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   Chapter 1 THE CALL—TO ARMS

Private Peat By Harold Reginald Peat Characters: 17276

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"Well," said old Bill, "I know what war is ... I've been through it with the Boers, and here's one chicken they'll not catch to go through this one."

Ken Mitchell stirred his cup of tea thoughtfully. "If I was old enough, boys," said he, "I'd go. Look at young Gordon McLellan; he's only seventeen and he's enlisted."

That got me. It was then that I made up my mind I was going whether it lasted three months, as they said it would, or five years, as I thought it would, knowing a little bit of the geography and history of the country we were up against.

We were all sitting round the supper table at Mrs. Harrison's in Syndicate Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta. War had been declared ten days before, and there had been a call for twelve hundred men from our city. Six hundred were already with the colors.

Now, to throw up a nice prosperous business and take a chance at something you're not sure of getting into after all, is some risk, and quite an undertaking as well. But I had lived at the McLellens' for years and knew young Gordon and his affairs so well that I thought if he could tackle it, there was no reason why I shouldn't.

"Well, Bill, I'm game to go, if you will," I said. Bill had just declared his intention rather positively, so I was a bit surprised when he replied in his old familiar drawl:

"All right, but you'll have to pass the doctor first. I'm pretty sure I can get by, but I'm not so certain about you."

Ken Mitchell looked up at that and, smiling at me, said, "I can imagine almost anything in this world, but I can't imagine Peat a soldier."

"Well, we'll see about that, Ken," I replied, and with that the supper came to an end.

That evening Bill and I went over to the One-Hundred-and-First Barracks, but there was nothing doing, as word had just come from Ottawa to stop recruiting. It was on the twenty-second of August, 1914, before the office was opened again, and on that day we took another shot at our luck.

The doctor gave me the "once over" while Bill stood outside.

"One inch too small around the chest," was the verdict.

"Oh, Doc, have a heart!"

"No," he said, "we have too many men now to be taking a little midget like you." That was disappointment number two. I walked out and reported to Bill, and I need not say that that loyal friend did not try to pass without me.

That night-August twenty-second-I slept very little. I had made up my mind that I was going to the war, and go I would, chest or no chest. Before morning I had evolved many plans and adopted one. I counted on my appearance to put me through. I am short and slight. I'm dark and curly-haired. I can pass for a Frenchman, an American, a Belgian; or at a pinch a Jew.

I had my story and my plan ready when the next day I set out to have another try. At twelve-thirty I was seated on Major Farquarhson's veranda where I would meet him and see him alone when he came home to lunch.

"Excuse me, Doctor," I said when he appeared, "but I'm sure you would pass me if you only knew my circumstances."

"Well?" snapped the major.

"You see, sir, my two brothers have been killed by the Germans in Belgium, and my mother and sisters are over there. I must go over to avenge them."

I shivered; I quaked in my shoes. Would the major speak to me in French? I did not then know as much as Bon jour.

But luck was with me. To my great relief Major Farquarhson replied, as he walked into the house, "Report to me this afternoon; I will pass you."

August 28, 1914, saw old Bill-Bill Ravenscroft-and me enlisted for the trouble.

A few days later Bill voiced the opinion of the majority of the soldiers when he said, "Oh, this bloomin' war will be over in three months." Not alone was this Bill's opinion, or that of the men only, but the opinion of the people of Canada, the opinion of the people of the whole British Empire.

And right here there lies a wrong that should be righted. From the days of our childhood, in school and out, we are taught what WE can do, and not what the other fellow can do. This belief in our own strength and this ignorance of our neighbor's follows us through manhood, aye, and to the grave.

It was this over-confidence which brought only thirty-three thousand Canadian men to the mobilization camp at Valcartier, in answer to the first call to arms, instead of the one hundred thousand there should have been.

Not many days passed before we boarded the train at Edmonton for our journey to Valcartier. The first feeling of pride came over me, and I am sure over all the boys on that eventful Thursday night, August 27, 1914, when thousands of people, friends and neighbors, lined the roadside as we marched to the station.

Only one or two of us wore the khaki uniform; the rest were in their oldest and poorest duds. A haphazard, motley, rummy crowd, we might have been classed for anything but soldiers. At least, we gathered this from remarks we overheard as we marched silently along to the waiting troop-train.

Strangely enough no one was crying. Every one was cheered. Little did hundreds of those women, those mothers, dream that this was the last look they would have at their loved ones. Men were cheering; women were waving. Weeping was yet to come.

On that same August night, not only from Edmonton, but from every city and town in Canada men were marching on their way to Valcartier.

We traveled fast, and without event of importance. There were enthusiastic receptions at each town that we passed through. There was Melville and there was Rivers, and there was Waterous, where the townsfolk declared the day a public holiday, and Chapelou in Northern Ontario, where we had our first parade of the trip. There was a tremendous crowd to meet us here, a great concourse of people to welcome these stalwarts of the West. We lined up in as good formation as possible, and our sergeant, who was very proud of himself and of us-mostly himself-majestically called us to attention.

"From the left, number!" he gave the command. Such a feat, of course, is an impossibility.

"From the right, Sergeant," yelled old Bill.

"No," answered the sergeant, "from the left." The crowd roared and the sergeant raved. Finally our captain straightened us out, but the sergeant to this day has never forgotten the incident.

North Bay passed, then Ottawa, Montreal, and at last we arrived at Valcartier. So far the life of a soldier had been anything but a pleasant one. My body was black and blue from lying on the hard boards, and I was eager, as was every other man, to leave the train at once; but as our camp was not quite ready we had to stay in the cars another night.

It was a relief, I assure you, when on the morning of September first we marched into Valcartier. Such a sight: tents everywhere one looked; all around little white marquees. I said to Bill, "Is this the regular training ground?" To my surprise he informed me that this great camp had been organized within the last two weeks.

I marveled at this for I did not believe we had a man in Canada with the organizing ability to get a camp of this size in such splendid shape in so short a time. We were finally settled in our quarters and told that we were to be known as the Ninth Battalion, One-Hundred-and-First Edmonton Fusiliers.

The second day we were in camp the bugle sounded the assembly. Of course I did not know an "assembly" from a mess call, but the others ran for the parade ground and so I followed.

Gee! what a mob! There was a big man sitting on a horse. Bill said he was the colonel. He made a speech to us. He told us we were fine men.

"You are a fine body of men," said he ... "but we are unorganized, and we have no non-commissioned officers."

I whispered to Bill, "What's a non-commissioned officer?"

Bill looked to see if I really meant it. "A sergeant, a corporal-anything but a private," he replied.

"Will all the men who have had former military experience fall out," commanded the colonel; "the rest of you go back to quarters."

"Have I had any former military experience, Bill?" I was eager for anything.

"Sure you have," said Bill. "We'll just stay here and maybe we'll be made sergeants."

About six hundred of us stayed! But, believe me, if they had all had as much military experience as I, we wouldn't have been soldiers yet. When the adjutant came around, he gave me a look as much as to say: "That kid certainly has got a lot of nerve." He offered to make Bill a corporal, but as that would have transferred him from D Company to F Company he declined rather than leave me.

This will give you

some idea of the kind of organization or non-organization when the First Contingent Canadians was formed. Not only in our own battalion but nearly anywhere in the regiment almost anybody could have been a non-commissioned officer-certainly anybody that had looks and the nerve to tell the adjutant that he had had former military experience.

It was not very long before we began to realize that soldiering, after all, was no snap. There was the deuce of a lot to learn, and the deuce of a lot to do.

To the rookie one of the most interesting things are the bugle calls. The first call, naturally, that the new soldier learns is "the cook-house," and possibly the second is the mail-call. The call that annoyed me most at first was "reveille." I had been used to getting up at nine o'clock in the morning; rising now at five-thirty wasn't any picnic. This, especially when it took a fellow half the night to get warm, because all we had under us was Mother Earth, one blanket and a waterproof.

It was the second day at camp that we started in to work good and hard. Reveille at five-thirty a.m.; from six to seven Swedish exercise, then one hour for breakfast when we got tea, pork and beans, and a slice of bread. From eight to twelve saw us forming fours and on the right form companies. From twelve to half past one more pork and beans, bread and tea. Rifle practise, at the butts, followed until five-thirty, and ... yes, it did ... pork and beans, bread and tea appeared once more.

Neither officers nor non-coms knew very much at the start, but they were a bunch of good scouts. And we were all very enthusiastic, there is no doubt about that. Soon we began to realize that if we would put our shoulders to the wheel and work hard we would certainly see service overseas.

?Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. Scene from the Photo-Play THE SONS OF DEMOCRACY.

Souvenirs brought back from "Over There." The enemy calls the Canadian a "Souvenir Hunter." It must be remembered the author is a Canadian.

As a private soldier and no matter how humble my opinion may be, I must give the greatest praise and credit to the organizer and founder of Camp Valcartier, at that time Colonel Sir Sam Hughes ... the then minister of militia for Canada. We had about three miles of continuous rifle range; and good ranges they were, considering they were got together in less than two weeks. I will admit that the roads leading to the ranges were nothing to brag about, yet, taking it all in all, even they were pretty good.

By this time the majority of us had received our uniforms and our badges, and had been given a number, and instructed to mark this number on everything we had. Mine was 18535.

We had no "wet" canteens at Valcartier, so we were a very sober camp. Each battalion had a shower bath, and there was no excuse for any man to be dirty. Even at that it was not very long before those little "somethings" which are no respecters of persons, be he private, non-com, commissioned officer or general, found their way into the camp. I'll never forget the first gray-back I found on me. I cried like a baby, and old Bill sympathized with me, saying in consoling tones that I'd soon get used to them. Bill knew.

For amusement at Valcartier, we had free shows and pay shows, also moving pictures. The pay show got to be so amusing that we made a bonfire out of it one bright September night, and found it more entertaining as a conflagration than it ever had been as an entertainment. At all events, that was how one of the boys of the Fifteenth Battalion put it.

The second week in camp we were inoculated, and again examined for overseas service. Through some very fine work, I escaped the examination, but could not get out of the inoculation. We were promised three shots in the arm, but after the first I resolved that one was more than enough for me. German bullets could not be worse, I thought, and when I got one I didn't change my mind.

As the days wore on we grew more and more enthusiastic. Already rumors were spreading that we would be leaving "any time now" for France. The excitement certainly told on some of the boys. In my regiment no less than nine, I guess they were ex-homesteaders, went "nutty." One chap, I recall, killed hundreds of Germans on the bloody battle-fields of Valcartier. The surgeon assured us the mania was temporary.

We were pretty thoroughly equipped by the end of the third week, when we were given puttees instead of leggings. It was sure funny the way some of the boys looked when they first put them on, for many of them got the lower part of the leg much bigger than the upper part, but of course that might happen to any one who had never seen puttees before.

There was considerable grumbling about these same puttees, because, at first, they were undoubtedly very uncomfortable. However, before many days the majority of us were ready to vote for puttees permanently, as they proved warmer, a greater support to the leg on long marches and more nearly waterproof than their more aristocratic brother leggings.

It was during the third week of camp life that we had our first review. We gave the salute to the Duke of Connaught, who was accompanied by Sir Sam Hughes. After this review, we were told that we might expect to leave for France at two hours' notice.

The following days we spent on the rifle ranges and in making fake departures. I wrote home to my friends more than once that "we were leaving for the front to-day," but when the next day arrived we were still leaving. I sent my mother six telegrams on six different days to say that I would start for France within the next hour, but at the end of it we were still to be found in the same old camp.

Finally, on the first day of October, 1914, our regiment boarded the S.S. Zeeland at Quebec. The comment of the people looking on was that they had never seen a finer body of men. And that was about right. Physically we were perfect; morally, we were as good as the next, and, taken all in all, there were no better shots on earth. Equipped to the minute, keen as hunting dogs, we were "it." Surely a wonderful change this month's training had wrought. And I say again if the credit for it all must be given to any one man, that man is Sir Sam Hughes.

In a few hours we were steaming down the St. Lawrence, and the next day we slipped into Gaspé Bay on the eastern coast of Canada, where we joined the other transports. Here thirty-two ships with as many thousand men aboard them were gathered together, all impatiently waiting the order to dash across the Atlantic.

We did not have to wait very long. On Sunday, October the fourth, at three o'clock in the afternoon, we steamed slowly out of the harbor in three long lines. Each ship was about a quarter of a mile from her companion ahead or behind, and guarded on each side by cruisers. I have memorized the names of the transports, and at this time it is interesting to know that very few of them have been sunk by the German submarines.

The protecting cruisers were: H.M.S. Eclipse, Diana, Charybdis, Glory, Talbot and Lancaster. The transports were in Line Number One: S.S. Manatic, Ruthenian, Bermudian, Alaunia, Irvenia, Scandinavian, Sicilia, Montzuma, Lapland, Casandia;

Line Number Two: Carribean, Athenia, Royal Edward, Franconia, Canada, Monmouth, Manitou, Tyrolia, Tunissian, Laurentic, Milwaukee; Line Number Three: The Scotian, Arcadian, Zeeland, Corinthian, Virginian, Andania, Saxonia, Grampian, Laconia, Montreal, The Royal George.

All the way across the Atlantic we were in sight of each other and of the cruisers. Personally, the scene thrilled me through and through. Here was the demonstrated fact that we, an unmilitary people, with a small population to draw on, had made a world record in sending the greatest armada that had ever sailed from one port to another in the history of man. Personally, I felt very proud because of the thirty-three thousand soldiers on these boats only seventeen per cent. were born Canadians; five per cent. Americans, and the other seventy-eight were made up of English, Irish and Scotch residing in Canada at the outbreak of the war.

There were no exciting scenes on the way over, except when some wild and woolly Canadian tried to jump overboard because of seasickness. We were a long time crossing, because the fastest transport had to cut her speed down to that of the slowest, and the voyage was anything but a pleasant one. When we finally steamed into Plymouth, the gray-backs outnumbered the soldiers by many thousands. The invasion of England!

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