The Royal Canadian Regiment and
The First World War - 1914-1919

On to Bermuda

Being a brief glimpse of the R.C.R. from July, 1914 to August, 1915.

The Connecting File, Volume IX, No. 1; January 1931

(Mr. W. H. Hayes (late C.S.M.I.) has kindly given us another glimpse of the past in his own imitable style. - Ed.)

Company Daily Parades 9 to 10 a.m. - 11 to 12 noon, - N.C.O's Courses - McNab's Island Camp, - Aldershot Musketry Camp, - Fatigues, - Employed jobs, - . Such, was the peaceful state of affairs in the R.C.R., until someone over in Europe decided to start a little War, and put some of this theory stuff into practice, and then the fool thing got too big to handle so some others had to get in on it, and consequently the tranquillity of our routine was upset, for we found ourselves included in the affair.

At that time, July 1914, the Regiment consisted of Headquarters and Six Companies at Halifax, N.S., and one company each at Fredericton, N.B., Quebec, P.Q., Toronto, Ont., and London, Ont., under the command of Lt.-Cot. A.O. Fages, with Major A.E. Willoughby as Adjutant.

"B" Company, under the command of Capt. C.B. Costin, was at Aldershot Camp, N.S., for Musketry and Training, and at about 10.00 a.m., on the morning of July 30th, 1914, orders were received to report to Halifax, N.S., immediately.

On arrival there, we encountered considerable orderly excitement and speculations were rife as to what was about to happen, but we were not kept long in suspense, as during the evening we were issued with 150 rounds 303 Ball S.A.A. each, and packed off to our various destinations, with the instructions, that we were going on MANOEUVRES!!! One Company to British Columbia, another to Canso, N.S., another to McNab's Island, and so on. This move found "B" Company at Sydney Mines, C.B., Nova Scotia, quite close to the scene of our former activities at Glace Bay, C.B.

Earthworks were thrown up and a gun emplacement built for the old Maxim gun, under the supervision of Capt. C.B. Costin, and so we continued until August 4th, 1914, when Great Britain finally declared War on Germany, and we were now officially at War. The following day a huge hamper of "Comforts" was received at the Camp: "For the brave soldiers, from the Sisters of St. Joseph," read the direction tag-probably the first hamper received by any Canadian troops during the War. This act was typical of the spirit of the civilian population of district, and was very much appreciated. All kinds of facilities were placed at our disposal and everything possible was done by the people of the Sydney's to make us comfortable.

We got several scares, as for instance one night a man-of-war, pulled into the harbor and we did not know what it was, but as nothing happened our fears subsided and later we learned it was H.M.S. Drake.

During our stay at the Camp, I was admitted to hospital and the Matron and Sisters at St. Joseph's Hospital were more than kind to me, but the Matron feared that because a soldier was in the hospital, the enemy had every right to shell the building. I told her, that should occasion arise, the Red Cross Flag at the mast would give all the protection necessary and she seemed much relieved.

Shortly after this Capt. C.B. Costin handed over command of the detachment to Major C.H. Hill, the former having been selected to proceed overseas immediately. (I would like to pay tribute here to Capt. C.B. Costin. He was one of the finest Officers it has been my privilege to serve under-a splendid soldier, and a thorough gentleman).

Toward the end of August, 1914, our Company was relieved by the 94th Reg't of Sydney, N.S., and we proceeded to Halifax, N.S. A rather funny incident occurred on the relief.

A man of the 94th asked me the way to salute with a rifle, so thinking he was going on Guard as Sentry, I instructed him in the method of the usual compliments - with the hand on the Butt, and "Present" to Major, etc. Much to my surprise he turned right around and went into the Company Office Bell tent, looked on the shoulder of Major Hill, hesitated a moment and then came to the "Present" as well as the cramped space would allow and addressed the Major regarding a leave of absence, remaining at the "Present" all the time and finally withdrawing by backing out of the Bell tent still at the "Present," but of course all doubled up in body, but evidently tickled to death that he had given the correct compliment.

On arrival at Halifax, N.S., on August 30th, 1914, rumours of all sorts were afloat. We were going to France!! We were going to British Columbia!! We were going to Bermuda!! and even going to India, but on Sept 2nd, we definitely were informed that Bermuda was to be our destination. Who remembers the splendid work of Major H.T. Cock in assisting the Q.M. and making all the transportation arrangements, seeing to the crating and "baling of the bundles, etc." He sure did HIS stuff on that occasion, as on many another occasion afterwards under different circumstances in the field.

About this time the Regiment was addressed by H.R.H. The Duke of Connaught, then Governor-General of the Dominion, and were assured that although we were now going to Bermuda, we would be in France by Christmas, if the War lasted that long!!! This turned out to be quite true, but it was Christmas, 1915, not 1914, although the assurance was no doubt given with the best of intentions.

Our strength at this time was approximately 650, all ranks, so it was arranged that the strength should be supplemented by 400 men from the First Canadian Contingent, which was then being formed at Valcartier, P.Q. These 400 men duly arrived by boat on the S.S. "Canada" of the White Star Dominion Line, and on Sept. 5th, 1914, we embarked on the same vessel for Bermuda, under the command of Lt.-Col. A. O. Fages (does not this fact give us the right to claim the privilege of being the First troops to leave Canada for Active Service during the Great War?) The 400 men from Valcartier, all Volunteers, gave one a good idea of the answer from the Civilian element of Canada to the call to Arms, for they were dressed in every conceivable dress, full-dress (Reds), half uniforms and half civvies, some in khaki and some in civilian clothes.

We relieved the Lincoln Regiment (Imperials), and no doubt many of us have often wondered what the Lincoln's thought of the Canadians they saw as each Unit passed the other outside the barracks, but three months made a wonderful change in the organization of the R.C.R.

The Regiment had by now been re-organized on the Platoon system and recruits had been given intensive training with the result that the Regiment was about as smart as any Unit in the Empire and ready for anything that they might been called upon to do. The Regiment was divided into several Units and were stationed at the different Military Sections of Bermuda.

Headquarters were at Prospect Barracks, Hamilton, and a detachment at each of the following places, St. George's, Boaz Island, and St. David's Island, whilst guards were provided for several strategic points on the Islands. A Guard was also provided over the German Prisoners, quartered on Port's Island, in Hamilton Harbor, who were taken off the German ship "Leda" whilst en route from New York to Europe.

During this time the Regiment had not yet been officially absorbed into the Canadian Expeditionary Force and were still on the Permanent Force rates of pay, which was a source of discontent to the Valcartier men, who had signed on under the C.E.F. rates of pay, which were considerably higher than the P.F. Rates. This matter was finally adjusted after about three months, but many an ugly situation arose in the meantime.

Early in January 1915, it had been found that some of the men who had joined us did not meet the standard then. required, so more then 100 men were discharged back to Canada, but later we met most of these same men in France with other C.E.F. Units, which proved that they were not lacking in enthusiasm, patriotism, or purpose, whatever their other shortcomings.

Christmas in Bermuda was much the same as Christmas any other place, excepting there was no snow or cold, but the detachment at St. David's Island were left to their own resources, so a concert was organized in the Wet Canteen Marquee, at which "Spike" Johnson presided. Various prizes were offered, but not displayed, and when the winners awards were made the prizes were found to consist of tokens for amounts up to $1000.00, drawn on the Bank of McNab's Island, and signed by the Rajah of Ottawa, Ontario. Afterwards the detachment at St. David's Island were removed from exile, and went into comparative comfort in Boaz Island Barracks. I should mention that communication between St. David's Island and the Mainland was maintained by a small civilian steamer (Fare 3d), and also a Military duty boat, but one had to have some mysterious influence in order to obtain a ride on the official boat. This boat was operated by a Bermudian, who had religious leanings, and who was somewhat superstitious, and he had a pet theory that the War would end on a seventh something, either seventh day, or month, or something connected with seven, and to support this theory he could quote the co-incidence of "seven" in a number of names and incidents concerning the War. One was always sure of a passage on the boat by taking up this subject with him and listening in awe to his quotations, and I often availed myself of this knowledge, when making the trip to the mainland or back.

Another outstanding character at St. David's was our "Doctor" (Pte W.H. Hutchings), who had been everywhere, seen everything, and knew most everything. His prescriptions (given on the side) usually consisted of number 9's or their equivalent. Good old scout, but possessed of an awful imagination. The only place he did not seem to know anything about was the Barber's Shop, and needed constantly reminding of the existence of that Institute.

Our Quarters at St. David's were tents, which was not the best of Quarters when it rained, as anyone who knows Bermudian rains will testify, so the change to Barracks at Boaz Island was very welcome. The Company now carne under the command of Major A. A. S. Law (afterwards D.A. A. and Q.M.G., Canadian Troops, London Area, England), with Capt. H.M. Logan second in command, and Lieut. V. Hodson, while Major E.L. du Domaine was in command of the Military Section with Lieut. G.L.P. Grant-Suttie as Section Adjutant.

Boaz was a very pleasant station, in spite of the fact that the Serjeants' Mess billiard table was equipped with only one cue, to which the tip had to be nailed every time one wished to play a game. Who remembers old Mr. Holman (the Imperial Barrack Warden), who thought the Service was going to the dogs since the Canadians came to Bermuda, and who was so conscientious about the 80 lbs. of coal per barrack room per week. He was one of the best after he got used to our peculiar ways.

Then there was the Petty Officers' Mess at Ireland Island, the Naval Dockyard, where the Ships from the Dardanelles used to come to re-fit. Some famous ships put in there during our stay, all with good companies aboard. The "Goliath," "Caesar," "Leviathan," "Berwick," "Lancaster" and the Australian ships. H.M.A.S. "Sydney," after her scrap with the German cruiser "Emden" and the H.M.A.S. Melbourne, were among some of the famous ships, which came there, and whose fame at that time were to the fore. Also the old "H. M.S. Charybdis," with her sloping masts and smokestacks, and her ram all bent and twisted, where she had come into contact with some ship that had dared to dispute her authority, old as she was. Also our own famous H.M.C.S. "Niobe," which made more prize money during the War than any ship commissioned in His Majesty's Royal Navy.

May I be permitted to digress from my subject to explain that H.M.C.S. "Niobe" had not turned a screw for about 18 months before the war broke out, but when she escorted our S.S. "Canada" to Bermuda, she left us behind many a time, only to return and play around us like a cat watching her kittens.

She was marvelous and a credit to the Officers and ship's company who manned her.

Whilst at Boaz Island a few amusing incidents occurred, which may be of interest to re-tell.

Bill Rowbotham (now C.Q.M.S.) got a job as coachman to Major Clarke of the Imperial Royal Engineers, and was outfitted with a coachman's long blue coat, and brass buttons complete, and a tall hat, all shiny, with a cockade at the side. Bill used to sit on the seat at the back of the "Dickey," with his arms folded in approved coachman's style, while the Major or his Lady drove the rig. One day Bill passed the road just outside the Wet Canteen at about noon, sitting in his usual position, all slicked up and polished, but his trousers were in such a position that it was very evident that he was not wearing any socks. Bill got a rousing cheer from the boys in the Canteen as the coach rolled by, much to the disgust of the Major, and later in the day he and Bill went to the mat about it.

I believe Bill used to get all of Sixpence a day EXTRA PAY for his duties, but often the sixpence was lost among the golden Sovereigns and halves that Bill acquired in another way, so I don't think Bill lost any sleep when his services as coachman were dispensed with.

Another incident concerns Major du Domaine, who was very keen on Fishing. The day was Company pay-day, and the Major had given me instructions to have the pay call sounded at 11.45 a.m. He left Barracks with the Pay cheque at about 10.15 to go to the bank, but on assembling the Company, I found he had not yet returned. Dismissing the Company (amid much grousing), I went to the Major's quarters, but without result, and about 1.15 p.m. I became alarmed at his continued absence, so went in search of him, and found him sitting contentedly, angling away, on the rocks under the Swing Bridge. I asked him about the pay, and he said, "By Jove, I had forgotten all about it." Everything was fixed up all O.K., but wasn't there some grousing among the troops, when they got their pay about 4.00 p.m.

Just about this time the Boys began to think they had been forgotten, and the War was going merrily on while they were marooned in Bermuda, and consequently they became restless; so it was necessary to start rumors in order to keep them occupied, but even at that the situation at times was decidedly ugly.

However eventually in August, 1915, the 38th Battalion C.E.F. arrived to relieve us, and we embarked on the S. S. "Caledonia" (by no means a floating palace), for Halifax, N.S., where we refitted and after a seven days stay, we reembarked on the same apology for a troopship for England, arriving at Plymouth after 11 days voyage under the command of Lt.-Col. A. E. Carpenter, with Major A. E. Willoughby as Adjutant, and Mr. H. S. Phillips as R.S.M.

The waiting around in Halifax Harbor, and the voyage across, and our subsequent movements and adventures are material for another story, which I hope may be taken up by an abler pen than mine.

Pro Patria