Can you help ID this man’s unit?

I have recently been asked to identify the unit that this Canadian sergeant served with and I am wondering if any of our visitors can help. It seems that he is wearing a Boer War issue forage cap and the badge indicates he was with the “10th”. I also notice the badge design is similar to other units of Fusiliers.

The photo was taken at a studio in Toronto, where the man lived, probably between 1903 and 1914. Any guesses as to which unit he was with?


Posted in Commonwealth Military, My WW1 Relative, Toronto | 1 Comment

Maps of the Western Front – what can you discover ?

In several previous posts on mapping we have mentioned the use of Ozie Explorer
You can see all map posts here
You have a vast collection of maps at your disposal – if you can just access them
They download easily but are large, so you may have to convert them to “png” – google convert TIFF to PNG
You may be able to import them into the fantastic program Ozie Explorer
Then you look for road junctions etc on Google Earth and locate them on your Ozie Explorer screen – all you need is four points to Geo reference the WW1 Trench Map
Then you are away to the Bunker # 7 
A sample of how you can correlate Map References of WW1 is here – it covers the movements of the 54th Battalion at Passchendaele – click to see the PDF
A quick video on Ozie Explorer Map Calibration is below


Where do the maps come from ? All about how they came to McMaster University here

McMaster University Library is home to one of the largest collections of World War I trench maps in the country after acquiring a significant collection from Dr. Peter Chasseaud, the world’s leading expert in First World War military maps.

The acquisition of more than 900 maps will triple the Library’s trench map collection.

Chasseaud has been building his collection in the UK since 1964.  Now, thanks to funding from the Movable Cultural Property Grants Program on behalf of the Honorable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, the maps will soon have a Canadian home, providing a significant resource for those interested in Canada’s participation in the Great War. 

Many of these maps, originally produced by the British Ordnance Survey, were the only maps available to the Canadian Forces during World War I, covering areas and actions of historical Canadian significance such as “Preparation for Battle of Arras, Vimy, March 1917” and “Cambrai Battlefield – North: Final Advance 1918”. MORE HERE

 Some items from the McMaster University Map Collection are here or see below

Canadians were credited with the invention of the “Trench Raid” during the First World War; the tactic was first used in 1915.


A series of leaflets, directed at women in Canada and Britain during the First World War, provides insights into both the British and Canadian governments’ efforts to actively involve women in the struggle for victory.


Pilgrimages to the sites of First World War battles by veterans and the bereaved began immediately after the war’s conclusion and continued throughout the 1920s and 1930s. McMaster’s small collection, consisting of a telegram, programmes, menus, newspapers, post cards, and a commemorative medal, relates to the inaugural pilgrimage to the Vimy Ridge Memorial in 1936.

Posted in Mapping, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Maps of the Western Front – what can you discover ?

Private John Joseph Belfontaine Regimental Number 111030

In Memoriam

Private John Joseph Belfontaine Regimental Number 111030

by Chris Belfontaine

John (Jack) Belfontaine enlisted in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in Halifax, Nova Scotia on his 17th birthday, June 21st 1915. According to family folklore the recruitment officer, in lieu of a birth certificate, had my Grandfather swear on a bible that he was 19 years of age and suitable for active service. So thanks to the bending of the regulations Jack was taken on strength as a Trooper with the 6th Canadian Mounted Rifle Regiment on July 12, 1915. His service with the CEF began with a brief period of basic training in Amherst, Nova Scotia as the unit was being assembled before they were sent to Valcartier, Quebec to learn the basics of military life before being sent to England. While at Valcartier the 6th were told that they would likely serve as a dismounted unit when overseas.This photo of Jack was taken in the mid 1950s.

I guess that those of us who spend vast amounts of our free time trying to unearth the valuable fragments of our family histories bemoan the lack of personal information that is available to us. My Grandfather Jack Belfontaine’s service records give me the basics of his experiences overseas but if he hadn’t been sent to hospital I wouldn’t know what he did during the War. Thanks to the book ‘The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles’ I was able to cobble together a general time line for him but my efforts feel somehow incomplete and inadequate. Now I wish that I had taken the time to listen to both of my Grandfathers’ stories when they spoke about the War. They seldom did and I guess that I wasn’t old enough at the time to fully understand what they were talking about. If only…

6th CMR Regiment and 4th CMR Battalion

The Bellefontaine family ancestor Pierre Godin dit Chatillon arrived at the small colony of Ville Marie (Montreal) as a master carpenter in 1653. He came from the ancient Roman outpost town of Chatillon Sur Seine in the Burgundy Region of France. The Godin family has its origins in the Low Countries of France and Belgium etc and are frequently mentioned in royal charters from Cambrai, Valenciennes and the surrounding countryside starting at 626 AD. The Godin’s had always been risk-takers and many served as Chevalier (Knights) under the Kings of Burgundy, France and Spain. Some of them have even fought in the 1st Crusade alongside Baldwin during his conquest of Jerusalem.

The descendents of Pierre Godin and his Filles du Roi bride Jeanne Rousseliere have settled in the Ville de Quebec, its Eastern Townships and Acadia. In 1691 Captain Gabriel Godin dit Chatillon, serving at Fort Nashwaak on the St John River, was given the opportunity to establish the new settlement of Ste Anne des Pays Bas across the river at what is now Fredericton.

Gabriel Godin added the dit Bellefontaine when he was given the Seigneury by the Governor of Acadia. As members of the Godin dit Chatillon dit Bellefontaine family, his children had many options to select for their last name and many chose to become known as Bellefontaines. We all know what happened when Britain took New France and that is how some members of our branch of the family wound up in Louisiana and or at Halifax. As long as they were willing to take the oath of allegiance and work hard they could stay and help build the new colony until they were released in 1763.

Many of our family’s relatives resettled throughout old Acadia and in Nova Scotia there is a large French Canadian community northeast of Halifax/Dartmouth called Chezzetcook. My Grandfather Joseph Jean (Jack) and his sister Marie (Mary) were born in the rural community of West Chezzetcook, Nova Scotia.

Their father had died in 1900 when they were both very young leaving their mother and the grandparents on either side of the family with the task of providing for their upbringing. Jack’s formative years were spent working on farms in Chezzetcook or as with the fisherman on Devil’s Island in the Eastern Passage with his Mom’s family.

The misspelling of the Belfontaine name comes from his living in an English-speaking and phonetically spelled society. The census records from Halifax give at least a dozen different spellings for Bellefontaine. I don’t know why he left it like this perhaps he just gave up trying to correct them. It is interesting that my Grandmother always used the original and Jack would eventually return to it in his later years, something that makes our Ontario branch of the mis-spelt Belfontaine’s look like orphans. Jack would always be very close to his little sister Marie for his entire life and she took care of his bank account back home was the beneficiary on his Will.

Military Service

According to his Attestation Papers, Jack was a chauffer by trade. Now driving what and for whom in the Halifax/Dartmouth region is not known. However, that and his familiarity with horses may have been his reason for joining a mounted regiment instead of the regular infantry in Nova Scotia that were practically all Highland Regiments. From what I have read about the Mounted Rifles during the Boer War, they were definitely ‘the’ unit to get in to.

John (Jack) Belfontaine enlisted in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in Halifax, Nova Scotia on his 17th birthday, June 21st 1915. According to family folklore the recruitment officer, in lieu of a birth certificate, had my Grandfather swear on a bible that he was 19 years of age and suitable for active service. So thanks to the bending of the regulations Jack was taken on strength as a Trooper with the 6th Canadian Mounted Rifle Regiment on July 12, 1915. His service with the CEF began with a brief period of basic training in Amherst, Nova Scotia as the unit was being assembled before they were sent to Valcartier, Quebec to learn the basics of military life before being sent to England. While at Valcartier the 6th were told that they would likely serve as a dismounted unit when overseas.

Jack embarked for England with the 6th CMRR on July 17-18, 1915 at Quebec City on the slow South American cold-storage boat SS Hershel and arrived at Plymouth Roadstead in England on July 28, 1915. As you can imagine the accommodations were not the best because there were 32 Officers, 598 other ranks and 400 hundred horses on a boat practically without any passenger accommodation. Their 11-day voyage ended at Devonport and when they disembarked they received a great reception from the locals. The unit entrained for the army barracks at Shorncliffe where their real training as soldiers was about to begin.

Overseas Service

The War Diary of the 6th CMR Regiment begins when they land in France. It notes that during their initial 3-months in France from October 24th 1915 up until the New Year, it rained nearly every day and night as the men settled into the routine of route marches, inspections and parades. I guess that by now the men making up the ‘Other Ranks’ of the 6th CMRR were beginning to understand the implications of serving as a dismounted unit overseas. Welcome to the infantry boys. Each day Troops of men were detailed out of the 3 Squadrons to either take turns with the instructors at the camp, occupy portions in the forward lines with one of the machine gun sections, or to be detailed to go with the engineers as work parties for the digging of new trenches. When the Companies of the 6th CMR Regiment were absorbed into the new 4th and 5th CMR Battalions Jack was taken on strength as a private in the 4th CMR Battalion, while in the field (France) on January 3, 1916.

Jack is wounded twice in 3 months

‘It was a calm, beautiful and quiet morning. Suddenly, without a warning, from a heavenly, peaceful sky broke a deafening detonation and cloud of steel which no had precedent for weight or violence’.

Jack was wounded in action on June 2, 1916 at Mont Sorrel/Sanctuary Wood. It is sad to note that although the original complement of men from 6th CMR Regiment had been divided between two different CMR Battalions, the 4th and the 5th, they were all in action on the same day, on the same section of front and had by coincidence died together. After their first major action of the war the original draft of six hundred had been reduced to a handful of healthy men.

The day following the horrific German bombardment on the front line trenches Jack reported to the 10th Casualty Clearing Station with the symptoms of shell shock and later transferred to the Convalescent Hospital at Wimereux, France. He returned to the field on July 1, 1916. He was wounded for a second time following the heavy fighting of the British attack on Courcelette September 15 1916, Jack reported to the 4th Canadian Field Ambulance Corps on September 16, again with the symptoms of shell shock. He was released from hospital and on October the 28th and returned to duty in the field.

He fought on for two more years without further mishap and saw action at Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, The Last Hundred Days Campaign, The Battle of Amiens, The Second Battle of Arras, The Battle of Cambrai-St Quentin and The Final Advance to Mons. I like to consider the possibility that he may have been inadvertently spending a great deal of time on ancestral Godin family property. Our very distant relatives still live throughout the Low Countries of France, Belgium, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands.

Note on another Godin

I have discovered that in 1918, while in command of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment, Freiherr von Godin who had been newly transferred and was a stranger to the regiment, may have been instrumental in the process of awarding message runner Lance-Corporal Adolf Hitler the honour of receiving the Iron Cross 1st Class. The story surrounding the award is shrouded in myth so who really knows what the facts are. I really hope that the Freiherr is not another long lost European relation.

Jack gets married

On December 22, 1917 during the Battalion’s rest and refitting in France he went on a 14-day leave to the England to marry my Grandmother, Hannah Elisabeth Ames on December 27, 1917. She and her family lived in the Greater London Area town of Croydon in Surrey. Jack and Hannah would have six children, all boys, and would enjoy the company of their numerous grand- and great- grand children.

The War comes home to England

My Great Grandmother Lydia and her family had one particularly vivid recollection of her experiences with the Germans. She recalled that ‘One morning after an air raid the local residents were horrified to see a German aviator draped across one of the neighbourhood chimney pots. He was a member of the crew of a Zeppelin that had been shot down the night before’. If this story true or whether it may have happened to another family member I really have no idea but it has become a part of the family history.

I have tried to research this event and have found 2 items on Wikipedia under Zeppelin that may be the connection to this event. L11 destroyed by Lieutenant Leefe Robinson on September 2/3 1916 and LZ72 destroyed by 2nd Lieutenant Wulstan Tempest on October 1,1916 were the only Zeppelin casualties that occurred in the London and Greater London Area during the entire campaign. The other Zeppelin losses occurred when they were shot down off of the coast and then fell into the water or were damaged so heavily by the local defences that they crashed in the open countryside.

This whimsical picture of my future Grandmother, Hannah Ames is all that remains of a full postcard sent to her sweetheart fighting in the trenches. I guess that Granddad trimmed it to make it fit in his wallet and most of the sentiment on the back is lost. Note the large bow in her hair.


After the Armistice

During the 4th’s long departure from Belgium and France, Jack was granted fourteen days leave on January 26, 1919. During his leave to England he was struck off strength with the 4th CMR Battalion and transferred to the 1st Central Ontario Regimental Depot.

He left England with his wife Hannah on board the Canadian Pacific Liner Minnedosa at Liverpool on April 9, 1919. The ship’s log says that he was with a contingent of the 5th CMR. This is a minor point that probably has a simple administrative explanation behind it but he at least got on the ship with his wife. He was discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force in St John NB on April 19, 1919 and returned to Halifax to start a new life.

Jack returned to find that Halifax had changed quite a bit from the way he remembered it. His lodgings in Dartmouth and the entire north western part of Halifax had been destroyed in the Great Explosion of December 6, 1917. Jack bought his first home at 27 Livingstone Place in the newly rebuilt Richmond Area called the Hydrostone District. The name hydrostone comes from the local concrete-like building material that incorporated cement with sand dredged up from the ocean floor that could be poured or formed into blocks. It is interesting to actually spot small sea shells in the foundation walls of the houses. Hydrostone was widely used in the construction of roads and in most of the foundations in the new buildings but after almost 100 years it is starting to show its age.

Later on

Jack decided to move his family to Toronto in the mid 1920s to seek out better employment opportunities and started work as an auto mechanic for the Gorrie GMC dealership. Years later, when he was in his 50s he went to work with the engineering firm that built the Mangala Dam in Pakistan. I recall my father receiving a large package containing a Hookah and many brass trinkets sent all the way from Pakistan. I recall that my friends and I put the Hookah to good use in the 1970s but that is another story entirely. My Grandfather always enjoyed the excitement and adventure of travelling and seeing the world first hand.

John Joseph Belfontaine #111030 died of brain cancer on February 28, 1975 and is buried at the Greenwood in Fort Erie, Ontario.


I have always claimed that my humble efforts are ‘works in progress’ and I will never hesitate to alter my ‘facts’ whenever I have got them wrong. I am currently working on the family history of my Mother’s side and her Father #227027’s experience with the CEF.

Reference materials

Jack’s War Service Records held and photocopied by the nice people at Library and Archives Canada

The Nominal Role of the 6th CMR

The book ‘The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles 1914-1919’ published in Toronto 1926

The book ‘Nova Scotia’s Part in the Great War’ written in 1920.

The Genealogies of the Families of Chezzetcook, Nova Scotia by FJ Melanson ca. 1980

Plus too many years spent combing through the many resources available to us on the internet

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Private John Joseph Belfontaine Regimental Number 111030

Captain Alec Jack, 54th Battalion CEF, 1967 interviews on Vimy Ridge

Transcribed by Sandy Wightman – grandson of Alec W Jack

Mr. Chapel’s two tape recorded undated Interview with Alec Jack – from the CBC

Note to readers: I have transcribed these notes from a photo copy of a photo copy of an original transcription of an interview with my grandfather, Alec W. Jack with Len Chapple, a Vancouver CBC announcer/ producer. There is no date on the notes but if I were to guess I would think circa 1965 as this was a time when interest in Vimy’s 1967 fiftieth anniversary was approaching.

The notes were from a verbal interview as opposed to notes that Alec wrote himself, although I believe Alec prepared for the interview by writing notes on some of the actions. The interview appears to cover most of Alec’s 54th Battalion experience from enlisting through to being wounded.

While I have tried to copy the notes exactly I have made minor changes (indicated by *) for clarity or sometimes with relevant information. I added notes with approximate marching distances although I do not know their route so it could be more or less. I also noted when the bottom of photo copied pages were obscure or cutoff. Some transcription sentences ran on and on so I may have replaced a comma with a period and commenced a new sentence. Many sentences began with “And”, as happens in conversation so I dropped the “And” sometimes. It is, however, largely as the original transcript was typed. Col. Kemball was referred to as Campbell, Kimball, etc and I corrected that transcription error. E.R. (Sandy) Wightman.

While typing I felt I could hear AWJ, my grandfather, beside me with his word choices and expressions.

TAPE 1 of 2

A. I arrived in Canada from Scotland in 1913. And the war started, as you know, in August 1914, at which time I was 23 years of age. My brother was in to it right at the start and after a year I decided that I couldn’t hold back any longer. So I enlisted at Penticton, B.C.

Q. What were you doing there, by the way?
A. I was in the employ of the Bank of British North America at Hedley, as a matter of fact. Little town near Penticton, a mining town, a very busy little town, at that time. And we hired a car, which was quite unusual in those days. There were very few cars. Drove over to Penticton, and enlisted. And was posted in due course to the 54th Canadian Infantry Battalion, which I joined at Vernon B.C. about the 25th of August, 1915. The battalion was under the command of Colonel Kemball, O.B.E. Kemball was made a Companion of the Bath in 1912 so I suspect the O.B. should be CB), an old Indian Army veteran. A wonderful fine, old gentleman, who had forgotten more about soldiering than we ever knew. I-we trained at Vernon for 3 months, and then in the middle of November we left by way of Halifax. And the steamer, Saxonia, landed in Plymouth on or about the 30th of October, 31st of October perhaps, 1915. And proceeded to Bramshott in Hampshire.

Q. Anything about the trip across on the boat that sticks out in your memory?
A. The trip across was not very eventful, except that the food was terrible. And we had some near riots on our hands, that was a rather common thing at that time, men got very annoyed. We all did, as a matter of fact. The catering was very poor. But that trip itself was quite alright. We got off the boat at Plymouth, I remember, early in the morning, without anything to eat. Got on to a train at Exeter. The lady mayoress and a number of ladies, met us with hot coffee and various other things, which we remembered very well, because we were exceedingly hungry. Then we got nothing else until we arrived at Bramshott about mid night. And it was a lovely countryside there. We stayed there for – well until the middle of August 1916, nearly nine months. And did all the training which we could do in an imitative way, because after all in war the only way you can learn is to go into the actual fighting.

Q. Because every war is so different.
A. Every war is so different, but I think that that principle pertains pretty well in all – as far as I know. Then we embarked at Southampton, and landed in Le Havre, I think on the 16th of August 1916. Feeling that we were pretty late for the party because the war had been on for two years then. However, we needn’t have worried very much, we saw all we wanted latter on.

Q. They saved a little for you.
A. They saved a little for us, yes, that’s right.

Q. Can you tell me about the first time that you went into the trenches and where it was, and how you felt about-if you can recall.
A. Yes. A very few days after we landed in France, we proceeded to the old Ypres salient.

Q. You were an NCO (* Non Commissioned Officer) by this time.
A. I was a Sergeant, platoon sergeant, yes. And we went up to the line, or as near as we could get. In London buses, I remember. They bussed us up there. And then we proceeded into the trenches at St. Eloi, on the southeast section of the Ypres salient. And our front line trenches were facing the crater, as a matter of fact, mine craters of St. Eloi. Which were pretty well known. We stayed there for one month, and then we – a raid, raid on the German trenches was put on by three or four officers and ninety men. And then after that we left the salient by a route march enroute for the Somme. Our-

Q. Is this one of the raids that you were going to tell about, or is this-
A. Yes, it was rather-

Q. Well the records that I have which may not have been the same thing but-on the night of the 16th and 17th of September, is that the time you are talking about?
A. Actually we went over at midnight, midnight on the 15th,16th according

Q. Of September. Well there were quite a number of raids, they were battalion raids. Apparently there were ten army raids on that night, seven staged by Canadians. Does that follow your records? The 46th, 47th, 54th,72nd,75th, and the 87th battalions.
A. I’m afraid that I didn’t know anything about that, but I was in the middle of our one. And that was all I wanted.

Q. Yes. The -a number of us were invited to volunteer, if I might put it that way and we were withdrawn from the trenches, and did a little practicing which I remember as being rather feeble stuff, in the back country. And then the plan was for raiding parties to enter the German lines, at each end. We were debuted (*unknown word) on a mine crater, and we were – the plan also was that the party would also go down into the mine crater where German dugouts were located. Bomb the dugouts, and take prisoners, and generally create a lot of damage. I can recollect that at midnight, or 5 minutes past twelve our barrage came down on the German line. The noise was terrific, and of course we were completely green and inexperienced. However, we climbed over the parapet and set out on the double for the German line. It was pitch dark, pouring rain and I suppose it was two hundred yards across there. The whole of the intervening of space, or no man’s land, was pitted with shell holes, full of water, and lots of barbed wire. The result was that when we got close to the German line we had lost most of our men. They would tumble over wire into shell holes, and by the time they got up to there, the party had vanished into the darkness, and there we were. We had possibly seven or eight men and an officer when we hit the German line, instead of having four sections each under an NCO with about six or seven men. My section was to proceed down into the crater. I had been a bombing instructor in England and was supposed to know all about hand grenades. So I was chosen for the job. Anyway, I remember jumping into the German line, which at that point was quite shallow at about three feet deep, and I landed right on the back of a German who was very wisely crouching down. We booted him out and sent him back under escort to our line and then started to work our way along. We only had about half a dozen men and we were rushed by a large party of Germans who made it very interesting for us. We had a standup fight, lots of grenades thrown and so forth. I was scouting around behind the German line and by myself. I woke up after a while with a feeling that things had got very quiet and I realized that when I moved about I was by myself. The rest of the party had withdrawn. So I commenced to retire also across no man’s land. The German barrage came down at that time and I was very unhappy. They plastered the area. I was so turned around that eventually I lost myself. I didn’t know which way to go and I spent about four or five hours traveling across no man’s land, in one way or another, on my hands and knees. Finally, as dawn was breaking, I oriented myself and did a very foolish thing. A thing I would never have down if I had a little experience. By this time, it was broad daylight and instead of waiting all that day and getting in under cover of darkness I crawled up on top of our parapet and dropped into our trench. Very luckily I wasn’t seen, but that part of the line at that time if you put your finger over the parapet it was shot off by a sniper. So I was a very lucky boy indeed in getting in. I remember I found out that when I got in there I was very nearly shot by an Australian sentry. They had taken over from our people during the night. I finally wound up by walking somewhere in the vicinity of 11 or 12 miles before I caught up with our unit at about noon or shortly thereafter. I had had nothing to eat from about five o’clock the previous evening and I had been through all. I really got a scare that time.

Q. Tired and hungry.
A. Oh, was I and plastered with mud and soaking wet, oh yes. It was quite a show. But

Q. How many prisoners did you get?
A. We got 2 prisoners and a machine gun. But it was pretty badly executed for the simple reason that we were very inexperienced, and as I say we lost about three-quarters of our strength before we ever saw the Germans.

Q. Did you make any special preparations for the raid, like blackface and..?
A. Oh yes. We had our faces blackened, all identification removed, and we wore cardigan sweaters and balaclava hats, caps, which were woolen caps, toques and blackened. I had a khaki vest with eight mills grenades strapped on my chest, an automatic revolver which I borrowed about an hour before the raid and I’d never shot before and knew nothing about, my bayonet, and what we called a knob-carry, which was a wooden entrenching tool with a cog wheel slipped over the small end and jammed down to the big end. The first German who rushed me, I pointed the automatic in his general direction and pulled the trigger but kept my finger on the trigger and this gentleman got, at least if he got any, he got all six shots, because before I could………., the thing was empty. I stood stupidly looking at it, but I don’t know- it was pitch dark but he was shooting from the hip with his rifle, and we were too bothered to know whether he hit me or I hit him. But that was about the story. I think I’ve covered that one.

Q. Fine. Well then you went down to the Somme.
A. Yes

Q. And the Desire Trench was-
A. That’s right.

Q. your particular action.
A. In those days there was a no motor transport to carry the infantry, you walked. And we marched all the way from the Ypres salient, down to Albert (* about 140 km.), a city of possibly 15 or 20 thousand which was the centre of operations in that sector of the battle of the Somme, area. There is one very striking thing about Albert. A shell had apparently hit the spire of the cathedral high. It was canted over and was leaning across the street at right angles. Almost parallel to the ground and it stayed that way, I think for 2 years. I think the story amongst the troops was that it would fall the day the war ended. But it fell before that.

Q. Do you know why it stayed up so long?
A. I suppose it was damaged to some extent and it just stayed there.

Q. The engineers wired it there.
A. Oh, did they.

Q. You didn’t know that?
A. I’m learning something.
Q. Well apparently the Belgians –
A. No, it was France.

Q. Well the French peasants of Albert said if the Virgin fell that they would lose the war – this is one story.
A. Yes, yes

Q. So the engineers decided they weren’t going to have anything of this, so they went up and wired the thing up in this leaning position.
A. Well the battle of the Somme, as everyone knows, started on the 1st of July 1916, on which day the British army, excluding all Dominion troops, lost 60,000 casualties, one day. We got down there about, oh it mid – no it would be early October of ’16 and there we joined the rest of the Canadian corps who had preceded us from the Ypres salient. The commander of the Canadian corps at that time was Lieutenant General Sir Julien Byng, who was later Governor General of Canada.

Now the 54th went into the line. We tooled off the Albert-Baupaume road. We passed big craters and up into the line in front of Courcellette. We did this four times, four holding tours, and then on the 13th of November we moved up to the line preparatory to the attack on Desire Trench. The conditions on the way up after you left the Albert-Baupaume road were appalling. There were no landmarks. We always went in and came out at night and we always got lost. The mud was more or less knee-deep or worse, of course we were always carrying heavy weights, Lewis guns, and bombs, and so forth. And the troops generally arrived in the line in an exhausted condition. As we had been advancing, and I say we, I mean the troops generally, before we got there, there were no dugouts (* a partially buried place to sleep and seek shelter) in the trenches which we had dug, and our occupation of them was so temporary that it wasn’t worthwhile digging deep dugouts, whereas the Germans had been there for several years and they were well sheltered in that way. Well on this occasion we went into the line on the night of the 13th. The attack was postponed day after day, till the morning of the 18th, that was five days we remained in these trenches without shelter. The rain came down, the mud got deeper, we had absolutely no shelter at all, and conditions were appalling. Then we finally got word that the show was on for the morning of the 18th. At dawn we climbed out of the assembly trenches where we had been lined up, in extended order, four lines of troops with possibly 20 or 30 yards between each line and advanced. We didn’t have a great deal of trouble. There was a heavy barrage, and I remember noticing in particularly that at least one and possibly two, firing in a creeping barrage, were firing short. Possibly their base piece had slipped, but in any case they were firing (* last sentence not legible) dropping short. In those days the barrage advanced at the rate of a hundred yards in every three minutes and the idea was that the attacking troops kept up as close as possible to the barrage, to the point where it lifted off the German front line. Then the theory was that they rushed in and dealt with the Germans before they could draw their breath more or less. So that, a creeping barrage was a line of advancing shells. And where guns were firing short, it meant that the men behind this line of shells couldn’t – the tendency was for the men to keep in line, and with these guns firing short, well it resulted in casualties. We captured Desire Trench and went on a short distance, and dug in just over on the face of a ridge facing the German area. We dug very fast because snipers were very active, lost quite a number of men. A Company commander, Captain King was shot right through the head. I was standing beside him, I was his company Sargeant Major at that time, and all other officers were wounded. I was the senior NCO left and I took command and got the line dug in and so forth.

Q. This line you were speaking of, sort of on a small ridge, would Regina Trench have been beyond that.
A. No.

Q. I know Regina trench was over a ridge, but not over that particular area.
A. It had already been taken about two weeks before, and we went through that and dug in on the forward side, on the slope facing the Germans. They put on two half-hearted counter-attacks during the following, during that day, but we broke them up with our Lewis guns before they developed at all really. And that night we were relieved by the 72nd Seaforths of Vancouver, and by which time the men …..really all….. (* Last sentence on page missing). We had to tramp about two miles through the mud to the Albert-Baupaume road at a point that was called – where the sunken road led off to Courcellette, and there luckily our transport limbers, horse and mule drawn, were waiting for us. And we all piled into these limbers and were transported back to the huts in the back country where we were dumped down and slept it off more or less. But I seldom saw men more exhausted than after that tour.

Q. Did you lose a lot of men there.
A. Yes. We lost I think, in that battle and in the holding tours immediately preceding it, we lost 12 officers and 200 men. Our battalion was possibly about 900 when we went in so-but that was perfectly in line with the losses in the Somme battle. It lasted for five months, from the 1st of July until the end of November. And the losses were simply frightful because men couldn’t even move and get out of the way of shells because of the mud.

Q. And it was an entirely different kind of mud than Passchendaele.
A. Yes.

Q. In fact it was real gumbo.
A. Yes, it was. And by then we were better organized a year later at Passchendaele because in order to help troops going in and out, duckboards were laid. I know that our battalion did a great deal of that, laid from back areas, right up to, fairly close to the front line. So that while these were heavily shelled by the Germans, there wasn’t anything like the same degree of fatigue entailed to the troops going in and out. But the shell fire was possibly worse at Passchendaele.

Q. Yes, but a lot fell into the mud.
A. Oh, yes.

Q. And if they exploded they scattered mud, not shrapnel.
A. That’s true. That was the end of our tour on the Somme. And we proceeded by route march up to the Vimy area (* about 60 km), where again the balance of the corps had preceded us.

Q. What you refreshed your memory with then when you wrote this, was this the April 9 business, this is?
A. That’s right.

Q. What about the abortive gas raid on the 28th of February.
A. That was a tragedy. That was our –

Q. You took a real beating there, didn’t you?
A. We lost very heavily there.

Q. Isn’t this where Kemball.
A. – If I might just describe it for a minute or two.

Q. Yes, please do.
A. We were told by a staff-officer, I remember I was a Company Sargeant Major at that time, had a meeting of officers and NCOs, and this chap told us that the gas would be sent over in two waves. That it was a new type of gas, that all rifles and field guns on the German front areas would be corroded instantly, and would be useless. And that it would be more or less of a party, just going over to snip a few epaulets off uniforms, and get identification. All Germans would be killed; I mean there would be no trouble that way at all. Well shortly before, in the last days of February 1917, (* bottom of page missing) …canisters or tanks of gas, they had to be carried up largely by ourselves into the front and immediate support lines, in our case up what we called Tottenham Court road, and Vincent Avenue, and one or two other trenches. And they were set in position, in such way that at a given time a tap could be turned on and the wind would blow the gas across to the German line. They were lined up there, very many of them, and-

Q. How broad a front would there have been.
A. The Germans were possibly -their front line was possibly oh two hundred and fifty yards from ours.

Q. What distance would the cylinders have covered.
A. You mean the cylinders themselves or the gas –

Q. No, the cylinders themselves, were they entrenched the whole length of the Vimy front or just one sector.
A. Oh, no. Just in our battalion sector. And I think the section of the battalion to the left, but I’m not –

Q. That’s what –
A. sure of that-quite a narrow front. It was really on our part, it was really a battalion raid, we weren’t attempting to take and hold ground.

Q. I see.
A. That’s the theory – that was the plan, we were to go over there, take identifications, blow in dugouts, and do all the damage we could, and then come back and have breakfast. However, on the morning, very early in the morning of the 1st of March, the wind turned variable, and it was being watched very closely by people in the front line, in the support line, in Battalion HQ, and the commanding officer, Colonel Kemball and endeavored …… (* bottom of page missing) after an hour or so, to get the operation canceled because as you will understand it would require a wind blowing from west to east, very steady wind, and blowing from west to east to carry the gas over. The gas was fairly heavy, and it would sink into trenches and shell holes and so on in a density much greater than on the ground above. So that it required a steady breeze. However, this variable wind continued, and the commanding officer was unable to get higher command to cancel the operation which was a very sore point with us latter on, we think that it was at least a division level, or possibly corps level, but in any case cancellation of the operation was refused. Colonel – it was in the cards that Colonel Kemball should go over, but he, being the type of man he was decided that he would lead the battalion over personally. Now we were badly smashed up, the Germans were waiting for us, they knew just as much or more about the raid than we did. And it was found out weeks later that they had listening apparatus, at least we were told so, right under, contained in tunnels right under our lines. And that from that source they had more or less tapped our plans. In any case, they simply – Colonel Kemball was killed in German wire, we lost two company commanders killed, and two badly wounded, and about 190 men in five minutes. It was a nightmare, absolute nightmare of a raid. And it happened just a month before Vimy, first of March, as against the 9th of April, and the result was of course, that we were very much weakened when Vimy came along.

Q. Now they definitely let the gas off, didn’t they?
A. Oh, yes. But the gas drifted down to – towards the right flank and partially diagonal manner, and it didn’t affect the Germans in front of us at all. Incidentally there was one very interesting incident. After the show was over, the Germans sent an officer, an unarmed officer out under a white flag, or Red Cross flag, I forget which really, a flag of truce anyway. And he came right out into no man’s land, and called for a Canadian Officer to come out and meet him and our man went out and. And the Germans offered a truce during which time we could get all our casualties in and they would assist us. And that was accepted. The Germans who came out were obviously handpicked men, they were all big fellows with new uniforms, looked very smart indeed. They carried our casualties, dead and wounded, halfway across no man’s land, and we picked them up and packed them in. Then after the given time, that was finished, and the picnic started again. But I never saw that done anywhere else, all our time in France.

Q. And it was really in deference to your Colonel.
A. It was, it was. Because – a party of them brought Colonel Kemball’s body over. And they treated it with the greatest respect, and I think one of them spoke English, I think one of them, I wasn’t there. Said something to the effect, here is – I think they had his name, Colonel Kemball – and he, he and his officers were buried and the men, of course altogether in a ceremony – a cemetery at Villiers.

End of Tape 1
Tape 2 of 2 ( * I think this is AWJ humour about April Fools)

The Vimy show is very vivid in my memory. I had been commissioned on the 2nd of April, narrowly escaping the 1st (* I think this is AWJ humour about April Fools).

And on the night of the 8th of April we proceeded to the line, as usual it was pitch dark, pouring rain, and the Germans were very nervous and were shelling very heavily as we went forward from the Music Hall line, down and across Zouave valley and entered the tunnels under the ridge. The battalion going up to the attacking trenches or assembly trenches went up in the normal way. But I personally was held out of the action, actual attack, as a kind of reserve officer, and had to stay with battalion HQ. They — the attack went off about dawn, they had snowing at the time, the ridge was in an appalling mess. Shell hole to shell hole practically the whole way across, interspersed with mine craters, barbed wire, all the shell holes were full of water. It would have been very difficult just taking a walk across there in normal attire, without the loads that we took, and under the conditions we went. However, the general plan for the 54th Battalion was that we would follow the 102nd Battalion in our sector. They were to go roughly half way across the ridge, we were to follow them up and go through them, and advance to the far side, or the eastern side of the ridge, facing out over the plain of Douai, toward Lenz or Lens. Now, some hours after the action started, reports were coming in as they normally would, but they were at odds. Reports from our right flank were to the effect that we had, we had got part way across the ridge and then gone through the 2nd Battalion and were held up by a machine gun sniper fire considerable distance across the ridge. Reports from our left flank, on the other hand, were stating that they were pinned down a very few yards out from their starting point by German machine guns which had apparently been missed by our barrage. The battalion on our left was also held up. These machine guns, or these strong points had been, the barrage had fallen behind them, and the result was they were unharmed and they simply swept the ground in front of them, and the left flank battalion, and our left flank were held up. But that was not realized, or not known by the commanding officer and he was very confused with these conflicting reports. He detailed me to go up to the front, see what the situation was, carry out any reorganization of the battalion which seemed to be necessary, then get them over somehow to their objective which was some 5 or 6 hundred yards further on as it turned out from where they were. I had no escort except one Lewis gunner and half a dozen middle aged batmen to carry ammunition, and we set off as the good book says, we fetched a compass out to the right flank, because the danger was on the left flank. We were guided by two young Kamloops boys, George Ellis and Eric Grisdale, fine young lads, both got the Military Medal that day. And they eventually landed us in a trench held by the 42nd Battalion Canadian Black Watch. We were being sniped at rather badly, and the Lewis gunner, my own right boxer, got hit just as we jumped into this trench. I left him with the attendants to look after him, and moved along the trench. I finally came to the left flank where I found that the 54th and 102nd, or the remnants of them, were all together. There were about 90 men of the 54th, and there were a few more of the 102nd, 102nd officers were all casualties and so were the 54th officers. So as a young fellow of 25 I found myself in command of the remains of two battalions. Our left flank up in the air and Germans all around us. I sent in a report on the situation, and then I started sorting out the men, getting the 54th on the exposed flank, and the 102nd on our right. I remember putting in a strong point with three Lewis guns on our left flank to ward things off. Then I decided that I would go forward myself, and see what I could find out about the situation in front. I knew there must be scores of our men pinned down in shell holes by the snipers and the same with the 102nd, probably far more than we had in our body in the trench. I got the, a volunteer, a young chap Bob Hall from the Arrow Lakes district to come with me. We crawled and crept down five or six hundred yards to our side of the ridge, on the east side. There was the plain of Douai looking out on – below us, with hardly a mark on it, looked just like a succession of farmers’ fields. It looked extraordinary to our eyes after the scenes on the ridge. I posted Hall at the end of these communication trenches, then we came down, obviously main German trench and I worked my way along. First in one direction and I observed quite a number of German posts, all manned. And I went along in the opposite direction, near the Folie Wood, and found the same thing, so I realized that the line there was fully manned by German troops. We came back the same way we went but part of the way up there a sniper sighted us, and gave us close attention all the way up. Finally, he got Hall and through the back, and I got down on my tummy in the bottom of the trench. The idea of crawling out to pull him to shelter. A couple of bullets in quick succession just chipped the chalk above my head although I was right down on my tummy. The sniper must have been up in a tree, up on high ground. Anyway I retreated very quickly, without any hesitation. I got back to our line by another route, crawling most of the way. By the time I came down again from the top end Hall was dead. But we had a series of bombardments during the day, that is we suffered them, then night came on and the 85th Nova Scotia Highlanders were sent up under darkness and they came through and drove the German snipers out and filled in the gap on our left flank, and the line became continuous from then on. The trouble we had been getting was mostly from a small pimple of a hill, I think it was called Hill 141, if I remember correctly. High ground, and possibly my sniper was up on Hill 141. But anyway we were relieved the following night, and as usual went back to recover, as it were. It was a tough do, and we lost again, we had gone into the line with a great many inexperienced officers and men as a result of the March gas raid, and many of our casualties were probably due to that reason. We lost about 220 officers and men in that day. So that we were again down to nearly skeleton strength.

Q. Vimy was a very contradictory show, it was very easy for some, very difficult for others. You can’t really describe the battle in any one term.
A. It was a vast battle. Of course we are very apt to think of it as a Canadian battle, whereas it wasn’t at all. The 51st Highland Division (* Scottish unit) were the right of the corps, and took full part in it although the ridge in their direction was no so much of a ridge, it was more of a rolling country. And I’m not at all sure that there wasn’t another division on their right. Our 4th Division, including the 54th Battalion, was in the left flank division, and we were one of the unlucky ones. We had a tough tough time. Possibly our inexperience had something to do with it.

Q. Vimy all round was a disaster for the 54th, wasn’t it?
A. Yes, yes it was.

Q. Yes, I think the significance in terms of Vimy being, if you will, an all Canadian show, which you have just disputed of course, but really in terms of its significance in Canadian history is of course – the first time the Canadians had fought as a complete unit.
A. There is one thing too which I don’t think people today realize is that the Canadian Corps of that day were a most efficient instrument and the Canadian corps and the Anzac corps, Australians and New Zealanders, the Guards (* U.K. troops), there were several divisions of Guards, their divisions, the 51st Highland Division, these were regarded as – and especially latterly toward the end of the war, the last year of the war, they were regarded much the same category as what the Germans called shock troops. And they were kept for attack purposes. The Germans knew very well that if the Canadians appeared on a certain front, or the Australians, or the 51st Highland, that they could expect trouble. And they prepared for it.
Q. This is why they were so careful in preparing for the Amiens on the 8th of August.
A. Yes, that was directly in my mind as I spoke just now.

Q. Marched and down, never marched in daylight at all.
A. They actually sent a unit to the Ypres salient. (*a diversion so Germans focus at Ypres. About 200 km march one way)

Q. And lugged them all the way back.
A. I think they permitted identification, or they arranged identification of Canadians up there. Our journey (* about 75km) down to the Amiens on August of ’18 was done at night, and no movement whatever allowed during daylight hours. So that is was I think, a very complete surprise indeed.

Q. Well before we get to August 1918, Captain Jack, what about Hill 70, and Lens, Passchendaele, and so on.
A. Yes. Hill 70 was more or less of a second division show, in fact we were not involved in Hill 70. We were to the south, our front lay to the south, that is between Hill 70 and the Souchez Canal, and fronting on Lens itself, or its suburbs, Lieven, and cite de M.

We put in the summer of 1917, on that front. And I wound it up with a two-party raid, at a point where the Vimy-Lens road enters Lenz, that is the road came from Arras through the village of Vimy and into Lenz. And we raided there. It was very successful, we got prisoners, and we kept some of the ground we captured. It was practically altogether a hand grenade raid, quite different than trench warfare. In that you were, you were – you had to do all your preliminary scouting in, amongst ruined houses, and in cellars, and in back lanes, and so on and so forth, but completely outside the trench area. And the German posts and our posts were in ruined houses. Lenz at that time was a city of 50,000 people, before the war. But I don’t suppose that there was one house that was still intact in it, I’m quite sure there wasn’t, there certainly wasn’t in our area. They were all in a state of demolition and the only cover you had really, were bits of wall sticking up here and there. But the cellars very often were intact.

Q. And I understand they had great connecting cellars too.
A. Yes.

Q. They all seemed to be broken through and you could go-
A. Well the cottages very often were all built in a row, attached to each other and all you had to do was remove the bricks from the wall of the cellar and you were into the next cellar, and you could go right along the street that way. We found, as a matter of fact we found that the Germans had done that and when we occupied and advanced and took these places from them, we utilized the same thing. You could travel along a street without ever appearing above ground.

Q. What about Passchendaele itself, the 1917-
(* Alec was married in Inverness October 29,1917 so clearly had leave during part of the October 26 to November 10, 1917 Passchendaele activities)

A. The 54th Battalion, was sent up to Passchendaele ahead of the Canadian Corps and was attached to the Australian Corps. For some reason or other, they thought we were pretty good with pick and shovel. But in any case, we were utilized to build these duck walk lanes, you might call them, from the rear area up to close to the Zonnebeck road, Abraham Heights. They were subsidiary lanes leading off to-and as I explained once before they were used for the troops going out and in, for ration parties, and ammunition carrying parties. And they covered an area which otherwise would have been completely impossible to operate on because it was a low lying country, as Belgium is all over, and the valleys which we had to traverse had been drained in the old days. They had drainage systems, they had several creeks, or what they called beeks, Steinbeek, and various beeks. And the shell fire had busted all this drainage all to pieces, and the result was a morass absolutely. And these duck walks, as we called them, were as I say essential to movement. Of course they were targets for artillery and there were a lot of casualties going up and down. But I think there a good deal less than there would have been without therm. And certainly there was less fatigue. The troops got into the line and got out of the line much easier because of them. Then the balance of the corps arrived. We were not involved in any attack in the Passchendaele campaign. We were in the line several times and that in itself was a pretty assignment. I can recollect going once going in with two officers. There as in the Somme they always tried to leave at least one, possibly two officers, and some of the senior NCOs out of the line, on each trip. So that if any disaster happened there would be the nucleus of something to build on. And I took two officers in, my second in command, and one other officer. I lost them both. One was blinded completely and the other chap had a shell burst behind him and his back was badly wrenched and he was useless. So we sat it out there for four or five days, and they were pretty exciting-SOS going up right and left and centre, German attacks would start, and luckily none happened on our line, on our sector of the front. But it was a 24-hour vigil every day, and by the time that four or five days were over well nobody had any sleep to speak of, pretty well all in. But that was about the story, there was no death or glory for us particularly.

Q. The final push came at Amiens on the 8th of August 1918, and that was almost the end of the war for you. But you were there at the beginning of the big show.
A. Yes. The 8th of August, was afterward labeled as the Black Day for the German army. It was an attack put on by the Canadian Corps, and the Australian Corps on our left, and by French units on our right. The 54th Battalion right flank, and my own company, A Company right of the 54th advanced along the road from Amiens to Roye, the Amiens Roye road, and the French army were just across the road. We, the 3rd division preceded us, we advanced to a certain line and we were to go through them and proceed another couple of miles, I guess or a mile and a half, and capture the village of Beaucourt-en-Santerre

For some inexplicable reason, the French were to advance I think an hour and a half after we did which was very very wrong because as we went forward naturally it gave the Germans who were just across the road from us, nice opportunity to enfilade fire. Well anyway that’s the way it was. After we got our objective we sat back and watched the French advancing on the other side of the road. To the 54th it was more or less a picture-book advance, it was really our introduction to open warfare. We went through the line of the 3rd division, in which time we were in artillery formation. Then we broke out into sections, and eventually into extended order. All as one would do when practicing on a training ground. Then we began to come under fire, we had a scout fringe line out in front of us, and they were sending back information all the time. We lost several officers and quite a number of men before we got to our objective. The tanks were supposed to come through, or rather we were supposed to follow the tanks. Our advance was not supposed to start until the tanks went through us, and then we were to follow them but they were slow, and I got word back that the cavalry patrols were already in Beaucourt-en-Santerre which we had to capture. So I – we advanced right away. We saw more cavalry, mounted men for the first time in action. We didn’t envy them one bit. When machine guns are busy, it is a good thing to be close to the ground and not mounted up on a horse. We saw a lot of the poor animals hit. It wasn’t very nice. However, they were chased out of Beaucourt-en-Santerre and we eventually went in and took it. We had, as our particular objective, A Company, an imaginary line across a very level piece of ground. We came under shell fire once we attained that objective. But we came under fire from of all things, anti-tank guns. These guns had wiped out five tanks on our particular front inside, in less than five minutes. Firing amour-piercing shells, and the tanks just burst into flames and everybody inside was just incinerated in the tank. We had two officers in those tanks ourselves. They were supposed to go forward and drop an infantry officer and four or five men with a Lewis gun, and away forward perhaps behind the German line, you see. And harry them until the next advance the next advance pushed through. But these particular chaps never got anywhere, they got theirs right there. But anyway these anti-tank guns then turned on our targets and they were very unpleasant because they were very high velocity, and they shot almost along the ground and a shell would hit the ground and then bounce. And might bounce right over your head, or might bounce right into you. But they were very unpleasant things.

Q. Point blank range too, I think.
A. Well I suppose. I don’t know just how far away they were. I don’t think they ever located them but they were too close anyway. It was as I say, a model as far as we were concerned. There had never been an advance since the days of the Mons, of that extent, that penetration.

Q. How far did you go that day by the way?
A. I think-now I am pretty hazy on that, but I think the advance must have been five or six miles, that is the whole of it, advance of the Canadian corps.

Q. That must have been ten (*times) as far as you had ever gone before.
A. The days of trench warfare, if you went 100 yards you were really going places.

Q. Was it a continuation of this where you got knocked out
A. Yes.

Q. can you describe it to me?
A. Yes, we moved from the Amiens front up to the Arras area. Operations had started there by one or two of the Canadian divisions who had proceeded us up there. I think on the 26th of August. We were slated for the second September. We started the advance at dawn, crossed the Arras-Cambrai road on a very, I would say very acute angle, and followed up a battalion of the 12 Brigade, the 38th Battalion. I think, who had an objective right in front of us. We were supposed to leap frog through them, as the saying was, and proceed to the Canal du Nord, which was oh several miles ahead. We got – A Company (*AWJ’s) were leading that particular morning, and we got into a trench, partway forward and found the 38th Battalion there. They were supposed to advance some distance further to, I think, to the red line as it was designated. I had my orders, and I imagine my neighbouring company commanders had orders, not to proceed any further until the 12th Brigade took their objective as laid down. But things were very hot, and the 38th Battalion didn’t get much further, didn’t get any further as a matter of fact. We on our left flank, there was a ruined windmill, and in that windmill which was possibly 25 feet off the ground, and the ground was – extremely level, there was a nest of German machine guns. They were sweeping the ground at different levels, as I found out later. And made it extremely difficult, I mean you just had to get up and go forward and that was yours. So the 38th didn’t get further forward and after a time I got a note from my commanding officer to the effect that the battalion on out left had decided that they were going to jump off anyway. He said if they go, conform and go with them. I got the message at 8:40, at least it was dated, time date on the second of September 1918. So we saw our flanking battalion starting out, so we climbed out. Went forward, one platoon after another, extended order. And we immediately came under heavy machine gun fire. Men were pinned to the ground, and really were just lying out there, it was as level as the floor here. They were just pinned to the ground with their noses in the turf, trying to make themselves as little a target as possible. But we had to get moving and we eventually did. It was quite a chore, I had moved-gone forward to the leading platoon, and got them moving. I was on my way back to the next platoon in line to them to stagger on when something hit me. Felt like I imagined a blacksmith’s hammer would. It was quite a shock but I had got a machine bullet through my right thigh. I found myself on the ground, I had my prismatic compass in my hand, we were traveling on a compass bearing you see. I must have dropped it right there, because I never saw it again. But the platoons kept going, and left me on the ground, and from then on there was nothing much to it. Was a bit of shell fire came along and I managed to edge my way in between two corpses, and that was the only shelter I had. Finally, a kiltie came along, and he was wounded, he was walking wounded, going to the rear. So I gave him a call and he came over, and gave me an arm and with a discarded rifle under the other arm, I staggered down to a place where our medical officer was. I was put on a stretcher and patched up. That was about the end of except that they grabbed a number of German prisoners that were captured and made them carry stretchers of wounded down there, on the road towards Arras. I was laying on my back, looking up at the sky, and feeling not to unhappy at all. Everything was pretty well all right.

End of Tapes.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Captain Alec Jack, 54th Battalion CEF, 1967 interviews on Vimy Ridge

Soldier’s identity discovered through research for The Maple Leaf

Before and after photo of L/Cpl James Smart, 25th Bn Nova Scotia Rifles, winner of the light heavyweight wrestling championship at the Canadian Corps Championships, July 1, 1918.  Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-003505

When COBWFA member Rod Henderson turned in a story about the Canadian Corps Championships of 1918 for an upcoming edition of branch magazine The Maple Leaf, one of the photographs available to illustrate it was of an unnamed corporal of the 25th Battalion, Nova Scotia Rifles, who was described as the winner of the light heavyweight boxing title. As managing editor, I smelled a challenge and set about trying to identify the man whose striking photo I was marveling at for its sharpness and detail – along with his arresting gaze. There had to be a way to track him down. Continue reading

Posted in Canadians in France, Government Archives | Comments Off on Soldier’s identity discovered through research for The Maple Leaf

Rudyard Kipling and the Great War – with a Canadian Flavour


Before you hit the buffalo, find out where the rest of the herd is. – Proverb.

introduction notes on the text

THIS particular fold of downs behind Salisbury might have been a hump of prairie near Winnipeg. The team that came over the rise, widely spaced between pole-bar and whiffle- trees, were certainly children of the prairie. They shied at the car. Their driver asked them dis- passionately what they thought they were doing, anyway. They put their wise heads together, and did nothing at all. Yes. Oh, yes! said the driver. They were Western horses. They weighed better than twelve hundred apiece. He himself was from Edmonton way. The Camp? Why, the camp was right ahead along up this road. No chance to miss it, and, ‘Sa-ay! Look out for our lorries!’
A fleet of them hove in sight going at the rate of knots, and keeping their left with a conscientiousness only learned when you come out of a country where nearly all the Provinces (except British Columbia) keep to the right. Every line of them, from steering- wheel to brake-shoes, proclaimed their nationality. Three perfectly efficient young men who were sprinkling a golf -green with sifted earth ceased their duties to stare at them. Two riding-boys (also efficient) on racehorses, their knees under their chins and their saddles between their horses’ ears, cantered past on the turf. The rattle of the motors upset their catsmeat, so one could compare their style of riding with that of an officer loping along to over- take a string of buck-wagons that were trotting towards the horizon. The riding-boys have to endure sore hardship nowadays. One gentleman has already complained that his ‘private gallops’ are being cut up by gun- wheels and ‘irremediably ruined.’
Then more lorries, contractors’ wagons, and in- creasing vileness of the battered road-bed, till one slid through a rude gate into a new world, of canvas as far as the eye could reach, and beyond that outlying clouds of tents. It is not a contingent that Canada has sent, but an army – horse, foot, guns, engineers, and all details, fully equipped. Taking that army’s strength at thirty-three thou- sand, and the Dominion’s population at eight million, the camp is Canada on the scale of one to two hundred and forty – an entire nation unrolled across a few square miles of turf and tents and huts. Here I could study at close hand ‘a Colony’ yearning to shake off ‘the British yoke.’ For, beyond question, they yearned – the rank and file unreservedly, the officers with more restraint but equal fervour – and the things they said about the Yoke were simply lamentable.
From Nova Scotia to Victoria, and every city, township, distributing-centre, and divisional point between; from subtropical White River and sultry Jackfish to the ultimate north that lies up beside Alaska; from Kootenay, and Nelson of the fruit- farms, to Prince Edward Island, where motors are not allowed; they yearned to shake it off, with the dust of England from their feet, ‘at once and some time before that.’
I had been warned that when Armageddon came the ‘Colonies’ would ‘revolt against the Mother Country as one man’; but I had no notion I should ever see the dread spectacle with my own eyes or the ‘one man’ so tall!
Joking apart, the Canadian Army wants to get to work. It admits that London is ‘some city,’ but says it did not take the trip to visit London only. Armageddon, which so many people in Europe knew was bound to come, has struck Canada out of the blue, like a noonday murder in a small town. How will they feel when they actually view some of the destruction in France, these men who are used to making and owning their homes? And what effect will it have on their land’s outlook and development for the next few generations? Older countries may possibly slip back into some sort of toleration. New peoples, in their first serious war, like girls in their first real love-affair, neither forget nor forgive. That is why it pays to keep friends with the young.
And such young! They ran inches above all normal standards, not in a few companies or battalions, but through the whole corps; and it was not easy to pick out foolish or even dull faces among them. Details going about their business through the camp’s much mud; defaulters on fatigue; orderlies, foot and mounted; the pro- cession of lorry-drivers; companies falling in for inspection; battalions parading; brigades moving off for manoeuvres; batteries clanking in from the ranges; they were all supple, free, and intelligent ; and moved with a lift and a drive that made one sing for joy.


Only a few months ago that entire collection poured into
[Page 33, line 15] Armageddon

The place of the final battle with the Anti-Christ named in Revelations 16. 16. Frequently used to describe the war of 1914-1918. Valcartier camp in pink shirts and straw hats, desperately afraid they might not be in time. Since then they have been taught several things. Notably, that the more independent the individual soldier, the more does he need fore- thought and endless care when he is in bulk.
‘Just because we were all used to looking after ourselves in civil life,’ said an officer, ‘we used to send parties out without rations. And the parties used to go, too! And we expected the boys to look after their own feet. But we’re wiser now.’
‘They’re learning the same thing in the New Army,’ I said. ‘Company officers have to be taught to be mothers and housekeepers and sanitary- inspectors. Where do your men come from?’
‘Tell me some place that they don’t come from,’ said he, and I could not. The men had rolled up from everywhere between the Arctic circle and the border, and I was told that those who could not get into the first contingent were moving heaven and earth and local politicians to get into the second.
‘There’s some use in politics now,’ that officer reflected. ‘But it’s going to thin the voting-lists at home.’
A good many of the old South African crowd (the rest are coming) were present and awfully correct. Men last met as privates between De Aar and Belmont were captains and majors now, while one lad who, to the best of his ability, had painted Cape Town pink in those fresh years, was a grim non-commissioned officer worth his disciplined weight in dollars. ‘I didn’t remind Dan of old times when he turned up at Valcartier disguised as a respectable citizen.’ said my informant. ‘I just roped him in for my crowd. He’s a father to ’em. He knows.’ ‘And have you many cheery souls coming on?’ I asked. ‘Not many; but it’s always the same with a first contingent. You take everything that offers and weed the bravoes out later.’
‘We don’t weed,’ said an officer of artillery. ‘Any one who has had his passage paid for by the Canadian Government stays with us till he eats out of our hand. And he does. They make the best men in the long run,’ he added. I thought of a friend of mine who is now disabusing two or three ‘old soldiers’ in a Service corps of the idea that they can run the battalion, and I laughed. The Gunner was right. ‘Old soldiers’ after a little loving care, become valuable and virtuous.
A company of Foot was drawn up under the lee of a fir plantation behind us. They were a miniature of their army as their army was of their people, and one could feel the impact of strong personality almost like a blow.
‘If you’d believe it,’ said a cavalryman, ‘we’re forbidden to cut into that little wood-lot, yonder! Not one stick of it may we have! We could make shelters for our horses in a day out of that stuff.’ ‘But it’s timber!’ I gasped. ‘Sacred, tame trees!’ ‘Oh, we know what wood is! They issue it to us by the pound. Wood to burn by the pound! What’s wood for, anyway? ‘
‘And when do you think we shall be allowed to go?’ some one asked, not for the first time. ‘By and by,’ said I. ‘And then you’ll have to detail half your army to see that your equipment isn’t stolen from you.’ ‘What!’ cried an old Strathcona Horse. He looked anxiously towards the horse-lines. ‘I was thinking of your mechanical transport and your travelling workshops and a few other things that you’ve got.’
I got away from those large men on their windy hill-top, and slid through mud and past mechanical transport and troops untold towards Lark Hill, On the way I passed three fresh-cut pine sticks, laid and notched one atop of the other to shore up a caving bank. Trust a Canadian or a beaver within gunshot of standing timber!


Lark Hill is where the Canadian Engineers live, in the midst of a profligate abundance of tools and carts, pontoon wagons, field telephones, and other mouth-watering gear. Hundreds of tin huts are being built there, but quite leisurely, by contract, I noticed three workmen, at eleven o’clock of that Monday forenoon, as drunk as Davy’s sow, reeling and shouting across the landscape. So far as I could ascertain, the workmen do not work extra shifts, nor even, but I hope this is incorrect, on Saturday afternoons; and I think they take their full hour at noon these short days.
Every camp throws up men one has met at the other end of the earth; so, of course, the Engineer C.O. was an ex-South African Canadian.
‘Some of our boys are digging a trench over yonder,’ he said. ‘I’d like you to look at ’em.’ The boys seemed to average five feet ten inches, with thirty-seven inch chests. The soil was unaccommodating chalk.
‘What are you?’ I asked of the first pickaxe. ‘Private.’ ‘Yes, but before that?’ ‘McGill (University understood). Nineteen twelve.’ ‘And that boy with the shovel?’ ‘Queen’s, I think. No; he’s Toronto.’
And thus the class in applied geology went on half up the trench, under supervision of a Corporal-Bachelor-of-Science with a most scientific biceps. They were young; they were beautifully fit, and they were all truly thankful that they lived in these high days. Sappers, like sergeants, take care to make themselves comfortable. The corps were dealing with all sorts of little domestic matters in the way of arrangements for baths, which are cruelly needed, and an apparatus for depopulating shirts, which is even more wanted. Healthy but unwashen men sleeping on the ground are bound to develop certain things which at first disgust them, but later are accepted as an unlovely part of the game.
It would be quite easy to make bakehouses and super-heated steam fittings to deal with the trouble. The huts themselves stand on brick piers, from one to three feet above ground. The board floors are not grooved or tongued, so there is ample ventila- tion from beneath; but they have installed decent cooking ranges and gas, and the men have already made themselves all sorts of handy little labour-saving gadgets. They would do this if they were in the real desert.
Incidentally, I came across a delightful bit of racial instinct. A man had been told to knock up a desk out of broken packing- cases. There is only one type of desk in Canada —the roller-top, with three shelves each side the knee-hole, characteristic sloping sides, raised back, and long shelf in front of the writer. He reproduced it faithfully, barring, of course, the roller- top; and the thing leaped to the eye out of its English office surroundings. The Engineers do not suffer for lack of talents. Their senior officers appear to have been the heads, and their juniors the assistants, in big concerns that wrestle with unharnessed nature. (There is a tale of the building of a bridge in Valcartier Camp which is not bad hearing.) The rank and file include miners; road, trestle, and bridge men; iron construction men who, among other things, are steeplejacks; whole castes of such as deal in high explosives for a living; loco-drivers, superintendents, too, for aught I know, and a solid packing of selected machinists, mechanics, and electricians. Unluckily, they were all a foot or so too tall for me to tell them that, even if their equipment escaped at the front, they would infallibly be raided for their men.


I left McGill, Queen’s, and Toronto still digging in their trench, which another undergraduate, mounted and leading a horse, went out of his way to jump standing. My last glimpse was of a little detachment, with five or six South African ribbons among them, who were being looked over by an officer. No one thought it strange that they should have embodied themselves and crossed the salt seas independently as ‘So-and-So’s Horse’. (It is best to travel with a title these days.) Once arrived, they were not at all particular, except that they meant to join the Army, and the lonely batch was stating its qualifications as Engineers.
‘They get over any way and every way,’ said my companion. ‘Swimming, I believe.’ ‘But who was the So-and-So that they were christened after?’ I asked. ‘I guess he was the man who financed ’em or grub-staked ’em while they were waiting. He may be one of ’em in that crowd now; or he may be a provincial magnate at home getting another bunch together’.


Then I went back to the main camp for a last look at that wonderful army, where the tin-roofed messes take French conversation lessons with the keen-faced French-Canadian officers, and where one sees esprit-de-Corps in the making. Nowhere is local sentiment stronger than in Canada. East and West, lake and maritime provinces, prairie and mountain, fruit district and timber lands – they each thrill to it. The West keeps one cold blue open- air eye on the townful East. Winnipeg sits between, posing alternately as sophisticated metropolis and simple prairie. Alberta, of the thousand horses, looks down from her high-peaked saddle on all who walk on their feet; and British Columbia thanks God for an equable climate, and that she is not like Ottawa, full of politicians and frozen sludge. Quebec, unassailable in her years and experience, smiles tolerantly on the Nova Scotian, for he has a history too, and asks Montreal if any good thing can come out of Brandon, Moose Jaw, or Regina. They discuss each other out- rageously, as they know each other intimately, over four thousand miles of longitude – their fathers, their families, and all the connections. Which is useful when it comes to sizing up the merits of a newly-promoted non-commissioned officer or the capacities of a quartermaster’.
As their Army does and suffers, and its record begins to blaze, fierce pride of regiment will be added to local love and the national pride that backs and envelops all. But that pride is held in very severe check now; for they are neither provinces nor tribes but a welded people fighting in the War of Liberty. They permit themselves to hope that the physique of their next contingent will not be worse than that of the present. They believe that their country can send forward a certain number of men and a certain number behind that, all equipped to a certain scale. Of discomforts endured, of the long learning and relearning and waiting on, they say nothing. They do not hint what they will do when their hour strikes, though they more than hint their longing for that hour. In all their talk I caught no phrase that could be twisted into the shadow of a boast or any claim to superiority, even in respect to their kit and outfit; no word or implication of self-praise for any sacrifice made or intended. It was their rigid humility that impressed one as most significant and, perhaps, most menacing for such as may have to deal with this vanguard of an armed Nation.

notes on the text


Much more on the Great War and Rudyard Kipling here


Posted in UK Camps used by Canadians, UK Training Sites | Comments Off on Rudyard Kipling and the Great War – with a Canadian Flavour

Building the Leadership of the CEF

Canadian Army Journal article about how the battalion leadership was found and formed into a deadly fighting force.


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Building the Leadership of the CEF

Letters to Marie

Mike Dobson contributed this a few years ago.

These are the letters of our Father, Grandfather and Great-grandfather, #157114 Pte JG Sproule, 3rd Cdn MG Coy, BEF, France written to his cousin Marie Golay. Marie was the daughter of Katherine (Sproule) and Henry Golay then living in Bowmanville, Ontario. Throughout the war, Marie lived at 142 Ellsworth Avenue in Toronto. Marie lost her brother Hal at the end of the Battle of Somme on October 22, 1916 and she herself had enlisted as a nursing sister. Later Marie married Howard Bradley, a realtor, and they lived in Oshawa. I’m unsure how Dad obtained these letters but perhaps Marie returned them after the war or after she married Howard.

Maple leaf from the letterhead of Joe’s first letter (below) to Marie from Sandling Camp

Sandling Camp


May 1916

Dear Marie,

Excuse me for not having written before but I have been under quarantine, we were told we could not write, but I see we can, so here goes.

It is not yet three weeks since I left Toronto, how long it seems though. During that time I have travelled quite a distance and have seen a great deal. One thing I noticed that surprised me, in passing through on the train to the coast, everything was green in Ontario but in Lower Quebec and New Brunswick the snow, in a great many places was still upon the ground and the air was much cooler. In passing through Quebec I noticed the French system of farms, narrow frontage and great depth but how well taken care of they were. There was hardly a broken fence and the houses were whitewashed, shed-looking places with steep roofs. Most of our trip through New Brunswick was spent going by great stretches of low ground covered with very thick woods. We arrived at Halifax about 12:30 Friday night and went on board at 3:00 O’clock Saturday afternoon. It was the Olympic and it left Halifax on May 1st and altogether we spent five and a half days on the trip across. Part of the Bn had bunks and part hammocks. I had a hammock. There was the 66th, 68th, 81st and 83rd battalions (Bn) on board and 10th Mounted Rifles, one hundred and fifty cyclists, a number of army service men, and one battery of artillerymen. Of the whole trip I was sick three days, what misery for us. I was about the worst and longest case on board. We had one death in our Bn on board at 12:30 one night. At last the coast of Ireland loomed up and we were accompanied by three destroyers till we reached the light ship in the mouth of the Mersey, took on a pilot and shortly afterward landed in Liverpool. Sunday we entrained and I saw the most picturesque bit of country I ever saw in my life – Kent, “the garden of England” it is called. Travelled through Rugby and London and arrived in West Sandling at 11:00 o’clock Sunday night. Monday morning we were inspected and it was decided that our Bn would go to the front in drafts. The machine gun section was separated and transferred to the 36th Machine Gun Brigade. But in addressing mail address it to:

#157114 Pte JG Sproule

M G S 81st Bn

Canadian Contingent


c/o Army Post Office, London

Busy, well I’ll say, they certainly rush us here. Last Thursday Pte Biggs in our tent (which holds ten men), took the measles, and of course we were quarantined for eighteen days. Imagine nine of us living in a bell tent on the ground without boards on it. Saturday it rained all day and we were flooded, blankets and equipment got wet. But what fun, I have a great time, gee it is funny to see how the men take things under trying conditions. We were to go on our six day leave but the quarantine spoiled that for us. We may or may not have our leave when we have served our term. After that we are sent away to a school of machine gunning to complete our course, after which we may be sent to France, but I don’t know.

Well I guess I will close a letter now and again will certainly be welcome. Give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry and Mrs. Golay, Vic and how is my little girl. Hope you are all well.

Love Joe


MG Base

36th Bn CEF

c/o Army Post Office, London

(Postmarked Sandling Camp but date is unreadable but probably June ‘16)

Dear Marie,

I received your home pocket album and letter OK. The album certainly will come in handy as I have some pictures I want to put in it.

I say Marie have you got a picture of yourself, a snap, that would go into the book. I want the pictures of the folks back home to put in it just so I can have them with me through the campaign.

It has been cool for the last couple of weeks and rainy. Say! Isn’t it miserable when it rains in this country? In Canada I didn’t mind it so much but here – ugh.

I am getting to like the army here now, at first it was rank but now, I suppose, we are getting knocked into shape by our superiors. We are taking our musketry course now and then I hope France.

I spent a very profitable time in London while I was here but was called back off pass on account of losses of the Canadians then, before my pass was up.

A party of us went to Folkstone yesterday, we had a good time and our pictures taken. Went to the Pleasure Garden Theatre and saw “The only Girl” – American play – it was pretty good.

Some of the 81st wounded are back at Shorncliffe Hospital from the trenches.

I wrote a letter to Noble asked him how he was etc. and asked him to come and visit me. How is his girl has he written anything about her lately?

How is everything back home, are you busy on cases, what is the weather like? So Pa got a car at last. I am certainly glad to hear of it. Have you been riding in it very much, how does it seem to go?

I guess I have written all I can think of. Things are about the same, nothing extraordinary.

Give my love to aunt Kate, Uncle Henry, Vicc and how is my little girl Mamie?

Love Joe


Risborough Barracks

Shorncliffe, England

July 7/16

Dear Marie,

Just a line to let you know how I am. I’m feeling “Jake” as the soldier says. I’ll bet I have increased some in weight, the life is of the best. Since leaving Sandling, we were treated as if we were humans and not machines, as the 36th seemed to think we were. The camp is higher and drier than the old camp too. We have started or rather have already done two weeks of our five weeks course in machine gunning at the school. After that we take bombing, bayonet fighting, gas helmet drill and then I expect, we will go to France. I am awfully sorry to hear that Noble is wounded but I’m certainly pleased that it isn’t serious. However I have written him two letters one to the hospital and one to the trenches – he’ll surely get one at least. Our old 81st MG officer left for France today. We had our picture all taken together with him in the centre just before he left. He asked to have all his old boys sent in a draft together. I hope he has succeeded in getting permission.

Are you getting out to Sturgeon Lake with the folks at all this summer? If you do I’ll bet you have a good time. It certainly is a fine place to spend the summer. I’m a first class shot now having 116 points out of a possible 190. I missed being a marksman by 14 points. I lost in rapid fire.

The machine gun course sure requires some mental energy to digest it. It is nothing but memory work right through. We had two fellows die recently, on got hit behind the ear with a bouncing baseball and never regained consciousness. The other died as a result of a clot of blood in the heart. He died in some agony.

I guess I have said about all I can so I guess I’ll close. Give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry, Vic and my little girl. How is Jack the dog?

Enclosed find a picture of myself with full kit on. I look sour over something. I have just come back from the ranges that is why I look so untidy.

Love Joe

P.S. How is everything, has Hal left yet? JGS

Joe at Sandling Camp, England, July 1916

8th Brigade MG Coy

BEF, France

July 11/16

Dear Marie,

Mother and you were the bearers of such sad news. Noble is dead, even yet I can’t realize it. Why to think that my twin brothers are both killed. First Hugh then Noble. Why Marie? After Noble going through what he has and until recently not being wounded why we almost thought that he was sure of coming back alive.

They both died heroes fighting for a just cause. It seems hard that God has made it such that two young boys or rather men, should be made to die so early in life. But it is God’s decree and it is for us to bear up under what seems almost injustice in splitting up a family and home ties like that.

Marie. France is some country isn’t it, at least from what I can see of it? I don’t when I’m going up on the line. It may be soon and I have a score to settle. The Hun is the most unreliable scoundrel alive. They’d break their hearts if they played fair. You find a wounded German you treat him good. The minute your back is turned he knifes or shoots you in the back. That is why Canadians are so sore on Fritz. Many a pal has been killed that way. How is Mamie and Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry and Vic. Hoping this will find you well I remain

Your loving brother, Goldie (Joe)

P.S. I rec’d a letter from Hal. How is Jack the dog?



Jan 5/17

Dear Marie

I received your letter some time ago but I know you will pardon me for not answering it sooner. Well Marie I can’t say much about your or rather our recent sadness and misfortune. But Marie you know how I feel about it. It hits us all very hard. (Note: Marie’s brother Hall killed in action October 22, 1916.)

I thank you for your cards and letter and ghee! But it was a dandy box. Yes the box was fine, thank you. No I have never met Ted or Ralph. What Battalion or Brigade do they belong to now?

I can’t say anything unusual about myself. I’m feeling just all right. I think I’m used to conditions out here now. We all have a touch of fever then we get inured, I have had my sick spell but I hope I’m good till spring anyway. Then I hope we won’t be long in coming home. I don’t think I’m divulging anything when I say I expect big things in the spring. So far things have been running smoothly but you know there is often a storm cloud in a clear sky, and sometimes we get wet. Get me Marie?

I was picking buttercups and dandelions the other day. Think of it, flowers in January. We have not very much rain so far. I have a new job now I’m not on a gun crew. I’m a dispatch runner. Take dispatches and wires to different headquarters in the trenches. It’s all right when things are quiet but it’s going to be some hot job when things are going on, when trenches are blown in and you have to take to the open. Take it from me Marie I can give him a run for his money. There is always one consolation. No matter how hard Fritzy is pounding us, no matter how many casualties we have you may be sure that Deutcher has it ten times greater. For every shell he puts over, we put over ten. We’ve got him skinned alive now ever since last July last year we’ve had it over him in ammunition and planes. It’s a case now of “sock it to him Kelly.” I could tell you a whole lot about it but I don’t want to get pinched.

How is everything in Toronto? I received a nice letter from Mrs. Ross recently. Give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry, Vic and my “sweety heart”, and Jack.

Love Joe



Feb 5/17

Dear Marie,

Rec’d your letter of December 29/16 the other day or to be exact 4 days ago. The reason of the delay was that I was away on a course back of the line and my mail piled up awaiting my return. On Christmas and New Years I spent well – a fairly good time in the trenches, considering that the dugout roof leaked and the mud was deep.

So the kiddie had lots of dolls – her children eh! The Mother instinct is present in the youngest girls isn’t it? I’m glad the kiddie had a good time. Doesn’t it do a person good to see children happy and contented, quite oblivious to sorrow and strife around them. I guess by the time Vic and “sweetheart” will be home from Montreal. I hope they had a good time, but somehow Montreal is no place for kiddies is it Marie? Mamie was all right I hope.

I suppose you know that I’m not a gunner now but a runner. Despatch runner, it is a much better job, for our M.G. Coy. Everything is running pretty smoothly. According to the papers, the Germans are disregarding at least are very impertinent to neutrals. That is a good sign that shows that they’ve come to the defiance stage of the war, they know they are licked and have got their backs up against the wall.

While on this course I had my picture taken, enclosed find one. What do you think of it. I had it taken to show that I wasn’t quite old and grey. It looks just about the same as when I went away doesn’t it?

Well Marie I’ll close. Give my love to Aunt Kate, Uncle Henry and Vic, (to Sweety Heart xxxx+). Have you got a picture of the kid Marie?

Love Joe



March 16/17

Dear Marie,

Hurrah tomorrow is the seventeenth of old Ireland. If I’ve got something green to wear I’ll wear it, even if it’s a bit of moss.

I received your most welcome box last night. We sure did appreciate it. I sat on the bed in the billet and opened the box. We are going to have a feed (six of us) tonight: coffee, canned chicken, salmon and sardines, bread and butter and Christmas cake (special extra). Six of us live in a little 2 x 4 room in a barn. It’s cosy and warm, lots of straw ( and mice and lice). But we should worry eh Marie? Let me thank you for the box Marie. I certainly do appreciate it. It was certainly a “peacherino”.

How are you getting on, how is Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry, Vic and the kiddie? I hope you are all well. I wonder it Toronto has changed much. It seems a long time ago since I left it.

I am quite well, still “Jake”. Winter is over and spring has set in but with the coming of spring there usually comes hard work, longer days, less sleep. Oh well the sooner it is over and done with the better.

Is the Bloor St. viaduct finished yet? Any good shows on recently? Things are looking favourable for the allies these days. I suppose the U.S. will enter the war soon.

Well to get down to little intimate conversation. As I said before, “with the coming of spring come the days of real warfare”. Some of these fine spring days there will be an increase in casualties of Canadians no doubt. If that is the case why it’s a case of real scrapping for us. In case anything happens Marie just smooth things out for mother will you. I have written a letter explaining things to dad. Don’t let this scare you because I’m just as safe as the rest of us and don’t think it will last long once it has started. If I go under, I’m prepared God’s will be done. If I don’t meet you all at home, I’ll meet you at the great rendezvous.

Give my love to all. Lots of kisses to “Sweety Heart.”

Love Joe


A post card photo of Joe in France, before Vimy, March 1917


May 1917 (actual date censored)

Dear Marie,

Received you letter with the kiddies photo in it and the Easter card from Aunt Kate. I sure did appreciate them all. Isn’t the kiddie growing up it looks like Hal sure. It certainly is a good picture of her. The night before last I received a letter from you. Well Marie. Ghee but it was a fine scrap (Note: talking about the Battle of Vimy Ridge) and it seems funny walking over the ground that was German ground a short time ago and looking over the ridge and seeing for the first time miles back over the captured ground. I am thinking that the war will soon be over. It is peculiar when a fellow is up on the line, he thinks the war is never going to end. When they are relieved and as fast as they march away from the trenches, so his spirits rise and by the time he arrives at billets he is positive that the war will be over someday soon. I have received two letters from Mrs. Ross – enclosed in one was a note from Elsie. Thank them for me.

So you are calling the kiddie Hallie, that’s fine. I like that name after her daddy. Wasn’t that a rotten picture that last one that I sent.

Thanks awfully Marie, I knew you would help make things easier for mother in case anything should happen. So the boys are still notorious in Toronto. Well I don’t blame them although they get worked up very easily. No Marie I’m not overly fluent in French that is grammatically speaking. Tres bon a box eh Marie. Whenever you send a box will you put lots of eats in it. Pardon me for saying this, I like so much to eat stuff from home. We don’t get much dainties out here.

Yes that sure was a scrap we gave it to him for fair and we still have him on the go. What do you think of the German attitude and the Russians just now?

Well Marie, here I am back of the line about ten miles taking a five week course on signalling. I suspect I will be made a signaller when I return to my unit. Well I guess I’ll close, give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry,Vic and my Sweety Heart.

Love Joe



June 10/17

Dear Marie

Just a line to say that everything is OK. Tres bon in fact. We are having warm sunshiny days and fairly busy too.

I am back off the signalling course and am a signaller now in our unit. I’ve changed some eh Marie. Well Marie there is nothing to say so I’ll ask a few questions. How’s the kiddy keeping and Aunt Kate, Uncle Henry, Vic and everybody? Are you busy nursing these days? Do you get out in the car much? How are things going on down our way? Say Marie that was a peach of a picture of the kiddy wasn’t it. Suppose the girlie will be grown so I will hardly know her when I come back. Tell her I’m still her Sweety Heart. And the dog is it still her guardian? Thank you very much for the birthday card and letter. So I’m twenty years of age. Getting old but well being.

They sure are looking after returned soldiers well in Toronto aren’t they. I’m looking forward to your birthday box to me and thank you for the bundle of papers.

Marie could you get a small pocket English French dictionary – you know best what kind to get. One with sentences, phrases in it. I’m reading one of Henry Drummond’s works, “The Habitant”, French-Canadian dialect poems. Have you read any of his works?

They were very nice words on that birthday card. Well Marie I’ll close. Give my love to Auntie Kate and Uncle Henry, “My Kiddy” and Vic.

Lots of Love

Bro. Joe

Joe in France, June 1917 at his 20th birthday


June 27/17

Dear Marie:

Received your letter OK. Was certainly glad to hear from you. Oh yes I’m just feeling great. Feeling better than I have ever felt before. You should see me. I’m a little bit bigger and have filled out more. I’m back to short trousers (I cut my slacks off at the knees). I’m as tanned as an Indian ghee but its good to be alive. I came back off that five weeks course as fat as butter.

Pardon my scribble I’m sitting on the steps of the dugout and writing this. Well I suppose we’ll soon have our next door neighbours out here (Americans) coming to finish the war for us, and to show us a thing or two in the line of fighting. But I shouldn’t be sarcastic should I? It will be a Godsend, they will do a lot of good. Things are going on famously these glorious days of summer. Sometimes time hangs heavy and mostly –”presto” – and a month has flashed past in no time. I think we’ll soon be able to part for home – we all hope so at any rate.

I’m in the Signallers now which is much better and at the same time you are learning something.

That birthday box sure went “bon”, Sis. Thank you all so much. This letter will not be long because it is five to six now and I want to get it censored and out with the ration limbers tonight.

I hope by this time conscription has passed the House. Has it Marie? I can’t see why the French Canadians are so backward in joining up. Those of them that have come out have made a name for themselves and are splendid fighters. But I suppose it is religion that is the cause.

I’m so glad and thankful that you have given those flowers to mother on “Mother’s Sunday” from me. It will please mother so. I attended a service on Mother’s Sunday (which was held over here too) in a YMCA in a village back of the line. I sure thought of mother and not being able to get her flowers this year. Well Marie I’ll close. How is my little “Sweety Heart” Isn’t the kiddie growing though. Give my love to all. I remain yours with love.

Bro. Joe



July 15/17

Dear Marie

I thank you for the box you sent to me. It sure was tres bon. So the other night or rather very early morning when on duty, I dug into the cake and marmalade and the corporal and I polished it off between us.

Well Marie! How are things these days? I believe conscription was finally passed was it not? How is Quebec taking it? I’m glad of it believe me.

I hope my little kiddie is all right. I’ll bet she’s becoming quite a big girl isn’t she? Ghee! I wish I was home Marie but I think it will be over soon, don’t you? And then-oh-then, you’ll see me coming head on a mile per in my effort to get to the land of the “setting sun.” Some day those “bone heads” will realize they are licked, but until then we’ll have to scrap, scrap and then some, to convince them.

I suppose the traffic is going over the viaduct now and the union station how is it beginning to look. Three more days and I will have been out here a year and getting on two since I enlisted. Time flies doesn’t it?

Are you nursing at the hospital yet? I suppose you are pretty busy. Well Marie I can hardly find anything to say. So I’ll close. How is Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry, Vic and Kiddie and oh yes the dog? Give my love to all.

Love, Joe



August 1917

Dear Marie;

Received your letter of July 12/17 on Aug 6/17. Pretty near as long in coming as mine to you. The mail has recently been very irregular in delivery. Due I think to the enormous amount of munitions and food which come before anything else.

Thank you so much for troubling to get me an English-French dictionary, if possible I want to make myself understood when conversing with the people and as you know French I thought that you would know what I need, that is why I asked you Marie.

I sure have a soft spot in my heart for my little “Sweet Heart” right from the first time I met the kiddy. She is my little girl.

That picture you received from me makes me out to be thin, but in reality I am fuller and heavier than I have ever been. Yes I suppose I have changed a little, I have been in France nearly thirteen months and the wear and tear of life out here is bound to make a change, (in my case for the better). What surprises me Marie is that big strapping men, regular perfect specimens of physical manhood often times go to pieces, fall sick and sometimes die from the same things that I’m putting up with. Here am I and others thriving and growing out here while others pine away and eventually become unfit for Service. This shows that you can’t tell by looking at the man, circumstances prove it to be so. Peculiar isn’t it? The only wrong with me is catarrah which is common out here.

I was out for a walk through the country today with my friend Frank and as we were walking along we began discussing and looking back to our life in barracks which naturally enough led to our menu at the exhibition. We used to enter complaints against our diet when back there but when I think of what we are eating now and think of the really substantial meals at barracks at home. I think how foolish we were. Why in Canada for our midday meal we received roast beef or fish steaks, potatoes, corn or peas, tea or coffee, soup or gravy. Something along those lines and jam or cake and mind you we complained. If I was back there now I’d eat bacon and beans and not kick if I ate them for the duration. However I’m grousing which I don’t usually do.

So you have a garden in your backyard, lots of vegetables. I used to be persnickity about raw tomatoes but I’m not much anymore. I’d sure make a pig of myself if I had a basketful in front of me now. We can get tomatoes out here, it cost about 1 franc for about four tomatoes. We only get 15 francs every two weeks, prices are high and the majority of us, two or three days after pay, are financially embarrassed. A lot of the boys inhabit the estaminets (note: restaurants) and I bet the French people that run them don’t want the war to end. They are making a fortune out of the troops.

I do so hope Eleanor has a good time. I certainly like Eleanor don’t you and I’m glad that she is stopping at home with dad and mother because it will make it brighter at home for them. What do you know about it, so the street railway has struck for higher wages. Do you think they were justified in striking or were they wrong?

I think at the outside that if (the war) will be over sometime next spring, I thoroughly believe we’ll have to put another winter in to convince the Germans they have played their last card.

It has been raining and raining off and on for about two weeks hampering operations somewhat. However it appears to be clearing up and getting hot again which I can put up with fine.

How is Mrs. Ross and Elsie keeping, remember me to them. I’ll close. Give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry, Vic and my kiddy. How’s the dog keeping too?

Love Joe

157114 Pte JG Sproule

8th Cdn MG Coy

BEF, France

P.S. By the way I’m going on leave to Paris in a few weeks time. That will be fine, 10 days leave in 13 months, its due me isn’t it? Joe

French poppies pressed into a letter to Marie, August 1917

(Note: post card)



Dear Marie;

Well Marie, this is the life, am in Paris on a pass. Someplace, sometime and beaucoup l’argent. I must behave myself eh sis. Having good time.




Sept 17/17

Dear Marie

No don’t think that I have forgotten you, I haven’t. I just have had no ambition to write anybody. Ever since coming back off pass I somehow can’t settle down to anything. If I start reading, I throw it down disconsolately and if I sit down I mope. Just impatient that’s all.

Yes I have visited Paris. Some place Marie isn’t it the most beautiful place you have ever seen. What did you think of it when you were there? Paris beats them all doesn’t it? A city with so many boulevards, parks, gardens, building etc.

Well we hit Paris on the night of 21st August/17. Getting into the Gare du Nord about 9:30 and stepped off the train and for the first time in nearly fourteen months, saw real citified people, both men and women.

We met a Canadian who took us to the Hotel des deux Gare on rue Fanburg. St. Denis not a minutes walk from the station. The street wasn’t up to much, but the room in the hotel was fine at six francs per night. Well I was to the garden at Versailles, Bois de Bologne, the zoo, Eiffel Tower. Riding around in taxis, theatres, dining around at a few hotels although we had a regular restaurant. Say isn’t Paris a hard place to get a drink of tea. Vin rouge is predominant. I asked for coffee in one place and they brought me rum and coffee. After I asked for coffee without rum. With the aid of a few French words I got on fine. On the whole I spent ten days of real life after fourteen months of existence. “When in Rome do as the Romans do” and we did.

Here I am back up the line as usual, waiting another pass which I may see or may not. However such is life eh. I saw a few “Sammies” (Note: Americans) when down in Paris – quite a smart uniform isn’t it.

Quite a problem in Russia at the present. If Kerensky doesn’t get done in, I think he will save Russia. You never can tell though. Things are humming up here yet, he still has quite a kick left in him (Fritz). I’m still at it. I’m wondering whether I’ll have a try at the flying corps with the view of a commission, what do you think about it? I wonder if I have enough brains to take a commission, think so?

How is my “sweety heart” and Aunt Kate, Vic, Uncle Henry and are you well and still busy. Give my love to all the folks.

I’ll close

Love Joe



Dec 8, 1917

Dear Marie;

Oh it’s ages and ages ago since I wrote to you Marie, I know. But the fact is I have had such little chance to write anybody at all, this fall.

You have read in the papers about our “doings” up north. I am glad to say I came through all right, although a lot of boys got “blighties.” Jimmy my corporal was killed, one of the best fellows I have met since being in the army. One of those cheerful chaps who you would think was meant to come through this scrap alive. One can never tell.

Well Marie I’ve been out here nearly a year and a half and over two years in khaki. Not a wound so far, most of the pals I came with are gone, some killed’ others wounded or sick. And I have never felt better, I’ve lost my appetite and taken on a horses appetite. I’m sure some hearty eater and if that is a good sign you can bank on me. I’m like Oliver Twist, I stick around the cooks for any second helpings. It’s really funny, you go through some really hot places after coming out, you look at yourself expecting to find yourself grey-headed and hollow cheeked but no. With the aid of some soap and water, a razor, or a real good hot bath and a shave you feel as if you are treading on air. The horrors quickly fade away and you are yourself again.

I received the box from you Marie OK. I thank you very much for it. I received it when we were staying at a chateau. A magnificent place which was vacated by the mademoiselle who went to a convent. Some trouble or other, Monsieur he went to the war and I suppose was killed. The last thing left of value was a series of panel paintings, which one of the boys peeled the canvasses off and I suppose are on their way to Canada by this time.

It’s getting on to Christmas pretty quickly. It will be my second in France. I hope it is the last I spend in France on active service. But as the boys say, I’m game whatever the outcome is. I hope the Good God will bring this struggle to a speedy close for we are a strong advocate for peace. Peace of the right sort, not Prussian peace nor party peace but universal peace both to enemy and allies.

I suppose I appear blue but I’m not at all, just stating the facts.

I’ll close Marie. I have to go to supper or I’ll be too late to get anything. Give my love to all the folks. Remember me to “sweety heart.”

Love Joe

P.S. Met a man of 1st contingent who was 3rd Bn. He was on the same gun crew with Noble, he was telling me some tales he and Noble were in. He said Nobel was one of the coolest and bravest men he had ever met. They were great pals. He didn’t know at the time he was my brother until I told him. He was down at the base wounded when Noble was killed. JGS

Embroidered Christmas greetings 1917- the small card fits under the above scene

Christmas card says: Just a remembrance to let you know I’m thinking of you. Marie dear this is all I have to remember you and others by this year. But it bears best wishes for you all. Joe


Dec 18/17

Dear Marie;

Just a line to say that I’m feeling “fine as silk” in other words OK. I’m hastily scribbling these few lines because I won’t (after today) be able to write for some time. So take time to scribble a note so that you won’t think that anything has happened to me.

Well Marie, winter has set in. Just at present its good and cold which is 50% better than mud and wet. Eight days to Christmas which for a second time I’ll spend in the trenches.

How are little Mamie and Aunt Kate, Vic and Uncle Henry. Give my love and best wishes to them all please. Pardon my abrupt note. I’ll close

Love Joe

P.S. Enclosed find a photo card of the bunch. JGS



Dear Marie;

Just a line to let you know that I am well. I will not endeavour to write a long letter because I am waiting for a shave at a coiffeur. It is a combination estaminet and coiffeur. It is Saturday night, a cold and snowy night too. The Frenchmen are all dolled up in their best bib and tucker and are congregated here to talk and drink beer. “Madame Jr.” is sitting by the stove putting some fancywork on a baby’s bonnet. Stan Jennings (you remember him? He used to live farther along the street on the opposite side.) He is writing a letter on my left and Finch is writing on my right.

Well I’ll start again. I have just had a shave and a shampoo. You will wonder where I am. Oh I’m on course in Signalling back of the line. It is very interesting.

I received your boxes before I came away. I gave one to Will Stevens. He asked me to thank you for him. We both appreciate them very much.

I’m going on leave again sometime soon. Steve and I are going together to Aberdeen. We have place to go to, a sister of one of the boys lives there.

Well Marie it is a minute or two to eight o’clock. Soldiers have to clear out of places where booze is sold by eight o’clock at night. So I’ll close.

Give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry.

Love Joe




Dear Marie;

I suppose you have wondered what is happening to me because I haven’t written for so long. But it has been rather hard trying to write these days. However the fire in the brazier is burning cheerily, the approximate time I should judge to be around midnight. Although the cellar is a bit smoky due to the bad draft and my eyes are smarting from the dusty atmosphere I will write.

There is the faintest smell of juicy ripe pineapple in the air. Oh so nice to smell but when taken in quantities how annoying and hard on the eyes. Fritz again eh! We are having lovely weather. The violets, dandelions and trees are in bloom. The green of the bushes and garden (what remains of a garden of 4 years ago) only tends to heighten the colour of the few remaining red tiles on the wrecked roofs or the bricks of the stark walls. Nothing but a shambles now.

It is a day later, I could not go on with the letter. It is a bright sunshiny morning cool (with the exception of a few of our heavies soaring overhead on their journey of destruction) everything is quiet.

How am I? Oh fine. With the coming of spring I feel more buoyant, more cheerful.

I’ll be home sometime next year I think. It is the beginning of the end, don’t become pessimistic. If a person looked at the papers nowadays he would surely be inclined to feel blue. But take it from me the year is early yet. I can’t say anymore.

Have Vic and Mamie come back from Ottawa yet. I hope so. How is kiddy getting on, growing up I guess. Will you give me the address of Vic. I’ll drop a line. How is Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry. Is the grass green at home and the trees budding yet, has the robin come round this year yet? How I long to see all the folks at home and to walk Toronto streets, to go to the theatre and see a good play and listen to an orchestra. To eat food not cooked in gasoline tins and daintiness not seen in the trenches. When we get steak (oh yes occasionally) we usually pick it up in our fingers (it’s the easiest and most comfortable way). Oh to be able to sleep in a bed with a good thick mattress on it instead of old mother earth or chicken wire. To feel good underwear or a suit of up to date civies (blue serge- something dark preferably), low shoes, silk or cashmere hose, a flashy tie and a straw lid on. Above all I can picture a white enamel bathtub and hot and cold water (at your leisure). Oh! To feel thoroughly clean from the ground up.

What does slices bananas and cream taste like. Oh! I’ll have to shut up my mouth feels like a watermelon (lots of juice) at the mere thought of such delicacies.

I’d like to go out and meet some of the girls (I knew a few) and to walk down the street with one with pink hair ribbons on, a middy on with a big (oh yes pink ribbon also) under the collar and a big bow in front. A girl that can play, laugh, tease, you know (one of those adorable girls).

Write me a big long letter about home and everybody and “what’s doin”- theatres, boats, green grass and trees, girls and lots of things. I’m just crazy to be home but still the spirit of the troops is still excellent. Do you see any of my old boy friends, I don’t hear from them very much. Will Logan drops a letter once in a while. If I was home just now and it was one of those tantalizing warm spring days and I was going to school, I would just be in the mood to play hooky and amble downtown and spend my time looking in the shop windows or in Eaton’s and Simpson’s. Spend a dime or so on chocolates and go to some movie show, get home in time for supper and after supper meet the bunch and go off somewhere.

I’ll conclude. Give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry and “Sweety Heart”.

Love Joe



Signaller Joe G. Sproule

HQ, 3rd Cdn MG Bn

BEF, France

(New address)

(Note: On May 24th, May 28th and June 14th, Joe sent ” whizbangs” to Marie. These were Field Service Post Cards with a series of check-off statements such as: “I am quite well,” or another “I have been admitted into hospital,” and another, ” I have received your, letter dated, telegram, parcel,” and finally, “Letter follows at first opportunity.”)

Sample of a “whizbang” June 1918




Dear Marie;

That notable day has come and gone. They say a man becomes of age on his 21st birthday, in other words a man. As far as I know I’m still as I used to be I don’t notice any change in myself nor any elation over the fact.

Another surprising thing is that I have spent my last three birthdays away from home. From eighteenth to twenty-one is quite a jump isn’t it.

I thank you for your kind birthday wishes Marie very much. It was very cheering to me to receive letters of remembrance.

So Dad received another parcel of Noble’s things, what a long time to receive them after his death. Did we ever receive anything of Hugh’s personal effects?

You ask me about my new work! I’m still signalling, just about the same as I was before; we are in a new formation now. I’m in charge of a battery signal station, (four of us). Well what do you know about it. So Bill has given his girl a diamond ring. I’m not surprised at all. According to his letters she is just about perfect. He thinks a lot of her.

I’m glad that John Maguire is getting a spell of army experience in Canada because the ideas and opinions a young fellow gets in the army are more liable to be a help than a harm when learning army discipline and routine when he is under the good influence of friends. You understand what I mean. If it wasn’t for the fact that I spent six months training in Canada and still being under the influence of Dad, Mother and friends and becoming somewhat set in my ideas of things I don’t know what kind of a person I might have been by now. As it is there’s all kinds of room for improvement in me. Corporal Sinton, Ollie’s friend, is back in “Blighty,” wounded eh?

It seems to me Marie that I wrote an acknowledgement to Mrs. Ross for a box which I received last spring (early). I’m not certain but I believe I did. If not, I wrote her a letter sometime ago.

As regards myself. I’m fine, couldn’t be better. Lots of exercise and out of doors practically all the time. I’m as dark as an Indian. Somehow I can’t find much to say Marie. My streak of newsiness are few and far between. You’ll forgive me this time will you? Give my love to Aunt Kate, Uncle Henry and I thank them for their kind remembrances. I’ll close.

Love Joe

Canada’s famous contribution to Remembrance ripped from an Army newspaper and sent home to Marie

June 1918

Joe at 21, June 4, 1918



Dear Marie;

First of all I want to thank you for the box which I received a couple of days ago. It was the first box I received for a long time and you may be sure was enjoyed by us very much. Maybe we didn’t dig into it too, we were up the line and as you know that is the best place to receive parcels. Parcel mail has been irregular in delivery. It was something like two weeks after my birthday that my birthday boxes began to arrive. Many that were sent have not yet arrived.

The last couple of days have been wet days. Previously we have had ideal weather. Hot dayss with white hot sun beating down; some remarked about the heat. For my part I’d rather perspire than shiver. I’ve had enough of this teeth chattering business to make me appreciate the sun. Old Sol! Hs only made me keel over once and that was after joining up on my first route march from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Queenston Heights. The long upgrade to the heights caved me in (I fainted). The only time I ever fainted in my life. But I could march it a dozen times over, full pack under the hottest of suns now. I never once failed to walk the whole distance of a march in the three years I’ve been in the army. That’s something isn’t it.

Well Marie my letter shows that I am enjoying the best of health. We have enjoyed a good spell out of the line, lots of vigorous exercise and rigid training this summer. On the whole the best summer I have spent in this country so far.

Another breath or two of warm air and the summer will be over. We will feel the damp chill laden breezes from the north creeping down on us. Then another winter of rain and mud to be borne cheerfully and optimistically. I wonder if this body of mine can hold out thru another winter. I didn’t take last winter as well as the winter before. However with such a good summer as this I ought to be fit for anything.

Still busy Marie? How’s Aunt Kate’s chickens and garden making out. Are Mamie and Vic up yet from Ottawa? Will you give me Vic’s address please? I haven’t heard about Harv – has he been exempted? Or Russell? (Note: Harvey and Russell Harris were cousins)

Well Marie I have put on the water to boil. I think it must be about ready to drop the tea into it. I must get busy preparing dinner at 1:30 PM for the five of us. Give my love to Auntie Kate and Uncle Henry.

Love Joe


My job is just about the same as it was before only we are in a new organization. JGS

A wild rose pressed and enclosed in a letter home, July 1918



To: Nursing sister Marie. Joe’s epistle to the Golays

From: One of Foch’s pets. (Note: Marshall Foch, was the French Allied Commander in Chief)

Dear Marie

It’s such a long time since I wrote to you isn’t it Sis. Fact is we have been so busy; as the papers are telling you no doubt. I have been l have been letting my letters to Mother and Dad do for all the folks. I will answer your letter of July 8/18.

Much as the field cards are a soldier’s excuse for a letter, they are a means of letting the folks know that all is well when he is busy scrapping and has no time to write a letter. That is why I sent them to you Marie.

I thank you for your snaps very much of you in uniform too. Did you go to Oshawa for a vacation? You and Olive went somewhere didn’t you? Did you take any snaps? If so you know where to send some to.

Say Sis. Don’t you go learning to drive that car too fast now, give me a chance, don’t forget. You say that in a year’s time you will be able to drive it; are you sure you won’t need a post graduate course in driving after that. Maybe by then I’ll be there to learn with you. I bet you enjoyed a pleasant trip in the motor to Cobourg with those people. A sight of the dear old home at Cobourg would certainly make you homesick. Didn’t Aunt Kate enjoy it especially at Cobourg? I think she did. Aunt Kate is always bright and cheerful though isn’t she?

I thank you so much for the box Marie. I got it during one of the busy spells. It certainly was welcome. During pushes one seldom gets mail regular. However your box came. I need a pair of socks bad. Those were a godsend and the eats – why – say Marie – I’ll tell you how much we enjoyed them if you send another box sometime. There’s a bargain now. So Irving Perry (cousin) is married too. Huh! And Harvey Harris (another cousin) has he got further exemption; no I don’t understand him either.

Say Marie will you give me Vic’s address. I want to write her about the kid. I like the kid an awful lot. As a rule, I’m a poor one with youngsters but I’m awfully fond of Mamie. So please give me the address. How are the chicks and “ens” getting along, are they laying still?

About myself, I can’t say anything new I’m still OK, feeling fine as silk. They (shrapnel) are still missing me. I guess the Bosch don’t know I’m out here yet. Many a time I thought a shell coming my way had my number on it but somehow 157114 is still slipping between or ducking those chunks of hot iron. But I’d better not boast eh.

I’m with Division now, signalling – its very interesting work, on switchboards you know. I’m what you might call a “central.” Well Marie, give my love to your Mother and Dad. I’ll close.

Love Bro. Joe

Hugs and XXXXXX – (barbwire entanglements)

P.S. I hope you’ll pardon this really excellent example of penmanship.


Dear Marie

Well I’m on leave at last. Am having a swell time. Am stopping with friends.

Love Joe

Another post card from Liverpool postmarked Oct 18, 1918

Dear Marie.

This is where I am spending my leave just across from Liverpool.


P.S. Having a dandy time


The image on one of the above post cards, October 1918

Mons, Belgium

November 1918

Dear Marie;

Just a line to let you know that everything is OK. Well the war is over eh! Gee I can hardly realize it you know. We are living in Mons, it is quite a beautiful town and shows practically nothing of the ravages of war. This is the town where the British first came in touch with the Bosch in ’14 and were forced back to a line outside of Arras. It was known as “The Retreat from Mons” in ’14. It was the British Regulars who lost it in ’14 and the Cdn 3rd Division who took it back in ’18. A feather in the cap of the 3rd “Cans” eh! On the same morning that the town of Mons was taken the Armistice was signed. At 11AM on the 11th day of the 11th month 1918. Quite easy history to remember eh! Excuse the style of handwriting, I have borrowed another pen, mine has gone dry.

It is rumoured that we go to Koblenz or some Rhine town. What the Sam Hill do we want to go there for? The sooner I can put on a boiled shirt and starched collar and suit of civvies the better. Now that guerre is finished the Army holds no interest to me. When it was on I was always game to sticking right with it. I reckon I’ve done my share. And now that is it and I want to go home. The sooner I can quit polishing buttons and drilling the better. Oh well I suppose I’ll be back for spring planting. I can tell you I’d like to feel Yonge Street under my feet. Say when I get home I’ll take to Toronto like a duck to water.

The other day a Frenchman gave me a copy of a write up about the 3rd Cans, “Foch’s Pets,” that was posted up in the streets of Mons after the boys took the town. I would like to keep it Marie, its in French. I’ll send it to you; will you keep it for me Marie? They are hard to get; if I succeed in getting another you may have this one. Also a carbon copy of the original wireless message which notified us that things would quit at 11/11/18. It is another souvenir I would like to keep. Well Marie, I’ll close.

Give my love to Auntie Kate, Uncle Henry and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Love Joe

P.S. My address is the MG address as of old. Joe

Christmas greetings, 1918

(Note: Following is from a post card.)

Mons, Belgium


Dear Marie

Ever been in this place of Mons. Pretty nice burg. I’m having a pretty good time but am crazy to get home as quick as they can send me.

Love Joe


Mons, Belgium


Dear Marie,

Just a few lines to say that I am OK as usual which is not important is it to write down. The main thing is that I’m enclosing a photo of yours truly which I had taken while on leave.

I have shaved my moustache off you can see. I’m attempting to grow another one though. Yes! I didn’t want to look like a half-baked savage, so I shed my fur for the occasion.

Another very important thing is I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I only wish that I could be able to share in the joys at home with you all. But that is impossible. So I must be content. In any case I suppose we’ll be home in three or four months. Just in time for a summer vacation eh!

Well I’ve finished with what I have to say. I’ll leave you in peace eh Sis. Give my love to Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry.

Much love, Bro Joe

Joe without his fur vest, December 1918

Joe with his fur vest, December 1918

Bramshott Camp



Dear Marie;

Just a line. Am leaving England for Canada on Monday. On board the Olympic. Hurrah, five thousand going home, in 1916 we had seven thou’ five hundred on board.

Today I’ve been bathed, steamed, disinfected and fumigated our clothes. I feel like a rag. The best bath I ever had in my life. There’s no such thing as dirt on me. They shot steam and anti-flu dope through a high power jet at us in a closed room. So guess I’m eligible for Canada now.

Love to all

Lots O’love Bro Joe

P.S. Sincerely hope you have recovered from the effects of the flu. JGS

(Note: I hope this will be an important addition to the Joseph Sproule family record. David Sproule, completed January/February 2007).


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Letters to Marie


A series of short videos on life of the soldier

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on BBC – WW1 UNCUT

WW1 Summer Activities

Anyone have any stories to share?

Send them to the blog direct

if you need help email

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on WW1 Summer Activities