Witley, April 4, 1917

Wednesday  Last night a double raid coal yard & cookhouse both successful Yesterday U.S. declared themselves at war with Germany We took our walk as usual for the eggs etc this pm Am in the Pink

2017 04 03 headline US war.JPG(1)

There were many who exulted in Woodrow Wilson’s declaration, glad that the resources and men of the USA would now — or within a matter of months, surely — be thrown into the conflict on the side of the Allies. In fictional Avonlea, the housekeeper Susan, who had long ago lost patience with the President’s writing of letters, felt hope for the first time in a long time: “Things are coming our way at last. We have got the Germans on the run,” she boasted. “The United States has declared war at last, as I always believed they would, in spite of Woodrow’s gift for letter writing, and you will see they will go into it with a vim since I understand that is their habit, when they do start.”(2)

In Witley Camp, immediate needs came first — and Percy and his pals took matters into their own hands. They were not the only ones: Archie Wills recorded that his hutmates had once acquired nearly half a ton of coal “by methods known only to soldiers.” They hoped to be comfortable for a while, assuming no officer “drops in and makes too stringent enquiries.” (3)

Even the  Battery history records such expedients:

“The hut stoves were of an antique design, greedy of coal and chary of heat, and as the coal issue was never large various underhand methods of keeping up the supply were resorted to, and also, we regret to say, in obtaining ‘buckshee’ bread from the cook-house.” (4)

“Buckshee” refers to quantities over those allotte, a bit of  Army slang related to “baksheesh,” a gratuity or tip. A citation for the term in the Oxford English Dictionary names “buckshee”  one of the most popular slang terms of the war — along with “scrounge.”

Not all the soldiers’ expedients were underhand: Archie’s mates formed a slingshot club to go after “pheasants, rabbits and other game with a hope of increasing our supply of eats. We are also setting traps.” (5) How successful they were is not recorded.

Where Percy went to fetch eggs is unclear, but it sounds like a legitimate exercise, unlike the night’s escapade.

(1) The Globe (1844-1936). April 3, 1917. 1. Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
(2) Montgomery, L.M.Rilla of Ingleside. 1920. Chapter 25.
(3) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3:111. December 19, 1917. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(4) MacArthur, D.C. The History of the Fifty-Fifth Battery, CFA. 1919.10.
(5)Wills, Archie. Diary. 4:9. February 27, 1917

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”



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