Official history of the canadian forces in the great war

НазваниеOfficial history of the canadian forces in the great war
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was seven miles for the medical units. In the first fifteen


minutes a heavy rain came on, and the troops being again

in review order were completely drenched. "The cold

trickle of water between clothing and skin," one diarist

records, "effectually destroyed any enthusiasm one might

have for Bonar Law or any party he might represent. We

waited interminably in the rain. The weather cleared, and

in the distance was a motor car with staff officers and a

single civilian. The party would descend in front of a

battalion, walk for a little, then clamber into the car again.

As they passed in the distance the officer commanding the

medical units rode forward, dismounted, and saluted.

There was a dumb show, and with ^photographers in ad

vance the party proceeded. A slight man in dark clothes

with short coat and bowler hat emerged from the photo

graphers, but did not so much as look in our direction.

The review was over, and the rain began again. It in

creased to a storm as we moved off. The water on the road

was over the horses fetlocks, and in two hours we reached

our wet tents."

On September 2, there was a review of the whole

Division by the King and Lord Kitchener, "a real review,

the king and his entourage splendidly mounted." They

passed in front of the officers, behind the commanding

officer who was a few paces in advance, and the King looked

every man in the face, so close that one could feel the

keen confident gaze of the sailor and king, and see, as one

present remarked, "his lovely Stuart eyes blue with brows

beautifully arched." This review was a sign of the end.

On September 11, orders were issued to move off in a

few days." On the following day the final order came.

i British Official History of the War. Medical Services Gen. Hist.

Vol. 1, p. xiii.



Three Field Ambulances, the mobile medical units of

the 2nd Division, were dispatched to France on September

13 and 15, 1915. No. 4 entrained at Shorncliffe on the

former day, sailed from Southampton in the King Edward

and Archimedes, and landed at le Havre the following morn

ing. Next day the unit arrived at Wizernes ; and by the

20th the three sections were established in Boeschepe,

Westoutre, and Mont Noir. No. 5 entrained at Westen-

hanger on September 15, sailed on the Viper and Indian,

arrived next morning at le Havre, at St. Omer the following

day, and on the 23rd formally took over from the 84th Brit

ish Field Ambulance at Dranoutre. No. 6 entrained at

Westenhanger on September 15, sailed from Southampton

on transport E.18, formerly the Tintoretta of the " Holt

Line," arrived at le Havre next morning, at Wizernes two

days later, and at Locre on the 21st.

The detail of the movement of one ambulance from

England to the front will suffice for all, as the procedure

was nearly the same in every case : Marched out at 3.45 a.m.

from Otterpool to Westenhanger, entrained, loaded trans

port and horses, and moved off in two trains, 15 minutes

in advance of schedule. The train had been backed up

against a ramp; the ends of the open cars were let down

to form a continuous platform; the wagons were run on

by hand, and the horses loaded in box-cars from ( the side.

Southampton was reached at 11.45 a.m. Embarkation was



complete in two hours. The horses with girths loosened

and bits removed were walked on board to their stalls;

the wagons on their wheels, but with poles and shafts

removed, were slung loaded into the hold with only six

inches clearance between the axles and the combing of

the hatches, by means of four chain slings connected to a

common link at one end, the other end passing under the

felloe and being attached by a hook to the hub of the


These three ambulances required six trains for their

conveyance, but the move was made with the ease of an

ordinary passenger service. This ease came by a long ex

perience. In the eight days from August 10, 1914, as many

as 334 troop-trains arrived at Southampton, and men,

horses, guns and transport were embarked. Between 10.12

p.m., on August 21, and 6.02 p.m., on August 22, the con

tents of seventy-three troop-trains passed over the docks.

The ship sailed at dark without harbour or navigating

lights. Le Havre was reached at seven next morning. The

men disembarked; the vehicles were slung over the side;

the horses were driven ashore, and as the animals of each

unit had a distinctive riband braided in their tails they were

promptly led to their places. A march of three miles

brought the unit to the rest-camp in a low black field. "No

one," an officer writes, " seemed very glad to see us. To

welcome us was the surliest sergeant in the British army

except the next two I encountered. There we stayed the

night, lying in tents without blankets. The commandant

was General J. J. Asser, C.B., and he kindly provided din

ner for the officers at a moderate price."

In the morning the ambulance marched three miles

and entrained, the horses 8 and the men 40 in cars of the

same kind. At noon Rouen was reached, Amiens at dark,

Abbeville at ten, and St. Omer the following morning. The


troops detrained at Wizernes, and in this place guns were

heard for the first time, " away in the northeast, the sound

mellow and musical, the notes almost bell-like in their

purity." Marched out at 10, by Hazebrouck for Caestre

which is Ypres way.

By September 23, 1915, the three field ambulances had

taken their positions, No. 4 at Westoutre; No. 5 at Dran-

outre; No. 6 at Locre in the convent of St. Antoine, taking

over from the 86th Field Ambulance, Northumbrian Terri

torials. By two o clock an officer with 10 bearers went for

ward and in an hour casualties began to arrive. Two days

later the battle of Loos was fought fifteen miles on the

right flank, and with its failure active operations for the

season were at end.

This convent was a stately pile of buildings occupied

in part by the mother superior and twenty nuns. They had

under their charge two hundred Belgian orphans and sixty

decrepit women. A force of three hundred men and an

average of three hundred sick and wounded were billeted

upon them. This convent was for several years a home for

many thousands of soldiers, and lent an air of humanity

and religion to the hard life of war. It lay in front of Locre

and behind Kemmel hill in the very theatre of operations.

A 12-inch gun was in continual action in a hollow on the

right, and four 9-inch guns on the immediate front; the

place was frequented by troops of all arms; battalions

being inoculated; officers for baths, meals, and even for

those pathetic banquets by which they strove to keep old

memories alive.

This convent was the one centre of civilization in that

desolate area, and although it was under the German guns

it remained untouched for three years, which, as the Mother

said, was marvellous or, correcting herself, miraculous. The

courage, virtue, and charity of this reverend woman will




remain as a precious remembrance in the Canadian army.

It was she who designed those horse-iines which were

described by Sir Herbert Plumer as " the best in the army,"

and the design came to her as " a revelation from God, as

she lay upon her bed, contemplating the misery of those

wretched animals."

The Canadian Corps was formed early in September.

Colonel G. L. Foster became Deputy Director, and Colonel

A. E. Ross succeeded him as Assistant Director of the 1st

Division. There were now six Canadian ambulances in the

field. The following table shows their disposition, and offi

cers commanding as at December 31, 1915:

No 1



Lieut.-Colonel R.

P. Wright.

No. 2....


Wulverghem . . .



Lieut.-Colonel E.

B. Hardy.

No 3



le Romarin ....


Lieut.-Colonel J.

A. Gunn.

Neuve Eglise


No 4


M.D.S .

liemmel . .


Lieut.-Colonel W

. Webster.

No 5


M.D.S. .



Lieut.-Colonel G.

D. Farmer.

Mont Noir

R.S. Officers.

No 6





Lieut.-Colonel R

P. Campbell.

These positions were held during the winter of 1915-16

in support of the dull and sordid trench warfare that

marked that year. Through the ambulances sick and

wounded passed during those winter months to the number

of 8,472, of whom 3,159 were evacuated.

The winter yielded much that was pleasant. One

diarist with an interest in the weather supplies continu

ous notes: November 30, For a week, clear cold weather.

December 8, A day like a day in spring time with a dry


wind from the south. 19th, The stars are shining and a

gentle wind comes in from the east. 21st, A soft warm

night and a brilliant day. 24th ; A mild spring-like day,

the sun bright, the grass green, the nuns linen like patches

of snow against the hedges. 29th, Continued mild

weather, and not unduly wet. 31st, Last night and to

night brilliant with stars; a cool air by day and shining

sun; the surprise of the winter is the pleasantness of the

climate. January 5, 1916, A clear sun in the evening

and a touch of spring; the air warm and with that "hazi

ness " familiar in French pictures. The winter wheat is

green; the trees are putting forth their leaves, and certain

evergreens have a marked growth of flower. 9th, The

spring is coming; the pansies are blooming in the open, and

flowers are upon many shrubs. 14th, The first complete

spring evening, like early May in Canada, the whole world

filled with a rosy light. 21st, A flight of blackbirds; the

crows that were with us all winter, but in silence, are now

beginning to mate.

A diarist in different mood was impressed by an offi

cer s burial: It was a good grave, the eart*i sandy. The

stretcher was at one end. The Jack was removed. Drag-

ropes were placed; the body was slung away and gently

lowered; the ropes were withdrawn; a few soldiers

sauntered over smoking cigarettes. The chaplain took his

place, and the men uncovered their heads. When he cast

the earth upon the earth there was no sound: the earth fell

upon a soft blanket.

In yet a different mood a diarist deals with a more

familiar picture. October 28, Cold rain, so cold and

so wetting ; the earth is turned to black grease. November

3, With the heavy rain the trenches have gone to pieces;

the men are waist-deep in water; to-day 75 patients were

admitted, not sick but exhausted, and in the last extreme



of misery; the horses are to their hocks in mud. 7th, A

whole battalion went sick and was withdrawn; five days

is more than men can endure, llth, It is quite dark at

7.30 in the morning, and again at 4.30 in the afternoon.

The country is a sea of mud. It fills and covers shell-

holes. A man may ride into these holes, and lose his horse,

himself only escaping if he swim ashore. A horse in

many places leaves a swathe in the mud as an otter does

in the snow. 20th, The gun-lines a morass; a tall man

on a small horse drags his feet in the mud. The horse has

become as cautious as a cat ; he will thrust one foot forward

testing the ground, and if he finds no bottom he withdraws.

27th, Sappers digging a new trench cut away limbs of

the buried as if they were roots of trees.

The medical service received every possible assistance

from other arms, affection from all ranks, and the utmost

of respect from general officers. Their visits were frequent,

their inspections thorough, discriminating, and sym

pathetic. General Alderson was indefatigable. Under

date of January 2, 1916, one finds this note in a private

diary written at a dressing station: General Alderson called

and moved amongst the stretchers, about a hundred of

them; a kind, gentle, little man; he spoke to the patients

one by one, with a pleasant enquiry or a bit of banter for


In the same diary one finds a note which, if

date be observed, will appear to be prophetic. December

14, 1915: I was sitting in a colonel s hut when the door

opened and two officers came in. He addressed the one as

"General." I stood up. He was a tall large man, we

dressed, with a clean, handsome, powerful face, kindly

eyes, and an alert bearing. He was told who I was.

said exactly the right thing, in the right words, and in the

right tone of voice. When he had completed his business,

having N asked searching and important questions he went


away. The colonel told me this was General Currie; the
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