One of the WWI research sources I found, courtesy of Project Gutenberg, is Frederick George Scott’s account of WWI. Scott was senior chaplain for the 1st Canadian Division and his book is full of memorable chapters, poignant stories and personal observations of that war.
When war began, he was attached to the 14th battalion with the rank of Major. He was well over 50 years and had never been to war before. The Great War as I Saw it spans the entire war, although the chapter that interested me most was Scott’s recounting of Vimy Ridge.
Here’s the opening paragraph from Chapter 1, How I Got Into the War:
It happened on this wise. It was on the evening of the 31st of July, 1914, that I went down to a newspaper office in Quebec to stand amid the crowd and watch the bulletins which were posted up every now and then, and to hear the news of the war. One after another the reports were given, and at last there flashed upon the board the words, “General Hughes offers a force of twenty thousand men to England in case war is declared against Germany.” I turned to a friend and said, “That means that I have got to go to the war.” Cold shivers went up and down my spine as I thought of it, and my friend replied, “Of course it does not mean that you should go. You have a parish and duties at home.” I said, “No. I am a Chaplain of the 8th Royal Rifles. I must volunteer, and if I am accepted, I will go.” It was a queer sensation, because I had never been to war before and I did not know how I should be able to stand the shell fire. I had read in books of people whose minds were keen and brave, but whose hind legs persisted in running away under the sound of guns. Now I knew that an ordinary officer on running away under fire would get the sympathy of a large number of people, who would say, “The poor fellow has got shell shock,” and they would make allowance for him. But if a chaplain ran away, about six hundred men would say at once, “We have no more use for religion.” So it was with very mingled feelings that I contemplated an expedition to the battle-fields of France, and I trusted that the difficulties of Europe would be settled without our intervention.
Scott records what happened from that day to the end of the war in clear, highly readable prose. He was wounded at Canal du Nord towards the end of September 1918 and was recovering in England when war ended that November. After four years and seven months he returned to Canada.
I went back to the gangway for a last farewell. In one way I knew it must be a last farewell, for though some of us will meet again as individuals it will be under altered conditions. Never again but in dreams will one see the great battalions marching on the battle-ploughed roads of France and Flanders. Never again will one see them pouring single file into the muddy front trenches. All that is over. Along the coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific, among our cities, by the shores of lakes and rivers and in the vast expanse of prairies and mountain passes the warrior hosts have melted away. But there on the vessel that day the fighting men had come home in all their strength and comradeship. I stood on the gangway full of conflicting emotions.
The men called out “Speech,” “Speech,” as they used often to do, half in jest and half in earnest, when we met in concert tents and estaminets in France.
I told them what they had done for Canada and what Canada owed them and how proud I was to have been with them. I asked them to continue to play the game out here as they had played it in France. Then, telling them to remove their caps, as this was our last church parade, I pronounced the Benediction, said, “Good-bye, boys”, and turned homewards.
Now, doesn’t that make you emotional, just a tiny bit.