Battle of Lens
August 21, 1917
I never did intend to take stripes on account of my age as I thought it would be too hard for an eighteen year old kid to expect mature men to obey him, especially in a tough spot. We occasionally got an N.C.O. to head the gun section. We had one just before the Battle of Lens for awhile on the 19th of August. He was taken along with some other N.C.O.’s to examine the front where we were to go over. On the 21st we privates were not informed that we were to go over until the morning of the 21st as they thought the less to know the better. Anyway he was killed so I had to take the section up and was notified on the night of the 20th.
We were billeted in house basements in Lens and had beds and mattresses to sleep in some places. The boys said I had to sleep in the corporal's bed if I was in charge - mostly kidding) of course. Anyway in the end I did as that was the only mattress bed in the place. I just got asleep when I started to itch and woke up. I looked at my shirt and found it was infested with little blue lice. They weren't like our human lice but really hungry. The Germans had been out of the place for several days I guess and the poor things were starving. I couldn't do much about it so I killed them down and went to sleep before another bunch got there. They seemed to be gone by morning; Maybe my big ones ate them up in the night for dessert or something.
On the eve of the 21st we moved up the line and took over a gun post from whoever had it. (I forget now.) It was in an old trench in front of our line. We were supposed to come in before dawn. When we started in we met the rest of the battalion coming over. In fact some of my boys were in the dugout yet but we were only about two minutes behind. The captain of my company was the one who told me we were going over and said he was sorry. He had meant to have us called in an hour earlier so we could get some coffee and rations but in the excitement he forgot it. Even in the two or three minutes we talked the rest of the company was out of sight as our artillery was putting up a smokescreen to protect us. Everyone was getting partly lost in it. The companies were getting mixed up with each other but it wasn't too bad as long as the officers got where they were supposed to be. Just as we were taking off a C company officer asked me if this was Aloof trench. I said 'I didn't know what the name of it was but it was about sixty yards in front of our own front line and we were using it for a night outpost. He said, "That's the one. I've got orders to mop it up so you men come along with me."
There were about fifteen of us, I believe. It was getting pretty rough up on top now as the Germans had a barrage down on us. As our attack must be at their objective anyway by now, we felt pretty 1ucky to be able to stay in the shelter of the trench though it was news to me to find the Germans were using this same trench for night outpost duty. The man that handed it over to me said it was an unused trench in no man's land as he no doubt thought it was. Of course we always kept lookouts posted about twenty-five yards on either side of the gunpost as a precaution anyhow, but it would have been nice to have known.
Well we went down the trench and found two awfully miserable looking little Germans in a shelter dug into the side of the trench about a hundred yards from where we had our post. The officer who picked us up was on his first trip up the line. He had rum in his water bottle and had no extra mental capacity either. He carried a rifle besides his automatic pistol. The Germans had a blanket hanging over their shelter. He pulled it off and he and a couple of others put their bayonets about three inches from the Germans' faces and yelled, "Come out!" The poor Germans just laid there terrified and afraid to move. They couldn't with three bayonets up against their faces. I nearly laughed out loud seeing this officer with his pistol in one hand and the rifle in the other yelling come out. I finally said, "Give them a chance, sir. How can they come out without getting a bayonet stuck in their eyes?"
They stepped back a little and the Germans stood up. The officer said, "Search them." All they found was a stub of lead pencil on one and nothing whatever on the other. After a bit he said, "What will we do with them?" That was a bit of a problem alright as they weren't worth sending a man out with and they were obviously harmless. So I suggested sending them out by themselves as it wasn't over fifty yards to our line and someone would pick them up as they only wanted to be taken prisoner anyway. So that was what he did.
We continued along the trench and finally ran into the wall of a large brick building that was practically demolished. We were at the outskirts of the city and it looked like a dead end of the trench. By now I wondered if this was the trench he was supposed to mop up as there didn’t seem to be any point to it unless just to pick up the outposts he had in it. I asked him if was told to hold it and he didn't know. He thought he was just to mop it up. He decided he would go back to Battalion headquarters and report he had reached his objective and ask for further orders. Then a Sergeant that I didn't know was with us showed up. He said "You can't do that, sir. You can send a man but you can't go yourself. You have to stay with the men."
I was getting pretty nervous about the situation myself because we didn't know what was on our left past that wall. Only fifteen of us with a Lewis gun and rifles couldn't deal with much of a counter attack and there wasn't much support behind us. I wasn't sure if anyone knew where we were even, so I asked the sergeant what he thought. He agreed and said there weren't enough of us to do much good and he thought it better to go to our own front line considering it was so close. So the officer decided to go back and we started out.
The Lewis gun section was supposed to be at the end of the line to cover for the rest to get away in a case like this. Thus my No. 2 and I were last in the line. Just as we got within twenty-five yards of the place to jump out to go home I tripped on some loose wire in the bottom of the trench and fell down. I guess my No. 2 either tripped over me or on the same wire. As I jumped up I looked over my shoulder and the air was full of stick bombs (German hand grenades). One landed on my helmet and rolled to the ground. I made about two steps before it exploded. (They had a five-second fuse.) No. 2 wasn't up yet and when I glanced toward him he was unconscious or hit or something I had a chunk of shrapnel in my seat and a tiny piece had hit the end of my trigger finger which was bleeding profusely. I was awful mad. You're really not scared at this point but sort of berserk and you do things automatically. There was a communication trench leading to the German rear at this point. I jumped on to what seemed to be a firing step intending to infallade the attackers from there when I felt several bullets snap past my ears from the side towards the communication trench. There was a dugout about twenty feet away in it which I hadn't noticed. Two or three Germans were standing in it firing at me with rifles. They were so close they weren't aiming, I guess, but eight or ten bullets went by. I jumped off the firing step and fired a burst at them throwing the gun to my shoulder like a rifle - a stunt I had often tried to do on the range but wasn't strong enough to. It seemed as easy as if it was a twenty-two rifle that time. The blood was still dripping from my trigger finger and off the trigger guard of the gun. I must have looked like a madman which temporarily I was. I could hear the Germans cursing and yelling as they tumbled down the dugout stairs. (These dugouts were about ten feet underground).
I headed for home. Our front line was less than a hundred yards from this trench at this point. There was a shell hole about half way across that I had noticed coming over. I hoped to make it before the Germans got organized to shoot me as I was darn sure they were going to try to do. I dropped into the hole just as they got started. I as carrying the gun and spare parts bag together weighing about 45 pounds. I had left four magazines at the communication trench as they weighed perhaps twelve pounds more and were a bit unhandy to carry while running. I was surely going to have to run as there were bound to be some good shots working on me when I left that shell hole and some of them within fifty yards of me. I thought about staying in the shell hole until dark but it was only 10:00 a.m. on a sunny day in August. I had no breakfast yet and not much water in my bottle. Of course, I had my iron rations as we called them. These were biscuits made on the same recipe as soda biscuits I think. They were four inches long and three-quarters of an inch thick and awfully hard to bite but possible if you had fair teeth. Besides, my wound though not serious was hurting some and might become infected if not dressed before night. I decided to make the forty yard dash of my life with a 45 pound handicap. After I got my wind back I put the gun on my shoulder before I got up and hit the ground running. The bullets started coming but not close enough to snap like a rifle going by. I made it.
After I got my wind again I went to the stretcher-bearer and he dressed my wound. I asked him if it was worth going out with. He said, "It sure is. If you have any luck, you'll get to England with that." He couldn't have said anything that would make me feel any better than that. I don't remember eating but guess I must have. Pretty soon I was heading out as my hip was hurting some and I didn't to get too stiff to walk as it was one and a half miles to the clearing station.
There were five boys from my company in a bay of the trench there that was wider where the stretcher cases were being assembled waiting for stretchers I guess. I asked if any of them could walk with help and we could go out together. None of them thought they could walk that far as they all had thigh or leg wounds. One had a testicle shot off he said. I picked up a German rifle that was laying there and beaded out using the rifle for a cane or crutch when necessary.
When I was coming in the night before I had noticed a dead German corporal lying in the trench half buried in the mud with brand new field glasses slung in a case on a strap around his neck. As he was laying on his side I had to unbuckle the sling strap to get the glasses off of photos As I was going to a hospital run by the Americans I could get 400 francs for them at least. I was stony broke and that was a small fortune. It was the first and last time I ever bothered collecting souvenirs. I must have worked for twenty minutes at that buckle and just about had it when a sniper's bullet knocked my helmet off and me into the dirt. I was only about 200 yards from where I was wounded and this trench was only about three feet deep as it had been shelled a lot. I never looked back. I just grabbed my helmet and German rifle and made the next fifty yards at
record speed for the shape I was in.
But I was berserk again. When I saw four Germans coming toward me carrying, an empty stretcher with a Red Cross sergeant in charge of them, I raised my German rifle over my head and would have clubbed the closest German had the sergeant not yelled at me and snapped me out of it. However, I cooled off and got back to normal and was alright after that. I never tried to take any more souvenirs as I came closer to getting killed there than I had all day.
I felt bad about Brownie, my No. 2 for awhile. My reason for trying to infallade the counter attacking Germans was to give Brown a chance to get out if he could. It was all I could do for him under the circumstances. But when they started firing on me from the dugout I had to give that up. Then I forgot about photos I guess he was just knocked out. He was taken prisoner and was in Canada before I was. He came from Montreal, I think.
Nothing else happened to me before I got to the clearing station except a gas shell landed close to me and I got a whiff or two of it before I got my mask on. There were so many smoke shells falling around that it was hard to smell the gas shells. Fritz knew it and sent over quite a few.
After arriving at the clearing station they gave me a bowl of soup and put me to bed on a mattress on the floor of a dugout until a doctor got time to look at me. I was asleep as soon as I hit the pillow. The doctor woke me up after awhile, checked my wound which didn't amount to much, and took my temperature which I guess was pretty high as he asked me if I had got any gas. I told him I had got a little. He said for me to consider myself a stretcher case and not to move a round under any circumstances. There was a hospital train coming in that afternoon and when I woke again they were carrying out the stretcher cases. I was laying back a bit out of sight. As nobody came around my way I was afraid they'd miss me and my temperature would go down and they'd decide I didn't need to go to the hospital as I was feeling okay. I thought my temperature was probably caused by what I"d been through that day. I got up and went to the train I was going on board I saw Frank Morrisey, my old teacher, lying on a stretcher. I think he was dead or they would have had him on the train. I heard later that he was listed killed that day. When I got to the car door an orderly looked at the ticket hanging on me and said, "What are you doing here? You 're supposed to be a stretcher case." I said, "I thought you were going to miss me as I wasn’t in sight and I didn't want to miss the train." He took me in and showed me a bunk and said, "Stay there. Don't move around." That suited me fine now that I was here. The train pulled out soon after that and I'm quite sure they would have missed me.
We went through a fairly large town soon after we started. The street was full of civilians waving at us and looking very anxious. One young woman was holding a baby and the tears were running down her cheeks. She was saying something and waving an arm. They knew there was a battle on in Lens, as I suppose there were many trainloads of wounded going by. They were probably wondering if they would have to pull out themselves.
We got to the American hospital the next morning. I think my temperature had abated as they let me out of bed the third day after I got there. It was a canvas hospital by the way but they treated us very well. My nurse was a Miss Hoffman, I think. A Scotch pipe band gave us a concert a day or so later in full regalia. I asked her how she liked them as she hadn't seen any before. She said, "They were good, but look at the swank of the base drummer. He sure thinks he's something." He was swinging his sticks around his head between beats as they usually do. I had to agree with her as I had the same opinion. But they do make great marching music. I've marched behind them. The men could be plumb tired and just dragging themselves along and five minutes after the band started they'd be pepped up and singing.
The Germans bombed the hospital while I was there and killed one doctor and wounded two others of the staff but didn't hurt any of the patients. I had a rather strange experience there. I had just come from the line where I practically lived under shellfire, but when the bombs went here, I shook so badly I could hardly stand for about a half hour, I guess it was because I was relaxed after getting away from it for a few days. There was a young Jewish lad there that was quite amused with me. There was some kind of a French factory within a quarter mile from us that I suppose the Germans were supposed to bomb.
I might add here that the five boys I left waiting for a stretcher when I came out were all killed by a shell about twenty minutes after I left. I was told this when I came back from the hospital. When I was coming out I forgot to say I saw about a hundred Canadians piled up on stretchers waiting to be taken out for burial. They might have been there a few days, some of them anyhow, as the whole Canadian Corps was around there. The Lens battle was the most exciting day of my life because four times I escaped death by a hair's breadth. I was also mentioned in dispatches. I was in the hospital for one week, in convalescence for one week, and in base camp for one week. Then I was sent back up the line again. I didn't get to England but the rest did my nerves a lot of good.
When I came back the battalion had moved to Paschendale. As we were what they called shock troops, our job was going over the top making an attack, coming out right away, and reorganizing for another attack. It was supposed to be what we called a suicide outfit but I don't think it was any worse than holding the line afterwards while the Germans tried to shell you out. When you are used to it and are trained to follow your artillery barrage instead of running into it as many did the first time over, you're at your objective in a matter of minutes before the enemy guns get working and often before his troups get out of their dugouts.
Anyway that's what they were doing at Paschendale. They had just taken a position called Hill 60 or 70, I think. It was in or close to the Ypres Salient. It was eight or ten miles wide and fifteen or twenty miles deep. General Haig had made it trying to get to the coast and lacked about twenty miles of getting there. But he insisted on holding what he had. It was about eighty or a hundred miles of extra front to man and narrow enough that it could be shelled from both sides which made it a real death trap to hold. There was a road of sorts up the centre of it with dead horses and mules on both sides of it stinking to high heaven. About this time General Foch, a Frenchman, got command of the Allied forces and abandoned this Salient after using it to make the Germans think he was going to launch his offensive from there instead of from the Amiens front. -
For the next month or two I don't think we did much except hold the line. When in support line, we kept the Lewis guns on anti-aircraft duty as we were trying to protect the observation balloons from German aircraft. It seems they sent fighter planes over to shoot down balloons when they had nothing else for them to do, or maybe to break in new pilots as the balloons couldn't shoot back. They didn't seem to have much anti-aircraft gun protection either except machine-gun fire. Each balloon had two observers in it. Whenever they saw a German plane coming the would jump out and the balloon crew started to sindlass down the balloon. As it took three to five minutes to get it down, the Germans managed to get quite a few of them. I saw one plane shoot down four in one raid. The balloons seemed to be about one to two miles apart. I never saw a pilot shoot at the men coming down in parachutes though sometimes they flew right by them. 0ne day a pilot flew by close enough that we should have got him as there were two of us firing on him with a tracer bullet every fifth round. We could see them going between the wings and knew some must be striking the plane but nothing happened. One of the observers landed close by. As he had passed the plane pretty close we asked him why we couldn't hit the plane. He said the bullets were rattling off it like hailstones. The plane had bullet proof armour on it. This was a new development as armour was supposed to be too heavy for fighter planes as it slowed them too much.
One time we were in reserve and there were quite a few cumulus clouds floating around in the sky. Presently I heard a lot of machinegun fire in the sky. We were resting after a night working party. I came out of the dugout to see the air battle. The fighter planes those days were just about like the light planes we have nowadays only they were open. The pilot had a Lewis gun on a swivel to fight with. There were seven planes playing around chasing each other among the clouds. I couldn't see who had the extra one but they were all having fun. They kept it up for about half an hour. Then I suppose their gas got low or they were running out of ammunition for they just suddenly broke it off and all went home. I went back to bed, but what a nice way to fight a war!
But we were taking it pretty easy too by times I remember one time we went up the line and held it for a week and never fired a shot in anger. The only time we did any shooting was one evening we were sitting around and suddenly rifle fire broke out in the German line. We jumped up to see what was happening. My section was on outpost duty in a trench about fifty yards ahead of our front line at the time. No man's land was about 300 yards wide here. We saw a Belgian hare about the size of our jack rabbits loping along down the middle of no man’s land. The Germans were shooting at him and not hitting photos One of my section said, "Lord, what marksmen!" He tried his luck and did no better. Then they all tried it. I didn't have a rifle and didn't think it would be fair to the rabbit to use the Lewis gun and probably miss him too. Three or four of us missed photos Then he was too far away loping along quite easily. I don't think he knew what all the noise was about even. Some army, eh!
One night we were coming out of the line dragging ourselves along only about half awake when the whole area for a quarter of a mile was lit up. The ground was almost trembling. I thought a mine had exploded. Everyone as far as I could see hit the ground, when wdiscovered it was a fifteen-inch howitser firing. It wasn't there when we wentin so we weren't expecting it. What an army!
My parents had been trying to get me sent out to the base all summer. I was willing to go as I had had enough war to last me the rest of my life. The colonel called me up to the orderly room and asked me if I was underage. I told him I was so he sent to Canada for my birth certificate. About a month later I was sent to base until March 1918. I was there between four and five months I think. When I enlisted I told the recruiting sergeant I wasn't going to swear i was not underage. He said that was okay. They'd fix it up for me and they did.
At the base there were close to a hundred of us in the boys' battalion as they called us. They gave us P.T. and sports. Boxing, Iremember, was one sport they favoured. I suppose they didn't wantus to lose the fighting spirit. They'd take us to ahut they used for gym and line us up in two ranks. They'd tell the front one to about turn which left us facing each other. Then they told us to fight the man facing us. I forget whether we fought one round or three but it didn't seem too popular among the boys for it only lasted about a month.
I got a two week pass in January and went to London for a week to visit my aunt who was doing war work of some kind - maybe still in the munitions factory. She was now boarding with a train engineer and his wife. I used to go out sightseeing every day and he would ask where I'd been. When I told him he'd say, "I've never been there." After three or four days he said, "You have seen more of London than I have and I've lived here all my life."
I went to Ireland the second week and spent three days in Dublin and three in Belfast. In Dublin I ran onto a man in his fifties, I'd say, who offered to show me the city for fifty cents a day. I took him up on it and he really did show me around. We travelled by bus and on foot and I was well satisfied. There was no rationing in Ireland and no blackouts at night.
Then I went up to Belfast for a day and on north to Omah in Tyrone. That was where one of my grandfathers came from. My aunt in London had lived there for awhile before she went to London. She gave me the address of some folks she had stayed with while there. I forget their names now but the son had a barber shop in Omah and his parents lived with photos He may have had a wife there too. I forget now. The father was an old man in his sixties, I'd say. They had quite a large frame house and a large kitchen. I don't think it was built of lumber probably the first house. It must have been thirty feet square but it had just the earth for a floor. It was as hard as lumber to walk on. The house had a fireplace about six feet wide and at least five feet high where they did all their cooking. It had two or three hooks hanging down to hang pots, etc. on.
I also saw my first peat bog where they cut turf for fuel. The best roads were gravel but most of them were clay. The soil is quite shallow so they were mostly fairly good to travel on. Of course, there was no automotive traffic at that time (1917). I was back there in 1981. There were paved roads all over, though narrow ones I'll admit, that is in the Irish republic but I suppose it's the same in the north now.
The old man at the place I stayed claimed he remembered my grandfather whose parents were pretty well fixed land owners. They were driven out of the country by the British and all their property confiscated. Grandpa was driven out for shooting a hare. There was a couple of old ruined stone buildings that he said were the house and gate house and that there used to be a tunnel between them. He said he was just a boy at the time and he didn't remember much about it. I think it was seven miles to the place. We went by pony and jaunting car. One sat on a seat on the side of it and let your feet hang down. They had them in 1981 but there were sides on them with the seats inside. These were for tourists though at about $3.00 an hour.
I went back to the battalion in the latter part of March as my birthday was on the 3rd. I found them out of the line. They said they had been in the line only three or four times all winter and had only six casualties wounded by shell fire. We had a busy enough summer though, going over the top a few times in the spring but not meeting much resistance and often finding the place deserted when we got there. We had very good artillery support most of the time. The main trouble was to keep the new men, quite a few of whom were French Canadians, from running into our own barrage instead of waiting for it to lift - a wait of two or three minutes.
One time I had three in my section, two of whom panicked and tried to run through it, the same as I did the first time over. Now the barrages were much more deadly. We used to say a mouse couldn't get through them. I tried to hold them by main force but one got away and we never saw him again. The others I covered with my revolver and practically terrified them into staying with me. They both came through as there wasn't any opposition to speak of when we got there. The Germans we came in contact with at this time seemed to realize they couldn't win and there was no point in getting themselves killed. Many seemed to be boys and army misfits in some way. Their machine guns and artillery were deadly enough but they didn't like hand-to-hand fighting and neither did we. We never did any bayonet fighting in our outfit that I know of. The bayonets could be used to open tin cans occasionally but they weren't much good for that either.
I forget the sequence of battles that summer of 1918. I think the Germans tried to launch an offensive and were turned back and we took Lens and Arras. I missed the Battle of Arras. I think this saved my life because the man who took my place was killed. It happened in this way.
Two weeks before I was supposed to go out for two-week Lewis gun instructor's course. The Lewis gun Sergeant asked me if I’d trade in my turn with another guy who had a two-week leave to England coming at the end of his course and who didn't want to come back to the battalion before he went. I said okay as I didn't care when I went. We were billeted in the French Maginot Line, a line the French had built between France and Germany to protect themselves. It was supposed to be impregnable so the Germans went around it and attacked through Belgium. We were preparing to attack Arras in the morning when the sergeant came along and told me I was to leave for my course that night. I was really relieved as I had a hunch I was going to have bad trouble at Arras for some reason.
When I came back from the course we soon went towards Amiens travelling by night and sleeping by day for secrecy. General Foch sent a few Canadians to Ypres by bus in daylight while he moved the rest of us to the Amiens front by night. He wanted to make the Germans think he was launching his offensive from Ypres. It worked because when we started the Amiens offensive there were very few Germans there as they had gone to the Ypres front.
I don't know how many miles it is from Arras to Amiens but it took us several days to get there. We travelled by train one night at least but marched most of the way. We marched by day towards the last through an area that showed no signs of war. The people weren't used to seeing foreign soldiers especially Canadians. A corporal and I went to a town one night one and a half miles away and went into a place that had a sign saying Champagne. It seemed to be a farm house that had a public bar in it as many do in France. There was a middle-aged woman with a little five-year old girl playing around in the room. We ordered two bottles of champagne and asked her how much it was. She said three francs (60 cents). It was good champagne, the same as we were used of paying ten and fifteen francs for. We said something about it being cheap
enough and she said that's what it was as long as she could remember. It was plain to see she wasn't used to having foreign soldiers around. The French soldiers got the equivalent of three cents a day while we got $1.10. We drank seven bottles in about two hours and had one and a half miles to walk home.
Of course, neither of us remember getting there. The remarkable thing was at that point which was probably ten or twenty miles behind the line a new defense line had been built in case the Germans tried to break through some years before. It had a modern barb wire entanglement system in front of it that had never been used. There were four lines of wire entanglements with about three foot wide openings to walk through offset about twenty yards apart to make it tough to get through in a hurry and not very easy to see. It took us about twenty minutes or half an hour to negotiate them going up town in daylight. We had got separated coming home and were each on our own in the dark. Of course, we drank champagne until sunset and were too tight to know anything anyhow. I came through that wire somehow without knowing anything about it. I remember getting a heck of a tumble once and I guess that was when I came to the trench. It was about four feet deep and four feet wide. I got into the billet about 10:00 p.m. I remember my bedmate helping me to get my puttees off as I couldn't seem to roll them properly. I guess the corporal must have gone asleep somewhere as he didn't get in until nearly morning. I woke up with a clear head strangely to say and went on parade. By afternoon things thickened up on me and I was almost tight again, but we had the afternoon off so it didn't matter.
I met the military police sergeant that evening and he asked me how I was feeling today. I said, "O.K. Why?"
"You were sure feeling good last night," he said.
I said, "What do you mean? I never saw you last night at all.t'
He said, "Oh, yes, you did. You came by my office and I asked you how you were and you said, 'Just fine. And if you'll bring your boys out here, I'll work them over for you, one at a time.
"Go on," I said. "You're kidding. That's the last thing I'd ever say to a policeman, you know that."
"So you don't believe me," he said.
"I sure don't," I said and left photos But I got thinking about it after and it finally came back to me. I guess it might not have been quite dark when I got back to camp as I guess it was in August that it happened. I remembered seeing the sergeant when I thought about it.
The five-year-old kid at the pub was pestering us for a sip of champagne and I finally asked her mother if I should give her some. She said, "Yes, if she wants it." So I gave her some whenever she asked for it. Pretty soon she was rolling around on the floor getting up and falling down, laughing and having a great time. The mother and us were laughing at her. She finally went to sleep. It was the only time I ever saw a drunken five-year old.
One day while we were marching we came by a farmer's place. He was watering his stock at a pump and as our water bottles were getting low, we though it would be a good chance to fill them. The farmer had no objection, but soon a fairly young woman came out of the house and started berating us for taking their water. She said that the British were very undesirable people as they had treated the people in this area very badly when they were fighting the French - I guess in the last century or something. I couldn't understand her properly as my French was very limited, but we had a Frenchman in the outfit who had come from this area. He went after her telling her off in her own language. When he told her he came from around there she told him he was a beaucoup brigand to be with those people. He said, "Those people are protecting you now, etc." I don't think she knew the circumstances of this war at all. Anyhow we got our water bottles filled while this was going on. There was just a battalion of us in this group. and none of our officers showed up. I guess they didn't pay much attention to it at all. They probably thought it was just a friendly conversation as we never stopped filling our bottles as it was going on.
We finally got to a little town where we stayed two or three dayi before we started up the line for the final drive that ended the war to end all wars as the patriotic orators say. One rather amusing incident happened while we were there. One resident had a brand new foot-propelled grindstone. These grindstones did all heavy grinding work such as is now done by high speed emery stones on farms at any rate. They were twenty to twenty-four inches in diameter by two and a half to three inches thick with a square hole in the centre where a shaft went through. It had little cranks on each end from which light rods or heavy wire connected them to foot pedals fastened to the legs of the horse or bench on which they were mounted. There was a water container under the bottom half of stone as it had to be wet all the time to keep the stone clean and make it cut better. The common ones were turned by hand crank and required an extra helper who had a pail of water and dipper and poured it on about every two or three minutes with one hand and cranked with the other. The biggest grinding job on farms were mower and binder sickles. Axes were pretty bad too. It was a perfect way to keep a kid out of mischief or from having fun. Wives were often used also to good advantage as hired men would cost a dollar a day and board and should be kept on a fork handle or something most of the time.
But the above incident was caused by an ambitious young lieutenant who saw this machine and asked the owner if he could use it a little while. As we were getting ready to go the owner said yes. The lieutenant had his men bring their bayonets to him to sharpen. I didn't have one as I was the gun operator. The lieutenant had probably never seen a grindstone before and was just sharpening the points of the bayonets. He held them still instead of moving them back and forth across the stone to keep them from wearing a groove in the face of it. He soon had a groove half an inch deep cut in the centre ruining the new stone for sharpening any kind of a flat blade without getting it cut down which was a big job in those days. The bayonets were only used for ceremonial drill and making a man look tough going over the top. No one would use a bayonet with a magazine rifle in the kind of warfare we had even then. I know we never had any use for them in the two years I was there at any rate. The civilian made the Officers' Mess put up twenty dollars for a new stone and I'm afraid the Lieutenant didn't get any merit marks for it either.
The next day we made final preparations and started up the 1ine.We knew this was the final drive and expected extra heavy casualties. Nobody was very cheerful, believe me. The tank corp was coming with us which was a new wrinkle as we had never worked with them before. The idea was for them to go ahead about seven miles to the second German defense line and harass reinforcements coming up. They called for two Lewis gunners from each section to volunteer for the job as reinforcement to their regular crew. Our colonel wouldn't allow any of his No. 1 and 2 men to go as he figured he needed them himself but strange to say they had no trouble getting volunteers. I was a bit surprised but they didn't tell us their plan of going ahead of us. It sure looked like a suicide mission on the face of it. They were supposed to hold that line and occupy it if possible. The first Division was in the lead. They were supposed to take the German front line and supports if they could. Then we, the Fourth Division would go through them to the second line of defense which was the one the tanks were sent to and hold it while the First Division went through us again if necessary. But there were only a handful of Germans there and they pulled out as soon as our barrage started. I guess our artillery was almost wheel to wheel when we went through them coming up and none of them firing as the Germans were already gone. Foch's ruse had worked perfectly. We just walked that seven miles without firing a shot. I only saw one dead man all day. He was a First Division sergeant. We captured a German sourkraut factory with tons of sourkraut in it and just went by it. I think we stayed there for a day or so to let our artillery and supplies get up and establish themselves there.
It must have been a long way from where we started to Amiens as we were two or three weeks getting there. We the Fourth Division, had a few skirmishes and so did the First Division. The Germans were destroying bridges making it hard for our supplies and artillery to keep up so we lived on the land as they say quite a bit. We'd stop every day just before sunset by a vegetable garden and the kitchen would move into it and cook turnips, carrots, and cabbage mostly. It filled you up well enough but it didn't stay with you marching in battle order and it was only once a day. It seems we always had bacon for breakfast and bread most of the time, I think.
The tanks had romped up to this position in high and hadn't seen any Germans either, much to the relief of the volunteers who had just had a tank ride out of it. When we left the next day, the First Division was in the lead. I don't think they met any Germans. We went through them at dawn and almost immediately encountered heavy machine gun fire. We knew the picnic was over. We took cover in trenches here and wired Brigade Headquarters for artillery support. After waiting five hours, they told us we'd have to go without artillery as there was none near enough to get here. It was a thousand yards to where the Germans were. It seemed as if they only had two or three four-inch guns but a very heavy supply of machine guns. We kept going though getting quite a few casualties. When we got within about three hundred yards of them they pulled out. I couldn't figure that out because with the number of machine guns they seemed to have we should have been practically annihilated. It turned out they were armed with Luger automatic pistols instead of heavy machine guns. They were extra heavy pistols something like a modern Tommy gun equipped with removable stocks with an effective range of about three hundred yards. Practically every man had one. They should have pretty well cleaned us up if they'd held their fire until we got within four hundred yards of them; but perhaps they used up their ammunition before we were within effective range. Besides when our boys got within four hundred yards of them they started to yell like a bunch of savages - so glad to find themselves still alive I guess. I don't think we had many killed but quite a few were wounded - my No. 2 for one who said, "I've got a blighty but the bullet didn't go through." He was quite pleased about it. We were about five hundred yards from the German line then. I was again mentioned in despatches here.
While I was waiting in a trench to find cut if the artillery was coming, there was a German four-inch gun throwing shells right over me and close to the ground. After a while I thought I'd see what he was firing at. There was an old fellow I knew leading a pack horse or mule, I couldn't say which, about three hundred yards back. It was loaded with two Lewis guns in boxes slung one on each side and two or three1 ammunition boxes and some other stuff, I couldn't tell what. That was what the gun was firing at. He missed him with that shot but he made a direct hit the next one. The horse, man, and load went up in the air in what looked like small pieces from there and all mixed up. It was the first time I'd ever seen a direct hit like that and the result was amazing.
The second-in-command of the 50th was an old English army veteran who resembled the man on the label of Johnny Walker whiskey bottles - a very popular brand at that time though I don't think I've seen it in the last ten years or so. Some of the boys referred to him as Major Brandydrops. He was a heavy drinker and a Boer War veteran - a strict ceremonial drill officer but not much of a tactician expert. One time the Colonel was away for a few days and we were ordered up the line. When we got up to where we could see two German field guns firing on us about a quarter of a mile away, he put us in artillery formation. What was called artillery formation was to take the four sections which comprised a platoon and put them each in single file with the men all behind each other in a diamond formation twenty five yards apart each way supposedly making a more difficult target. We were just formed up when the Germans started shelling us again. I was in the section at the front point of the diamond. He took his first shot at the left hand section and killed or wounded every man in it. Then he took his next shot at the section I was in and hit about ten feet in front of us. The shell didn't explode which was the third time that had happened to me as three overhead shrapnel shells had plunked into the trench beside me in Lens. By this time I was quite confident I was coming through the war though I had been very doubtful about it on several occasions believe me. A few times I'd have gladly traded an arm or leg to get out of it. I think the Germans pulled out that last time right after firing on us, or perhaps that gun was by itself. As it was getting late in the day, nothing more happened anyhow. The colonel was awful mad at Brandydrops for taking us in column formation up to a gun that was in plain sight.
One day we were going up the line when we discovered that two or three of us had forgotten to stock up on cigarettes. While talking about it one lad said, "I got an unopened can of fifty and if anything happens to me you fellows are welcome to them." We were billeted in a narrow draw about forty yards wide with sides about eight to ten feet high with dugouts on both sides of it. We were in support to the First Division I think who were in the line but actually I'm not sure now what we were doing. At any rate our cigarettes ran out. We were under pretty heavy shell fire occasionally. Someone thought of the lad with the can in his pack. He had been killed by shellfire that morning about ten yards from the entrance to our dugout. I went out to get the cigarettes. I was on my hands and knees and had just got the cigarettes out of his pack when a six-inch shell exploded on top of the bank. It was too far above me for me to get hit with shrapnel from it but it was directly in front of me about twenty feet away. I got the concussion from it. My tin helmet saved my life but it felt as if someone had hit it with a heavy sledge. I came to standing inside the entrance of an empty dugout on the other side of the draw about twenty yards from where I was kneeling. I must have got up and run across that draw while unconscious& It seems to me I had the cigarettes in my hand yet as I don't remember picking them up when I went back to our dugout but my ears were ringing. Though they heard the shell land they never looked out or thought about me, so I guess I couldn't have been very long. Anyway we could smoke again.
I think it was shortly after this that we were moved along the line in a hurry to stop a counter-attack. We were put where the counterattack was supposed to come and stayed there over night. In the morning the Colonel came up to the front line. It was the only time I ever saw him in the front line. Just then I noticed some Germans moving along in battle formation about half a mile away on the right. I drew his attention to them. He said, "That's them. We've got to get over there right away. This area seemed to be all trenches and deep ones, too. I said; "How do
we get there as it's easy to get lost moving around in a network of trenches."
He said, "I'll send up a guide," and he was off to company headquarters. Soon a guide showed up at the head of a bunch of men and told us to fall in behind them. When moving through those kind of trenches it's important to keep an unbroken line so you won't miss a place to turn into another trench. I guess that's what happened. All were moving fast and someone got too far behind to see where the ones ahead turned off. We finally wound up at headquarters. The Adjutant came out and asked us what we were doing there. Someone said, "We got lost." Then he told us that our comrades needed us up there. Someone said, "Give us another guide." He said there was no one here, so we just stayed there - about half the company, I guess, probably twenty or twenty-five men.
They turned the counter-attack without us. They said a Sergeant Jackson who was in charge of the rifle grenade section just about did it alone. The Germans were coming in small groups while the others covered them with rifle fire. The sergeant dropped rifle grenades on the ones that were advancing and could just about get a group with every grenade. They were stopped a hundred yards from our line and went back.
I think it was about that time we held a piece of the line that was in an area where the Germans were counter-attacking. Though they didn't come where we were, we didn't get our water and rations up and went forty-eight hours without. I didn't miss the rations nearly as much as the water. It was August, 1918. I remember somebody brought us a jug of rum but we couldn't use it because we were so thirsty. We were relieved that night by French troops - the only time I saw French troops during the war. The lads that relieved my section were little more than boys. The corporal must have been just about my age. When I showed them the jug of rum they were tickled pink. When we got back to their kitchen line they had barrels of coffee ready for us - good coffee too. I heard one of them telling another we looked very well for men who had turned back three counter-attacks in the last two days. I didn't undeceive them as I guess the Canadian corps likely had and we were part of the Canadians, weren't we?
Another couple of incidents have occurred to me that happened during the summer that I forgot before. We had an old guy in the outfit whose name was Jim Ward. He was of Irish extraction and sure liked booze. Up in the line one day he was standing up on the fire step looking over the parapet when a German sniper took a shot at him and missed. One of us who was in the trench with him said, "For God's sake, get down, Jphotos You're liable to get killed."
"I always give them two shots before I duck," he said. The next shot hit him right between the eyes. He used to sing "I'm Whisky Jim from Windy Hill, I never worked and I never will," when he was tight."
We had another lad whose name was Smith; a young man who was married. While standing on the fire step he was hit with a mushroom bullet in the back. I think he was just coming down off the fire step. When it came out it tore a big hole in his chest letting his heart come out and hang down in front of photos He put his hand under it and walked a few paces to the stretcher bearer who was also in the trench. He asked him if he could do anything for this. "I'm afraid not, Smitty," he said. Smith said, "I didn't think you could. The S.O.B. has killed me," and he sat down and died. I didn't see this but the Red Cross man told me. I was well acquainted with both of them so I know it was true.
There was another lad shaving with one of the army straight-blade razors behind the line when a six-inch shell landed fairly close and startled him so bad that he cut his throat with it. The first-aid men couldn't stop the bleeding and he bled to death.
I think it was about this time the Germans gave up and started to retire in an orderly manner keeping a rear guard to protect their main force and taking any measures they could to delay our supply line and artillery. I guess land mines hadn't been perfected at that time as there were no road mines where we were. We moved in columns, four abreast, most of the time with motor cyclists scouting ahead. We also had observation planes by this time. If we came close enough we extended into battle order. This was usually about sunset. We dug individual foxholes, simply digging about six inches to a foot deep and throwing the dirt in front of us for a parapet. We spread our rubber sheet on the bottom and our blanket and greatcoat over us and we were set for the night. If the Germans were feeling ornery, they kept sniping at us from buildings. They usually stopped in some little town, set up a machine gun or two and a few snipers in the upper stories of houses. The kitchen was always with us thank goodness, hauled by a team of horses or mules. If the country was open enough, we could see the German transport moving along about three miles ahead or, I should say, their dust. The towns we went through at first were abandoned but not destroyed. They were usually looted, I guess, as there was nothing left behind of any value. Every morning we'd advance in battle formation until past the town. Then we'd form columns and march on roads all day.
One evening I remember it was raining and instead of putting the rubber sheet under me when I made my bed, I put it on top to turn the rain and tucked the sides in under me. When I awoke in the morning I was laying in about an inch of water which was lukewarm and had never awakened. My clothes and wool blanket were fairly dry. It stopped raining soon after and by night everything was quite dry again even though the blanket was inside my pack bag. Of course,.it was only wet on the edges where it laid in the water. They kept us wearing woolen underwear nearly all summer if we were sleeping out in our clothes. I suppose that's why I never felt cold.
Another night they woke us up just after we'd gone asleep and moved us around. Apparently we were headed the wrong way or something. We had to dig in again. It was drizzling rain this time and pitch dark. I was peeved about having to dig in the dark again so I didn't make much of a hole. I found I was beside a nice flat stone that I used for one side and went to bed. It had stopped raining again. When dawn came I investigated the flat stone when I was packing up. It had an inscription on it which had a man's name and dated 1764 and had fallen down. One gets some unusual bedfellows occasionally, doesn't one? I was in an old cemetery.
One night we came to a town that apparently was evacuated just a day or so before. We thought we had been greeted with a burst of machine gun fire when we stopped but hadn't heard anything since. It was a nice moonlight night so six of us went in to look it over. I don't know
whether we were sent or were on our own - probably the former as it seems to me we had a corporal along. We happened to visit the town office first and were a bit surprised to find everything neat and tidy as if the occupants had just left except the drawers and filing cabinets were all empty. The cabinets were all wood, of course, and perhaps a hundred years old. I suppose the Germans were using it for an orderly room or something but left it in good shape anyhow. We looked around a little and found where a machine gun had been mounted at the side of the road through town leaving about a hundred empty cartridges where they had been ejected from the gun. I suppose they must have been fired at us or our motor cycle patrol or something but they were all gone.
We came to a health resort where there was a large swimming pool with a large facility building beside it. There was a sign across the front of it saying Ice Cold Swimming Pool. I didn't see any of our boys taking advantage of it though it was full of water. The sign was in English so I guess it must have been a tourist attraction. We had crossed a canal (the Canal Du Nord, I think) before we got to where a battle had been fought about the day before. There were quite a few dead men in kilts from our 87th battalion from Montreal. (At least that is where they were discharged as I came home with them. I wanted to visit some relatives in Montreal and near Ottawa, Ontario.) It seems to me we rested a day or two at that spa. We were still working with the First Division. I think the 87th was in the Second iivision butl don't remember now.
We kept on following up on the Germans. After awhile we came in contact with occupied towns where we received a great welcome by the civilians. I remember we heard the people cheering for half a day before we got to the first one. I'm not sure about the name of it but I think it was Denain, population 5000 they said. Luckily it was our objective for that night. The following battalion went through us and went ahead. I think it was between three and four o'clock in the afternoon when we entered the town. The old people, mostly women, were leaping and yelling on the sidewalks. The houses had tricolor flags in just about every window. Where they could have had them hidden for the past four years, I don't know but there were hundreds of them.
Our band started to play the Marseilles and the street really filled up. We had to halt for an hour or so. Then they started giving us coffee. It seemed to be all they had in the way of foodstuff. I asked them where they got it and they said Red Cross but they had lots of that. I asked one of the men how the Germans treated them. He said, "Just like slaves." When they left that morning we were out watching them go. One woman who was holding a baby said something she didn't like to one. He grabbed the baby from her, hit it with his rifle, killed it, stuck it up on a fence post and went on. I guess I should mention that all the girls and women from fourteen years up were carrying babes in their arms. I had coffee with a fourteen year old one I'm sure wasn't full grown yet and asked her how old she was.
I had been taking the atrocity stories we used to hear with a grain of salt but some of them I guess were true. But I also talked to a German lad that worked on my threshing outfit in the hungry thirties and who had lived in a German town occupied by the British after the war. They had garrisoned it with Gurkas or Sykes from Nepal in Asia. They used to wait for the people coming out of church, seize a bunch of young girls, and take them to their barracks on Sundays. They could do nothing about it so I guess atrocities are only human nature after all, God help us.
When the kitchen orderlies brought our rations around we gave most of them to the civies as we were pretty full of coffee. Did they go after the white bread, margerine and jam which was about all we had plenty of at that time. Well we slept all over town that night though most of us stayed up all night dancing and drinking French beer which was only about 3% as their main drink is wine. At that time I didn't dance or drink beer. I and another kid got a nice double bed with sheets on it and went to bed about 12:00 p.m. We pulled out in the morning, relieved the outfit that relieved us and slept in foxholes. We slept in a barn the next night but it had lots of straw in it.
Soon after this we came to another occupied town which had a briquette factory in it. There might have been a coal mine also. Four of us were billeted in a good-sized house with only a young man and his wife living in it. We had a Blood Indian chief, Nick King, with us. He was big, around forty, weather beaten, and rather formidable looking to a stranger, I guess. He and I were going upstairs to the room that was allotted to us. The woman and her husband were standing by the upper stair rail. She had an almost terror-stricken look on her face. She said, 'Ahh! Est-il un sauvage?"
I said, "Oui, il est un sauvage Canadien, un ami de moi."
"N'a-t-il pas dangereux?" she asked.
"Oui, pour le Boche," I replied. Then she relaxed finally. I was glad as she looked about seven or eight months pregnant and really looked shook up. When I told old Nick about it he laughed and said, "I'm sorry," laughed a little more and said, "Crazy woman." There was a space between one side of the stairway and the wall at its upper landing. It had a thick straw mattress and bedding on it. I wondered who slept there but I never mentioned it. I asked the man who long he'd been there. He said, "I was born here. I got married just two years ago. Then the Boche came. An officer moved in here, took my bed and made me sleep here beside the stairs. He slept with my wife for two years. She's going to have his baby but we couldn't help it. We hate the Boche. Some day if I ever see him I'll kill photos!'.
Regarding Nick, he was a bit of a character. He was very patient but when aroused could be very tough. We had an egoistic little sergeant who had very recently got his third stripe. Nick being a lone Indian was bullied by the sergeant regarding hut..chores like carrying wood, sweeping the floor, getting in water, etc. Nick never objected to doing his share but refused to be discriminated against. No one blamed him for that. One night he was playing cards with some. of the boys. The sergeant said, "Nick, put some wood in the stove." Nick continued playing out his hand. "Come on you old so and so. Move when I speak to you," said the sergeant.
Nick said, "Oh, shut up for a minute. I'm busy."
The sergeant started calling him names. Nick got mad, picked the sergeant up (He was an undersized runt anyhow and disliked by e.veryone.), opened the heater door, and started to force the sergeant into it. The boys thought he was going to do it. They pulled the sergeant away from photos The sergeant said, "You'll be up before the major in the morning." Someone said, "Don't expect any of us to testify against him as you surely had it coming." I wasn't in the hut at the time, but the sergeant never reported it. Sometime later I asked Nick if he would have put the sergeant in the stove. He said, "Dunno, maybe. Not much room." This stove was fed from the top and the lid was not too big.
I think the next event worth mentioning was the Battle of Amiens. I remember it quite well as it was the last one though we didn't know that for sure at the time. We moved into the jumping-off place during -the night. We were in support again and had lots of artillery. It was the heaviest bombardment I ever heard. The ground was actually vibrating just from the noise. Being in support we didn't move out until it was over. I don't know who was in front of us but apparently they didn't have much trouble as I didn't see any dead and we were close behind. I beard there were Prussian Guards there. They wouldn't throw down their guns at first though they surrendered. I guess they wanted to carry them back to Germany but they finally did without hurting anybody. They were the Kaiser 's pet regiment and were supposed to be the best in the world before the war. We went past a small town before we came to Amiens proper I think, or it might have been a suburb.
I know I and a stretcher bearer were resting on the side of a shell hole once when a sniper took a shot at us. The bullet thunked against my elbow which was resting on the ground beside me. I could feel it going down my forearm to my wrist just as plain as could be., I lifted my hand expecting to see the blood pouring out, but there wasn't any. The stretcher bearer who had already grabbed my elbow said, "That was close! It knocked the skin off your elbow." I guess I was lucky not to have my arm smashed up then for that was our last day in action.
Though we never encountered any Germans that day, they shelled us some. I got some tear gas in my eyes. I guess we got into town that night because I slept in a bunk. When I awoke in the morning I was stone blind from the tear gas until evening when I could see a little. I was okay the next morning again. We stayed there the next day or two. Then we moved into a large barracks where we were on Armistice Day.
There are a couple of incidents I should mention before I close I guess. One day in 1918 General Currie gave us a speech when the German's last attempt to break through was on. He said he had just had an interview with Foch in which he told him that if the Germans ever broke through the Canadian lines it would be over the dead bodies of every man in the Canadian Corps. We were sitting on the ground on a side hill. Currie was sitting in the back seat of a Model T Ford touring car. There was hardly a foot to spare in the seat either by the way. When he stopped to let it soak into us or for breath or something, a voice from the crowd said, "I know one Canadian whose dead body they will never have to walk over." It was the end of the speech but he was probably done anyhow.
Another time just a few days before the end while we were following the Germans we came to quite a large place. It might have been Valenciens. It had an open place that looked like it was a sports ground. It must have been two hundred yards square and almost level. There was a stone wall about five feet high and a grove of high trees behind it. Two German machine guns were behind the wall. We stopped on the opposite side of the field from the guns for the night. There were buildings on our side of it. A couple of our runners tried to cross it for some reason. The Germans let them get about to the centre of it and then cut them down. In the morning they fired a burst or so to let us know they hadn't gone yet. When our Lieutenant came along soon after he said, "Let's go over there."
I said, "The guns are still there and we couldn't get half way." They had a perfect field of fire.
"We'll try it anyway," said the lieutenant. He started to line up the platoon. When he got five men and himself out, they opened up, killed one and wounded all the rest including photos He wasn't hurt bad though and called it off. He was just looking for a little glory I think before the war ended. I felt like shooting photos The Germans were gone an hour later and we had no opposition. Had he had his way, none of us would have been there for Armistice Day.
The day before Armistice Day, the brigade had a muster parade. We were badly cut up and as no reinforcements were available, it was formed into a composite battalion. I remember looking at the men on parade. I though it was the skinniest bunch of men I had ever seen. We had been on short rations for about a month. The supply lines couldn't keep up with us as we had been moving so fast. The next morning, November 11th, we slept in as we had received no moving orders. About 11:30 am. orderlies came around and told us the war was over. Nobody said a word for quite awhile. Then a few cheered a bit feebly. I think most of us were kind of in shock or something. We were dog-tired and reaction was starting to set in which developed into relaxation. I doubt if we could have gone on much longer without a long rest. I remember looking toward headquarters building and seeing our flag flying with one of the newest fighter planes flying by it. That plane was supposed to have a speed of 140 miles an hour and synchronized machine guns. I don't think they ever got a chance to use it.
About three days after the Armistice, four of us came down with the flu. The doctor isolated us in the upper floor of the barracks. There were no beds in this barracks nor even mattresses. We did have enough blankets though but no medicine except something to ease coughing. On the fourth day we got orders to move into Overysche, Belgium. The doctor came around the night before and checked us over. He said, "You fellows aren’ t fit to move, but there is nowhere to put you. The civilian hospitals are all full and have no medicines either. We have just one horse ambulance that will only carry four men. We have to keep it available for emergency cases while en route. So you boys will have to march as far as you can. If you go off your feet we will pick you up and do the best we can for you."
It was a march of nine or ten miles. It was a. nightmare to me anyway. I was only semi-conscious all the way. I was staggering along bumping the guys on either side of me. The Lewis guns had been put on the transport wagons but I was given a rifle. I don't know why now. By and by the platoon officer took it and the sergeant took my pack. That's about all I recall of that trip. The strangest part of it was that after I got there and had supper, I started to get better. The next morning I was well. Maybe that was the way to treat that flu. I don't remember how the others made out but none of them died or I'd have heard about it. They were all strangers to me and we were too sick to get acquainted.
I think we marched to another town the next day. I remember I and another guy went out to find ourselves a civilian billet after supper as we were supposed to sleep on the floor in a store or public building of some kind. We met a middle-aged woman on the street and asked if she knew where we could find a bed. She said she didn't have an extra room but she showed us a house down the street a little way where she said she knew there was an extra bedroom and to try there. .We called at this house and said firmly that we were told she had an extra bed. She didn't seem to like the idea too well I could see. But she said she had and showed it to us. It looked to me like a beautiful bed. I realized right away why she was reluctant to let us into it as obviously we were decidely uncouth and almost sure to be lousy as we hadn't had our clothes off for a week. She only said, "Who told you to come here?"
"A woman," I said, "just down the street."
"Did she live in that house there?" She pointed to the house the first woman had gone into.
I said, "yes." From her manner I'm afraid that the other lady got a piece of her mind soon after.
From there I think we went to Overyshe Brabant province in Belgium and were there for eight months. We were billeted in one wing of a large convent. I think there were two other wings of it still being used as a school. There must have been around 300 girls going to school there. We were dissatisfied with our quarters as we thought now that the war was over we shouldn't have to sleep in blankets on the floor. The officers and N.C.O.’s all had billets with the civies in rooms with beds in them. We figured we would probably be here for months so we refused to go into the one allotted to us. The sergeant major said what we were doing was mutiny. We said we didn't care what it was. We wanted to see the Colonel (commanding officer).
"Well," the sergeant major said, "I'll get him but it won't do you any good because there is nowhere else available and you'll all be charged with mutiny."
But he got him and he looked the place over. He said he was terribly disappointed with us because we had an excellent record of service. It was too bad for him to have to charge us with mutiny and ruin our reputation. It was just getting dark so he couldn't see very well. We were in two ranks. I didn't see any N.C.O.’s close by. I was in the rear rank. He said, "Those who are dissatisfied, step out of the ranks."
If he could isolate a few, I knew they would be made the goats, so I said in a low voice, "Rear rank, one pace, step back, march. Front rank, one pace, forward, march" The rear rank all stepped back but only about half the front rank did. It was enough.
He said, "There are no other billets available here at present, but I'll see if I can get straw and paillasses for you tomorrow. But if you can't sleep in this building, I'm afraid you1ll have to sleep outside tonight."
We got straw the next day but I forget now if we got the paillasses or not. Wheat grows extra high in England and Europe - something like rye does here. However they thresh it, it has no chaff in it. It usually is big square building with the battlefield painted on the walls inside. If you stood in the centre of it the battlefield was all around you. The French cavalry was charging across a deep ditch or probably moat which was full of fallen men and horses with the cavalry riding right over them quite impressive looking. The monument was a large cairn, probably forty feet high, build of earth with cement steps going up one side of it with two British lions on top. The dirt of which this was built was carried by local peasants, mostly women, on their backs
There was another building, the Congo Belge Museum, on the same site, I think, which was quite interesting. It showed native fauna and animals and natives of the Belgium Congo of that time.
Brussels was only a two franc bus ride from us and we used to go there occasionally. I looked up where King Albert, the Belgium king, lived. I was a bit surprised to find he had a very modest palace - not more impressive than a good hotel. But he was a very modest man.
I took French lessons for a month or so. Then the priest had to leave for some reason. I don't think we ever got at it again. I took gas motor instruction for about two weeks. Then the instructor left and that was that.
We had a Divisional Sports day at the Palais Diete in Brussels on March 15th. We saw the British Prince of Wales (Duke of Windsor). In fact we marched past photos He looked kind of sullen or perhaps he had a hangover or something.
Three of us went to Antwerp and drank too much cognac. By the way there was some bomb damage there as it was a German submarine base. The only bomb damage I noticed in Brussels was at the railway station. It had about half a block glassed over in front of the station and the British bombed it - I suppose by mistake.
While playing indoor baseball once in Overysche a rather strange thing happened to me. I was catching and missed the ball. It hit me square in the left eye hard. I saw just one great big star and got a beautiful black eye. Three days later I got a letter from my aunt who lived in London who was supposed to have second sight as they called it then. In her letter she asked me if I had got hurt as she suddenly saw me in a great burst of light and was afraid I had had an accident with an explosive. So I guess she was gifted some way.
On April 24th, we left Overysche after a few farewell dances.three by battalion companies and one by civilians. We headed for Le Havre arriving there on April 26th. The 50th battalion left for England the same day. As I was getting my discharge in Montreal, I transferred to the 87th which came from there. We had to stay in Le Havre a few days longer for a ship to England.
We were camped just out of Le Havre and had church parade on Sunday. We went up town on Monday and again on Tuesday. We had a final muster parade on Wednesday, April 30 and were put on guard at the Y.M.C.A. at night to protect it. May 1st was Labour Day in France at that time. The Y.M.C.A. had a large stock in this place as it was their supply base. The sergeant that brought us up left us there and said he would pick us up at eight o'clock the next morning. There were-some cots and blankets there. 1 found one and went to bed. The most of the guard were French Canadians as this was a Montreal unit. About three or four o'clock in the morning I was awakened by the noise the French boys were making.
They were all drinking beer. I asked them where they got it. They said there was an officers' canteen next door and I would find a barrel of bottled beer in the basement of an empty house just behind the Y.M.C.A. At that time they shipped bottled beer in wooden barrels packed in shavings or some similar material. I was almost too late as it was nearly empty already but I dug out four bottles. It was English bottled Bass - very good beer. I found a team mate, Carter by name, the lad who brought the rum to us the time our officer dropped it before he had it all dished out, and told him where to find it. I guess he had been asleep also. He got a few bottles too and we joined the party. Being as it was four o'clock in the morning and our stomachs were empty, beer took effect. When the sergeant came at eight o'clock and tried to fall us in to march home (one and a half miles), about half the guard couldn't stand up. He said, "Wait here. I'll get a truck to take home. You'll never make it any other way."
He came back with a truck in about twenty minutes. We got home too late for breakfast but no one wanted it anyhow. We had a muster parade coming up at 1:00 p.m. Carter and I decided we would go back up to the officers' canteen and see if there was any more beer there. We thought the walk would do us good anyhow.
We walked back up there and found dozens of cases of beer outside of the canteen and nobody around. We opened a couple of cases and started filling our pockets. We had our greatcoats on and we managed to get nine bottles apiece stored on our persons. While we were working on the cases a lieutenant drove up in a car. When we saw him stop we pretended to be stacking up cases and he left
We left too very soon because if we weren't on that muster parade we could be left behind. I guess the officers didn't care much what happened to the beer or they wouldn't have left it lying around so carelessly. Somehow going home we made a mistake and got on the wrong road and finished up in the Belgian soldiers camp. I talked to one who was on guard and asked him if he knew where the Canadian camp was. He pointed to a camp about two miles away. He said he thought that was it, We decided it might be too. We saw we would be lucky if we made it as it was getting around twelve now and we had only one hour to get there. I forget just what we did after that but the parade was over when we got there. However someone told the sergeant we were around someplace probably sleeping as we'd been on guard duty so he marked us present anyway. We passed what was left of our beer around and were in time for supper - the only meal we had that day.
We sailed for England the next day and had a fine trip as the sea was as quiet as a little lake. We came ashore about 8:00 a.m. and went to Bramshot camp where we had three parades - medical, dental, and quarter-master's. Next day we had a preliminary record parade and went to the cinema. The next day I had the final record parade and saw my crime sheet which was clean, strange to say. The next day we had only a pay parade. The next day, May 9th, we turned in our equipment and got to go on leave to London. I went to see my aunt and got a bed at the Salvation Army in Westbourne Terrace. (I have a diary from May 1st) My aunt had some friends there whose name was Vaughan the lawyer's place where she was when I first went to London. My aunt and I spent the day sightseeing and had supper at the Vaughans' and did some moresightseeing. The next day we went to a theatre and saw a play called The Man from Toronto." I have no idea what it was about now. The day we saw Hampton Court that the Archbishop of Canterbury built for himself but Henry the Eighth took a fancy to it and he had to give it to photos No wonder he said when he was dying, "I wish that I had served my God as I have served my King." We also went to the Zoological Gardens and had tea at the Vaughans.
On the 17th, the last day of my leave, we went to Finsbury Park from there to my train. The next day I got paid and got another pass and went to the Isle of Wight via Portsmouth and spent a couple of days there. It was a summer resort only a few miles across. It had a canoe pond and hired boats if you wanted to row on the sea. I had never rowed a boat before but thought it might be fun. The tide was going out I guess and I got out easy but when I came back I had to row against it.
I was afraid I wouldn't make it. If I stopped to rest the boat drifted out so I kept at it and was surely glad to get back. It was just dark when I made it. If I hadn't got in by dark I don't know what might have happened as nobody could see me. 1 could have been away out at sea by morning. I stayed overnight and went back to Portsmouth the next day. I went down to the beach and fooled around with canoes and paddle boats.
The next day I slept late and went to a matinee. I came home, had another muster parade and a few other parades and took a train to Liverpool. I got there at 2:00 p.m., boarded the Mauretania on May 31st, and started for Canada. I arrived in Halifax early in the morning on June 6th, making an average run of 560 miles a We had beautiful weather and the fastest ship afloat at the time.
We took fifteen day to go over on the Saxonia and four days and night to come home. I went from Halifax to Montreal by train, took a whole day to get discharged and went to a cousin’s place where I spent a week. After that I went to Kingston for a week, then to Smith Falls and to my Toledo Birthplace. Then I left for Alberta where I’ve been ever since.