From the di­ary of a ‘de­serter’ who never was

Times Colonist - - Islander - AU­GUST FRED­ER­ICK PEDY

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.

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