took me to the X-ray room and then to the operating-tent
that night, and sent me off on the following afternoon
to the Base with a parting injunction that I should
be well advised to have my foot taken off; which, thank
God, was not found necessary. From the C.C.S. at Camiers,
two days later I was sent to London to the Endsleigh
Palace Hospital near Euston Station, where I arrived
with another wounded officer at 2.30 A.M. I was put
in a little room on the seventh storey, and there through
long nights I thought of our men still at the front
and wondered how the war was going. The horror of great
darkness fell upon me. The hideous sights and sounds
of war, the heart-rending sorrows, the burden of agony,
the pale dead faces and blood-stained bodies lying on
muddy wastes, all these came before me as I lay awake
counting the slow hours and listening to the hoarse
tooting of lorries rattling through the dark streets
below. That concourse of ghosts from the sub-conscious
mind was too hideous to contemplate and yet one could
not escape them. The days went by and intimations at
last reached us that the German power was crumbling.
Swiftly and surely the Divine Judge was wreaking vengeance
upon the nation that, by its over-weaning ambition,
had drenched the world in blood.
On November 11th at eleven in
the morning the bells of London rang out their joyous
peals, for the armistice had been signed and the war
was over. There was wild rejoicing in the city and the
crowds went crazy with delight. But it seemed to me
that behind the ringing of those peals of joy there
was the tolling of spectral bells for those who would
return no more. The monstrous futility of war as a test
of national greatness, the wound in the worlds’
heart, the empty homes, those were the thoughts which
in me over-mastered all feelings of rejoicing.
On Sunday morning, the 4th of
May, 1919, on the Empress of Britain, after an absence
of four years and seven months, I returned to Quebec.
On board were the 16th Battalion with whom I had sailed
away in 1914, the 8th Battalion, the Machine Gun Battalion,
[Page 318] the 3rd Field Ambulance
and some of the Engineers. Like those awaking from a
dream, we saw once more the old rock city standing out
in the great river. There was the landing and the greeting
of loving friends on the wharf within a stone’s
throw from the place whence we had sailed away. While
I was shaking hands with my friends, an officer told
me I had to inspect the Guard of Honour which the kind
O.C. of the vessel had furnished. I did not know how
to do this properly but I walked through the rows of
stalwart, bronzed men and looked into their faces which
were fixed and immovable. Each man was an original,
and every unit in the old 1st Division was represented.
For four years and seven months, they had been away
from home, fighting for liberty and civilization. Many
of them wore decorations; many had been wounded. No
General returning victor from a war could have had a
finer Guard of Honour.
The troops had to wait on board
the ship till the train was ready. All along the decks
of the great vessel, crowded against the railings in
long lines of khaki, were two thousand seven hundred
men. Their bright faces were ruddy in the keen morning
air. On their young shoulders the burden of Empire had
rested. By their willing sacrifice Canada had been saved.
It made a great lump come in my throat to look at them
and think of what they had gone through.
I went back to the gangway for
a last farewell. In one way I knew it must be a last
farewell, for though some of us will meet again as individuals
it will be under altered conditions. Never again but
in dreams will one see the great battalions marching
on the battle-ploughed roads of France and Flanders.
Never again will one see them pouring single file into
the muddy front trenches. All that is over. Along the
coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific, among our cities,
by the shores of lakes and rivers and in the vast expanse
of prairies and mountain passes the warrior hosts have
melted away. But there on the vessel that day the fighting
men had come home in all their strength and comradeship.
I stood on the gangway full of conflicting emotions.
The men called out “Speech,”
“Speech,” as they used often to do, half
in jest and half in earnest, when we met in concert
tents and estaminets in France.
I told them what they had done
for Canada and what Canada owed them and how proud I
was to have been with them. I asked them to continue
to play the game out here as they had played it in [Page
319] France. Then, telling them to remove their
caps, as this was our last church parade, I pronounced
the Benediction, said, “Good-bye, boys,”
and turned homewards. [Page 320]