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   Chapter 12 XIIToC

The Red Watch By J. A. Currie Characters: 6220

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Bah! Ba! Ba! Ba-a-a! Moo! Mo! Moo! M-o-o-o! Ugh! Ugh! Ugh! Ba-a-a-a!

I was taking a stroll along the railway platform of a station in Northern France where the engine stopped to coal and water when this chorus of barnyard calls burst from the men packed in the box cars, reminding me of a cattle train. When they saw me halt and turn in astonishment there was a roar of laughter.

"I'm very sorry men, that you are so crowded."

"That's all right, Sir," came back the cheery answer, "that's what we are here for."

No wonder they thus amused themselves, for they had been travelling two nights and a day on the way to the front, and the accommodation; Well! only those who have been there can tell about or realize it.

The French do move troops in a wonderful manner. Each train is made up of a certain number of box cars, flat cars and passenger cars. Into a passenger car of the compartment kind the officers and staff are jammed, eight in a compartment. On the flat cars the waggons, guns and vehicles are run and lashed, and into the box cars the men and horses are crowded. On each box car there is painted the legend "Cheveaux 8, Hommes 40," which being translated means that the capacity of the car is eight horses or forty men, and we had to put 40 men into each box car which crowded them so that only eight men could lie down at a time while the rest stood up. It was thus a very trying journey, but the men did not grumble. They had to stand 48 hours of this and did it without a murmur.

They expected greater hardships than this when they got to the front, and as a poor shattered warrior said to me later on when I clasped his hand and regretted his terrible wounds, "Don't you mind, Colonel. That's what we came over here for."

When we landed we were told to march for the train at seven in the evening, and we were ready to the minute. We marched silently through the streets of Nazaire, and in a quarter of an hour we were at the station. We found the train all ready, but no crew, no conductor, no engine. An official at a water tank told us that the crew and transport officer were at the cafe dining. They came along presently and we started loading. Barnum & Bailey's circus never loaded a train as fast as we did that one.

When we were loaded I was handed my train orders and a big yellow ticket on which was marked the halts and times to eat. We had at least a twenty-four hour run ahead of us. I was told that when I got to Rouen we would get further orders. We carried three days' rations, so I climbed into my compartment, and was soon asleep. I woke shortly after the train started to find we were travelling through a big city along the banks of the River Loire. We halted about seven in the morning to feed and water the horses and make tea for the men in their dixies or oval camp kettles. It is rather a serious business looking after a thousand men and over sixty horses and mules, but our organization stood the test well. My Quartermaster, Captain Duguid, knew his work. I had Lieutenant Dansereau as our scouting and interpretin

g officer. He was a graduate of the R.M.C. and a good officer.

It is a beautiful country but not really to be compared with Western Ontario. Many large chateaus with square doleful looking windows were passed and hillsides covered with vineyards. We were on red clay, soil like that of Devonshire or Niagara. The landscape is punctuated with windmills, most of them old and without sails. At noon we came to Le Mans, a large railway centre, only about forty miles from Paris. We then turned west for Rouen. We stopped at La Hutte for dinner. It was a small wayside station with several large switches. There was an English officer at the platform. The place was right in the country. He informed me that he enjoyed his stay there very much, but that rural France was not like Paris. He said a transport officer up the line kept calling for the 48th. A beautiful country girl of about twelve years of age came along with a big box of cigarettes which she handed to the men. This was the first demonstration we had had of any kind since we left England. Evidently the people were accustomed to seeing English officers and paid very little attention to us. We were only "Anglaise." During the afternoon when we stopped at towns the streets and approaches to the station were crowded with people. About ten o'clock at night we came to Rouen. This was as far as my ticket read. An officer, however, came on board and took my ticket, but returned in a little while with it and another one, sending us on further. We were in for another night on the train. We were now in old Brittany and back in a chalk country. There was not very much to report the next day. We arrived at Bologne about ten o'clock. The Canadian base hospital is stationed here and I did not think we were going further, but we went on. We also passed through Calais which a noted English Queen said would be found written on her heart. They were certainly giving us a trip around the country. At St. Omar we were told we were to go to Hazebrouck, where we arrived about seven in the evening, and the R.T. Officer who kept asking for us came aboard. It was Lieut. Russell who had sat with myself and officers at the St. Andrew's dinner given at the Queen's Hotel, Toronto, in 1913. He had attended Varsity and knew me and most of our officers. We were delighted to see him again. He told me we had to march out five miles into the country but, if I preferred it, I could stay all night in billets in a new hospital that was in course of erection and was prepared for such use. I chose the hospital, as my men had been standing for two days and nights in box cars. We marched a quarter of a mile through the streets to the hospital, and it did not take us long to get to bed on some straw trusses.

In finding our billets here Sergeant Burness and a piper had dropped through a hole in the floor. Burness was badly hurt and was unable to go any further.

This was the evening of the 17th of February and "it is a strange thing but this regiment has ended most of its big moves on the seventeenth," remarked my orderly room sergeant.

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