The Canadian Expeditionary Force C.E.F.

By 1914 Canada had a paper strength of 75,000 militiamen, but the regular army had barely 3,000 bodies, all ranks.  The task of organizing and mobilizing a militia force fell to Colonel the Honourable Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia and Defense. 

Sam Hughes was born at Darlington, Ontario, in 1852, the son of Protestant Irish-Scots parents. He joined the Militia when he was thirteen and served in the Fenian Raids of 1870.  Later he taught school and became a journalist, served eight months with the British in the South African War as a transport and intelligence officer.  He was elected to the Canadian Parliament in 1904 and entered the cabinet when the Conservatives came to power in 1911.

Unfortunately, Colonel Hughes had may strong prejudices and was fanatical in his hatred of enemies as in his loyalty to friends.  Consequently, he laid down policies with regard to appointments and recruiting that angered and humiliated many, particularly in Quebec.

On cabinet authorization of an expeditionary force of one division, the Minister ordered all commanders of militia units to enlist all volunteers.  He then had built an assembly area, complete with watermains, electricity, railway sidings, target ranges, and administrative buildings all within a phenomenally short space of a few weeks. This was Valcartier Camp on the Jacques Cartier River, sixteen miles from Quebec City.  In three weeks 35,000 men poured into the camp and went under canvas. Camp Valcartier, bulged over with untrained volunteers.  So many men had enlisted so fast that there was little time to set up administrative organization let alone train them.  So it was decided to ship them all to England for the British to sort out and train.

By mid-October of 1914 the first contingent arrived in England, where they were to be sent to Salisbury Plain for training.  The spirit of adventure burned brightly in these young men, most of them were British born returning to fight for King and Country, but among them were many rolling stones and soldiers of fortune.  Many who had disembarked that first day went absent without leave and failed to turn up for several days.

Captain J.F.C Fuller Deputy Assistant Director of Railway Transport, who's job it was to organize the transport of the Canadians and their luggage on trains to Salisbury Plain, describes the scene.

"The  men were, for the most part, absolutely raw; they were met by rejoicing crowds and assaulted by every young and old harlot in the dual city. Men fell out or were pulled out of the ranks to vanish down side streets. A few reached the railway station, but the remainder painted Davenport and Plymouth pink, red, and purple." (Memoirs of an Unconventional Soldier).

Captain Fuller then had the unenviable task of rounding up the many drunks that were now swarming the town. He requisitioned an empty building to become a jail to lock up the drunk Canadians for  24 hours.  A train labelled the "Drunkard's Special" left each morning for Salisbury Plain until all had been disposed of.

As training progressed, considerable weeding-out had to be done, since lack of discrimination at recruiting had resulted in an number men unfit or unsuitable for service. These were returned to Canada and the rest with zeal and enthusiasm that amazed regular soldiers carried out under extreme circumstances foot and arms drill.  Everything was against them, confusion resulting from unorganized mass recruiting and subsequent embarkation; the sorting out in England; the training of raw recruits in appalling conditions with inadequate facilities.  But incredibly, enthusiasm was maintained, moral high and all eager to get to France and into the fight before it was over.

By February 1915 the 1st Canadian Division was judged ready for active service. His Majesty George V inspected it on the 4th.  The 4th Brigade and the 6th Fort Garry Horse were left as reserves and the rest left for France.

Reference : Amid the Guns Below, by Larry Worthington, McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1965.