This idyllic picture shows a Brtish soldier returning home on leave. Sadly, this happy scene was largely a myth. Even if you had a family to go to there was too much of a disconnect between what these men had experienced and their homes. We see this today as soldiers return from Afghanistan and Iraq.
This dramatic picture shows two Tommies on the retreat from Mons in the fall of 1914. There was no way that they would find a return to home as seen in the image above. They had seen and done things that would haunt them for life.
Leave and loneliness were a paradox.
Leave was what all longed for and what often upset the men the most. Leave was hard enough for those with a true home in the UK but for the Canadians, thousands of miles away from home, the issue of what to do and where to go on leave was an even more difficult situation. Julia, Lady Drummond was to make this issue of loneliness and disconnection her life's work.
The Men got 6 days leave on arrival and a ticket to go anywhere in the UK. Most chose to go to London.
This is Westbury Station - Aunt Francis lived in Westbury - most of the Canadians used this station to get to London.
In 1914, for many of the officers of the First Division, life in the UK was just like home. Julia had arrived on November 19. My Aunt Francis and her mother had arrived at about the same time. For the elite, London was a social whirl as we have seen in Alec's letter.
Assuredly Guy Drummond and other like him would have been in the arms of their family and friends
But what about the men as a whole? Whose arms would they have been in? Where did they go to?
The statistics tell us the answer to that question. The VD rates for the CEF are epic. 28.7% of the CEF got VD. This compares to 5% for the British army as a whole and the Australians at 14.5%.
Aunt Francis father Chattan slept here 30 minutes from the base.
Guy Drummond would have joined his mother at Browns Hotel.
Here is where and how many of the men on leave slept.
In piles on the station floor.
The British still had their own newspapers and easy access to parcels from home. When they went back to the front, they took part of home with them.
Most of the Canadians were cut off from their own homes. They could not get parcels easily. They could not get clean or clean clothes when they went on leave. Remember, most had not been dry for 6 weeks by Christmas 1914.
This is how men looked as they would arrive in London fresh from the front on leave. Not only do they wear the clothes that they had wore in the trenches but they carry all the lice too.
In the luxury of Browns Hotel, Julia Drummond was getting the picture. No one in the Canadian Army was thinking about this part of the men's lives. With her surviving son Guy about to leave for the front in February. She began to plan her life's work.
She was going enlist the community of Canadian women in an epic project that would ensure that no Canadian soldier was ever isolated. All would get parcels no matter what their family circumstances. All would get letters no matter what. On leave, all would have access to a change of clothes, laundry bathing, banking and good place to stay. Every wounded man would have a case worker who would ensure that they had someone with an eye on them throughout and a main contact back to Canada. Every POW would have the same kind of attention paid to him too. Every Canadian would have access to his own local newspaper even.
And all of this started in a 3 woman office on the second floor of 14 Cockspur Street in London. An address I know very well - for it was for many years the main branch of the Royal bank of Canada in London.
If you are interested - here is a link to her story
This post is part of a weekly real time history of my extended Montreal family and their experience in WWI - you can find the link to all the build up parts here.
An adjunct branch of the CRCS was also established in London, one section largely under the guidance of Lady Julia Drummond of Montreal. Socially and politically prominent, and highly influential, Lady Drummond had carefully exploited her position as the widow of one of Canada's leading financial and political figures prior to the war for the benefit of humanitarian and child-welfare projects.41 A true representative of the concept of the "maternal feminist," early in the war, Julia Drummond obtained the authority to establish an Information Bureau within the London headquarters of the CRCS.42 Initially funded from her own substantial fortune, Drummond created a system to keep families in Canada informed of the location and condition of men who were hospitalized, missing, or killed. Assisted by two women colleagues, Julia Drummond opened the Bureau in February 1915 in two borrowed rooms of the CRCS London offices. By the end of 1918, she had expanded into much larger premises to accommodate an estimated one hundred volunteers on site, and some two thousand workers in the field, more than 90% of whom were women.
As the tasks increased, the Bureau was sub-divided into departments, with an Enquiry section continuing to locate missing men, whether they were hospitalized, prisoner, or casualty of war. Bereaved families received details of the death and burial of loved ones, while every hospitalized Canadian soldier was assigned a Visitor who prepared weekly progress reports for the families and brought flowers and gifts on their behalf. The Parcels Department assembled packages of comforts and supplies for patients according to their needs, and the Newspaper Department attempted to obtain home-town newspapers for every man, no matter how small or remote the community. The Drives and Entertainment section arranged days out for ambulatory men at a country house tea, or a concert in the park, often chauffeured by the women volunteers in their own cars.43
One critical responsibility of the Information Bureau was the care of Prisoners-of-War (POWs). Under the Geneva Convention, the Canadian Red Cross was responsible for the well-being of all Canadian POWs.44Initially, regular twice-monthly food parcels, plus other necessary supplies of blankets, clothing, or tobacco were organized and dispatched directly from the Bureau office in London.45 As the scope of this responsibility increased, the POW Department became an independent body in 1916 although former Bureau staff continued to administer the programme. During 1918 alone, the POW Department dispatched some six parcels of food each month, each weighing ten pounds, to an estimated twenty-seven hundred prisoners, further arranging for regular bread rations, cigarettes, and other supplies to be dispatched separately.46
Under the strictures of war, including censorship, limited military information, and a minimal communications network, the women of the Information Bureau provided an invaluable service for hospitalized or imprisoned men and their families. Journalist Mary Macleod Moore characterized the service as the "Mothering Bureau," and her numerous wartime articles in the Canadian press reflected the maternalist ideology employed to rationalize women's enthusiastic war service, both paid and volunteer.47 Kathryn McPherson's study of the memorial erected to honour Canadian military nurses of the Great War argues that the "conventional female imagery reminded the audience of the long tradition of female nurturing that superseded the more recent challenges to gender relations."48 As the representatives of absent mothers helping to ease the pain of sons recovering, or dying, in hospitals far from home, these active and very public women patriots conformed to conventional notions of women's expected role behind the scenes.
For countless numbers of Canadian women, Red Cross war work became their primary outlet for their patriotic expression, transforming the Canadian Red Cross into a war industry as efficiently managed and operated as any munitions factory or armament manufacturer. During the war, the Nova Scotia Red Cross was established by the Local Council of Women in Halifax. It produced more than one million individual articles for military hospitals overseas.49 A model of scientific management, its work centre in the dormant Halifax Technical College produced hospital garments on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, hospital supplies on Thursdays and Fridays, and surgical dressings daily. From the $600,000 collected in fund-raising activities across Nova Scotia, $400,000 was sent on to CRCS Headquarters in Toronto.50 As McPherson argues, such public evidence of women's administrative capabilities "was legitimized by maternal and domestic signifiers" that served to define their triumphs as the natural outcome of their nurturant qualities.51 Without the dedication and organizational skills of local leaders, and the vision of women like Plumptre and Drummond, the Canadian Red Cross could never have achieved the vast programme of services and support it provided for the military medical service.