The 18th Battalion was nearing the end of its training. As it was formed in the latter part of October 1914 from South-Western Ontario the soldiers were collected in London, Ontario for training. As the Battalion was about to leave for England via Halifax on the S.S. Grampian on April 18, 1915. Thus, the Battalion collected its men (some as late as the end of March) and trained them. At some point in March an announcement went out to the citizens of London and the surrounding towns and villages about a military display in which the 18th Battalion would show the citizens its military prowess. Perhaps the soldiers of the 18th Battalion wrote to their families about this event.
Whatever means of communication used was very effective. Ten thousand civilians came out to the display. Given that the population of London was approximately 55,000 at the eve of the war this attendance represented almost 1/5th of the population attended the display. From the article below it is evident that people with family members in the battalion came from other cities and towns to see their boys in uniform.
Some citizens from Clinton, Ontario decided to attend. Clinton is approximately 50 kilometers due north of London. They probably took the Grand Trunk Railway, passing through other towns from which members of the 18th Battalion hailed from: Brucefield, Kippen, Hensall, Exeter, Centralia, Clandeboye Crossing, and finally, London. It was mid-March, and the land would not be completely released from the winter but spring was coming, and, so to was the departure of the 18th.
LOOKING EVERY INCH A SOLDIER
Taking advantage of the excursion rate to London several of our Clinton citizens spent Friday of last week[i] in witnessing the military movements of the 18th Battalion on “Carling Heights.” Some ten thousand people were brought together by the announcement of the field day exercises, which were carried out under the direction of Lieut.-Col. Wigle. Indeed the only hindrance was the vastness of the crowd. The “line up” was formed in the square of the military barracks and passed out headed by the newly formed battalion band and followed by nearly a thousand men in uniform and carrying rifles, a squad with four rapid firing guns, field engineers, ambulance corps, ammunition waggons and men of the Commissariat.
It was not easy to recognize the men who went from this section of Huron as the new uniforms and spick and span appearance of each one has already wrought quite a change. But every one looked every inch a soldier and marched like well trained veterans. Many saw for the first time the action of the quick firing small guns that fired more quickly than one could count.
The grand finale of the afternoon was a sham battle in which part of the men firing from the typical trench were besieged and captured by another section of the riflemen. There were however no casualties and the men with the stretchers returned to the Red Cross quarters without even one wounded.
A new, large steam cooker, which was brought out of a place on the field was the object of much interest and it was in charge of Russel Colwill, a former student of Clinton Collegiate Instute.
Source: The Clinton News-Record. March 25, 1915. Page 1.
It makes one wonder that out of the 10,000 spectators, how many came from the numerous towns of Ontario to see their husbands, sons, uncles, and friends in a military display. Could it be that my Great-Grandparents took the train from Galt, Ontario to see their son, William Robb Dewar, at arms with the other men of the 18th? If they did, did they recognize him as he marched past? The article does not make mention of it but one would think that after the demonstration there would have been an opportunity for the family of the soldiers to see their “boys”, perhaps for the last time, before the embarked for England? The article relates that, “…it was not easy to recognize the men who went from this section of Huron [County] as the new uniforms and spick and span appearance of each one had already wrought quite a change.” The uniformity of military dress, actions, and discipline had melded these men together and the faces of those familiar appear to be lost in the totality of military culture and practice. The article makes no mention of any individuals, save a Russel Colwill, at the end of the article.
Of interest is the mention of the “rapid firing guns” and that these “…guns that fired more quickly than one could count,” alludes to their actual demonstration to the crowd of onlookers. These “rapid fire guns” would have been the four Colt Machine Guns allocated to a Canadian battalion at this time in the war. These rapid fire guns would change the face of the conflict and it capability is noted, but not recognized for the efficient tool of death it was, would be, to the men of the 18th Battalion when they reached the lines at Ypres and the Somme and throughout the rest of the war.
The finale was a “sham battle” which is, sadly, devoid of detail, suffice to say that the article related that the men in the trench, perhaps portraying the enemy, were surround and captured by the attacking force, the Allies, and that no casualties resulted in the sham battle. The article almost sound disappointed that no artificial bloodshed was incurred during the battle since it recorded that, “…the men with the stretchers returned to the Red Cross without even one wounded.”
The last paragraph is a mystery. No soldier of the name Russel Colwill is listed on the Nominal Roll, April 1915, of the 18th Battalion and it is unclear what connection this man has with the 18th.
The support for the men of the 18th was strong. The war was in its 8th month and the men of the 1st Canadian Contingent was yet to meet the horror of the gas at the 2nd Battle of Ypres. The “military movements” of that day represented the closest representation of war for most of the 10,000 people watching them and they, as well as the men participating, had not way of knowing what to expect when they were joined in combat against the Germans.
They both would soon find out.
[i] March 19, 1915. The Clinton News-Record was a weekly paper published on Thursdays.