CHAPTER XXXV.

VICTORY.

November 11th, 1918.



    THEY 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]