would outclass that of a final
game of hockey. Observation balloons also made excellent targets
for the "Hun" planes, for no sooner would one be shot down, usually
in flames, when another would be sent up, only to meet the same fate.
The observers in most cases would make good their escape in para-
chutes. They would then be rewarded with six days leave for making
a forced descent. I have seen some of the more daring airmen attack
a balloon which was down on the ground, set it on fire and then fly
back to their own lines upside down. Many of them, however, would
be brought down before getting very far. We used to fire at them
with our Lewis guns but I don't remember ever registering a fatal
hit. A plane would have to be exceptionally low to be brought down
in that manner.
An now we journeyed back to Lievin, which was about three
kilometers from the front line, where we remained as reserve troops
for four or five days, sometimes longer. I was indeed surprised to
find a number of French people in this little town. They had
returned after being driven out during the early part of the war by
the German hordes who looted their homes and then destroyed them.
Even then it was almost a daily occurrence to hear shells screeching
into the village with the sickening c-r-r-ump of a "Five-nine" when
another Froggie would bite the dust. And in the face of all that there
was the odd Estaminet that was open for business, where "Vin Blanc"
or "Eggs and chips" could be obtained for the nominal sum of two
Francs per head.
Our next move was to Arras which was twenty kilometers to
the south of Lens, an easy day's march for old soldiers like myself.
The line in this sector in June 1917 was some eight or nine kilo-
meters to the east of Champagne City, a nickname adopted by the
Second Battalion on account of the vast quantities of sparkling
waters which were found in almost every cellar. Needless to say
it was sampled by almost every member in our outfit during our
brief visits to that city. It was just like the others, a mass of
ruins and very few civilians, if any, were living there at that
time on account of the heavy shelling. It was just a little too
much for them.
We made a couple of trips in there at that time with
nothing out of the ordinary to report. Just waiting and watching.
The more trips I made the more I hated wars, till finally I
actually dreaded the thought of even one more six-six-six, meaning
six days front line, six days supports and six days reserve.
Out again for a two weeks rest at Aubigny on the Arras-
St. Pol Road. During this period we attended the Corps sports
held at Tincques on the first of July 1917, where a good time was
enjoyed by all those able to attend. The main item on the program
and which impressed me most, was the massed pipe bands of all the
Highland Battalions in the Canadian Corps. Following that were
the regular sports such as baseball, football, boxing, etc., and
as a special added attraction, the famous "Dumbells" put on a show.
It was the first time I had seen them in action on the stage. So,
for that day only, all thoughts of the War were cast aside.
From Aubigny we went to Fresnicourt and then on to Grenay,
three or four kilometers from Loos which was situated just to the
north of Lens. Had I known what was in store for me there I might
have got cold feet and turned back.
On or about the 15 of August, the Third brigade went
"over" and captured "Hill 70"" and a number of Prisoners and machine-
guns, a strategic point of great military importance to the allies,
because it commanded a large area of the surrounding country. For
that reason the Germans had fortified it exceptionally well, in
fact, it was one mass of "Pill Boxes" and deep dug-outs, constructed
of cement and steel. But all those precautions failed under the
terrific barrage from our guns.
On the following night we went in and relieved the Third
brigade, who were in pretty bad shape, having lost heavily during
and after the attack. But Hill 70 was ours now for keeps. Perhaps
and perhaps not.
The Hill was subjected to a heavy bombardment throughout
the day which had, strange to say, eased up a little by the time
we had reached "supports". But evidently this was to be our
unlucky night, for a few minutes later a "five-nine" landed amongst
my platoon, No. 7, and put 13 of the boys out of action, three or
four being killed. But that was only the start. Naturally that
disorganized things for a few minutes. The Stretcher Bearers were
left to attend the wounded while we went on to the front line, or
I should say, all that remained of it, for it was practically
demolished. It was no wonder that Fritz evacuated. No man could
stand up under that fire.
It was about midnight when we finally found our respective
positions in those parts of the trench which afforded the most
protection. No easy task I can assure you on a pitch black night
such as that was. Things were still fairly quiet, with an occasional
"Whiz Bang" and the monotonous rattle of machine guns. Nothing out
of the ordinary though.
But an hour later, somewhere around one-thirty, the tide
began to turn, when Fritz opened up with everything he had. Imme-
diately the word was passed along to "stand to" and send up the
S.O.S. which was a red light. Then our own artillery opened up
with everything they had and between the two, there was hell let
loose in several different languages. Never before or since had
I been in a worse bombardment. Pretty soon the boys began to drop
all round me, some killed, some wounded. My Lewis Gun was behaving
splendidly. Any moment though, I expected to see it blown up and me
with it, but fate said no.
This first attack was kept up for almost an hour. How
anyone could live through such fire was beyond all human compre-
hension. Two more attempts were made that night but without success.
Each one was as bad as the first.
By daybreak we presented a sorry looking company. Dead
and wounded were lying everywhere, but by God's help we held out.
When a check up was made, there were only seven of us remaining of
No. 7 Platoon. What a night--could I ever forget it? Could anyone
forget? I think not.
You will perhaps wonder what my feelings were, what emotions,
if any, did I experience during an attack such as some of us lived
through that night and on many other similar occasions. As a matter
of fact, there was really very little time in which to think,--that
was really left till after the show was over. The after-effects
were as bad, if not worse than the actual thing. That was the time
when men--strong in action--went limp with grief, not for themselves,
but for their comrades, who at one time marched and joked beside
them. Now they were cold and stiff and out of the game for all
time, or perhaps they were horribly mutilated, sometimes beyond
recognition. Then, and not before, some of us would show signs of
breaking up. That was how it affected me.
That night we were reinforced by another Battalion, I
forget which one it was. Anyway, they were pretty well geared up
(not lit up) on learning of our little show the night before and
were naturally curious to know what was in store for them. However,
Fritz was more amiable that night. He must have decided to let us
keep Hill 70, for a while at least, as he made no further attempt to
re-capture it until March 21, 1918, when he made his spring Offensive,
and almost won the War, but not quite.
The following night we went out and in to billets at
Bouvigny, where we deloused, bathed, reinforced, drank "Vin Blink",
visited the paymaster and then played Crown and Anchor till we were
It was here that I received my first and only stripe, when
I was promoted to what was then known as "Lance Corporal" in charge
of the Machine Gun Section, and incidentally the scapegoat for all
the other N.C.Os. and officers. For this reason: if there was any
special duty to be performed the platoon Officers would tell the
Sergeant. He would tell the Corporal who would pass it on to the
Lance Corporal who would be responsible for it and make it his busi-
ness to see that the order was carried out. If he failed, it was
nothing less than Court Martial and perhaps shot at sunrise.
For the next two months we operated in and around Lens, where
we made trips to the following places: Avion, Mericourt, Fresnoy, which
is to the east of Vimy, Oppy and south to Arras. The first Canadian
Divisions section from May 1917 till October 1917 was between Hill 70
to the North, and Arras on the South, a distance of approximately 20
During that time nothing of any importance happened, just
the regular six-six-six, or in other words--in, out and rest. It
was seldom that we billeted in the same village twice, always a
different one--ever on the move. Is it any wonder that so many of
the boys, including myself, were restless for some considerable time
after the War.
The latter part of October the Battalion went back to
Ypres, where they took part in the Passchendaele show on the 6th
of November, 1917. However, I did not take in that show on account
of an attack of trench-feet which I contracted in the vicinity of
Gouchey when on outpost duty, where four of us remained for three
days and nights in the ruins of what was once a house, a hundred
yards or so in front of the line, or "No Man's Land" to be exact,
where one false move during the daytime spelled R.I.P. There we
were practically isolated from the rest of the Battalion except for
a nightly visit with sox, rations and rum. Our duty was to surprise
enemy raiding parties with the aid of a Lewis Gun and Mills Bombs.
Passchendaele was, without exception, one of the toughest
engagements that the Canadian Corps ever went through, on account
of the conditions under which they fought. The battlefield was just
one sea of mud and water, which made it exceptionally difficult for
all ranks, especially the Artillery Corps. In many cases the guns
and horses would disappear entirely where they were swallowed up in
the slimy ooze of Flanders. The Infantry fairly wallowed in it,
for there were no trenches, just shell holes full of water, where
many wounded were drowned--unable to get out. So in order of merit
I will put Passchendaele at the top of the class, with the Somme
second, Hill 70 third, Cambrai fourth and Amiens fifth, they being
the five most important engagements that the Canadians took part
in during 1917 and 1918.
The Battalion returned to the Lens front early in December
where I rejoined them having completely recovered from my attack
of Trench feet. This particular foot disease was caused by a
continual spasm of wet feet which swell to enormous proportions
and are very painful, and in some cases amputation was necessary.
Fortunately, we spent Christmas out of the Line that year,
at Houdoin, some eighteen kilometres from Lens. And a very merry
one it was too, taking all things into consideration. Parcels from
home were an important factor in the success of our Yuletide
festivities. Without them it would have been a cruel, empty world
for us. And if anyone thinks they were not appreciated, well--they
have another think coming. For the mail was the only thing we boys
had to look forward to, except of course, pay-day. That puts me in
mind of a certain parcel I received from home. It contained a
variety of articles, including a large cake, a pound of butter,
candy, peanut butter, a pair of socks, etc. You can imagine my
disappointment on opening it to find the butter was in a very
decomposed condition, and had spread to the cake and other things, so
that they were saturated with rotten butter. It was lucky for me
that I had a gas-mask. However, that was the only one that did not
arrive in first-class condition. And in concluding, I want to ex-
tend, on behalf of the boys, a hearty vote of thanks to all the
Mothers, Sisters, Sweethearts, Wives and others who were responsible
for the many parcels that were sent to us while in France. Their
efforts will never be forgotten.
In January 1918 we made a trip, the usual six-six-six at
Avion, just to the south of Lens. It ws snowing during the trip
in, a difficult task I can assure you, and the coldest weather we
ever had. I have given you some of the hot spots we were in, and
now I will name Avion as the quietest part of the line we had the
pleasure of camping on. During the whole time there, there were
not more than half a dozen "Whiz Bangs" fired from either side and
very little Machine Gun fire if any. For this reason, between our
lines and Fritz was a small lake, therefore it was practically
impossible for either side to pull off any dirty work. Except for
the cold weather it was a regular picnic compared with other places.
It was in February that I received the good news to pack
up for ten days leave. I was in the line at the time and the way
I went out was not slow. A complete change of clothing, a bath,
a visit to the paymaster who gave me L20. and a transportation
ticket to Bradford, and then on the train to Le Havre. Once more
across the stormy channel to Portsmouth where I boarded a train to
my final destination, where I sponged on a flock of my relatives,
who treated me royally. One morning I awoke to find that one of
my little "Gray Back" friends was also enjoying the hospitality of
my Aunt, having left my company for that of the bed. Very loyal of
him to stay with me like that, but I couldn't possibly go away
leaving a flock of livestock behind, so I did the only possible thing
under the circumstances and murdered the little brute. Then I
searched everything thoroughly for twenty minutes or more, but
failed to find any of this brothers or sisters. That eased my mind
a whole lot.
I enjoyed my stay in Bradford immensely. It was just one
glorious week of events, but time went by altogether too quickly.
For it seemed that no sooner had I got there when it was time to go
back, and back I went.
I rejoined the battalion at an old familiar spot, Hill 70
a few days previous to the final German offensive, on the 21st day
of March, 1918 and incidentally the first day of Spring. This was
in the form of a general attack on the whole Western front.
Starting at four in the morning, Fritz put over the worst
I had ever experienced. Words fail to describe the severity of
that bombardment, which lasted for over an hour and then was fol-
lowed by Fritz himself, when he made considerable headway along
most parts of the line. The Canadian sector however, remained
practically intact. It was true that they penetrated behind our
lines, but none of them ever got back alive. We lost quite a few
men that morning but nothing compared to the German losses.
That particular German offensive was an exceedingly close
shave for the Allies, the seriousness of which reached alarming
proportions and caused the Higher Ups some considerable anxiety.
Why they did not keep on going I can't say. There was very little
to stop them in some places, especially Amiens and Armentieres,
where they penetrated to a depth of some twenty kilometers. It
was not long, however, except for a few local engagements, before
conditions went back to normal, and Fritz decided that any further
attacks were useless. That was their final effort which ended in
It was quite evident now from the tactics we were going
through that preparations were under way for another big show in
the opposite direction, for during the next four months, that is,
between trips while out on rest, we would rehearse day after day.
Regular open warfare with tanks and everything. Through the
Frenchmen's wheat field we would go, trampling the grain under
foot till there was nothing left to harvest. Poor Froggies, their
troubles were many. But we had to get on with the war, nothing
This business went on till about the middle of July
1918. By that time we were pretty well fed up with attacking hay-
stacks and windmills. It all seemed so un-necessary to us who had
been through the same thing to often. On the contrary, it came in
very useful when a little later on we came in contact with con-
ditions such as we had been rehearsing , even to the extent of wheat
fields, windmills and haystacks.
And now the Canadian Corps moved from the Lens Sector to
the Amiens front sixty or seventy Kilometres to the South. The
trek was made in easy stages, so that it was a week or ten days
before we reached our final destination just South of the once
picturesque city of Amiens. Fortunately it had escaped any serious
destruction previous to the final German offensive in March, when
the enemy came within 10 kilometres of the city.
My assumption regarding the Big show proved to be correct,
for on August 8th the Battalion "jumped off" shortly after daybreak
at Boves Wood just to the South of Amiens following a terrific
bombardment by our Artillery. The attack was carried out just
like any ordinary field manoeuvres, tanks first with us fellows
right on their tails. For the first few hours considerable resis-
tance was met with, machine guns were everywhere, but, fortunately
for us the Tanks soon put them out of action, provided of course,
that an anti-tank shell did not get them first. Without the tanks
I'm afraid it would have been a hopeless task. Certainly there
would have been many more casualties.
Everywhere showed signs of the enemies hasty retreat.
In many places fires were still burning and breakfast lay un-
touched at their different headquarters, which proved beyond a
doubt that our attack had been a complete surprise.
At three o'clock in the afternoon we received orders to
stand fast and "dig in". It seemed to me that we had advanced at
least twenty miles. How far it really was though I cannot
positively say, possibly not more than twelve kilos. At any rate
it was plenty far enough to suit me for one day. So we "dug in"
and made ourselves as comfortable as was possible under the prevailing
conditions and just waited for something to happen. We may have
parked on top of a mine for all we knew. However, I was not
greatly concerned about that, there was something more important
going on in my mind and that was, whether our rations would find
us all right, for we were pretty well "all in" and needed nourish-
ment in the worst way. My fears in that direction were soon
scattered to the four winds. We were not going to die from star-
vation, not that night anyway, for shortly after dusk our inside
ammunition was relayed to us in the usual manner.
Taking all things into consideration, our casualties for
that first day were comparatively light. Other parts of the line,
however, were not so fortunate as we. Many Battalions met with
considerable resistance with the resultant heavy loss among their
ranks. Nothing of any importance happened that night.
The following day zero hour was set for one-thirty in the
afternoon when the slow and deliberate attack was continued and
the "jumping off" place for the 2nd Battalion was at Gentiles Wood.
Heinie had evidently recovered sufficiently to round up some of
his Artillery judging by the barrage that greeted us. He sent over
a varied assortment of pepper gas, tear gas, poison gas, machine
guns, whiz bangs and "five nines". And by the careless manner in
which those things were falling in our midst, it was quite evident
that we were going to spend a very merry afternoon. No sooner had
we got nicely under way the boys began to drop, and yet, no matter
how many got knocked out there were always the lucky few to carry
on to the end.
Poor old Lt. Ferguson, absolutely fearless and exceedingly
popular among the boys of number two Company. I can picture him
now as he was that day, so unlike his natural self. He had a sort
of dejected look about him and told us that he was going to "get
his" that day. How he knew is something we don't quite understand.
He got it all right, a piece of shrapnel through the head. I was
with him at the time, just another c-r-r-ump and he slumped to
the ground--dying instantly.
And so it was for the remainder of that afternoon--just
one after another--many of them out for good; some writhing in
agony, perhaps breathing their last, with the more fortunate ones
able to navigate back to some field dressing station. All tremen-
dously eager with the thought of a possible "trip to Blighty" to
spur them on.
Our objective that day was the Canal Du Nord which we
reached just before dusk and where we made our headquarters for
the night. The Canal bank afforded us some protection from machine
guns and left us quite open behind where "five nines" lopped
intermittently throughout the night. S.O.S. signals in the form
of red Very Lights were very much in evidence on our right and left
followed by the usual periods of artillery fire from both sides.
That night I might say was anything but quiet. Everyone was
naturally on edge so that the least disturbance across the Canal
was followed by numerous red Very Lights, to which the Artillery
answered with eagerness, provided they had the ammunition.
We remained at the Canal for three or four days. Other
Battalions to our right and left having met with considerably more
resistance than we, were consequently much further to the rear,
and naturally put in a somewhat unhealthy position in so
much that we were in danger of being cut off from the rear. The
heavy Artillery and transport divisions were thus given an oppor-
tunity to move up to their normal positions.
It was during our sojourn at the Canal Du Nord that I
decided to relinquish my solitary stripe which allowed me to act
in the capacity of Lance Corporal. I had a hunch that if I stayed
with the "suicide club" much longer that I was due for an "R.I.P."
so I was duly transferred from the Machine Gun Section which I had
steered through many major engagements and became a Company Runner
with my best friend (financially and socially) Carl the Dane. It
was a runner's duty to keep up communication between Company and
Battalion Headquarters, especially when there was a show on before
telephone lines had been laid. But a runner did not always run.
Sometimes he was obliged to crawl on all fours through mud and
slime, for it was his lot to get the message through regardless
of what the existing conditions might be. However, it was a wel-
come change to what I had been accustomed to. Nor more "standing
to" all night. We were able to enjoy better billets, perhaps to
the extent of the then famous wire beds, a luxury not experienced
in the front line. So that with Carl's extras we had a right merry
And now I will tell of the darkest chapter of my four
years experience in the ranks of His Majesty's Forces, and one
which I could not positively boast of.
It was customary for any one who had been in the line
continually for several months to be left out one trip "on rest".
I was not surprised then to know that I was detailed off for a
so-called rest when the Battalion went in at Cambrai during the
latter part of August.
Ten of us all told were left out on this particular
occasion and naturally thought ourselves quite fortunate, knowing
that we were to miss one of the biggest shows of the season.
Cambrai proved to be one of the toughest objectives ever attempted
especially Bourlon Wood, the 2nd Battalion objective, more popularly
known as the "Hindenburg Line" sector.
During our rest period we were given instructions in a
certain drill which was entirely new to me. For several days we
went through the same performance. It was a sort of target prac-
tice and guard of honor combined. However, it was not for us to
ask questions, they were orders and we had to obey orders.
Finally we were pronounced O.K. for whatever our task might be and
the Officer in charge politely informed us that the following
morning at dawn we were to act in the capacity of an official firing
party when one of our own men was to be shot for desertion. He was
Court martialed on two previous occasions and was let off on some
pretext or other. The third time he met his doom and the execution
was carried out in this manner. The prisoner, a man of about thirty-
five years of age, was placed in a chair, tied and blindfolded,
with a piece of paper over his heart. The rifles, previously loaded
with half live rounds and half blanks were placed on the ground
about thirty feet away. The firing party them marched in, for it
took place in an old farm yard. No verbal command was given, the
party acting on the blast of the Officer's whistle. We were first
reminded that failure to carry out instructions would mean the
same fate. In the event of no one hitting the mark the Officer in
charge would carry out the ghastly deed. As I remember it the
whole thing only took about a minute. In fact, it seems more like
a dream now than something that really happened more than ten
years ago. It is with some effort that I recall the facts that
transpired on that eventful August morning. Not being murderously
inclined, it can be readily understood when I say that it was some
time before I could get the disagreeable subject off my mind. Such
is war. The ways of mankind are strange. At war, the penalty for
not killing is death, in peace, the penalty for killing is death.
The downfall and ultimate capture of the Huns last
defences known as the Drocourt-Quent Line or Hindenburg Line
was the decisive turning point of the World War, which spelled
defeat for the German army and victory for the Allies. Beyond
that point they were unable to make any considerable resistance.
So they did the next best thing when they packed up and made tracks
for the Fatherland like whipped dogs with their tales between their
The liberated French people who had been held prisoners
for more than four years, were overwhelmed with joy at the sight
of the Canadian troops. They shouted triumphantly "Vive les
Canadiens" as they offered us what little wine they had on hand.
I am reminded at this time of a most amusing incident that
happened to me during the advance. An old Frenchman, overjoyed
at the sight of our troops, came up to me and embraced me in true
French style, first one side and then the other. It so happened
that said Frenchman was wearing an elegant beard, also, he was
chewing tobacco and the juice thereof flowed freely down his
facial adornment. Otherwise I enjoyed the salutation immensely.
Those were memorable days I can assure you.
The last three months of those hectic years were banner ones
for the Allies. In fact they were just one glorious succession of
successful engagements which finally shattered the already demoralized
German army, which had no other choice than admit defeat, so that their
wild dreams of world power were shattered. For how long, I would not
venture to say, but I suppose so long as one nation is stronger than
another there will always be wars. Such has been the experience
throughout the ages. Certainly no same-minded person would wish for
a repetition of what has taken place during those four years of world
When hostilities finally ceased the 2nd Battalion was
enjoying a well-earned rest at Reiulay, a few kilos to the north of
Cambrai. It was my privilege as company runner on the morning of
November 11th, to convey to Number Two Company the official announce-
ment that there would be a cessation of hostilities at eleven o'clock
that morning. It was certainly a choice bit of news. Nevertheless,
it did not come to us as a complete surprise; we had been expecting
it for some time and that was not the end for us. In fact, it was
six months later before we received our official walking ticket.
A few days later we were again on the move, but this time
under different circumstances. It was not long before we passed
through Valenciennes and then on to Mons and incidentally where the
War commenced and also where it finished. For days and days we
marched right through Belgium till we finally reached the so-called
land of hate. Odd though it may seem, they did not, as was expected
sing their famous "Hymn of Hate". The German people proved to be
just the opposite, no doubt from force of habit from catering to their
own troops, who I understand demanded everything they possessed.
From my personal observations regarding the attitude of the German
people they were all might glad to see us, being happy in the know-
ledge that the whole thing was over. They were most hospitable and
even placed their houses and effects at our disposal, which we
naturally made good use of. Many happy evenings were thus spent
while they related their experiences during some of our bombing
raids, which were evidently very effective. I had occasion to
speak with an ex-German Officer who spoke English perfectly. He
described our Artillery fire during the big drive. He said it was
terrible, murderous,--- in fact it was nothing less than a miracle
how any of them ever got out alive.
The retreating Huns were only two days ahead of us and the
roads en route bore mute evidence of the awful conditions they were
in. Their horses, hundreds of them, lay dead along the roads and in
many instances the flesh had been cut away and I suppose devoured
by the shattered remnants of a once proud and victorious army. Why
should mankind suffer thus for a few selfish maniacs?
In a heavy downpour of rain we crossed the Rhine River at
Cologne on Friday December the 13th, after marching across Belgium
and part of Germany for a distance of four hundred kilometres, where
we saw many strange things and equally strange people. Quite an
education, this business of war, I can assure your. Staying on at
Cologne that night, we left the following morning for a point thirty
kilos the other side of the Rhine, where a series of outposts were
A very merry Christmas was enjoyed by all ranks in that
little German village, where we dined on black bread, beer, and
cheap cigars. I remember a rather amusing incident that happened
during the yuletide festivities, when the company Commander went
forth to purchase a pig for number Two Company. Now grunt meat was
evidently very scarce at that time, so that it required some effort
before a suitable porker was located at a nearby farm house. The
Major enquired of the farmer how much a pig of that calibre was
worth, to which he replied sixty marks, which was a prohibitive
price after just winning the War. Sixty marks "Fur ein cline
swine" was an outrageous price. Anyway the Major thought that was
far too much and offered him thirty marks. "Gott in himmel
" the old farmer could not think of letting it go for such a paltry sum.
However, after much cursing in German he decided to let the pig go.
During our two months stay in Germany as part of the Army
of Occupation, I saw many interesting things. And although
Cologne was "out of bounds" to all troops, I managed to give it the
"once over" on several different occasions. To admit that disregard
of "Rules and Regulations" at the time would have seen me up for
Carl and I saw to it that we had a fairly good billet
together with an elderly couple of moderate means, at least they
gave us that impression. They had two charming daughters and one
son who was killed in action. And the irony of it was that Carl
and I slept in his bed. Either on of us might have been respon-
sible for his death, who knows? That thought alone was sufficient
to produce some sleepless nights for a time. I could surely sym-
pathize with that woman when she told me, with tears in her eyes,
about "her boy". She was only one out of many thousands. Appar-
ently she had no ill-feeling towards us, for we were made to feel
quite at home during our short stay with them. In the evenings
we usually contented ourselves with learning their language, the
girls acting as teachers.
Two months slipped by and the novelty of the whole thing
had by that time worn off, so that most of us were quite fed up with
the monotony of doing nothing, so it was with some relief when we
received orders to pack up and hit for home.
The return journey was made by train, which naturally
pleased all ranks immensely. Of course the trip required much
detouring because few of the lines had been put in bad shape,
especially in the vicinity of the battle area. On our way back
the train passed through a part which, at one time the second Bat-
talion had occupied as their front line, but it was with some dif-
ficulty that it was recognized as such. Everywhere seemed so peace-
ful then, far different to what we had been accustomed to. That the
trains were slow did not worry us the least bit, in fact, nothing
mattered so long as we were on our way back to the land of the
Maple Leaf and home.
Back in England again the Battalion was sent to Bram-
shott Camp where we stayed for two weeks previous to sailing for
Canada on the S.S. Olympic. Bramshott, by the way, was the first
place I struck on landing in England and the last on leaving it.
Needless to say, we had a grand old time crossing the
pond. Arriving in Halifax we were given a "Five Spot" and
incidentally the first Canadian money I had been for four years.
Those green-backs certainly were a most welcome sight.
From Halifax the Battalion proceeded to its original
headquarters at Kingston, Ont., where we were finally discharged
from active service, forever, I hope, after which we proceeded to
our different home town from where we had recruited.
And in concluding, I can only thank God for guiding me
through to the end, and thus enabling me to experience all the
joys of a never-to-be-forgotten home-coming.