From the diary of a ‘deserter’ who never was
August Frederick Pedy was born in Altona, Manitoba, on Feb. 23, 1895. He moved to Keremeos with his father in 1908, and this is the hometown he refers to in this account. In 1924 he married Sybil Sadie Ring of Keremeos, and from 1928 to 1943 lived in Kelowna. They moved to Coquitlam in March of 1943. His handwritten account was discovered in a book in the garage, during a move to a new residence in 1984.
Pedy died on June 5, 1987, at a nursing home in Maple Ridge. He had collapsed on Dec. 15, 1986, and remained hospitalized until his death. He remained mentally sharp and alert to the end.
It was in November of 1916 our battalion was sent overseas. Before this event, we went through a rigid medical examination. The unfit were transferred to Home Service Units, and I was one of them. This did gripe me tremendously. I had joined the army to go overseas to help fight our enemies, and now I was to be a Home Guard! Phui! This would never do.
Well, my mind was made up, I would get overseas somehow, and I would do it in the unit I had enlisted in. But how? Our Home Guard Unit had guards placed at about every 50 feet, all around its lines. What to do now? I sat in my tent. My thoughts were about the men of my hometown going overseas, and come what may I would try my utmost not to be left behind.
Thus when the night of entertainment came, I was ready in my tent for the try at it. With my razor in my greatcoat pocket and my swagger cane under my arm,
crawled out of my tent into another tent right at the corner of the unit’s line, by the road where my own unit would be marching by to the train depot.
Now when my old battalion came marching by with their brass band playing and the boys all singing, I watched the guard in front of me, and when he left the corner, I was ready. As he reached about the halfway mark of his beat, I leapt out and into the ranks of our marching boys. I was lucky to step into blank file, I grabbed a duffel bag off the shoulder of the man in front of me and said, I’ll pack this for you. You’re welcome, pal, said he, and away we marched.
When we arrived at the railway station, we were allowed to fall out till our train was ready. There were lots of well-wishers on hand, and bottles were passed around quite freely. And so it happened that one of my buddies became quite happy and a bit out of hand, and taking off his equipment, and tossing it around, as he said it bothered him. So I put it on and told him I’d take care of it till we got to the train.
Came time to embark on the train, my buddy was hardly able to walk and less able to talk coherently. There was a lieutenant at the door of the car and he wanted to know where my buddy’s equipment was, which I told him I had put it in the car beforehand. The officer says OK, pass men, so I half carried, half pushed my buddy aboard. After we were all in the train, they had a roll call to see that all men were present. A sergeant major came into the car, and announced that the officer of the day would be in to inspect the men.
I knew the sergeant major well, and on one occasion, I had lent him a fair sum of money. I spoke to him and told him I would call off his debt if he would help me, so he said: It’s a deal! He told me to crouch down on the floor behind him between two seats, and just in time, too, as the officer commanding came thru to inspect the car. So there I was crouched behind the SM and his long overcoat. All was well, the train left and I was with the boys on my way.
Everything went well until we got to Field. A car had a broken coupling, so there was considerable delay. In the meantime everybody was out in the yard, and I was with them, when the SM of my own company spied me. He came up and said: “What are you doing here?” I said I was on my way to war with the rest of you, so he said come with me to our company car — so I went with him.
He told me some of his men were missing, including the company’s cook. “You can take the place of one of them,” so I did. He said that would be about the safest way to try to get overseas, and once we got to England it was unlikely they would send me back. Everything went smoothly from here on until we had embarked on the Mauritania at Halifax. Here I ran into a hometown buddy, I’ll call him Guy, who had also stowed away somehow.
Toward evening, Guy and I took a stroll along the deck of the ship. When looking ahead I spied two officers from the hometown battalion I had been transferred to when I was medically turned down. I said, come on Guy, we have to get out of here quick! And so we ducked back and into the ship, and through a maze of corridors and into a stateroom, which happened to be empty. We crawled under a double bunk and waited to see what would happen next.
Guy wanted to know what this was all about. I explained that these two officers were looking for us, and probably for others in the same situation. All we could do was wait. It was quite warm in our hiding place and soon we were drowsy. The next thing I knew I woke up and Guy was snoring loudly, I nudged him, for fear we might be discovered, and then I noticed a gentle movement of the ship.
I said: “Guy, we’re moving, we’re moving, we’re on our way to Blighty.” I looked at my watch and found it was 1:30 a.m. We had slept all this time, and were well out of the harbour. So we walked about for a while to take the stiffness out of our joints and muscles and then we returned to our allotted bunks and slept till reveille was sounded. We were moving at top speed and made the harbour of Liverpool in five days.
From Liverpool, we went to Bramshot Camp. We settled down in quarters prepared for us, and then they paid us and gave us a 10-day landing leave to anywhere in the British Isles the boys wanted to go. But I refused and stayed at camp as a camp guard.
About a week later, the missing company cook whose place and name I had taken turned up at camp, and some others also. They had missed the boat at Halifax and came over on the next boat. I saw more trouble ahead, and sure enough, the next morning I had to report to the orderly room to explain my actions. Which I did.
The company major was quite sympathetic, but he told me, under the circumstances he would have to refer my case to battalion headquarters, and he only saw trouble for me. But he said, I’ll do all I can for you, and in the meantime have to confine you to camp. This also happened to my friend Guy.
A few days later, an orderly corporal appeared with an order from headquarters that Guy and I were to be sent back to Canada under guard of army police, for desertion from Home Guard Battalion 225. Woe was me, what now? So near yet so far.
However, fate took a hand in this matter. One of the boys got the mumps, and we were quarantined for six weeks. And in the meantime the major of our company worked hard on our case, and before the quarantine was over, I was reinstated in my unit under my own name and with my original regimental number (687719) with desertion charges withdrawn. I was a soldier once more! Hooray!
We went into intensive training for about six weeks. Then the battalion was broken up, and the boys were sent to France to reinforce the 47th, 54th and 72nd battalions, with a choice of which of these three battalions we wanted to transfer to. I chose the 72nd Batt. Seaforth Highlanders. We had our final medical exam, and I was rejected once more. Now I was almost frantic. And I told the medical officer that “short of being put in chains,” I would go to France to fight this war beside my hometown comrades regardless of any medical regulations.
The medic told me that I would probably be sorry, but if I felt that strongly about this matter, he would take a chance and pass me through, which he did. Glory be! I made it! Oh boy, was I elated? I’ll let you guess.
I was finally sent over to France, and arrived at Auchel just in time to see our 72nd battalion (what was left of it) come straggling out of the lines on April 10, 1917, after a terrific battle at Vimy Ridge. Our reinforcements brought the battle to full strength again and from here on to the armistice the battalion’s history will tell you more accurately what battles we went through than I could ever remember to tell.
I was wounded just before armistice and sent home as soon as I was out of the hospital. I regret that I missed the March of Victory into Cologne. However, I had fought my way overseas, and fought with the boys to victory, and came home alive. Thanks be to God.