Our Town

‘The World Convulsed:’ Part III

Pictured here are the first Cranbrook volunteers for what became the First World War, on the steps of the Cranbrook Courthouse, August, 1914.  - Cranbrook Historical Archives:  1976-063-004
Pictured here are the first Cranbrook volunteers for what became the First World War, on the steps of the Cranbrook Courthouse, August, 1914.
— image credit: Cranbrook Historical Archives: 1976-063-004

The front page of the Cranbrook Herald of Thursday, August 20, was busy with all the news fit to print, including the death of Pope Pius X earlier that same morning, the Australian victory over the Americans in the Davis Cup of Tennis, the coroner's inquest into the murder of Sasamoto the Japanese truck farmer, and the narrow escape of Mrs. W.T. Matthews, who was nearly struck by a stray bullet. Joe Taylor, it turns out, who operated Peerless Dairy, was shooting at a hawk with 30-30 rifle at his ranch on the edge of the city. One of the bullets, the Herald reported, went about 600 yards, striking the residence of Mrs. Chambers, where Mrs. Matthews was visiting. The bullet "passed through several walls and partitions and proceeded on its way," but not before shattering some glass over Mrs. Matthews.

Meanwhile in Europe, on August 20, the British Expeditionary Force, having landed in France, was advancing to its forward positions near the Belgium frontier,  to hold the line of the Mons–Condé Canal against the advancing German 1st Army, who had driven the Belgian army back westward. The British position on the French flank meant that the British stood in the path of the German First Army, the outermost wing of the massive "right hook" intended by the Schlieffen Plan to encircle and destroy the Allies.

The Allies’ first major engagement of the war, the Battle of Mons, was only days away, and the Cranbrook Herald would have extensive reportage of that affair the next week.

But on August 20, the Herald — and all of Cranbrook — was celebrating the city’s first contingent of volunteers, 21 men and true. “The boys are leaving as soon as orders are received for their departure.”

The Herald added that the first contingent was selected by Geo. P. Tisdale, recruiting officer for Cranbrook, through whose efforts over 50 men have been enlisted and will go to the front should they be needed.”

The first contingent was named individually as Walter Chambers, James Milne, A.T. Underhill, A. Proudfoot, E. Kettringham, John Braik, J. Wilde, H.W. Templeman, J. Hickinbottom, Fred Brown, E. Gyde, J. Cameron, Kenneth Spencer, E. Parry, Gordon Knight, Frank Roselli, Dr. J.H.M. Bell, A. Ragotte, D. McLennan, F.C. Edge and F.E. Bartsnell. Most of these first few had been selected on the basis of previous military experience, the individual details of which the Herald included.

The Herald described the recruits further with this sentence:

“Most of all those composing the first contingent are well known Cranbrook boys and the prayers and well wishes of the whole city will follow them as they tread their various paths of duty and every citizen has full confidence that they will acquit themselves in every way as good Canadian citizens have always been found to do and add laurels to the brave men who have answered the call before in defense of the empire should they be called into battle against the enemy.”

A battle with the enemy may have been imminent, but in the fortnight after the war began a party atmosphere pervaded the streets. “The entire city stood draped in bunting of red, white and blue to compliment the emergence of Union Jack flags. An Empire War Fund-Raising Meeting took place at the Rex Theatre on Aug. 17, replete with speeches and songs honouring the volunteers.” (Jim Cameron, Janus, June 13, 2014)

One of the speakers was Dr. J.H. King, who “eloquently outlined the part that Britain must play in the present crisis and the duty Canada owed to the empire as an integral part. He stated that the present conflict was not a war of conquest on the part of Britain, but one in which she must maintain her honor.”

Shortly thereafter the newly inducted young soldiers were paraded from Baker Street  to the lawns of the residence of Colonel James Baker’s son Valentine Hyde Baker (now mostly a senior housing complex) led by the city band and the Boy Scouts. The evening celebration featured coloured electric lights, a large dancing pavilion, refreshments booths, a fish pond, fortune telling, a shooting gallery and a large bonfire, all looking “truly tropical and romantic under the moonlight.” (Jim Cameron, Janus, June 13, 2014)

The next day, “the volunteers were tendered a smoker for the volunteers at the Auditorium, which was largely attended.” A band played, solos and duets were performed on accordion, mandolin and guitar, and many songs were sung. Money raised from the sale of tickets to the smoker was divided up among the boys, “who compose Cranbrook’s first contingent to the front.”

As for the news of the war itself, the Herald was largely concerned with developments in the Far East.

• “Japan Sends An Ultimatum To Germany” (Given Until Sunday, August 23rd, To Withdraw From Orient And Hand Over Kiao Chau To Japan”). Kiao Chau was a German protectorate in China.

Three British regiments were reported ready to sail to co-operate with Japanese land forces. It was said that Germans in Kiao Chau were putting themselves on war footing “to the great detriment of commerce, and that its converted cruisers were seizing English merchant vessels, and action “directly calculated to disturb the peace of Eastern Asia.”

• “Japan Gives Assurance.” According to the Mail, the Japanese government in Tokio (sic) “has given assurance that she will restore to China the German colony of Kiao Chau, and that the formal understanding will dissipate anxiety in the United States and Australia over the possibility of Japan establishing herself on the Chinese mainland.

See Friday’s Daily Townsman for Part IV of “The World Convulsed.”

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