At 1 PM on January 20th 1915, we fell in to march to Tidworth. Pte. Bug Saunders (afterwards Lt. Col. Saunders, D.S.O. and bar, M.C. and bar) distinguished himself by getting into a fight and appearing on parade with one eye closed. We marched to Tidworth by easy stages and at 4.30 were led into No. 17 Jellalabod barracks. Five of us were allotted to one of the houses in the married section. We liked it better than the huts, because we weren't so crowded and had lots of running water and a little fireplace.
Cavalry drill was now introduced as it was rumored that we were to be turned into Cavalry and that 10th Battalion had taken our place in the 2nd Brigade.
We went to the Garrison theatre at night and felt that we were again beginning to live. I caught a touch of grippe and had cramps in my stomach for a few days after we arrived at Tidworth.
Some of the boys were detailed for duty at Lark Hill and as I didn't want tot leave Gunn and McConnaghy who were on the detail, I volunteered to go.
On Jan 27th we, who were on this fatigue, were marched back to B lines at Lark Hill. These lines were occupied by the 10th Battalion. The only bed I could find in our hut had some equipment on it. As no one appeared to claim it I moved it off and went to sleep.
Pretty soon I heard a deep voice enquiring who in ---- had taken his bed. I didn't stir but waited for his next move. He told the world at large he could sleep on the table. I was afterwards to learn that this owner of the fog horn voice was none other than the great John Summers, sanitary man of the 12 platoon 10th Battalion and that I was to be his partner in trouble for some months.
Next day I was elevated to the rank of Lance-Corporal without pay by Lt. Nation (of Brandon).
It was rumored that the division was leaving for France and there was a rush to get into the units who were going. I tried to get into the 90th and at one time it looked as if I would make it but the orders were changed. I then tried to get into the 79th(16th) but without any better luck.
After 3 days at Lark Hill we were marched to West Down South again, but not the old location. This time we found we were to act as chamber maids to mules at the Canadian Remount Depot.
We found that the Depot issued extra blankets, oil stoves and oil. We had 50 mules and 25 men to handle them. this wasn't so bad. We got soaking wet but we were able to dry our clothes over the stove.
In our tent we had Gunn, McConnaghy, Still, Dobbyn, Scott and myself. We had been together pretty steadily since we enlisted. Of these six, two were killed-Gunn and McConnaghy. The others lived through.
We found that owing to the rain the horses and mules were standing in mud to their fetlocks and on Feb 9th we moved camp to a bluff near Bustard. It rained while we moved but in spite of that the cook produced steak and onions.
The nights were cold and our tents leaked. Many a night I shivered till I almost cried with the cold. We had palliasses issued to us. Instead of filling them with straw, we wrapped ourselves in our blankets and got inside the palliasse. It helped keep the water off and kept the bed clothes round us. The time spent at the remounts was perhaps the worst of the whole time on the plains for sheer personal suffering. Added to this was out trouble with the horses at the water troughs. The mud was over a foot deep and you had to get on a horse's back to take it in. There was always danger of injury from other horses kicking you. One man broke his legs and others were injured but in spite of this I volunteered to stay with the remounts in preference to the Fort Garrys.
We were again having a hard time on account of the rain. The horses refused to face the wind driven rain and we experienced great trouble in getting them to the water trough.
We got a stove and as the Q.M. issued oil we were able to keep warm at nights. Up to this time I was very miserable.
About this time three or four of the boys joined the 8th Battalion without leave. Among them Bug Saunders, Gunn, Chipman and others. They were posted as deserters subsequently by the Fort Garrys, but later were taken back on strength and properly transferred.
We heard rumors that the Division was leaving and on Feb 15 when some of us went on fatigue to Lark Hill we found that the lines were empty. One of the men put on an "PIP" armlet and we drove in to the camp at Bulford and loaded up with blankets and oil stoves for our private use. When we drove into camp we carefully hid our loot in our tents before reporting to the Quarter Master.
When the Division left, the camps were left in a terrible condition. Rolls of extra blankets were everywhere. Oil stoves, rubber boots and all sorts of surplus kit were left in the tents. Fatigue parties from the Battalion left behind were busy for days collecting and sorting this stuff. What became of it no one ever knew, much less cared.
I belonged to a Cavalry regiment, yet I couldn't ride and it was a long time before I dared ride my horse to water. Leading them was a slow job and sometimes a dangerous one.
As the horses were standing in the open in a rope ring, we found trouble keeping their blankets on in the wind. Added to this, a small army of beetles infested the guard tent.
On Feb 18 there was great excitement in camp. We were told to write our final letters as we expected to move. That surely meant France and that was what we wanted--at that time. We didn't get any pay and as we were all "broke" there was nothing to do but sleep when off duty. Finally on Feb 22 we got paid. It snowed heavily and we all got wet feet. However we were able to have a snow fight with some of the others in camp.
Those who had signed to return to the Fort Garrys left us on Feb 23 and the rest of us had to do their piquets.
The weather turned very clear and very cold. The oil stoves didn't seem to heat up the leaky tents. Where the rain came in before, now the cold entered. McConnaghy decided the best thing to do was to fill a basin with oil and light it. It was a failure. We almost lost our tent as a result.
On Feb 25th I was ordered to fall in to go to Netheravon. This was another remount depot, here the horse were in stables. We were still in tents. The work was far easier. There was also a canteen here and we celebrated by having ham and eggs there.
On Feb 26th Capt. Mayes, adjutant of the Fort Garry Horse, came over and we paraded to hear his appeal on behalf of the Ft Garry Horse that we should go back to them as they were to be made Heavy Cavalry. We listened to him and then paraded while Capt. Smith of the Remount Depot spoke to us. His words were as follows: "You have heard what Capt. Mayes said. I leave it to you to decide how much of it is Bull". Not another word--not a promise. Mayes had promised France after training. Smith had promised nothing. I at once decided to return to the Garrys and gave in my name to the Sergeant. Both Capt. Mayes and S.S.M. Godd saw me about returning.
Next day the Fort Garrys sent a team over for our kits. I was on stable picquet and saw the horse put into the stable. The adjutant of the Remount saw the team and aske me whose they were. I told him and he instructed me not to let them out.
The driver returned to harness up and I told him he couldn't have the team. Just the the officer in charge of the Depot came round and saw the team. Upon learning whose they were, ordered them out of the stable. It was a very funny situation. (About this time I arranged to assign to my sister $5.00 a month.)
The Remount officers refused to allow the Fort Garry driver to take out kits and he had to go back empty.
Some Fort Garry officers came over but they couldn't get us. Several of decided to march away on our own accord but the adjutant placed a guard on the road. We decided to make a break for it next day at day break but received a message from Capt. Mayes that everything was arranged.
On the morning of March 3 we were fallen in by the Depot Sergeant Major and ordered to number. We numbered off in the approved cavalry style 1234, 1234, etc. but the Sergeant Major insisted that we number in infantry style 123456, etc. This was his way of ridiculing us. We refused to change our system of numbering so he ordered four fours. Instead of that we carried out the cavalry movement of "fours right". He was very angry but could do nothing but hand us over to the officer who had come for us.
Before the parade, however, the Remount people had told everyone that those who would stay would be given a clean uniform and 5 days leave in London. A lot of the boys jumped at the uniform and leave but had no intention of remaining with the remounts. The results were that those of us who were going promised to take the other fellows kit. I took one but wrote my name on it. It was fortunate that I did because the Sergeant went through the kits and those who had kit belonging to others had to hand over the one belonging to their pal. It was a game!
We were marched to Tidworth where we found all our pals glad to see us back and mail in stacks. We were quartered in barracks this time.
Next day we turned out for troop drill but I was very awkward and was put in No. 6 troop till I could pick up.
We had trouble over our blankets, the second day we got back. They were taken away to be fumigated and were not returned. We had to sleep in our great coats. We had our clothes fumigated and were given a bath and then the authorities thought were fit to associate with the rest of the boys. That night we went to the theatre and once more felt like we were living.
At 10.30 AM on March 6 we entrained for Canterbury. So ended our Salisbury Plain chapter. We arrived at Canterbury at 4.40 PM and were met by the Dragoon Guards Band and marched up to Buff's Barracks where our squadron occupied the married quarters.
That night we went down town and not knowing the rules we were late. The guard at the gate (Dragoon Guards) were not going to let us in. However, the Sergeant appeared and told us to "op it" which we promptly did.
Next morning we were very hungry but the breakfast was very poor, likely because no provision had been made for us.
We were under orders to remain in barracks as were to be allotted quarters and to be assigned to troops. I was put in No. 3 troop A squadron. McConnaghy, Scott, Dobbyn, Gunn and I were given one room. We fixed up the gas jet with a gas mantle as we felt we ought to get all the luxuries we could.
We were soon put on a schedule of training--first a route march through a snow storm--then each morning we had to go for a run before breakfast--football was encouraged. We were early introduced to riding school. For me it was two hours of hell on earth. I fell off, couldn't mount--in fact did everything I shouldn't and was marked for special verbal attention by the rough riding sergeant major. I grew to dread the riding school but didn't mind the other forms of drill.
Wes Cooke, my cousin, had arrived with the 32nd Batt. at Folkstone and I arranged for him to visit me. We went to Canterbury Cathedral at night. It was a treat.
On March 16 we took a route march to Herne Bay and back. I was pretty chafed when I returned. In fact that was one thing I had to contend with all through the war. My feet didn't bother me but my clothes rubbed me raw.
I played football soon after this march and as a result I was stiff and sore for days.
We were allowed to have a house orderly whose job it was to clean up the billet. This was taken in turn.
I decided to apply for a pass to see Cooke and also Nason who was at Sandgate. On Mar 20 my pass came through and I went to Folkstone. I missed both Cooke and Nason so put at the Bates Hotel, Folkstone--a small but comfortable place. Next day I saw both Cooke and Nason. also Bole.
Nason was an officer and I was a private so we couldn't be seen together on the street, particularly so as he belonged to the Sherwood Forresters and they were very strict about those things. Accordingly we went to a restaurant and had a quiet tea and then to a show. After dark it wasn't so bad because no one would recognize him.
I returned from leave on time and went with Gibbs and Wells to the Rose Hotel in Canterbury where we spent a sociable evening.
On March 22 we were reviewed by General Miller and that night we were fallen in to bring horses from the station. The regular round of picquets, riding school, exercising horses. etc., then started.
Capt. Mayes sent for me on March 24 and asked me if I would go into the orderly room. I told him I would glad to as I couldn't ride. In two days I was ordered to report to the orderly room where I was put on clerical work--mainly putting in a car index nominal roll.
About this time I decided that just as soon as I could I would get out of the cavalry. A bunch of the boys had gone to the Strathcona Horse but as I couldn't pass the riding test, I knew I would have to stay with the Garrys at depot unless I went to infantry. I wanted to go to the 32nd Batt. to be with Wes. Cooke and I told Capt. Mayes but he told me it couldn't be done.
Being in the orderly room had its advantages. I ate at the Cook House and got the choice of the cuts as Cook Sergt. Jack Adams ate with me. I didn't answer any roll calls and I had very little to do in the orderly room.
The Archbishop of Canterbury preached to us in the Cathedral on March 28. After dinner I commenced to take a daily walk in hope of getting shape for the infantry.
The Quaker Girl was being played at the Opera House so I wrote out a late pass, had it signed and went. It was very good.
We were still getting snow, rain and fine weather mixed but the snow had the most call.
We were having trouble over our pay. I had kept track of the amount I received from the first and found that the paymaster had my balance wrong. I accordingly wrote a letter to the Pay Branch setting out my demand. As a result I got my pay straightened out eventually.
My walks were gradually lengthening till I was doing 8 and 10 miles on Sundays and as long as I had time for at nights.
On April 5, 1915 there was general alarm and we stood by for 2 1/2 hours. It was reported that the Germans had made a landing at Herne Bay or somewhere in the neighborhood. Nothing came of it and we returned to ordinary duties, but it added interest to things.
When I enlisted I was wearing glasses but after enlistment I didn't use them except once after I was inoculated. The work in the orderly room began to make my eyes sore and I asked to be returned to duty but Capt. Mayes wouldn't consent. I then applied for a transfer to the infantry but this also was refused.
The adjutant decided that his staff must learn to ride, so a special class was held every afternoon. We were treated a little more kindly than the regular classes were. This class didn't last long enough to enable me to learn to ride however. I am afraid I was not a very apt pupil.
We played the A S C football and won after which we had tea at their mess. I was getting in pretty good shape again.
I find on reading over my war diary that always about 4 days before pay day I find these entries: "broke" "financial situation bad", etc.
On April 16, 1915, we saw our first air raid altho the no attack was made on our camp
Next day there was fresh excitement. A fire alarm was sounded but it turned out to be false.
On April 17 my eyes played out while using the typewriter. the hunt for the keys was too hard on them. I took the balance of the day off and was able to carry on the next day.
Bole and Wes. Cooke came to see me and I showed them all over Canterbury.
I found that the boys in the orderly room were getting passes so I applied for one. Mayes kicked but gave it to me and I left for Grimsby on April 23rd from East Canterbury station. Some Londoners from the Dragoon Guards were going on pass and we had quite time on the train. We landed in London at 10 PM. everything was dead.
The Dragoons insisted on coming with me to King's Cross. I left there at 10.45 but the train diverted at Peterboro and I had to get off and wait 2 1/2 hours. I had lots of company--sailors on leave, soldiers going on pass and civilians were sleeping on benches and on the floor before the open fire which didn't warm us very much. When the train did arrive it was cold. I arrived at Grimsby at 6 AM and as no one expected me I walked around until 8 when I went to Dixon's,
44 Willowgate, for breakfast. After dinner I saw a football game and went to a picture show at night. The followed 3 days of heaven, eating good meals, visiting congenial friends abd sleeping in good beds. I saw more of Allie Dixon this leave than I did before, and liked her better every time I saw her. Blythes, Dixons, Hewins and Freances were very kind. I stayed part of me leave at Willowgate and part at Frances at Cleethorpes.
Dr. Listrel, one of the leading Grimsby dentists fixed my teeth without charge as I was in the army. He said that was his contribution.
One thing that rather sicken me was the way people kept saying, "It is so good of you Canadians to come over here and fight for us." As if it wasn't our fight as well as theirs.
When I returned to the Garrys I found that a draft was being asked for to go to the infantry of those who wouldn't make efficient cavalrymen. I at once saw Capt. Bedson who was in charge of A squadron and he put my name on a list from his company. When it came in Mayes transferred me to Headquarters so my name came off Capt. Bedson's list.
Gunn and McConnaghy went to the Strathcona Horse on April 28.I felt very badly because we had always been together up till this. I was more anxious that ever to go to the infantry after that, because I felt I couldn't stay with the old crowd when the boys were leaving. I accordingly paraded both Capt. Mayes and to Col. Patterson. Col. Patterson asked me if I wasn't satisfied with my job. I admitted that I was but I had come to fight and people at home were wondering why I wasn't getting at it.
They accordingly agreed and let me go to the 8th Batt. I wrote a formal request and was later informed that I was on the first infantry draft.
Sergeant Gunn introduced me to a Miss Cuthbert who became a good friend of mine. I often wonder what happened to her. I went with Gunn and Miss Cuthbert to see some people named Bennett. They were very nice people and gave us a good time. We were always welcome there. We went down to their place every night.
While we were waiting for the draft we spent our time playing baseball. The staff had a team and were usually winners.
Word got around that I was going to the infantry. Jimmy Buchan, Eddie Still, Con Rankin and Cpl. Parker all came to me to see if I could arrange for them to be put on the draft. I was able to manage it. A draft was called for by the Strathconas and R C D so the infantry draft waited. The 32nd Battalion left for France on May 5. We didn't know at that time the full details of
Finally, on May 6th we were advised that we would leave next day. Godd, Dunn and I all went to Bennetts for supper (9 PM). Godd was unable to walk home alone so I took him home.
His wife wasn't very please to see me as she blamed me for getting the S.S.M. drunk. However Godd persuaded her to let me sleep on some blankets. I got up at daybreak and went back to the barracks. Gunn wanted to know where I had been. Blaydon, the R.S.M. also tried to get some information from me but I wouldn't give any.
At 11.50 AM on May 7, 1915 we fell in for inspection by Col. Patterson. He had canceled the band the band which was to play us off because he called us a disgrace draft owing to the fact that over 90% of the draft came out of detention or jail. Sergeant Jarvis refused to shake hands with the O.C., thereby creating quite a scene. The Colonel first addressed the escort (those not under arrest) and then the prisoners. We marched off to the station and entrained for Sharncliffe. On arriving at Sharncliffe we marched to the huts lately vacated by the 32nd Batt. they were comfortable and we had wire bedsteads to sleep on. Jimmy Buchan came with me. We decided to pal together as our other friends were gone.
Web equipment was issued out and we spent some time trying to learn how it was put together. It was like a Chinese puzzle to us as it wasn't put together, just so many straps and buckles. We had to pass the doctor again. A few bad swingers got off the draft at this inspection.
For two days we stood by expecting orders to move. We tried to get leave to go to Folkstone but they told us that our record had gone before us and we couldn't leave camp. Buchan's people came down to see him. We tried to be gay but it was no good. Saying goodbye was pretty hard. Wes. Cooke's chum, Bale, came to see me and I arranged to get down town with him by a back way he knew.
As there seemed no immediate chance of a move we started on a regular schedule of route marching, parades, bayonet fighting, drill, etc. It was very hot and our packs felt like lead.
Pay books were issued out and we felt we were about to go and when we were inspected on the 12th we knew we were off.
Winnie Cuthbert wrote me a nice letter and I sent her a badge as a memento. I often wonder if she still has it.
On May 13, 1915, we marched to Shorncliffe station and took the train at 9 AM. It was raining hard.
Rankin, Buchan, Parker, Brereton, Carter and I and about 20 more were bound for the
10th Batt. whereas Still went to the 8th. It seemed too bad, because Still had enlisted to be with Rankin. We tried to get it changed but without success.
We arrived at Southampton and after spending all afternoon on the dock we went aboard a small boat at 7.45 PM. The sea was rough and the boat crowded with drafts. It was too wet on deck and we were all huddled below like sardines. Nearly every other one was sea sick. It was terrible. I couldn't stand it and went aloft. Better to soaked with water than second hand supper.
I was sea sick myself. Owing to the tide we stood outside Le Havre till 7 AM when we entered the Seine and steamed up the river to Rouen. It was a fine trip. The scenery along the river was beautiful. Vineyards on the hills, chateaux at the water's edge, quaint villages. It all seemed new to us and in spite of the drizzle we enjoyed it.
At Rouen we marched to the Territorial base camp outside of the town. We slept 10 to a tent and slept like logs. We spent three days at that camp and were used very well. One day was spent doing fatigues on the docks. Frenchy Lafiere got into trouble by leaving the party and wandering of by himself. He was placed under arrest on his return. We saw a bit of the town on our marches but couldn't get a pass. Sunday was a terrific hot day. My diary says "Hot as hell". We spent the day writing letters home as we expected leave the next day. That night it rained. It rained again on the 17th but in the afternoon it turned hot--hotter even than the day before. We fell in at 5 PM and marched down to the station. Owing to the heat we felt that march. We were carrying the regulation two suits of underwear, so our packs were full. We punished the beer when we got to the station and had chance to break off for a few minutes.
We were loaded into 2nd class cars at 8 PM 8 to a compartment. Lafiere was put with me as I was his escort. We didn't get much sleep that night. Next day we passed through Boulogne and Calais. On the way French children asked for bully beef and biscuits. Some of the boys threw their buttons to girls on the line side. At Hazebrouck we passed a train full of wounded. Frenchy Lafiere got all worked up because we took the bolt of his rifle away from him. After two hours wait at Hazebrouck we finally arrived at Thiennes where we got off and marched miles in the dark, only to find the Brigade was supposed to be in the line and that if Capt. Bedson wished he could go up and report, but it was dark, he wouldn't chance it and marched us back. The men got very disgusted and murmuring arose. Finally Parker and I went into a barn and slept in the hay. Next morning I was soaking wet. I thought that there must be a hole in the roof but found that I had been sleeping under my waterproof sheet that it had held the moisture and I got wet. A lot of things come by experience and this was one--never sleep under the rubber side of a waterproof sheet. On May 19, 1915 we had breakfast and some coffee that tasted like nectar to us and then marched in the rain to the Canadian Headquarters at Locon . I saw Jack McConnaghy and Noble (lawyer of Winnipeg) and Jackman at the 2nd Brigade Headquarters. We then marched to the 10th Battalion billets in a barn somewhere in France. I was put in 12 platoon Co. under Walter Critdeley, the a Lieut. We just had time to get a mouth-full of tea when we were fallen in for the trenches. Frenchy Lafiere was freed as soon as we arrived.
When we fell in the Sergeant called out for John Summers. When he turned up, he proved to be the loud voiced gentleman whose bed I took at Lark Hill.
We marched off in the twilight and came to Festubert village. It was too early to go in yet so we lay in the grass at the side of the road for about 1/2 hour. I was rather excited about going into action and I sniffed the breeze to get the smell of the powder. Finally we set off up a land (which I could not locate in 1923 when I again visited the place). We spread out to 4 paces interval and filed into the trenches. It was a strange feeling.
It was pitch dark and I couldn't see how things were laid out. The Germans shelled all night. I was on sentry in the trenches. At 4 AM on May 20th the German fire increased and was directed to our section of the trench--4 men were wounded about 5 feet from me. After about an hour the fire slackened off and it was quiet till about 9 AM the the "Jack Johnsons" began to arrive again. It was a great breaking in. A German sniper started shooting the wounded men out in front. (The British had attacked earlier in the week.) A lot of our fellows went out after the sniper but I don't know whether they got him or not. We were in a German trench that the British had taken shortly before and the parapet was our parades. This meant that we had comparatively little shelter. The dugouts were simply wooden structures built into the old parapet and were not even shrapnel proof. How different were these German shelters of 1915 from the deep dugouts of Somme fame in 1916. We dug holes in the back of the old parapet and pulled iron snipers plates over the holes to stop shrapnel. I lay in one of these holes while off duty and shivered with fright. It was nerve wracking to see men killed near you for the first time. Cliff Brereton's chum was killed on the 20th--many of the Ft. Garry draft were wounded that night. I was detailed to go out for rations. It seemed to me impossible to go out and not get killed but we did. After we got back we told to stand by for B Co. to attack. No attack came off because the scouts discovered there hadn't been sufficient preparation.
The morning of May 21 was quiet and the birds sang but in the evening B Co. charged and took their objective. I helped carry Major Ashton out. He was heavy. It was a wild night. The Germans rained shells on us and we had one lone heavy (or appeared to have only one) and a few field guns. I was so worked up, I couldn't eat my rations. The morning of the 22nd was quiet and we took out wounded. Rankin and I volunteered to go out around a trench to get a wounded man. We got him out and Scotty Cairns came with us. He was suffering from shell shock. I had to put the boots to him to get him to do any work. Our instructions were to bring back ammunition. As we came down the road we saw 6 men lying dead along side of ammunition they were carrying.
The Germans started to shell heavily and Rankin didn't want to go back. I said I was going and he said he would let me go alone. We got to what we called :Willow Road" and found the barrage was too heavy so we got behind a straw stack. Almost as soon as we got settled a shell burst on Rankin's legs and wounding men on each side of me. I put a tournaquet on the legs which were horribly mangled and with the help of a fellow who was there carried him to the dressing station. I first had to go and get a stretcher. I was so tired I could hardly hold the stretcher and seeing an ambulance man I asked him to help. He refused and said he'd carried all the men he was going to. If I had had my rifle I'd have shot him I was so mad. Rankin died in the dressing station. I couldn't go back to the line as the barrage was too heavy. I was so all in I lay down in the dressing room. Fritz started to shell the station and I helped carry wounded back to a new location. I then ran across some of the 7th London Rifles and had some hot macaroni and tea. It tasted like a feast. The men also gave me some cake. I'll always have a soft place in my heart for the 7th London Rifles. I then began to fear that I'd be shot as a deserter, so I reported to the 7th Bn. dressing station and got a letter from him saying I was helping stretcher bearers. As soon as the firing quieted down I went up carrying field dressings and after working with the 8th for a while reported to my Co. to learn that I was reported killed. About 7 PM on the 22nd the artillery started up again but by 10 it had quieted down enough to let the Strathcona Horse relieve us. It was there first trip in the line , so I beat Gunn and the others by three days. Poor Art McConnaghy was killed coming in. We felt very superior to the Strathconas and I jibed at the boys and told them it was a picnic and generally felt like an old timer. One fight is a great thing to settle down a draft. We marched out of range in the rain and got into a barn just outside Festubert.
Next day was Sunday but it looked like any other day. The morning was fine and shaved and washed up while under the pump, and had breakfast. The Germans then started to shell the billet and we went back to breast work. They shelled the cook house but missed the mail sacks. The day was hot and we laid out in the field and wrote letters. We slept in the shelter of the trench--no covering but our coats. It was cool. There was a heavy bombardment up front all night but we were safe out of it. I couldn't see how a person could last through much of this kind of life. I was almost "bugs" myself. My stomach was affected and I had pains all over but after several good meals I felt better. The mail arrived and I got a nice lot. It was great to hear from home. Owing to many being killed at Ypres we got a lot of parcels divided amongst us that belonged to the killed. We were 4 days in reserve in those barricade trenches. The third night we went up as a working party digging a new trench in No Man's Land. They started to shoot at us and I never dug so fast in my life. We got back at 2.30 AM. Sergt. Jarvis thought he had earned a D.C.M. but he didn't get it.
At 10 PM on May 26 we marched back to the farm house about 3 miles back. Parker and I bunked together in the yard. It was the best sleep I'd had for weeks. Next day we shaved up and lazed around. the farm house served beer and wine but I had no money. We marched to Bethune for a shower bath in a convent. We stayed six days in this billet. The time was spent in route marches, drills, etc. By this time I was getting to know my comrades. Parker was sent away as a banker--much against his will--and I took up with Brereton. He wasn't getting his share of rations and I had a row with the Sergt. about it. Mail arrived and I saw Wes Cooke. The weather was mostly fine. We played indoor baseball and set a couple of the farmer's roosters fighting.
At 5.15 PM on June 1st we were reviewed by the O.C. and marched off to Givenchy. We went along the Labassee Canal and then through the brewery at Givenchy and entered the guard's communication trench. It was well over 7 feet deep and went up the length of the canal. Gray, Cpl. Coates and I were in the same dugout in a reserve trench.
The boys in the line had a lot of casualties from rifle grenades. We were in the line 5 days, always in the reserve trench but we had to carry the battalion rations. It was no joke carrying tins of meat, etc., up those narrow trenches. Poor Charlie Watt (of Regina) could hardly carry his share. We had lots of narrow escapes. On one occasion we were left in front of a battery when the Germans started to shell it. We had shrapnel flying all around us. On another occasion the snipers got after us as we went along the road and drilled a couple of water tins. The Imperials blew some mines in front of -------- and artillery duels resulted but we weren't bothered. Our dugout was a large one built of logs and was shrapnel proof. It was getting hot and I contracted hives. I spent my time memorizing Kipling's Barrack Room Ballads and Service's poems.
On June 6 we were received and marched out at 8 PM through Bethune to Hinges. It was a 41/2 hour march--the longest I'd had to date and I suffered from chafing very much. In fact that was my chief difficulty all during the war.
We had a swim in the Labassee Canal and got cleaned up. My safety razor had difficulty in cutting off the stubble.
We spent 10 days at Hinges resting. The second day we marched to Bethune for a bath but it was so hot and dusty that we were worse when we got back and as there was no change of clothing we were no better off.
We were billeted in a barn. Our days were spent in drill, route marches, baseball and laying out under the sun with our shirts off, hunting the elusive louse and baking the bits. The old ladies hid the pump handles so we couldn't get water to wash with. We were given lectures on bomb throwing and machine gunnery. Three men were wounded with a bomb that the officer didn't throw far enough. In those days we had no bombing pit but threw live bombs in the open.
We got Lee Enfields for our Ross rifles on June 13, 1915.
On June 14 Genl. Curry passed the billet and because one of the boys failed to salute, he got off and inspected our billet. Half the mess tins were dirty and he raised cain.
Every night there was intense bombardments on the front. Alderson inspected us and soon after our respirators were renewed. These were the hood variety of flannel with glass eye pieces.
The wounded from the battle of Givenchy were coming down every day.
At 8 AM of June 17 we set off for the line but only got to Beuvry where we put in a house that had no windows or doors. It was a new house that the war had stopped being finished. We went into the line to the left of where we first were on carrying parties. We went through Givenchy itself. We were shelled but no one was hurt. Brereton went sick from fright. He was no use after his chum got killed at Festubert.
We relieved the 5th Bn. on June 15 only to be relieved by the Strathconas in a few hours. we were put at digging trenches. I was pretty tired. We returned to our house and slept till 10 AM. Some laundry came from England for me and I had a change.
On the evening of June 19 we again set out for the line but left too early. Fritz had an observation balloon up and waited till we got in the communication trench and then opened on us. After we had lost 7 men we retired to some dugouts. After an hour we tried again and this time had no trouble. We relieved the Warwicks. It was cold at night and there were no dugouts. I slept under a bridge that had been built across a traverse in the trench. Next day was warmer and shelling began. We had a few men wounded on our right. The night I was put on flying patrol to the Scots Guards. I had narrow escape from being bayonetted on my first trip. I came round the corner and he stuck his bayonet at me. We were in the line 3 days and it was enough especially the third day. On the second day the flies which we were terrible got to my meat and I had to throw it away. I was put on flying patrol again. This patrol covered a section of the trench where apparently many men had been killed because it was covered with blood and the flies were terrible. I got quite chummy with the Scots Guardsmen.
The 22nd of June dawned with a trench mortar bombardment. The Germans then opened an intense bombardment of our lines with high explosives. The shells ranged up and down the line. John Summers and I huddled in a hole and expected every shell would get us. The suspense was awful. The Germans mad an attack on the front line but we driven back. things quietened down after that. We were to be relieved by the 16th Bn. but they didn't arrive till 2 AM, most of them drunk. On our way out saw drunk kilties lying everywhere.
We marched out to Essars and arrived there at 5 AM. We got a billet in a hayloft and had a good sleep after a wash and shave. Mail came up with a parcel from Allie. That night the guns opened up but we were well back and slept soundly. We always enjoyed our sleep when we came out of a show.
Next day the battalion numerals were issued the small c/10. There weren't enough to go round and there was an argument as to whether the originals only were to get them, but I argued we were all entitled. At all events I got a set. The next issue were larger which accounts for the fact that these were prized.
I saw Jacques (Wes Cooke's cousin) while here.
It began to rain while we were packing up. At 11 PM we set off in the rain. it was pitch black. All at once word came back, "The Germans are in front". It put the wind up us. The proper word was "The General is in front". Currie had decided to inspect us as we passed. This night march was necessary because the country here is flat and we were marching parallel to the line only 5 miles back of it. We arrived at our billets just outside of Estairs at 4 AM. It was a hard march--full packs and a lot fell out. I stuck it altho my feet were sore. We were billeted in a pig pen--stone floors and a little straw but we slept well. At 5 PM (June 25) we fell in and marched through the rain to a barn near Bailleul. The barn was open on one side and we couldn't sleep because our clothes were soaking wet. Next morning we got dried out in the sun. At 5 PM we fell in again and marched to billets in huts back of Hill 63 near Plaegsteert. Charles Ruttan passed me on the way and I had a word with him. I was put on battalion guard that night.
It rained and I got wet and couldn't sleep when I came off duty. I saw Wes. Cooke and gave him 5 fr., also saw Gerald O'Grady. We went into some reserve trenches at the top of Hill 63 on the night of June 27 as an enemy attack was expected. We stayed there that night and for two days when the Strathcona Horse relieved us. I built a lean-to in the trench and covered it with earth, and was able to sleep well when off duty in spite of the rain. We got our grub from the kitchens below the hill and I saw Sam Youhill, Motley, Dunn and a lot of the old Ft. Garrys.
We were relieved on the night of June 29 and came back to the huts where the YMCA gave us a gramophone concert. These huts were poor things to sleep in, being built of poles with poles on the ground as well. They didn't fit into you back very well.
On June 30, 1915, we began our front line duty at Messines which lasted until March 16, 1916 (eight months and a half) during which time we got to know every stick and stone in the area, --8 days in support and 8 days in reserve--all as regular as clockwork. One could plan months ahead. It got a bit monotonous.
There was a mix up over our going in. It took a while to get us settled. The old Dick Scott and I went out on listening post. It was my first experience and I didn't like it. I imagined all sorts of things. Old man Scott was deaf and he didn't help things by suggesting that each post was a man. It is strange how a post can seem to move when you look at it a bit.
On the first of July there was a bit of a bombardment and the powers that be evidently expected and attack as we "stood to" all night. We had no periscopes in those days and one took a great chance when on sentry. I had the unpleasant sensation while on sentry of having a hole shot thro my cap.
On July 2nd we changed our location by side stepping to the right and taking up our position to the right of Messines road. In order to cut down on casualties we began digging shell trenches at the rear of our regular lines. these were trenches 8 to 10 feet deep and about two feet wide. When a bombardment opened we left sentries in the main trench and the rest filed into the shell trench.
The nights were still cool and we didn't object to doing a bit of work to keep warm. We slept most of the day unless we happened to be on trench duty. As we did 2hours on duty and 4 off, we got quite a bit of sleep. Often we often doubled up so as to get 8 hours off. This wasn't permitted if known, but we often managed to work it.
We expected a relief on July 3 but it didn't materialize. rations for some reason didn't arrive and I could hardly work owing to being so hungry. This didn't often happen and it made it seem all the worse when we did run up against it.
On July 5 General Alderson came thro the trench and spoke to us. One of the boys hoping to make a hit with the General kept looking over the top as the General came up. The General tapped him on the back and when the man got down said, "How long have you been out?" "Since Feb., Sir. "Haven't you learned by now that the Germans can shoot straight?" was the unexpected reply of the General.
The days were hot and generally quiet. Sleep was our favorite occupation when off duty.
At last the relief came on July 6 when the 7th Battalion relieved us about midnight. We marched back in a heavy rain to tents on the other side of Hill 63. Hill 63 was the name given to the hill facing Messines. Messines was also on a hill, the Wytschaete ridge. Messines was two meters higher than Hill 63. The Canadian trenches were in a hollow between the two and the German line was on higher ground. the distance between the two lines varied from about 80 yards in some places to 200 yards in others.
We were packed pretty tight in our hill tents--10 to a tent. When 10 men and their equipment are put in a tent it fills it up pretty well. It has one advantage in that it keeps one warm.
Next day we paraded to the shoemaker and had our boots repaired. I changed a sovereign out of my belt, getting 1 franc less than a paper pound. I could never explain this but they showed me the printed quotations. That night we were taken in on a working party to dig s reserve trench. I have never been able to to figure just where we went unless it was in front of Dead Cow farm (so called because of a dead cow found there by the troops.) It was raining but not enough to stop work. Jimmy Buchan was with me. When we stopped for a rest before getting to our job some one lit a match and at once a shot was fired by a German sniper. The bullet hit a spade and glanced off and hit Buchan in the hand. The was the night of July 7. Jimmy went away next day but never came back. He got a job with Col. MacDonald, director of Chaplin services in London. I saw him on leave once.
When we got back off our working party we found our rations and a bunch of mail. Bill Noble had sent me one of the Winnipeg Hockey Club parcels.
Next day was fine. I answered my mail, had a shave and slept! I slept every chance I could. that may be the reason I lasted as long as I did. I stored up all the sleep I could.
On July 9 we went into the reserve trench at the top of the hill to repair the parapets. This trench wasn't occupied but was an emergency line in the event of attack. It was stored with ammunition and emergency rations. It was located just over the brow of Hill 63. We were shelled a bit coming out but no one was hurt. We had more rain that night.
On July 10 there was an attack scare. We had our respirators dipped in solution, got extra ammunition and were ordered to sleep with our boots on. Our artillery opened a barrage, but outside of that nothing happened. We afterwards learned that the staff found a big attack at Messines and that was why we did so much trench digging.
On Sunday July 11 we spent the morning on work party digging trenches. Afternoon I saw Theo Gunn and Scott who were with the Strathconas.
That night we moved up to a reserve trench near Stink Farm. We slept in the open all night as there were no dugouts.
Next day we started digging dugouts and covered them with old tin, wood or anything we could find. We were behind a high hedge and could work without being observed. We had a day of alternate rain and sun. Aeroplanes weren't so active or we could never have done the work we did.
Scotty Malcoln, McLeod and I shared a dugout. We cooked our own rations. the potatoes were boiled. We fried them, made tea and heated up the cold meat. Next day we had a shave and then did some more digging. We were shelled a bit at night. the Hun must have seen traces of our work. We went back into the front line, on the left of Messines Road this time. It was raining hard and the trenches were a foot deep in mud. We were all wet thro, in spite of our great coats. We didn't get rations until 8 AM the next day. the mail came and with it some underwear from Miss Cuthbert at Canterbury.
Next day (July 16) there was another shortage of rations. At night the 7th came in to relieve us but there was no relief for our platoon for about an hour after the rest were relieved. We finally got out and went back to the tents. Again we had rain but we also had rum so why worry!
Next morning I slept late and woke to find it was still raining. My big toe was bothering me so I did some chiropody on my own account. I saw Wes Cooke who was in the 8th. We went on our usual working party that night and got soaking wet. It made it a bit cold sleeping afterwards.
Next day was fine and I was put on guard. Some nurses came past my post in charge of an officer.
Next day I was off and I got some more sleep. The Hun sent a plane over and the anti-aircraft opened up. We were sprinkled with shrapnel from those shells bursting over us. It was very funny to see fellows ducking inside of a bell tent to get cover. I was off duty at night, so I hunted Wes up and we had some eggs and chips.
We made up for our night off by spending all next day under a hot sun deepening one of the communication trenches. When we went into this area there was one indifferent communication trench. When we left there were at least 6.
On July 21 Premier Borden reviewed us after dinner. That night we moved into support. The 14th Batt. on our left opened rapid fire and we stood to at midnight, but nothing happened. It was just a case of "wind up".
Next day it rained, our dugout was of the boom variety and the roof leaked. We had a fine day next day and a moonlight night. Next night I went out on rations. We ran into a bombardment coming back, but no one was hurt.
We were in a support line near a frog pond which we considered meant that the water was fit to drink. Ration Farm was shelled heavily that night and rations were a bit late. I heard a man shout and ran along the trench to a place where I found a rifle with blood on it. I took the rifle and cleaned it. The man who had shouted was found in front of the trench--shot. Later they tried to find his rifle but as it looked to me like a case of "self inflicted wound" I kept my own counsel. His rifle was better than mine, so I kept it and sent mine out.
On July 26 we were relieved by the 7th and went back to the tents. Leave opened up and Rafter went on pass. We celebrated by spending the next day on work party.
July 28 was a red letter day because we had a bath parade. I saw Arch St. Louis and a bunch from Winnipeg who were with the 16th. We went on a work party at night.
Next day we had inspections of all kinds--kit, foot, etc. We got up a baseball game. C C. beat D C. 20-0. I played first base .
My head started to bother me and I got off working party. Next day my head was no better and on July 31 I went sick. However Doc. Shannon found out that I came on the same draft as Frenchy Lafiere and I didn't get much sympathy, so I got No. 9 and relieved duty. We had a bit of a bombardment at night.
Next day I was still excused duty but I went in the line with the Battalion after a church parade. We took over 136 this time, a trench to the left of our first position. I was on listening post the first night. Our post here was about 30 yards out in front behind an old log. We were connected with the trench by a wire. One pull from either end meant "coming in "or "out"; two pulls meant danger, "stand to". Sometime this was varied by having signals as to patrols, our own and the Bosche.
We had another listening post in the area about 75 yards out along a line of pollard willows. Our position in that post was in the ditch.
While I was on listening post this night (Aug. 1) there was a bit of a bombardment but we were beyond the barrage line. Usually listening post was a pretty safe place so far as artillery fire went, patrols were our worst fear. We had bombs however and had the advantage of a certain amount of cover.
On Aug 2 I was sent to 11 platoon for temporary duty. Next day I wasn't feeling much better and I went to the stretcher bearer and got a No. 9. Felt a bit better after it began to work.
Aug. 3 was alternately fine and rainy. We side slipped 5 boys to the left to allow B Co. to come in. That night I was again on listening post with Hart (a 46th draft). We were out 1 1/2 hours. The night was quiet except for rapid fire in the 3rd Brigade area on our left. I was feeling better today.
Next night there was more rapid fire on our left. these Frenchies have the wind up most of the time.
I had been bunking with Richardson, an old chap, but he and I didn't pull very well. I won't pair off with him again!
My sentry go on Aug. 6 was from 4-6 AM. I had breakfast and then went to sleep. We were relieved by the 7th Battalion at 11 PM and started back to billets. Our officers got lost and it was 3 AM before we arrived. Everyone was tired and mad! Ah it was a lovely war all right! We arrived to find our huts crowded out. One thing it was well back of the line.
On Aug. 7 Sir Sam Hughes reviewed us. Personally I was more interested in seeing arch St. Louis who was still in the 16th. Corp. Louis went on leave and I sent a letter with 10 pounds in it to Mr. France at Cleethorpes. We had a big mail and I spent the first afternoon answering it. I was beginning to feel better, that afternoon a draft arrived. In those days the arrival of a draft was an event. It was different in 1917 and 1918.
Sunday Aug. 8 opened wet but cleared after dinner. We had a bath parade and later C Co. won a football game 3-0.
Next day we drilled in the morning and had sports in the afternoon and evening. I did the iron man stunt by playing baseball in the afternoon (a double header) and football after. We won our ball games 13-3 and 17-8. We also won the football getting into the final. We lost the final baseball game but drew 5 fr. each as second money. The company team won the football final but owing to a sore foot didn't play. that night (Aug.10) we marched into support trenches. I was a bit tired and stiff after so much football and baseball. this time I shares a dugout with Willie Greentree.
We were 4 days in supports during which time we did the fatigues and ration carrying for the battalion. We carried trench boards for the new trenches we were building. Owing to a bombardment on the night of the 15th we were sent back to our dugouts by Col. Rattray.
Sunday (Aug. 15) started fair but ended in a downpour. We were relieved at night and marched to canvas huts near the Quarter Master's stores. the 16th Battalion was the relieving battalion as the 3rd Brigade were taking over part of our line.
These canvas huts were something new to us. A trench had been dug down the centre about 2 feet wide. We stepped down into this "corridor" and walked to our place and climbed up on the shelf. We were billeted 18 to a hut so the equipment was dumped in the hole at night, much to the grief of the night hawks with a "slant on".
Aug.16 was a red letter day because I received a box from Allie Dixon. Out side of that the day was lost because it rained, so I wrote letters and the went to visit Sergt. Gow at the Brigade P.O.
On Aug. 17 we started baseball again. This time we played the bombers but they didn't have much fun. I created most of the fun. I was playing 1st base. A fly ball came on foul ground and I ran after it failing to notice a slough full of stinking water and mud. i went in full length. I wasn't very welcome till the stuff dried off.
Later in the day i saw Cam Bedson. He advised me to apply for a commission but I couldn't see it then. At night we had a concert. John Summers was on deck to give his circus "ballyhoo" about the "Rhinoceros".
On Aug 18 we stood to and were reviewed by Kitchener and the French War Minister. Next day we drilled and then had the day off. Another concert was arranged for the evening. Some gentleman insisted on singing "The Blind Boy" and "Its nice to have a home of your own". Of all the songs that shouldn't be sung to soldiers on active service those two are the prize sob getters!
It is a wonder the singer wasn't lynched!
Next day we were billed to have a bomb throwing exhibition but Fritzie had another idea and put up an observation balloon, so the exhibition was "off". That night (Aug.20) we went into the front line (trench 132.) The communication trench was full of water and we were wet to the waist when we got in. The officers wouldn't let us get up on top and quite right, too.
Next day we were bothered by trench mortars at stand to. The had the distance pretty well.
The day was quiet but we had an alarm at night which came to nothing. It is a bit eerie expecting and attack in the dark.
On Aug. 22 we managed to get eggs and peaches sent in from the canteen and had a feed. At stand to the Germans called over to us in english, "anyone there from Vancouver?","How are things in Calgary?", etc. Our fellows shouted back, "None of your ---- business", and other remarks which sometimes start fights.
Next night the Germans "ragged" us over their recent victory in the Baltic. The certainly were a chesty lot.
We had some of our extras left and I cooked a big supper for our gang--fried potatoes, eggs and tea.
The nights were misty and usually the morning. It was warmer at night and we didn't bother unrolling our blankets. Things were quiet on the front and we got lots of sleep.
On Aug. 25 we were relieved early by the 7th Battalion and were in tents (11 to a tent) back of Hill 63 by 9.30. We slept like logs.
We had a rifle inspection tho for all the use we made of our rifles it seemed a useless job. We carried our rifles like emergency rations. I only fired mine about 3 times in 8 months at Messines.
At night we carried steel girders for a Headquarters dug out at Rossignal Farm.
On Aug. 27 we went into the reserve trench near the Rossignal but returned to our tents and did inlying picquet.
On Aug. 29 we had a bath parade. I felt pretty tough and had to fall out on the way back. I had a high temperature at night and couldn't sleep for the pain in my ankles.
On Aug. 30 I reported sick but got medicine and duty. I was one of 15 selected to go into the front line that night. We went to trench 131. McKay and I shared a dugout in the communication trench. It was cold at night.
I slept till 1 PM next day. when I woke up I felt a bit better. The medicine appeared to be doing its job. At night we were sent back to supports and put on working party.
Next night we were on a working party building a Battalion Headquarters at Rossignal. We were again having rain almost daily. On Sept. 3 all working parties were called off owing to rain. I was having trouble with ear ache. Sept. 4 opened fine. We were on a working party on a subsidiary trench. I got soaking wet owing to the condition of the trench but Capt. Critchley came to my rescue with a tot of rum. We were relieved that night by the 7th Battalion and marched back to the tent huts at the windmill near the Q.M stores. We were pretty well all in and rested for 24 hours. I slept most of the time.
The sun came out on Sept. 6 and we had a week of steady fine weather. Drill and football were on the daily routine during this rest. I got my ankles hurt in one of the games.
On Sept. 7 we had a bath parade and later reviewed by Genl. Plummer. We had to shine up for this. In those days we didn't pay as much attention to "spit and polish" as we did later in the war.
Next day we went for a route march in the morning. In the afternoon we played the bombers and won 7-5. I had a bad afternoon of it--no hits and several errors.
On Sept. 9 after a parade in the morning we moved into trench 132 at night. Greentree and I shared a dugout. I like him.
I was on listening post next night at the right near the Messines Road. the post was under a tree. In the middle of my shift a rat jumped out of the tree and lit on my back. I thought my last hour had come. The rats gave us a lot of trouble. They ate chocolate out of our haversacks and at night we had to sleep with our faces covered as the rats often ran over us. I never heard of any case of men being bitten by a rat.
I was having trouble with rheumatism. It affected my legs and ankles mostly and I couldn't sleep at night, when off duty nor in the day time.
On Sept. 11 I was worse and Sergt. Rafter sent for Sgt. Sammy Schultz. Sam announced that I'd have to go out. They sent a stretcher bearer out with me but I had to carry my own equipment . I reported to Doc. Shannon who took Schultz's word for my condition and sent me out to the advanced dressing station behind Hill 63. About 3 AM an ambulance took me out to Romerin where the Field Ambulance had a post. There were three of us in the hut, two wounded slightly and myself. ?sick. I couldn't get my boots on and had to hobble out for breakfast in my sock feet. After breakfast the M.O. arrived and fussed a lot over the two slightly wounded chaps and turned to the Corporal and said "What is the matter with that 10th chap?" "He's sick." "Take his temperature". The M.O. didn't bother looking at me. A fellow who went sick bad a bad time of it. He always treated as if he were a "lead swinger". Some one in the London Mail wrote a piece called "On going sick". He argued that a man who went sick and stuck it until he got to the base deserved a V.C. I sympathized with him after my experience.
I arrived at No. 2 Advanced Hospital at Bailleul on Sunday Sept. 12. My rheumatism was easier in the days but worse at night. We slept on stretchers but we were dry and they gave us some medicine. We were in a chateau. I found that any large detached house was called a chateau.
I spent three days at the chateau and began to feel better. On the third day I saw Ralph Gale who was in the ambulance.
On Sept. 15 I was sufficiently recovered to be sent to the convalescent tents on the outskirts of Bailleul. Gale took me down town at night. I spent two days in the tents. The medicine was first salts and then soda sal.
Sergt. Green of the Brigade Post Office brought me my mail and I went down town and had supper with him.
On Sept. 17 I left the tents for the Battalion. The company was in tents behind Hill 63. I saw Wes Coole and Arch St. Louis. Arch was now in the 8th Battalion.
On Sept. 18 we got fresh smoke helmets from the M.O. These had patent eye pieces in place of the old mica and were supposed not to cloud up--but they did.
The Battalion got its water from the Armentieres and we had to be careful of it. To stop the troops and batmen using it for washing a guard was put on it. I used to shave in tea. We were allowed a quart of tea and I saved a little when I wanted a shave. I also used it for washing.
On Sunday Sept. 19, we moved into reserve trenches at a point called Altamont. Gray, Greentree and I shared a dugout. At night we foraging for wood and water. The wood was pretty scarce and I'm afraid the odd trench mat was used to boil my tea. We had good meals when we cooked them ourselves. Usually we carried in tinned goods to supplement the usual rations of potatoes, meat , tea and sugar.
We had a bit of trouble on the night of Sept. 20. we were on working party and the order was "equipment worn while working". We kicked at that and the fellows wouldn't work.
In the reserve trenches we usually had a night patrol whose duty it was to walk from one end of his company to the other and connect up with the next company who were separated from us.
On Sept. 22 we had a draft of the 48th from Vancouver. We found our trench was getting in bad shape so we baled out the water, cleaned it and then carried straw to our dugouts.
On Sept. 23 we had more rain but we were set digging a dummy trench behind the front line. it was 1 foot deep but was done to make the Hun think it was an assembly trench. We got soaking wet.
Next day we carried wet wood to the front line, bundles of straw were also carried into the front line. Altho we didn't know it, we were making preparations for a demonstration to take place the same day as the Loos offensive.
On the night of Sept. 24 we had orders to stay in our dugouts while our artillery bombarded the German line. We were not allowed to make any fires. All of this was to worry the Bosche. We were relieved by the 7th on the night of Sept.24 and marched back to the tents huts at the windmill.
On Sept.25 we stood to at 5 AM at the same hour as Loos offensive opened. We stood to in the open for 21/2 hours and then dismissed. The 7th Battalion in the meantime had lit the straw and wet wood to give the impression of a gas attack. then they put trench ladders over the top. All night a limber loaded with empty tins was galloped up and down the road back of the
Rossignal. We were told that our brigade show had the effect of holding troops on our front that would have gone to Loos.
At night I saw a crowd of Winnipeg boys in the 27th Battalion.
Our huts were getting old enough to be full of lice and they had an offensive of their own that night. We got little sleep.
We held a church parade on Sunday Sept.26. We were still "standing to" in the sense that we weren't allowed to leave camp, but weren't in full equipment as we had been the day before.
There was lots of noise towards Loos which was about 20 miles distant.
We were still "standing to" on Sept.27. We had a muster roll call in the event of trouble. To relieve the tension we had a concert at night.
Next day we had a bath parade--but there was no underwear so we put on our dirty "crawly" ones. I boiled up my BVD's when I got back. We were on a working party at night and got soaked. Next day it rained. Everyone was wet and peevish. I was told off for listening post as we were going in the line. Later it was cancelled and we went into supports behind French No. 132. Scotty Malcolm and I shared a dugout.
On Sept.30 10 platoon came out of the line and 12 platoon (my platoon) went into 133 for the night. I spent most of it on listening post. It was pretty cold.
On the morning of Oct. 1 we lost Pte. Prescott a new man but an old soldier. Twice the night before while on listening post with me he had been hit in the hat and boot by shrapnel and I told him he wasn't due to be killed. Just after stand down in the morning a bullet came over the parapet, hit him in the mouth as he was talking to me and was dead before he hit the ground. I always hoped that if I were due to get mine, it would come in that way. Our line at this point was a bit advanced and they could enfilade us from the left. It was only a chance bullet, but it took a good man.
We went back to the supports by day and came back at night. We were in range of a trench mortar we called a pineapple because of the resemblance. every night at midnight they opened up on the closest point in our trench. No one was killed by these things which weighed 3 or 4 pounds but they began to get my nerve a bit.
Next day I was detailed to stay in the front line and do day sentry. It was a very quiet day. At night the Hun opened up with rifle grenades and kept us ducking. Fortunately you could hear them in time to get around a traverse. I was on a working party in front wiring and thickening the parapet. During my time off duty the rats and mice were so bad we couldn't sleep. they seemed to be everywhere.
Next day (Oct. 3) we went back to supports near Barass Farm. The day was fine so we got a
good sleep. At night we returned to the front line. this time in trench 134 to the left. At night we were on work party again and the Hun according to schedule opened with trench mortars promptly at midnight. Next day it rained. The Bosche opened with aerial torpedoes and drove us out of the front line. We went back to Regina Ave. trench till stand to at night. As we went in we were met by a shower of shrapnel. We got in safely but a sentry was wounded before we were relieved by the 7th Battalion. We went back to bivvies behind Hill 63. Greentree, Corp. Lewis and I occupied a bivvy.
Next day was pay parade. It was my first since I came to France as I had been changing the money in my belt. I drew the Privates allowance of 15 fr. We were off duty all day. It rained at night.
Next day (Oct.6) I was detailed for patrol of the reserve trench. It was a good job. We were supposed to fix any places that needed repair. After my tour of duty I had my boots fixed. The day was fine.
For the next three days I was on the same job. The weather was good and we were only a party of five. Our worst job was from cave-ins in the trench. We had had so much rain the trenches cave in. All sorts of schemes were reverted to to prevent this--sump holes in the trench, small channels at the side, etc.
On the night of Oct. 6 we went in to support in trench 40. As I recall this trench it was behind 131 not far from the Messines Road. At night I was on guard at the sunken road at the end of it. I was on guard at the same place next day and at night was put on a carrying party. The sapper in charge lost us and we were about an hour longer on the job than we needed to be. When we got back rations had come up and with them, the mail. I received a parcel from Allie Dixon and a large one from the school children at Neepawa. Mrs. McConachie had got them to make up a parcel. Each child had brought a bag and put his name on it. The bags contained socks, candy mostly, books and gum. One young tough put in a plug of MacDonals chewing tobacco. John Summers, our sanitary man, collected the tobacco. As I had lots of time, I wrote each little kid thanking him or here and enclosing them in a letter to the teacher.
Oct. 11 was a fine day and we spent it on fatigue fixing up our trench. At night we were on a carrying party. We had to make four trips from the dump at Irish Farm. The boys did a lot of grousing but carried on. We were treated to showers at night.
Next day was fine but the rations were short. Something was always taking the joy out of life. At night we were busy filling sand bags.
We had an old soldier in 12 platoon called McKenzie. He was a quiet chap, except when he was drunk. Early in 1915 he broke an arm falling off a limber when he was drunk. Oct. 13 was his unlucky day for he got hit by a sniper but not killed. Our artillery started a bombardment but Heine finished it. He got too close to us to be pleasant.
Corp. Deuholme, our armourer Corpl.., went to England on Oct 14 and IO sent one pound to Geo. Dobbrn. We stood to at 5 AM and were relieved at 6.30 PM by the 7th Battalion. We had been given a bit of a bombardment during the afternoon. After our relief we marched back to Bulford Camp, about 4 miles from the line I should judge. We had wooden huts here but the lice were so bad we couldn't sleep very well.
Oct.15 was pay day. We shaved and cleaned up and went to visit friends in other units who were out of the line. I saw an old Scottish Football Club executive in the 16th. Sooner or later you met nearly everyone you knew. The Y.M.C.A. arranged a concert at night in their big tent.
Next day we marched to Brigade Headquarters and practiced attacking with bombers. At night we had another concert. I ran over and saw Gow and Green at the Brigade Post Office and got a parcel from Mrs. McConachie . Sunday Oct. 17 we started with church parade, then a bath parade, so we had both Godliness and cleanliness on the same day. At night we had a sing-song at the Y.M.C.A. The Y.M.C.A. officer attached to our brigade was a worker.
On Oct. 18, we varied our training by practicing attacking a dummy trench with bombers. In the afternoon we played football and at night the officers provided a concert.
We went back into the line on Oct.19. I was detailed for listening post so fell in at 1.45 PM. The reliefs for the listening posts were always sent in in daylight so that here would be a proper lookout while the relief was being carried out. One man was stationed in the trench at one end of the wire and two were out front. This time I drew the trench job in 132. The night was quiet and cool--cloudy but no rain.
Next day we couldn't get our fire to go without making too much smoke. We went to the shell trenches after dinner because the Hun opened a bombardment. At night we did the usual ration fatigue and worked till 2 AM in front of the trench fixing the parapet.
Next day I was on "flying" sentry. this job consists of patrolling from our post to the next company. At night we moved back to support in front of trench 40. At night we were in front again fixing the parapet. It rained so we quit at 1 AM.
We had a good sunny day on Oct.22 and I got a good sleep. At night i was on a four hour guard. It was getting cold at night but of course not freezing. A bundle of Winnipeg papers arrived in the evening's rations.
Next day we had some good meals cooked by ourselves plus canteen canned goods. It was cool but the sun was out. In the afternoon the Hun fired a few rounds from his field guns to warm us up. At night we were back at our old post in 132. I was on listening post again and found it pretty cold out in front for 2 hours.
Sunday (Oct.24) after a lazy morning I went on sentry. We were relieved by the 7th Battalion at night and marched back to Grande Monk farm (almost north of Plaegstreert, about 1/2 mile behind Hill 63). Twelve platoon was billeted in a hay loft. We had lot of straw. A parcel of underwear arrived from Uncle Fletcher that night.
Next day it rained all day so we stayed in the loft. No lights were allowed so we went to bed early. We had a sing at night.
Next day we were sent to drain trenches. The job lasted till dinner. After dinner a German plane flew over our billet and we all had to get out of sight. the day was fine and we slept well at night.
On Oct. 27 while most of us were on working party a number of original 10th men were reviewed by the King. It drizzled in the morning. Owing to the "no lights" order, went to bed early.
Next day it rained. I was on fatigue "delousing" blankets. After dinner we ran off a handicap race. I won 8 fr. thereby making myself a professional. We were issued with rain capes.
Next day we were on working party again. the going was poor owing to the mud. It was cloudy but didn't rain. At night we went to reserve trenches. We had a dugout at the top of the Hill 63. Next day was fine. We loafed all day, reading, sleeping, and listening to the 7th Battalion singing a parody of Gilbert, the Filbert. It was about a certain lady named Charlotte, who was apparently a bit of a "cut up".
On Oct.31 I was detailed for guard duty at the Rossignal where the Battalion had its headquarters. It was raining all day and we had no dugout to go to. It wasn't much of a job. We rigged up a shelter as well as we could.
It might be well here to describe our scheme of holding the line. The Brigade had two Battalions holding the line, one in support and one in reserve. The 10th and 5th usually held the line together--the 5th on the right of Messines Road and the 10th on the left from 132 to 134 incl., altho we held 131 and 136. Each Battalion had two companies in the line, one in support and one in reserve. "C" occupied 132 and part of 133 usually. The supports were Trench 40, Altamart, Regina Ave., and later the Winter trench--the reserves were moved from place to place--sometimes in the woods behind Hill 63 and sometimes on the top of the hill. In this narrative I am dealing to date with 12 platoon of "C" Co. only.
On Nov.1st the guard over "c" Hqrts. was relieved and we had a good sleep in our makeshift dugout. It was a bit warmer but at noon it started to rain and our roof being a fair weather roof leaked.
It got so bad that on Nov.2nd we took the roof off and found some tin which we used in our new roof. It was a big job taking most of the day. There was no working party so we had all the time there was. After we got the roof built we rolled in for a good sleep and just as we dozed off we felt water trickling down the side and pretty soon the whole side caved in covering us with mud and water. We had to rig up a temporary shelter with our ground sheets. As architects we decided we were good sewer diggers.
Next day I was on Mess Orderly. A mess Orderly is either a fool or a hog. If he doesn't keep the best piece of bacon for himself, he is a fool and if he does, he is a hog. Of the two evils I always chose the lesser and saved the leanest piece for myself. A mess orderly could always get his own back by giving his enemy a fat bit of bacon.
The weather pulled up a bit and we had a starry night for our march back to rest on the evening of Nov.3rd. When we got in, we found the camp a regular sea of mud. However, our huts were water proof and we had no parades.
I saw Greene of the post Office and he told me to go round and see Gow, but I couldn't locate their billet. I then decided that I needed a new pair of riding breeches. As they weren't on issue I had to buy them. Some Quartermaster Sergt. was "in" 10 francs as a result. I still felt I was a Cavalryman and so insisted on wearing riding breeches. At that time the Battalion wasn't so particular about dress as they were afterwards and the men dressed pretty well as they pleased--never cleaning up to any extent unless preparing for "pass".
In the afternoon we were paid and those who had borrowed from me repaid me. At night we had a concert to keep the troops in camp if possible.
Next day I was mess orderly again. They were always starting their duty roster over again and I was "A". At night there was another concert but we had a bit of a row because John Sommers insisting on reciting the "circus ballyhoo".
The mail came up and with it a parcel from the girl who befriended me in Canterbury. I bought a handkerchief with the flags of the Allies on it and sent it to Allie. Next day I visited the "snobs" (shoemaker) and had my boots repaired. We had sports and I played lacrosse for "C" Co.--results, several bruises and ruffled temper.
At night "B" put on a concert. On Sunday Nov.7th we had a much needed bath parade. A bath parade was a parade where you had a long walk, a bit of hot water and traded one lousy shirt for another and then a another long walk back. You felt about as dirty after the parade as before. The parade had one advantage however; it gave one the opportunity of seeing George Dobbyn. That night I was on guard over some lumber.
Nov.8 opened fine and we were warned for the line. Some one was always taking the joy out of life, but we had 6 days out of gun range. At 4 PM we started for the line and went into 134. Lang Paris, Dodds and I were assigned to a two man dugout. We took turns to sleep. To add to the joy of living it rained at night and again next day. We had to sleep by relays again.
The C.M.R. officers were in for instructions during this tour and when I was on sentry duty the second night in one of the officers was "going the rounds" with our officer when he was what he thought was a rat running along the parapet just over the traverse where he was, so he took a cut at it with his stick. The rat was my head and I took the full blow on my head. He rushed round the traverse to find me swearing loud and long. He promised me a drink but perhaps he will keep his promise when I need it worse than I did that night. At any rate I am still one drink short.
The Hun were shelling us every afternoon but without casualties. We were out at nights on carrying parties to Irish Farm and trench 133, so there was no sentry for me, but as the nights were black as pitch the carrying parties were worse than the sentry go. The ground was a mass of shell holes, half full of muddy water, whereas on sentry go you at least had the star shells.
The rains were filling the Douve River, added to which the Hun had dammed it lower down in an attempt, afterwards successful, to make us abandon our front line. In crossing the Douve we had to be careful as the water was over the bridge and a false step meant 5 feet of cold bath.
On Nov.13, the R.C.R.'s came in to learn trench duty and a number of them were assigned to 12 platoon. For regular soldiers we found them a helpless lot. At this time we were all cooking our own meals and little fires were going all along the line at meal times boiling tea. The R.C.R.'s couldn't build a fire and stood around until we finished ours and then sometimes the fire went out before they were ready. Perhaps we had a poor sample.
The rain of the last few weeks had its effect and dugouts were flooded, the Douve overflowed and the temporary bridge was useless. Our trenches were a foot deep in water in some spots. This was caused as above mentioned by the Hun damming the Douve. We due for a relief by the 7th Battalion but owing to the flood we were cut off and relief couldn't get in until the engineers built a bridge. We then marched back to the huts in the woods behind Hill 63. Once the relief was complete it stopped raining and the stars came out.
Next day we all cleaned up, dried out our clothes and got a little of our lost sleep. The Quarter Master issued sweaters (or louse catchers). They didn't come before there were needed! At night we had a concert in the Y.M. Our Y.M. man was good at this kind of thing, and even if some of the songs were cheerful like "The Fireman's Daughter", "I'd like to have a home of my own", and the "Blind Boy" we enjoyed them. I saw Bole that night at the concert.
Early on the 15th we started out on a working party but it was done by noon and we had the afternoon to read the Canadian mail which arrived--also to try and figure out what some of the things sent us were for. Were they sox or sleeping bags?
The 7th Battalion were working on the first night raid pulled off on the Western Front and we stood to three nights in a row for fear we were needed. We slept with our equipment on and everything packed up for three nights. Finally at 2 AM on Nov.17th they pulled off the raid. The plan was to send a party of wire cutters out to cut lanes in the Hun wire, then without any bombardment the raiding party passed through these lanes and jumped in the Hun trench by the Petite Danve Farm. A covering party was left in No Man's Land to protect them. The object of the raid was two fold--first, information who were holding the line, in what strength, what were their trenches like, etc.,--second to get their wind up. A barrage was set up on their communication trenches and the raid was a complete success, so much so that it was used as a guide by the whole army thereafter.
The afternoon of the raid we were on a working party but it rained hard all the time so no work was done but we got soaked. However we rolled into our blankets at night and were soon warmed up.
Next day I paraded with my feet, as our lieutenant thought my broken toe would bother me. However, as it hadn't bothered me since I was kid, I didn't expect much from the parade and I got less than I expected.
On Nov.18, I started on my climb for promotion when I was brought to Headquarters in Irish Farm as a Company Runner. That job lasted two days when they cut down the staff of runners and as youngest soldier I went back to duty. Altho they kept me on the jump it was easier than the carrying parties and we had a warm place to sleep and I certainly took advantage of it.
The second night I was nearly gassed by the fumes of the coke fire.
Battalion Headquarters were in the Rossignal Farm on the northerly slope of Hill 63 and "C" Co Headquarters was in the Irish Farm in the hollow about 1/2 a mile forward. Capt. Fisher was our Co. O.C. and he decided to send in a report as to his location and disposition, so I was dispatched with this and arrived at Battalion Hqrs. and handed it to Capt. Craggs, the Adjutant. "What is this?" he demanded. "Disposition Report, Sir" I replied. "What do I want with it?" he asked. I was a pit peeved at that. I hadn't asked to come and why pick on me. However, Col. Rattray got out of his bunk and took the message, thereby relieving the situation.
On Nov.22nd I was ordered to report to Battalion Hqrs. to proceed to an N.C.O."training course. Corporal Jones and I went together. (Jones was afterwards my C.Q.M.S. when I had a company.) We drew 75 francs each from the Paymaster--went to Q.M. and got a new outfit of clothes--kissed the boys goodbye and set off for Bailleul. There we took a bus for the school with two fellows from each of the other Battalions in the Division. We arrived at the school to find it well back of the line, and our sleeping quarters a good old chateau. I found a good bunch of boys from every unit almost in the 2nd army. We were divided into squads and took turns in drilling the squad we were in. I was pretty tired at night, because we were using our brains a bit, something I hadn't done since I arrived in France.
We had lectured on maps and other theoretical subjects at nights.
I found the work a bit hard at first but gradually got into the swing. At nights I listened to the old Regulars tell of their experiences in the early days of the war. The days were getting colder and our billet (in the attic) was like an ice house but it was dry.
After a week of routine instruction we had a rest on Sunday, had a bath, drew a new shirt and struck out for Cassel, the Hqrs. of the 2nd army. It is situated on a hill about 2 miles from our school. We found it a very tame place, which meant no madamoiselles. However, had a good feed and bucked a 40 mile wind back to camp.
Monday was rainy so we had a series of lectures. On Nov.30 I had a glimpse of General Plummer. He wandered round among our groups. Having him watch me trying to drill our squad didn't help me any. However, I got thro it without being arrested.
On Dec. 1st I went thro' the school orders a Lance Corporal and to celebrate I was put on camp guard duty for the night.
Next day I had an off day and got into trouble a couple of times for mistakes in my drill. Perhaps those instructors didn't know to make me feel sorry for myself. The second week of school was a repetition of the first--drill, map work, road reports, lectures, etc., including rain. the rain had one good effect, it postponed a bombing course which we were all afraid of. They didn't have breast works to protect you in those days. You went out and threw live bombs in the open and if some chap didn't heave his bomb far enough--well there was another job for the M.O.
Sunday I was orderly man and had to stay in camp. However, I saved my money and got a hot bath into the bargain. I got a letter from Jimmy Buchan and a parcel from Bill Noble.
Saturday (Dec.11) I blossomed out as an entertainer. For months I had been memorizing Service and Kipling and at nights I had been giving the boys a piece or two before rolling in and had performed at a Wing concert and so had built up a local reputation. As a result I gave a command rendition of the "Cremation of Sam McGee". Fortunately for a few of my audience outside of the members of the Canadian Division had heard it and I can still see our lieutenant instructor listening with his mouth open while I burned poor old Sam! I the proceeded to shoot Dan McGrew and I could have anything I wanted. I rang the bell, knocked them out of their seats and generally went over big.
During the week I had been under the weather with stomach complaint and when I found the M.O. was a reasonable soul, I promptly went sick and had three days off duty. the only trouble, I was pit on a milk diet and I began to get terribly hungry. I think they finally starved me back to duty. At any rate I missed the bombing course.
We had boxing on two nights and wound up the course on Dec.16 with a concert. I gave Kipling's "Gentlemen Rankers" and cremated Sam again. We had had 23 days of drill and general instruction and were supposed to be good N.C.O.'s.
At 8.30 AM Dec.17 we left the school by bus and arrived at Bailleul at noon and had to walk to the Battalion transport about 3 miles. We got in about 3.30 and the lanterns were lit. I can still remember how dismal it seemed.
I drew a new pair of boots and stayed at the transport all night. I started for the line and the new boots blistered my feet terribly. I reported to the Co. Hqrs. and joined my platoon in Irish Farm. We were relieved after one day's duty on my part and marched back to Court Dreve near where the cemetery now stands behind Hill 63. My feet now were in bad shape. It rained and our roof leaked adding to the general discomfort.
On Dec.21 I did my first duty a Corporal of the Guard. We were relieved by L. Corp. Morrison of the 7th Batt. who had been at school with me. We marched back to the tents on Hill 63 and had two extra blankets issued. I was put in charge of No.3 section 12 platoon C Co. and started to take out working parties. We ran into more rain and out tents leaked. After I wished I was back at Zuyptpeene.
I celebrated Christmas Day 1915 by going to Ploegsteert with Charlie Watt (now of Regina) and had eggs and chips. We had some straw as a Christmas present from the Quartermaster.
Next day I ran across Cowan who had been with me in the Garrys. He was with the machine guns. That night I was on a working party under Sgt.(afterwards Capt.) Miller. the Huns turned a machine gun on us, getting a man in D Co. Dec.27 was fine so we went on a bath parade and got a change of clothes. Hart was returning to Co. duty and was put in our tent making a pretty full house.
On Dec.28 I was sent into Trench No. 134 in charge of the listening post. These were posts of 11 men each and a corporal or lance corporal working 2 hours on and 4 hours off. Two men were put at the post about 50 yards in front of 134 and one man was in the trench. A wire connected the post with the trench and a series of tugs gave the signal. One tug from the trench "Are you O.K.?" Two tugs "N.C.O. coming out." several tugs in quick succession "Return to Trench." One tug from the trench "O.K." Two tugs "someone coming in". (patrol or one of post on special message). Several tugs "Danger". The N.C.O. was on duty all night but often snatched a few minutes sleep between reliefs. If a patrol went out, he went out to the post to warn the men so that no mistakes would be made.
The trenches were pretty muddy this trip and by day we returned to the winter trench built on slightly higher ground and with a fall. The dugouts were better tho' they were not a "deep" dugouts. The lowness of the ground prevented this type being used.
I was off duty the second night and the third night I had the listening post to the left of the Douve. After coming off listening post duty the men of that job had the day free of duty. that was one reason that some of the men preferred the listening post to the ordinary trench sentry go.
We were relieved on the evening of Dec.31 but started 1916 by a work party at 1 AM. We had the night off and got a good sleep.