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   Chapter 9 IXToC

The Red Watch By J. A. Currie Characters: 16142

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"Escort and Prisoner, Right Turn. Quick March," rang out the voice of Sergeant-Major Grant at the door of the orderly tent.

Three men, as in file, came marching through the doorway, and as they reached the camp table at which I sat, the Sergeant-Major continued, "Halt, Left Turn, Right-Dress."

The men turned smartly, facing me. In the centre stood bareheaded the prisoner, a young man about twenty-two years of age, on each side of him a grim old soldier with a drawn bayonet.

An "Orderly Room" is the court which the Commanding Officer holds, usually in the morning when men are brought before him, charged with any offences they may have committed, with which the company commanders cannot deal.

It is a very solemn affair, and is a parade which all the officers of the battalion, especially those who have men charged with offences, are supposed to attend. They stand on either side of the Officer Commanding at "Attention." The Adjutant stands rigid on the right hand. The Officer Commanding alone is seated.

The Sergeant-Major handed the "Crime Sheet," that is the document in which the nature of the crime and the names of the witnesses are stated, to Adjutant Darling, who read:-

"That on December 10th, at 2 p.m., Private John B-- of the 48th Highlanders was found loitering in the Park at Bournemouth without a pass. That he became violently abusive on being taken into custody. Witnesses, Police constables 'J--' and 'D--' of Bournemouth." Then followed the evidence of the constables taken down in the presence of an officer at Bournemouth, to the effect "That on Dec. 10th, at 2 p.m., I, Police Constable 'J--,' together with Constable 'D--,' was patrolling the Park at Bournemouth when I saw Private B-- of the 15th Battalion sitting on a park seat with two young ladies. As was customary in such cases I asked him if he had a pass. He produced a pass signed by the Commanding Officer of the 15th Battalion, which had expired the day before. When we pointed out that Private B-- was 'absent without leave,' he said he expected an extension by wire that day, from his Commanding Officer. When we told him that it was our duty to take him into custody, he became very abusive, calling us 'Thick-headed John Bulls,' 'Fat-headed Englishmen,' 'Mutton heads,' 'Blasted Britishers,' etc. He had also abused the English people in very violent terms." The constables had taken charge of him and handed him over to the customary escort sent after him from camp.

When the Adjutant had finished reading the "crime sheet," I asked Private B-- if he had anything to say, and if the charge was true.

He had nothing to say. "It is true."

"How long were you out from England before you joined this Battalion," I asked.

"Three years, Sir."

"Do you think that three years' residence in Canada entitles you to abuse your countrymen, and call them 'fat-headed Englishmen'?" I asked.

The humor of the situation seemed to strike him.

"I don't know, Sir."

"Well, your pay during your absence will be forfeited by Royal Warrant, and you are admonished not to use abusive language to your countrymen again."

"Escort and Prisoner, Left Turn, Quick March, Admonished!" roared the Sergeant-Major as the prisoner left the room, and the officers all broke into a hearty laugh.

Of course the Private's name did not begin with B, but this incident is an example of the spirit that filled the men of the First Canadian Division. As soon as a man donned the bronze shoulder badge with "Canada" on it he became a Canadian, and forgot his hyphen. There was no mention of the British-born, the French-Canadian, or Canadian-born. These great issues had to be left for discussion and settlement to those who stayed at home.

As a matter of fact, there was only one pure bred Canadian in the "Red Watch." He joined as a transport driver at Valcartier. He was a full-blooded Indian and very proud of it. He had left a family and a good farm to go and see some fighting for the King. When he came to see me, he said he knew our regiment would see some fighting and he wanted to go with us. I asked him if he could handle horses. He said he could so I put him into the transport to his great joy. A very humorous incident occurred in regard to him, shortly after he had reached the Salisbury Plains. He had overstayed his leave one night, by a few hours, and was promptly taken in charge by the quarter-guard, who put him in the guard tent.

There was much dismay in the guard-tent at daybreak when it was found that the prisoner had flown. "Breaking out" or "forcing" a guard is a serious offence, so when he was found up in the horse lines a short time later and brought before me at the Orderly Room, matters looked interesting. His explanation, however, was most ingenious, and given with such earnestness that we could not help but accept it. He said that when he woke up before daylight he found himself in a strange tent. He knew it was time for him to go and attend to his horses, so he got out as quietly as possible so as not to disturb his comrades, and had gone about his duties as usual. His story, which was verified, gained him forgiveness. He proved a very good soldier afterwards, and at the Battle of St. Julien, when the transport was shelled out of its quarters at Ypres, and his horses killed, instead of retiring he took a rifle and ammunition, and found his way four miles down into the trenches at the salient, where his comrades were battling with the Huns at close range. He was there wounded, gassed, and taken prisoner. His name was Lickers, and he certainly displayed all the war-like qualities of his race.

When we left Canada we expected to spend some time in England completing our training. Everybody thought that we would be handed over to a lot of crack English drill instructors, and would be placed alongside of British regular regiments so as to acquire the proper polish. This would, no doubt, have been very desirable, but when we reached Salisbury Plains we found the British War Office in the throes of evolving what was known as "Kitchener's Army." The whole country was alive with recruiting committees, bands and patriotic organizations, and in the music halls the songs were all of the "Soldier's Farewell" variety.

Every soldier that could instruct was utilized. Officers who had retired and pensioners were recalled and came gladly. Instead of providing us with officers to instruct and guide us in our training, we were asked to come to the aid of the New Army, and we gave as many officers and instructors as we could spare. Commissions in the new army were offered freely to non-commissioned officers of the Canadian Army, and each battalion gave from ten to twenty of their best. These young men subsequently acquitted themselves with much credit. One of mine won his Military Cross at the Dardanelles.

One of the most difficult things we had to cope with was discipline. At first it was hard for the young Canadian who is brought up in a village or on a farm to realize that he has to obey the orders of his superior officer, if that officer happens to be a comrade who has only the day before been given a corporal's stripes. It is doubly difficult if the command is couched in the language of an order.

On the other hand officers and non-commissioned officers had to be taught that they must not bully or browbeat their subordinates. We did not take long to acquire the new discipline. Everybody was willing.

Now that men have to act largely for themselves, the system of discipline in the British army has been changed. The idea now is that the men must be taught to obey from a sense of duty, not from fear of their superiors. Armies have obeyed their leaders from time immemorial, from various motives. The Roman legions obeyed because of their regard for their citizenship; the soldiers of Cromwell and the Japanese from religious motives, the Germans from fear of their superior officers, and the British and French armies of to-day from patriotism and

a high sense of duty. When a soldier obeys from a sense of duty he will "carry on" even if his officers are killed or disabled. His courage is much higher. In previous wars when a battalion was decimated or had lost ten per cent. of its numbers, it was not considered a disgrace to retire, but in this war such losses are not considered. Battalions in the Canadian army have suffered losses as high as seventy per cent., and have still held their ground undaunted, and responded most cheerfully to the orders of their remaining officers to counter-attack and charge with their bayonets.

It took some patience to bring about this discipline. It often took several visits to the orderly room to teach a man that it was one of his first duties to try and keep his "conduct sheet,"-that is the page on the regimental records, which tells of his deeds-clear of any entries for misconduct.

Another troublesome matter was to teach the men that they could not go away from camp without "leave" and a "pass," and that it was wrong to overstay a "pass." When a soldier wants to leave camp he has to get permission from the officer commanding his company. He then gets a "pass" signed by the Officer Commanding the Battalion and armed with this pass he is at liberty for the period named on the pass.

The next big event in which we figured, after the King's visit, was the Lord Mayor's show. The Canadians were to be represented, and there was quite a flutter of excitement and much interest as to who should go to represent each battalion. I gave the honor to Lieutenant Frank Smith, who had worked very hard and had shown much ability.

The Lord Mayor's show is one of the annual events of London, and we were all anxious to see it. I had the good fortune to be invited by Sir Joseph Lawrence to view the procession from a balcony close to Temple Bar. The procession has been described so often that everybody knows all about it. The Canadians made a very fine showing. They were under the command of Colonel Williams. Our Highland detachment, under Lieutenant Frank Smith, looked exceedingly smart and got a full page in a number of the London illustrated dailies next morning.

One thing that struck me very favorably in the parade was the way in which the British regulars covered each other as they marched in fours along the street. Their rifles formed four ribbons of steel. There was no straggling.

The battalion soon settled down to a hard syllabus of training and instruction, beginning with squad drill. It was drill, drill, drill, all day long, rain or shine, and it was almost always rain.

We were much struck at first by the fact that in England farmers paid no attention to the rain. They kept on ploughing in rain, that in Canada would have sent the hired man to the shelter of the barn. After a while it dawned on us that if they did not plough in the rain they would not get any ploughing done at all.

Not only did the battalions give their days to drill but after they got through their squad drill they took two nights a week in training. All this soon began to get the men in shape.

On Thursday, November 19th, the 3rd Brigade had a visit from Mr. Rudyard Kipling. I sat at lunch with him and formed a friendship which I regard very highly. Mr. Kipling is one of the great men of the age, the first Imperialist of the Empire. He said very nice things about the Canadians.

On the 27th of November the Canadian Division was reviewed by General Pitcairn Campbell, Officer Commanding the southern command. The Division was drawn up in a long line on the Downs and presented a formidable aspect. It was one of the most inspiring sights I have ever seen. There was plenty of room on the plains and after we had performed a number of evolutions we were formed in line miles long and marched some distance, then formed for an attack upon a ridge crowned by a number of tumuli. The earth trembled with the tread of the battalions and the hoofs of the battery horses. Thirty thousand Canadians in battle array is a sight never to be forgotten. Everything passed off well, considering the difficulties with which we had to contend. General Campbell was accompanied by Mr. Walter Long, M.P. After luncheon he was kind enough to ride over to the 48th and complimented us very highly on our excellent appearance. The field training and hard work was working wonders on the men. Every day they were becoming better soldiers. It was the same with the other battalions. The officers were in earnest and unconsciously they were giving to the men under their command just what they needed. In the ranks there were a number of men born in the British Isles. Most of the officers were of Canadian birth, and the British-born soldier gets on magnificently with Colonial officers. Mutual respect was gradually bringing about efficiency and discipline of a very high order.

There was still much discontent because we were not sent abroad. It was not as bad with us as with Kitchener's Army. The question everybody was asking of the men in khaki was "When are you going to the Front?" It is wonderful how the sight of a uniform acts on the people's mind. They think that just as soon as a man dons a uniform he is ready to go to the Front. This re-acts on the men, and with everyone asking "When are you going to the Front?" they become almost frantic with impatience. After a soldier has been drilling a while, however, he realizes there is still something for him to learn. Then when he gets to the Front he discovers that it is not just knowing his drill that made him a soldier but the experience of obeying orders and doing the same things over and over again until he forgets drill and does the right thing without even thinking.

People who ask soldiers when they are going to the "Front" forget that it is not the men's fault they do not leave for the Front at once. A man that had lost a leg and whose left arm had been shattered at the elbow was invalided home, and he complained to me that because he was in uniform everybody kept asking him when he was going to the Front.

In November we learned that the arch corsair, the "Emden," had been caught and put out of business by the Australian cruiser "Sydney," after a spirited action in which the latter ship upheld the traditions of the British Navy. We also learned that while in England the Canadians were supposed to take a share in the defense of the East coast in case of a German invasion. On two separate occasions I was called at midnight and warned to be ready.

I forgot to mention that the Royal Flying Corps had a school at Lark Hill near Amesbury and that every day the aviators sailed above us. On several places on the Plains monuments have been erected by the Flying Corps in memory of officers who had given their lives in the interests of the new science. Some of the Canadians joined this Corps. Lieut. Lawson of the 48th, an engineer of ability and experience, subsequently joined and served in Mesopotamia. One man in our battalion wanted to join, but when it was pointed out to him that according to the statistics of the war his chances of being killed in a Highland Battalion were much better than in a flying squadron, he decided to stay with the 48th.

Towards Christmas we received an invitation to go to Glasgow and play football against one of the Glasgow battalions. On Christmas Day a number of the Canadian oarsmen in the different regiments had a race for eights in the Thames. We had eight first class men who had belonged to Canadian fast crews, namely, Lieutenants Alex. Sinclair, Acland, Bickell, Muir, Taylor, Bath, Wilson and Campbell. The crews were arranged according to clubs at home. If the crews had been by battalions I am inclined to think we would have won.

Our Pullman CoachToList

Our football team went to Glasgow on New Year's Day and played at Annie's Land. They played a very strong game but were up against new rules that penalized them, so they did not win.

The people of Glasgow were very kind and appreciative.

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