Memory Lane

November 13, 2014 by Legion Magazine

Memory Lane

By W.E.Elliot

February, 1952


The Old Orderly Room Box


When the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion, C.E.F., demobbed at London, Ontario, in April, 1919, the Orderly Room was kept open for another week in the belief there would still be matters to straighten out. There were virtually none. Officers and men dispersed hither and yon, eager to resume civilian life.


I kept the orderly room box. It has a rope handle on one end only. The men used to curse when lifting it into the half-limber allotted the O.R. staff. Movers doubtless have cursed at times since – the box has rested in three different cities in the past 32 years.


No use keeping it longer. But a final look-through was interesting. The Quartermaster’s careful list of clothing and equipment issued. Nominal rolls of officers, many now dead. A little book listing stationery and publications: airplane silhouettes, notes on Vimy Ridge, Arleux, Fresnoy, cooking in the field, yellow gas shells.


A pink message slip from M.O. in first aid post: “Don’t forget us when you go out.”


An envelope, stamped and addressed to a girl in England, but never mailed.


Adjutant to O.C. “C” Company: “A civilian has complained that Pte. T., under your command, prior to his departure for leave in Brussels stole the sum of 106 francs. Please investigate, reporting what action you intend to take.”


Honours and Awards. Now there’s a book! Years of recommendations for the M.M., M.C., D.S.O. and Mention, and even one or two for the Victoria Cross.


Also what seems to be a diary of convictions for offences, mostly “while on active service, absent without leave until apprehended.” One for “negligently handling his rifle.”


September, 1918: Note from O.C. that five captured enemy fieldguns are to go to Galt, Preston, Guelph and London (2).


Long lists in Part II Orders of casualties after the big shows; sometimes three pages on one day of single-space typing. One item in November, 1918: “The following reported missing are now listed K.i.A.


New Year’s Day, 1919, in Germany: “Rate of exchange, five marks equals 2 shillings four pence.”


So to the long wait in Beglium before returning to England and home. Part I Orders list route marches from Houtain l’Eveque (to keep the men from going crazy.)


Down at the base, Sergt. (O.R. Sgt.) J. Hyslop entered his own name on the last sheet of Part II orders as “having proceeded to England 31-3-19” and after it typed, somewhat dramatically: “All personnel now having been struck off strength, the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion ceases to exist as a unit in France from this date.”


But in April, in England, the O.C. 1st Battalion was still issuing orders as such. The final sheet lists the orderly officer for the day, at Bramshott, also “next for duty.” Also this instruction: “Other ranks for discharge in the United Kingdom will parade in front of Battalion orderly room at 0945 hours tomorrow in readiness to proceed to 1st Cdn. Div. Pool.”


Actually, although reinforced by personnel taking their discharge in Western Ontario, and depleted by personnel posted to units demobilizing elsewhere, the 1st did return home as a battalion, Ottawa assures me, and not as a “group.” As such, it marched proudly up Richmond Street in London, and along Dundas behind its colours, with cheering crowds all along the route, only to find that its packs, sent to Carling’s Heights by truck, had been well and truly rifled. So, about the only souvenir most men could show was a copy of General “Archie” Macdonell’s farewell to the 1st Division:


“I cannot view the breaking up of my beautiful 1st Canadian Division, the men of the ‘Old Red Patch,’ with equanimity. It breaks me up too. That is the truth… Canada is proud of you, and Canada is grateful.”


Well, the old box has been toted over France, Belgium, England and Canada. God knows how or where it was pinched in the first place; the 1st never bought anything.


Now its contents are going down the street in a garbage wagon, for cremation. Some call that First War the “Bow and Arrow War,” and some of us call it the Big War. But who cares now?


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