Doubling the effort
Recruiting continues in full force as 1916 gets underway
The first Guardian editorial of 1916 observed, “today, as we face another new year we are thinking less of the possibilities of an early peace than of the sacrifices that must be made.”
The prophecy of further sacrifices was immediately fulfilled: the very next issue of The Guardian, on Jan. 4, carried front page news of Prime Minister Borden’s New Year’s Day announcement that the authorized strength of Canada’s military would be doubled, from 250,000 to 500,000 men, a staggering commitment for a country of just 6,000,000 people.
Though Island military recruiting had continued with hardly a pause through Christmastime, Borden’s announcement provided a further spur and seems to have sparked some fresh and creative thinking in enlistment advertising. This was especially apparent in a new series of ads for the Island’s Highland regiment, the 105th, began appearing in mid-January. While the grim hectoring and social shaming that had dominated previous advertising were still present, the overall tone was markedly more positive and pragmatic.
The first ad, appearing on Jan. 18, enumerated such benefits as: “Opportunity to see the best of the world, ... to add to your store of health and strength, ... to do something for the Weaker Ones who have to stay at home, ... to make money and to save money.” On Jan. 26, another new ad assured recruits that they would be “Well taken care of,” and included a full listing of the clothing and equipment issued to new men.
The spirit of friendship was also invoked in the ads’ upbeat appeals: recruits were promised that “every endeavor” would be made to ensure that they would eat, sleep, train, and fight alongside their “chums.” A related initiative received approving mention in a Jan. 26 editorial: young men already enlisted in the 105th had been asked to hand in the names of acquaintances who had not yet signed up, and the resulting list numbered nearly 1,000 men. The regiment’s commanding officer had then sent each of those named a “chums’ appeal” recruiting letter, with an enclosed enlistment form.
Another of the positive inducements listed in the new 105th advertising was, “lots of entertainment and amusements,” and Islanders and the soldiers themselves seemed to be extending considerable efforts to make these a reality. The Jan. 13 paper, for example, carried an announcement that Summerside was establishing a Khaki Club for the men stationed there, following the example of the one recently formed in Charlottetown. The same paper also noted a new hockey team formed by the 105th men training in the capital; by the time this new “Khaki” team travelled to Summerside to play the Crystals in late January, a special train carrying some 500 soldiers had to be laid on. Other examples of community spirit surrounding the 105th included a Jan. 17 concert for soldiers by the Young Peoples’ Society of Zion Presbyterian Church, and The Guardian article the following day commended such, “admirable efforts in trying to make the life of the soldiers in Charlottetown a happy one.”
No amount of cheerful effort, however, could fully conceal the darker realities of life in a vast modern army. A small item buried deep in the Jan. 20 paper reported the 105th’s first court martial, for a recruit who had “acted as a soldier should not.” Winter illness also stalked training camps, at home and abroad: a December letter from a member of the 2nd Heavy Battery, now training in England as the No. 98 Siege Battery, was published on Jan. 19, reporting that half the men were down with the grippe [ flu]. A Jan. 29 front-page item recorded the burial, with full military honours, of an 18year-old Alberton recruit, who had succumbed to pneumonia and pleurisy while training in Charlottetown.
As for the full horrors of the front, censorship and editorial controls continued to prevent much detail from reaching home, but the Jan. 22 paper included an unusually candid excerpt from a letter to an “Island lady,” concerning the search for her missing friend, “J”. The sender, recipient and subjects of the letter were all left unidentified, but the writer’s account of an encounter with wounded Canadian soldiers was nevertheless vivid and chilling: “They did not seem willing to talk of what they had gone through ... as if they had faced such horrors that it had left them almost frozen, so that they seemed to have no heart or interest left. They were sorry about J in a mechanical sort of way.”