Saturday, January 8, 2011

More War Stories from my Grandfather

My grandfather David Lee Wetmore was a Trooper with the Royal Canadian Dragoons during World War One. He wrote a number of vignettes about his experiences which I would like to share.


War is a Dirty Business
(this is a bit gruesome)

We were under orders this morning to scout forward to a small village and if we found it occupied by Allied troops, to scout ahead to make contact with the Germans, if possible.

I was riding ground scout, a hundred yards or so ahead of the Squadron looking for wire, shell holes or anything that might make trouble for the horses.

We ran into heavy machine gun fire on crossing the top of an exposed ridge and the Squadron retired under cover of a small wood.

I had located the gun on the edge of a small crescent of wood that made down toward us, and entirely on my own, decided that if I could get into that wood, and found no reinforcements there, that I could get in behind the emplacement and pull a fast one on them, depending on the element of surprise.

I found no reinforcements in the wood, came in behind the gun and, yelling like a Comanche Indian, jumped my horse into the small gun-pit, my sword swinging like a pump-handle.

A young German officer was in charge with six men as a gun crew. He was wearing a gun, but just for a second was too much surprised to think of it. Had I hesitated for a fraction of a second, he would have remembered the gun and used it. And at that range, my wife would still be waiting for me to come home.

I struck at his eyes, the feeble of my sword, honed to a razor edge, cut through both eyes and the bridge of his nose.


I don’t like to remember that I cut a man’s eyes out, but it was him or me and there’s only one rule you play by…Get the other fellow before he gets you. If nothing else, bite him to death with your teeth.

That’s the first thing they teach you in the army.

On another occasion, again doing ground scout, we ran into a small patrol.

A hundred yards ahead of the Squadron, I could see the muzzle-haze rising and it looked like a dozen rifles in the party.

On looking back, I saw the Squadron had broken for cover and I was alone, and those bees were buzzing round my head plenty.

I dropped on the mare’s neck, “Little hoss” I told her “This is no place for us”

And we got out of there and joined the Squadron, But Fast!

File0071 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Another Danny Deever*

There were a couple of clowns in “A” Squadron who were always horsing around, playing jokes on themselves and the other members of the Squadron.

One was always the fall guy, the butt of the joke, and it looked as though he had taken just about all he could stand of it.

Coming on this evening, after the other was asleep in his bunk, he walked over to the arms stand and got his rifles.

There were twenty men of us in the room, any one of which could have stopped him. But we thought he was playing a prank again and paid him no attention.

He shot his friend sleeping.

Another Danny Deever, but unlike Danny, who was hanged, he was shot, which served the purpose admirably for nobody has much sympathy for the man who will shoot another sleeping, especially a friend.

* Danny Deever is a character in a Rudyard Kipling “Barracks Ballard”. Kipling was my grandfather’s favorite author.

Note: Historical records of the Royal Canadian Dragoons state that a Trooper Alexander Butler shot to death Trooper Edward Mickleburgh on June 8, 1916. Butler was convicted of murder by Court Martial and executed by firing squad on July 2, 1916. Link…..




I was riding a little mare that had a most annoying habit of throwing up her head and many a time I have had to explain a mouse under my eye where she had almost knocked me out with the top of her head.

This day we were scouting out in front of the regiment when we ran into rifle fire.

Riding, as usual, ground scout, I was watching for shell holes, wire, etc, anything that might make trouble for the horses when up came the mare's head, just in time to take a German bullet right between the eyes, going down like a poleaxed steer, while I described a flying parabola over her head.

If she had not thrown up her head at the exact moment that she did, I would have taken that bullet right in the middle of the belt buckle.




Me That Saw Festubert* Took

It is a strange thing, but although I can remember perfectly little unrelated happenings, I have no recollections of the larger engagements we took part in or supported the units who were in action at that particular place.

Memory plays strange tricks on all of us and I think more so with the soldier, who never can be prevailed upon to relate any of the happenings that he must have seen, simply because he remembers only the small parts that happened to his own person or so close to him that he was able to see it. But the man who runs off at the mouth about his war experiences, usually didn’t have any and was probably awarded any medals he may show for turning out more loaves of bread at a base camp than any of the other bakers.

We used to say of the Military Medal that it came up with the rations and I have known a sergeant to be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for ‘saving’ his troop officer’s map-case when the detachment was not even under fire at the time.

File0088 * During the Battle of Festubert, May 1915, the RCD was dismounted (Infantry) and attached to the First Canadian Division.


A Close One

We were quartered in the outbuilding of a farm and the cook was about to call the men to their breakfast, when a German shell burst in the door of the cook shack.

I had gone to a neighboring house for a can of hot water for my morning shave, when I heard a burst, which had that crackling detonation that tells the expereineced man that the burst had been very close.

I hurried back, but everything had been taken care of by the time I got there.

Surprisingly, our only casualty was a stretcher-bearer, who had taken a small fragment in the knee. It turned septic and he died at a base hospital a few days later.

File0076  ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

You’ve Got A Clean Sword

I was in charge of a small party grazing some of the horses who were considered below par physically.

Coming in one morning we were informed by Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) that we were to be inspected by a ‘top brass’ officer in ten minutes.

We had time to do no more than brush the dust off the outride rifles, bayonets, swords, etc, which had been hanging on ports while we were not using them.

My sword was brand new, just out of Q. M. stores and after I had laid my equipment on my blanket, it gleamed like a silver ribbon. My rifle was clean on the outside, but I hate to think of the condition the bore must have been in.

Down the line came the ‘brass’, getting madder by the minute at each layout he stopped at. And his grouch was, in each case, at the condition of the swords.

Stopping at my layout he barked “How long have you been in the army?”

“Four years, sir” I answered

“Cavalry all the time?” “Yes, sir”

“Thought so” he grunted.

“You’ve got a clean sword”

I always said that sword saved my life that day.

File0075  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Man’s Right

I was on sentry duty in an approach trench one night.

We had been having considerable trouble with Germans infiltrating behind our lines and appearing dressed in Allied uniform.

Our orders were explicit, even though we believed we recognized an approaching party, allow no more than one man to approach your post to be recognized.

A party of four came single file up the communication trench. The first two I recognized as our R.S.M. and the Colonel, but in the dim light, could not identify the other two.

I challenged with the usual “Advance and be recognized.” The R.S.M., in the lead advanced, but the Colonel, following him, failed to halt, as he should have done until passed forward.

Throwing the point of my bayonet almost against his breast, I thundered “One only!”

“Wetmore, Wetmore” said the Colonel, “Surely you know your Colonel”

“I do, sir” I answered “Also, I know my orders.”

A thunderous “Haw. haw, haw” burst from the third man in the line. It was the Brigadier General.

“The man’s right, Colonel” he chuckled, “The man’s right”

Next day the R.S.M. stopped me as I was coming down the trench.

“Wetmore” he said “That did me more good than a feed of oats last night”

“But the Colonel didn’t feel so happy about it.”

File0074 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A Midnight Rendezvous

We were billeted in a small outbuilding attached to the main farm building one evening when there was a particularly liberal issue of rum passed out.

We bought a quart of milk from the farmer and the house having a conveniently provided fireplace, proceeded to hold a Kipling Night.

We hung Danny Deever, carried water to the parched infantrymen with Gunga Din and thundered into action with Snarleyow.

We whooped it up until the wee sma’hours and next morning the patron informed us that there were to be no more midnight rendezvous.

We assured him there would not be, and everyone was happy, except for a slight headache due to the imbibing of rum and hot milk.

File0087 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“My Cap Blew In Here, Sir”

We had a character in the Squadron by the name of Duff.

We had a saying in the army “Old soldier, old shit”, and if that be so, Duff, except for his age, might have landed in Britain with the legions of Julius Caesar.

I had him as a partner on stable picket one wet, windy night and he, at once proceeded to pile the bales of hay to make a snug little cave, into which he crawled and went fast asleep, leaving me to mind heel-ropes, pursue loose horses or whatever emergency might arise, alone.

When the orderly officer made his visiting rounds, Duff, hearing me talking to him, came crawling out of his cave.

“What are you doing there, Duff"?” asked the officer

“My cap blew in there, sit, and I went in after it.” he said

If nothing else, he was quick witted.

On another occasion, when my section was billeted in a small outhouse attached to the main farm house, we caught him one morning in the act of stealing a loaf of bread from our provision locker.

Now Duff had had his daily issue of bread, just as we had had ours.

When remonstrated, he said, “It’s a pretty small thing when you begrudge a comrade a piece of bread.”

He never stopped to think how equally small it was to steal a piece of bread from a comrade.

File0072 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A Badly Frightened Man

Shortly after the Armistice, we were following up the German retreat when we received word one afternoon that a German straggler was hiding in a barn a few miles away.

I was sent with a small detachment to bring him in and turn him over to the authorities.

When we reached the village, we found an excited mob of villagers milling around the door of a barn.

We went in and after a short search, found the man cowering behind stacked bales of hay at the back of the barn.

We took him out, formed a hollow square with the horses ad placed him in the middle of it. He was the most badly frightened man that I have ever seen and well he might be.

If those villagers, armed as they were, with pitchforks, axes, clubs, any weapon with which they could do damage (one woman had even brought along an iron ladle) had they ever got their hands on him, they would cheerfully have torn him limb from limb.



Comment, Mes’ure[sic]

We had moved into a small village and the troop officers were busy getting the men settled into suitable billets.

Finding a small building, which would accommodate half a dozen men, the troop officer, on examining it, found the door blocked by a cage or pen containing four rabbits.

I feared his French had been sadly neglected, for, calling the good lady of the house he asked “Voulyvous movay the bunnies”

Comment, Mes’ure” asked the good lady, her eyes round with amazement, as never in the course of her life had she heard such French spoken.

Now, my own command of the French language was nothing to stand up and cheer about, but I thought that I could do better than the troop officer had done. At least I couldn’t do worse.

Civous lais, madam, voulievou change le lapin?”

Oui mes’ure” she answered, seizing one end of the cage. “Tout suite”

I took the other end of the cage and we moved into the billet with no further incedent.

File0083   -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------



The men being all away at the front, the were obliged to perform a great portion of the work.

At the farm where we were quartered the first winter after getting our horses again, there was a farm hand extraordinary, Blondie.

She was a natural blond, with tremendous capability for performing the chores about the barn and around cattle.

In addition, there was a man whose occupation, on the passports everyone was obliged to carry, was given as ‘tramp’. But he never tramped far during the time we were there.

Blondie was as good as any man at working around the cattle and the barns, but never cared a great deal about working the horses, nor, I suppose, would the ‘patron’ have cared her to.

But when it came to milking, feeding and tending stock, Blondie was tops.

I heard a year or so afterward that she was in hospital and recovering very slowly, but I never heard what was her trouble.

File0073 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Mitigating a Nuisance

We were quartered in an old brick yard in the Somme district.

We were painting the wagons a brilliant green, as customary.

Across the street was a row of tenement houses where there were living at the time half a dozen ‘ladies’ who were known as Displaced Persons, usually referred to as DP’s.

They were continually under our feet interfering with our work, begging for rations, chocolate, etc., until they were making unmitigated pests of themselves.

This morning one of the men, something of a practical joker, tiring of the attentions of the ‘lady’ who had attached herself to him, flipped up her skirts and applied a liberal coat of green paint to the exposed portion of her anatomy, and, with textiles as merely unprocurable as they were at the time, I doubt whether the ‘lady’ was wearing much in the way of underwear.

She rushed home to clean herself. I don’t know what she used, but, if my guess is right as to where the paint was applied, I wouldn’t have recommended turpentine.

File0077   ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Picardy Cider 

Picardy was a great cider producing region and while I have heard the cider of Picardy highly spoken of, I never cared for it myself.

Each farm had its large, well tended orchard and in the spring, the blossoms, with the delicate pink and white, combined with the tender green of the leaf, made a sight worth going miles to see.

File0085 -------------------------------------------------------------------


Coming down the road through the village one morning, I met a peasant on his way to work.

Just as he reached me, he emitted a tremendous rush of wind from his bowels.

“Vous casse le que, Mess’ure?”[sic] I asked

“Non” he replied without cracking a smile and continued on his way.


Base Hospital

Shortly after leaving the village where we had spent the winter, I was taken sick with flu and was shipped to hospital.

The train on which I went down to the base on must have had a flat wheel, for never have I known such a jiggling and jolting ride.

In my condition, it did me no good and I arrived at the hospital a very sick man.

But the nurses took excellent care of me, and I continued to improve to the point where I was sent to a distribution centre, where, after a few days stay, I was put on a boat for England.

I never saw the Regiment again, nor did I shed any tears over the fact, for I was so heartily disgusted with the senseless regulations that we were obliged to live under drove me to the point where I didn’t care if I never heard the word army as long as I lived. I vowed that should war ever break out again, I would stay at home and send the boys cigarettes.

How well I kept my vow was demonstrated during World War II. I had moved to the United States during the interval and tried to bring my boys up to believe America to be a country worth fighting for, dying for, if necessary, and how well I succeeded in doing this was demonstrated when war broke out with Japan and the three boys at once joined the Marines.

But I found out that the real worry was not the boy at the front who did it, as the waiting for a letter, and the continual worrying as to whether the boys had been in any particularly tough engagement, was much worse than actually being at the front.

But all three boys came safely home.


Met My Brother

After the paymaster had attempted to pay me with my brother’s pay sheet, I knew that he must be here, as his pay sheet would never have been sent here otherwise, so I went immediately to the orderly room, where I was at once told where to find him.

I found him in a wheelchair.

Being something of an athlete, he had sprained an ankle rather badly in attempting some stunt and, as the slightest injury, now that the war was over, meant shipment across to England,and to England he was sent.

We had a very pleasant visit, but the ways of the army being what they are made no plans for the future, letting that take care of itself.

I never saw him again until after I had returned to Canada.

  File0082 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

English Hedgerows

Seeing the hedgerows of England in bloom made me wonder why I had ever thought the apple orchards of Picardy were beautiful.

Never have I seen anything to compare with the pink and white, combined with the tender green of the new leaves, and it is said that there is nothing in heaven to compare with them.

Every time I looked out the window, I thanked God that that mare had thrown up her head just when she did.

Had she not, my wife would have waited a long time for that kiss.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Primitive Christmas Ornament

I have an interesting Christmas ornament that was originally given to my Dad by his father, David Lee Wetmore when he was in the US Marines serving in the Pacific during WWII. This ornament was with my Dad throughout the War and no doubt, served as his connection to home during the many Christmases he was away.

I’m not sure if this was purchased or made by my grandfather. It is made from pipe cleaners and there are similar types that were made during the 1920’s and 1930’s. It has a hand painted face, and the face and head appear to be wood.



Monday, December 13, 2010

The Story of My Life Volume 3

The following story was written by my grandfather David Lee Wetmore. While his title indicates this is Volume 3, I do not have Volumes 1 or 2. Also, this story seems to end abruptly and I’m not sure if he just ended it or the final pages are lost. Even so, it is still an interesting look into his life at the a time when World War One broke out and he transitioned form civilian life to military life.


The Story of My Life Volume 3 - David Lee Wetmore

I was born in a small village on the banks of the Kennebecasis River on the twelfth of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty four, in the reign of our good Queen Victoria.

In the summer of 1914 my plans for the super hunting camp in the Riding Mountains was rudely interrupted when all hell erupted in Europe.

We were putting up hay on the meadows fringing the lake on the shores of which I had planned to build the camp.

Arnold, the hunter of the party, was playing around with a moose call that he had made from a piece of rolled birch bark, and every evening would go into the willows at the margin of the lake, grunting and coaxing, but as far as a cow moose was concerned, he might as well have been blowing on a tin whistle.

But I, believing that I would soon be host to a party of sports, thought that it behooved me to learn everything I could about the business of seducing the coy bulls to my call.

I used to go along after him, and watch intently as he did his best to imitate the call of the cow moose, who knew that the long, cold winter was approaching, that she had not found a boy friend, and that it was definitely up to her to do something about it.

On my last day at the camp, I, as unqualified cook for the party, had gone into camp early to get dinner started for the men.

Tearing the paper from a loaf of bread, I saw the scare headlines plastered across the head of the paper. England declares war on Germany. I looked at the date, August 15th, 1914. When the men came in to dinner, I told them of my decision.

Arnold was inclined to 'pooh-pooh’ the entire matter. “It would be foolish”, he declared, “as we would never leave Canada”. I would be much better off to stay where I was assured of steady work for the balance of the summer.

But I couldn't agree with him, and stuck to my decision.

After dinner and the dishes washed, I packed what stuff I had with me and started out the trail to town.

Halfway in, I met the boss, Billy coming into camp with a load of supplies. “Where are you going”, he demanded, pulling up his team. "I'm on my way to Berlin" I answered. Like Arnold, he was sure that I was making a mistake. No troops would ever leave Canada. I would be much better off to stay where I was.

He gave me quite an argument, but I stuck with my guns, and finally, he said "Well, if you’re determined to go, wait till I go out tonight and I'll drive you into town."

This I did, contacted my C.O. and found that he had had his orders to recruit for overseas duty.

Wearing two stripes with the local militia regiment, the 32nd Manitoba Horse, I believed it my duty to set an example for the others to follow, and be one of the first to volunteer.

For a few weeks we hung round marking time. We used to swagger up and down the streets of the little town in the evenings, spurs jingling, slapping our gaiters with our riding whips, believing that we were God's own gift to the ladies.

And the ladies, the glamour of our uniform already in their eyes, were inclined to believe us and many a budding romance was begun in those days.

The fact that most of them finished later with a Dear John letter made no difference to us at the time. We were IT in capital letters, and had a big edge on the local swains.

Finally one day, we had "been alerted for a march to lake Dauphin, to make an overnight camp, and we were about half way there when a car came tearing up the road behind us. Our orders for entrainment had arrived. Cars were on the way, and we were hauled back to town, where feverish preparations were soon under way for our leaving.

A big rally was held in the Town Hall that night, when we were extolled as the super heroes of the century, flattering speeches were made by the Town fathers and the local clergymen, and the local Red Cross presented us with the tradition Bible supposed to be carried by every serviceman.

Early next morning, we were sent off with a tremendous ovation from the citizens and a 'Hip-hip-hurray' from an engineer, who 'played with his whistle’. That is the first time I ever heard a cheer sounded from a locomotive whistle, but we took it as a compliment, as it was intended.

We spent the night in a school auditorium in Brandon, Manitoba, then in the morning, entrained again for our last leg of the trip to Camp Valcartier.

During the afternoon we stopped at a small tank town for water. Directly across the street was a bake shop, which soon was jammed to the rafters with soldiers. We were carrying the 'unexploded portion’ of our day’s rations, but show me the soldier who wouldn't seize the opportunity to eke these out with civilian fare, and I'll show you the soldier who isn't worth the powder to blow him to hell.

I had fought my way through the mad crush, made my purchases and returned to the car. I was sitting at the window, when a man I had never seen in my life before came walking down the platform. "Corporal” he asked "Have you lost your wallet”? “Isn’t this yours” he asked, holding up my wallet. "Not to my knowledge" I answered, “but that does look like my wallet." "You dropped it in the bakeshop” he answered.

Our breeches were very tight-fitting and it was only with great difficulty that we could get our hand into our pocket. "Never mind" he said "A soldier never has anything to carry in his pocket anyway". I had apparently believed that I had put the wallet in my pocket, but in the crush I must have slipped it down the outside of my breeches. We had just been paid the day before and all my worldly wealth, between fifty and sixty dollars was in that wallet.

I tried to force five dollars on him, but he walked away, refusing to take anything. There are a few honest men left in this world.

When the train pulled out, our Regimental Sergeant Major (R.S.M.) was not on hand, for some reason, and we pulled out without him.

He hired a taxi and followed after, frequently passing us, then falling behind again, overtaking us as we 'nipped against an up-grade’, waving his hat at us as we went by. He was at the platform when we stopped again for water and took his place aboard.

We arrived at Camp Valcartier late in the afternoon and here we stayed for a few days waiting to be classified and assigned to one of the units waiting for shipment overseas.

Almost to a man, we joined the Royal Canadian Dragoons. We fancied the "spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle".

And then began what to us seemed a useless and derogatory period of training.

Almost to a man, we were experienced and efficient horseman, but the R.S.M. refused to take anyone’s word for that.

Each of us had to undergo an intensive period of training, had to prove himself complete master of his mount under all circumstances. Woe betides the unlucky wight who bobbled, or allowed his horse to bobble a command. I have heard a Nova Scotia mate blister the barnacles off the schooner's bottom, but never in my life have I heard any man with so complete a vocabulary of the English language as a cavalry Regimental Sergeant Major.

I was fortunate to be assigned an old trained horse. He was the answer to a cavalryman's dream. That little beggar knew the drill far better than I did, and it was never necessary for me to touch a rein. He would watch for the troop officers signal, and was executing the movement before the other man of the squadron knew what it was all about.

It was soon seen that I was not in need of the intensive training being given the other men. I was taken out of the troop and assigned to permanent stables, a punishment, as a rule, reserved for any of the men who were slack in taking care of them­selves, their horses or their equipment.

It was a piece of cake. An hour’s work after the troop had left for maneuvers and we could sit in the sun, smoke our cigarettes, or yarn until the troop returned and we were turned-to for noon stables.

Only on regimental parades, which were few and far between here, was I asked to ride.

I remember one day when we were being reviewed by the C.O. of the camp. We were coining past the reviewing stand at the trot, with drawn swords when we got the order, "Return Swords"

Now, at the trot, the mouth of the scabbard is bouncing round like a moored dory in a gale and sometimes it takes some trouble before you catch the tip of the sword in the mouth of the scabbard.

After a few tries, I got the tip entered, and we waited for the troop sergeants tossed shoulder which would signify that everything was in readiness to complete the movement.

But one man was having trouble. He poked and punched to no avail. He just couldn't find the hole. The Colonel, a little peeved that the entire regiment had completed the move, let a roar. "Put it in! Put it in!” “If there was a little hair round that hole you'd put it in fast enough”.

“Yes sir” answered the man, “But I wouldn't be putting it in at the trot”.

A motion picture operator moved into camp and set up a marquee. Each night he promised a chance of program and seats and each night the same picture and no seat. But he promised us that tomorrow the shortage would be rectified.

This night, after he had given his usual spiel, somebody tossed a lighted match into the barrel of used film. The celluloid film took fire with a 'Whoosh', the fire quickly spread to the tent walls.

With one accord each man drew his knife and went out through the nearest part of the tent wall. In ten minutes all that was left of that motion picture tent was a charred area on the ground and a few smoldering rags of canvas.

We were kept at the interminable drilling until we were afraid that war would be over before we got there. But one night we got the joyful news that we were to embark the following day.

We rode to Quebec early next morning where we found the luxury liner "Laurentic” of the White Star Line waiting for us.

The horses were loaded aboard a freighter and we began the process of loading our gear.

It seemed that bad luck was to be my portion that day. As one of the loads were going aboard and we watched from the dock, an end sling let go, dumping several of the kit bags into the river. It developed later that one of them was mine.

We settled quite easily into life aboard, about the only happening out of the way occurred as the supper gong was rung the first night.

"First troop to the dining salon” called the troop sergeant, which call was willingly obeyed. But when we got there, we found the first troop of B Squadron already there and seated.

A little argument developed between the two troop sergeants, each insisting that he was right, until our sergeant major appeared in the companionway.

"Are we right, or wrong, Sergeant major" I asked "Wrong to hell" he responded "That's good enough for me," I said and at once went back on deck, where we waited until our turn at the tables.

Naturally, our drilling was curtailed to the very rudiments. About the only thing there was to do was running round the deck, led by a troop officer, and calisthenics, which we called “physical jerks ".

These physical jerks gave rise to a rather amusing incident later. A young troop officer took the calisthenics one morning.

We started the jerks from a sitting position, squatted on our heels.

Not being to find an order in the Manual of Arms suitable to the occasion, he sang out "Squatting position——— TAKE" in his best drill field voice. We ‘took’ but it was plainly evident that something was radically wrong.

Ever afterward, when we were paraded for calisthenics, someone was sure to shout from the rear, “Squatting position——— TAKE" which was always good for a hearty laugh.

Off Newfoundland we were joined "by the Newfoundland contingent, in the old 'Florizel' a lumbering old freighter, capable of no more than a top speed of eight knots.

As there had been persistent rumors of submarines in the Atlantic, we slowed the entire fleet down to accommodate her. We were not about to see one lone sheep of the flock pulled down by these Atlantic wolves. But we encountered no subs during the entire voyage.

Time dragged slowly. We ran concerts in the evenings in the dining salon, mature boxing contests etc. and it was in connection with these that I gave the entire regiment a hearty laugh.

I was scheduled to go on following the main event, but the main event ended very abruptly, when the referee stopped the bout in the second round. We were sent for in a hurry, and when called to the centre of the ring for our instructions, and I tossed my bathrobe to my second, a roar of laughter almost took the deck off the cabin.

In my haste, I had forgotten to put my shorts on, and stood there with nothing but a jock-strap.

But “be the day weary or be the day long, at last it ringeth to evensong"

After a trip that even Columbus would have struggled to avoid, we sighted the 'white cliffs of Dover’.

We landed at Plymouth and disembarked our horses, and gear. We led our horses through a long night march to camp on the West Down South on Salisbury Plains put them on picket line and settled into camp.

It took us a little while to get ad­justed to our new surroundings, both man and beast. My little No.13 tried to take a bite from a furze bush. Seeing this nice green bush at a convenient distance, he reached out for a mouthful. If there is anything more prickly that a furze bush, I don't know what it is. He never repeated the mistake

A flight of birds that I took to be crows flew overhead. “What manner of crows are these” I asked “That chirp like blackbirds”? A Wiltshire man, riding next to me laughed “Those” he said “are rooks”.

We had returned from maneuvers, one cold wet morning, when a man with notebook and pencil came strolling down the horse lines. Taking him to be a reporter from a local paper, we paid little attention to him, but next morning in a London paper, there was an article that unmistakably described what had taken place the day before, when the article appeared that had been written from the notes made by the ‘local reporter’

“It is not a contingent that Canada has sent” read the article “It is an army, fully equipped, even to their own artillery, fully trained and ready to take the field”. It was signed by Rudyard Kipling.

The immortal Rudyard Kipling, creator of Gunga Din, Danny Deever and the inimitable Soldiers Three, Otheris, Learoyd and Mulvany.

Had I known who he was, I would have broken an arm to have shaken his hand. Many a pleasant hour I have spent poring over his Barrack Room Bal­lads, etc., but I let the chance slip because I didn't recognize him.

The weather, if possible, got worse. One morning, with a cold North east wind driving a sleety rain before it, the horses refused to go on watering parade. Something must be done and that without delay.

In the afternoon, we moved, bag and baggage into the neighboring town of Tillshead, where the horses were quartered in barns, sheds or what have you, being, at the worst, a vast improvement over the lines on the plains.

The local scavenger hunters must have had a field day with the kerosene stoves that we left in the standing tents, but we were glad enough to get out of the horrible Plains so that caused us no concern.

We were reviewed by the King and Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Queen-mother Alexandra.

Riding, as I was, in the front rank, they passed close enough to me that I could have spit on their boots, had I so desired. They looked like ordinary people to me and the glamour of royalty never registered.

I got a much greater thrill from the day we were reviewed by old Lord Roberts, The immortal hero of the Indian campaign. The man who wrapped India in a gunny sack and presented it to Queen Victoria as a birthday present. Bobs, of Kandahar.

Here was a man who was not born to the high rank he held. Here was a man who had won his spurs by the toil of his own hands and the brains in his own head. I paid him far greater homage than royalty ever stirred in my breast.

It was only a short time before he died. He reviewed the Canadians from the back seat of a limousine on his knees on the cushions, looking for all the world like a wire-haired terrier, looking out the window.

Bobs, who would infinitely have preferred to have reviewed us from the saddle of the tallest, roughest horse they could have found for him.

"If he bucks, or kicks, or rears, he can sit for twenty years, with a smile round both his ears, can't you, Bobs".

A small statured man, he always tried to compensate by riding the tallest horse that could be found for him. There, my friends, was a MAN.

The men, amorous as ever, found the women of the village pleasant dallying, and the women ,with the glamour of the uniform in their eyes, were nothing loath to accommodate them.

This led to several faux pas when the aggrieved husband complained to the orderly room that the men were trying to “get I drunk and take advantage of she” but things went along fairly quietly.

The main business of the village was pastoral, and the wide grazing afforded by the plains was admirably suited for the raising of sheep.

I talked to one old codger who claimed to be eighty three years of age and had never done anything all his life but take the sheep out in the morning and bring them in at night. He had heard the whistle of the train, he said, but had never seen one.

Day followed day in sleepy leisure. The boys went to the local pubs at night and had their few pints of locally brewed ale, but nobody stepped out of line.

Those who were so inclined pursued their amorous affairs without causing a scandal, and we were beginning to think that we had been forgotten by the top brass.

So much time elapsed with nothing happening that we began to feel the British Army had forgotten about us.

A story began to circulate through the squadron concerning a regiment who had been billeted in a small English village and forgotten.

A 'top brass’ brigadier, riding through the village one morning, was struck by the ragged and dilapidated uniform worn by a captain coming down the street. Seeing the brass, the captain snapped to salute. "What's your regiment" demanded the Brigadier. "I have the honor, sir" replied the

Captain "to command a company of the Hundred and Twentieth Lancaster Fusiliers"

"The hundred and twentieth Lanks" mused the brigadier “I was under the impression that they had been disbanded following the Crimean War"

“Oh, no, sir” said the captain “We are still very much operative"

"Will you parade your company, said the Brigadier" I would very much like to look them over"

It will take a little time, sir" said the captain. Turning to the houses, he roared "Trumpeter". A bent old man with a white beard to his waist hobbled out of the cottage, leaning heavily on a cane. He raised the trumpet to his lips, and the golden, mellow notes floated out across the fields. A call that was entirely strange to the ears of the brigadier.

"Would you mind telling me what that call was" he demanded, “I don’t seem to recognize it”. “That sir” replied the captain “was Reapers in”.

The men, forgotten and long unpaid, had been obliged to take work with the local farmers in order to obtain the few pennies for their pint of ale at the local pub.

We were moved to Maresfield Park in Sussex where we were quartered in barracks and the horses in stables. The English spring moved into early summer and still we were held at the interminable grind of the drilling.

But then came the welcome news that we finally were being shipped to France. But with the good news came a little bad news as well. We were to go across dismounted as reinforcements for the First Canadian Division, who had been badly decimated at the Second Battle of Ypres. Now a cavalryman without his horse is a more disconsolate being than a captain on the beach without a ship.

But, there’s not to make reply! So we adjusted our shoulders to the detested infantryman’s pack and prepared to entrain for the seaport where we would embark. After a night train ride, we reached the port of Southampton and were loaded aboard ship.

The trip across the channel passed without incident and we offloaded at Le Harve. France at long last!

A great many of our men were French Canadian and these believed that they would have a tremendous edge over us in the matter of language, but they found themselves no more able to talk to the natives than we were. The Canadian French is a guttural patois, largely sprinkled with words and phrases that have crept in from Indian language and is no more French than our English was.

As a matter of fact, English was taught in the schools and the younger folks could speak English as well as we could.

Our trumpeter, going out to sound reveille in the morning, met a very attractive girl walking down the road. He was about to greet her with the customary “Bon jour man’zelle [sic]” when she greeted him, “Good morning, trumpeter”.

And some of the boys were not so fortunate in the way of making conversation. Thinking himself perfectly safe believing the girl to speak no English, a fresh young squirt walked into a cafe one evening, walked to the bar, behind which a very attractive young lady was operating the levers.

Prefacing his remark with a crackling oath, he told her, in no uncertain language what he would like to do to her. Much to his surprise, and his embarrassment, she replied, in perfect English, “Yes, there are a great many who would like to do that”.

It never happened to me as the story is told, of the poor guy who couldn’t make the madam understand that he wanted an egg, but for a long time, if I wanted an egg, I had to draw a picture of a hen with the egg in the nest, and an arrow pointing to indicate that it was the egg that I wanted, not the hen. But it was not long before I learned enough of the language to get along fairly well.

Up and down the cobbled roads of Flanders we marched. We were reminded of the five hundred men of the King of France, who marched up the hill only to march down again.

We moved mostly at night and every night we would be fallen in full kit, we would express the fervent hope that this was it. Anything would be better than this continual marching through the long, dark nights only to end in another billet so like the last that it might have been cast in the same mould.

Very early in the War, none of the flyer’s were equipped with parachutes. A German pilot was in a dogfight with an Allied pilot over the town of Ypres. His plane was hit and as they always do, started to fall, nose first. Gasoline, running over the hot engine, set fire, and the pilot, rather than stay in his plane and burn to death, jumped from twenty two hundred feet with no parachute.

I have always thought that the nerviest thing that I have ever seen done.

But finally we made the trip that ended all our trips, landing us in the trenches in front of Messines Ridge.

As usual the Germans were entrenched on the high land at the top of the ridge, where the town of Messines is located and could look down on the Allied trenches on the low land, giving them always a tremendous advantage over us.

We made several attempts that summer to dislodge the Germans from the town, but they all ended in failure.

A line of trees ran out from the German lines toward ours, and the Germans had dug a trench behind these so a man could approach in perfect safety to within fifty yards of our lines.

Here a German sniper had taken his post and proved somewhat of a nuisance to us. We called for artillery fire on the post, and it was reduced to a heap of rubble.

Half an hour after the shelling stopped, the sniper was again in the post and from our trench we saw he was replacing the bricks that had been knocked down by the shelling. Some of our marksmen tried rifle fire, but he simply got out of sight and waited ‘till the firing had stopped, then went calmly on with his job of replacing the bricks.

Finally we called on the Royal Engineers. They sapped under the ridge, placed a huge quantity of TNT under the ridge and blew it completely off the map.

Shortly after this we were moved to the Somme front, where we continued to go in and out of the trenches at regular intervals.

It was here that the Germans captured a set of my false teeth. I had had a full set of uppers and lowers made, but had not got enough used to them yet to keep them in my mouth as night with a degree of comfort.

It was cold and wet and the trenches were ankle deep in mud. Coming off sentry duty one night I lay down in my bunk and pulled my cloak over my blanket for extra covering. My teeth were annoying me, so I took them out and put them, as I supposed, in the pocket of my great coat. Next morning there were no teeth in the pocket.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

David Lee Wetmore - Bio

My grandfather David Lee Wetmore was born 12 September 1884 in Clifton Royal, Kings County, New Brunswick, Canada. He was the middle child of the seven children of Howard Douglas Wetmore and Clara Frost. His father Howard Douglas was a prominent farmer in the Kennebecasis Valley, the grandson and great grandson of United Empire Loyalists’ Judge David Brown Wetmore and James Wetmore both from Rye, NY. Dave’s mother Clara, a teacher, was the great grand daughter of prominent Loyalists William Frost and Sarah Scofield. Thousands of United Empire Loyalists evacuated the United States and emigrated to Canada at the close of the Revolutionary War in 1783.

A simple entry in Howard’s farm diary announced the birth of David… “Fri 12  Fine (weather). Working in raspberries. Our boy David Lee born this evening”.


Circa 1886….Early picture of David Lee (foreground seated) with his brother Lewis on the right and his sisters Elsie and Annie in the rear.

Dave’s siblings included his two older sisters Elsie and Annie, older brother Lewis and three younger brothers Howard, Harold and Herbert. There is little known about his childhood, but when he was 13, his brother Lewis was found dead in the fields, it was believed he was kicked by a horse he was leading.

It is not clear whether Dave finished high school, but upon the death of his father in 1905, his mother sold the farm and moved with the children to St John, NB. It is around this time Dave, age 20, moved out west to Manitoba and took on a rugged life as a trapper, cowboy and hunting guide.

Young David Lee Wetmore

Picture of David Lee Wetmore circa 1905

In August of 1914 he had plans to build a hunting camp in the Riding Mountains near Lake Dauphin, when World War One broke out. He was in a local militia and volunteered for service overseas. He and many other militia members headed back East to the big military base at Valcartier Quebec where he signed on with the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCD) on 22 Sep 1914. At Valcartier, the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force (CEF) was being mobilized and trained for combat service in Europe. On Oct 1914 the CEF departed for England in a large convoy and Dave was embarked on the Laurentic a White Star Line passenger liner converted to troopship.

Upon arrival in England the RCD went to the British Army base at Salisbury Plain for more intensive training. Dave recounts in one of his writings that the regiment was reviewed by King George V who passed so close “I could have spit on his boots”. He also talks of visits by one of his military heroes, Field Marshall Frederick Roberts “Bobs of Kandahar” and his favorite writer Rudyard Kipling.

DLW in dress uniform WWI
David Lee Wetmore RCD WWI
DLW with friends RCD WWI
David Lee Wetmore, pictures from England – Circa 1914-15
Top--- Formal pose in dress uniform with riding crop
Middle – Dismounted with his horse
Bottom – with buddies… he is on the right seated on the wall

Dave was with the RCD for most of the Regiment’s combat actions and subsequent occupation in France and Belgium from 1915 to 1919, but the most significant life event was meeting his future wife Hilda Annie Case (she went by Annie or Nancy) while on leave in Nottinghamshire in 1915. They married 23 Jan 1916 in her hometown of Selston, Nottinghamshire, England at St. Helen’s church, a small 11th Century Norman church. She was a young bride at 18 and he was 31. The marriage was witnessed by her brother Robert and sister Sarah (Sally), she is the daughter of William Case, coal miner and Caroline (Pearce) Case.

Copy of David Lee and Hilda newlyweds
Dave and Nancy 1916

Hilda in England
Hilda Annie Case “Nancy”

Church in Notts Eng David and Hilda wedding 1916 - St Helen’s Church, Selston
Dave and Nancy married 23 Jan 1916

Copy-DSC_0015copy-DSC_0006 St Helen’s Church… our vacation 2005
2nd cousin Heather Marriott, her mother Margaret Newstead (Sally’s daughter) and my wife Kathie

1917.HaroldWetmoreCard&PhotCopy of DSC_0016a

  Top.. 1917.. Nancy and Sally, Case cottage on Church Lane, Selston
Bottom….. 2005…. Cottage on Church Lane

Dave survived the Great War without injury, but in early 1919 he was hospitalized with the Flu and while at the Army hospital in England he met his younger brother Harold, who he hadn’t seen since 1905.

Sometime in mid-1919 he returned to Canada with his war bride and was discharged from the service at Valcartier on 9 Aug 1919. He returned to Bloomfield, Kings County, New Brunswick where he took up residence with extended family helping run a farm. Dave and Nancy started a family there with son Robert Vaughn (Bob), born 5 Jul 1920 followed by Gordon William (my dad), born 9 Oct 1922, then Colby Smith on 7 Jul 1926.

DLW GWW HCW RSW Bloomfield NB 1923 1923… Bloomfield New Brunswick
Dave with baby Gordon, Nancy with Bob

DLW fishing on Kennebicasis
Circa 1923…. Dave fishing on the Kennebecasis River

DLW on Smoke
Circa 1923… Dave sailing on the Kennebecasis River

In the mid-1920’s Dave took a job as a carpenter with the Boston & Maine Railroad in the USA where he would travel with construction gangs building bridges and other structures along the rail lines in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. It was at this time he decided to move his family to the States and in 1928 they rented a flat in a two family house at 35 Chase St., Methuen, Mass which was on the Lawrence/Methuen line adjacent to the Arlington Mills (now Malden Mills).

35 Chase St 1928 DLW HCW CSW RSW GWW
1928… Chase St, Methuen Mass
Nancy with baby Colby, Dave, Gordon and Bob

35ChaseSt Circa 1928..Wetmore’s on front stoop, 35 Chase St Methuen, Mass

The family grew in Methuen with their only daughter Anne Caroline, born 9 Feb 1929 and the youngest, David Case, born  17 Jun 1930. In 1929 Dave and Nancy purchased a home on 20 Railroad St, Methuen (Shadylawn) and they would struggle to make ends meet throughout the Great Depression. My dad spent 1937-38 school year in Bloomfield Canada working on a family farm for room and board, which meant one less mouth to feed in Methuen.

During this time Dave began writing, he published a monthly family newsletter, using an old Underwood typewriter with multiple carbon paper  copies, sending copies to family in Canada and England.  When his three oldest son’s Bob, Gordon and Colby entered the USMC in World War 2, the newsletter took on more importance by bringing the family news to his sons in the far reaches of the Pacific theater.

HCW 1942-43 2 blue stars-1
Circa 1943…. Nancy with Blue Star flag (Bob and Gordon serving in Marine Corps)

In the summer of 1946 Dave’s wife Nancy died of cancer. Now retired from the railroad, he re-married to Annie Shepard. In his retirement he continued writing short stories about his life and experiences, adding sketches (watercolor and pencil) to his works. He also enjoyed reading, with Rudyard Kipling being his favorite author and another was Kenneth Roberts (Northwest Passage, Arundel, Boon Island, Rabble in Arms).

HCW Spring 1946-1 Spring 1946 … Nancy, suffering from cancer months before her death

Dave was also a very talented woodworker. His handiwork included decorative garden windmills and whirligigs, log cabin style Nativity stable with straw thatched roof, and detailed sailing ship models. He also enjoyed fishing with nearby Cobbetts Pond a favorite spot.

DLW building Bluenose Circa 1954… Dave’s handiwork

DLW handiwork More of Dave’s handiwork

DLW Corbetts Pond Jul 1952 Circa 1952… Dave fishing at Cobbetts Pond, Windham, NH

Grampy Master boatbuilder and Nanny Wetmore Circa 1960…Dave at work on boat model, Annie enjoying the sun

In 1955 Dave’s sister-in-law Sally (Nancy’s sister) and her husband Charlie visited from England and Dave was able to introduce them to the US family and they also travelled to Canada to visit the extended family there. This was the first time Sally and Dave were together since the end of WW1.

1955.Print.Sally and Charlie visit 1955… Visit by Sally (Dave’s sister-in-law) and Charlie Oscroft from England, Dave and Annie
Wetmore family sword on the table

Dave and Annie sold the house (Shadylawn) in 1959 and moved into elderly housing in Methuen. Dave was able to continue his writing and woodworking, although he had limited workshop facilities. As their health deteriorated, they needed additional care that was not available at the elderly housing, so they had to enter Hillside Manor nursing home (Methuen). Dave could not bring his tools, so his woodworking was no longer possible and it really upset him. He did continue writing and the following captures his feelings at that time:

He’ll Nevermore Be Fit For The Sea

In my day, I was quite a man and feared nothing that walked, swam or flew, but the time came, as it eventually must come to us all, when “the bullets and the gout have knocked his hull about that he’ll nevermore be fit for the sea”.

I was fuddle-footed. I must see what lay on the other side of the mountain.

I shouldered my bundle and set off on the long, long trail.

Since then I have walked many trails, have sat by many campfires, have told and listened to many tales, but after all is said and done, the only thing that I found on the other side of them mountains was Hillside Manor, where I sit contentedly in the sun today.

My rifle rusts in the grass beside me and my traps are broken. My boats are stove in, and my ponies are dead.

And the only thing I found on the other side of the mountain, after a long, long trail is an undertaker, waiting beside a coffin that is just my size.

Annie passed away 24 Jan 1971. Dave remained in the nursing home and it was fortunate for me that he was able to attend my wedding in June 1971.

Grampy Wetmore Rick and Kathies wedding June 19, 1971… My grandfather at our wedding

Five days after his 91st birthday, on 17 Sep 1975, David Lee Wetmore passed away. My grandfather was an incredible man. While lacking formal or advanced education, he had wisdom and knowledge that can only come from extraordinary life experiences. I am fortunate to have his written stories and by sharing these he lives on. In closing, it is best to sum up Dave’s life in his own words……….

When the tale of my life shall come to be told

This shall be said of my earthly span

He has cracked his bottle and spent his gold

Kissed his woman and killed his man” 

2002 Wetmore grave Walnut Grove Methuen Ma-2 David Lee Wetmore and Hilda Annie Case
Walnut Grove Cemetery Methuen, Mass
About 1/4 mile from Shadylawn

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 11, 1918 - As remembered by my Grandfather

The following stories were written by my Grandfather, David Lee Wetmore who served in the Royal Canadian Dragoons cavalry regiment during World War One. He enlisted in Canada at war’s outbreak in August 1914 and served in France and Belgium fighting in the battles that included Somme, Ypres, and Cambria. He returned to Canada in 1919 with his war bride (my Grandmother) he met in England. The stories that follow were from typewritten pages, illustrated with his hand drawn sketches. He wrote these (and many more) during the 1940’s and 1950’s from his recollections. While these stories were not dated, they are obviously written about the events surrounding the Armistice while he was in an un-named Belgian village. The French phrases in each story are my grandfather's attempt at French.

I was fortunate to find the daily war diaries of the Royal Canadian Dragoons on the Library and Archives of Canada website and can now provide the historical context of my grandfather's stories. From these diaries, here is the timeline of the days leading up to 11 November 1918.
Nov 7.... Left Baralle (France) at 07:30 arrived at Cuincy (France) at 13:00 very dull day - men billeted in ruins of village - horse in open

Nov 8-9.... Left Cuincy at 06:00 arrived Martinsart (Belgium) 10:00 - men in buildings and horses in open

Nov 10.... Left Martinsart at 09:30 arrived at Peronnes (Belgium) at 20:00 - Belgians very pleased to see us

Nov 11... Left Peronnes at 08:00 - "A" Squadron left Flank Guard to the Division - Regiment leading with ??? - Brigade halted at Tourpes (Belgium) at 10:40 - Cease Fire sounded at 11:00 - Everyone overjoyed but rather sorry not to be actually in touch with the Bosche at the time - returned Westward and spent the night at Haut-Trieux

David Lee Wetmore
Served with the Royal Canadian Dragoons - 1914-1919

We were following up the German retreat. The vaunted power of the Kaiser's army was badly diminished, and a corporal and four men had been known to bring in a whole regiment of German prisoners.
An old soldier by this time, I knew enough to carry an extra blanket rolled in my greatcoat, as the army's slogan “one man, one blanket” was proving badly inadequate these chilly nights.
My right hand mate had crawled under the blankets with me and we had spent the night fairly comfortably getting under way again with the dawn in the morning.
But as we began to pass through the villages, more and more we were asked the question “Ou Faire vous Mes'sure. Le guerre finis".
About noon we were off saddled in a field while the officers attended a ‘pow-wow’.
Idly we lay around, caught up on our sleep or played cards, expecting any moment to get the order to saddle up and move.
After having been asked the question several times that morning, the liaison officer passes us and I asked him whether he had heard anything of what the villagers were talking about.
He replied that there was a rumor to that effect, but that it was, as yet, unconfirmed.

We were sitting around waiting for orders when the Colonel came rushing out of a gang of officers who had been ‘pow-wowing’ all the time we were in there, at a telephone station, roaring for a trumpeter.
Thinking that we were about to move out we all started scrambling around for our gear, when the trumpeter instead of the ‘Boots and saddles’ that we had expected, sounded ‘Cease fire’.
We were all so fed up and disgusted that for a moment, nothing happened.
Le guerre, indeed, was finis.
But just for the moment, it didn’t register, there was no outbreak of cheering, no demonstration of any sort.
We were just so eternally disgusted with everything that nothing mattered any more.

Not so, however the Belgians.
When we stabled the horses that night the civilians came rushing into the stables.
They would not allow us to do anything.
“You have done enough for Belgium” they said “Belgium now does for you”.
They seized the brushes, pails or whatever we might have in our hands as we were doing the necessary work of seeing our mounts taken care of, out of our hands.
“Merci Dieu vive le Canadien” they said, and we were forced, much to the sergeant’s disgust to stand with our hands in our pockets while the civvies took care of our horses.

There was dancing in the streets of the Belgian village THAT night.
We had scarcely eaten our supper when the local beauties, arrayed in their best, dragged us out “Allez: Allez le dance” they said.
And we danced in the streets, where huge blazing fires had been lighted, until early dawn.
Even the good priest had attended, though I don’t remember that he danced.
We could scarcely find it in our hearts to blame them. They had had their faces ground into the dirt by the arrogant German Soldiers for too many years now to let anything interfere with their pleasure. And they were a pleasure-loving people.
All night long, as we danced to the music of a local fiddler, doing his best, the village rang with cries of the villagers “Vive le Canadien” “Merci Dieu”.
With a girl on each arm, dressed in the finest she had, we kept the celebration going until early morning, nor were the girls loath to stay as long as we would.

The Belgian villagers just couldn’t do enough for us.
Having a small washing I wanted done one morning, I approached the good lacy of the house asking if I could get it done.
“Oui, Mess’ure: she responded cheerfully.
“Wen can I get it?” I asked
“Tonight, mess’ure” she answered
“But” I said “This is not washday”
“Every day is washday, mess’ure” she said “If you have washing to be done”