Army Life


I enlisted in June 1916 and went to Sarcee camp on the Sarcee Indian Reserve eight or nine miles south-west of Calgary. It consisted of tents and mud that summer. Training was route marches, rifle drill, and health tests. We had a sentry line around the entire camp where the ones on guard walked a short beat twenty-four hours a day - ostensibly to keep everyone inside in and everyone outside out with empty rifles so nobody could get hurt. (A very sensible precaution at that stage of the game!) But it was lots of fun sneaking in and out at night for those not on guard. The only way you could stop anyone was to shout, "Trouble on beat number so and so. Guard turn out." This message was passed from beat to beat to guardhouse giving the offenders plenty of time to get through the line whichever way they were going in the dark.

We had a large variety of men as times were hard and it was a volunteer army with plenty of encouragement from recruiting sergeants. I was pretty young and wanted to see the world and thought I had to do it in a hurry before the war ended. We had a platoon of Japanese who interested me very much as they seemed to have very little use for us. They had numerous relics of their forefathers. The one that interested me most was a sword that must have been nearly four feet long and hung beside his pack when he was marching. Later, after the Battle of Vimy Ridge, I found this ceremonial sword lying in the mud. They used to wrestle among themselves in their own style - jujitsu, I guess. They used to yell and throw each other around until they were given a large marquee with high sides which could be rolled up. Each weekend they put on a free show which was well attended in camp.

There were some recreation facilities in camp (Tin Town we called it) including a couple of stores, electronic gadgets for testing your electricity resistance a coffee bar, and a cinema. Sometimes the operators would take pictures of us on route marches and show them with their regular show. I remember the usual title was "See Yourselves as Others See You" and drew a very good audience too. Shows used to cost thirty-five cents. We were drawing down $1.10 a day so we were really rolling in dough. There was also an army canteen in camp where you could buy beer and soft drinks. I forget whether it was good beer or two per cent as I didn't drink beer at that time.

In September we were sent overseas travelling six days by train to Halifax. On arrival there, the first thing on the program was a bath parade. We marched about a mile to a secluded spot on the ocean beach and eagerly jumped in. When I hit the water I gasped once or twice and more eagerly crawled out. I've never had any ambition for an ocean bath since. Most of the other boys had the same reaction - much to the glee of those who had lived near the ocean before.

I think we went on board ship that same day after about two hours of looking around Halifax on foot. The only thing I recall from that stroll was going by a military hospital and seeing a large number of guys looking out of windows at us. I asked one of them if they were war casualties thinking I might be looking at heros. He said, "No, this is a venereal hospital."

The ship we went over on was an old single funnel steamer called the "Saxonia". I think there were 1600 of us on board. It took fifteen days to cross to England. When we were leaving Halifax we were all on deck watching Canada recede from view. I remember I was about six feet up in the rigging ropes with another lad as land disappeared. He was looking awfully glum and said, "That's the last I'll ever see of that place. I'll never come back." I said, "Well, I will." We were both right as he was killed soon after reaching France and I'm still around.

The passage was very rough, the ship small and slow. I don't think it averaged more than ten knots per hour and many were seasick. I was one of the few who weren't for some reason though I was close to it one day. I think I missed breakfast once. They fed us Australian rabbit most of the time and mutton the rest. I got heartily sick of both. The trip was uneventful though one night I was hurled out of bed and woke up when I landed on the floor. I went up on deck-but could see no one though it was pretty rough. I never did find out what happened. We probably hit a chunk of ice or something.