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   Chapter 8 VIIIToC

The Red Watch By J. A. Currie Characters: 17790

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


UNDER FIELD MARSHAL EARL ROBERTS

We had to settle down for a few days to await our arms and equipment, and in the meantime a meeting of the officers was called by General Alderson, our Divisional Commander.

The chief topic of discussion was the question of having "wet" canteens in the lines. The result of the meeting was that they were shortly installed by contractors for the war office, and gave us a great deal of trouble, and gave a few men who misbehaved themselves a chance to get a quick return ticket to Canada.

In spite of temptation on every side, to the credit of the Canadians be it said they behaved themselves exceedingly well. Fully eighty per cent. of them were total abstainers. About ten per cent., chiefly the older men, took an occasional drink, and not more than about three per cent. drank to any extent. For these latter, life soon became a burden.

This good behavior followed the troops to Flanders. Shortly after we crossed and went into the trenches the French Government prohibited the sale of all spirits to soldiers. Any saloon keeper in France who sells hard liquor to a soldier is very severely punished. The only liquor they are allowed to sell to the soldiers is a light beer, about three per cent. alcohol, which is manufactured in small home-made breweries at every cross-road and is consumed by the Flemish people in lieu of the water, which is very bad in the low country, and only fit for cooking, also a light native wine with about the strength of ginger-ale, and the taste of vinegar. We found that light beers, wines and fermented liquors are licensed separately in France from spirits. This method has given good satisfaction. Strong liquors or spirits are given to the soldiers only on a doctor's order. There is no regular issue of rum, and the stories circulated by Jane Adams, a Chicago Pacifist, and others that the soldiers are filled up with rum and "dope" to keep up their courage, were deliberate lies as far as the British, French and Canadian troops are concerned. Strong drink of any kind was treated as a drug, not as a beverage. The beer and wine sold had about the same alcoholic content as ginger beer or newly-made bakers' bread. The army in Flanders was not producing "drunken heroes." Those who cannot cut out liquor are better left at home. They are of no value whatever in any war.

Aboard Ship in Winter GarbToList

We also learned, at this meeting, with great pleasure that Lord Roberts had become the Honorary Commander in Chief of the Canadian Army, and that in a few days he was coming to review us, as was also His Majesty the King and Lord Kitchener. We worked very hard to get into shape for these important events. In the meantime the Minister of Militia from Canada arrived and visited our camp, also several other eminent men, among them Mr. R. Reid, who represents the Province of Ontario in London.

Our lay-out for camp was not as fine as at Valcartier. The tents had been pitched during the summer and occupied by successive territorial battalions, and they were not of the thick water-proof cotton canvas variety that we had in Canada. They were the linen kind such as we used to have in Canada in the Eighties, and they were so thin you could count the stars through them, but were all right for summer use.

We were solemnly cautioned not to make any excavations in the turf, especially ditches around the tents to carry off the rain, or even holes in the ground in which to build our cooking fires, as the land is hunted over, and any stray holes in the ground might break a horseman's collar bone or a horse's leg.

The Division was divided up and put in various camps, about a brigade in each camp, which were a mile or so apart. The First Brigade under General Mercer were at Bustard Camp. The Second under General Currie and the Third under General Turner, V.C., were at West Down South. The artillery under Colonel Burstall were with the First Brigade whilst the Cavalry were at Sling plantation, and Divisional Headquarters at Bustard Camp.

Earl Roberts came out to review us on Saturday, the 27th of October. I had not seen the hero of Kandahar since the day he marched past the King, resplendant in the scarlet and gold of a Field-Marshal on the Plains of Abraham, at Quebec. Since then he had retired from active duty with the army to devote himself to the cause of National Service.

The important day arrived and the brigades were drawn up in lines of battalions in mass along the brow of a slope south of our camp. Battalion after battalion, battery after battery, squadron after squadron for nearly two miles the line stretched. It was a magnificent array of men that greeted the brave old veteran in the first review of the Canadians which proved to be his last command.

On his arrival he was received with the general salute. He then rode in a big grey car in front of the line, the officers having been all called out to the front. As he reached each separate battalion the car stopped, General Hughes introduced the commanding officers, and Lord Roberts spoke graciously to them. Some of the officers' horses behaved badly as the big grey car came up to them and some seats were lost that day, but my big charger behaved splendidly. She looked into the big car and wanted to poke her nose into it to see if the driver had any candy or apples. General Hughes, the Minister of Militia, sat in the seat beside Earl Roberts. Age had dealt very kindly with the veteran of Kandahar and South Africa. Although a consistent water drinker, Lord Roberts had a very florid complexion, which was just as bright and ruddy as that of a subaltern of twenty, despite his extreme age. This kind of complexion makes it difficult for a man to gain admission to a temperance club in Canada.

His voice was clear and resonant. "Colonel Currie," he said, "How many men of this kind have you with you? They are indeed a splendid lot, and the Empire owes a debt of gratitude to these gallant soldiers for coming in the hour of need."

I answered, "Eleven hundred and seventy, Sir."

"They are a fine lot and when fully trained should give a good account of themselves," he said.

I thanked him, and he was gone.

It began to drizzle and rain, and as we moved off we had the first taste of that disagreeable weather which clung to us until we left the Plains. Many a time afterwards the lines of R.H. Barham, the author of "Ingoldsby Legends," came to my mind.

"Oh Salisbury Plain is bleak and bare,

At least so I've heard many people declare,

Tho' I must confess that I've never been there.

Not a shrub, not a bush nor tree can you see,

No hedges, no ditches, no gates, no stiles,

Much less a house or a cottage for miles,

Its a very bad thing to be caught in the rain,

When night's coming on, on Salisbury Plain."

On Sunday, the 25th, the men of the Division heard a sermon from Bishop Taylor Smith, who visited Salisbury Plain with Dr. McNamara, M.P.

The London press had been very enthusiastic over the Canadian Division. The illustrated papers had photographs of the various corps and officers. Their kindness was very much appreciated.

Lord Roberts issued an Order of the Day, in which he praised us very highly. He said:

"The prompt resolve of Canada to give us such valuable assistance has touched us deeply. That resolve has been galvanized into action in what I consider a marvellously short period of time, under the excellent organization and driving power of your Minister of Militia, my old friend Major General Hughes. In less than three months from the declaration of war I am able to greet this fine body of soldiers on English soil."

Stirring events were happening in Flanders. About this time we learned with much regret that Colonel Lowther, who had served on the staff of His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught in Canada, had been badly wounded. Also that Major Rivers-Bulkley of the Scots Guards, who had also been on His Royal Highness' staff, had been killed. The latter had, scarcely a year before, been married to Miss Pelly, one of the Ladies-in-Waiting to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Connaught in Ottawa.

The German invaders on the western front had swept on past Liege. A great battle had been fought at Waterloo or Charleroi, another at Mons and at Le Cateau. The French Government had left Paris. The greatest battle in the history of the world had taken place near Metz. The Crown Prince's Army had been shattered and General Von Kluck's march on Paris had been stayed at the Marne. Then the Allies had assumed the offensive, and driven the Germans back to the Aisne. Ypres, Hazebrouck, Estairs and Armentieres had been retaken on the Western frontier of Belgium and France. The huge Austrian siege guns, 42 centimetres, had proven too much for the antique concrete of the Belgian and French fort

s, but the tide of invasion had been stayed.

A few days later, October 29th, a dinner was given in London by Hon. Lieutenant-Colonel Grant Morden in the Royal Automobile Club in honor of the Minister of Militia, Major-General the Honorable Sam Hughes, and the officers commanding the Canadian contingent. Amongst other officers I was invited to be present, and the dinner was one of the most notable I have ever attended. Not so much on account of the number of prominent men who attended, but because it was the last occasion in which Lord Roberts spoke in public. Among others present were Lord Islington, Lord Iverclyde, Sir A. Trevor Dawson, Sir Gilbert Parker, Sir Joseph Lawrence, Sir George Armstrong, Lord Charles Beresford, Sir John Curtis, Sir Edward Carson, Rt. Hon. Walter H. Long, Sir Reginald McLeod, Colonel Sir Edward W. Ward, Sir Vincent Callard and Monsieur R. Thien de la Chaume of the French Embassy.

The toast to Canada was proposed by Sir Charles Beresford in a fine speech, in which he referred to the valuable services of the Canadians in previous wars. The toast was responded to by Sir George Parley, M.P., acting Canadian High Commissioner. Lord Roberts then proposed the toast to Major General Hughes. He was very warmly received when he rose to propose this toast, and was visibly affected by the splendid demonstration. He spoke with great earnestness for over half an hour. He first paid a glowing tribute to the Canadian troops that had served under him in South Africa. When he took command there the first telegram he sent was to Canada. He then referred to the troops he had reviewed on Salisbury Plains in warmest terms. He had not thought it possible that such a fine steady body of men could be got together in such a short time. He commended the Minister of Militia for having achieved such splendid results so quickly. He praised the deportment of the troops the day he had reviewed them in the rain.

He then turned to the subject of the war and reminded his hearers that they were fighting an enemy that meant business, and the destruction of the British Empire. He predicted that through their preparedness they would give us enormous trouble and he warned us that in his estimation the war would require every man that could be put in the field. Lord Kitchener had not called for a man too many, and every effort should be put forward to enlist and train every available man as soon as possible.

Referring to his travels throughout the Empire, he said that it seemed to him the people of the Colonies were more appreciative of the greatness of the struggle and more patriotic than those at home. He attributed this to education in the schools and regretted that patriotism was not taught more in the schools of the Mother land, and the British Flag flown over the schools as in Canada and the other Colonies.

The audience listened with rapt attention and punctured his remarks again and again with applause.

The Downs were very suitable for drill and work in open order. The turf was good and firm, and so far there was no mud or sand. We took up the new drill of 1914. The battalions for drill purposes were formed into four companies with four platoons per company.

We had been told that as soon as we settled down His Majesty the King and Lord Kitchener were coming out to look us over, so we brisked up as quickly as possible for the big event. We had a rehearsal the day before. The troops took their positions along the main roads leading past their respective brigade camps. Our Camp, West Down South, contained two infantry brigades, ours, the Highland Brigade and the Second Brigade. His Majesty, Lord Kitchener, Earl Roberts and staff were to drive up from Salisbury in motor cars, and we were formed up on the east side of the main road from Salisbury to receive him. The mounted troops were to form up on the west side. We made a brave show but some of the battalions were not fully equipped as they had not yet received their bayonets. The practise was a great success. Major Beatty, brother of Admiral Beatty, who was officer on General Alderson's staff, took us all in. A general officer from the War Office was to have looked us over, but as he did not show up the genial Major went through the motions, and it was only after each of the battalions in succession had received him with the general salute and presented arms as he walked past in front of us, and we had a look at his badges, that we realized that we had been fooled. Of course as a Major he was junior to the officers in command of the regiments and not entitled to the honors, but he took them with a grin and the rehearsal passed off well.

We had King's weather next day when the King came to West Down South. The Royal Party came promptly to the minute. There was His Majesty the King, Her Majesty the Queen and some Ladies-in-Waiting; Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, Earl Roberts, Lord Stamford, Sir Richard McBride and a number of staff officers. We were lined up and made a splendid showing. The King rode up to the line and began the inspection of the artillery and the Divisional Cavalry opposite us. The Royal party was then on foot, and His Majesty greeted each officer, and then passed through the ranks in and out, speaking a word here and there to the men. After he had gone over the mounted troops he crossed the road and started down the line of infantry. The battalions were in order from right to left. Her Majesty the Queen and her Ladies-in-Waiting with Sir George Perley followed the King and Lord Kitchener. In a few minutes they were at the right flank of our battalion. I received His Majesty with broadsword at the salute, and was introduced by General Turner, V.C. He asked me about our tartan, and how many men I had in it. I told him the whole regiment wore the tartan. He was introduced to the officers and then, with Sergeant-Major Grant and Lord Kitchener, he started through the ranks. Some one called me back and I was introduced to Her Majesty, who in a plain suit of black with a black hat, as she was in mourning, stood smiling to greet me.

I had not seen Her Majesty since the night of the reception given by the King and Queen, then the Prince and Princess of Wales, in the Parliament Buildings in the City of Toronto in 1902. She had not changed at all and there is no woman in the world who looks the part of a Queen better than Her Majesty Queen Mary. She looked the front line of our battalion over carefully. There was not a man there less than six feet two inches. Youth and intelligence was written all over them but they stood as if carved out of stone.

"What a fine lot of men" was her gracious comment as she passed along the line. "And they all look like professional men and students."

A mention of their patriotism in coming to the war, a prayer that they might be spared to return safely to Canada, and then with a farewell, and "Good luck to you and your Regiment Colonel," the Royal Party passed on down the line to the Canadian Scottish Regiment. That concluded the inspection, and entering the motors they rode off to Sling Plantation Camp to review more soldiers. Our Brigade had advanced to the side of the road, and as they passed on they received cheers that could be heard three miles away. We waited for the return of the Royal Party and lined both sides of the road and gave more cheers. That was our last look at Lord Roberts. A few days later he went to France and died very suddenly at St. Omar while he was visiting the troops under his old Lieutenant, Sir John French. He died as he would have wished, within the sound of the guns. Coincident with his visit there the British had driven the Germans back behind the Yperlee Canal, where the first Canadian Division was to win immortal fame.

Those who heard him speak on National Service and the duty of every man in connection with the war will never forget his earnestness and fervor. His voice will come ringing down the ages calling men of British birth to their duty like the voice of Demosthenes, the Greek patriot, whose constant cry was, "Yet O Athenians, yet there is time. And there is one manner in which you can recover your greatness, or dying fall worthy of your Marathon and Salamis. Yet O Athenians you have it in your power, and the manner of it is this. Cease to hire your armies. Go, yourselves, every man of you, and stand in the ranks, and either a victory, beyond all victories in its glory, awaits you, or falling you shall fall greatly and worthy of your past."

A few days later the officers and men of the First Canadian Contingent were given the status and rank of Imperial troops, that is to say British Regulars. This made all the officers, non-coms. and men senior to officers and non-coms. of the same rank in the Canadian militia or the Home Territorial forces.

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