Four Letters from Valcartier Camp, 1914
Dundas Star, Dundas, Ontario
Sunday, August 23, 1914
Transcribed by: Marika Pirie
The following letters from Valcartier training camp in Quebec were written by Pte. Goldwin M. Pirie, 1st Battalion Western Ontario Regiment, and published in The Dundas Star. Goldwin Pirie was a native of Dundas, Ontario, and was to send several letters to the Dundas paper while stationed at Valcartier. He wrote about the experiences of the Dundas men with the 77th Wentworth Regiment and included many humorous anecdotes about military camp life as seen by a group of ten friends called the “Gimme Club”. The 77th Wentworth Regiment was a local militia unit before the war, and immediately raised a group of men as Canadian Expeditionary Force volunteers at the outbreak of war in August 1914. The 77th men were soon to become members of the new 1st Battalion Western Ontario Regiment (1st Brigade).
Goldwin Pirie drafted the letters on behalf of the group. His father was Alexander Fraser Pirie (1849-1903) who had been the publisher of another local newspaper called the Dundas Banner, and previously was the editor of The Toronto Evening Telegram. The “Stray Shots” section is a humourous play on the names of some of the local men who would be familiar to the citizens of Dundas. For example, Campbell Gwyn is one of the names mentioned – this refers to Charles Campbell Gwyn, graduate in Medicine from McGill University. Gwyn was born in Dundas and was with the 77 th men at the time of this letter. He later transferred to the 18th Battalion and was killed in action on April 9, 1917. Pte. Goldwin Pirie was wounded at the 2nd Battle of Ypres in the counter attack of the 1st and 4th Battalions and died of wounds in Netley Hospital England on July 1st, 1915.
FINE BODY OF MEN
Interesting Letter from the Boys at
Valcartier Camp, Aug. 23, 1914.
77th Wentworth Detachment,
To the Editor:
Dear Sir: - Appreciating the very patriotic send-off given us by the people of Dundas, we thought you would like to know how we have fared up to date.
First of all, we would like to thank the ladies for their splendid work in looking after our bodily welfare during the twenty-six hours we spent en route to Valcartier Camp.
Also equally appreciated are the collapsible drinking cups (not too collapsible), and the combination K.F.S. (the latter I might say stands for knife, fork and spoon, and is in no way to be confused with Lennard’s famous manufactures). They also have withstood the very rigid test imposed on them by the company cook.
The 48th Highlanders of Toronto, and the 91st, of Hamilton arrived this morning, and have been quartered with this battalion, bringing us up to about 1600 men.
The ground is very mossy, and we are beginning to suspect that the rain here has something to do with this, as J. Pluvius has so far reported for duty diurnally.
While returning from church parade this morning, we were very much flattered to have Col. the Hon. Sam Hughes remark as we marched past, “ Dundas boys, eh! Fine body of men,” showing that the 77th is a well-known unit in military circles.
Finally we would like to tender our sympathy to Pte. Lawson on his extreme hard luck in being prevented from leaving with this contingent.
Bill Graham may be away, but what is he? A Wafer?
Milk is plentiful, and as Cowper loses, Willie Gains.
If Sullivan frequents the canteen, why can’t Campbell Gwyn (go in?).
Some fellows would like to have talcum powder in their shoes for hard marching, but we should worry, as we have Lavender.
If a woman drove a Be(e)rtram into camp, what chance would Arthur have to Turner out before Pirie said “Gimme a drink?” Knill.
THE GIMME CLUB (gimme this, gimme that.)
Gim Pirie, Pres.
Goldwin Pirie’s second letter from Valcartier was published in The Dundas Star on September 3rd, 1914. “Major Kimmins” refers to Major Albert Edward Kimmins, 1st Battalion, who in civilian life had been the general manager of E. D. Smith & Sons of Winona, Ontario (E.D. Smith jam is a brand name that still exists today). Kimmins was killed in action on April 24 th, 1915 in the 2nd battle of Ypres. His name is on the Menin Gate in Belgium, and in Canada on the Stoney Creek (Saltfleet) Ontario War Memorial.
GIMME CLUB WRITES AGAIN
Interesting Letter from the Boys at Valcartier.
Valcartier Camp, August 30th.
Dear Sir: - We now take our pen in hand (a most extraordinary position), to make a feeble attempt at a letter, having turned down several invitations to take tea this afternoon with some of the officers at headquarters. The main object of this week’s letter is to thank the ladies of the town more than ever for their splendid work as regards the Patriotic fund. They are certainly doing their share in this great time of need.
In last week’s Star we read with pleasure, not free from a certain feeling of regret, the account of the County Council meeting held for the purpose of discussing the insurance question for the Wentworth contingent. We can hardly credit a Councillor, let alone one who is ready to call himself a British subject, with offering such a staunch opposition to a scheme to recompense the dependents of those who have offered their services to the Empire. However, thanks to our worthy citizen, John Douglas, and the rest of the broad-minded councillors who supported, and eventually carried his motion, the volunteers who have families depending upon them are able to learn that those families will be looked after.
The camp is now in full swing, over 2000 men arrived to-day amid the pouring rain, but all in good spirits, even after a tedious journey, some regiments coming from the far west.
The Y.M.C.A. are doing their usual good work, and furnish free writing material and accommodation. They also give an open-air moving picture entertainment each evening.
We hear to-day that there is to be a gold cup for the company most efficient in rifle shooting, of the entire camp, and we feel confident that the Wentworth contingent will give a good account of itself.
We think our Quartermaster must have heard Col. Hughes remark last week about the 77th being a fine body of men, as we were snugly outfitted with 8 dozen shirts, neck size 18 1/2-in. and underwear size 44.
The washing facilities are somewhat restricted, and the river is guarded most carefully, so that up to date it is with a feeling of shame that we have to confess that we think the “Black Watch” would be a fitter appellation for our contingent.
During the first few days we were at a loss for canteens. Now, however, a dozen or so are in business, at famine prices, and consequently only those, who, as our friend from Ancaster implies, are overburdened with superfluous cash, are able to avail themselves of the various luxuries.
ROUND THE TENT-POLE
The awkward squad of the 77th is rapidly improving, owing to the fact that Lennard is such a good Carpenter that he can work well with Greenwood.
Major Kimmons seems to be the key of success of our company, as we note he is very instrumental in looking after the Minor details.
Our Colonel Sergt. is quite a ladies’ man, being a Charman fellow.
Earl Kitchener has invited the Gimme Club to winter on the continent, but our visit must unfortunately be deferred to a later date, owing to our program being filled for a few weeks.
Sunday visitors to the Gimme Club - Dr. Norman Gwyn, of Philadelphia, brother of our bald-headed sage, was a most welcome visitor to-day (the 30th); also Col. Bedell, of the 42nd Brockville looked us up.
Major Labatt - Hopeless cases, boys.
Princess Patricia and bodyguard, Lt. Spirella, A.D.C.
Sit Wilfred Laurier - Grit and perseverance.
THE GIMME CLUB BOYS
Gim Pirie, President
Goldwin Pirie’s third letter from Valcartier was published in the Dundas Star on September 17th, 1914
Gimme Club Were Wet,
Dear Sir: - This being Monday evening, and for some unaccountable reason we are off duty early, we will try to get a few lines off from the Gimme Club.
Owing to the regatta staged last Sunday by Col. Sam Hughes for the benefit of His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, and the fact that on our return our boat house (the tent) was decks awash, we were unable to make our weekly contribution to your esteemed paper, our spirits (of no kith or kin to friend Bacchus,) being considerably dampened. However, we felt quite at home again when we found that the camp had taken the appearance of the Dundas marsh, and although we paddled around we failed to locate any haven in the shape of Hazelnut Island.
It is much to be regretted that Capt. Jack Minchin, the South African veteran, is unable to be with us, through his illness, but we would like to say that among the numerous presents from the Dundas people, none was more heartily appreciated than his appropriate gift. Also on behalf of the contingent we wish to most sincerely than Col. J. J. Grafton for his very useful gifts of sweaters and handkerchiefs, as the former gives the corps a very smart and comfortable appearance at roll call.
The 77th mounted quarter guard for the first time on Saturday night and got in some very effective work by rounding up about thirty crapshooters. We were also entertained by a very fluent prisoner, who had cleverly contrived to renew old acquaintance with John Barleycorn. He complained very strongly in a peculiar bass voice of cramps, but after being sat on by our stout stalwarts, Jack Pacey and Jim Barrett, his alements (sic) were soon forgotten. On the whole he was treated in a far from Regal manner, and in the morning went up a sadder Budweiser man.
The camp was turned out last night to corral about three hundred horses that had stampeded, and we derived our first feeling of satisfaction at being inoculated after today seeing several carcasses hauled out of the Jacques Cartier river, which serves as our reservoir, and runs at about the same rate.
The final inspection of troops took place to-day before the usual celebrities, the review, by the way being the largest ever held in Canada. We felt a little perplexed at another doubtful compliment paid us by Col. Sam, when the1st Battalion, composed of units from Western Ontario marched past, and he was heard to speak gently to the Duke, “Not bad for a bunch of farmers, eh?”
We are all very anxious to get away, and it is rumored that the transports are in the St. Lawrence waiting for repainting, so that we hope to sail soon.
Sunday visitors – Mr. F. E. Lennard, Sr., and Thos. Woods, from Dundas; Aimers Bertram, from Lachine, Que.; Alec Ferguson, from the Winnipeg Engineers.
Goldwin Pirie’s last letter from Valcartier before the 1st Battalion left Canada was published in The Dundas Star on October 1st, 1914. On September 20th there was a final review of the troops at Valcartier with Sam Hughes leading the men past the saluting base. 9,500 civilians attended the review, including Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden and the Duke of Connaught. All of the approximately 33,000 volunteers would be going overseas.
On September 24th the troops set out to reach the troop ships at the Quebec wharves where the men were organized into groups of roughly 1,000 each to board the awaiting transport ships. Pte. Goldwin Pirie and the men of the 1st Battalion were on the transport ship Laurentic of the White Star Line. The fleet of ships carrying the Canadian volunteers arrived at Plymouth Sound in England on October 14 th, 1914. In this letter Pte. Pirie lists the 10 members of the “Gimme Club”. Seven of the men survived the war, and three – Gwyn, Gaines and Pirie, were killed.
CONTINGENT HAS SAILED
Troops Now on Way to England.
Sept. 21st, 1914
(Our last letter from Canadian soil)
To the Editor:
Dear Sir: - As the time for our departure draws near and the camp is in a state of disorder, we do not think it best to send in the rather breezy letter we had written for this number. We had a muster parade this afternoon in full marching order, as all equipment is now issued, so will bid farewell to our friends in dear old Dundas. Always hoping to see you whenever Dame Fortune sees fit, we are, sincerely yours,
THE GIMME CLUB
Bertram, Gwyn, Sullivan, Cowper, Knill, Turner, Gaines, Lavender, Graham, Pirie.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The following names are the Gimme Club men in order of appearance on the letter:
Bertram – Leonard Halliday Bertram, #7017. Bertram was wounded on in the 2 nd battle of Ypres in April 1915 and recovered. Bertram received a Military Cross for his bravery at Passchendaele. He survived the war.
Gwyn – Charles Campbell Gwyn, #7035, was wounded at the 2 nd battle of Ypres. He later transferred from the 1 st Battalion to the 18 th Battalion and was killed in action on April 9 th, 1917. He was a Captain at the time of his death. Gwyn was born in Dundas in 1884 and stated in his September 1914 attestation that he had 3 years prior military experience with the 90 th Regiment. He was a graduate of McGill University in Medicine.
Sullivan – Leo Ignatus Sullivan, #7212, was born in Dundas, Ontario in 1893 and was a clerk at the time of his September 1914 attestation. He stated that he had 5 years prior military experience with the Wentworth 77th Regiment. He survived the war.
Cowper – John Woodville Cowper, #7024, was with the gun section in the 1st Battalion. He was born in Dundas in 1890 and was a clerk. He stated on his September 1914 attestation that he had 7 years prior military experience with the 77 th Regiment. He survived the war.
Knill - John Howard Knill, #7050. John Howard Knill was born in Paris, Ontario. Knill was born in 1895 and was a bank clerk. He stated on his attestation that he had no prior military experience. His file at the National Archives indicates that he became a lieutenant later in the war . He survived the war.
Turner – Arthur Edmond Robert Turner, #7088 was a British immigrant who had lived in Dundas about 4 years. Employed at Bertram’s, he was also an “enthusiastic member of the tennis club”. Turner was reported as a casualty in the May 6th, 1915 issue of the Dundas Star. Turner was born in England in 1892, and stated on his September 1914 attestation that he had prior military experience in England. Turner survived the war.
Gaines – William Henry Gaines, #7000. Gaines was born in England in 1892. His September 1914 attestation gave a Hamilton Ontario address. Unmarried, he listed his occupation on his attestation as machinist. He had apprenticed as a mechanic at Bertram’s Engine Works and afterwards worked at Westinghouse. He had been in Cleveland, Ohio when the war broke out, but came home to Dundas to enlist. He had served in the 77th Wentworth Regiment for 5 years prior to enlistment. Gaines had joined the bomb-throwing section with Goldwin Pirie and they had taken a bomb-throwing course together. J. Woodville Cowper’s May 9th letter to the Dundas Star indicated that Gaines was with Goldwin Pirie on the battlefield in the charge. Pirie was wounded and Gaines thought he had been killed (Dundas Star “With the Gun Section / Woodville Cowper Describes Events Since the Battle”, May 27th issue). Gaines was killed in the battle of Givenchy on June 15th, 1915. His body was not found. He is remembered on the Vimy Memorial.
Lavender – Francis John Lavender, #7055. Frank Lavender wrote to his parents on April 25th that he was not injured in the 2nd battle of Ypres, and that reports that he was wounded were mistaken (Dundas Star, May 13, 1915). He survived the war.
Graham – Pte. George William Graham, #7036. Pte. Graham was born in Hamilton Ontario in 1888. At the time of his enlistment in September 1914, he was married to Leona Graham who was living in Dundas, Ontario. He stated that he had one year prior military experience with the 77th Regiment. He indicated that he was a clerk. He survived the war.
Pirie – Pte. Goldwin McCausland Pirie, #7076. Goldwin Pirie was born in Dundas in 1894. He was working at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in 1914 (Yonge & Eglinton branch, Toronto) when he volunteered to join the war. As a member of the 1st Battalion, he was in reserve with the 4th battalion when the Canadians faced the chlorine gas attack on April 22, 1915 near Ypres. The 1st and 4th battalions made a heroic counterattack at 5:25 am on the following morning towards Mauser Ridge. Goldwin Pirie was wounded in the charge and was eventually evacuated for care to Netley Hospital in England. He died of his wounds on July 1, 1915.
Compiled by - M. I. Pirie