Skip to content
Who knew? In the fall of 1914, Canadians had earned a reputation as hard drinking and poorly disciplined troops. No one expected much from them. Certainly not the British. All they wanted was a sharp salute as the men did what they were told.
Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden and his Minister of Militia and Defence, Colonel Sam Hughes, had different ideas. Borden was following the events as they unfolded in Europe. He was golfing in the Muskoka’s when the crisis finally erupted. Borden had no choice but to help the Empire! When England declared war Canada was automatically at war. The country was ill prepared with a fledging navy of two obsolete warship that had spent the last several years tied to their docks and an army of 3,000 permanent troops and a militia of 46,000 men. There wasn’t much he could offer but Canada’s honour demanded that he offer something.
Hughes was eager to get his boys bloodied before the war was over. For years, he had been predicting that there would be a war with Germany. Since he became the Minister of Militia and Defence he’s been preparing the militia by building new drill halls, acquiring better weapons, and increasing the number of summer training camps. Arrogant, impatience and demanding he became a whirl of activity when war was finally declared pushing hard to get his men to England. He would do anything in his power to get the Canadians into the fight.
As the guns sounded in August, the first contingent gathered at Valcartier. Corps of Guide Captain James Llewelyn had trained for this moment and he was not about to miss out. Gunner Paul Ryan, had volunteered to escape his family and to impress a girl. Nursing Sister Samantha Lonsdale had answered the call because she needed a job and going to war was an adventure.
They had to endure exciting times at Valcartier as the base was being built around them. Also, they had to suffer shortages of all kinds such as boots, uniforms, food, water, and shelter. Don’t forget the occasional stampede from storm frighten horses. Between the constant military reviews, there was the occasional rifle and bayonet training. Then they were hurriedly embarked on a 33 ship convoy for England.
Things didn’t get any better when they arrived in Salisbury Plain. Much of their equipment was lost or damaged during transit. What they did have was condemned by the British. They had to battle the mud and rain in the wettest winter in living memory. It was tough training when the mud came up to their knees.
As the months rolled by, it was during the chaos and confusion at Valcartier and Salisbury Plain that they helped forge the Canadian Expeditionary Force into one of the most formidable weapons of the First World War.