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   Chapter 10 XToC

The Red Watch By J. A. Currie Characters: 19311

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


HIS MAJESTY THE KING, AND FIELD MARSHAL THE RIGHT HONORABLE VISCOUNT KITCHENER

"Did they bury him standing on his head, or the other way on?"

We, that is to say, Mr. J.R. Robinson, editor of the Toronto Telegram, and I stood in Westminster Abbey at the spot in the hallowed floor where "Rare" Ben Jonson had claimed his foot of ground, and we were playing "Innocents Abroad" and having some fun with our guide. He told us that he was a Swiss and that he had shown "Buffalo Bill," "Sir" Thomas Edison, and other famous Americans about the place.

"I guess they stood him up on his feet," answered the guide.

"Was he the man who wrote the dictionary?"

"I guess that is him," answered the guide. "I understand he was a literary man."

"Who was this chap Goldsmith? Was he the first pawnbroker, or the man who invented watches?"

"I think he had something to do with the watches," said our guide, awestricken by our profound knowledge.

"Who was this Salisbury?" we asked. "He must have been somebody important to have such a fine monument?"

"He was some rich lawyer chap," was the answer we received. We were certainly having our money's worth.

We wandered up and down the aisles; beneath whose flagstones rest Britain's honored dead.

"What strikes me most," said Robinson, "is not the number of tombs and monuments to the great, but the numberless monuments to nonentities that by some means have managed to creep into the shadow of greatness, by crowding upon the tombs of the Immortals in this Holy of Holies, the Temple of Fame of the British race."

After we had grilled our guide to our heart's content, and fed him till he almost fainted, we went around to have a look at Cromwell's monument and the spot in the great hall where Charles I. stood when he received his death sentence. Poor Charles, whose pictures look so much like his descendant William of Germany, the Kaiser, who has caused so much trouble for us all.

Of all the public buildings I have ever seen the great Hall of William Rufus at Westminster impressed me most. It is of the Norman order of architecture. The conception and simplicity of the structure is magnificent. King William announced to the banquetting courtiers, according to tradition, that this majestic structure was intended as an ante-room to the great Parliament Buildings which he intended to rear on the banks of the Thames. The person who reads the poetry of the stones inwardly curses the careless archer whose arrow cut short the career of this truly great king, for this is not the only great structure that "William the Red" conceived and commenced during his turbulent reign.

The three distinctive monuments of London are, this Hall of William the Red, the grim dominating lineaments shown in Cromwell's statue, and the noble well balanced head of the great Clive, the foremost of Empire builders.

"London Bridge is falling Down" is the marching-out tune of the "Red Watch," and many other Highland Regiments, although in the Celtic the words of the song say "Well tak' the High Road." London Bridge had not fallen down in spite of threatened Zeppelin raids, and from it we had a good look at the Thames with the magnificent vista of buildings along the embankment.

The Thames means a great deal to the Imperialist. I have seen the Missouri River where it joins the Mississippi, the two gigantic streams forming a symphony of liquid mud, the Detroit River rushing between two busy cities laden with hundreds of ships representing liquid commerce, but the Thames,-the Thames represents liquid history.

There was great joy and rejoicing when we were informed that everybody was to have a holiday either at Christmas or New Year, and that His Majesty had decreed that free transportation would be provided for such as wished a holiday to visit friends. A free trip to any place in Great Britain or Ireland meant a great deal to our men. The Government had taken over the British railways on an agreement to pay the proprietors the amount of the earnings in 1913, during the period the roads would be under control. The managers of the railways had been formed into a Board to run the roads, and the whole thing had proved such a great success that the Government was virtually having the work done for nothing. In the language of the London Statist, this was "the best bargain" the British government ever made.

The curse of railways is competition. Governments can and have endeavored to adjust rates so as to cheapen the cost of service and at the same time put a stop to rate cutting, but there is such a thing as competition in service or operation which means running too many trains, where control by the Government ends.

The whole matter, however, turned out to the advantage of the soldiers. Those of our men who had friends in England chose Christmas for their holidays. The Scotchmen selected New Year's, and the Irish chose both and had their way, for what Commanding Officer could deny a man a two weeks' holiday in the Green Isle when the recipient stood a good chance of never seeing the home of his ancestors again?

The pipes of the 48th Highlanders played on New Year's Day in Glasgow, but Scotland was too busy with the war to listen. I spent a few days in the Hebrides. This is not the place for the description of a tour in the Highlands. There is something about the Highland Hills that impresses one very deeply. The peaks are not so majestic as the Saw Tooth Rockies, the Kicking Horse Range, the Cariboo Mountain, or the Range of the Agawa Valley on the northwest shore of Lake Superior which is the most beautiful spot probably in the whole world, but there is something of solemn grandeur in the Scottish Hills that pertains to them alone. They are cathedral-like in their majesty. No wonder they have produced poets and soldiers.

But Scotland was busy arming for the war. Every man of military age was taking to the field. It required no conscription to send the Scots to the war. Ninety-three per cent. of the sons of the Scottish Manse had volunteered and gone, and only the lame, the halt and the blind of military age remained. If this war continued very long there would be no Scotch left, except what you get in bottles.

I spent a day in Mull and Iona motoring with a friend who was enlisting men for the naval service. We stopped at a village on our return, and while he went off to see a young man, I was sitting in the automobile opposite a small cottage, at the front gate of which stood a tall, handsome young woman, with two tiny children clinging to her skirts. She managed to pluck up courage to speak to me.

"Perhaps you are from the war, Sir?" she said with a wistful look on her face, and a strong Highland accent.

"My husband is in one of the Highland Regiments, perhaps you have seen his battalion, the Argyles?"

I replied in the negative, adding that I belonged to a Canadian Highland Regiment.

"There are only two young men left in this village who have not gone to the war," she volunteered. "And they will have to be out of here to-morrow, or they will hear from the women."

"You Scotch women are very hard on the men," I said in a half joking way; "You are sending them all to the war. There won't be any left. Why did you, with those two little children, let your husband go to the war?"

This seemed to stagger her for a moment, then she drew herself up scornfully and turning on me, with her eyes fairly blazing, she said:

"I am a Cameron, Sir. I would never have spoken to him again if he had not volunteered to go to the war."

I regretted my remark, and the refrain of the old Jacobite song recurred to me, "A Cameron never can yield." This is an example of the spirit of the Highland Scotch people in the Great War.

It should be considered a duty of every person of Scottish blood to see Scotland and live in it, if only for a short time, and have their children see "Home." The people of Scotland cannot understand why Colonials and Americans of Scottish descent to the second and third generations, especially Canadians, should call Scotland "Home." The reason is easily explained.

In America we are constantly struggling to attain wealth, social or political greatness, or else we are busy all the time fighting to prevent others from achieving success. We were only in Scotland a very short time when the kindly spirit and homely friendship of the people give us a new experience. It is like the feeling of good-will that centres about one's own fireside. As a country Scotland is "Home." Everyone there from the humblest fisherman to the highest born in the land is anxious to show you some kindness and make you feel at home. That is why Scotland is the cradle of soldiers, poets, statesmen and heroes.

As soon as the holiday season was over the Canadians again settled down to Field Training. Every morning we started off with our waggons and enough food to do us for the day. We drilled and fought and put into effect new lessons in tactics. Particular attention was paid to musketry, such as training the men and the squad leaders to name and recognize targets, also to judge distances by practical methods. Every day we were becoming more efficient.

Before the Christmas holidays I had had the good fortune to be able to take the "Hythe" Course and certificate in musketry and machine gun training at Hayling Island. I went there a confirmed adherent to the old Bisley style of deliberate shooting. I left a convert to the new British system of musketry that turned out the formidable riflemen of the First British Army. These soldiers overwhelmed the

Germans with the great rapidity and accuracy of their fire. The Germans would hardly believe that the British were not armed with automatic rifles.

On the way back from Hayling Island I met with an accident which luckily had no bad results for me. Accompanied by General Turner, V.C., and Lt.-Colonel Burland, I was being driven in an automobile from Salisbury city to Lark's Hill Camp, when the steering gear of the automobile went wrong and we ran into an embankment, the car turning turtle. I was sitting in the front seat with the driver, and the machine, going at the rate of thirty miles an hour, crashed into the bank. I braced myself, seeing visions ahead of a broken neck and a sudden inglorious end to my campaigning. But Providence saved me from even a scratch, although I was projected with such force against the glass windshield as to smash it to atoms. As the car went over, I had presence of mind enough to grasp the stancheons of the top, and thus saved myself from being thrown out over the front of the car. General Turner, V.C., who was in the rear seat with Colonel Burland, was buried under the machine, and as I cleared myself from the broken glass and debris I hear him groan, whilst the automobile hind wheels continued to revolve as long as any gasoline was left in the carburettor to feed the engine. We managed to get him out of the wreck and commandeered another automobile to take him back to Salisbury, where it was found that his collar bone and several ribs were broken. He was very cheerful and his only anxiety was lest his injuries might prevent him from going to the Front. As this book was published while I was still "soldiering" my lips were sealed as far as saying anything about my superior officers was concerned. All I dare say is that no braver, better, truer man than General Turner, V.C., ever lived.

Our field training brought our men along very quickly. They were gradually becoming seasoned. They had gone into huts at Lark Hill which they had built themselves, and as these huts were warm and comfortable life began to be a real pleasure.

About the last week in January Hon. Sir George H. Perley and Lord Islington paid us a visit at Lark Hill, and we had the pleasure of their company at an informal luncheon.

Thursday, February 4th, 1915, was one of the greatest days in the history of the regiment. The previous week, when Sir George Perley and Lord Islington visited us in our huts and messed with us on soldiers' fare, the Acting High Commissioner told me that it was probable that His Majesty the King and Lord Kitchener would be down the following week to review the Canadian Division and say good-bye. This put everybody in tune, even the lads who had to stay in England with the surplus officers. On Wednesday afternoon the field officers spent some time in going over the review ground, pegging it out, so it will not be out of place to say a word about the grounds. Lark Hill Camp lies on a gentle slope facing west, and from the door of my hut I could see Stonehenge, that mighty monument to the great race that at one time lived on these plains and raised the enormous tumuli monuments to the heroes of their day.

The reviewing ground was selected about a mile and a half west of the camp on the new line of railway which had been built largely by the Canadians. The stand was placed to face north and the long lines, two of them stretched away east and west. About a mile south Stonehenge is visible, and from Signal Mound in the rear of the reviewing grounds the river and Old Sarum can be seen in the distance. All about the plains huge mounds raised by the Druidical Celts rear themselves, of varying sizes, some twenty feet high, others smaller. This must in all ages have been a great military centre. We are not the first comers by any means, and this is truly historic ground that has resounded to the tread of the warrior for thirty centuries. It was fitting that it should be ground chosen by the King on which to review his Canadian troops.

The morning looked very uninviting. It threatened rain, sleet and snow. For a moment it brightened up and then we were ordered to parade with overcoats in packs, but by the time the troops got to the ground it was raining heavily and we were reviewed in overcoats after all.

The troops were placed in two lines, at about two hundred paces distance, the cavalry on the right, then the artillery and the auxiliaries, then the infantry, three brigades of them, the pick of the contingent. They certainly looked well as they marched across the Downs to their appointed stations. The training had had its effect. They looked much better than at the first review, many of them on that occasion being without parts of their uniform, and the drill was rather loose and frayed at the ends.

However, that was an historic occasion for we had Her Gracious Majesty with us then, as well as the King, and Lord Roberts, whose smile was so refulgent it was worth the whole voyage to see it.

The King was to arrive at eleven o'clock, and a few minutes before that hour the whistling of a locomotive was heard as the train wound its way up and down over the hills of Amesbury. The road was built along the sides of the hills without any pretence of grading to a level. It was built by the sturdy Canadians who will leave that monument behind them on Salisbury Plains, more useful if not more ornamental or enduring than Stonehenge, the tumuli, or the fallen ramparts and ditches of Celts, Saxons, Normans or Romans.

The train consisted of two locomotives and two coaches. After a few moments it stopped and His Majesty and his Staff stepped out and advanced along a board walk to the platform which had been erected for him to stand on, and over which the Royal Standard was then floating. As he took his place on the stand, a trumpet sounded and as one man the troops came to the salute. Each double line was over a mile in length. His Majesty and Staff, accompanied by General Alderson and Colonel Seely, M.P., now the new Cavalry Commander, started down the first line to the left, then back up the front of the second line to its right. The officers commanding units dismounted as His Majesty left the stand.

My regiment was the second from the left in the second line. His Majesty walked between the line of officers and the front line of men. The most prominent figure on the Staff was Lord Kitchener, who, wonder of wonders, wore a smile like a summer morning. As His Majesty approached the left of the regiment, I met him, saluting. He shook hands with me, and I took my place on his left hand. He asked me very kindly about the health of the men and expressed great pleasure to know that we had almost recovered from the terrible epidemic of influenza and of la grippe that had affected the troops. I assured him that the men did not grumble, they considered it part of their work and were quite content to "do their bit" for His Majesty and the Empire. He repeated that it was altogether too bad that the Canadians had had to put up with disagreeable conditions, but they were going abroad in a few days, and he felt sure they would distinguish themselves. He then shook hands with me, bade me good-bye and wished myself and the regiment "good-luck." Lord Kitchener then shook hands, and with a "Good-luck to you and your fine regiment, Colonel," they passed along to the next battalion. Several of the other officers on the Staff shook hands and chatted for a moment.

His Majesty looked greatly improved in health, and seemed in better spirits than the first time we saw him at West Down South. On that occasion he was showing the effects of the hard work he had been giving to the Army-here to-day, miles away to-morrow. But those first strenuous days were over. The war was well in hand. The measure of the Germans had been taken, at sea as well as on land.

When the war broke out the one thing the people dreaded was lack of efficient leadership. No one imagined the King would be the strongest and best King the Empire had ever seen. To him alone is to be ascribed the wonderful political solidarity of the British people. The masses always had a latent feeling that King George would make a great King.

His Majesty returned to the stand, and we marched past in double lines, the cavalry eight deep in fours, the artillery two guns abreast, the infantry in double lines of fours, eight men abreast. Then they defiled along the railway four deep to cheer His Majesty as his train passed. The bonnets were placed on the muzzles of the rifles and the men cheered like mad. His Majesty stood at the window of the Royal Coach and waved farewells, and the second review by the King was over. I heard the men say how much they regretted that Her Majesty had not been there, for we enjoyed her first visit very much, and the interest she took in the soldiers.

The frills are now all over and it is get ready to entrain and cross over to France.

It was a great pleasure to learn from time to time that the officers that went to Valcartier supernumerary to our establishment and were transferred to other corps were getting along well. Lieutenants Smith and Ian Sinclair had gone to the Royal Highlanders of Canada, Lieutenant Bell to the 17th Battalion. They all subsequently distinguished themselves in France.

At Salisbury Plains Captain J.W. Moffatt was transferred to our Battalion as Chaplain. He immediately joined the officers' training class and qualified as a combatant officer so that if need be he could transfer to the effectives in Flanders. He was a great favorite with us all.

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