The Great War
( Originally Published 1924 )
DURING the spring of 1914 we enjoyed delight-weather and we were all very happy looking forward to a pleasant holiday at our summer residence at Oakhurst, Sturgeon Point. It seemed as though all the clouds had blown away and we were living in a sheltered harbor, all was so calm and prosperous, but we were destined soon to he rudely awakened from our dream of peace and plenty.
Early in July we went down to our summer home. It never looked more beautiful. The water of the lake sparkled in the sun, the air was balmy, the birds sang, and all was peace.
At the end of July the newspapers chronicled the murder of the Austrian Archduke and his wife at Serajevo. We were shocked, for it seemed such an objectless political murder. Little did we dream that it would be seized upon as an excuse for a world war by the military oligarchy in Berlin, and that we in Canada would be drawn into the malestrom of war.
On August 4th at midnight Great Britain, true to the treaty with Belgium, of which treaty Germany was also a signatory, declared war. We realized that when England was at war we were ar war, for the Empire is one. England's king is our king, her flag is our flag, all of which facts Germany discovered to her cosi.
The Government of Canada at once offered a contingent of one division to be sent to the assistance of the mother country. The offer was gratefully accepted by the British Government and our home Government called for volunteers on August Sth, four days after the declaration of war.
Between forty and fifty thousand men sent in their names, and among them my sons George and Arthur. George was a captain in the Royal Grenadiers, and Arthur, who was a graduate of the Royal Military College, was also attached to that regiment, but was immediately transferred to the artillery and appointed to the charge of the ammunition column of the 9th Field Battery.
I will never forget the fateful moment when they came to me and asked my permission to join up. I was greatly moved, for I realized the seriousness of the situation, but I was proud of the patriotic spirit they displayed and told them it was their duty to serve Canada and the Empire as their forebears had done.
As president of the Canadian Red Cross Society I went down to Quebec to see what we could do for the troops who had been so quickly and hurriedly thrown together. Naturally there was much to be done and I telegraphed our headquarters for the many things required in the hospitals and for use while the contingent was en route to England. Valcartier was a wonderful sight. Imagine thirty-five thousand men encamped in a beautiful valley through which a stream meandered. In two short weeks water had been laid on, electric light installed, streets laid out, hundreds of rifle targets erected and all the details of a great camp installed. From being a grazing place of sheep and cattle it had suddenly become a tented city inhabited by Canada's most vigorous and energetic young manhood. Aladdin's constructive efforts became facts of real life. The most curious spectacle, to my mind, to be seen, was at the bathing hour, when I,000 young men stood in the warm sunshine under the cold water sprays which lined the main street and scrubbed their splendid bodies.
Finally, all was ready and the men entrained for Quebec and embarked on the transports which were to take them to England. As the ships were loaded they moved off, and others took their places, the whole fleet assembling lower down the St. Lawrence, where they met the escorting warships.
These men were the cream of Canada's youth and chivalry, all volunteers, all willing to face the great adventure for king and country, for freedom and civilization. No conscripts were they, but freemen, glad and wiling to demonstrate Canada's loyalty and to make some return to England for the civil and religious liberty we had enjoyed under the protection of her flag for a hundred years and more.
My boys' mother and sister were at the Chateau Frontenac, which was filled to overflowing with the fathers, mothers, sisters and sweethearts of the officers and men of the contingent. Many tears were shed in private, but the women wore brave and smiling faces in public. Little did they know that within six months the larger proportion of the brave men who sailed away from our shores would be killed or wounded on the bloody fields of Flanders, but a merciful Providence had drawn a veil over the future.
1 parted with my boys on the wharf, the eldest of whom I was destined never to see again. Arthur was the last of the contingent to embark, as he was detailed to gather up the remaining artillery stores and spent the night in the freight shed on the dock.
George joined the 3rd Battalion, C.E.F., as a captain. This battalion was composed of men from the Queen's Own, the Grenadiers and the Governor-General's Body Guard, under the command of Lieut.-Colonel R. Rennie (now Major-General). As soon as the requisite number of men were recruited they were sent to Long Branch to be equipped and organized and two weeks later were sent on to Valcartier, Que., where men from all parts of the country were concentrated.
Here let me say, that in the opinion of most senior officers, General Sam Hughes made a great mistake in organizing new battalions instead of recruiting from the old existing regiments, adding battalion to battalion as the demand for more troops became apparent. In consequence of General Hughes' policy the old regiments have lost the battle honors which would have naturally accrued to them, which would have been an advantage to their esprit de corps and regimental histories.
The Council of the Canadian Red Cross Society was called together within a few days after the declaration of war and a programme of active work decided on. Premises were engaged at 77 King Street East and frequent meetings of the executive committee were held. Money and goods began to come in.
As president I addressed a series of meetings in Toronto and throughout the province of Ontario as well as at Montreal and Quebec.
In March, 1915, it was decided to send me to the seat of war to make observations on the needs of the hospitals and make a general survey of the Red Cross work. Accordingly I sailed from New York on the Lusitania, as related elsewhere in this narrative.
Arriving in England I was cordially received by the Hon. Sir Arthur Stanley, the Chairman of the British Red Cross Society, who honored our Society through me, by giving a. great luncheon party at the Royal Automobile Club, at which I was the guest of honor. Many distinguished persons were present, including the Duke of Devonshire (afterwards Governor-General of Canada).
I inspected the Canadian Red Cross Offices and warehouse and went out to Cleveden, where the Society had built a hospital on ground lent us by Lord Astor.
I was further honored by being elected a member of the Joint Committee of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. At the first meeting I attended I was given a seat on the platform on the right of H. R. H. Princess Christian, at which I was pleased, but much embarrassed.
On the 23rd of April we received the news of the great battle of St. Julien and the heavy losses sustained by the Canadians. I was spending the evening with my niece, Mrs. Arthur Kirkpatrick, and as it was reported that Major Kirkpatrick was killed, she was in great distress. I offered to go down to the Canadian Record Office and find out the facts. I arrived there about nine o'clock in the evening and was much surprised at the embarrassed demeanor of the officers in charge when I asked to sec the list of casualties. Almost the first name I saw among the killed was that of my son, Captain G. C. Ryerson. I could not believe my eyes. H thought some mistake had been made in transmission of the names. A little farther down I read "Severely wounded, Lieutenant Arthur C. Ryerson." I was terribly shocked, but I kept my head and found that the Kirkpatrick killed was a lieutenant and a cousin of Major Kirkpatrick. I hastened with the news to Mrs. Kirkpatrick's apartments, then I collapsed.
It was arranged that I should go to France as soon as possible, for which purpose I was given an Imperial War Office order to proceed to the seat of war, and accordingly crossed to Boulogne on April 26th and was met by our very efficient Assistant Canadian Commissioner, Captain (afterwards Colonel) Blaylock, on the wharf, and was put up, with my secretary, Captain William MacLeod Moore, at the Hotel Boulogne.
I pause here to express my deep appreciation of the services which Captain Moore rendered to me in the trying crises I was destined to meet. He was a son of Lieut.-Colonel MacLeod Moore, of Prescott, Ontario, a veteran retired Imperial officer and an eminent Freemason. Captain Moore was unfortunately accidentally killed in Brussels in 1918, to the great regret of all who knew him.
Leaving the hotel I went in seareh of my son Arthur and found him in No. 7 Stationary Hospital, seriously wounded by shrapnel in the abdomen. It turned out that a piece of shrapnel casing had become entangled in the muscles of the abdomen and had not entered the cavity. To this fortunate circumstance he owes his life. The following day I saw him off on a hospital ship on his way to England.
Arthur was very reticent about his experiences, but from his comrades I learned his story. He was in charge of the ammunition column of the Canadian Division and had the distribution of small arms ammunition in his charge. It appeared that in the battle of St. Julien he went up to the front with waggon loads of ammunition no less than twenty times, through a terrific fire. On his last trip he saw an officer lying in the road, dead. The body looked familiar to him and on going up to it he found it was that of his brother George. Having delivered the ammunition, he put the body in the waggon, when a shell burst and wounded him and his horse. Fortunately there was a dressing station near at hand to whieh he was taken and had the first dressing for his wound applied. He was mentioned in despatches and recommended for a D.S.O., but, as so often happened, although he was "mentioned" three times he received no decoration.
No, 7 Stationary Hospital, Boulogne, was an officers' hospital. It sometimes was so overcrowded that I have seen the corridors lined with wounded officers lying on stretchers. It was entirely nursed by nurses of the Imperial Army Nursing Service. Many Canadian officers were lodged in this hospital. One poor boy, from Toronto, lay gasping from being gassed. He was very hopeful, but died suddenly one night. Another Canadian suffered from gas gangrene. His legs were swollen to an enormous size and he suffered horribly, but bore his pain with a courage which I have never seen equalled. He had been anesthetized twenty-one times to have abscesses opened. H am glad to say that he recovered.
Boulogne was indeed a city of pain. There were hospitals everywhere in the city and surrounding district, Wimerieux, LeToquet, Treport. I visited them all and found conditions good. I have seen no less than 7,000 wounded arrive in a single day by train and road. At the wharf there always lay one or more hospital ships ready to be loaded with "Blighty" cases. No one can describe the joy of the men to lie in a lied with clean sheets, surrounded by gentle nurses and doetors, "going home "—blessed thought I Strong men wept for joy.
I was especially interested in a hospital ship loading with wounded Indians. It was night and the scene was dramatic. The wharf was dark, but the gangway was brightly lighted with electric light. A continual succession of stretchers came from the hospital train. They were brought on board and lowered by a lift to the long hospital ward. All kinds of native types were to be seen. The little Ghurka, with his flat nose and Mongolian features. The Pathan, the Sikh, the Hindoo, all were there. I noticed a great Pathan with a hooked nose, black up-curled mustaches and swarthy skin. I told the doctor in charge (Indian Medical Service) that I would like to speak to him. He spoke to the man in his own language. I asked him, through the doctor, what he thought of the war. He rubbed his great nose and smiling said " I t is a good war. Ht leaves a fine taste in the mouth. " I spoke to a Ghurka, through the doctor. He was all smiles. He had a nice wound and had killed his man. These little fellows have a pleasant way of slicing off an enemy's head with their great knives. I suppose he had done so in a trench raid. If these men suffered, they made no sound. They were stoical. It was Kismet.
On May 2nd I went on to Paris. It was a long journey with waits and detours on account of the movements of troops. H put up at the Hotel Meurice, one of the best hotels in Paris, where they charged British officers, in uniform, five francs a day for a room, where they would ordinarily charge twenty for the same accommodation.
I had a very busy time in Paris calling on the British Red Cross Headquarters and the French Red Cross, where I again met the Marquis de Vogue, whom I had previously met in 1912 in London at the International Red Cross Conference. I also made enquiries into the management of the French prisoners of war (in Germany) department. It was a colossal business. Hundreds of thousands had been taken prisoner in the first days of the war. This sounds like an exaggeration, but it is, nevertheless, a literal fact.
I visited the British Red Cross, Paris 'Branch, the Bureau for the Missing, the hospital established by La Presse, of Montreal, the Canadians in the British General Hospital at Versailles, the American Ambulance at Nieully, and the hospital established by Mr. and Mrs. Chauncey Depew at the Chateau d'Annel. This was a most interesting place immediately behind the French reserve trenches. The Depews were there when the Germans advanced near to Paris, but they remained in residence with a house full of wounded. General Von Klock made it his headquarters and was disposed to destroy it, but seeing a photograph of Senator Chauncey Depew, he inquired if they were related to him, to which they replied in the affirmative. He said he had met him in Berlin and gave an order that nothing was to be disturbed, but when he left, took all the horses, wines and other articles to which he and his staff had taken a fancy.
On May 6th I called on M. Gabriel Hanotaux, ex-minister for Foreign Affairs. He invited me to lunch with the Committee of the Secours National on the 14th, which I accepted ; but much was to happen before that date.
Early on the morning of May 7th I received a request to inspect a hospital at Dinard, on the coast of Normandy, which had been subsidized by the Canadian Government. I was somewhat surprised to receive this order, but quickly made my arrangements, having a private automobile put at my disposal by the British Red Cross. It was owned and driven by a gentleman named Gracey, who had repeatedly endeavored to enlist, but was rejected for physical disability and who now worked voluntarily for the Red Cross. We left Paris at 11 a.m. for Dinard via Rambouillet, Chartres, and Le Mans, arriving at the latter place about 7 p.m., where we remained the night. The town was crowded with French convalescents, who seemed very glad to see British uniforms and gave us quite an ovation.
We left in the morning and proceeded via Lavel, Mitre, Rennes and St. Malo and arrived at Dinard at 7 p.m. We had dined and H was in conversation with the commandant of the place when he said, "What a terrible disaster the loss of the Lusitania was." I was thunderstruck. I had heard nothing of it. I immediately called Moore and we rushed out bareheaded in the rain to the telegraph office. It was closed and no messages could he sent. I was nearly crazy with apprehension, but could get no news beyond the fact that the ship had been torpedoed. Dr. Chotel, who was in charge of the Franco-Canadian hospital, came in to see me and said he had received a wire from Captain Blaylock that all was well with my wife and daughter, who were on the ship. I was immensely relieved, but returned to Paris by the first train in the morning. It took all day because of the delays caused by the movements of troops. We arrived at 7.30 p.m, when I saw the newspaper report that both my wife and daughter were lost. I left again by motor car for Boulogne in the morning and arrived in London that evening, when I learned that my wife was lost, but my daughter was saved. My readers will understand without further words what I went through, having lost my eldest son and my wife within two weeks.
I went on board the Li. sitania at New York on Sat urday, April 3rd, 1915, on my way to England, eommissioned to make a survey of the work of the Canadian Red Cross Society in England and at the seat of war. I expected to sail the same day, but a blizzard came on which lasted all that day and most of the following day, Easter Sunday. We therefore lay at the clock.
An advertisement had appeared in the New York papers issued by the Imperial German Embassy warning passengers who intended to sail for England on a British ship that they did so at their own risk, that a state of war existed and that ships were liable to attack. We were quite merry about it for no one believed that any power would sink without warning a huge passenger ship carrying a large number of women and children and many neutrals. We were told that some members of a prominent Philadelphia family had cancelled their passages because they had been warned by wireless by an American lady in Berlin, married to a German of high rank. We thought they were foolish or worse. We sailed therefore in good spirits and with every confidence in a safe passage. During the voyage H had many conversations with the Commander, Captain Turner, a quiet, determined and, as it proved, courageous man. He told me that the Admiralty absolutely declined to arm the ship, that in their opinion there was no necessity for it and the speed of the ship, twenty-five knots, was such that she could run away from any undersea boat. He said very bitterly that he had not even a rifle on board, for if he had he could disable a submarine, submarines at that time being so lightly constructed that a rifle bullet would pierce their hulls. We had a pleasant company on board and nothing of importance worth recording happened. We arrived in the Mersey in due course.
I was in London when the news of the death of my eldest son and Ow wounding of my son Arthur reached me. I cabled my wife to come over to help and comfort my son and because I thought this work would divert her mind front the loss of her first-born and beloved son. There was such a singular understanding and attachment between these two dear people that H doubt if she would ever have recovered from the blow. As H had made a successful voyage on the Lusitania she determined to sail on her. Accordingly she and my daughter embarked in this ship on its ill-fated voyage. I went to France, immediately after, April 25th, and spent some days looking over the situation at Boulogne and seeing my son Arthur, in the Officers' I Hospital there. He was transferred to England in a hospital ship and H went on to Paris. I was asked to inspect and report on a hospital which the French Government had established on the coast at Treport with $100,000 granted by the vote of the Canadian House of Commons. I 'accordingly left Paris in a Sunbeam automobile owned and driven by a gentleman named Gracie, who, owing to a physical defect had been rejected by several medical boards, and who was doing his bit in the service of the British Red Cross Society.
I was accompanied by my secretary, Captain William MacLeod Moore. We motored through Central and Western France and were everywhere accorded a hearty welcome. We arrived in Dinard in the evening of the 8th of May in time for dinner. We had dined and I had been introduced to the commandant of the place when he remarked what an awful tragedy the sinking of the Lusitania was. I was horrified and almost paralyzed with the shock. When I got my wits about me I rushed out to find Moore. We ran bareheaded in the rain to the telegraph office. It was closed and no message could be sent after nine o'clock. H returned to the hotel in a state of great mental disturbance. No one knew anything beyond the fact that the ship had been torpedoed with great loss of life. I spent a terrible night. In the morning we took the first train to Paris, but being war time, it took nine hours to reach there. There I learned the details of this terrible crime. The names of both my wife and daughter appeared in the list of the lost.
Imagine my feelings!
We left the next morning for London, but when we reached Boulogne we learned that although my wife was lost, my daughter was saved and that she was at Queenstown. On arriving in London kind friends met us and a friend, whose kindness and sympathy I will never forget, offered to go to Queenstown for my daughter. Two days later she returned with her, dressed in the same clothes she had gone down in; everything else she had was gone. The following was the story she told:
" My mother and myself had finished lunch and were taking eoffee when there was a jarring noise not loud. Almost immediately the ship began to list. We went to the upper deck, but several boats could not be lowered because of the list of the ship. Mother and I got into the last boat which was lowered safely, but just then the ship went down and our boat was overturned.
am a good swimmer and although there was a crowd struggling together I got clear, and came up against a raft on which were Leonard McMurray and Mr. Lockhart, of Toronto. The raft was sinking with so many on it so I and others swam to a lifeboat floating near and got into it. There was a hole in one end, but by clinging to the other end we kept the hole out of water. We were in the water up to our knees for three hours when we were picked up by a destroyer and taken to Queenstown. The commander of the destroyer took me to his house, where I remained three days hoping to find mother." She did not say in this interview what others said of her, that she helped many on to the raft and that on the destroyer she undressed the rescued women and wrapped them in blankets and then gave them nourishment and stimulants. She was the only woman who kept her wits and was able to help others.
The story of the loss of the Lusitania is only equalled in horor by that of the Titanic. Eleven hundred and forty-seven persons lost their lives and eight hundred and thirty-one were saved, among them only a few cif the officers, including Captain Turner, who was saved by Master-at-arms Williams just as he was going down after he had been two and a half hours in the water. The story he told the reporters is as follows:
"The weather was clear and we were going eighteen knots. I was on the port side and heard the 2nd Officer call out 'Here's a torpedo.' I ran to the other side of the bridge and clearly saw the wake of a torpedo. Smoke and steam came up between the two last funnels (she had four). There was a slight shock. Immediately after the explosion there was another report, but that may possibly have been internal. I at once gave orders to lower the boats and directed that women and children should get into them. I also had the bulkheads closed. Between the time of passing Fastnet, I saw no signs of submarines. There was sonie haze off the Hrish coast and I slowed clown to fifteen knots. I was in wireless communication all the way across." He declined to say what his special instructions were. His watch stopped at 136 p.m. No war ship convoyed the ship. He had double lookouts. There was no panic on board. The ship carried 1,313 passengers and a crew of 665.
The torpedoing of the Lusitania is the greatest crime in naval history. It was no accidental destruction. It had been determined upon long before it happened, for medals had been prepared and dated earlier than the event. She was an unarmed ship carrying many women, children and neutrals, yet she was sunk without warning. This crime will never be forgiven to the Germans so long as history endures.
As there was nothing further to be done in London, I obtained permits for my daughter and myself and returned to Paris on the 16th. After which I resumed my visits of inspection, in the course of which I visited the Hertford hospital, the Japanese hospital, the French hospital for the mutilated and the Scottish women's hospital at Royaumont. This latter was established in an old Abbey and was entirely run and officered by women. All operations, great and small, X-ray and other treatments were done by the female staff. They even brought the wounded in from the front in their own ambulance. It was a bright and cheery place and the patients seemed very contented, although they balked at first at being treated by women.
On the way to and from Royaumont we passed Senlis, which had been partially destroyed by the Germans. Some sharpshooter had fired on the enemy, so in revenge they shot the Mayor and several other citizens. As Senlis is only thirty miles from Paris it made one understand how near the enemy was to the city when they were driven back by General Gallieni and his taxicabs filled with troops.
On the 19th I had an interview with Madame Carnet, President of the Dames Francaise, and attended a meeting of the Committee of the Secours National.
Having obtained a good idea of the French hospital situation and needs by means of these interviews and visits to hospitals, I left Paris for Boulogne on my way to British Headquarters at St. Omer, on May 24th, my daughter remaining with friends in Paris.