November 11, 1918 – My Grandfather’s Recollection from the Western Front

The Pandemic has taken a toll on our travel blog. Nothing to report since our last article in early March about our final days in Buenos Aires.

I thought it would be appropriate on this Veteran’s Day/Remembrance Day to share some of my grandfather’s writings about his experiences in World War One. I am fortunate to have inherited a treasure trove of his typewritten, hand illustrated stories.

ARMISTICE NOVEMBER 11, 1918

The following stories were written by my Grandfather, David Lee Wetmore who served in the Royal Canadian Dragoons cavalry regiment during World War One. He enlisted in Canada at war’s outbreak in August 1914 and served in France and Belgium fighting in battles that included Somme, Ypres, and Cambria. He returned to Canada in 1919 with his war bride (my Grandmother) he met in England.

The stories that follow were from typewritten pages, illustrated with his hand drawn sketches. He wrote these (and many more) during the 1940’s and 1950’s from his recollections. While these stories were not dated, they are obviously written about the events surrounding the Armistice while he was in an unnamed Belgian village. The French phrases in each story are my grandfather’s attempt at written French.

I was fortunate to find the daily war diaries of the Royal Canadian Dragoons on the Library and Archives of Canada website and can now provide the historical context of my grandfather’s stories. From these diaries, here is the timeline of the days leading up to 11 November 1918.

Nov 7…. Left Baralle (France) at 07:30 arrived at Cuincy (France) at 13:00 very dull day – men billeted in ruins of village – horse in open 

Nov 8-9…. Left Cuincy at 06:00 arrived Martinsart (Belgium) 10:00 – men in buildings and horses in open 

Nov 10…. Left Martinsart at 09:30 arrived at Peronnes (Belgium) at 20:00 – Belgians very pleased to see us 

Nov 11… Left Peronnes at 08:00 – “A” Squadron left Flank Guard to the Division – Regiment leading with ??? – Brigade halted at Tourpes (Belgium) at 10:40 – Cease Fire sounded at 11:00 – Everyone overjoyed but rather sorry not to be actually in touch with the Bosche at the time – returned Westward and spent the night at Haut-Trieux.

David Lee Wetmore 1884-1975
Served with the Royal Canadian Dragoons 1914-1919

In My Grandfather’s Words

OU FAIRE VOUS MESS’URE? We were following up the German retreat. The vaunted power of the Kaiser’s army was badly diminished, and a corporal and four men had been known to bring in a whole regiment of German prisoners. 

An old soldier by this time, I knew enough to carry an extra blanket rolled in my greatcoat, as the army’s slogan “one man, one blanket” was proving badly inadequate on these chilly nights. My right hand mate had crawled under the blankets with me and we had spent the night fairly comfortably, then getting up and underway again with the dawn in the morning.

But as we began to pass through the villages, more and more we were asked the question “Ou Faire vous Mes’sure. Le guerre finis”. About noon we were off saddled in a field while the officers attended a ‘pow-wow’. Idly we lay around, caught up on our sleep or played cards, expecting any moment to get the order to saddle up and move. After having been asked the question several times that morning, the liaison officer passes us and I asked him whether he had heard anything of what the villagers were talking about. He replied that there was a rumor to that effect, but that it was, as yet, unconfirmed.

TRUMPETER We were sitting around waiting for orders when the Colonel came rushing out of a gang of officers who had been ‘pow-wowing’ all the time we were in there, at a telephone station, roaring for a trumpeter. Thinking that we were about to move out we all started scrambling around for our gear, when the trumpeter instead of the ‘Boots and saddles’ that we had expected, sounded ‘Cease fire’.

We were all so fed up and disgusted that for a moment, nothing happened. Le guerre, indeed, was finis. But just for the moment, it didn’t register, there was no outbreak of cheering, no demonstration of any sort. We were just so eternally disgusted with everything that nothing mattered any more.

YOU HAVE DONE ENOUGH FOR BELGIUM  When we stabled the horses that night the civilians came rushing into the stables. They would not allow us to do anything. “You have done enough for Belgium” they said “Belgium now does for you”. They seized the brushes, pails or whatever we might have in our hands as we were doing the necessary work of seeing our mounts taken care of, out of our hands. “Merci Dieu vive le Canadien” they said, and we were forced, much to the sergeant’s disgust to stand with our hands in our pockets while the civvies took care of our horses.

DANCING IN THE STREETS There was dancing in the streets of the Belgian village that night. We had scarcely eaten our supper when the local beauties, arrayed in their best, dragged us out “Allez: Allez le dance” they said. And we danced in the streets, where huge blazing fires had been lighted, until early dawn. Even the good priest had attended, though I don’t remember that he danced.

We could scarcely find it in our hearts to blame them. They had had their faces ground into the dirt by the arrogant German Soldiers for too many years now to let anything interfere with their pleasure. And they were a pleasure-loving people.

All night long, as we danced to the music of a local fiddler, doing his best, the village rang with cries of the villagers “Vive le Canadien” “Merci Dieu”. With a girl on each arm, dressed in the finest she had, we kept the celebration going until early morning, nor were the girls loath to stay as long as we would. 

EVERY DAY IS WASHDAY The Belgian villagers just couldn’t do enough for us. Having a small washing I wanted done one morning, I approached the good lady of the house asking if I could get it done. “Oui, Mess’ure: she responded cheerfully. “When can I get it?” I asked “Tonight, mess’ure” she answered “But” I said “This is not washday” “Every day is washday, mess’ure” she said “If you have washing to be done”.

A Badly Frightened Man Shortly after the Armistice, we were following up the German retreat when we received word one afternoon that a German straggler was hiding in a barn a few miles away.

I was sent with a small detachment to bring him in and turn him over to the authorities.

When we reached the village, we found an excited mob of villagers milling around the door of a barn.

We went in and after a short search, found the man cowering behind stacked bales of hay at the back of the barn.

We took him out, formed a hollow square with the horses and placed him in the middle of it. He was the most badly frightened man that I have ever seen and well he might be. If those villagers, armed as they were, with pitchforks, axes, clubs, any weapon with which they could do damage (one woman had even brought along an iron ladle) had they ever got their hands on him, they would cheerfully have torn him limb from limb.

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