The ties between Canadians and the sea-side town of Folkestone, England go back to the First World War. A popular image was of a soldier holding a rifle with a bayonet, advancing in front of the Union Jack with the assurance: “Don’t be Alarmed, the Canadians are on guard at Folkestone”. The impression made upon the populace and the institutional psyche of the region became so strong that even to this day on every Canada Day the children of Folkestone attend to the graves of the Canadians buried at a local military cemetery by placing Canadian flags at each headstone.
The thoughts and feelings of the men of the Canadian Expeditionary Force have been documented in letters and many of the members of the 18th Battalion had family close at hand in the British Isles which led to problems with soldiers being absent without leave. One of the methods to keep the soldiers busy when not actively training was to encourage their participation in sports. These events would engage a small number of active participants in the units competing in the matches, but they would occupy the soldiers of the units as the members of each participating unit would make ready audiences for these events.
Baseball was one such activity. It used a minimum of equipment and allowed for many people to watch the games. Baseball also had the attraction for the general-public of the Folkestone area of being a new and unique sporting event. A sport decidedly new-world and American in character, but somewhat familiar to the English with their knowledge of the game of rounders.
The 18th Battalion participated in baseball and many instances of baseball games and tournaments when the Battalion was serving on the Continent are recorded in the War Diaries, but the activities of the Battalion with sport of all kinds during its training in England are, sadly, bereft of detail. The War Diaries relate in brief detail the training process of the Battalion during its time in England from April to September 1915 that the recent discovery of a news article relating the participation of the Battalion in a baseball match against the 2nd Divisional Supply Column brings the social and physical life of the soldiers to our attention. The soldiers’ days were not just made up of constant training, though a survey of the appendices of Battalion’s War Diary indicate:
Note that the day of a soldier of the 18th Battalion starts at 6.30 AM with a half-hour of “squad drill” and proceeds a-pace with 15 of May involving four hours of entrenching and the 22nd five hours of the entrenching.
But, after 5:00 PM the Battalion was free to participate in sport and this is, most likely, when the baseball match against the 2nd Divisional Supply Column took place.
Another Canadian baseball match was played at the Folkestone Cricket Ground on Saturday[i] afternoon, between the 2nd Divisional Supply Column and the 18th Battalion Infantry. The game was watched by a good crowd of spectators, and each successful stroke met with enthusiastic applause from the many Canadians present.
The 18th Battalion won by 12 runs to 9, but the 2nd Divisional Supply Column played a splendid game, and were well on the way to equalizing the score at the conclusion, having scored well in the latter part of the play. The 18th Battalion had excellent pitching abilities.
2nd Divisional Supply Column: Libby, Coapman, King, Brown, Bennett, Robinson, Kelly, Gallagher, McCullough, and Kearn.
The play throughout was very spirited, and many fine catches were witnessed. At the beginning of the game the 18th scored rapidly, and the position got as far as 9 – 5. When the 2nd got their next point the 18th was still ahead. It was, however, here that the 2nd began to forge ahead, and before very long they had brought their runs up to nine, where their score stood at the close.
The weather was admirable for the match. Baseball, which was a form of sport almost unknown in Folkestone before the coming of the Canadians, has become quite a popular game, and there are more and more spectators at each match.
Source: Folkestone Herald. May 22, 1915. Page 8. Courtesy of Folkestone Baseball Chronicle Facebook Group (Andrew Taylor).
The story relates the essentials of the match. The 18th Battalion leads, there is a tie, end then the 18th Battalion prevails. Many Canadian soldiers are in attendance at each “stroke” there is “enthusiastic applause”. The writer, obviously new to describing a baseball game, does a concise summary of the game and, as time has passed offers to a modern reader some real gems of information and context.
Not only is the author’s familiarity of baseball incomplete, the descriptions of the contest are apt and give the event a flavour tinged in the times of a reporter about the beat of his community reporting on an event. The story offers something, now, much more important. It places specific men o the 18th Battalion at a specific place, time, and activity and allows us to see their lives as much more than simply soldiers. They are active men, pursuing sport after a very heavy day of training. That, after five-hours of trench digging, let alone marching from West Sandling to Tolsford Hill to dig these trenches, the soldiers return, most likely change from some sort of work fatigue uniform into clean clothes to play baseball.
How these men are connected will remain unknown. Where they members of the same Platoon or Squad? Of where they simply the first to volunteer to play against another team. Could the Battalion, through an enterprising officer, had a formal training and practice regime for baseball?
Connected they are. Their names are in black and white and a simple review of the Nominal Roll, April 1915 allows their identity to be determined with some certainty. Of the men identified only Jeffries identifies as British born. All the other identified men are Canadian born. They all range in age from 18 to 27-years old. They share an interest in baseball. Private Jeffries, our Englishman, served two years with a Yorkshire Regiment. Perhaps he was exposed to playing rounders during that service drawing him to participating in baseball.
We can now picture those young men playing during “admirable” day. The soft hit of a ball making contact of the bat as Private Garside hits a grounder towards third base and him sprinting hard towards first, hoping that the immutable physics of a caught and thrown ball will not make him out. That he will run past the bag and make a base hit and turn and smile to a friend along the baseline as he is cheered on. Other men, in civilian clothes, stand beside the raucous Canadians as they cheer on their teams so far from home.
This article, simply entitled CANADIAN BASEBALL, captures moments in time specific to the men of the 18th Battalion. They are identified. They are made real. They are our heritage and we can now understand them better.
[i] The exact date of the game mentioned in the article is unknown. The paper was published on a Saturday – May 22, 1915 – so it is possible the paper is relating to a game played on that date or the Saturday prior to the paper’s publication – May 15, 1915. The 18th Battalion War Diary for April and May 1915 are not help in determining the date. Further, there are no war diaries for the 2nd Divisional War Diary for May 1915.
[ii] This soldier’s identity cannot be determined as there were fourteen privates with the surname “Smith” in the April 1915 Nominal Roll.
[iii] This soldier’s identity cannot be determined as there were four privates with the surname “Anderson” in the April 1915 Nominal Roll.