Leave – Part III
26 July 2017

Today we continue looking at the topic of leave for the men at the front.  

Once in the rear areas, those on leave would be provided a chance to clean-up, perhaps get a new uniform, and then they would rush to the train that would take them as far from the trenches as they had probably ever been since arriving on the continent.  

Where a soldier spent leave was dependent on what district their leave pass authorized them for. For Canadians, the desire was often split between the legendary city of Paris and a trip back to “Blighty”, where many still had family, and whose London streets could prove just as raucous as those of Paris. 

A leave pass belonging to Sergeant-Major Harold W. Steel, from 15 November 1915 to 23 November 1915. Passes like this were needed to ensure that soldiers were not charged with desertion, as they passed through the many check points behind the lines.
Credit: George Metcalf Archival Collection, CWM 20040058-005

Both of these cities had been transformed by the war, physically, emotionally, and economically – with the massive influx of foreign troops having a part in all three. Dance halls, theatres, and restaurants all provided welcome distraction and luxuries not seen for years near the trenches. From the letters of Lieutenant Bert Sargent, 6th Howitzer Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, comes the following excerpt: 

“Had a real quiet and delightful time up town. Stayed with my friends the James’ and it sure was a bit of “home” and how I did hate to leave it Sunday night. Say, can you imagine me climbing out of a real feather bed (with sheets, etc.) about 10:15 AM and, after a nice bath, getting into a comfortable grey-checked suit and sauntering down to a breakfast beside a blasting coal fire and a couple of nice young ladies to wait on me. It was about the biggest treat I have had since I have been over here.” (Sargent, Letter of Tuesday, October26, 1915, in Grout, Thunder In The Skies – A Canadian Gunner In The Great Warp. 138).