RMR Helps Build Railroad in 1914

Sunday, December 20, 1914

In Camp, West Down South, Salisbury Plains

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “Rain.  Church Parade.” [1]

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: “Salisbury, Eng., Dec. 10 – Well, how do you like being a common wop?” asked a private in the Canadian contingent.  “Not so bad,” replied his pal.  “Never thought I would hit such a low level.  But being a navvy puts you in good shape.  My legs are so sore I can hardly walk, my arms and shoulders ache like fury, but I should worry.”

Three months ago no man in this contingent figured that he would be a railroad-builder.  Such a suggestion would have been received as a joke.  Nevertheless the Canadians have assumed the role of navvies, track-layers, rod and chain-men, surveyors and engineers in connection with the construction of an eleven mile strip of road from the present camp to Bulford, where several battalions are stationed in huts.  Every man is having a taste of railroading, but of course such a job is accepted with a smile.  The Canadian soldier is ready for anything.  Handling a pick and shovel is not looked upon as a hardship.  It is just part of a day’s work.  The lawyers, bankers, clerks, farmers, mechanics, students – they’re all combined to build a short railway on the Plain. This line will stand as a monument to the labour of Canadians.

How the men from Canada happen to build a railway came about in this way, the highways of England are solid as a result of centuries of traffic and constant repair. There are none better.  But when this war broke out there was not the same demand made upon them.  Huge motor lorries and transports, hundreds of horses and thousands of troops have broken them up considerably, creating ruts and quagmires.  In some places they have been made almost impassable.  When it was decided to move the Canadians into huts, supplies had to be transferred over the road.  This was well-nigh impossible, so the military authorities came to the conclusion that a railroad should be laid.  So Salisbury is to have its first railway line and Canadians are doing most of the work.

The Canadian engineers have had very little to do.  There are no pontoons to build, because there are no streams or rivers.  The engineers have been practically idle.  It was figured that the new railroad would give them plenty of training, so the engineers are all working on the railway every day.  Every day what is known as engineer’s fatigue, consisting of one battalion, plows through the mud to the scene of the building operations.  A different battalion goes on the job every day.  They are all having a chance to unload ties and lay them, unload rails and place them, and so forth.”   [2]

[1]   War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, Dec 20, 1914.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089681.jpg
[2]   “Work Of Navvies Done Cheerfully By Canadians,” Ottawa Citizen, December 24, 1914, pg. 5, col. 1.

 

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