B. The Drummer-Sergeant

18th Battalion Association[i]
Windsor and Detroit Branch

One of the best-known, best liked, and friendliest men in the ranks of the Eighteenth was a late George Thomas[iii] who started out as a member of our Platoon but ended up as the Bandmaster of the Battalion Band. I still remember the wet day late in October, 1914, when George and I and several others waited in the drafty old building to be medically examined by Doctor Ratz[iv]. When the enlistment formalities have been completed and we all advised to be at the station on Monday morning, George suggested dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant. Two or three others later joined us and we all had a good dinner with a lot of nice conversation.

When I arrived at the station on Monday, I noticed George standing with a group of men he seemed to know well. Lieut. McIntosh[v] was in charge of the party and George Mogg was helping out by checking off the names of the men as they arrived and reported. A short time later, C.P.[vi] No. 21 arrived and we all boarded an empty coach for the trip to London.

As soon as we were nicely settled in Queens Park the Y.M.C.A. was opened in the building near the Dundas St. entrance. Although it was not too large, it had tables and chairs, a piano, and a well-stocked canteen. It later became the meeting place for all the troops.

It was then we found out that George could play the piano, and he was always willing to do so for the little sing-songs and impromptu concerts that were later arranged. I can still see George sitting on the little round piano stool, playing for his fortyish odd friends with the black moustache in the nice voice. He’s sang at every concert but always the same song, “When we come to the end of a perfect day”.

When the Officers decided we should have a Battalion Band, George was one of the men called in to help with the arrangements. I believe we all donated a day’s pay for the instruments. Within a few weeks, the Band became reality and after practicing daily for some time, could play four or five pieces very nicely. Those who were on the Grampian will remember the band playing on deck as we waited for the H.M.S. Cumberland to anchor nearby.

George was with the Battalion a long time and when he returned he only remained in Galt a short time before moving to Detroit where he secured employment with the Burroughs Adding Machine [Company]. He spent most of his week-ends in Windsor as he was always close to the late Phil Thorpe[vii], and several other members of the Battalion. He also like to play golf and for a while lived at the home of Al. Devine[viii]. His employers later built a new plant in Plymouth, Michigan, and George was transferred there. A few years later he had and attack of Nephritis[ix], and became a patient in the Plymouth Community Hospital. Phil arrange for some of us to go and see him. George was glad to see us. I thought he looked uncomfortable and depressed. We had a nice visit and just before we left, Phil ask George if you would like him to try and get him into Westminster or some other Canadian Hospital. George just nodded and almost broke down. The following morning, Phil telephone Knox Carrett[x], a former member of the Battalion who held a responsible position in Westminster Hospital. Phil explained everything to him and Knox, who knew George, said he would see what he could do. A few days later, the necessary authority for George to be admitted to Grace Hospital here was received. During the first month or so, George seemed to improve but later passed away apparently from Uremic Poisoning. His funeral was well attended. Every time I hear George’s name mentioned, I usually think of the Eighteenth Band and what a nice please and desirable person he was while serving with the Battalion. It all seems so long ago.

This “memory” is about Sergeant-Drummer George Llewellyn Thomas who, obviously, had a major impact on the author of the remembrance. Sadly, like all the stories in this series, we do not know the author but we do know several key items. The author enlisted at Galt, Ontario with Sergeant Thomas and possibly knew Private William Robb Dewar. The story relates how they took the train and an examination of Thomas’ and Mogg’s attestation papers show that they enlisted in Galt. In addition, Captain J.H. Ratz was from Waterloo County, thereby placing the first part of the story in Galt.

Thomas would have been well-known to all the original members of the Battalion with his musical “sing-songs” at the Y.M.C.A. canteen attached to the barrack at Queens Park and then his involvement to make the “arrangements” places him in a position of responsibility that was to be later reflected with promotions until he reached the rank of Sergeant-Drummer in April 1918.

An interesting aspect to the story is the extended post-war biography. Though born in England and native to Galt, Ontario, something led him pursue work with an American company at Detroit. Note that this was close to his comrades in the Battalion as Windsor, Ontario was a major recruitment center for the Battalion. Perhaps his decision was influenced by this factor and it certainly seems so having spent weekends in Windsor and possibly living in Canada with Alfred Devine and commuting to his work in Detroit. Most likely his move to Plymouth, Michigan made this arrangement impossible as Plymouth is approximately 35 kilometers from the border.

As Sergeant-Drummer Thomas got ill he, and his comrades, felt that it was time for him to be closer to his first adopted country, Canada, to come for treatment. He died May 29, 1941 and his impact to the Battalion and its culture through the playing of music during its tour of duty was well remembered by the author and the other members of the Battalion.

H.M.S. Cumberland

It is interesting to note that this story relates the event where the H.M.S. Cumberland anchored, and the Battalion Band played for the ship. It makes an interesting image of the ships sitting silent in the sea, rising and falling to the swell, as “Rule Britannia” is played to for the pleasure of the tars aboard His Majesty’s ship.

Perhaps the power of this memory is increased by the music that Sergeant-Drummer Thomas helped create.

[i] The blog has come into the possession of an exciting and valuable series of documents care of Dan Moat, a member of the 18th Battalion Facebook Group. His Great Grand-Father, Lance-Corporal Charles Henry Rogers, reg. no. 123682 was an active member in the 18th Battalion Association and the Royal Canadian Legion. With is interest in the post-war Association a series of “MEMORIES” in the form of one-page stories relate many of the Battalion’s experiences from the “other ranks” soldiers’ point-of-view.

It appears that the documents were written in the early 1970s, a full 50-years after the end of The Great War and are a valuable social history of soldiers’ experiences as told in their own words about the events that happened a half-century ago to them, and now a full century for us. This is the first of the series, and suffice to say, the reference, names, experiences, and strong immediacy of these stories bring the men of the 18th Battalion alive.

[ii] Notation at bottom of document: Rec. 5th Oct 70. Posted 3rd Oct.

[iii] Sergeant-Drummer George Llewellyn Thomas, reg. no. 53975. Enlisted at Galt, Ontario October 24, 1914 and probably was known to my Grand-Father, William Robb Dewar, reg. no. 53902.

[iv] Dr. John Henry Ratz of Elmira.

[v] John Alexander McIntosh who would have a distinguished career in World War 1 and 2 and was an important figure in Galt business and society.

[vi] Canadian Pacific Railway.

[vii] Sergeant Philip Sydney Thorpe, reg. no. 53514 joined the Battalion in Woodstock, Ontario on October 21, 1914.

[viii] Most likely Alfred Devine, reg. no. 53337 who enlisted with the Battalion in Windsor, Ontario on November 3, 1914.

[ix] Inflammation of the kidneys.

[x] This person not found.

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