CANADIANS TRAIN UNDER DIFFICULTY IN 1915

Tuesday, January 5, 1915

In Camp, Lark Hill, Salisbury Plains

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “No parades.  All men on fatigues.” [1]

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: “Salisbury, Eng., Jan 5.  Possibly, when this letter is published the Canadians will be across the channel or at least preparing to leave England.  Nothing of an official character has been written or said to this effect, but the conviction has settled in every mind that the stay in this camp will be short.  Conditions for training could not be worse, and it may be said safely that from this standpoint alone there is little use in the contingent remaining here any longer.  Practically none of the battalions have done any drilling for over two weeks, owing principally to the mud and rain.  Southern England is said to be experiencing the worst flood in twenty years.  Sections of the Canadian camp have been inundated, roads are one, two and three feet deep in water, and it is almost impossible for even the transports to carry supplies.  The four brigades of infantry have been more or less idle for a month.  Their chief occupation has been building roads and drains to carry water away from the lines and, of course, endeavoring to keep dry.  The latter has been futile.

There has been considerable talk of the division going to southern France, where further training can be done under favourable conditions.  Egypt has also been mentioned persistently but rumors are always cropping up and spreading.  One merely has to await developments.

One thing is certain – everybody believes that the Canadian division will leave England this month, one brigade of infantry along with an extra battalion remaining to be used in the second contingent and also to “feed” the main force when it goes into action and suffers casualties.  There has been great competition among the battalions, for none wants to be left in England.  But it appears that the fourth brigade, under command of Lt.-Col. Cahoe, will not go with the first lot.  However, all the other units will soon finish their monotonous training after five months of it.

There has been an outbreak of illness of the influenza, and severe colds variety, about 1,000 patients being in the hospitals.  This is not at all serious when the inclemency of the weather and the size of the expeditionary force is taken into account.  Spinal meningitis broke out in the 17th Batt.  (Nova Scotians chiefly) and four deaths have resulted.  The disease also spread to other battalions, but it is considered that it has now been checked.  Until a month or so ago the health of the force was excellent, but living conditions have become bad owing to the constant rain and mud.”

Salisbury, the nearest city to the camp, today bears a slight resemblance to Venice as far as the streets are concerned.  One portion of the town is under water and business has been practically suspended. The two main streets are streams, and two rowboats have been put into use by two enterprising citizens who charge “thrup-pence” for a ride.  Men possessing horses and wagons have been reaping a harvest, chiefly from Canadians, who don’t mind paying for a new and novel experience.  The fact that the city is flooded in such a way gives one an idea of what the officers and men must endure on the Plain.  As a matter of fact, it amounts to active service conditions without the “excitement.”  That is what the men claim.  A wounded soldier who fought for several weeks in France has imparted the information that the living conditions were worse here than at the front.  In Belgium or France a soldier fought an enemy he could in most cases see, but here it was the unseen enemy – sickness – which must be encountered.  No man will be satisfied until he goes to France.  The constant waiting under such conditions has caused considerable discontent.  Having had about five months of training, the men think it is quite enough.

However, battalion commanders have told the men that they will leave this month, and the prospect of an early departure has caused considerable joy.  Whether such information is official or merely to cheer the men it is difficult to say.  For both officers and men the order to leave cannot come too soon.”  [2]

[1]  War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, Jan 5, 1915.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089686.jpg
[2]   “Canadians Train Under Difficulty,” John A. Maclaren, The Toronto World, Toronto, Ontario, Friday, January 22, 1915, pg. 6, col. 5.

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