This a picture of the Camp at Valcartier in Quebec where the First Contingent assembled in August 1914. Alec and the 2nd Brigade CFA had taken a train there on or about the 14 or 15th of August. Men had been arriving since August 8th.
The planned mobilization had been thrown out of the window by the charismatic Minister for Militia, Sam Hughes. Instead of men assembling all over Canada at the armouries and then concentrating, Hughes insisted that all men go direct to Valcartier. 600 men trains were arriving all the time and the camp was being built around the men. Within four days of the opening of the camp, nearly 6,000 men had arrived. A week later the number of personnel in the camp had swelled to 25,000 and soon after there would be 32,000 men and 8,000 horses.
Apparantly it all felt chaotic. But, on reflection, how else could Canada have formed a division and got it onto the Atlantic in such a short time?
Whilst the mills in Montreal were pumping out uniforms and factories were producing equipment, a great fleet to transport the First Contingent was being assembled in Quebec. I am amazed at the pace of how all of this came together. I cannot see us doing this now.
Meanwhile the 2nd Brigade CFA from Montreal would have been getting together with the other artillery units. There was so much to learn.
This is the gun that was at the core of their war. The 18 pounder field gun.
The 18 Pounder was a quick firing horse-drawn field gun designed to be towed behind a limber and six horses. Originally, the barrel was wire bound with nickel-steel with a single motion screw breach with a cartridge extractor. The idea of fixing both shell and cartridge together gave it the term of ‘quick firing’.
Throughout World War One, the 18 Pounder was operated by the Royal Field Artillery, and in some cases, the Royal Horse Artillery.
The gun and its two wheeled ammunition limber were towed by a team of six light draught horses. The driver of the two horse team rode the left horse of each pair. The two wheeled ammunition limber was hooked up to the horses and the trail of the gun was hooked to the limber. Overall, the total weight of the gun, limber and carriage which amassed to 2 1/2 tons was supported on four wheels!
The gun detachments all rode into action either on the horses or on the limber, which was led by the detachment sergeant on his own horse. During the early stages of the war, the ammunition limber was positioned on the left of the gun, but as the war progressed and larger quantities of ammunition were being used, stockpiles of ammunition were dumped in pits next to the guns.
And here is a short film that shows the elan of the units as they dashed around.
All this would have been quite new though in August of 1914. I am sure that they were all quite awkward. In the film we see how slick the crews became. In all the 18 pounder fired 99 million rounds by the end of the war.
I am sure that in a Camp of 30,000, men did their best to stick close to those that they knew well. I imagine that Alec and his brothers of the 2nd Brigade would have strengthened their bonds in this mad period.
Here is a list of the officers of the 2nd Brigade as they assembled in Valcatier. After the war the few survivors of the entire brigade, men and officers met for a dinner for nearly 40 years after. I have a menu of one of those dinners on the wall of my office. They remained devoted to each other for the rest of their lives.
The record of what went on now dims until they leave Valcartier at the end of September. We can only imagine order slowly emerging from chaos as 30,000 individuals sort themselves out into a Division.
But in October the entries into the War Diary begin and we have the opportunity to know in general what happens to them on every day of the war.
Meanwhile, the BEF was landing in France and was on its way to Mons in Belgium. Next week, on the 21st of August, the fighting would begin. By Christmas most of the BEF would be killed or wounded. The need for the Canadians would be desparate.