Thursday, July 22, 1915

Divisional Reserve

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

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY:  The Battalion history, however, does tell us that “While at Kortepyp Huts drill, sports, and working parties occupied the men’s time, the week also being marked by the return to duty of Regimental Sergt.-Major J.M.Stephenson, who had been wounded at Ypres, and the taking on strength of a draft from the 23rd Reserve Battalion.  The men of this draft had received a measure of instruction in trench warfare when, on July 29th, the 14th Battalion moved forward through Ploegsteert Wood and relieved the 4th Canadian Battalion in the front line.”  [2]

First World War soldiers shaving
Morning wash-up

Life in the trenches of 1914-1918 had a routine.  Tim Cook, in his book “At the Sharp End” has written about many aspects of life in the trenches.  He writes:  “Stand-To at a half hour before dawn, which brought all the soldiers, half asleep and shivering, into the front lines to wait with rifles and bayonets at the ready for an attack was just one of the strange rituals of trench warfare.  The general perception was that enemy forces would come over at dawn, the best time to launch an operation since success would mean that any counter attacking force would have to retake the position during daylight.  However, since all sides expected an attack, and called out the full garrison to the firing line, dawn action was rare, as few commanders were callous enough to order a suicidal attack against an alerted garrison.  However, such considerations did not stop the artillery from laying down a ‘morning hate’ in the hope of catching the infantry bunched together and outside their protective dugouts.  While a few days of these surprise bombardments quickly brought artillery retaliation from the other side’s guns, as always the ‘poor bloody infantry’ were the ones caught in the middle.” [3]

“But this stand-to ritual was important as it allowed non-commissioned officers and subalterns (a British term for junior officers) to see all their men, thus reinforcing the officers’ presence in the trenches. New orders were given at stand-to, and after waiting for the attack that rarely came, the order to ‘stand-down’ was barked out and the day began in earnest. ‘After we stand-down there are rifles to clean, trenches to be cleaned, a wash to be had – if you can find a shell hole with some water in it – then breakfast,’ wrote young sergeant Samuel Honey, a former teacher on a Six Nations reserve. Honey stood only five foot five, but his steel-grey eyes and gentle manner had made him a favourite among his men. He would be commissioned later in the war and was awarded the prestigious Victoria Cross for bravery on the battlefield.

The men cleaned no more than half the rifles in a section at a time, for fear of being caught defenceless by a surprise enemy raid. Rust and dirt – both on and in the barrel – were the key concerns of the cleaning process. Barrels were wiped down with oil and cloth, and a special weighted rag was pulled through the barrel. After a few incidents of rifle discharging in the faces of inspecting officers, strict orders were given to ensure that no cartridge was in the chamber before the firearm was extended for examination. Still, an inordinate number of deaths and maimings were caused by accidentally discharged rifles, with exhausted and fidgety soldiers all too often making fatal mistakes of judgement.” [5]

Following the cleaning and inspection of weapons, medical inspections took place, with particular attention being paid to the inspection of feet, looking for sores and especially cases of trench-foot.

These routine tasks were “made more palatable by the fact that afterwards the men were usually issued a rum ration… on hearing ‘the joyful cry, rum up’ men raced up dugouts and down trenches to greet the rum-jar carrying sergeant like a long lost brother. Infantryman Ralph Bell of the 1st battalion wrote, ‘When the days shorten, and the rain never ceases, when the sky is ever grey, the nights chill, and trenches thigh deep in mud and water; when the front is altogether a beastly place, in fact we have one consolation. It comes in gallon jars, marked simply ‘S.R.D.’ This S.R.D. was potent, dark rum, and although few soldiers knew what the letters stood for (Supply Reserve Depot), they had great delight in spoofing the name with interpretations such as ‘Soon Runs Dry,’ ‘Seldom Reaches Destination,’ ‘Sergeants Rarely Deliver,’ and ‘Soldiers Real Delight.’” [6]

22 July 15_B“(Special Cable Despatch to The Globe) London, July 23.  – Next week will see an innovation in the British military methods – the recognition of women to the extent of giving them the rank of non-commissioned officers.  Some hundreds of London school teachers whose specialty is instruction in domestic arts are going to spend their holidays in giving cooking lessons in the camps of Britain’s new armies.  These women will be given temporary rank of Corporals and Sergeants.  Their initiative is taken as the result of reports of waste in the camps.  The War Office has arranged for one hundred to begin work next week and if the results are good the scheme will be largely extended.” [8]

[1]   War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, July 22, 1915.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa
[2]    R.C. Featherstonhaugh, The Royal Montreal Regiment 14th Battalion C.E.F. 1914-1925, Montreal, The Gazette Printing Co., Ltd., 1927, pg. 65.
[3]    Tim Cook, “At the Sharp End, Canadians Fighting the Great War 1914-1916,” Toronto, Penguin Group (Canada), 2007, pg. 238.
[5]   Tim Cook, “At the Sharp End, Canadians Fighting the Great War 1914-1916,” Toronto, Penguin Group (Canada), 2007, pg. 239.
[6]   Ibid, pg.242.
[7]   “Cooking Lessons for T. Atkins,” The Globe (1844-1936), Toronto, Ontario, Saturday, July 24, pg. 1, col. 6.
[8]   Ibid


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