- Our Town
WW1: Revelstoke winters the first year of war
By Ken English, Revelstoke Museum & Archives
After the departure of the First Contingent of volunteer soldiers to England at the end of August, 1914, enthusiasm and support for the war effort consumed most of the energies of the town. Gone were the leisurely afternoon teas. In their place were sewing and knitting circles. Still, people did find time for winter sports. That winter there were many accounts of sleigh rides in the local newspapers. One in particular was an outing to Greely Creek where the party-goers did not arrive back in town until 3am. Games and dances and midnight meals, and partying until the wee hours, were common occurrences in Revelstoke that winter. There was skating at the outdoor rink near the YMCA as well as on the frozen Columbia river. There were ski expeditions up the Big Bend. The Revelstoke Ski Club was formed in December of 1914 and the first ski competitions were held in February 1915. There were notices of weddings that would include in the guest list those who would later volunteer for the war and not come back.
Even as the First Contingent had left for Valcartier and from there overseas, recruiting for the second contingent began again late in October. Twenty-five volunteers from Revelstoke for the Second Canadian Contingent were accepted to go overseas. The November 7 1914 edition of the Mail-Herald mentions that the Revelstoke detachment of second contingent volunteers marched from the Drill Hall to the railway station and left for Vancouver.
All throughout the winter in Revelstoke there was intensive activity supporting the war effort and the boys overseas. The Patriotic Fund had collected $714 since the beginning of the war for supporting the families of the volunteers. The Belgian Relief Fund was active, supporting the Belgian refugees fleeing from German occupation. The Womens’ Canadian Club was also raising funds and knitting socks. They were also very busy making up kits for the troops coming through on the trains. The local Relief Society was busy collecting funds to support the families of the Revelstoke volunteers. The whole town was being mobilized in support of the war.
The Revelstoke Relief Society had a summary of their work printed in the Dec. 5, 1914 edition of the Mail-Herald. Since the war started they had many appeals for various projects and each time had received a generous response. In its first public meeting on August 10 the Society raised $530 to go towards equipping a hospital ship and to support the families of those who had volunteered for duty. It was at this time that the Revelstoke Relief Society pledged to give assistance along the lines of Red Cross work. They met each Wednesday at the YMCA building (where the city parking lot is now) and began knitting the hundreds of pairs of socks and shirts and other items that would be needed for the war effort. They began providing the men on bridge guard duty with extra socks and other items. They also supplied boxes of apples for the men passing through on the troop trains. A committee was formed to look after sending relief to the Belgian people who had been overrun by the German Army. From Revelstoke they raised over a ton of clothing to send to these suffering people. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers pledged $25 per month toward the Relief Society for the duration of the war. There were teas and sales and dances and other fundraising activities throughout the winter. In November of 1914 a patriotic concert was held in the Opera House raising $296. This was an extremely active organization.
Tragedy struck in December 1914 when a bridge guard, Henry Lennard, age 17, of Albert Canyon, died of typhoid fever He is the first Revelstoke casualty of the war.
While soldiers were being recruited for overseas service the Canadian Pacific Railway bridges were still being guarded. A letter from Jack Morgan guarding at Surprise Creek noted that the guards went toboganning when off duty, using shovels as toboggans. They were well looked after at Christmas – turkey, cake, cigars, fruit and other items. In Malakwa, W. Waddel took part in a Bachelor’s Brigade which served a midnight lunch at a surprise party at A.S. Alderton’s Meadow Lake ranch. There was much dancing, singing and games reported by the Mail-Herald’s Craigellachie correspondent. The school room at Taft was used for a very enjoyable dance attended by guests from Malakwa and Craigellachie. A large dance was held at the Drill Hall, sponsored by the 102nd regiment. There were many other patriotic dances and concerts held that winter. Other winter activities were in full swing. Mr. and Mrs. O.W. Abrahamson entertained pupils from Central School after they had gone for a snowshoe trek up the Big Bend. They listened to selections from the Victrola machine, an early phonograph device.
Recruiting for the third contingent began in January 1915. Revelstoke was selected as a site for this recruiting process. Dr. Sutherland of Revelstoke was to be the initial physical examiner. The rate of pay for soldiers was $1.10 per day which was about ½ of a day’s pay for a labourer. Initially Revelstoke had been given a quota of 50 men to recruit. They easily exceeded this number, eventually recruiting almost 90 men from this area. While this recruiting was being carried out, many Revelstoke boys from the second contingent were in training at Willows Camp, Victoria, including Hart Munro. He sent a letter to friends in Revelstoke noting that he and another Revelstoke boy had the pleasure of meeting up with four former Revelstoke girls at a skating rink.
By the end of March, 1915 the first contingent had arrived at the front after a winter’s training in England. Joseph Howson, Edward Quinton and Walter Robinson sent letters home announcing their arrival at the front and noted that all of the Revelstoke boys were well. In a few weeks many of our Revelstoke boys would be involved in a gas attack by German Forces at Ypres and some would be casualties both killed and wounded.