Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 11, 1918 - As remembered by my Grandfather


ARMISTICE NOVEMBER 11, 1918
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.
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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
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David Lee Wetmore
1884-1975
Served with the Royal Canadian Dragoons - 1914-1919

OU FAIRE VOUS MESS’URE?
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.


TRUMPETER
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.





YOU HAVE DONE ENOUGH FOR BELGIUM
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.



DANCING IN THE STREETS
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.


EVERY DAY IS WASHDAY
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”

3 comments:

  1. This is great Rick! Question, wasn't he a little "old" to be in the military or had he served previously before the war?

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  2. Kristin... When he enlisted in Sept 1914 he was 30, when he married yr Great Grandmother in Jan 1916, he was 31 and she was 18. He left New Brunswick when he was about 18-20 and went West to Manitoba where he was a cowboy, trapper and hunting guide from about 1904-1914

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  3. Rick - I didn't know you had a bog. This is a really good blog. I enjoyed reading about your familuy.

    Lucie

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