29 January 1918 – “Dunsterforce” Sets Sail

“A British officer of the ‘Dunsterforce’ leading a drill for Jelu recruits.”
© IWM (Q 25024)

On this day in 1918, a secretly formed force of 350 hand-picked Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and British soldiers set sail for the Middle East. Known as “Dunsterforce”, they were sent to fill the void after the collapse of the Imperial Russian Army, by organizing, training and leading local resistance against the Ottoman forces. A total of forty-one men of the Canadian Expeditionary Force would join Dunsterforce (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914-1919, p. 494). To maintain secrecy prior to embarking, the men of the “Hush Hush Party” (a name stemming from the rumours during its recruitment) were kept within the vicinity of the London Tower. Some sources claim they were locked in the Tower, others say that they only had to report to the Tower daily – (See CEW Bean, “Appendix No. 5 – Australians In Mesopotamia”, in Volume V – The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Main German Offensive, 1918).

28 January 1918 – Death of Lt.-Col. John McCrae

“Lt.-Col. John McCrae and his dog Bonneau.”
Credit: Library and Archives Canada / C-046284.

One hundred years ago today, John McCrae dies of pneumonia and meningitis. He is buried with full military honours at Wimereux Communal Cemetery in a procession led by his beloved horse Bonfire, with McCrae’s empty riding boots reversed in the stirrups. Ironically, despite his contributions to remembrance in verse, McCrae’s headstone bears no epitaph. Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, the soldier, physician, teacher and poet was just 45 years old.

Slang of the First World War
"Bon for the bust"

“French women selling oranges to Canadian troops on their return to camp. June, 1917.”
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001407 (Modified from Original).

We’re keeping the food-theme going with today’s post on slang of the First World War!

During the First World War, “bon for the bust” was a slang phrase meaning “good to eat”. As with many other phrases, the origins of “bon for the bust” are unclear. The widely accepted explanation states that Commonwealth troops first heard the phrase used by French civilians trying to sell food to the English-speaking soldiers, who then adopted the phrase as their own. Whether the phrase was originally broken English, attempted by the French civilians, or partially proper French, corrupted by the English troops, remains unclear. (See Pegler, Soldier’s Songs and Slang of the Great War, p. 45 & Brophy & Partridge, Dictionary of Tommies’ Songs and Slang, 1914-18, p. 89).

1918 – Voluntary Rationing in Canada

Credit: Canadian War Museum, “Propaganda Poster, Don’t Waste Bread!”, Object Number 19720121-074.

In early 1918, the Canadian Food Board became responsible for monitoring Canada’s food production and management during the war effort. Following Great Britain’s example, government programs, news publications and propaganda posters encouraged voluntary rationing, such as “meatless Fridays”, and ingredient substitution in everyday recipes.

1918 – Compulsory Rationing In Great Britain

© IWM (Q 56278)

By 1918, Great Britain was pushed to enact compulsory rationing, after nearly a year on voluntary rationing (since February 1917). To combat misuse and the breaching of ration orders, stiff punishments were also introduced.

As Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare continued late into the war, the threat to Great Britain’s food supply had continued to mount. In April 1917, the nation’s wheat supply had fallen to just six weeks’ worth (Morrow, The Great War: An Imperial History, p. 202). In the spring of 1918, the British would launch an audacious raid to combat the German submarine threat.

Announcing the 2018 Vimy Pilgrimage Award recipients!

The Vimy Foundation presents the Vimy Pilgrimage Award to recognize the actions of young people who demonstrate their commitment to volunteer work through outstanding service, positive contributions, notable deeds, and bravery. Their acts may have served their peers, school, community, province or country.

The Vimy Pilgrimage Award consists of a fully funded week-long educational program in Belgium and France to study Canada’s tremendous First World War history. Scheduled for April 2-10, 2018, the award program features daily visits to unforgettable sites including museums, cemeteries, monuments, and historic battlefields, as well as participation in a Vimy Day commemoration ceremony at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

20 Canadian students were selected from across the nation. Thank you to everyone who applied! We appreciate your dedication to community service and your interest in Canadian history.

Congratulations to this year’s winners:

Rohan Ashar – Toronto, Ontario
Kiana Baghban – Calgary, Alberta
Léa-Jade Bouchard – St-Augustin-De-Desmaures, Québec
Laurissa Brousseau – Canmore, Alberta
Marcus Deans – Windsor, Ontario
Sarah Dykstra – Guelph, Ontario
Jeriann Hsiao – Brantford, Ontario
Nupur Krishnan – Newmarket, Ontario
Itohansose Itua – Calgary, Alberta
Shakil Jessa – Port Coquitlam, British Columbia
Bethany Lengkeek – Surrey, British Columbia
Julia MacPherson – Quispamsis, New Brunswick
Christophe Michaud-Lavoie – Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Damien Pilon – Gatineau, Québec
Mary Quinn – Belnan, Nova Scotia
Stephanie Quon – Vancouver, British Columbia
Amy Spearman – Winnipeg, Manitoba
Lloyd Templeton – Calgary, Alberta
Thomas Turmel – Vallée-Jonction, Québec
Montaña Zimmermann – Pefferlaw, Ontario

Thank you to Scotiabank for their generous support of the Vimy Pilgrimage Award. Scotiabank aims to support organizations that are committed to helping young people reach their infinite potential, and has been investing in Canadian communities for 185 years.

Thank you to Air Canada for their support as a sponsor of the 2018 Vimy Pilgrimage Award, and to Canada’s History Magazine.

Slang of the First World War
"Green Envelope"

19 January 1918 – “Left Marble Arch at 5:30 a.m. took underground to Victoria and got kit [from Maple Leaf Club]… Got the boat and arrived at Boulogne at 1:30 p.m… Wrote Lucy and posted a green envelope at the YMCA in Boulogne.” (Cane, It Made You Think of Home – The Haunting Journal of Deward Barnes, Canadian Expeditionary Force: 1916-1919, p. 150).

Did you know a “green envelope” was a specially coloured envelope, meant to indicate that its contents would not be censored by superior officers? The letter writer had to sign a declaration on the outside of the green envelope, swearing that the contents within were only personal or family matters. The premise was to allow soldiers to write home without concern of their private matters being read by their superiors within the battalion. However, “green envelopes” were issued sparingly and the letters were still subject to censorship further in the rear at base. (See Pegler, Soldier’s Songs and Slang of the Great War, p. 103 & Brophy & Partridge, Dictionary of Tommies’ Songs and Slang, 1914-18, p. 129).

A “Green Envelope”.
© Royal Mail Group Limited 2018.
© Royal Mail Group Limited 2018.

18 January 1918 – Writing Home

“Canadian writing home from the line.”
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001388 (modified from the original). Colourized by Canadian Colour.

Following the many battles of 1917, the winter months of 1918 provided a brief respite for the Canadian Expeditionary Force as it settled into the “relatively quiet Lens sector” (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, p. 338). Without scheduled attacks, save for the nightly raiding parties, some Canadians took the time to step back and reflect on what they had just experienced. On 18 January 1918, one soldier’s letter home was published in a local newspaper :

“Any person who went through that Passchendaele Advance can safely say we went through more mud and shell fire, than was ever experienced in this God-forsaken hole called Europe… it is impossible to imagine what the Germans had to contend with… One prisoner who was captured said the Germans thought the Canadians were superhuman, and would not face them at all. It certainly looked like it, the way they disappeared when we started after them.”

– Lieutenant D. Lynn Dudley, 4th Canadian Trench Mortar Battery, private letter published in The Cobourg World, Friday, 18 January 1918, Page 5:3. (Climo, Let Us Remember – Lively Letters From World War One, p. 269).

Epitaphs of the First World War
Part VIII

“Faithful Unto Death”

Epitaph of Private John Derry, Service Number 2005364, of the 78th (Winnipeg Grenadiers) Battalion. John Derry was married and working as a teamster when he enlisted in Regina, Saskatchewan with the Canadian Engineers in January 1917. On 29 December 1917, he joined the 78th Battalion in the field as a reinforcement. He died of shell wounds to both thighs just 18 days later on 16 January 1918 and is buried in Anzin-St.Aubin British Cemetery, France.

Image Courtesy: Commonwealth War Graves Commission, 2018.