“We’ll never go there any more”

soldiers with their bags packed Petawawa.JPG

Soldiers packed to leave Petawawa (1)

Departure day began early, as usual, at 5:15, and was spent cleaning up the camp; supper at 4:30 consisted of “odds and ends and stale ones at that.” (2) Two hours later the whole brigade was addressed by its colonel. He was glad to command such a fine brigade, he told them, warned them against “any breaches of military law.  ‘If you’re going to do it boys for God’s sake don’t do it,’ he said.” (3)

Then they marched to the station. They whistled and sang along the first stretch, until even the (recently reduced) weight of their backpacks demanded that they save their breath. By the time they reached the station, their “knees were knocking together and the sweat was trickling down our back in little riverlets [sic].” (4)

They had enough energy to cheer from the train windows and deliver a chorus of their old camp song:

Oh Petawawa! Oh Petawawa!!
Oh Petawawa down where the Ottawa flows!
We’ll never go there any more, any more;
Never go there any more, any more,
Down where the Ottawa flows. (5)

4c Looking down the Ottawa River crop.jpg

Looking down the Ottawa River, August 7, 1916 (From Percy’s large album)

Neither fine versification nor imaginative thought, the song echoes with the pride and pleasure of soldiers who have survived a tough experience as well as with their recognition that the journey they were on was as one-way as the river’s current. Whatever befell them, they – certainly not as a unit of pals – would never go back there any more.
Archie Wills (who had a way with words, even if his civilian responsibilities as the marine editor for the Victoria Daily Times left him little opportunity to wax poetic) gives this envoi to Petawawa:

We watched the plains and woods over and through which we had road [sic] in the saddle and on our bumping guns, limbers and ammunition wagons for the past three months, until darkness blotted out everything, except an occasional fire-fly darting by.(5)

(1) Wills, Archie. All in a Lifetime [photograph album]. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(2) Wills, Archie. Diary.  September 8, 1916. 3: 2. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(3) Wills. Diary.  September 8, 1916. 3: 3.
(4) Wills. Diary.  September 8, 1916. 3: 4
(5) Wills. Diary.  September 8, 1916. 3:5.

Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”

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