Witness to War: Monday May 28, 1917

Private Raymond Duval, MM, was a soldier of the 14th Battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment) CEF who served overseas during the last two years of the First World War. He participated in some of the fiercest fighting seen by Canadians during the war and was decorated for bravery at Passchendaele. Determined to preserve his memories of the First World War, he maintained a daily record of his experiences. Here is what he wrote precisely 100 years ago today:

Monday May 28, 1917: Fell in at 8.00 and proceeded up to camp at Etaples where we got in a tent pretty crowded this is a filthy hole The GM [Grand Mere] bunch is still together. The 18 mile trip left my feet pretty sore.

Author’s note in 1954: This was one of the most unpleasant trips any of us had yet taken. We were crowded on board a small ship so that we could hardly move about, and to make things worse, the channel was rough, and many of the men were horribly sea sick. Finally, after a few hours, we landed at Boulogne and were marched to a receiving camp, which as we found later, was as far as possible from the starting point (as usual), and in this case, had to be reached by a long torturous hill, which seemed to me to have no end. For this march and most to follow, we had to carry all our belongings on our backs. Being new at the game, it was heavy, much too heavy (the infantryman of 14–18 carried a heavy load and always marched).
The next day after arrival in Boulogne, we marched to Etaples, the big base camp of the British Army in France. This was one of the toughest marches I ever experienced, not having been hardened by our short training – 18 miles in temperatures of F96 degrees plus at times. It certainly was hard, and we were told that hundreds of men fell sick by exhaustion on that day. We heard later that this manner of marching men from the ship to this camp was shortly afterwards discontinued, and bus and truck transport was put in service.
One of the good features of this hard march was the fact that the natives made a lucrative trade of selling oranges to the troops as they passed through the towns and villages, and as most of the men had money when they landed in France, thousands of oranges were sold, and the price and quality of the fruit was not criticized very much although it was near robbery. The cry of “Oranges! Oranges!” was welcome to our parched throats regardless of the quality and price.

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The RMR Foundation thanks Natalie Dyck for generously sharing her publication of “The Diary and Memoir of Private Raymond Duval” in order for us to be able to share his story with you 100 years on. You can learn more about Private Duval here.

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