Q: The Lonely Soldier: Remembering a Leave

18th Battalion Association[i]
Windsor and Detroit Branch

Some time ago, we were watching the Television Program, “No Time for Sergeants”. The skit was about a lonesome soldier. It was funny.

The lonesome soldier was no myth. He was real. It all stated the night we left London. Many of the officers and many of the men had plenty of relatives and friends to see them off. There was a lot of hugging, kissing, hand shaking, and many many tearful farewells. The lonesome ones looked on, sometimes with envy.

When we arrived at West Sandling and were told we were all going to be granted a leave, most of the men in our Platoon talked about going to visit their relatives or friends of their families in different parts of England and Scotland. The lonesome ones just listened. After most of them had gone, one of the signallers came over and suggested we go to London together for a few days. We did and had a nice time. We stayed at the Maple Leaf[iii] and each day would visit one of the historical places in the London district. We even went to Madam Tussaud’s. We both thought that the gardens at Hampton Court Palace were the nicest we had ever seen.

After dinner we usually went to one of the variety shows in the Picadilly [sic] district. We had a lovely time, and when we got back to Sandling, some of those who went to visit their relatives wished they had gone with us. The real lonesome soldier is the one who is wounded. When he says good-bye, usually to his friends who carried him out, he is really on his own. He doesn’t know a soul and this condition usually lasts during his stay in hospital. Thousands of Canadian soldiers have had the same experience.

I will always be grateful to the British people for the kindness that was extend to me when, to use the old cliché, I was a stranger in a strange land. The couldn’t have been nicer during my hospitalization, and I will never forget it. Every time our Government does something like taking the Queen’s pictures off our bills, I get madder than John Diefenbaker. It doesn’t do much good as Prime Minister Trudeau had a larger majority than ever and is still going strong. He just had another date with Funny Girl.

The Story

A simple and direct relating of the impact of being lonesome as a soldier with some personal reminisces of a leave in London, England during the summer of 1915. The last paragraph relates to some recent political and personal events of the Canadian government and its Prime Minister at that time.


The reference to the TV show, “No Time for Sergeants”, appears to be a reference to the 1955 television adaption of Mac Hyman’s book of the same title released in 1954. The first production of this adaptation of the book was done in 1955 on The United States Steel Hour and starred Andy Griffith. It was later adapted as a Broadway play and a movie starring Griffith was released in 1958. A television series of thirty-four episodes was televised during 1964.

The story comes back to the leave-taking of the Battalion when if left London, Ontario on April 12, 1915. The author shares how most of the men had someone there to see them off and that those that were lonesome would be made envious by the attentions of the soldiers’ loved ones. One can well imagine the angst and mixed melancholy of a young man alone, perhaps a Barnardo Boy, disconnected from the expressions of love and leaving being made by their comrades that have family present. This isolation and longing would, perhaps, enhance to feelings of uncertainty as to what the future would bring as they set out to the “adventure” that was to be their service experiences with the C.E.F. This isolation was heightened by the displays of familial affection as the other soldiers said their good-byes.

The author then reflects on his experiences after the Battalion shipped to England for further training. His story relates to his experiences going on leave to London and compares his experiences to a lonesome soldier who sustains wounds and leaves to Battalion family to go to England for further treatment. He is now truly alone with none of the support that a soldier with friends and family would have. No letters from home and no one to write to. No family in England to come and visit him or for him to visit while he recuperates.

The story closes with recognition to the British people for their “kindness” and expresses his wish that the current federal government under Pierre Trudeau not diminish the connection and ties between Canada and the United Kingdom.

This memory has several elements that help reveal the experiences of the men of the 18th Battalion during the war. It hi-lights the empathy of soldiers towards each other; the story relates and illuminates one aspect of leave and the facilities for the Canadian soldiers of the C.E.F; and it gives us a hint to when it was written.

The story with its object of relating the experiences of the “lonesome soldier” shows the common connection between soldiers. The author obviously is not a lonely soldier. He has family and friends supporting him on this singular, life shaping military experience and he has the friends and resources to determine what activities he is going to experience on his leave. The author uses the pronoun “we” when describing the leave in London. He is not alone but with another or a group and, thus, not representative of the “lonesome soldier”. The activities are shared amongst other contrasting the social isolation of a soldier without friends in the Battalion.

It implies indirectly, that the lonely soldier without friends or family would not go on leave to London but it does not imply any other activity, though it may be about the “lonesome soldier” would participate in less savoury and morally suspect behaviour such as drinking alcohol and the pursuit of loose women when on leave.

This judgement is not made as it is not expressed but is derived as to singular innocence and purity of the experience the author relates while on leave in London.

Greater London had a population of 7,157,875 and was one of the largest cities in the world. It was one of, if not the, center of economic commerce in the world with the Pound Sterling acting as a world-wide currency in many parts of the world. London was a beacon, not only for expatriate people from the British Isles, but also for the members of the Commonwealth that had the opportunity to visit this thriving metropolis.

Enter the Maple Leaf Clubs. These clubs were established by private philanthropy and were funded to “…keep their ‘boys’ off British street and out of trouble”[iv] and the story appears to reflect this. The author visits a historical place, such as Hampton Court, each day and takes in shows at Piccadilly Circus and appears to be immune to the baser temptations of soldierly life.

The Maple Leaf Clubs, The King George and the Queen Mary, were facilities in which a soldier could find cheap, clean, and wholesome boarding and recreation. The clubs were organized with donations and funding from private Canadians and corporate sponsors, such as the T. Eaton Company, who wished to offer private soldiers of the C.E.F. a respectable place for rest and respite while they were in London. Additionally, the Ontario Government was a major source of funding in recognition to the fact that 43.5 per-cent of the C.E.F. other ranks was comprised of soldiers from Ontario.[v] Canadian serving officers were accommodated by many of the private men’s clubs in London and many officers that belong to clubs in Canada had complimentary memberships in clubs in England. The gap between the needs of officers and other ranks was identified and actioned after the experiences of the 1st Canadian Contingent in Salisbury Plain. There was a private recognition for the need for recreation and accommodation for the private soldier and these facilities were created in 1915 to address the needs of the soldiers.

It is with certainty that men from the 18th Battalion enjoyed the facilities of these clubs. This story directly ties the 18th Battalion to this social resource. The clubs offered the men of the 18th and other beds, laundry service, billiards, a library, reading periodicals and magazines, meals, and other activities affiliated with the club, including swimming later in the war. The club also accommodated soldiers beginning their leave fresh from Belgium or France. These men often arrived from the front in their service uniforms dirty and muddy. They also arrived early in the morning often and the clubs accommodated these soldiers specifically to minimize the disturbance to other soldiers and to attend to their needs in cleaning their uniforms and themselves after coming directly from the front.

These were not the only clubs in England for Canadians. The Government of Ontario was so enthusiastic with the response to the support of The King George and Queen Mary that they funded five other service clubs. Other organizations such as the Canadian Y.M.C.A. and I.O.D.E. worked to fill this need for soldiers on leave.

These clubs not only benefitted soldiers on leave but also those on solders sick or wounded. They accommodated those soldiers that were recuperating from their illness or wounds.

An illustration of the scope of these facilities can be illustrated by the Hut for Canadian soldiers at King Cross Station. In the month of March 1919 this facility served 30,893 meals and stored the kits for 11,200 soldiers.[vi] This Hut was a transition point for soldiers heading to and from Scotland on their leaves and illustrates the value and popularity of such services.

The “memory” briefly relates how lonely it was for a “lonesome soldier” to be wounded and to leave-take with his comrades for when he is separated from his unit, “…he is really on his own. He doesn’t know a soul and this condition usually lasts during his stay in hospital.” This statement is very poignant and may be all that needs to be said about the loneliness of soldiers.

The Stretcher-bearer Party Painted by Lieutenant Cyril Henry Barraud Beaverbrook Collection of War Art CWM 19710261-0019

The author finishes with a reference to some of the social and economic changes to Canada. These changes act as a separation of Canada from the United Kingdom. Time has passed, and Canada is evolving, and the author reflects this. He relates the recent change from the 1954 series of Canadian bank notes in which all denominations of notes had an image of Queen Elizabeth to the 1969 Scenes of Canada series where $1, $2, and $20-dollar notes had images of the Queen and the other denominations ($5, $10, $50) do not.[vii] He also is miffed by Pierre Trudeau dating Barbara Striesand.

These personal asides express the frustration of an older generation to the changes inherent to any progressive society. It reflects a conservatism that makes sense. He was born of a different time and place and the rapid changes to Canada and the world after the First, then the Second World War and the effect of demographics and technology on society created changes that would be unanticipated and unfamiliar to a person born in the late 1800’s. The values for which he fought for have diminished and changed. Not necessarily for the worse. But different.

The memory is valuable for its ability to relate the psychological impact of loneliness, the value of friends participating in wholesome activities, and the passage of time and how values change.

[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] See the Tyrconnell Heritage Society article entitled “World War Wednesdays: Canadian Soldiers on Leave, WWI” for more information.

[iv] Sarah Cozzie, “”When You’re A Long, Long Way From Home” The Establishment of Canadian-Only Social Clubs for CEF Soldiers in London, 1915-1919,” Canadian Military History, Winter 2011, 20, no. 1 (2011): 46.

[v] Sarah Cozzie, “”When You’re A Long, Long Way From Home” The Establishment of Canadian-Only Social Clubs for CEF Soldiers in London, 1915-1919,” Canadian Military History, Winter 2011, 20, no. 1 (2011): 55.

[vi] Sarah Cozzie, “”When You’re A Long, Long Way From Home” The Establishment of Canadian-Only Social Clubs for CEF Soldiers in London, 1915-1919,” Canadian Military History, Winter 2011, 20, no. 1 (2011): 56.

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banknotes_of_the_Canadian_dollar#1969_Scenes_of_Canada_Series

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