Canon Scott’s Church Service Interrupted By Fight

Friday, July 16, 1915

Trenches – Ploegsteert

The Battalion War Diarist wrote nothing for this day:  [1]


THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: Canon Frederick G. Scott, the Brigade Chaplain, writing of his experiences in the First World War, described the Ploegsteert area:

Reverend Canon F. G. Scott, original chaplain of the RMR

Canon Scott on ‘Dandy’

“We arrived in the Ploegsteert area at a good time for the digging and repairing of the trenches. The clay in Belgium in fine weather is easily worked; consequently a most elaborate and well made system of trenches was established in front of Messines. The brown sides of the trenches became dry and hard in the sun, and the bathmats along them made walking easy. The trenches were named, “Currie Avenue,” “McHarg Avenue,” “Seely Avenue,” and so forth. The men had their cookers and primus stoves, and occupied their spare time in the line by cooking all sorts of dainty dishes. Near the trenches on the other side of Hill 63 were several ruined farm houses, known as “Le Perdu Farm,” “Ration Farm,” and one, around which hovered a peculiarly unsavoury atmosphere, as “Stinking Farm.” Hill 63 was a hill which ran immediately behind our trench area and was covered at its right end with a delightful wood. Here were “Grand Moncque Farm,” “Petit Moncque Farm,” “Kort Dreuve Farm” and the “Piggeries.” All these farms were used as billets by the battalions who were in reserve. In Ploegsteert Wood, “Woodcote Farm,” and “Red Lodge,” were also used for the same purpose. The wood in those days was a very pleasant place to wander through. Anything that reminded us of the free life of nature acted as a tonic to the nerves, and the little paths among the trees which whispered overhead in the summer breezes made one imagine that one was wandering through the forests in Canada. In the wood were several cemeteries kept by different units, very neatly laid out and carefully fenced in. I met an officer one day who told me he was going up to the trenches one evening past a cemetery in the wood, when he heard the sound of someone sobbing. He looked into the place and there saw a young boy lying beside a newly made grave. He went in and spoke to him and they boy seemed confused that he had been discovered in his sorrow. “It’s the grave of my brother, Sir,” he said, “He was buried here this afternoon and now I have got to go back to the line without him.” The lad dried his eyes, shouldered his rifle and went through the woodland path up to the trenches. No one would know again the inner sorrow that had darkened his life.

The farms behind the wood made really very pleasant homes for awhile. They have all now been levelled to the ground, but at the time I speak of they were in good condition and had many large and commodious buildings.”

CANON SCOTT’S CHURCH SERVICE INTERRUPTED

“At Kort Dreuve there was a very good private chapel, which the proprietor gave me the use of for my Communion services. It was quite nice to have a little Gothic chapel with fine altar, and the men who attended always enjoyed the services there. Round the farm was a large moat full of good-size goldfish, which the men used to catch surreptitiously and fry for their meals. The Piggeries was a large building in which the king of the Belgians had kept a fine breed of pigs. It was very long and furnished inside with two rows of styes built solidly of concrete. These were full of straw, and in them the men slept.

I was visiting one of the battalions there that evening, when I heard that they had been ordered to go back to the trenches before Sunday. I told some of the men that I thought that, as they would be in the trenches on Sunday, it would be a good idea if we had a voluntary service that evening. They seemed pleased, so I collected quite a large congregation at one end of the Piggeries, and was leading up to the service by a little overture in the shape of a talk about the war outlook, when I became aware that there was a fight going on at the other end of the low building, and that some of the men on the outskirts of the congregation, were beginning to get restive. I knew that a voluntary service could not stand up against the rivalry of a fight, so I thought I had better take the bull by the horns. I said, ‘Boys, I think there is a fight going on at the other end of the Piggeries, and perhaps it would be well to postpone the service and go and see the fight, and then return and carry on.’ The men were much relieved and, amid great laughter, my congregation broke loose and ran to the other end of the building, followed by myself. The fight was soon settled, by the intervention of a sergeant, and then I said, ‘Now, boys, let us go back to the other end and have the service.’ I thought the change of location might have a good effect upon their minds and souls. So back we went again to the other end of the building and there had a really enthusiastic and devout service. When it was over, I told the men that nothing helped so much to make a service bright and hearty as the inclusion of a fight, and that when I returned to Canada, if at any time my congregation was listless or sleepy, I would arrange a fight on the other side of the street to which we could adjourn and from which we should return with renewed spiritual fervour. I have met many men at different times who look back upon that service with pleasure.” [2]

[1]    War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, July 16, 1915.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089763.jpg
[2]    Rev. Canon Frederick George Scott, “The Great War As I Saw It,” McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, Montreal & Kingston, 2014, pp. 96-98.

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