Londoners were Agog ! “The London Advertiser” thrilled. All when units of a U.S. battalion staged an impromptu parade down main street London (that would be Dundas Street) September 2, 1918.
“SAMMIES THRILL LONDONERS
WHEN THEY PAY VISIT
Labour Day groups stood about the sidewalks at noon yesterday discussing the war. There was not much stirring, and most people were storing up energy and sunshine against the coming of a hard winter.
Then the notes of a tune from a brass band came through the air. It was a band that sent forth volume and melody stronger than any local band since the ranks of musicians have been so much decimated by the war.
People looked toward Richmond Street. Suddenly a formation of men in khaki swung round the corner onto Dundas Street. Most men thought a party of returned soldiers was being escorted home.
But there was something distinctive, something different, about these men from the thousands of Canadians who have paraded the familiar streets of this town on route marches, on cerimonial parades, going overseas and coming back in more irregular order.
WORE STETSON HATS
These troops wore Stetson hats. They wore no tunics. They were great big fellows.
“Americans !” The word ran down the street. Everybody got stirred up. It was a thrill for the town, an unexpected thrill.
The great band came along, playing a sharp, typically Yankee air. Silver instruments glittered in the sun. A single returned Canadian in the kilt led these unexpected, but warmly welcome guests through the streets…..
The band preceded two of the finest companies of fighting men ever seen in a city that has watched upwards of 40,000 men trained fine, and inspired by pride of their corps, leave for the war. Upstanding, six-footers, bronzed and free-muscled, moving as one winding automaton, they marched eight abreast through Dundas street and turned at Wellington street, to board again this train which brought them to the city from Camp Grant, near Chicago. They were two companies of the 343rd. Battalion, traveling to Toronto, for a stay during the Exhibition (what today is the C.N.E.)…….
Norwegian lads from the woods of Wisconsin marching to the music of a Canadian pipe band (apparently the second two companies were led by a local pipe band) in the great trek forward to do the mighty task of the hour ! Scandinavian boys from the prairies and mines of the middle west marching through an Ontario city they never knew existed three hours before ! Canadian returned heroes fraternizing with giants of Uncle Sam’s great States ! Officers chatting together, and Canadian girls gathering postcards from the Sammies and wondering what sort of girl “back there” would get them ! It was a little one act drama in the great pageant of democracy, a curtain raiser that gave Londoners a touch of novelty and brought closer home a real conviction of the alliance of democratic nations !” (1)
Was the reporter for “The Advertiser” excited - or what ! Apparently, these companies belonged to a battalion which was called “The Melting Pot Battalion”. Largely because of the different nationalities represented by the battalion’s soldiers. Two names that occur in the article are Lt. Col. Charles R. Howland (C.O. - Commanding Officer), and Major T.F. Marshall who was in charge of the companies that marched through London. One thing that I was not aware of was the term “Sammies” for American soldiers. It’s not an idiom which caught on.
(1) “The London Advertiser”, September 3, 1918.