Saturday, March 27, 1915

In billets, Estaires

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “Very comfortable billets in northeast end of town, near cemetery.”  [1]

Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook
Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook

Sir W. Max Aitken, member of the British House of Commons for Ashton-under-Lyne, and a native of Canada, and J.J. Carrick, member of the Canadian Commons for Thunder Bay and Rainy River, were acting as the official “Eyewitnesses” at the front with the Canadian troops.  In addition to their official reports to the Canadian Authorities, in London and Ottawa, they filed periodic reports to the Canadian press for circulation to the Canadian public.  Here is an extract, reporting a speech by General Alderson given to the First Canadian Division, taken from one such report published by The Globe in Toronto, on March 27th, 1915.


“It would be evidently impertinent to say more of the General Officer Commanding the force, General Alderson, than that he enjoys the most absolute confidence of the fine force he commands.  He trusts them and they trust him, and it will be strange if their co-operation does not prove fruitful.  And an observer is at once struck by the accurate knowledge which the General has gained of the whole body of regimental officers under his command.  He seems to know them as well by name and sight as if he had commanded the force for six years instead of six months.  And this is a circumstance which in critical moments counts for much.

General Alderson’s methods – his practical and soldierly style – could not better be illustrated than by some extracts from the speech which he addressed to the troops just before they went into the trenches for the first time:

Caution is Urged –

“All ranks of the Canadian Division, – We are about to occupy and maintain a line of trenches.  I have some things to say to you at this moment which it is well that you should consider.  You are taking over good, and on the whole, dry trenches.  I have visited some myself.  They are intact, and the parapets are good.  Let me warn you first that we have already had several casualties while you have been attached to other divisions.  Some of these casualties were unavoidable, and that is war.  But I suspect that some – at least a few – could have been avoided.  I have heard of cases in which men have exposed themselves with no military object and perhaps only to gratify curiosity.  We cannot lose good men like this.  We shall want them all if we advance, and we shall want them all if the Germans advance.  Do not expose your heads, do not look around corners, unless for a purpose which is necessary at the moment you do it.  It will not often be necessary.  You are provided with means of observing the enemy without exposing your heads.  To lose your life without military necessity is to deprive the State of good soldiers.  Young and brave men enjoy taking risks.  But a soldier who takes unnecessary risks through levity is not playing the game, and the man who does so is also stupid, for whatever be the average practice of the |German army, the individual shots, whom they employ as snipers, shoot straight, and, screened from observation behind the lines, they are always watching.  If you put your head over the parapet without orders they will hit that head.

Shoot at nothing –

There is another thing.   Troops new to the trenches always shoot at nothing the first night.  You will not do it.  It wastes ammunition and it hurts no one.  And the enemy says: ‘These are new and nervous troops.’  You will be shelled in the trenches.  When you are shelled sit low and sit tight. This is easy advice, for there is nothing else to do.  If you get out you will only get it worse. And if you go out the Germans will go in.  And if the Germans go in, we shall counter-attack and put them out, and that will cost us hundreds of men instead of the few whom shells may injure.

The Germans do not like the bayonet, nor do they support bayonet attacks.  If they get up to you, or if you get up to them, go right in with the bayonet.  You have the physique to drive it home.  That you will do it I am sure, and I do not envy the Germans if you get among them with the bayonet.

There is one thing more.  My old regiment, the Royal West Kent, has been here since the beginning of the war, and it has never lost a trench.  The army says, ‘The West Kents never budge.’  I am proud of the great record of my old regiment, and I think it is a good omen.  I now belong to you and you belong to me; and before too long the army will say, ‘The Canadians never budge.’

‘Lads, it can be left there, and there I leave it.  The Germans will never turn you out.’

I may, before concluding, point out that the most severe military critics both in Britain and in France are loud in their admiration of the organizing power which in a non-military country has produced so fine a force in so short a time.  The equipment in all the countless details which in co-ordination mean efficiency has completed a division which can hold its own with any division at the war.  This result was only made possible by labor, by zeal and immense driving power.  These qualities were exhibited in Canada at the outbreak of war by all whose duties lay in the work of improvization, and if the Minister of Militia and Defence could see today the force which his energy has created in the town which I cannot name he would have the full reward of his unceasing labors.

I shall hope, without violating any of the rules which are binding upon all, to give in the notes which I am permitted to write information of the doings of the Canadians, which, if general and sometimes negative, will not at least be either misleading or inaccurate.”   [2]

[1]   War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, March 27, 1915.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa,
[2]   “Canadian Eyewitness’ Wires From The Trenches,” The Globe (1844-1936) Toronto, Ontario, Saturday, March 27, 1915, pg. 1, col. 4 & pg. 3, col 2.


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