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The Red Watch By J. A. Currie Characters: 17473

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The work of organizing and equipping the Canadian Imperial battalions for overseas service was taken up with great vigor by the Minister of Militia, Major-General Sir Sam Hughes, and the officers of his Department.

Owing to the influence of the churches the best class of youth in the country came forward in large numbers. The Clergy appealed to the athletes that had been trained in the Gymnasiums of the Y.M.C.A., and the ranks soon contained a large sprinkling of Canadian lacrosse and hockey players. It was afterwards to be shown that the manly and strenuous native Canadian sports, lacrosse and hockey, practised by almost every boy in the country from the time he is able to walk, are of a character admirably suited to produce bold and courageous soldiers. Boys who have been accustomed to handle lacrosse and hockey sticks, develop arm and shoulder muscles that make the carrying and use of the rifle easy. Firing for hours during a hot and sustained engagement does not fatigue nor exhaust them as it otherwise would. In the rough work of the bayonet charge, they keep their heads, and have confidence in their ability at close quarters to overcome their antagonist. They do not dread a blow or a bayonet, for they have been accustomed to roughing it all their lives. When it comes to "cold steel," it is the man who has the courage and confidence in himself that wins, for nineteen times out of twenty the other man is dominated before blades are crossed, and at once either throws up his hands or runs.

The moral character and influence of these men permeated the first contingent, with the result that never since the days of Cromwell's New Army did the Empire possess a more athletic, courageous or God-fearing army than the First Canadian Contingent. The work of carving the name of "Canada" in the annals of the war was entrusted to the hands of these clean, sober, religious, athletic young men. How they kept this trust history in future ages will tell in letters of gold. Many clergymen of various denominations who had been foremost in preaching Pacifism, upon hearing of the ruthless invasion of Belgium, realized the hollow sham of German culture, and saw the Hun in his true light. With the Empire plunged into a great war, it was not a time to consider the ancient and pampered ideas of consistency. Until the German was destroyed there could be no peace of any kind. To their eternal credit, be it said, they flung themselves whole-heartedly into the cause, and none equalled them in preaching resistance, recruiting and working night and day for the Red Cross Society and various other patriotic and national organizations.

With such vast numbers of men coming forward there was a good deal of discussion as to who should be first taken, the arguments being very much in favor of the veterans or "ribbon" men who had seen service in previous campaigns. About two thousand of the men who had gone from Canada to the South African war were still living, and a great many veterans from the Old Country had immigrated to Canada, and with few exceptions they unhesitatingly offered their services. If they passed the surgeon they were taken on, and afterwards they did good service. They were especially numerous in the Princess Pats, the British Columbian and Western Regiments. These men, although foreign born, prided themselves on being "Canadians." They increased, however, the percentage of those in the first contingent born outside of Canada, but the officers of the first contingent almost to a man were Canadians.

On Saturday, August 29th, 1914, our Battalion paraded early in the morning and bade farewell to Long Branch Camp. The night before we left we had a "sing-song" or concert. Arrangements had been made for us to take cars for Toronto in the morning and rendezvous at the Armories during the noon-hour, when the men would be allowed to see their friends or sweethearts. We entrained safely and made a brave show as we marched up Queen Street to the Armories, the pipes playing "Highland Laddie." Shortly after one o'clock the people began to gather and they soon filled the drill hall. There was very little gloom and everybody was cheerful.

As we fell in, the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir John Gibson, and Lady Gibson, arrived and they spoke to me of their son, Lieutenant Frank Gibson, who was one of my officers, expressing their pleasure at his being an officer of the corps. A gallant young soldier he was, indeed; a graduate of the Royal Military College, and always wearing a pleasant smile. Other parents spoke of their sons to me. Some of the older officers of the garrison were afraid that my officers were too young and that we did not have enough officers of mature years, but experience was to show that age does not give a monopoly of courage or bravery, nor of fortitude and good judgment.

Memorable addresses were delivered by the Lieutenant-Governor, the Mayor of the City, Mr. Hocken, and by the Chaplain Major, the Rev. Crawford Brown. His excellent address was full of comfort and cheer for the men. He told them it was a great honor to be permitted to go to the front and that their country would always esteem them and owe them a debt of gratitude. The Armories rang with cheers as the pipes struck up the war tune, "Well take the High Road," and the battalion swung out of the doors and into the drizzling rain that was falling, but in spite of which, thousands of people lined the streets. Every step we took the excitement became more intense, and by the time we reached the Don Station where we were to entrain for Valcartier, almost all semblance of order was gone from the ranks. Young ladies carried the men's rifles, others decorated them with flowers, others clung to their arms and the sidewalks were a mass of excited cheering humanity. Friends and relations came from all over the Province of Ontario to see the regiment off for the front. I have seen many crowds in my life, and excited ones at that, but the crowd that covered the Don Bridge above the station and every available vantage point and avenue that led to our train that afternoon was by long odds the largest. It was estimated that 100,000 gathered to see us off. The farewell the people gave us was very touching. There were no tears, no wailing, but cheers, earnestness and good will, and a hearty send-off. In spite of the crowd the men found their way to their respective cars, and we pulled out of the station on the second lap of our journey to the Front, on time.

Lieutenant Barwick acted as transport officer and the parade state showed 970 men and officers.

We had an excellent run on the Canadian Northern Railway to Quebec, but lost a little time there and were late in reaching Valcartier. The men had their blankets, rifles, and equipment complete with them. They were fitted out ready for the field with everything but ammunition.

When we arrived at Valcartier it was still raining, but the troops already there turned out and lined the roadway to cheer and see us march in. The Minister of Militia met us at the station, together with Lt.-Colonel Murphy of Ottawa, and guides led us to the lines where we were to be quartered for the night.

Nature has done much to adorn Valcartier and every mile along the road from Quebec to this beautiful valley is rich in historic associations. First, there is the St. Charles river, whose shallows and mud flats foiled General Wolfe in his first assault upon Quebec. A few miles along we came near to the ruins of the famous Chateau Noir or Hermitage of Intendant Bigot, made famous in story by Kirby in "Le Chien D'Or;" by Sir Gilbert Parker in "The Seats of the Mighty"; by W.D. Howells and by Joseph Marinette. Only a heap of ruins are left. The famous maze is gone, chopped into firewood, no doubt. Still nightly the spirit of Caroline, according to local traditions, haunts the spot where she was murdered by her jealous rival, Madame Pean. Further on, there is the village of Loretto where hundreds of years ago the first mission to the Indians was established in Canada. Here are living to-day the last of that mighty Indian tribe, the Hurons, who in the beginning cast in their lot with the French settlers, and paid for it later by being annihilated by the fierce Iroquois, the Allies of the British. For over two hundred years, since 1697, this remnant have lived in security within the sound of Loretto Falls, and worshipped for over one hundred and fifty years in the Mission Church of Loretto, which is a replica of the Santa Casa of Loretto and contains a copy of the Loretto figure of the Virgin.

Officers of the 48th HighlandersToList

From Left to Right-Top Ro

w: Lt. J.A.M. Livingstone, (W); Lt. W.P. Malone; Lt. L.V. Jones, (G.P.); Lt. H.M. Scott, (G); Lt. G.P. Taylor, (K); Lt. R.H. Davidson; Lt. Q.T. Langmuir,(K); Hon. Capt. Moffat, Chaplain; Lt. H.A. Barwick,(G.P.); Lt. F.M. Gibson,(K).

Second Row Standing: Lt. A.J. Sinclair, (W); Lt. E.W. Bickle, (W.G.); Lt. A.E. Muir, (K); Lt. C.V. Fessenden, (G.P.); Lt. E.O. Bath, (G.P.); Lt. W.B. Lawson; Lt. F.H.C. MacDonald, (G.P.); Lt. F.J. Smith, (G.P.); Lt. J.A. Dansereau (W.G.); Lt. W.W. Jago, (W); Lt. W. Mavor, (G.W. 3); Lt. P.G. Campbell; Lt. P.P. Acland, M.C., (W).

Sitting Down; Capt. Frank Perry; Capt. A.M. Daniels, (K); Capt. C.H. Musgrove, (W); Capt. F.G.M. Alexander, M.C., (G.P.); Surgeon Major A.J. MacKenzie; Lt. Col. Wm. Hendrie, (Divisional Remount Officer); Col. J.A. Currie, M.P., (G), (Commanding Officer); Major W.R. Marshall, D.S.O., (K); Major J.E.K. Osborne, (W.G.P.): Capt. G.H. McLaren, (G.); Capt. A.R. McGregor, (K.); Capt. R.R. McKessock, (G.W.P.).

Further on, the road leads to where, through a deep gash in the mighty Laurentian Mountains, the Jacques Cartier river makes its troubled way to the broad St. Lawrence. There, in a beautiful wide valley, amid high mountains rising in graceful terraces from the river and overlooking the St. Lawrence, about one hundred years ago, a number of veterans that had followed Wellington to Waterloo formed a settlement, and beat their swords into ploughshares. They sleep now in the village churchyard, unmindful of drum or trumpet. Their descendents lived there only yesterday, but now their lands had been bought out to provide the grounds for Valcartier Camp.

The outlook for us was not very inviting after the clean camps pitched in the green fields at Long Branch, but the Department had done wonders during the time at its disposal. In less than three weeks a swamp had been cleared up, streets laid out with water mains, and even in some places sidewalks were laid. Mount Roby resounded to the shrill blast of the bugle, the rattle of rifles and the roar of field guns. The work of making a camp on a large scale was being carried out by hundreds of workmen, under foremen skilled in laying out cities and towns in Western Canada. The day after we arrived we were given our own lines and we settled down to hard work.

We transferred to our battalion enough men to fill our ranks up to the Imperial Establishment of 1,170 rank and file, including the base company and the transport. In order to accomplish this small detachments were taken from the 95th regiment, Cobalt and Sudbury, composed of miners and prospectors, also from the 31st Regiment, of Grey County, and the 13th Scottish Dragoons.

The 48th Highlanders, the "Red Watch," became the 15th Battalion of the First Canadian Division, C.E.F. It was subsequently, with all its officers, N.C.O.'s and men, granted the status of a Regular Imperial Regiment and given its name, "48th Highlanders," in the British Army List.

The regiment was turned over by the commanding officer, fully uniformed and equipped for the field as a regular Highland battalion without expense to the Crown except for rifles, bayonets and knapsacks, thus saving the country $25,000.

The camp was under the command of Colonel Victor Williams. It was no small task to clothe, equip and drill, ready for active warfare, some thirty-three thousand men. No liquor was allowed in the camp and there was very little difficulty with the men.

On Sunday, September 7th, the Division was reviewed by the Duke of Connaught. The battalions marched past in lines of half-battalions and made a very good showing.

Night and day the officers and men were hard at it. One of the greatest of many difficulties that were met was the selection of the officers and men for the contingent.

At first it was suggested that all the officers should be examined as to their fitness, and a Board was appointed to look them over, but in a few days this Board threw up its hands and the matter of selection was left to the Commanding Officers.

Many who had never served in the Militia were clamoring for commands and the Minister of Militia had some work on his hands. The contingent was formed into brigades and our battalion was put into the Highland Brigade, which consisted of our Regiment, the Royal Highlanders of Canada, Montreal, the Royal Regiment of Montreal, made up principally of French-Canadians, and the 16th battalion, subsequently called the Canadian Scottish, a composite corps consisting of Highland Companies from Victoria and Vancouver, B.C., from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and from Hamilton, Ontario. Each company wore a different tartan, but that did not interfere with their efficiency. Colonel Turner, V.C., was given the command.

On the 14th of September we were again reviewed by His Royal Highness, in the presence of General Crozier, an American officer. Rain to some extent interfered, as it had with the previous review. On Sunday, September 20th, Canon Scott, of Quebec, preached a field sermon to the Division. A platform had been erected and His Excellency and his staff took part in the service and subsequently reviewed the troops. The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, arrived in the morning and called on our battalion. Our officers were all introduced. He was accompanied by Lady Borden. The transports were already beginning to gather in the St. Lawrence that were to carry the contingent to England. Our equipment was very nearly complete and enough drill had been given to make us fairly respectable. We all thought we were fit for the field. We learnt differently afterwards.

It is very strange how the idea seems to get hold of a man, the minute he gets into khaki uniform, that he is a fully-trained soldier. In Canada, for years, we had no regular soldiers, and the training generally was of a kind patterned after the South African War. Straw hats and overalls were worn by the infantry, and the irregular cavalry swagger was the fashion. It was fondly imagined that any Canadian who could shoot straight and who had a week's training could take his place in the ranks and would be just as good a soldier as a regular of the King's first Army. No sooner was a man in uniform than everybody began asking him the question "When are you going to the Front?" assuming that was a question he could settle himself, and that he would be anything but in the way and a nuisance at the Front, owing to his lack of discipline and training. The public in this way made the men's and officers' lives very miserable. It was almost impossible to settle down to a hard course of training. Lord Kitchener had placed the period necessary for getting a man into shape as a soldier at six months. By great effort that period might be shortened, but from the experience we gained nine months would be nearer the mark. The training could be hurried by giving two months of foot and arm drill, two months' special training of the men in special units, such as signallers, stretcher bearers, machine gunners, bomb throwers, etc., and two months in hard field-training with lots of night work. But the press of the country was clamoring for us to go to the Front, and public opinion said "hurry." The battalions were all organized and orders came for us to move on the 29th of September.

There was a slight drizzle of rain in the morning when we paraded for the march out. Our transport waggons had to move out early and march to Quebec, and it was a difficult job to get them started.

I had done everything in my power to suppress gambling and swearing among the men, and on several occasions when individuals were paraded before me for using bad language, I had reprimanded them and informed them that the use of strong language was always left to the Officer Commanding. This particular morning some choice words had to be used to get the transport moving. They moved, however, to the tick of the clock and Sergeant-Major Grant, with a grin on his face, suggested that from now on there would be no more swearing in the ranks, as everybody was quite satisfied with the Commanding officer's qualifications in that regard.

Again the pipes struck up "We'll take the High Road," and after a march of about a mile and a half to a siding, we entrained in two sections for Quebec.

At Quebec we had not long to wait. The transport "Megantic," one of the finest ships on the North Atlantic, was hauled up at the pier with long planks out to take our regiment on board. The horses and waggons were to go on a separate ship, although there was plenty of room for them on board. We were all glad to get away, for it was becoming monotonous having everybody we met asking "When are you going away?"

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