My Three Years and Eleven Months in the Services
First World War
Joined the Service on August 2, 1915. Was I ever proud of my baggy britches and kitchener boots and heavy woolen socks all for free. Came home for a few days before starting on my career as a soldier with a bunch of boys I had seen before and
we all soon became friends.
Well, the training started. There were times that the Sergeant Major didn't do things to our way of thinking but we had to do
it the way he wanted it done. We were trained at Brighton Camp till the snow drove us out of there. We were sleeping in tents,
there are lots of times when I think of the many mornings that we had to get up at six o'clock and leave your mattress with
about twelve straws in it to get ready for P.T. at seven o'clock and then breakfast and at nine o'clock fall in again for more
training till 11:45 then dinner.
Well, my first time getting in wrong with the army was my first payday. I got $19.00. What a roll! I had never had that
much money in my hands before, the results were a drive from town at midnight in a taxi and as I got out of the taxi I was
escorted to the Klink where I was detained for a couple of hours till the Orderly Officer came to see me. He had a few words
with the guard so he ordered the guard to release me and told me to be a good boy and to go to bed which I did.
After we left Brighton Camp we were quartered at the old Agricultural Hall where we were quartered for about three weeks
before we left for Halifax on our way to England. We arrived in Halifax on the evening of November 27th. Slept aboard the
train, boarded ship Saturday afternoon. Went to our bunks aboard the S.S. Lapland and woke up Sunday morning on the
Arrived in England on December 13th, 1915. Our next problem was pounds, shillings and pence, we never seemed to have
enough of them. We arrived at Horsham about 9:30 so we were hungry and tired so about 200 of us made for the canteen,
the canteen was closing so a bunch of the boys said if you don't serve us we will help ourselves. But before we went too far
they decided to serve us.
Well, in a day or two we started our training which was very rigid as it rained for six weeks, nothing but mud, mud, mud.
Come Christmas day 50% of our Battery was sick so we had the refreshments for the whole Battery left to us (about half the
Battery). We had a very good Christmas.
The training went on till about the last of March so then the Battery left for more advanced artillery training at Lydd Camp.
We were over-strength so I happened to get left behind with about 30 more soldiers till they made up their minds that they
would form another battery so they did and we were the 165th Seign artillery. If I'm not mistaken we were the first battery
of 9.2. That is Canadian men to see action in France.
Well we trained in Horsham Camp till the 15th of August 1916 so we left there and went to Lydd Camp for our advanced
training. Rumours started that we were to leave any day so I put in for six day's leave to London. Well, I didn't make
London, I stopped off in Brighton, England to find out that the 105th Battalion was stationed in Dibgate Camp, so I went
down to see the boys of the 105th. I got there before dark and found all the North Rustico boys all gathered in one tent and
they were engaged in playing 2&2. Well the game broke up and we landed at the canteen for refreshments which were
enjoyed by all. To make it short I stayed with them for four days, then went back to Camp to continue training.
Well, the morning of September the Sergeant came to me and said, "Gauthier, you have been selected as one of the nine men
who are leaving for France at 12:00P.M. with the advance party to pick out gun positions for our battery. We left about
midnight for France, we had a safe crossing and landed at Boulougno, France next evening. We landed at a place called
Albert where we got our baptism of fire. The Germans got a direct hit on an ammunition dump containing 55,000 rounds of
18lb. shell. We certainly thought that it was a great display of fireworks but in the next 30 months we found out it wasn't so
Well, we spotted our gun positions and our battery arrived. You know, we had been up the line for about five days so we
could stick out our chests out to our buddies but we soon learned to pull them in a good many times after that.
You know, we had to pass a place called Death Valley to get supplies to the troops so every night the Germans would spray
that valley with shrapnel (that's overhead stuff) as all reinforcements had to pass this valley to get up the line. At times it
wasn't too pleasant. The battle that we were preparing for was Regina Trench.
Well, finally we got into action. Our first five days in action we had five casualties from our own guns at the rear of us from
faulty ammunition which caused prematures. Our first casualty was a boy from Montreal by the name of Beatty, he had his
arm blown off at the shoulder but he lived to get home again.
From then on we had the odd casualty, not serious ones, I got hit on the left shoulder which was not serious but shook me up
a little bit. And a few days later got our first taste of tear gas which wasn't so pleasant but merited us our first issue of
S.R.D. which they weren't too generous with.
Well, finally the afternoon came, the Battle of Regina Trench which we won at a high cost of life. That's about the time that
I met enemy No.2 for the first time. We didn't exactly meet him but he came to us, all fathers, mothers, brothers and
sisters and I believe cousins. They would get their feet up against our underwear and kick us in the ribs and my, what
itchiness. He stayed with us for about 30 months although nobody had invited him. He was enemy No.2- the louse.
Well, now with the Battle of Regina Trench over we had to make preparations to get to Vimy Ridge. We finally got there
about the last of November. Well we worked all winter getting gun positions ready and dug-outs for sleeping and protection.
We had a lot of tense moments before the big day. April 9, 1917 as we could only move in pairs as we didn't want to let the
Germans know too much about our actions.
Finally, the big day - action at about five o'clock in the morning, then our troops advanced so fast that by four o'clock that
afternoon our guns were out of range of the German's so we had to move ahead. We were very lucky at the Battle of the
Ridge, we didn't have one casualty but we had two killed the day before the Vimy Battle. One of our signallers and an
observation officer were killed, poor boys, they were just living for that battle, but they got it the day before. We moved
farther up front on the Arros Bethune Road, we had a few casualties there. From there we moved up around Souchey and
Angres where we lost our O.C. We had it pretty there for awhile, had quite a few casualties there.
Well, again we got on the move for the Battle of Paschendale. We had it still tougher there as the Germans had the
supremacy in the air and he came over any time of the day or night and bomded us. We finally did the job there and we were
stationed in what they called the Cloth Hall in Ypres (That's back of Paschendale). I must say that we had it very tough there
because the mud was at it's worst about that time. Anyway I got leave on the 17th of December, 1917. Got to England and
got deloused then left for Glasgow, Edinburg, and Aberdeen, Scotland. Had Christmas dinner in Aberdeen.
Well, back to France again - my leave expired and I can say that all the older people can remember when the news would be
the troops are fighting with their backs to the wall.
As the Germans had us in a salient which means that they had us surrounded, and he used plenty of tear gas on us, there were
days that we had to wear our gas masks around the clock, awake or on duty. To me, that is one of the times that we would
have liked to see the war end. But not so later on.
Well, I finally got mine, about June I got a dose of mustard gas and a gas shell splinter wound to the left knee. Just a flesh wound but the mustard was terrible. Well, that put me out for awhile. When I got better of that, next came the flu which
kept me hospitalized for some time but I got better again and up the line again to join my buddies in the Battle of Bourbon
Woods, it was a very bloody battle so we came out on top of them.
Then, for days all we talked about was the next drive to finish them. In March of 1918 at the armistice, no doubt there was
great joy at home but for us I can truthfully say that we accepted it in almost utter silence as we would have liked to beat him
in his own country but it didn't turn out that way.
My next experience was with the Army of Occupation. Our battery wasn't going to Germany so I got transferred to a battery
from Montreal so on to Germany. It took us about eight days to get there. Had a very nice stay there for about eight weeks.
The first night in Bonn we were in a house and I couldn't speak German and this old lady was trying to make me understand
something. Finally she stood against the wall with her arms spread out and she said "Christ, Christ" which I couldn't
understand but my buddy could speak German so he spoke to her and she wanted to know if it was true had the Germans
crucified a man to a barn door, it certainly was true.
Well, we all like it in Germany. From there I got 14 days leave to Brussels, Belgium. Visited Waterloo where the English
woman, Edith Cavell was buried. The Germans had killed her.
My stay in Germany ended, back to Belgium for awhile then I got sick again so back to England in hospital. When I got
aboard the Hospital ship I had one more good look at France and said good-bye to it all with tears in my eyes thinking of
what little we had gained. We had lost 60,000 men. What a price to pay for a peace that never really came.
Now remember, this - it dosen't only take the Air Force, Navy and Army to win a war. It is won at home because of the
morale at home. If the morale is bad at home so it is with the services.
Hoping that I didn't bore you with this reading I thank you for listening. There are incidents that I never mentioned but I
must. That the day of the Armistice I met an old couple in Donain, a city of about 40,000 before the war. The Germans
occupied it all during the war this poor old couple and their daughter told me stories of the atrocities and suffering they had
caused these poor people. Sometimes when they were talking to me the old lady would cry and then she would laugh. It
was all too pitiful. I will not say about what they told me because you would certainly cry too.
The early experiences of the First Division in Flanders read like an unending tragedy - the first German gas attack, April 22,
1915, the shelling of Canadian Troops by Canadian Artillery, incorrect intelligence reports, the jamming Ross Rifle, faulty
ammunitions, the lack of preparation for attack and contradictory orders. Despite all this the Canadian Corps was welded
into a highly efficient fighting machine with high morale and confidence in General Arthur Currie. As the chilling accounts
of the Battle of St. Eloi Crater, Regina Trench, Vimy, Hil 70, Paschendale and Amiens one is left wondering why the
Canadian Foot Slagger didn't mutiny. Mutiny, in fact did come after the war only on a small scale. Riots erupted over the
method of repatriating the troops and in one incident five soldiers were killed and 22 wounded. There were 13 such
William V. Gauthier