102nd Bn Tac Sign102 Bn Gif102nd Bn Tac SignBC COAT OF ARMS 1906102nd Bn Tac Sign102 Bn Gif102nd Bn Tac Sign
The Story of the 102nd Canadian Infantry Battalion
From BC to Baisieux by Sgt Leonard McLeod Gould HQ 102nd Canadians WW1


  CHAPTER III.

By Side-door Pullman to Belgium-Our Baptism of Blood Flirtations With Gas--Trench Routine The Army Idea of Rest.

DISEMBARKATION at Le Havre took place, at 7.00 a.m. on August l2th, and we were immediately marched up a precipitous road to Rest Camp No. l, where we were to remain during the day. The day was excessively hot and everyone was glad of the opportunity afforded in the afternoon of bathing off the beach. Orders were received for the unit to entrain at midnight and at that hour we were all assembled at the station, where we waited for a considerable time before our train was ready. Then we had our first shock and learned what travel in Flanders means for the enlisted man. It was pitch dark when we boarded the train and nobody was supplied with candles; it is easy, therefore, to imagine the confusion which reigned in a cattle-car packed with 40 men, each carrying full equipment. In later days these cars rarely carried more than 32 men, so we had the advantage of seeing travel at its worst on our first journey; moreover, at that stage in the war no effort was made to clean the cars after they had been used for cattle before they were turned over for the accommodation of troops. The next day and the following night were spent on the train and at 10 a.m. on August 14 we arrived at our destination, a station in Belgium with the imposing name of Godewaersvelde. Here we detrained and marched about five miles to our halting place, a tented camp about half a mile N.E. of Abiele. This camp boasts in its vicinity one of the many barn doors which are shown to new-comers as being in each case the identical one on which the Canadian sergeant was found crucified. At this point were informally visited by the Corps Commander, Lieut.-General Sir Julian Byng, C.B., K.C.M.G., M.V.O.

We were now in the neighbourhood of St. Eloi trenches, Salient, a portion of the line which was used at that time for the training under fire of newly arrived battalions. The routine of trench life had to be learned under actual service conditions and to obtain the necessary experience units were required to send forward their companies, one at a time, to undertake a tour in the trenches under the guidance and tuition of some battalion qualified to "put them wise" to trench warfare. And how ignorant, the new battalion can be was well exemplified. when No.1 Co., under Major A-T., Johnston went forward for instruction on the night of August 15th. We had not been issued with steel helmets; it is to be, doubted whether anyone at Brigade Headquarters had ever given a thought to steel helmets; such things were not in the early days of the war when our veteran leaders had seen their previous service. Accordingly No. I Co. went gaily forward in their service caps.

Again, in previous days men had always gone forward in full kit; the style of trench existing in 1916, which barely permits the passage of a man so equipped, had riot been contemplated by officers of the 11th Bde. Consequently No. 1 Co. burst upon the astonished vision of the 29th Bn., whose members were to act as tutors and instructors, jauntily adorned with service caps, which were anathema in the front line, and staggering under full kit instead of the then regulation battle order.

To them we must have been as refreshing as a stage hayseed in a down town cafe. To the eternal credit of the 29th be it said that, though they smiled, they did their job and " put us wise", so that when the second company went up on the following night and presented themselves to the 24th Bn., which had relieved the 29th, the men were safely and sanely equipped. On the 17th and 18th respectively Nos. 3 and 4 Coys. went forward for instruction, relieving their predecessors, and it was on the 19th that No. 3 Co., which. was in the front line, underwent the baptism of blood and learned what real warfare means. Throughout that day the Hun kept up a terrific bombardment of the front line system, throwing over every conceivable form of shell, wrecking the trenches and taking first toll from the 102nd Bn. in the shape of six men killed and 12 men wounded. The first man of the 102nd Bn. to give his life for the Cause was Pte. R. Simmers of Victoria. Throughout the bombardment the steadiness of the men was so noticeable that the 0. C. 24th Bn. ordered the company to remain an extra 24 hours, as he feared that an attack in force would follow the artillery preparation. 

It was during our brief stay in the tented camp above referred to that we had our initiation into the mysteries of gas. A demonstration and an open air lecture were given and we were sent through a cloud of poison gas with our P. H. Helmets on and another cloud of tear gas without them. Thereafter for two or three weeks our lives were made miserable by frequent gas alarms, all of which proved to be false. 

There is no doubt but that we were all "on edge" with regard to this gas proposition during early days, and when our subsequent  attitude towards this invention of the devil is, compared with that of the first few months "it makes to laugh," as our Gallic friends would say. We were a long way from the line both in the tented camp and in Devonshire Lines to which we marched in August 17th, but distance was not allowed to baulk the activity of our gas sentries, who forced us to sleep with our P. H 's on our chests at the alert and woke us up time and again to wait patiently, ready masked, for the gas that never came. Later, when gas shells were introduced by the Hun and we were never safe from that class of attack we became callous and would idly ponder as to whether there was enough gas to make it worth while putting on a respirator, and whether it would be a kindness or not to wake up so-and-so to allow him to adjust his.

We remained at Devonshire Lines, a camp close to Reninghelst till the 24th of the month. We found it in a filthy condition when we entered it and this was an experience which was destined. to be repeated with painful regularity throughout two and a half years' campaigning. Some battalions were naturally decent and had healthy views with regard to sanitation and camp cleanliness; other battalions were most distinctly opposite in this respect, and it may be said in passing, that of these the Imperials were the worst. But throughout our period of the war it seemed to be the fate of the 102nd to clean up every time it entered a new camp. It was in Devonshire Lines also that we lost one of our cherished illusions; we had been told, as doubtless every other unit which ever went over to France had been told, that "over there" we should never require any polishing outfit. In the theatre of war glistening brass work would be "tabu," and in our innocence we believed, as many other luckless thousands believed. Well, in Devonshire Lines, we discovered that there was more polishing to be done in France than had ever been dreamed of in our Canadian philosophy.

By August 24th all sections of the Battalion had had some instruction in trench routine and on that day the unit was assigned to regular tours of duty as follows: One company to Dickiebusch for general fatigues; one company to Voormezeele for garrison duty; one company to Scottish Woods for garrison duty and one company with Headquarters to Micmac Camp to act as reserve. As we remained in this area a month and when out of the trenches were generally disposed in some such formation, it will be well to try and give some description of the neighborhood.

The big town of the district was Reninghelst, lying between and Poperinghe; this was but a small town, but larger than the ruined hamlets in the neighbourhood; here were situated Divisional Headquarters. Dickiebusch, which was our own more immediate centre, was a small, badly shell-shocked village which boasted one large farm, known as Burgomaster's farm, where 11th Bde. Headquarters were established. Here Brigadier-General V. W. Odlum, D.S.0. Commanding the 11th Brigade, took up his quarters; at that time Capt. Henniker was acting as Brigade-Major and Major Perry as Staff Captain. A feature of the Brigade establishment was the excellently camouflaged Signal Station, which figured prominently as a haystack.

At the back of Dickiebusch was a large lake and bordering this was Scottish Woods, through which a day-trail led past Voormezeele by way of Convent Lane to the trenches of St. Eloi. Under cover of darkness the trenches could be reached by road running up from the Cafe Belge, and this route was the one followed nightly by the transport when conveying rations. But this was a dangerous piece of road; it was under observation and was constantly swept by machine gun fire. One of the most remarkable features of the 102nd Bn. period of service was the immunity which the Transport and ration parties had from casualties during the whole of the tour of duty in the St. Eloi sector. 

Micmac Camp was a hutted camp lying between Dickiebusch and Ouderdom and boasted no special features except the presence of a small cafe where eggs and coffee were procurable. Of the inhabitants of this neighbourhood there is little that is pleasant to say; they were peasants of the least intelligent type, Flemish with pronounced German sympathies; espionage was rampant and more than one suffered the extreme penalty when caught red-handed as a spy or a sniper. There was nothing in the personality of these people to appeal to the sympathetic imagination of troops who had come over fired with the tale of Belgian wrongs.

Amid these surroundings the 102nd Bn. spent the next month, engaged in regular tours of duty either in the front line trenches, or as outlined above. Both in the Front Line trenches and in the Support and Reserve positions the work required was for the most part that of increasing and improving the existing protection. The Hun was unceasingly battering down parapets and parados which had as offered to be repaired; there was an insufficiency of shelters, and the unit was responsible for a big improvement in this direction, making a large number of shelters against the winter; above all, the trenches were in a shocking state as soon as wet weather set in; the mud was liquid and the bath-mats were floating on the top. Working parties were constantly employed draining the trenches and stabilizing the bath-mats. Though no active offensive was undertaken casualties occurred with painful frequency. 

On the morning of Sept. 1st Sergt. C.C. Higgs, Scout Sergeant, and Pte. W.F. Brewer, one of his section, were killed in No Man's Land, whilst patrolling the front. On the evening of the following day an irreparable loss was sustained in the death of Major A.T. Johnston, 0. C. No. I Co. He was waiting with his company in Reserve trenches immediately in rear of the Support Line, ready to go forward in relief of No. 2 Co. As the hour approached he came out of his dugout to make a preliminary observation of the situation over the edge of his parapet just at a point on which the enemy had a machine gun trained, with the result that he was instantaneously killed by a bullet through the brain. His death was an immense blow to the battalion; one of our earliest and most efficient officers he was beloved and respected by all ranks.

He was succeeded in command of No1. Co. by Capt. Gook. On Sept. 8th No. 2 Co. suffered heavily through the bursting of an enemy high explosive shell in the mouth of a dug-out in Scottish Woods. This one shell was responsible for the killing outright of eight men and for the wounding of nine more, two of whom succumbed on the following day.

On Sept.12th, C.S.M. Paton, one of our finest N.C.O.'s was shot dead. With casualties occurring, in this manner from day to day we were glad to receive a draft of men from the 66th and 82nd Bns., numbering nearly a hundred, and hailing for the most part from Calgary, who reported at Micmac Camp on Sept. 8th.

On all the occasions when the battalion was in the line Advanced Headquarters were established in Shelley Lane, a semi-natural trench built up on the banks of a somewhat foul little stream; the whole appearance of the trench was more that of a woodland path, shaded with trees and pitted with caves, and during the summer months it was quite a pretty spot; but it was none the less an easy target for the Hun artillerymen and on several occasions it was necessary for its temporary inhabitants to take shelter in a large tunnel opening out or the extreme end.

We were now rapidly approaching the end of our stay in this sector but before we left we were to have some experience, though not an active share, in a raid. The 54th Bn. on our right was detailed to raid the opposing trenches for the purpose of obtaining indentifications and the hour was set for midnight of Sept. 16th. Our share was merely to "stand to" and be prepared for any eventualities and to learn what we could for our own future use. The raid was entirely successful and resulted in the capture of six prisoners from amongst the Wurtemburgers.

And so we came to the 17th when we were relieved on this front by the 15th Bn., 4th Bde., 4th Div., Australians, and made ourselves ready to go out and understand the real meaning of a Divisional Rest. Now in case this book should ever fall into the hands of a layman, one who has not been to France and therefore imagines that English words as used, by the Army have the same meaning as when used by civilians, it may be well to explain that the word "rest" merely means "safety." A battalion at rest is a battalion which is not actually under shell fire and in direct ratio to the importance of the unit adjective prefixed to the word the measure of safety is computed. The higher you go, the fewer shells; thus Divisional Rest is safer than Brigade Rest, In the same way "bath" must not be confounded with the civilian idea of a bath; sometimes it happens that if bath-house attendants are in a good temper enough water will be supplied from the showers to wash the soap off the lathered body, but it frequently happens that the water supply is stopped before the soap disappears, and then a few handfuls of dirty water have to suffice. Again the use of the word "clean" when applied to underwear which has been treated by the Divisional baths, has little connection with the same word when applied to clothing which has passed through & civilian laundry. The Army word "clean" means that the clothing has been treated according to Army regulations; it has been steamed, which process theoretically kills vermin, and it has had a certain amount of ordinary washing, but it is only clean in comparison with what it was before, and though the vermin may be killed theoretically, they remain very much alive practically, or at any rate, their eggs remain pregnant with life which bursts into joyous being after a few minutes association with the beloved human body. Possibly in the next war a little more serious attention will be paid to the louse question; during the last war, though much was written and more said nothing was done which was really efficient, and none of the advertised powders were of the slightest use in combating the plague. Creolin, which was not too easily obtainable, was the only effective antidote, and that was not discovered, or at any rate was not made easily available until the closing stages of the struggle.

It was on the occasion of this our first relief that we became cognizant of these details, and the truths then learned were proved time and again during subsequent years. Reninghelst gave us our first experience of the Army bathing and washing system, and though the bathing gradually improved throughout the war, the washing maintained the same average of gross inefficiency.

Having partially cleaned ourselves (the Regimental Diary says  "Made an attempt to get men bathed; succeeded in getting 2 companies through only, as no socks or underclothes were available for the balance of the battalion") we set out for St. Omer at 6:00 a.m. on Sept. 20th and that evening reached Haazebruck, where we were billeted for the night. This is a fair-sized town and undamaged by shell-fire. The battalion after a preliminary experience of 27 days constant trench work was in poor condition for marching, but the men managed to carry on and on the following night reached Arques, in spite of the fact that on our arrival at Haazebruck we had all our sick men returned to us from hospital; it is difficult to understand why these could not have been sent forward to our final destination. As it was ten of them had to be sent immediately to ambulance for transportation. From Arques we had one more day's march, which brought us to Tournehem, which was to be the scene of the great rest which we had heard much and of which we had dreamed dreams. Here we were to remain until Oct. 3rd. Tournehem was a delightful little French village, rather larger than most, prettily situated in the midst of a rolling landscape and peopled by a most hospitable community. We were immediately taken in and "made a fuss of" and throughout our stay the inhabitants did all they possibly could to make us comfortable. For many a long month thereafter the memory of Tournehem would rise up and bring back longings which were closely akin to home-sickness.

But the rest! Well the rest consisted of the hardest kind of open-air training the battalion had yet put in. The Brigade training ground was about four miles distant and here every day the four battalions, all of whom were nearly equidistant, assembled for a grueling day of drill or practice warfare; the weather was hot and the roads dusty, but though the work was hard it brought all the battalions into excellent shape and fitted them well for the real hardships which were about to meet them in the ill-famed Somme area. For that was our next objective and for the successful carrying out of their work in that region the troops certainly needed "some" training.

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Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 

Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Images The Author The VC Uncle Bob 29th Battalion Links

BATTLE HONOURS

"SOMME, 1916", "Ancre Heights", "Ancre, 1916", "ARRAS, 1917, 18", "VIMY, 1917", "Hill 70", ", 1917", "PASSCHENDAELE", "AMIENS", "Scarpe, 1918", "Drocourt-Queant", "HINDENBURG LINE", "CANAL du NORD", "VALENCIENNES", "France and Flanders, 1916-18".

Be sure and visit the 102nd Battalion`s Sister Unit - the 54th Kootenay Battalion

Visit the 21st Battalion from Eastern Ontario

In Memory of LEONARD MUNROE, Lance Corporal, 634116, 21st Bn., Canadian Infantry (Eastern Ontario Regt.), who died on, Saturday, 3rd November 1917. Age 22. Son of Peter Munroe and his wife Ellen McDermid, of Maxville, Ontario, resting at PASSCHENDAELE NEW BRITISH CEMETERY, Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, Grave Reference, IX. E. 11., all Canada in Khaki  pictures courtesy of Leonard Munroe' s descendant Maj Don MacLean, Canadian Armed Forces.