S.O.S. Stand to!
Patching up the "Pipped"
SERGEANT REGINALD GRANT
1ST FIELD ARTILLERY BRIGADE, 1ST CANADIAN DIVISION
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY NEW YORK LONDON 1918
Copyright, 1918, by D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
Printed in the United States of America
IN HUMBLE, REVERENT SPIRIT I DEDICATE THESE PAGES TO THE MEMORY OF THELADS WHO SERVED WITH ME IN THE "SACRIFICE BATTERY," AND WHO GAVE THEIRLIVES THAT THOSE BEHIND MIGHT LIVE, AND, ALSO, IN BROTHERLY AFFECTIONAND ESTEEM TO MY BROTHERS, GORDON AND BILLY, WHO ARE STILL FIGHTING THEGOOD FIGHT AND KEEPING THE FAITH.
The general purpose and scope of the rehearsal of my three years'personal experience while in the artillery arm of the First Division ofCanada's overseas forces is to lay before the reader an outline of themovement of our Division as it may be gathered from the performance ofmy own specific duties, with especial reference to the battles of Ypres(the 2nd), Givenchy, Sanctuary Woods (Ypres 3rd), the Somme and VimyRidge.
Very little attention or space has been devoted to the detail ofinitiatory camp life, drill, rations and the like; even had I the spaceto do so, those features have been liberally covered by a number ofearlier writers; besides, I am of the opinion that the average reader ismore concerned with the desire to be imaginably transported as nearly aspossible to the heart of the struggle,—to live in his own mind thestrain and turmoil of the individual soldier in the desperate conflictwhich now rages, the decision of which will determine whether democracyor military autocracy shall be the predominating factor in thegovernments of the peoples of the earth.
The devastating rush of the gray-clad hordes of Huns into thepeace-loving lands of Belgium and France has demonstrated conclusivelythat to win this or any other war the one thing necessary is superiorityin artillery. Without this, an enemy sufficiently strong in numbers andother equipment, can drive ahead, overcoming and crushing all obstacles.
The average lay reader is too apt to lose sight of the supremeimportance of this arm of the service, to which all other movements aresubsidiary; the dash of the charge by the infantry over the top,magnificent in its appeal, submerges to a degree the real factor uponwhich success or failure of the charge depends, i.e., the blazing of thetrail by the guns. Little thought is devoted to the man who, with hellbursting on and around him, has to get his shell home in a certainnumber of seconds so that the charge can be made.
Neither is it generally known that the percentage of loss in units isgreater in the unit known as the sacrifice battery than in any otherbranch of the fighting machine.
Therefore, I may be pardoned if I feel a certain human pride in the factthat it was my honorable lot to serve in this unit nearly a score oftimes during my work over there, and I can account for my failure to beseriously injured (a dislocation or a little gassing is comparativelytrivial) to nothing other than, as my Major emphatically expressed it,"Damned horseshoe luck!"
- Can't Kill Me
- The First Night
- My Horse Shoe Working
- Hun Helpers
- Bits of Battle
- Sanctuary Woods
- A Bath Under Difficulties
- Ham Bone Davis
- Bees, Honey and Hell
- Scotty Comes Back at the Somme
- The Family Luck
- The Dead Shell
- Satan's Shells and Scented Gas
- Before Vimy
- Back to God's Country
S.O.S. STAND TO!
"Hello, Central, give me Queen 4000. Is that you, Burt? You are going,aren't you?"
Burt Young was one of my pals and I had just learned from the morningpaper that enlistments for Canada's first overseas contingent were beingtaken that day and I had called up to inquire if he were going.
"Sure, I am going. Where will I meet you?"
We arranged to meet at the exhibition ground and, taking French leave ofthe office, I hastened to the camp where the recruiting was going on,picking up Burt on the way.
It was as if a baseball championship series were on; the crowdgood-naturedly swayed and jammed as each man struggled to get to thedoor and signed up before the quota was full. With only the loss of ahat and some slight disarrangement of my collar and tie, I was one ofthe lucky ones.
And we were lucky! Although visions of lands to be seen and adventuresto be had flitted rapidly through my mind, and although I believe noneof us on that day dreamed of what we were getting into, yet, lookingback over it all, I would not have missed my place in Canada's FirstDivision for anything I ever hope to have on earth.
In two hours I was in khaki and in another hour I had bade the folksfarewell and was standing on the station platform waiting for the trainthat would take us to Valcartier, the greatest gathering place ofsoldiers that Canada has ever known.
Some idea of my knowledge of things military may be gleaned from thefollowing:—chatting with Burt, he suddenly espied a large car, with twogirls, shooting up the street to the station, and called my attention toit. One of the girls was my sister. I immediately scented trouble. Iskipped across to the other side of the depot, intending to board thetrain from the other side when it came in; I was not going to have mysoldiering interfered with if I could help it. Standing in the shelterof a pillar, I did not notice two husky recruits in khaki behind me."Is your name Grant?" they asked. "Yes." "The Colonel wants to see youat once," they informed me, and they marched me back.
As I approached, my sister was talking earnestly and energetically tothe Colonel and I could plainly see I was the object of theconversation. I waited.
"How is this, Grant, this lady says you are not of age. Is that so?"asked the Colonel.
"I am of age and—"
"Stand to attention!" snapped the Colonel. I straightened up and foldedmy arms respectfully across my chest.
"Stand to attention, damn you! Don't you know how to stand toattention?" I shifted my feet a little uneasily, wondering how he wantedme to stand.
"Put those heels together," he snorted. I did so. "Keep your toesapart," he half hissed and half shouted. I spread my toes apart. I stillhad my arms folded. Almost purple in the face with his violence, heroared, "Put those damned hands of yours down!" and he grabbed my wristsand flopped them down. "Young lady, you'll have to take this matter upat Valcartier; there is no time to do anything now. You can go," thisto me. I turned on my heel.
"Here," he roared. "Don't you know enough to salute your superiorofficer? Salute!" I gingerly raised my hand to my forehead and held itthere, much after the fashion, I think, of a man shading his eyes fromthe sun, or a nautical chap gazing intently seaward.
"You idiot!" he bellowed, as he grabbed my hand and fiercely flung itdown. "Don't you know how to salute? Here, do this"—and he saluted. Ifollowed as well as I was able, but the utter disgust that was plasteredall over his visage as he turned on his heel would not have left muchhope for soldierly qualifications in one any less hopeful andenthusiastic than I was.
My sister, in spite of her tears, could not keep back the smile as Iagain kissed her good-by.
It was about noon next day when I reached Valcartier and after a monthof solid work, the like of which I had never before experienced, I wasas hard as a nail, and as tough, as indeed was every man in that honordivision of Canada's expeditionary forces.
We received orders to leave for England on the 14th day of September,1914. I was detailed on a gun limber of my subsection of the FirstBattery, the artillery being the arm of the service to which I wasassigned. Starting about 4:30 in the afternoon, in torrents of rain, weheaded for the city of Quebec. Along the way the people had thoughtfullybuilt large bonfires on either side of the road, serving the doublepurpose of lighting our way during the night and enabling us to jump offand warm ourselves, as we were thoroughly chilled.
The road was in a horribly bad condition and the rain did not improve itany, and while the limber was lurching from side to side, like a shipstaggering in a storm, it was the better part of wisdom for me to keepmy eyes open to save myself from being thrown off and having my preciousneck broken.
To prevent in some measure the rain trickling down my neck, I took arubber sheet, used to cover the horses, tied the two corners together,making a sort of cape of it, and put it round my neck.
Then I settled myself down to hold on to the limber and think at thesame time of the great game of which I had become an infinitesimalpart. I was sitting on the right hand side of the limber close to thewheel and, before long, the effort to think and hold on at the same timewas too much for me, and I fell into a fairly sound sleep, SergeantJohnson, my companion, doing likewise.
While dozing, the string from the end of the cape engaged itself withthe axle, wound itself round and round and started pulling me down. WhenI awoke it had a grip on me and every moment I was being drawn closer tothe wheel. I yelled to the driver to stop the horse, but the rattlingand rumble of the limber and the gun carriage drowned my call; neitherhe nor the Sergeant heard me. Numb with cold, absolutely helpless, myhead almost down to the wheel, I gave one more yell for dear life. TheSergeant suddenly and providentially woke up; he thought he had anightmare. I was almost choked and could hardly breathe, but managed tomake him understand, and he whipped out his knife, cut the string andreleased me from what in a couple of seconds more would have beeninstant death, as I would have been pulled from my seat and crushed to ajelly between the wheels. This was my first close shave from death. Ihad no horseshoe or four-leaf clover with me, and I can account for myescape in no other way than that it was my lucky star that hasaccompanied me throughout the long months of times that try men's soulsand that has never deserted me.
No further mishaps befell until I was safely aboard ship. I was incharge of a fatigue party, bringing hay from the bulkheads of the shipup on to the different decks for the horses; there was a pulley leadingto the bottom of the boat by means of which the hay was hoisted up, andin going down each man gripped it and was slowly lowered. On the tripdown the men would cling to the rope, two or three at a time, with aboutten to twenty feet of space between them. In making a downward trip Iwas second; the man ahead of me going down was over twenty feet from me;and the rope suddenly slipping off the pulley and out of the hands ofthe men running it, I dropped fifty feet. The man below on the ropebroke his leg and on top of him I fell. Although my drop was twenty orthirty feet longer than his, on account of the space between us beingthat much greater, I was none the worse except for a bad shaking-up.Like all the men in Canada's First Division, my pal was in excellentphysical shape, and it was not long before his leg mended and he washimself again. Nothing of further moment happened until we heard thewelcome call of land!
The different batteries were ordered to remove their guns, limbers andhorses from the boat, and I had charge of one party unloading guns andlimbers. A derrick and cable was used