Over a million men trained on Salisbury Plain in WWI - the First Division of the CEF was the first. In the first post (Link) of this part about the CEF in England in 1914-Feb 1915, we saw the awful weather conditions. Until December most of the Canadians lived in tents and were wet the whole time.
Here is the wonderful Canon Frederick Scott - who spent the entire war at the front - with some men. In 1914, well over the age of 50, Scott enlisted to fight in World War I. He held the rank of Major and served as the Senior Chaplain to the 1st Canadian Division. After the war he became chaplain of the army and navy veterans
In this this post, I am using the War Diary of the 2nd Brigade CFA to give us a daily account of life on the soggy plain.
The first big event just after their arrival was that the entire divisin was insprected by the King on Nov 4th. This picture gives us a sense of the scale of 30,000 men.
It must have felt amazing. Alec writes about this in his letter home - "We had quite a few inspections when we first got here, one by General Alderson (The English General in charge of the Canadians) then a rehearsal and then one for the King: King Queen, Lord Roberts, Lord Kitchener...
It was clear that the British were giving the Canadians a big welcome and thank you. At the time the Canadians were the largest group of foreign troops ever to land in the UK.
There are several themes to the training for the artillery. The basics of using the weapons were important but maybe as important was the business of getting from A to B. There are many route marches that take place at night. I have trained myself on Salisbury Plain and navigating at night there is very hard. There are so few features. There are officer recces - this is where an officer, Alec did this on Nov 12 - would try out the route ahead of time and often site where the batteries would be set up. Speed of set up from the limber was another key issue. Glad to see that at 16 minutes, Alec's battery was among the best.
The weather was appalling. Somehow the men stayed fit and quite cheerful. All got leave and other things - the Canadians had the highest rate of VD infection in the entire British Army - so there was a bit of relief. But for the horses there was no escape. On Dec 9, the Brigade's horses were inspected by the chief vet. The 6th battery did best with 75% of the horses deemed fit to go to the front. Alec's the 5th Battery was 50% and the 4th only 40%. There seemed to be consequences as on Dec 12th, 2 officers of the 4th were relieved.
On Dec 26th, they got the best Christmas present possible. Billets had been found for men and horses in the villages to the north of the Plain as marked on this map. The 2nd Brigade moved into a line of villages from Market Lavington on the left via Easterton - Easkott and Urchfront. They moved in on Dec 30th. Alec and the 5th moved into local houses in Easterton.
There is a ribbon of villages that circle the plain that all run off one road. Each village has its own pub and I can only guess that each battery had its main gathering point in the pub. In Easterton, the pub is called the Royal Oak and it is said to have a miserable old ghost called the body warmer). More here on this great pub
On a larger map, the main station to London, Westbury, where my Aunt Francis was staying is a few miles away. It was about a two hour trip to London.
In the appendix below - I offer more information about the billeting.
Relief For Canadian Troops.
Several Thousands Billeted.
Several thousand members of the Canadian contingent, after enduring many weeks on Salisbury Plain of some of the roughest and wettest weather remembered at this time of the year, have now gone into billets in the towns and villages round the Plain.
As far as the Northern side is concerned, they are all artillery. Devizes is now the headquarters of the divisional artillery, and the town accommodates some 900 men and 750 horses, while other brigades, with ammunition columns and horse artillery-some 3,000 to 4,000 men, and their horses-are distributed over all the villages and hamlets on a line several miles long, from Edington on the west nearly to Upavon on the east. This has caused great pressure not only on house and cottage accommodation, but also on farm buildings, but there has been loyal cooperation between the military and civil elements, the Canadians having won many friends since their arrival. One of the buildings requisitioned is the Dauntsey Agricultural School at West Lavington, where 300 men and a dozen officers are billeted.
The brigade allotted to Devizes arrived yesterday afternoon, and both men and horses bore witness to the extraordinarily muddy conditions in the neighbourhood of the hut camps which have been referred to in special articles in The Times. There is no doubt that they have had a very trying time, but the Canadians have borne themselves all through with cheerfulness. It is understood that several cavalry regiments which have been encamped on the Devizes side of the plain have moved into billets in the Wylye Valley on the south. There are interesting statements as to the date of departure for France, but these, of course, may not be published.