Conditions Slowly Improving for RMR in 1914

Saturday, December 19, 1914

In Camp, West Down South, Salisbury Plains

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “Orders to be prepared to move to hutments at Lark Hill.” [1]

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: “The fame of the Colonials has spread through every little town and village from Devizes to Salisbury.  They have settled down in comparative comfort now at Lark Hill, within sight of Stonehenge, and they are making light of the hardships which they suffered for many weeks; they declare magnanimously that the war office is busy, that war is war, and that they are ready enough to take pot-luck with the rest who are training for the trenches.  Before they reached England they had seventeen long days on board ship, tumbling about in the Atlantic.  The transports were densely packed, the food ran short; and what there was of it, in some cases at least, was bad; fasting was more popular than eating.  They were glad enough to land, all of them, but most of them found they had only made a change between the Devil and the deep sea.

West Down South is a lonely, bleak place, five hundred feet above sea level, nine miles or more from Devizes, seven from Amesbury.  I have spoken to men – Canadians – who were thirty hours without food, who spent many dreary days in tents, who lay in soaked straw beneath dripping canvas, and were expected by the good citizens of Devizes to present a smart, soldierly appearance when they dropped down into the town for relaxation.

It was, indeed, a poor reception to give men who had left their homes so readily to join us.  But they are hardy in their loyalty, and are disposed to regard it all as part of their training for war.  Now, at any rate, they are fixed up in better quarters.  I have just visited them in their new shelters at Lark Hill.  Already many hundreds of these oblong wooden sheds have been constructed on the exposed summit of the Plain; some are already tenanted, others are being quickly run up, enough of them, it is said – when all are ready – to house 200,000 men from Kitchener’s armies.

Those in which the Canadians are quartered have at any rate the advantage of being rain-proof, for they are roofed over with corrugated iron.  I would not recommend them, however, as ideal winter residences.  Each shed is about 60 feet long and 20 feet broad, and one section (from 40 to 50 men) is quartered in it.  There is a door at each end, windows on each side, and the floor and walls consist of bare planks.  The floor is raised a foot or so above the ground, resting on brick supports; and the air circulating freely underneath, blows up through the chinks in the floor and awakens the men with an icy gale in the early morning.  Their beds consist of straw mattresses, which at night they spread out in rows and heap up against the wall in the daytime.  They rejoice in the luxury of a long table which runs down the middle of the shed, and the good food which is now served out tastes better when it is eaten at a table.

Some felt, or linoleum, to keep out the wind from below, is all that is needed to turn these sheds into quite adequate winter quarters.  As shelters hastily improvised, they cannot be seriously complained of.  They are no longer breeding places for pneumonia and other diseases, and I have recently slept in much worse quarters with a volunteer training corps.”

When they left Canada the men were very far from having completed their training.  Some of them knew their job thoroughly, whilst others were almost fresh to it.  But they have been working hard since they have been camped on Salisbury ||Plain, where there is plenty of room for operations in extended order, for long-range rifle practice, for machine gun practice, and the important work of engineers. They are working nine hours a day, and are glad enough after supper to crowd into the big Y.M.C.A. shed where a sing-song is held every evening.”   [2]

[1]   War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, Dec 19, 1914.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa,
[2]   “A Visit to Salisbury Plain and the Canadians in Camp,” R.A. Scott-James, London Daily Mail as quoted in The Ottawa Citizen, Saturday, December 19, 1914, pg. 1, col. 4.

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