Army rations, Western Front, during World War I
Army rations, Western Front, during World War I (circa 1918) Image credit: National Library of Scotland

“Take him, Captain. He is my last and is all I have left to give.”

The mothers and sweethearts campaign pled to allow Berlin’s Johnny Canucks to be real men and do the right thing by signing up with the 118th Battalion. Captain Kreitzer’s recollection of a mother handing over her youngest son last autumn, added ed to and strengthened the narrative: Mrs. Cline was exactly the sort of woman the 118th’s Recruitment Committee wanted to showcase—loving, strong and selfless. The three-paragraph story ended as dramatically as it began, “How Christ-like is this noble mother in giving the last of her sons. God be kind to this poor woman and comfort her and send her splendid sons back to her when this war is done to make her proud in the living presence of the MEN she has mothered.”

Ready to rumble

Berlin Council’s resolution may have been intended to light a spark to stream men into the 118th Battalion’s recruiting office, but it appears to have kindled a conflagration. The night Kreitzer’s piece ran, trouble bubbled in Berlin when a group of soldiers took issue with being called out for disrupting the show. Bruised egos took action the next night.

On Saturday 22 January, a group of soldiers returned to the cinema, where they obstructed the doors and told movie-goers the flick was cancelled. Afterwards, the men let loose through Berlin’s core.

A Berlin News-Record reporter witnessed half a dozen soldiers haul a man into the recruiting office, where one frenzied soldier tried to get at his quarry. Elsewhere, soldiers roughed-up a shopkeeper, and others descended through an apartment door’s transom and rifled through the occupant’s belongings. The constabulary stood aside, afraid to risk their lives.  Appearing alongside these accounts was a situation of a sergeant striking a woman who tried to stop soldiers from dragging off her husband. 

Avoiding Saturday night’s events, the Battalion’s officers defended their men’s recruitment techniques and reasonings:

“All other methods have failed to produce results. We regret that a personal appeal to reach the young men has become necessary…” (Lieutenant-Colonel Lochead, and CO)

“The present methods…most grudgingly adopted by us have been adopted only because our other methods have failed…It is a blight upon the moral character of any people that we should have to resort to any such methods…” (Captain Fraser, Adjt) 

“…[The men of Berlin] are either pampered pets and will not inconvenience themselves to the extent necessary to become a real man and a soldier, or they are willing to take blood money, by remaining at home getting good wages while their brother Canadians (real men) are enduring discomforts, bleeding and even dying…” (Captain McNeel)

The only line missing was a declaration that the soldiers were “honourable” in their actions

On 25 January The News-Record ran a new eight-point set of street recruiting regulations. It opened with, “While the soldiers are to be congratulated over the success of our street recruiting Campaigns, particularly since practically no just complaints have been or can be made, yet possibly there is need of a little more regulation in order that better results may follow.” The pressganging wouldn’t end, but its use was governed (and justified).

Trades and Labour Council Resolution

Days after Saturday night’s scuffle, the Trades and Labour Councils passed a resolution requesting Berlin’s City Council try to end the Battalion’s disgraceful conduct. If attacks (verbal and physical) continued, they wanted the 118th’s financial support suspended and the city fathers ask Militia Minister Sir Sam Hughes to remove the boys from Berlin.

“If ignorance is responsible for the above, it is a disgrace…”

The News-Record published the T&L resolution with Lochead’s clause-by-clause dissection. In doing so, a management versus labour dynamic was embedded in the story: Lochead was the Board of Trade’s newly acclaimed president.

The resolution and response blanketed almost one-third of the front page. The CO’s words took the tone of an autocrat attempting to silence threats to his worldview bubbling up from the minions’ workfloor. The usual flag-waving bluster quickly devolved into a bombastic, base and bitter attack on the T&L, and faulted North Waterloo’s citizens. If the “young men of North Waterloo answered the urgent call to the colours,” they wouldn’t be asked why they aren’t in khaki. If a young man resented being asked why he wasn’t a soldier, clearly he’d need a firm escort to the recruiting office.

Readers were assured every complaint was “thoroughly investigated” and appropriate punishments meted out, when necessary. “However, in justice, we wish to state that 99 per cent of the complaints, when sifted, have proved the blame to rest with the civilians.” He declared accounts of women insulted by his men were “as base as the source from which it has sprung.” Some soldiers, civilians and one alderman* provided sufficient evidence to declare the woman’s claims of being struck by a soldier as “absolutely false. We have found the spirit of our men, even in extreme provocation to be highly commendable and worthy of the traditions of British soldiers.”

“Since when has compulsion in Berlin or anywhere else in Canada become necessary?”

The T&L’s 27 January response continued the snide mud-slinging. They would support mandatory induction (if it came), but not any form of “hunger conscription.” The CO’s nationalism and bravery were called out as the writers surmised Lochead’s sudden desire to showcase his patriotism sprung when he was offered a commission “before he would start to scrub the moss of his back and don the khaki,” one year into the war. If the recruiting committee wanted a successful campaign, the T&L recommended one thing: bring in a “competent soldier” to head the regiment.

“Let us hope that pure shame, if nothing else, will smite their hearts…”

Another letter from Lochead appeared on the same page as the T&L’s response. He denied writing the clause-by-clause rebuttal but offered his thoughts on the resolution. He sandwiched a personal attack on an unnamed T&L member—calling for his internment if he couldn’t present his naturalization papers—between layers of the usual flag-waving bluster. Readers would only have to wait a few days to learn the T&L’s resolution was published at Lochead’s request.

*Approximately half of Berlin’s City Council members were also part of Board of Trade.

Want a bit more information?

The Recipe

 

If an army marches on its stomach, Britain did its best to ensure its lads would move out knowing how to feed themselves. One of this week’s articles documented a cookery course for 1,500 Tommies. Based on the War Office’s cookery books, they learned how to make a dinner out of next to nothing. The men were taught to butcher meat, set up field kitchens and cookery trenches, as well as forage for such things as marigold flowers, nettles, sweet dock, and tender mangel-wurzel leaves.

This week’s dishes are from the 1914 British Army Cookbook. While it provides recipes to feed a platoon, it taught soldiers the basics and explained various techniques, from roasting to frying. I know some would balk at my calling them “recipes;” they are recipes: they instruct in the preparation of a dish. If you’ve never fried bacon or poached an egg, reassuring and eminently practical words would be a godsend. The book was republished a couple of years ago, with a few pages available online, where I pulled recipes for fried bacon topped with poached eggs.

Poached eggs with fried bacon (Modern equivalent)

Yield: 4 servings

For the bacon

4 4 4 Slices of back bacon, peameal bacon, English or Irish bacon (see notes)
      Oil, for frying

For the eggs

      Water, for boiling
4 4 4 Eggs (see notes)
15ml 15ml 1 tablespoon White vinegar
Pinch Pinch Pinch Salt

To cook the bacon:

Pour a little oil in a cold pan and add bacon. Don’t overcrowd the pan—you don’t want to boil or steam the meat in its juices. Set the pan on the hob and turn the slices every two or three minutes until the bacon is fully cooked.

To poach the eggs:

Bring a pan set filled with 5cm (2”) of water to a boil. Mix in the vinegar and salt and lower the heat to a simmer.

Break the eggs and carefully pour into the water. Cook them, undisturbed for two minutes (for a runny yolk), or leave them in longer if you want firmer yolks. Remove from the pan with a spoon (I use a slotted spoon) and drain on kitchen towelling. Top each bacon slice with an egg and serve.

Notes

  • While you could use American-style streaky bacon, I think this works better with ham or ham-like bacon.
  • Every instruction for poached eggs I’ve seen calls for the freshest eggs possible—and while ideal, my poached egg cravings hardly align with my egg purchases. I’ve used not-so-fresh eggs and while they aren’t pin-up perfect, they’re perfectly fine.
  • What I do differently:
    • As I usually poach one egg at a time, after the water boils, I swirl it with a spoon, to create a whirlpool effect. Then I pour the egg into the centre, to try to keep more of a pert shape. If an egg with a fluttering skirt bothers you, you can trim it after it’s cooked.

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