Last Friday I wrote about Killing My Darlings which resulted in deleting the first eleven chapters of Time & Regret. But then I had another thought. Perhaps some of the materials would make a good blog post or two.
Within those eleven chapters were excerpts from a WWI diary written by Grace Hansen’s grandfather, Martin Devlin. To build a convincing diary I read many other WWI diaries, researched aspects of WWI training programs and studied the battalion records for the 4th Brigade, 19th Battalion of the Canadian army. I had decided that the 19th Battalion would be Martin’s home for the duration of WWI.
Feb 5, 1915
Enlisted today. A whole mess of forms to fill out. Looks like I’m signing my life away. Guess I shouldn’t joke about that. Went down with Bill Jackson who has been chomping at the bit to get in the fight, as he says. In September everyone thought the war would be over in a few short months. Reality is somewhat different.
Yesterday, Mother said Jim Smithers has been sent from France to England with severe wounds. She won’t be happy to hear that I’ve enlisted but I feel it’s my duty. If we don’t stop the Hun who will? Bonnie won’t be happy either but I think I can talk her around. The enlistment officer told me that with my education I’ll likely be selected for officer training. Next step is a medical exam.
Feb 8, 1915
I was right about Mother and Bonnie. Neither woman is happy although at least Mother is talking to me. Jane says she’s proud of her older brother and Father says it’s the manly thing to do and he wished he were young enough to join up.
Mar 1, 1915
Had a letter from Bonnie yesterday so I hope that means she’s forgiven me. Most of it concerned her comings and goings, although she did say that she now understands why I signed up. And she ended it ‘with affection’ which is very positive. I probably won’t see her for some time.
After a few weeks living in tents in High Park, my battalion has gone to the Exhibition grounds for training. I’m all kitted out with uniform and insignia though I won’t get my 2nd lieutenant stripes until I’m officially commissioned. Must be more than two thousand men here. Rather chaotic but I’ve heard that it was much worse last fall when the camp was initially formed. Hardly any training occurred then, they were in such a state of confusion. Captain Butler still complains about it. Some of the officers say Hughes is a pompous ass and favours his cronies to the detriment of our troops. Shocking if it’s true.
Mornings are regular training and afternoons are officer training. I prefer the practical stuff of mapping, communications, artillery and rifle practice. Drills and marches are a necessary evil. I’m getting used to the rules and rigidity but a few men have been put on report for disobedience or sloppiness. This afternoon we paraded for inspection by General Dawson.
Must read a bit of the drill manual before bed.
March 22, 1915
We’ve just heard the news about Armentieres. The PPCLI sustained severe casualties. Can’t help but think that I will be there soon. I wonder if I will distinguish myself. Perhaps merely getting through it will be enough. My tent mates don’t talk much about this sort of thing although I sense more intensity than before.
I share a tent with five other cadet officers. John Stanley keeps to himself, Bob Morrison is the self-appointed spokesman and somewhat pompous, Michel Diotte is fluently bilingual (English mother, French father) and a good sort, Pete Vanleuven is second generation Canadian of Dutch heritage (he knows Bill Jackson) and then there’s Bill. We get along which is good in such confined space. The army puts great emphasis on maintaining order and this applies to all things from the precise angle of a salute to the fold of a blanket. Mother would be proud. [Note: Michel, Bill and Pete become significant characters in the story.]
Mar 29, 1915
Regular letters arrive from Mother and Jane and irregular ones from Bonnie. I find it difficult to write back because it’s such a different world. A world that women wouldn’t understand. We’ve heard rumours that we’ll soon go overseas, although we’ve heard that before. Machine gun practice today. The noise takes some getting used to. In the afternoon we had a hockey game. Quite a contrast but the men need an outlet for all their energy. Officers did not participate but I was asked to help coach. We didn’t win – much joking over too many beers tonight.
Still cold and wintry, we wear overcoats and mittens on every parade. Firing rifles is difficult in this weather. The men rise at six and often we are up before them. Roll call is at six-thirty. The sergeants berate any man who is late.
Have to stop now and write a few letters.
Apr 22, 1915
Not much of a diary! The days have so much similarity, although if I think back to February I realize that our battalion has come together and learned a lot. The men drill properly, load and unload their rifles with ease, carry 50 lb packs as though they were nothing. For my part, I’ve led several mock actions and conducted parade drills with success. We now know that we will depart May 12 and I have a five-day leave to visit home.
So, at least these darlings aren’t totally dead.
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available in paperback from Amazon and in e-book formats from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.