Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- 1st. Battalion

1st. Battalion at Valcartier 1915 Library and Archives Canada.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Music Drives The Cares Away

Bandsman William Christopher Dillmutt #190075 wrote to Francis Patterson of Dutton, Ontario from France in 1917. (“The Dutton Advance” August 2, 1917).

Attestation Paper: Library and Archives Canada

“You have asked me to tell you something of what I am doing. When the boys arein the trenches we are practicing new music to entertain them when they come out. We play for them twice daily when they are resting. During the past week we were very busy, doing sentry duty twice a day, a concert in the afternoon and some place or other at officers’ mess. Sometimes the officers give a garden party and of course that means we have to play. At present the boys are back in the trenches and we go on with our daily routine - polishing buttons and cleaning up in the morning, inspection, practice, then dinner, more practice in the afternoon, then we have our so-called supper - not cold ham, strawberries, ice cream and cake, but just tea, bread and jam.

The boys love the music and ours is the only band here that has officers leading them. We always have the newest music, but the boys like the rag-time the best. We often play for the Y.M.C.A.”

Music and songs were important to the soldiers. It allowed them some release from the horrors of the trenches by reminding them of home, and relieving some stress. Many of the songs you see on archival sites such as Library and Archives Canada were not the most popular songs sung by front line troops. Remember that the Western Front was very much a male dominated society. Writing the lyrics here to many of the songs would probably  result in this blog being considered in bad taste - Eh!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Harry William Rowlands

Harry William Rowlands #402392 was born 10 June, 1892 in Birmingham, England. Unfortunately I do not yet have the date when he died. Originally he enlisted in the 34th. Battalion, and then sent to the 1st. Battalion as a reinforcement. Harry Rowlands ran a successful flower shop in London for many years. The interview with Harry Rowlands took place on 27 November, 1974. The cassette tapes of the interview are in the London Room, London Public Library.

“Plugstreet Woods was a noted place. We got the name Plugstreet from the fact that the name of the little town was Ploegsteert which is Flemish and it became Plugstreet to us.

We were at Plugstreet for quite some time- about two or three months- in and out of the trenches. We would put in six or eight days in the trenches and then we would move out to Brigade Reserve, a matter of not more than a couple of miles behind the front lines for a few days. That is where the brigade offices were. You would then go back into the trenches for another six of eight days and then you would be taken out again and sent back to divisional reserve. That was about five or six miles to the rear. You might possibly be able to get a bath there of some sort. There were no tents or huts even there.”

“While we were at Ploegsteert we got word that we were going to parade as close to the trenches as we could, which meant about five miles because Lord Kitchener was coming through. He had been making a survey of the front and they had the troops that were out of the trenches on their resting period lined up for inspection up along a highway as far as you could see. There was a cluster of generals waiting for Kitchener to come down into their section and amongst them was our firebrand, Sam Hughes. (1) He was a firebrand. He got into an argument with this Australian. Sam Hughes, as usual, was boasting that the Canadian troops were the best in the world and the Australian thought his were just as good and to prove it he would show him and started to take off his coat and put up his fists- all this in front of thousands of men. Now this was something that we watched. He was a real firebrand. (2)(3)”

(1) Sir Sam Hughes was Minister of Militia at that time. He was a real character. The center of a whirlwind of motion decisions were often made off the cuff resulting in a great deal of confusion. The English thought that he was mad; however, he did keep them from using  Canadian troops as reinforcements for battered English Battalions.
(2) by 1917-1918 the Canadians and the Australians were certainly the cockiest troops on the Western
Front. If they were bivouacked near each other the British took to putting British troops between them.
(3) Berlin, Ontario was renamed Kitchener after Lord Kitchener.

Photo #1: Attestation Papers, Library and Archives Canada.
Photo #2: King George, Queen Mary and Lord Kitchener inspect Canadian troops on the Salisbury  Plain, 1914. These troops are part of the First Contingent which included the 1st. Battalion. Library and Archives Canada.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Maurice Henry Brown

Henry Maurice Brown #6189 was born on 19th. January, 1894 in Cheltenham, England, and died on the 23rd. January, 1985 in London, Ontario. He was interviewed sometime in the 1970’s (I do not have the exact date of the interview). The cassette tape of the interview is in the London Room of the London Public Library, London, Ontario.

“I was working down at Cook Fitzgerald (attestation papers show him as a shoemaker) when war was declared and I just suddenly went. I didn’t even go back to the factory, I just left. I don’t think I gave notice that I was going, just walked off. There was myself, and Ed Barney( #6175) and another chap in the same boarding house and the son (Roy Curtis #6202) of the landlady. Both of them were killed at Ypres. All three of us went up right then and joined. We were living at 308 Ridout Street, across from the old jail. We went up to the London (Dundas Street) Armory, just walked right in there and offered our services. ‘Aye, you’re not very big, said the recruiting sergeant, but come on in.’ I was 5’4” and weighed 130 at the time. ‘How’s your health?’ First Class, I said, perfect condition. They had me up before the medical officer right away and from there I was sworn in and equipped- the same day. I went home that night and packed up what clothes I had.”

Ypres- April 1915

“Our company was to the left. My platoon was led by Chester Butler (1). I followed him. He and I stuck together all the way- in full day light this was, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. You could just run for so long- if there was any cover you took it. You just had to take your chance. The ridge was pretty near a mile away so we had to do it in leaps and bounds. Every time an officer blew his whistle another group got up and moved ahead for a few yards. As we got close to the trench- we were a little to the left- the trench we were about to occupy, which had been vacated by the French troops  during the gas attack, we saw a nice little ridge. So we sat  down for a half a minute to catch our breath when a big shell exploded above us and rained shrapnel down on us. One caught me on the right hip and another one in the back. Fortunately the Germans were still using up their old style pre-war ammunition and the shrapnel consisted of round balls- not like the sharp jagged pieces of metal they used later on- and they made a much cleaner wound. So I just dug it out of my leg myself- and was it hot! But Chester- he didn’t have on heavy equipment as I had- busted his kneecap. He said, ‘I think I’ve got it, I don’t think I can move.’ So I said, ‘We’ve got to get out of here Ches. We’d better crawl over and make as small a target as possible’. That’s what we did, we crawled over and I helped yank him into the trench. We were on the left about 25 or 30 feet from the Pilckem Road. There we stayed and before I left this little ridge that thumb I had hold of my rifle at the time a bullet came right across the top of it and flattened it and took that nail clean off. It didn’t hurt, but in a few minutes it was sore. Then I couldn’t handle my rifle. It was a bad day.”

(1).Walter Chester Butler in attestation papers as Lieutenant. Officers were not assigned regimental numbers.
Photo: Library and Archives Canada.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Frank Dickinson

This is the second in a series of interviews done by William G. McKenzie with veterans of the 1st.Battalion in the 1970’s. Tapes of the interviews are in the London Room, London Public Library, London, Ontario.

Frank Dickinson   #6206 was born on 22 May, 1890 in Lancaster, England, and died on 12 March, 1976 in London, Ontario. The interview with Frank Dickinson was in 1975.

“The officers were all militia officers and what they didn’t know abut war would fill a book and what they did know would fill about a line.”

“I never counted myself a soldier. I was only a civilian in uniform doing a job that had to be done.”

“When we dropped anchor we started getting sight seeing boats coming around. I don’t know what they expected, “EEE - Look they talk English!” We should have been saying  “Ugh” or something.”

“Into the trenches with the Leicesters. They were a nice set of chaps. Each one of us was “buddied” with a Leicester. The guy I was buddied with was standing down. The dry out roof was very low- you couldn’t stand up in it. We hadn’t been down very long when all at once there was “rapid fire” on our right and I sat bolt upright and nearly knocked myself out. He (my buddy) reached out and said, ‘It's alright chum, it’s only the Lancasters cleaning their rifles.’ I felt sure there was an attack.”


“It’s a sad tale and a glorious tale. Up till then we were going to be backup for the English- building trenches for them. That’s what we found out through the grapevine when we went into Ypres. French (Sir John) is reported to have expressed the opinion  that the Canadians were ‘nothing but a damned armed mob‘. Well the armed mob showed him it could fight!”

Photo: Library and Archives Canada.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Lance Corporal Frederic (Fred) Mason

This is the first in a series of posts based on interviews done in the 1970’s by William G. McKenzie with some surviving members of the 1st. Battalion. The tapes (cassettes) of the interviews are at the London Room, London Public Library, London, Ontario. The following are excerpts from an interview with Frederic Mason, December 9, 1974.

Lance Corporal Frederic (Fred) Mason  #403004 was born on  30th. April, 1893 in Chester, England, and died in London, Ontario, 27 July, 1979. He came to Canada as a Bernardo boy. He enlisted in the 34th. Battalion, and was sent overseas as a replacement. He joined the 1st. Battalion in the summer of 1915. He was wounded twice in 1916.

On being a bomb thrower:

“The English  blew up a German sap about 35 yards in front of our trench at Flaegsteert. They asked for volunteers for bomb throwers so I volunteered for a bomb thrower - I didn’t know a bomb from an egg, but I soon learned. We had to go out into No Man’s Land with one rifleman  - one rifleman and one bomb thrower. This was at night. That was the only time we could go out.”

On Christmas 1915:

“That was the day! When a fellow by the name of Lt. O’Grady. He took us out on a working party - he was pretty well lit. One of the fellows warned him, “There’s a hole Mister O’Grady” just as he stepped into it. ”I found it” was the reply.
(Christmas dinner) was anything but dinner. He made his rounds - he (Lt. O’Grady) wasn’t that far gone- I’ll say that about him. The soup was more like rainwater and we had a Christmas pudding about an inch and a half thick with about half an inch of carbon on top. The tea was no good. We may have had beef - I don’t remember ever seeing any turkey over there. We were right in the trenches. We were on a working party.”

On Sir Sam Hughes:

“Another time, when we were up at Ploegsteert Woods, Sir Sam Hughes came up through the trenches there. A fellow by the name of Cossin (I’m not sure of the spelling) got up on the firing step. Hughes pulls him down and says’ “Get off the firing step you bloody fool. Do you want your brains blown out?” By gosh, inside of a month he had his brains blown out. He was badly wounded - hit in the head- and died in London about 1920.”

On Captain Nelles:

Captain Nelles was orderly officer and I was a lance jack in charge of the listening post. The officer wouldn’t give us any rum. We got an issue of rum every two hours; about a thimble full, maybe an ounce, we called it a thimble full. He wouldn’t give us our rum so I went back to Nelles’s dugout. This was about one or two o’clock in the morning. “Who’s there?” Corporal Mason. “What the hell do you want?”  Lt. Gurney won’t give us any rum for the men. “You go back there and tell Lt. Gurney to give you the rum and if he doesn’t, come back and tell me.” He was one swell guy.

Photo: Attestation paper, Library and Archives Canada,