ROYAL MONTREALS’ BAPTISM OF FIRE IN 1915 – Part 2

Wednesday, March 31, 1915

In billets, Estaires

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “Training carried on.”  [1]

PRIVATE C. D. B. WHITBY`S LETTER – PART 2

ROYAL MONTREALS’ BAPTISM OF FIRE

Graphic Description of Trench Fighting by Pte. Whitby of Gazette Staff –
Praised by Gen. French – Battalion Has Already Seen Plenty of Heavy Fighting and Mud –
Casualties Not Unduly Heavy

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: Yesterday we posted the first half of a long letter from Private C. D. B. Whitby of the 14th at the front to his peace-time employer, The Gazette, of Montreal. In this letter he wrote of the battalion’s first experiences in the trenches. Here is the second part of that same letter:

“CLOSE TO THE ENEMY – These two types of trenches do not differ, except in their distance from the enemy. That in which the Royal Montreal Regiment made its debut was in places 250 yards from the Germans, in others only 30, and we could hear the enemy whistling and singing. One enthusiastic Teuton would whistle ‘Tipperary,’ and shout across unseemly remarks in English.

‘The Canadians’ writes Pte. Whitby, ‘were at once set to work, some on ‘listening patrol,’ which was nervous work under incessant German sniping, while others were carrying firewood, bricks, water, etc. All this by night, it being unhealthy to expose oneself by day.’

‘The British regiment to which the Montrealers were attached,’ writes Pte. Whitby, ‘was a famous one and had been in action since the beginning. Splendid fellows, quiet, thorough and business-like, willing to give advice, but no attempt to patronize newcomers and our relations were very cordial.’

The Royal Montreals then put in 24 hours in the trenches, a day of rest, and another 24 hours at the front, this time alone, and with no casualties. Then they were moved to relieve one of the most famous of British regiments with three days in the trenches, when they learned that ‘Shrapnel takes a lot of getting used to,’ being under heavy fire all the time, the men either hiding in dugouts or pressing as close as possible to the parapets and hoping for the best. Then came a rest, and another four days in the trenches.

NOT MANY CASUALTIES – ‘Casualties,’ said Pte Whitby, ‘are taboo, but they have not been unduly heavy, and the general health of the men is excellent. The R.M.R. has already won a high name out here for steadiness, discipline and efficiency. The grand advance will undoubtedly give Montreal good reasons to be proud of her regiment. Officers and men alike are in good spirits. Lt.-Col. Meighen, the C.O. is indefatigable, in and out of the trenches, looking after the welfare and efficiency of all ranks, and has their entire confidence and esteem. Lt.-Col. Burland is seldom out of the trenches and is always on the spot in an emergency.

MANY VICS’ VETERANS – ‘Other veterans of the 3rd Victoria Rifles who are helping make the R.M.R. the efficient fighting machine it is are Majors Galt McCombe and Alan Shaw. Lieut. S. Grant is commander of a platoon of old Vics. Company Sergt.-Major Art. Handcock, affectionately known as ‘Pop’ is rotund and genial as of yore. Co. Sergt.-Major Basil Price and Platoon Sergts. Harry and George Armstrong are all in good health, and working like Trojans. ‘Dick’ Hood, an old time Vic., has just been promoted Sergeant for excellent work in the field.

PRAISED BY GEN. FRENCH – Field Marshal Sir John French handed the Royal Montreals a bouquet the other day when inspecting the Regiment. He is a thick-set man of medium height, with a very florid face and snowy moustache. He looks and moves like a man in the pink of condition, and his enormous responsibility is apparently none too heavy for him. After looking the regiment over very carefully (frequently glancing at the men’s boots) he said: ‘If the Royal Montreal Regiment fights as well as it looks I am indeed sorry for the Germans.’ The R.M.R. would hate to disappoint the General.” [2]

[1]   War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, March 31, 1915.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089702.jpg
[2]   “Royal Montreals’ Baptism of Fire,” The Gazette, Montreal, Quebec, Tuesday, March 30, 1915, pg. 4, col. 4.

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