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The Red Watch By J. A. Currie Characters: 16038

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


THE CALL TO ARMS

In the War of 1870, the Germans advanced across the Rhine on the frontier of France. The independent State of Luxemburg and the Kingdom of Belgium were not disturbed. The Germans at that time respected the neutrality of these countries. They kept the treaties that had been made years before, guaranteeing these countries from invasion in case of war. Bismarck, although a man of "blood" and "iron," as a rule, respected treaties.

With the French frontier bristling with guns, fortresses and entrenchments that had been deliberately prepared in advance, the Germans, in 1914, stood a good chance of being beaten in the first round if they had attacked the eastern frontier of France on the declaration of war. Behind a ring of entrenchments the French Generals could deliberately mass their armies, and the battle front could be narrowed to such an extent that the preponderance of numbers which the Germans could put in the field could not count.

For some years, however, German military writers had been advocating that the German army of invasion should march through Belgium and Luxemburg. It was known that the latter country could not object, but with Belgium it was different. The Belgians had been warned, and were busy arming, under the leadership of their ruler, who was universally beloved. The Belgians are a proud people, and since the days of C?sar they had on numerous occasions hurled the invading Germans back and held their homes and frontiers inviolate. The Germans, however, imagined, that once their vast armies crossed the Meuse and began a march on Namur and Charleroi, the martial ardor of the Belgians would cool and that beyond a formal protest, no resistance would be offered.

As France and Belgium had been on terms of friendship for many years, the Franco-Belgian frontier had not been protected by fortresses. The German frontier of Belgium, however, had been fortified some years before under the direction of a famous Belgian engineer, named Brailmont, who was the successor of other eminent military Belgian engineers, such as Vauban, who had taught the art of fortification to a previous age.

On August 2nd, 1914, the Germans declared war on France, and the First field army of Austro-Germans crossed the Meuse near Liege. For two weeks the Germans delayed before Liege, expecting that the French would send several armies into Belgium and thus weaken the forces before Metz. The French generals refused the bait, and were ready when the German main army struck along the old road from Metz to Paris. The Germans were defeated and left 40,000 dead on the battlefield. This was the greatest battle in the history of the world.

Great Britain declared war on Germany for violating the neutrality of Belgium and the war feeling in Canada became intense. It was realized that Canada must participate. The only question was what form aid would take.

For a number of years the question of the "German Peril" had been discussed, but a great many people imagined that the anti-German talk was a mild form of Jingoism. It soon became known that Great Britain would accept the defence of the sea as her share of the war, and that only a small field army would be sent abroad. The great question for a few days was, would Canada be allowed to send a contingent to serve with the Allies? Again, as in the case of the South African war, the arm-chair critics were in favor of drafting a number of Canadians to serve with the British regiments. Sir Robert Borden, however, was not long in making it known that a contingent of Canadians would be enlisted and that they would serve abroad as a unit, under their own officers. Then there was much rejoicing.

The next question that arose was whether the unit was to be composed of regiments of militia, drafts from militia regiments, or recruits from outside the militia. The Minister of Militia and Defence promptly announced that he would accept battalions or units from Militia regiments and that the men would serve under their own officers. This was highly satisfactory.

The guiding hand of his Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, Governor-General, the first soldier of Europe, was seen everywhere, at the beginning and throughout the war. It was a fortunate matter for Canada that he was Governor-General at the time.

To the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, was due the splendid response to the call to arms of the Canadian people. He put duty before public applause of petty politics like a true Canadian. Future generations will do full credit to his unselfishness.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the leader of the Opposition, brushing aside all partizanship, earnestly seconded the efforts of the Government. His splendid patriotism never rose to greater heights than in this trying time.

A meeting of the 48th Highlanders was immediately called at the Officers' quarters, and they were asked to say whether they desired the regiment to go as a complete battalion. The first man to say "yes" was the regimental surgeon, Major MacKenzie, whose subsequent services at Flanders were of great value. Other officers tendered their services and it was seen at once that there would be plenty of officers; as for the men, numbers were available, and it was decided then and there that the regiment would go as a unit. Some officers could not see their way to go. Business and family ties prevented them. Happy is that militia regiment whose senior officers are at all times ready to sacrifice their business as well as their lives in the service of the country.

It was my duty as the Commanding Officer to see the Minister of Militia at once and tender the services of the 48th Highlanders as a unit. Those were strenuous days for the Minister. At Ottawa I found him surrounded by his staff, with sleeves rolled up, dealing with heaps of correspondence and a long row of people outside in the ante-room waiting to see him. I asked him if he would take the Regiment, kilts and all, and he promptly said he would, that in a few hours orders would be issued for the Militia to enlist for foreign service and that a great camp of instruction would be formed at Valcartier, where they would all be prepared for overseas service. In the meantime, the units enlisting or volunteering would be drilled at local Headquarters, and the 48th and the Toronto units would go into camp at Long Branch for a few weeks. The announcement was made in the press that the 48th had volunteered, under my command, and on my return I ordered a parade of the regiment on Friday, August 8th, to start work for overseas and open recruit classes.

On Friday evening, the battalion paraded nine hundred and fifty-three strong. The great Armories were thronged with people and hundreds had to be refused permission to enter. The people were filled with the war spirit and the excitement was intense. The two bands were on hand, the brass with forty-five musicians and the pipes with twenty pipers. The battalion marched through the streets, and all along the line of march for over a mile the streets were so thronged with a cheering crowd that it was almost impossible for the men in fours to march through. Thousands of flags waved and the people were much excited. Some one for a joked waved the German flag at the head of the regiment and in a moment it was torn from his hand and trampled to pieces by the crowd. The joker had a narrow escape with his life. That night, three hundred and fifty-five recruits joined for overseas service. Many men in the regiment had served for years and in some instances father and son stood side by side in the ranks.

It was felt it would not be fair to take many men of middle age along. This was going to be a long war and required young men, and the age limit was put at thirty years, the height at five feet eight inches and the chest measurement at thirty-eight inches. These were the limits given to the recruiting sergeants, and with lots of men offering, we knew that we would ha

ve no difficulty in getting all we required.

Orders for the mobilization, on the 15th of August, of the Canadian Militia, were issued. Instructions for the Toronto Corps to go into training at Long Branch were also given and I was instructed that whilst at Long Branch I would have to officiate as Brigadier. On the 17th of August the 48th Highlanders paraded at the Armories and, headed by the pipers playing "We will take the High Road," they marched to the Union Station and entrained for Long Branch Camp.

Long Branch is located about twelve miles west of the City of Toronto. Here there is an excellent Rifle Range and ample accommodation for four or five thousand men. Major Sweny, a Canadian officer in the British Army, who was attached to the Canadian instructional staff, and Major Dixon, acted as Brigade staff officers, and very soon the camp was in running order.

The first night the Battalion spent in camp there was a terrible thunder-storm, one of the worst in years. It was our first night on active service and no doubt many wondered if this presaged the future of the "Red Watch" in Flanders.

There was not much sleep for the Commanding Officer that night. What with the terrific storm which lit up the landscape as light as day, and the newly-acquired responsibility of drilling and disciplining a battalion of raw troops for the war, the outlook spelt much hard work. Drilling a Battalion of Militia once a week was fun compared with such work, for besides the foot and arm drill there was the field training, and worst of all, the training of the men and non-commissioned officers in the duties of a soldier in quarters and in the field. The material was of the very best quality, comprising college men, business men, and men associated with the industrial life of the country. The responsibility of its form and future rested on its commanding officer. The officers and non-commissioned officers had to be trained from the beginning. In the British army the tradition of the duties of officers and non-commissioned officers,-the interior economy of the regiment-descends from generation to generation as unwritten laws or rules. Certain things are done in a certain way, often differently from other corps, in memory of some event in the history of the regiment. We had no standing orders and no regimental traditions. In a regular regiment a non-com. learns how to "carry on" his work from practical experience and seeing other non-coms. doing their work. Long before he becomes a "duty" non-com., he knows what to do. In our case these duties would have to be taught by means of lectures. This would be difficult. The first morning we were in camp, classes for the officers and non-commissioned officers were started. The Adjutant, Captain Darling, and Lieutenant Warren, who was made Assistant Adjutant, rendered very valuable services at this juncture, as did also Sergeant-Major Grant, Sergeant Alex. Sinclair, who was given a Commission, and Sergeant Radcliffe, who subsequently became a Company Commander in one of the Battalions of the Staffordshire regiment, and was wounded at the Dardanelles. The men were turned over for musketry instruction to Captain McGregor. Fortunately, we had several good musketry instructors, among them Sergeant Hawkins, winner of the King's prize at Bisley, Sergeant Graham and Sergeant Williams, bayonet instructor.

All young men who desired to qualify as non-coms. and instructors were asked to join these classes, and they responded in large numbers. They became highly efficient, and when we went to England, quite a few transferred to the New Army as instructional officers and rose very rapidly in the British service.

The organization and discipline of the Light Division in the Peninsular War, trained by Sir John Moore and General Crauford, has always been noted as a model for future armies. It was decided to follow as closely as possible this system, and the Standing Orders of the Light Division, that served with such distinction under the Duke of Wellington in Spain, Portugal and France, became the basis of the standing orders of our new Highland battalion. The instructional classes, once established, ran on very smoothly. Great stress was laid upon acquiring a good clear, decisive and loud word of command. There is nothing that will galvanize a Highland Battalion into action like a sharp word of command with the "rs" well sounded.

The duties of Brigadier at Long Branch did not prove as onerous as expected, as the units that went out for training there were officered by experienced instructors who were accustomed to training camps at Niagara, so the work of hammering the various troops into shape proceeded very rapidly. The anti-militarists, however, were very busy and persisted in anonymously calling me up by telephone and pointing out to me what a terrible thing it was to take up arms against the Kaiser and to take so many fine men off with me to the war. Others wrote annoying anonymous letters calling down the wrath of Heaven on my head for trying to mix Canada in the war, whilst a third faction suffering from the Celtic gift of second sight described how mysterious falling stars and meteors flashing across the sky at night, and other portents, presaged dire disaster to the British arms in the war, and more particularly to the 48th Highlanders.

Staff officers, Majors Dixon and Sweny, were both soon called to Valcartier to help organize the first contingent. Later, Major Sweny left for England to join his regiment, which had been ordered to the Front. Had Major Sweny remained in Canada he no doubt would have been given a command high up on the staff, and very rapid promotion, but he chose to play the manlier part, and joined his own regiment in England when called. The war gave him well deserved promotion.

On August the 18th, the House of Commons met in Ottawa and the Speech from the Throne was read by His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, khaki being the uniform of the military men present. A short visit to Ottawa to say good-bye to colleagues in the House of Commons, a brief trip to Collingwood in my constituency to lay the corner stone of a new postoffice building, and I was back again at the work of preparing for Flanders. The soldiers were hardly settled in camp at Long Branch, when orders were given that every man would have to be inoculated against typhoid, and the process began on a Saturday. The men lined up cheerfully and let the regimental surgeon, Major MacKenzie, jab a needle and the serum into their arms.

The following Sunday there was a Church parade. The sermon was preached by Rev. Major Crawford Brown, the regimental Chaplain. The various units in camp paraded at a small natural amphitheatre near the lines. Many people motored out from Toronto to attend the service. The band of the regiment, under Lieut. John Slatter, came out and supplied the music for the service. The day was beautifully bright and a trifle warm. After the sermon had commenced, many of the men began to feel the effects of the serum and a few toppled over, and for the first time the new battalion heard the call of "stretcher bearer." The men were all ordered to sit down. The effect of the inoculation is to make one have real typhoid for a few hours, after that there is a quick recovery, and the absence of typhoid among the men subsequently spoke volumes for the efficacy of the preventative.

Every evening the battalion had a camp fire and "sing-song," and hundreds of people came out from Toronto to join in the fun, which consisted of band music, choruses and Highland dancing. The days passed very pleasantly and quickly. On August 27th, orders arrived for the battalion to go to Valcartier to join the contingent being formed there for overseas service, and an advance party left for that camp at once. The date for the departure of the battalion was fixed for Saturday, August 29th. That was to be the first march on the road to Flanders.

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