Witness to War: Saturday June 2, 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:

Saturday June 2, 1917: Went on a parade, got 120 rounds and took train from Etaples and came up to Colonne Riquart had rations and given extra winter clothes Fine day we are now about 22 miles from the firing line – no noise yet but quantities of aeroplanes Then came up to Burbune about 7 miles a very tiresome walk with full pack and 120 rounds Feet very sore. Billeted in the loft of a Brewery Barn not a very nice place at first sight and did not get very much sleep as I was all wet from sweat. Thought about my Little Girl most all night.

Author’s note in 1954: Our next move was up to the rail head on the Lille front, which at that time was at a village called Burbune, where the reinforcement troops, or at least part of them, were located for training, etc. Following a 10 hour ride on the train in box cars (40 hommes, 8 chevaux), we arrived at our destination about 9pm in the rain as usual. It seemed to rain whenever we made a move. The cook-house was closed, so we were packed off to billets, which in this case was a very dirty attic over a very old abandoned brewery, which besides being well supplied with an accumulation of many years dirt and dust, was well supplied with countless hundreds of rats. These four-footed pre-occupants did not take kindly to being disturbed in such an unceremonious manner, and did not give up their home without some struggle. After we had finally bedded down the rodents ran over us, got at our emergency rations, and even snuggled up between our legs, where they had a warm place to sleep until the man concerned woke up, and threw them out or slashed at them with boots or any handy object.

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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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