1914 Carnegie Public Library, Berlin, Ontario Postcard. P000256. Waterloo Historical Society Collection

240 men in three weeks

The local military recruitment committee’s aggressive “700 men in three weeks” campaign limped to an end. The 118th Battalion’s numbers stood at 735 men—short of the desired 1000. The previous 21 days’  tonal shifts seemed to track to the waves of interest in the crusade. It began with optimism when a fair number of interested men stepped forward. It shifted to shame when most of the sign-ups only wanted a medical certificate to excuse them from donning khaki. It ended with desperation, as evidenced by these lines in a late-phase article: “…MEN who are absolutely sound in body and mind –clean MEN –true MEN –single MEN –married MEN –MEN with large families –MEN with no families at all (etc.).”

Even though the grand push to fill the barracks’ bunks ended, organisers held out hope to raise one full battalion. May’s mass training camp approached and they only needed 265 more men.

Headwear was a thing

Like Berlin, Ontario’s preceding problems, the name change adventure at the Legislature appeared in other communities’ newspapers. Many cast aspersions on Ontario’s Private Bills Committee: “[Committee members] should hang their heads in shame (The Toronto Telegram); the members were deemed a “rum lot” (Brantford Courier). Then again, papers such as The Guelph Mercury played the world’s smallest violin, “and the saddest of all, some of the promoters among the name changers were going to wear plug hats on the strength of the thing they had done. From where we sit, it looks as though they’ll still be dodging around in the same old tweed caps.”

Brimming with Britishers

The knockback at Queen’s Park spurred a round of resolutions by Berlin’s loyal patriots. The Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire’s decree regretted the name changers’ disastrous result and condemned everyone who worked against the local showing of Canadian and British ideals. The city’s newly-formed British League’s first act cut straight to the chase. It wanted to alert the Legislature that the majority of local Britishers wanted the name changed, and its resolution requested city council “adopt immediate measures.” (It wouldn’t take much to get city fathers’ attention: the British League’s leadership included the 118th Battalion’s CO, Colonel Lochead, and Aldermen Cleghorn, Master, and Hallman.)

A rumpus over renaming

A fracas broke out at city council’s first meeting after the Queen’s Park meeting. The pro-name changers’ claim that the entire city council wanted a new name was exposed for the porky that it was.

Those aforementioned resolutions were read. Cleghorn and Hallman presented a motion to host a public meeting to protest the Private Bills Committee’s decision.   Alderman Gross (who wasn’t at the hearing) “threw fat into the fire” by praising the Private Bills Committee’s decision.

Long-smouldering embers re-ignited.

Personal comments, aimed at Cleghorn’s veracity, Gross’s intelligence, and Reid’s ability to read the news peppered debate. Hahn and Gross got into a row about democracy and British fair play.

Mayor Hett’s gavel restored order. The motion to host a public meeting passed, with one abstention and two opposed.

Welcome to Berlyn

The fight didn’t die because the Private Bills Committee threw out the renaming bill. The Berlin Daily Telegraph learned a “number of prominent (unnamed) merchants and some of the manufacturers of the city have resolved to take a small amount of the curse and the odium away from the name by spelling it ‘BERLYN’.” Someone argued that “-lyn” was a “perfectly British ending” (my favourite being the Welsh village of Llanuwchllyn) and “Ber-“ was just as British as German, as towns and cities such as Berkeley, Berkhamsted, Berrow, and Berwick-upon-Tweed can attest.

Two heroes return

When the rallying cry came in 1914, a small number of Berlin’s men rushed to Britain’s aid. Two of these soldiers returned to the city in the 700 men campaign’s final days.

Last week, the mayor, the battalion and its band, and 2000-3000 people welcomed Corporal WE Mitchell’s return. Mayor Hett’s speech talked to what Mitchell faced in battle “You have been amidst the hail of bullets, where shrapnel rent the air and poisonous gases filled the trenches. We have been informed that you were wounded in the thigh and after recovery you responded to the call of duty again, and then your left arm was blown off. Infection followed, which necessitated a number of operations and rendered you unfit for further active service. Your arm has been sacrificed upon the altar of liberty, and you have given the full meaning for the great democratic issues of our country.” A $5 gold piece (approximately $100 – see note on conversion) was pressed into Mitchell’s hand.

Sergeant AH Davis, an Imperial reservist and Berlin’s first soldier, left the city on 12 August 1914 to fight for the Empire. He saw action at battles at Neuve Chapelle and Hill 60. He was wounded at Festubert; shrapnel lodged in his neck and caused paralysis on his right side. After more than seven months of hospitalisation in Europe and Canada, Davis returned quietly to his hometown.

Want a bit more information?

The Recipe


Home economisation was an undercurrent and this week local papers ran articles on paper waste, buying local, and ads ran for the 1916 Agricultural War Book – I hope to write about these in the upcoming weeks. One area that hasn’t changed over the decades is frugality and  the search for new ideas for leftovers. This recipe is similar to fish cakes, but uses a smaller amount of fish—probably perfect if you have a leftover fillet from supper. Making them, as per the prescribed method, were fiddly—an alternative is offered in the notes.

Potato Puffs (The Berlin Daily Telegraph 13 June 1916)

An English housewife as the following interesting recipe: When I have a few odd scraps of cold meat to spare, I make what my friends call my famous potato puffs. I take some cold boiled potatoes, mash them, and mix with sufficient dripping to bind them. I roll this out, and cut it into rounds, four inches across and about half an inch thick. I chop up my scraps of cold meat (any kind will do), season it, and put a little on each round of potato with a tiny piece of dripping; another round of potato on the top, Dust both sides with flour, and fry in boiling fat to a nice brown. When cooked, I drain them, sprinkle with some chopped parsley, and serve with a little tomato sauce, if I have any; if not, they are quite nice without. Cold boiled fish such as hake or cod can be used up in the same way, and a really delicious breakfast dish can be made if the fish is flavoured with anchovy sauce, or a plain egg sauce is served with the puffs.

Potato Puffs with Cod (Modern Equivalent)

Yield: 6 puffs

325g 330ml 1-1/3 cup Leftover boiled potatoes (cold)
      Olive oil, as needed
35g 62ml ¼ cup Leftover cooked codfish (or any firm white fish), chopped finely
      All purpose flour


Mash the potatoes, adding enough oil to bind. Add salt and pepper to taste. Roll to 1 cm/ ½ inch thickness and cut into 12 rounds.

Season the chopped fish and divide the mixture into six portions. Top six of the potato rounds with fish and cover each with a plain round.

Heat enough oil for shallow frying in a high-sided skillet. As the oil comes to temperature, dust the puffs with seasoned flour. Fry until both sides are golden.

Salt and drain the puffs on kitchen towels. Serve with a spicy tomato sauce (see notes).


  • I served these with a spicy puttanesca-style tomato sauce, made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, Kalamata olives, anchovies, capers, and red pepper flakes.
  • What I’d do differently
    • Re: Potatoes
      • I don’t see why regular leftover mashed potatoes wouldn’t do
      • Add flavours to the potatoes: caramelised onions or dill or perhaps some lemon
      • Add texture by coating the puffs in breadcrumbs or panko crumbs
    • The rolling out of the potatoes and cutting them out was a little fussy for my liking. Next time, I would:
      • Divide the potatoes into six portions
      • Form each into a ball
      • Divot them with my thumb and fill with fish.
      • Close over and squoosh into patties
    • I think these could be made rather small for starters/appetisers or a nibbly tapas offering

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