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1936 Canadians' Pilgrimage to Vimy Ridge

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1936 Canadians' Pilgrimage to Vimy Ridge

Posted: 1327450071000
Classification: Military



Vimy Embarkation Carried

Out Almost With Secrecy - Like Clockwork


Special to The Star

Montreal, July 16 - The curtain of time rolled back 20 years and more for 6,000 Vimy pilgrims who embarked here to-day to keep their rendezvous with Canada's war dead at the unveiling of Vimy Ridge memorial July 25.

It might have been a war-time embarkation, so swiftly was it carried out. No cheering throngs lined the streets as fleets of buses rushed 2,000 pilgrims an hour through deserted downtown Montreal direct from the trains to the boats. No relatives or friends were allowed at the docks to see them off. The temptation to "stow away" might have proved too great for some luckless veteran whose application for passage came too late.

As streaks of dawn appeared here to-day, the first of a dozen special trains steamed into old Bonaventure station and unloaded its quota of sleepy-eyed legionaries. The first train arrived at 5.45 daylight saving time, the remaining four following at 20-minute intervals. The specials from Toronto and western Canada arrived a Place Viger station, the first at 6.20, the last at 8.25.

Buses were waiting at both stations, whisking the pilgrims direct to the docks, a ten-minute drive. The transfer of 6,000 passengers and their baggage was completed without 99 per cent of Montreal's million citizens knowing a thing about it.

Montreal's business district was decorated to greet the peacetime army."Pea street nut shoppe welcomes Vimy pilgrims," read a sign, but the pilgrims never saw it. Police cut off all traffic to the dock, letting only the chartered buses through. Steamship officials turned down hundreds of requests from passengers who sought to have friends and relatives down to see them off.

Not that Montreal took no official cognizance of the pilgrimage. The city's military bands were all at the docks playing the old-time marching songs like "Tipperary" until the veterans were hoarse from singing. The Blake Watch had its pipe and brass bands, the Victoria Rifles, brass and bugle bands, the brass band of the Royal Montreal Rifles and that of Les Fusiliers de Mont-Royal, played.

Mayor Houde Pays Visit

If the pilgrimage could not show itself to Montreal, Montreal, in the person of Mayor Camillien Houde, went to the pilgrimage, in a sleek harbor launch, escorted by Col. C. B. Price, president of Montreal district command, and Major D. J. Corrigall of the Quebec command of the legion, the mayor visited each ship and bid the cheering pilgrims "bon voyage."

Factory whistles and ship's sirens throbbed farwell as the flotila got under way at 11 a.m. The gunboat Saguenay, which met the pilgrims with a guard of honor of 60 men, headed the way. Next came the liner Montcalm from shed 8, followed 15 minutes later by the Montrose from shed 10. At 11.30 and 11.45, the liners Ascania and Antonia followed. Bringing up the rear was the Canadian navy's Champlain. Tugs and launches churned alongside, a self-appointed escort and welcomed by the pilgrims. Bands blared and whistles shrieked farwell until four boats, each carrying 2,500 men, were almost out of sight.

Athletes to Germany

Added to the din were repeated blasts from the liner Duchess of Bedford, which will sail Friday with 1,000 more pilgrims and Canada's Olympic team. As one of the peacetime's ironies, the pilgrims will disembark in France, while the Olympic atheletes will dock in Germany.

"We'll see you next week, " shouted pilgrims aboard the Duchess, waving their berets at the sea of faces lining the rails of the four departing "transports." Berets were waved widly in return as the ships nosed from their moorings and headed down the river.

The 67 marshalls and company leaders arrived in Montreal Thursday to prepare for the embarkation.

"K" party was on the Montrose, made up of 11 companies of 125 men each, under leadership of Major E. Flexman and his assistant, Capt. A. Cairns, "L" party, on the Montcalm, under Major G. C. Burbridge and Rev. T. H. Cripps, "M" party, on the Antonia, was under leadership of Capt. V. Wray Fairweather of Toronto and R. MacNicol, "O" party, on the Ascania, was under Major H. C. McKendrick, while "Y" party, which waited behind on the Duchess of Bedford, was directed by Col. B. W. Roscoe and Arthur Wood.

Is Disappointed

Capt. J. B. Ferry, Sudbury, head of the Ontario comand of the Legion, was orginally chosen to lead the Asconia party, but the sudden death of his secretary, to whom he had given power of attorney, made it impossible for him to go on the pilgrimage.

The speed and order of the embarkation, plus the escort of Canadian gunboats, were features reminiscent of wartime departures.

While parties were well-organized, there was none of the iron discipline of their first trip to France.

Neither was there hilarity of the type which marked the Candadian Corps. re-union at Toronto. Spun through atmosphere was a realization that this was a solemn pilgrimage. Saddened by the thoughts of good fellows and real pals who never came back - 60,000 of them, 10 times as many Canadian dead as there were pilgrims 20 years later. Nearly twice as many Canadians lie buried at Vimy Ridge, 11,500, as left to-day to pay homage at their graves. They were not a backslapping, bellowing mob which tumbled aboard the liners to-day. They recaptured their lost camaraderie in quieter ways, renewing old acquaintances in small, chatting groups.

The pilgrimage was a dream come true for many. Few old soldiers have not expressed a wistful wish they could again see present-day France after nearly a generation of peace-time reconstruction.

The Sceptics Scoffed

Sceptics scoffed, but Capt. Ben Allen, Dominion organizer of the pilgrimage, went ahead planning. People said he couldn't get more than a few hundred old soldiers with resources enough to finance a trip back to Vimy. Capt. Allen, however, knew the breed of men who became soldiers: he knew the power of sentiment, the magnet of reminiscence of dangers faced manfully together.

The organizers weren't disappointed. Applications poured in. Boat accommodation was taxed. The 6,000 reservations were soon absorbed. Hundreds were too late. Capt. Allen expects another 2,000 will cross at higher rates to join the Vimy trip on July 25 to dedicate a splendid memorial, probably the most beautiful of all the war memorials.

Meet 1914 Crews

There were many reunions between passengers and crews. Captain Charles Richardson, of the Montrose, was first officer of the Tunisian, which was a member of the transport fleet which carried the first Canadian contigent to France in October 1914. Three other officers and 22 of various ratings on vessels which left here this morning served on crews who sailed with first contingent men.

When the first contingent sailed only one man of the 33,000 knew where it would land. He was Rear-Admiral Rosslyn E. Wemyss, later Vice-Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wymess, in command of the naval convoy. Captains of the transports sailed under sealed orders to meet in rendezvous in Gaspe Basin and then wait supplementary orders from the admiral. The rank and file did not know they would land at Plymouth until that old English port was in sight. Rumors flew fast they were bound for Egypt or to retake Antwerp.

An almost bald veteran of the first contigent to-day reminded his pals of the highlights of the first crossing nearly 22 years ago.

Remember German Measles

"Do you remember the day the man fell overboard?" he asked his pals. "The ship carrying the Princess Pats had to turn out of line and pick him up after he swam around for 15 minutes. The admiral soon stopped us climbing into the rigging after that."

"And the time we had the outbreak of measles," reminded a third. "They were German measles. Everybody said spies planted them on board."

As an aid to-day to restore memories, aboard the liners Montrose and Montcalm, were "stickers" naming the ships of the 1914 armada and their naval convoy. The vessels were: Adania, Athenia, Alaunia, Arcadian, Bermudian, Cassandra, Carribean, Corinthian, Franconia, Grampian, Ivernai, Lapland, Laurentic, Lakonia, Manitou, Monmouth, Montreal, Montezuma, Megantic, Scotian, Sicilian, Scandinavian, Saxonia, Royal George, Royal Edward, Tyrolia, Tunisian, Ruthenia, Virginian and the New Zealand.

Only a handful saw the sailing of Canada's first contingent, 33,000 men and 7,000 horses. Thousands of friends and relatives came to Quebec, but they got no nearer than Dufferin terrace, which overlooks the St. Larence several hundred yards from the waterfront.

Members of the Canadian legion official party are: Brig-General C. B. Hope, C.B., hon. treasurer, B.E.S.I., London; Brig-Gen. Alex Ross, C.M.G., D.S.O., Yorkton, Sask., Dominion President, Canadian Legion; Col. W. W. Foster, D.S.O., Vancouver, first vice-president, Canadian Legion; Lieut.-Col. R. de la B. Girouard, Ottawa; Justice Fawcett G. Taylor, acting chairman, Canadian pension commission; Col. Walter Woods, chairman of the war veterans' allowance committee, and vice-chairman of the national Vimy pilgrimage committee; Dr. F. de Martigny of Montreal, hon. president of the Quebec provinical council, Canadian Legion; Rev. S. E. Lambert, Dominion president, Amputation Association of the great war; Captain E. A. Baker, for the Sir Arthur C. Pearson Club for the Blinded Sailors and Soldiers, Toronto, chairman tuberculosis veterans' section, Canadian Legion; J. A. MacIsaac, Ottawa, former hon. treasurer, Canadian Legion; Capt. Donald Simson, hon. secretary B.E.S.I.; Col. H.E. Weyland and Col. A. Hamilton Gault, Canadian representatives on the B.E.S.I. empire council.

Source: The Toronto Daily Star, 16 Jul 1936, p.32.

The newsprint was a bit of a challenge to read; therefore, there may be a few mistakes. Perhaps someone can pick up, for others, by entering the surnames of those veterans and individuals mentioned in the article and posting them below this transcript. Thank you.

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