Some News From Hastings to London, Ontario

Fred Young, reg. no. 53180, was a prolific letter writer to the newspapers in London and Windsor, Ontario during the war, and poet laurate of the 18th Battalion after the war. In this letter written while he was posted with the Administration Staff at Hastings with the Assistant Director of Medical Services, he outlines some of the happenings and goings on that he is experiencing after being wounded in action. He was in England after suffering a Blighty on October 8, 1915, having experienced a gunshot wound to the chest. He had passed through the chain of Imperial military medical treatment and rehabilitation and now was posted in Hastings, England. At the same time, Company Sergeant Major, soon to be Lieutenant, Joseph Coulthirst Frith, reg. no. 53072, was posted to the Canadian Corps Assembly Centre at Hastings. He too, had been wounded in action on October 4, 1916, with a gunshot wound (severe) to the face. Both he and young were fellow members of the 18th Battalion and natives of London, Ontario.

Pte. Fred Young Announces This in Letter.
—–Soldier Poet Now Again Engaged in Active Duty With Army.

Hastings, Sussex, England.

Dec. 2, 1916.

Dear Friend,– Our first direct information that the 142nd Canadian (London’s Own) had reached the Shorncliffe training area, was received when we met a bunch of the boys from the old home town in a seacoast hamlet on the shores of the English Channel: Over our coffee and cookies in the Y.M.C.A. recreation dining-room, we listed with eager interest to their up-to-date news from the land of the Maple Leaf.

Their disgust with the Ethiopian darkness of English towns after nightfall, caused by zepp [Zeppelin] visits, was decidedly pronounces, as they contrasted them with the brightly-illuminated cities of Canada. We assured them that their feelings were shared by the inhabitants although just at that time, the official news that two more zepps and a Hun aeroplane had been hurled into oblivion, had created a feeling of jubilation.

Another pleasant feature of the week was our meeting with Sergt. Or, to be correct, Sergt.-Major Joe Firth of the Fighting 18th. We draw no salary as press agent for anyone, but we confess to a thrill of pride in again shaking hands with an old pal, whose main characteristics on the battlefield, utter fearlessness, and the welfare of the men of his platoon, had one him well-deserved promotion. And it was not until we had parted from him that we learned that he had won the Military Medal and had been recommended for a commission in his majesty’s forces. Bon sante and bon chance old pal.

Pessimists and Optimists

Rather disquieting news from Rumania is giving chronic pessimists a brief inning, but healthy optimists know that the temporary setback will have no effect on the final issue of the war. We came across a verse the other day, describing an optimist, and we think it worth while to pass it on. It runs:

“The round a lot of COURAGE that simmered in the sun,

They blended it with patience and just a spice of fun,

They poured in hope and laughter, and then a sudden twist,

The mixed it altogether and made an Optimist.”

You will note by the date [line] that we have again hit the trail and we are please to report that an “official” interview with our esteemed friend and comrade, Dr. Major Hale, from the old home town, resulted in rescinding our “Has been” sentence, and posted us to “light duty” connected with military affairs at Hastings. It sure is a source of pleasure to realize how firmly the officers and men of the old Fighting 18th believe in our favorite passage of scripture: “A fellow isn’t beaten until his shoulders hit the mat.”

Perhaps you have heard that the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre has been transferred from Shoreham to Hastings. We have spent nearly a week here, and evidence of the welcome from the townspeople abounds everywhere.

Difficulty With “Eats.”

In moving such a large body of troops on such short notice, it was hardly possible to provide the “eats” as promptly as per usual. An exaggerated report of conditions must have reached the ears of the major, for that worthy is reported to have said that if the military authorities were in any difficulties, they could turn the boys loose on the town, and he would see that they were well fed until the military “eats” factory was running again with its usual precision. Although it was not necessary to accept his generous offer, such incidents leave a pleasant taste in the mouth.

A rather amusing incident occurred on the street the other day, when a bunch of the boys were lined up n “fours” awaiting the opening of the cookhouse door. An old lady, whose face beamed admiration on the boys, stopped and inquired what “regiment” it was. One of the cooks jocularly remarked that he thought it was the “Mulligan Battery of the Cookhouse Artillery.” Whether the dear old soul was lacking the sense of humor, or whether the long line of traveling field kitchens drawn up by the curb on “active service” overawed her, we do not know, but with a pleasant smile that seemed to convey a mother’s blessing to every man present, she passed down the street evidently satisfied with her information.

English history books in their genealogy of kings commence with William the First, 1066. And there is a linking up of the past with the present, as one realized that the ancient hills around Hastings, that 850 years ago resounded with the tramp of the “Conqueror’s” troops. Are today re-echoing with the martial tread of Canadian soldiers, as the march in squads to orderly room and headquarters to be dispatched to their various destinations. As soon as opportunity presents itself to visit our historic environments, we will write you again.

Yours as ever,

London Advertiser. December 21, 1916.

Through the administrative vagaries of military bureaucracy and chance these two original members of the 18th Battalion meet up.

Sergeant Young’s letter starts with relating to the people of his “old home town” the arrival of the 142nd Battalion to the shores of England and it being assigned to Shorncliffe to training. He relates observations made apparently by the newly arrived soldiers on the state of the environment in England with its imposed blackout due to the risk of bombardment from Germany Army and Naval Zeppelins and from German Air Force fixed-wing bombers. This very fact would have convinced these men that they were not in Kansas anymore. England was under threat from new weapon ariel weapons and its precautions seemed not to be too well liked by the men of the 142nd. The vagaries of the blackout blackout is apparently compensated by the news that three German aircraft have been lost in combat recently.

Young then relates his meeting with Firth. He shares that this soldier displays, “whose main characteristics on the battlefield, utter fearlessness, and the welfare of the men of his platoon,” as the reason for his recognition with a Military Medal and a promotion. There is a good chance that Young had received letters from men of the 18th Battalion relating the martial prowess of Frith, thus solidifying his firm belief in Frith’s characteristics as a soldier.

Frith comes by his military abilities from prior experience with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (7-years) and the Royal Canadian Regiment (2-years, 66-days). At 32-years old at enlistment, he was older than the average recruit and his 5’4” frame was not physically imposing but his demeanor and ability to handle men in combat is evidenced by his promotions. He would become an officer and return to the 18th Battalion later in the war.

The news from Rumania was bad. This country was fighting German and Austrian-Hungarian forces in a bid for national survival and their efforts for success were in doubt.

Major Hale, the original Medical Officer of the 18th Battalion, had suffered influenza in May 1916 and now was serving in England and had been transferred to the Duchess of Connaught Hospital located in Taplow. From this paragraph it appears that Dr. Hale may have assisted Young with his medical board as he was not a young man, having enlisted with the Battalion at the age of 40-years old. He may have been boarded for discharge and prevented him from being a “has been” soldier to one eligible for “light duties”.

The Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre, of which Young is a member, is moved from Shoreham to Hastings, approximately 40-miles, and as can be experienced in any unit, the logistics of victualling the troops goes awry. There is a reaction towards the lack of “eats” and it is intimated that the unit Major will give free reign to his command to fend for themselves until the situation with supplying food to his men is resolved.

He ends the letter with contrasting the invasion of England by William the Conqueror with that of the presence of Canadian troops in Hastings and he ends the letter with promising to write again.

This letter gives illumination to the life of Sergeants Young and Frith and the shared camaraderie of two members of the same battalion. It also appears that their former MO was able to assist Young in staying on duty with the CEF in England, instead of being sent home and discharged. He would complete his service with the CEF in England and be a source of news and poems during the rest of the war.

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