Leave – Part V

Although from the Second World War, this propaganda poster gives an idea of the diverse crowd that marched down the Paris street with Becker during the First World War.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-28-1523.

Following the Battle of Hill 70, the Canadian Expeditionary Force underwent another period of rest, recuperation and training of reinforcements. For the veterans, time away from the front brought another round of leave passes, the last to be issued before the fighting at Ypres would draw the Canadians north to Belgium.

Consequently, many sought to make the most of their time, and often did so with humourous results. Some appeared to enjoy free reign over the city of Paris while on leave, and this freedom could lead to jovial spectacles parading through the streets:

“…a couple of us met up with a couple of kilties from a Canadian Scotch Battalion and we happened on a New Zealander also on leave. Soon a Yank soldier came along and we made quite a noticeable group as we sat at a side-walk table. We soon realized that it must be rather a strange sight to Parisians to see these different uniforms together, on “soldats” speaking the same language and decided to have a little fun out of it. We therefore hauled in the first two poilus (French common soldiers) we met and walked right out in Rue de la Paix and the eight of us marched arm in arm right down the middle of the street, making all the traffic get out of the way and, needless to say, drew a tremendous crowd. It was in the middle of a busy afternoon. We walked this way for several blocks, disrupting business along the famous street generally and enjoying ourselves to the full. All the civilians entered into the spirit of the thing and the gendarmes simply smiled and gave us full right of way.” (Becker, Silhouettes of The Great War, p. 103).

But before long, a twelve-day pass to Paris would near its inevitable end. On the last day, troops would often be shuffled towards a hotel closer to Gare du Nord, easing their departure. Many would take the chance to do their last rounds of goodbyes to the city.

“It was a silent bunch that wandered around the district that afternoon and early evening. We were trying to get the last breath of this great City far from the lines before returning to that unknown to the Northeast. We went around to the cafes we had frequented near the Hotel and said our goodbyes. Needless to say the wines on that last day cost us little, the friendly proprietors insisting on giving us a proper send-off.”  (Becker, Silhouettes of The Great War, p. 103).

Credit: ‘4e emprunt national’, October 1918, Abel Faivre, reproduction print, Collections CCGW/CCGG.