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The Red Watch By J. A. Currie Characters: 8731

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


During the night of the 3rd and 4th of May our brigade was withdrawn from the salient and marched to a bivouac west of the Chateau Trois Towers in which our Divisional Headquarters were located all through the battle.

As we marched through the park the day was breaking and the birds were singing more sweetly than I had ever heard them before, even in Canada. They did not feel any more pleased than the few that were left of the gallant "Red Watch" and the other battalions of the Third Canadian Brigade.

The larks were now beginning to build their nests, and strange to say they did not pay the slightest attention to the shelling. The lark we noticed several times would continue to soar and sing higher and higher, intoxicated with the joy of his own song until he came in the way of an exploding shell. Then the beautiful song would be cut short and all that would be left of the spring-time chorister would be a bunch of feathers in the field or on the roadway.

We stayed a day in bivouac and enjoyed a good rest. About noon General Plumer, under whose command we had fought the last days of the battle, came to see us to console us for our losses and to congratulate us upon our stand during the trying hours of the 22nd, 23rd and 24th. His sympathy and kindness will never be forgotten by the men who survived the terrible struggle that ended the great German drive and spring offensive of 1915.

That night we started for Bailleul and made a long, tiresome march along the stone roads. The night was dark as pitch, but we made good time and got to our billets at daybreak.

That afternoon General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien came to see us at our billets. He warmly congratulated me on the action at St. Julien and expressed much regret that so many good men were lost. At Cassel he had told us that the Canadians had brought him good luck in South Africa, and he felt sure they would distinguish themselves again under his command. His prophecy had come true. Nothing will destroy the confidence of the Canadian troops in the Chief of the Second Army. The hope expressed by every Canadian soldier who fought under him was that he would be their leader when they won their way across the Rhine.

The people throughout the Empire gave every evidence of their appreciation of the conduct of the Canadians. The press was loud in our praises and His Majesty the King was graciously pleased to send the following message to Field Marshal His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught;

"Congratulate you most warmly on the splendid and gallant way in which the Canadian Division fought during the last two days north of Ypres. Sir John French says their conduct was magnificent throughout. The Dominion will be justly proud."


His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught then sent the following message to the Minister of Militia for Canada:

"Canada has every reason to be proud of the gallantry of her sons who have nobly done their part in this great struggle for the liberties and honor of our Empire against the tyranny and injustice of Germany.

"As an English officer, I am proud of our Canadian comrades and feel that they have brought honor to the British Army as well as themselves, and that their heroic work will thrill the Dominion from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

"I deeply lament the long list of casualties and send our profound sympathy to every home which is plunged into sadness and sorrow by the tidings that reach us from hour to hour.

"Assuring you again of my heartfelt sympathy for the relations of all those Canadian officers, non-commissioned officers and men who fell so nobly on the field of battle. I am,

"(Signed) Arthur."

It has been impossible to describe the part the British troops played in this historic action which lasted over twelve days. Their valor was beyond question. This story deals with the Canadians and their British brothers did not begrudge them any glory which they may have received. The story of the British troops and their part in the fight will no doubt be written. I can testify to their incomparable valor. Braver men than those from London, Durham, Northumberland, and other parts of England who fought alongside of us never lived.

With reference to our comrades from the Indian Empire having fought alongside of them and seen their w

ounded and their dead, I can testify to their spirit of loyalty, their unquestioned bravery and all the qualities that are to be found in great soldiers.

The Empire contains no better men than the men of the Lahore Division and more particularly the Sir Hind Brigade, whose deeds have shed undying lustre upon the British Army. The lie factories that have been established by German gold, even in the heart of the Empire, have endeavored to cast doubt upon the relative value of the Indian troops and the troops from other parts of the Empire. There was no truth in these stories. The army in Flanders was equally good all round.

With a national system of military service, such as they have in France, there would be no qualms of patriotic consciences at home, and fewer lie factories.

The Canadians can also bear witness to the splendid conduct of the French troops and the French nation. Our conception of the French people derived from books, chiefly novels of a questionable nature, are entirely wrong. The French soldier is cool and intrepid and they "carry on" their work without the slightest "fuss." The pose of the nation is an inspiration and speaks of solidarity and resolve.

Many of our preconceived notions of them were shattered. The men and women in all classes of the French people are kind, industrious, very moral and deeply religious. They are not at all like the hysterical neurotic creatures of the yellow French novels.

France is the most democratic country in the world. Far more so than the United States or Canada where in most cases every family tries to establish a peculiar cast, a special creed and a select circle of society all its own.

France has a national system of military service and every young man when he comes of military age has to learn the trade of soldiering, starting in the ranks. He does not begin his soldiering by being an honorary general. He reaches the commission rank by study and attention to his duties, not by having friends at Court.

Some people foolishly confound National Service with conscription. They are not the same at all. Where a country has conscription a portion of the population is liable to be drafted compulsorily into the army. When men are needed each parish or community is called upon to provide so many men, whether they know anything of military duties or not. The mayor or head of the community puts all the names of the eligibles into a hat. The required number are drawn by ballot and are supposed to go to war,-but seldom do. One of the beauties of conscription is that if you have the money you can buy a substitute. Conscription is the product of a very old form of civilization, for if in China, for instance, you are conscripted to be hung or be beheaded, you are at liberty to hire a substitute. Conscription thus bears very heavily on the poor, while the idle rich can always escape service.

With national service, rich and poor, prince, priest and pauper have to serve alike without exemption. When the nation is at war, every man, woman and child in it is at war. The males are divided into categories, and those who have youth and no responsibility have to serve in the first line. The only son of a widow, and the father of a numerous small family does not have to leave them to the mercy of public charity and "Patriotic Funds" and go into the front line to fight. There is a place for everybody.

The nation is mobilized and everybody knows that if a man is left behind at the counter, in the mill, or on the farm that it is so ordered, and that that is his place in the service of the State. The people who have experienced this form of service despise the volunteering system, first, because it bears unjustly on the brave and patriotic, and, secondly, because a paid soldier they say is a man hired to kill.

I asked the mother of a handsome lad of seventeen at one of our billets near Cassel when she asked me if the war was likely to continue another year, if she regretted if her boy might have to serve.

"Oh, no, sir," she said. "I fully realized from the first day that I rocked him in his cradle that he would have to fight for France. I am resigned and proud to give two sons for France."

That is the spirit of the French people, calm indomitable and persevering. The spirit that endures to the end and will prevail.

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