Recruiting in Toronto 1914
” ENGLAND HAS DECLARED WAR !”
The news went from mouth to mouth, from desk to desk ; clerical duties were forgotten.
At first the news seemed to stun) us all. Then the reaction came, and all one could hear through the office was: “Will Canada send troops?” “I wonder if we shall get a chance to fight?” “Will the ‘Queen’s Own’ be called out?” and such remarks.
I was working at the time in the office of the Toronto Electric Light Company. Most of the male members of the staff were members of the Queen’s Own Rifles the crack militia regiment of Toronto. Upon several occasions I had tried to join the Q.O.R., but had been turned down as under age and because I was not tall enough.
I had always envied the fellows in the militia, and my ears burned when they talked of the doings of the regiment.
Then the war came. If I had envied the military fellows before, envy did not now describe my feelings. A day or two went by with the excitement at fever heat, and at last it was announced officially that a contingent of volunteer troops was to be sent across the ocean to the aid of the Motherland. The militia regiments issued orders for all members to report for physical examination and to state whether they wished to go on active service or not. The morning after (I believe it was August 8th, 1914) I watched with a heavy heart the boys come into the office.
In would rush one or another, his face covered with smiles, and announce proudly that he had been accepted and had passed the examination.
Occasionally one would come in slowly and, in a very dejected tone, say that he had been rejected. More than half of the male staff had signed for active service by this time, and as each new one told the glad news of his acceptance my spirits drooped lower and lower. There were three of us in the office who had become great chums Jim McCreery, Slim Berrill and myself. Jim was a big, young Irishman, Berrill a very slim Englishman, and I a very small Canadian. I was eighteen years of age and just five feet four tall when the war broke out, so I thought there was not an earthly chance of my being accepted for overseas service as a soldier. McCreery and Berrill were not members of the militia, but they decided that they would try to enlist.
Just before the office closed that day, they came to me and Jim said, “Well, Art, we are going to try our luck to-night; do you want .to come along?” “Aw, what’s the use?” I replied.
“They will never take me.”
However, I decided I would go along, and I remarked to Berrill :
“Gee ! if they take you with that chest, they will be tickled to death to get me, even if I am not a beanpole.” (Berrill was so slim that none of us thought he had a chance of being accepted.)
That night the three of us went to the Armouries where the Queen’s Own were taking recruits. In going through the main hall we passed several of the boys, who were formerly employed in the office, rigged out in their uniforms and drilling. To us they looked like generals. “Oh, if we could only be like them!” we thought. Then we reached the recruiting office. Will I ever be able to describe the feelings I had at that moment ? I think not ! There were several hundred men waiting and they were formed up in two lines leading into the office.
We wondered what the two lines were for, but we were not left long in doubt. A big sergeant (his breast fairly covered with campaign ribbons) shouted out : “Men for home service in this line,” indicating the left, and then “men for active service in this line,” pointing to the right. We made a rush for the line on the right, but had no sooner secured a place than the sergeant announced “only men who have served in the Imperial Army will be accepted for active service.” Again the feeling that I was not wanted came over me and, with Berrill, I began to get out of the line. Jimmy McCreery, however, grabbed us by the arms and pulled both back. “Wait a minute, you two,” he said.”
Stick to me and bluff it out. Tell ’em you’ve served in any regiment that comes to your mind.” Berrill and I had our doubts as to whether this plan would succeed and we did not hesitate to say so.
However, Jimmy was firm and kept us in the line until we at last reached the door of the recruiting office. Another sergeant was there and we had to announce to him the service we had seen before he would let us in. We pushed McCreery ahead of us and he walked boldly up to the sergeant and announced,
“Three years, Dublin Fusiliers.” He was admitted without a word. Berrill came next. I could see he was nervous, but he was a hero compared with myself, as I was scared stiff. ” Well, where did you serve, me lad?” the sergeant boomed out. “Er-er, two years. Er-er, Bedfordshire Yeomanry,”
Berrill replied. I believe the sergeant suspected him but he was admitted. I moved up quickly and shot at the sergeant, “Two years, same regiment, Bedfordshire Yeomanry,” and before the sergeant had recovered from the surprise, I was inside the door. I expected him to follow and drag me out, but I guess he took pity on me and felt sure that I would never get through the examination. He was right! The office was jammed with men waiting to be examined, and when at last I got near Berrill, I gasped,
” Why the devil did you pick out such a regiment ? Gee! if they ask me anything about the Bedfordshire Yeomanry I am stuck, sure! I never heard of them before.”
Berrill had given the name of the first regiment that entered his head. It appeared that he had at one time seen the Bedfordshire Yeomanry in England and so he thought of them.
Jimmy and Berrill stuck to their story of having served in the Imperial Army and were accepted, but when it came my turn, I was told to go and join the Boy Scouts. I left the Armouries that night in a most depressed frame of mind. There were my two chums accepted for service abroad and I was to be left at home. How I managed to live through the next day at the office I don’t know, but night came at last and I decided to accompany Jimmy to the Armouries once more to watch the boys drill. We had been at the Armouries some time when a squad of recruits went past in charge of a sergeant of the Medical Corps. Jimmy grabbed my arm.”There is your chance,” he said in an excited voice. “Go and see if the Body-Snatchers (Medical Corps) will take you.” I thought it was no use, but I decided to take another chance. I overtook the Medical Corps sergeant and asked him if he were taking recruits.” Yes,” he replied, “but I don’t think you can get in.” He invited me to follow him, however, and see the officer in charge. I did so, thinking that it was another forlorn hope. Jimmy came along but was forced to wait outside the office. I was first questioned and then received my physical examination. The doctor was an old man and he did not notice that I was standing on my toes when he took my height. I was accepted and duly sworn in for service abroad with the Medical Corps. I rushed out of that office and grabbed Jimmy by the shoulders and yelled, “Jim! Jim! They took me at last.”
We were sent into barracks in Toronto a few days later, and we stayed there about a week being outfitted and equipped. However, I did not like the corps to which I belonged, as I felt that I had what we called at that time “a safety first job.” Therefore, when at the end of a week the Queen’s Own Rifles sent out a call for more recruits and we were given a chance to transfer from the Medical Corps to the infantry, I was one of the first to step forward and apply for a transfer. I had two reasons for this: one was that I wanted to be along with my friends; the other, that I wanted to be one of the fighting men, as the infantry were then termed.
We left for the mobilization camp towards the latter part of August, 1914. By this time I was a fully fledged member of the Q.O.R. About a week before the First Canadian Division sailed for overseas the process known as “weeding out” began. Every regiment had entered the camp with several hundred men over the number called for and the surplus over ” War Strength” was to be weeded out to be sent overseas later as the Second Division.
I was one of the first ones weeded out from the Queen’s Own Rifles and was told that I should be transferred to one of the regiments forming part of the Second Contingent.
This did not suit me at all as most of us believed that there was a possibility of the war being over before even the first troops from Canada got across, and none of us believed that there would ever be a second contingent.
We realize to-day, as we look back, how wrong our ideas were at that time.
I, therefore, promptly went and joined the 5th Royal Highlanders, Canadian Black Watch. I was only a member of that regiment for a day and a half when I was weeded out again.
This ill-luck continued for some time. In less than a week I joined and was kicked out of no less than six of the first contingent regiments.
However, two days before we started for overseas, I was securely linked up with the Victoria Rifles and felt sure that, after all, I should be with the first troops to leave Canada. That afternoon I visited the camp of the Queen’s Own and saw the captain of my old company. In the course of our conversation I said to him,
“Well, you turned me down, but I am going across after all.”
“Glad to hear it,” he said. “But to what regiment do you belong?” “The Victoria Rifles,” I proudly answered. “But they are from Montreal,” he replied. “Why not go with a Toronto regiment?”
Then I told him the story of how I had tried to go with my friends and stay in the Q.O.R., but had been turned down. The captain was very sympathetic and promised to see what he could do to have me re-transferred to the Q.O.R.
He must have been successful, for the next morning I was informed that I was once more a member of my old regiment. Shortly afterwards we lost our name and identity as the Queen’s Own Rifles and became known as the 3rd Overseas Battalion, Toronto Regiment, of the First Canadian Division. The 3rd Battalion was composed of the Queen’s Own Rifles, the Royal Grenadiers and the Governor-General’s Body Guards, all crack militia regiments from Toronto.
Next day we left for overseas. Will I ever forget that day? How wonderful it seemed that so many of us were on our way to the great adventure. The first Canadian Contingent consisted of thirty-three thousand men, a great number of whom were mere boys, and we sailed from Gaspe Bay, Quebec, one lovely September afternoon. What a wonderful sight it was to see those transports! There were thirty-three in all and we sailed in a formation of three lines, eleven ships in each line. We were convoyed across the ocean by five British battleships. This was the largest Armada that had ever crossed the Atlantic.
Our journey across the ocean was uneventful and the weather magnificent.
As you may guess from the title, Arthur Gibbons gets captured by the Germans and relates the full story at the link below.
From : (1919) by Sgt Arthur Gibbons.