Several years after the War, I was coming back from Chicago on the “Twilight” which was then one of the better trains operated by the New York Central Railway as it was solid chair car and excess fare.
As soon as the train left the station in Chicago, I noticed a group of nice looking, well-dressed, healthy men going through to the Club Car which was on the rear end of the train. I was later told they were members of the Chicago Hockey Team who were going to play in both Toronto and Montreal. As soon as they train left Gary, Indiana, I decided to go to the Diner and was seated at a two chair table on the right side of the Dining Car. Directly across from me, sitting at one of the large table having dinner were three of the hockey players and an older man who all seemed to be having quite a conversation.
After I had leisurely finished my meal and was waiting for the Steward to bring my check, the older man came over and seeing my returned button (we still wore them at that time) wanted to know what outfit I was with. I told him the Eighteenth Battalion. He replied, so was I. I gave him the number of my car and suggested he come back and we could have a drink together. He did, and introduced himself as Robert Dyer stating he was with the Transport [section] and on occasion acted as groom for Major Hale[iii]. I couldn’t place him. He then stated he had enlisted in Berlin (Kitchener) and had gone to London with Harold Gallatly [Gellatly][iv], Reg. Lawrence [Lawrance][v], and Jack Richardson[vi]. I then knew he was allright [sic] as those three I know very well. We talked of little things that happened in both London and Sandling and off the different Officers and men we both knew. Mr. Dyer invited me to be his guest when his team played in Detroit but I could never make it owing to shift work.
A few years later, our Reunion was held in Guelph. Jack Wilford[vii] and I shared a room at the Wellington Hotel, and as most of the members of the Battalion from that district were in our Company, we had plenty of visitors. I asked Jack Richardson about Mr. Dyer. Jack stated he was well known in the Kitchener district as Bobby Dyer as he was always interested in amateur sports and was usually an officer in the junior leagues. He also stated that about a year before Mr. Dyer had come back from Chicago very sick. He was sent to Westminster and after being a patient there for some time, he passed away, his funeral being well attended by the Eighteenth men who resided in the Kitchener-Waterloo district. Mr. Dyer was a nice person, and was proud of his service with the Battalion. According to the nominal roll in possession of Ab. Ross, his Reg. No. was 53041, and it shows he was a former member of the Canadian Militia.
This story brings to life another era. The era of train travel and its particular experiences of that time and place. One can almost imagine the sound of the cars traveling over the tracks as the “Twilight” moves through the countryside of Indiana as it proceeds towards Michigan and the city of Detroit. The cars smell of cigarette and cigar smoke and even the hockey players smoke as they enjoy their meal in the Dining Car.
An unnamed member of the Battalion from Windsor, Ontario, is traveling between Chicago and Windsor on the “Twilight” and encounters a fellow veteran, identified by his Army Class A Badge. Their shared service starts a conversation and they meet after dinner and talk about their shared experiences.
There are some inconsistencies with the story. The memory details specifically the train service identified as the “Twilight” which did serve Chicago to Detroit but was not started until 1926. This is highly problematic as the subject of the story, Robert Dyer, died on October 16, 1920[viii]. There are clues that this “memory” occurred earlier than the detail of the existence of the “Twilight” train service would indicate.
There are details that indicate that the meeting occurred earlier than remembered. First, the wearing of the Army Class A Badge would typically be worn by a veteran immediately after his service and, perhaps, on everyday clothes, but over time, the frequency of wearing this badge would decline until it was worn on special occasions such as Battalion reunions or on Remembrance Day. Second, the reference about the men sharing a drink after dinner may indicate that the meeting took place before the imposition of Prohibition. The Eighteenth Amendment took effect January 16, 1920, which would be consistent with the date of Private Dyer’s death. The “drink” may well have been non-alcoholic in keeping with the author’s personal preference but it may not represent the cultural and social norms of the majority of men of that era. These two details indicate that the “memory” occurred before the “Twilight” but is not definitive to the actual date of the memory. Robert Dyer’s date of death does.
Even without the specific detail of his regimental number (53041) there is enough information to confirm Private Robert William Dyer’s identity. He was from the Kitchener area. He lived with his wife, Mary, at 4 Caroline Street, Waterloo, Ontario and enlisted in Galt, Ontario on October 26, 1914. His trade was a stableman and this knowledge and skill with horses would have made him an ideal candidate for the transport section of the Battalion and to act as a groom for Major Hale. He also served with the 108th Regiment before his enlistment with the C.E.F. This is notated as the “Berlin Regiment” on his attestation papers. Finally, there was only one solder with the surname Dyer on the 18th Battalion Nominal Roll (April 1915) and his forename was Robert. These details, independent of the regimental number, are details that clearly identify this man.
Yet, the memory is flawed. Time has passed, and the details are correct but some of the specifics are not. It really does not matter if the meeting did not happen on the “Twilight” train. The memory is intact in its essential substance. It brings Robert Dyer to life in a specific role and context.
Some of the other details of the story are interesting to note. The author refers, even defers, to Robert Dyer as “Mr. Dyer” and he is described as “…an older man” sitting at the table in the Dining Car eating with the younger hockey players. Robert Dyer was 39-years of age when he died. He was 33-years old when he enlisted. He was older than average for a non-commissioned soldier and it is obvious that his age held some meaning to the author and indicates that the story-teller is much younger than “Mr. Dyer”.
And then there is a note of suspicion of the validity of Robert Dyer’s claim he was a member of the 18th. The author meets Dyer later for a drink in his train car and, “I couldn’t place him. He then stated he had enlisted in Berlin (Kitchener) and had gone to London with Harold Gallatly, Reg. Lawrence, and Jack Richardson. I then knew he was allright [sic] as those three I know very well [emphasis mine]”. This exchanges eludes to an issue that may have been present immediately after the war with men claiming service with the C.E.F. in some capacity when, in fact they had not served, in order to avoid ridicule and resentment from those who had served and members of the Canadian public that looked unfavourably towards “shirkers”. Whatever the case, this not so subtle reference towards potential subterfuge by non-veterans to pose as veterans is a indication of the impact that the war had on those that served and wanted to insure honourable recognition of that service and the natural disdain for those that would steal their valour.
The “memory” ends with a relating of more information acknowledging Mr. Dyer’s contributions to his community and his subsequent illness and death and funeral.
This “memory”, with its reference to Robert Dyers regimental number identifies who the memory is about without a doubt. The details save for the reference to the train service called “Twilight” is consistent with his service record and the information in the story brings to light details of his service.
In summary, Private Taylor enlisted with the 18th Battalion on October 26, 1914, probably as the unit being raised in Kitchener/Waterloo was going to be delayed overseas. He was above average in age for a recruit and married. He was on of the original men of the 18th Battalion and one of the rare men to serve, effectively, save leaves, without interruption the entire war. He was never wounded and would have experienced almost every day of the Battalion’s war experience from the date of his enlistment to his discharge on May 24, 1919. He was discharged when the 18th Battalion was disbanded upon its return to London, Ontario.
The memory offers insight into his service that his service records do not. His trade as a stableman is utilized with his service in the Transport Section of the Battalion and his assignment as Major Hale’s groom. One wonders how this service to the Medical Officer impacted his experiences as a soldier with his Battalion. It also offers a curiosity. How, or was there an actual connection with the hockey team from Chicago? If he was a stableman and interested in amateur sports as an officer in the junior leagues how did this experience equate into being potentially involved with the hockey team from Chicago. From the description of the team and who they are playing it is the Chicago Blackhawks, quite a leap from Kitchener, Ontario. Was it one of the players who knew him from Kitchener or from his war service? This detail may never be known but information may be out there.
Sadly, Private Dyer would die from illness related to his service. He died of “apoplexy (cerebral haemorrhage) at Waterloo, Ontario on October 16, 1920 at the age of 39 having served his community and his country well and held in high regard by his comrades.
Not at all a bad legacy to have…
This “memory” brings to light some questions about Mr. Dyer. It would be interesting to know more of his life in Waterloo and his involvement with amateur sport. It would also be interesting if his connection to the hockey team from Chicago could be confirmed and how this connection came to be. The inconsistencies of the dates of the some of the details of the memory are, essentially, inconsequential. We have enough details from his service record to assume a high degree of confidence that this man is the man that served with the regimental number of 53041.
The “memory” is another of a series of stories that bring the men of the 18th Battalion to life a century in the past. This story is quintessential Canadian with its connection to hockey and Mr. Dyer will be remembered today for what he did for his country and his community a century ago.
[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.
[ii] The transcription and research of these “memories” is an attempt to connect and identify the people mentioned in the stories with some accuracy. This is, in no way, a definitive identification of the people in the stories but there is high confidence that these are the men mentioned in the “memories”. In some cases, the story may identify people, places, dates, times, and details inaccurately and, where possible, these details are noted. Given that the men relating these memories would be in there late 70s, at the minimum, their errors can be forgiven. The stories related stand on their own as a social history of the experiences of the men of the 18th Battalion.
[iii] Dr. George Carlton Hale was an influential medical practitioner in Canada and he served in important capacities in civilian and military medical practice.
[iv] Private Harold John Clement Gellatly, reg. no. 53917.
[v] Lieutenant Reginald Ernest Lawrance, reg. no. 53873.
[vi] Possibly Lieutenant John James Richardson D.S.O., reg. no. 53882.
[vii] Possibly Private Jack Wilford, reg. no. 53870.