Canadians Obtain Good Experience
Bad Roads help to harden Men for Work in France
Discipline Has Been the One failure—Disobedience Well Punished
The Toronto World; 12 January 1915
By John A. MacLaren, one of The World's Staff Correspondents with the Canadian Expeditionary Force
Salisbury, Eng., Dec. 22.—To turn the raw material into the finished product, to make the recruit—with his woeful lack of knowledge of matters military, probably the most important of which is discipline—into a real soldier, authorities have said that nine months of hard training is necessary. In the British regular army a soldier is not supposed to know all the ropes in less than that period. The Canadians have now been drilling for four months, and they believe they are ready to meet the enemy at any time. Their work has been harder than that of a recruit in the British army in times of peace. They have been living under practically active service conditions in the rain and mud of Salisbury, and not in barracks, with two or three weeks in the autumn of manoeuvres, which is the only occasion when the British regulars get a taste of what war may be like. So after our months, on account of the great emergency, the Canadian volunteers who have had to undergo untold hardships, may be almost as well equipped for genuine fighting as the an who spends nine months picking up the rudiments of the game in barracks.
There is much talk of the force going to France in the latter part of January, or five months after the call to arms was sounded throughout Canada, and if this should occur it will not come as a surprise but as a relief. The long waiting and suspense will be over.
Stand the Strain
There appears to be every indication that the finishing touches are being applied to the training course. It is recognized that the men are physically fit. Their muscles are hard, and working during such bad weather has placed them in splendid condition.
The old system of double company formation instead of platoons is now working smoothly, and officers, who were rather green at first, are handling their men with greater confidence and success. The reason for discarding the platoon formation was that it did not work satisfactorily in France. Right here it may be said that the men in harness in England getting ready to fight are taught to a great extent, according to wrinkles found in the firing line. The platoon system would not have been dropped had it not been found unwieldy in France.
There is a certain soldier greatly admired in England. He wears a blue and white ribbon on his sleeve. This is a sign that he has returned from the front on furlough. While he is in England his short vacation is not one entirely one of leisure. In many instances he is found teaching the young an idea of what he himself learned first hand. In the Canadian camp a few of these men have been giving instructions to those who are getting ready. For example, in the important matter of digging trenches they teach the Canadian the width and the depth of trenches and other valuable things in the use of the spade. It has been said that next to the gun the spade is winning this war. At all events the Canadians are taught how to dig trenches properly. These ditches zig-zag here and there across the downs, an indication of the industry of the men who may soon be performing similar work in France.
Leave Cut Off
As has been pointed out, I a cable all leave will be cut off after January 1st. One would imagine that this order would disappoint the men. But not so. It has had the other effect. The Canadians believe that it means a early departure, and that is what they want.
Some new equipment has been added to the force. Four or eight new machine guns will be used in each battalion, and each officer of a machine gun squad has been taking instruction on their use. The quick-firers are somewhat different from those formerly used. This type of weapon has been recognized as a great factor in the war. Capt. McKessock of the 48th Highlanders, Toronto, who practiced law in Sudbury for years, and Lieutenant Macdonald of the Queen's Own are both officers in command of machine guns. This branch od the service has proved very fascinating, if the large waiting list in any criterion.
One of the most difficult tasks confronting commanding officers is teaching their men to obey. There has been a lack of discipline apparent and this undoubtedly is due principally to the fact that neither Canadian officers nor men are professional soldiers. But there has been a great tightening up, and the men are gradually learning that it pays to obey. The penalty for disobedience is strict. Not long ago a man received his pay and went over to the canteen. He didn't come back for a week, for after visiting this little wooden hut where beer is served, he journeyed to London. When he returned he got thirty days in a military prison. It was his second offence. When the contingent first arrived here overstaying leave was quite common. But this has all changed.
The Canadians—many of them—salute only when necessary. They look upon this form of exercise as an inconvenience and unnecessary except when they meet one of their own officers. But, as in many other things, they are quickly learning to do the proper thing—to pay respect to the rank. British officers are sticklers for etiquette, consequently the British rankers are always very proper.
The other day General Pitcairn Campbell, commander of the Southern Command, while walking along a Salisbury street, passed a couple of westerners. They did not salute him. The general wheeled around and shouted, "Hey, hey, why the devil don't you salute me?"
The Canadians immediately came to attention and saluted very briskly.
"You're not supposed to salute with one hand in your pocket," said the general to one of the offenders. "See that you salute an officer hereafter," and then the general and the two miscreants, which nerves were greatly on edge, parted company. The Canadian were thankful that nothing further occurred.