Witness to War: Sunday Dec 9, 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:

Sunday Dec 9, 1917: Went to Church in forenoon and went to Church hut in Gouy Servins in afternoon and wrote letters sent cushion Top to my little girl – went with Jobb to Gouy Servins and had eggs – then went to an Estaminet and had a few mugs of beer – couldn’t help thinking of Dumas’ 3 musketeers as we sat in this little tavern full of soldiers cracking rough jokes and through it all a carefree sort of atmosphere – met a Can artillery man who had been expelled from the French cadets whose father is a Col in the French army a clear chap and a real soldier of fortune a fine character for a war.

AUTHOR’S NOTE IN 1954: [On Nov 16th], a draft joined us here, and among them were several of the old boys who had been casualties at an earlier day, so we had quite a talk first getting caught up in all the news about the old gang.

On Nov 17th we moved to a small place called “Marqueffles Farm”, where my running partner came down with grippe or something and was ordered out by the M.O., and that was the last I saw of him. From this place we marched to “Zouave Valley” and one of my old home pals joined me as a runner to replace my sick pal. We were now in tin huts, not too bad, but cold.

This was a quiet day as my C.O. went for a trip up the line to reconnoiter the terrain. [Things] continued quiet for a couple of days, and [we] came up the line by narrow gauge [railway]. It saved walking, but what a ride. The roadbed seemed non-existent, the rails seemed to have been just thrown down any old way through smashed houses and buildings, up and down, and these diesel trains traveled at a seemingly terrific rate. How they ever stayed on those crazy laid rails will always be a mystery. We were packed like sardines on low flat cars so that the careening tossed us about in a most awful way. However, we got through somehow to the old Avion front and occupied the same trenches of several months earlier, and in fact came to the same old dug out.

14th Battalion Royal Montreal Regiment troops. Private Duval (presumed), far right.

My partner being an old hometown friend, we had much in common to talk about, which made it very pleasant (if you could call anything pleasant in the trenches). A very quiet few days were spent here in the usual way – running a few messages to battalion headquarters in the support line, writing letters, etc., and playing poker for small stakes. Spent the time more or less quietly in front line and supports until December 3, when we marched out to Souchez and entrained coming to Chateau-de-la-Haie, which we are told belonged to Sarah Bernhardt. At one time, must have been a beautiful place set in a grove of trees, but now what a mess. The Chateau is terrible and the grounds are filled with all sorts of huts, stables, etc., which make up a large military camp.

Time was spent quietly. Some rainy days made for the usual discomfort. Wrote letters, etc. A concert by the 16th Battalion party was enjoyed here. We frequently went to a dirty little village called “Gouy Servins”, where we spent our Francs in the local estaminet on horrible beer and vin blanc. Met an interesting chap here, Can[adian] artilleryman, who claimed his father was a Colonel in the French Army. He himself had been in a military academy as a cadet when he was expelled, and had gone to Canada. Whether or not his tale was true, he certainly was a most interesting character. At this place, I again lost my running partner who was sent out with skin trouble.

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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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