When the Great War broke out on August 4th, 1914, I was spending my holidays at Gimli, Manitoba. The papers were full of the "Calls for Men". I did not think very seriously about it, till a conference was held in the office at which it was pointed out that as I was Canadian born and had no ties, it was my duty to enlist. I was suffering from a rupture, sustained playing football, and gave that as an excuse for not enlisting. However, people kept asking me to enlist with them and others asked if I intended to go, until I couldn't stand it any longer and on August 27th, 1914, I made up my mind to enlist. I was at a party at Mrs. St. Louis' home that evening when someone made a statement about enlisting. Theo. Gunn said, "I'd enlist if anyone would go with me." I told him I was going to join the Fort Garry Horse in the morning and he said he'd come with me. I don't think he wanted to go but he was game and wouldn't back down.
On August 28th I went to the office and handed over my work to Sid Goldstine and together with Theo. Gunn went to the Headquarters of the Fort Garry Horse at Maryland Ave. opposite the Mulvey School and was sworn in. We were allotted to A squadron under Capt. Bedson. Claude Gadd of Willis' office was Squadron Sergeant Major and Henry Copeland of the County Court was a Corporal. No further duty was imposed on us that day but on the 29th I reported for drill at 9 A.M. and ran up and down the Mulvey School ground till 11. At 2 we fell in again and took a long route march. My feet ached and in spite of the fact that I was in fairly good condition from football, I was tired.
We attended a further drill at 9 A.M. on Sunday and were ordered to report back at 6 P.M. to leave for Valcartier. I spent the day (Aug. 30) visiting my friends saying good-bye. We had a rather heart breaking farewell at home but Mother and Father bore up well. We all felt that I wouldn't come back and I gave away a lot of my things. When I fell in at 6 P.M. I had on my oldest clothes and only took a gold wrist watch, given me by Uncle Fletcher, a Gillette safety razor, given me by the office and a change of sox and shirts. I drew my pay ($150.00) and had it changed into English gold and American gold. I put this in a belt round my waist.
At 6 P.M. we fell in on the Mulvey School grounds, watched by hundreds of friends and curious spectators. We certainly presented a bizarre appearance. Most of the men wore civies of varying vintage. The officers had everything from kilts to white helmets. After a lot of delay we marched down portage Avenue and Main Street to the Union Depot. It seemed as if all my friends were on hand and as I was in the first file of fours they all spotted me. We marched down the street with our chests out in what we believed the true military manner. Looked at from this distance (9 years after) all we can say is, “We knew not what we did.” It was at once glorious and pathetic. Once in the train the next job was to find bunk mates. We rode in colonist cars and had blankets issued out to soften the boards. Theo. Gunn and I occupied the lower and Art McConnaghy and a chap named Heatherington shared the top bunk.
Breakfast (at 5 A.M.) consisted of ham, eggs, porridge and coffee. We did not take very kindly to the porridge as it had been burnt.
How good that same porridge would have tasted 2 years afterwards! We all felt a bit stiff after sleeping on the slats but on arriving at Fort William we were marched to Port Arthur where we again boarded the train. I got my first taste of fatigue when I was detailed to carry dishes. Supper was late and the boys got very noisy.
Gunn and I drew a guard on Sept. 1. Our duty was to keep the men off the steps. We did a cold 2 hour shift from 5.30 to 7.30 but a good breakfast fixed us up. At Cartier we got off and took a short hike over very rough ground. It broke the monotony of the day very nicely. When we got to North Bay we were given quite a reception. The girls gave us candy and sandwiches. A lot of the boys got addresses of girls to whom they promised to write.
Next morning we had two incidents to break the monotony. First McConnahgy and Heatherington got into an argument which ended in a fight and next we lost half of our train owing to a coupling breaking.
We arrived at Montreal at 4.30P.M. on Sept. 2 and were marched by back street through rain to another station where we again entrained. We arrived at Valcartier camp at 8.30 A.M. on the 3rd. The station was three miles from the camp and we started out with our kit bags on our shoulder. On arrival we found a canvas city about 2 miles square. After a wait we were finally allotted tents into which we crowded 14 to a tent. It was perhaps as well that we were packed close because the nights were very cold. Reveille was at 5.30 and we started our infantry drill at once. The Duke of Connaught was expected to inspect the camp on Sept. 6 and our time was spent cleaning up the lines. Only those who had a uniform were allowed to attend the inspection. The rest of us didn't worry as it rained very hard all day. I was put on the job of moving latrines and tents. This was caused by the rain flooding out our former location.
Then followed two days of rain with the result that everything was soaking wet. Clothing was gradually issued, boots and puttees first and later overcoats. We found great difficulty in learning to put our puttees on properly.
On September 9th I passed the doctor and was innoculated. I passed the eye sight test by memorizing the card and the doctor by hiding the support I was wearing. I felt a little sick after innoculation but they took us direct to the butts where we shivered in the wind.
About this time we were given numbers. Mine was 14502.
We were taken to the butts again the next two days. My arm was sore and swollen but we were told that the only way to get the arm better was to carry on. The weather turned hot and I think that went a long way towards fixing us all up. My shooting was very poor but thanks to the fact that we marked each others cards, we all got a pass.
Being a cavalry unit we did not relish the infantry drill we were getting and when we were ordered on Sept 12 to fall in with blankets, we were sure we were going to get our horses. Instead of that we were sent to picket 541 horses at the Remount Depot.
Some brilliant genius conceived the idea of having a fire drill. We were instructed that when the alarm went we were to get our rifles and fall in at once. We had 3 alarms on the night of Sept. 13. The parades presented some very funny sights. Two of our men were having a shower bath when the alarm sounded. They fell in with their rifles but without even the proverbial fig leaf.
Then followed a succession of drills, fatigues, guards until Sept. 19 when I was innoculated again. It was a warm day so I didn't feel it so much at the time, but next day I had a high fever. I was called for parade but was too sick to get up. The Corporal told me to consider myself under arrest for refusing to parade. Next day I paraded sick and was given "Relieved Duty" for a day thereby missing a horse picket.
On the night of Sept. 23 there was much excitement. Rumors of a possible move had been in the air for days. A kit inspection was called and our extra blankets taken away. We were off surely now! But it proved a false alarm.
Sept. 24 was our official day for joining the overseas forces for on that date we signed our attestation papers. We were ordered to stand by for a march but it rained and we didn't leave. Next day our rifles were called in and biscuits were issued instead of bread. This surely meant a move but we still remained. Finally after many rumors and much uncertainty we left camp at noon on Sept. 27 by train. Everyone was in high spirits. We would be out of the mud at any rate. At 3 P.M. on that same day we marched aboard the Lapland and were led into the steerage and told that was our quarters for the trip. The Lapland had just completed a trip from Europe with a large number of immigrants aboard and she had not been fumigated. The steerage was "alive" with bugs and lice and the boys refused to stay there but marched back on deck. We were then put in the 2nd class dining room and slept on the floor for the night.
Breakfast was served in the steerage. It was good but everything was dirty.
The boat lay in Quebec from the 27th, when we went on board, till 1.30 P.M. on the 30th. During that time we had some drill, and a number of fatigues and loading the ship. During this time I found a place to sleep on the floor of a 2nd class cabin occupied by McConnaghy and Gunn. We were eating in the 3rd class dining room which was much better than the "glory hole" where we first ate.
At 1.30 P.M. on the 30th of September the Lapland left Quebec with 4 other boats and proceeded to Chaleur Bay (or Gaspe). No lights were allowed at night and the port holes were fastened and covered. We were given our instructions in the event of trouble. I was allotted to a life boat and was one of four who were to be the last to leave. It was a cheering thought!
On October 3rd we steamed out of the bay. We counted 30 transports and 4 gun boats but this was later increased to 33 transports. We steamed in 3 long lines with gun boats on the flanks. We were at the end of the middle line.
The next few days were spent in getting sea sick, getting better, getting vaccinated, kit inspections, boat drills, fatigues, guards and physical exercise.
The order went out that we were all to grow a moustache. I tried but it wasn't much of a success.
About the end of the first week I broke out with a rash, like the "Itch". It was likely caused by eating too much meat. No matter what I did it didn't get better. A salt bath seemed to relieve it and I used to get up early and go into the bathroom and soak in the salt water for 1/2 hour.
We had a concert and a boxing match to pass the time away and the rest of our off duty moments were spent in cards, crown and anchor and other cash reducing sports. One man, Pat Carral, made several hundred dollars at Crown and Anchor.
On October 14 we sighted Lizard Point after being out of sight of land for 10 days. There was great excitement among the troops. Word went round that we were to go to Southampton but that owing to submarines we were sent to Plymouth. The Lapland went to the head of the line as we had the Brigadier (Curry) on board. At 2.30 on the 14th we steamed into Plymouth Sound and proceeded up the river to Devonport where we stayed till Oct 20th. We had been waiting for 6 days to unload and the strain told on the men. There was trouble over meals and the men got into fights over little things. Everyone's nerves were on edge. Boat loads of sightseers passed us. They threw up fruit etc. We felt like the monkeys at the zoo.
Finally on the 20th we were taken off the boat for a route march. We marched to Plymouth and out to Drake's monument and the Citadel and back to the ship. At midnight we again fell in and marched to the Great Western Station where we piled into what seemed to us, "packing boxes" and were taken to Lavington in Wiltshire. We were then marched 8 miles into Salisbury Plain. What struck us on the march was the hospitality of the people on the way, the long hill we had to climb, the hedges and what was a wonder to us – five aeroplanes all at once.
We arrived at West Down South just before noon on October 21st and began the famous battle of Salisbury Plain.
Our first night was not very cheerful. We had no candles, but made up for that by using a pull through dipped in oil. It rained and the tent leaked. Leave began next day and Gunn and xxxxxxxxxx went to London for three days.
On October 24 we were reviewed by Earl Roberts (then 82 years old). It rained steadily during the review. The Y.M.C.A. endeavored to make up for it by putting on a concert after tea.
Then followed four days during 3 of which it rained and the other tho' fine in the day time was cold at night.
I celebrated my 26th birthday on the 28th by the usual routine of parades. The day was fine and we were able to get our washing dry. We had all by this time become expert washer-men. I took off the support that I had been wearing since I was hurt at football in July. It was a relief to get it off as it chafed me badly at times.
We took a 15 mile route march to Stonehenge on the 29th. The rainy weather then began to set in in earnest and it rained nearly every day till the camp was a sea of mud. It was necessary to build a big fire to allow the men to dry their blankets which had become soaking wet.
On November 4th the King received us. We were favored with a fine day. In honor of the event there was no parade after dinner.
On November 5th I was given a job as clerk to the Quarter master. This got me out of parades. Next day we had to move camp to the side of a hill as the old location was too muddy. We were fortunate in having fine weather while we moved.
The first contingent to leave the Battalion left on Nov 8 for Bulford camp to build huts.
My job in the stores was to keep track of all stores we received and also charge each man with any clothing or equipment he received. I was not using my glasses and I found this a bit hard on my eyes. I was in camp all day. The boys used to complain if they didn't get their full issue of bread and jam altho' they didn't use it. I used to visit the tents and take back any surplus stock of jam or bread and reissue it. In this way I satisfied the kickers at no expense to the government.
Lindsay, the regular clerk, whose place I was taking, returned on Nov 13, and I went back to my company.
Next day we had the unpleasant job of parading to see two men drummed out of the Battalion. So far as we could make out, they hadn't any direct charge against them but they were suspected of being spies.
Then followed a succession of route marches, sham fights and drills. The weather was alternated rainy and cold, so that it wasn't very comfortable at any time. We tried various ways of heating our tents. Gunn conceived the brilliant idea of burning paper in the tent. This smoked us out. We then bought oil stoves and bought oil from the oil merchants who came round. The camp was full of people selling rain coats, rubber boots, oil stoves, oil, and things to eat.
Lindsay was taken ill again and I went back to the stores for a few days.
We were then changed back to the 8 company formation which we had used at Valcartier. Just after we landed we had been made into 4 companies and then all at once there was a splitting up.
The weather continued to fluctuate from fine to rain with the rain predominating.
On November 28 we got a welcome change. We were ordered to fall in to go to Salisbury on fatigue. We spent all day unloading trucks and opening boxes and then were given an hour to see the town. We were particularly struck with the old houses and public houses, particularly the latter.
The last day of November will always be a memorable one. We were taken for a night march in the pouring rain and came home soaking wet; very much fed up.
On Dec 3rd we left the tents at West Down South and marched to Durrington camp and were allotted tents. The camp was on the high ground 1 mile north of Stonehenge.
On the night of the 4th we heard that all passes were cancelled but at 7 P.M. passes came for C.Q.M.S. Gibbs, Corporal Copeland and private Andrews. We struck off for Amesbury together and after changing at Basingstoke arrived at London at 1.30 A.M. I had expected to be met but no one appeared so Mr. P. Holmes of 20 Marvel Road, Brixton took us all to stop at his place.
Ah the pleasure of a real bed, after 3 months of bare ground. The three of us got into one bed. Copeland and Gibbs were much bigger than I was. First I was put in the middle of the bed but they nearly smothered me. Then they put me on the outside and I was almost shoved out of bed. Next morning we had real bacon for breakfast, and then cleaned the Salisbury mud off our clothes. The next job was to locate Alf Ewart of Winnipeg, a Rhodes Scholar. He showed me a bit of London and then at 4 P.M. I took the G.N. from Kings Cross to Grimsby.
On Dec 6, 1914 I first met Allie Dixon and was very much impressed.
On December 7th I went with Mr. Dixon to see the Dodds. When crossing from one dock to another I passed an Army officer, but as he didn't notice me, I didn't bother saluting him. Later I did the same to a naval officer. He soon stopped me and gave me a lecture, threatening to report me. A Military Policeman then asked to see my pass. I asked him how I should know these Naval officers and he told me they had braid on their sleeves. Mr. Dixon and I then went on and soon a man with much braid on passed. I gave him a smart salute much to Mr. Dixon's amusement. When I asked him "Why those tears?", he said, "That man is the caretaker of the City Hall".
While at Grimsby I had the pleasure of visiting at Mr. Frances at Cleethorpes, Mr. Hewins, and Mr. Blythes at Grimsby.
On Dec 9th I left Grimsby and spent two days seeing London and then left Waterloo station for Amesbury. It was dark and I had great trouble locating the camp. Indeed if a man with a lantern hadn't come along I might have had to wait till morning.
On Dec 14th we moved into a new set of huts on the hill known as North Huts. We were going through the usual routine of fatigues, drills, route marches, etc. Some days wet, others fine, but as we were in huts we were able to get warm and dry when we came in.
Orders went out that we were to get special Christmas leave and that we were to go 25% at a time. We drew for our turn and I drew Christmas leave and left camp Dec 21. I stopped at 3 Upper Bedford Place with Mason and saw Potosh and Perlmutter at the Queens with him; also Madame Tausards Wax works. My pass read by Great Central so I left from Marlebone Station and arrived at Grimsby at 9 at night. Fred Cowan came with me as he knew no one in England. He took sick and was in bed all the trip.
On Christmas I saw Grimsby play Bristol and win 3-2. I wasn't very much impressed, perhaps because football in Winnipeg at that time was of a very high standard.
I had to leave Cowan in Grimsby and return via Sheffield. I had a 2 hour wait at Sheffield for a train. It was 2 A.M. when I finally arrived at the camp. It rained hard and I had caught a cold. To make things more miserable it was very windy and rainy and the nights were cold. Quite a change after feather beds for 5 nights.
Most of the men were away on leave so the place seemed deserted. Parades were a joke and were finally canceled. I received a box of oranges and a box of mixed fruit, candy, nuts, cigarettes, etc. from Uncle Fletcher and Aunt Annie, also a turkey from Mrs. Dixon (sent on Mother's orders). I arranged with the cook to heat up the turkey and a plum pudding I had received, also to make a pie out of apples which I had received from Grandfather Andrews and the few of us who were left had a real New Year's dinner, from soup to nuts. The following was the menu (mainly supplied by myself, thanks to my relatives): soup (beef), roast turkey, roast beef, baked potatoes, plum pudding, nuts, candies, oranges, apples, and last but not least a bottle of Johnny Walker (not supplied by myself). It was a huge success. Our mess orderly so fully enjoyed himself that he fell into bed speechless. The boys came back from leave and those who had been building huts had returned and parades started again. The huts had got pretty muddy, so we took a day and scrubbed them out.
I was having trouble with my big toes owing to in growing toe nail. At the suggestion of one of the boys I scraped the centre with a piece of glass. This made them sore at first but seemed to ease them in the end.
I had put on a lot of weight. On enlistment I was 165 lbs. but by Xmas I weighed 189. In spite of the weight (produced by bread, cheese and jam) I found that I could stand the manual labor with the best of them. We were going through pretty stiff training by this time; battalion attacks, bayonet fighting, entrenching at night, range drilling and fatigue.
[Editor’s note: Monthly headers have been added to assist readers, indicating the most likely transition points between months.]