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Front Line and Billet Areas

Heroes Remember

Front Line and Billet Areas

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Interviewer: How long would you remain in the front line? Well, the front line from 7 to 8 days. Then we'd go for a wash, bath, clean up, clean clothes and something warm to eat. Cause when we're in the trenches all you got was hard tacks, a slice of bread and a piece of old cheese. Interviewer: So there would be not hot meals? No. No way to make, no way to make any warm drinks or anything. No. Interviewer: So when you would move back, to the back area that would be the first time that you'd be able to bathe as well? We had some scouts go ahead day before and they'd go back in the back area, 8 or 10 miles back and look around for billets. And find an old barn, sheds, hay, hay, bail of hay (inaudible). They had to pay the French people so much eh. Some people wouldn't take anything and that was our billets. Sleep with the, oh in the barn. Barn or sheds or anywhere where there was room to put our blankets down and our steel helmet was our pillow. I had the steel pillow. Interviewer: So you were really trying to find some place with a roof over it so that you'd stay dry. Is that the idea of the billets? Well, we'd be awake for the war though unless you had to watch and not if you heard a plane going and you, you thought it was a German you'd have to get in, out of sight. Interviewer: And you'd be out of artillery range as well would you Mr. Downey? Yeah because they wouldn't know where we were. It takes long range artillery, quite a while to pick our target. Interviewer: And that's where the observation planes, if they came over head you, you hid? Well, them days there was no, there was no way, they couldn't bomb. They didn't have a plane big enough to bomb the first day. They had the little fighter plans with machine guns, shoot through the propeller ... no big, no, no let's see Howitzer. The Howitzer was the biggest artillery shell moved in, look at the (inaudible) and bombs they put over England eh. Yeah. Interviewer: But as far as World War One goes these planes would fly over would mainly try and spot your position (well they could) and then report back? They could if they were sure we were in that building. If a little fighter plane knew, he could fire down there with a machine gun and he could drop a few hand grenades. Which cause a hell of a lot of trouble. You see what I mean? We had to be awful careful. Interviewer: How long would you remain then out of the front line at these billets? We remain about 5 or 6 days. We got our bath, clean clothes and a bath and we'd have, we'd have, we'd have warm, warm meals you see. And uh Australian rabbits they used to feed us a lot that and horse meat. (inaudible) what with a horse shoe on a horse. Yeah. Oh, yeah and you know them horses was rolled in fat. They used it with the horses to haul our artillery and all. Everything. And otherwise they were in the barn eating and some of the boys were riding them that were road side. You know some of the officers but we had horse meat. It was alright. And a horse get withered it got slaughtered right of the bat and then somebody come along, pick it up. Interviewer: Would the reinforcements normally meet you at these billet areas or would they meet you or join up with you at the front? No, no. The reinforcement march up, relieve us ride the trench. We'd go out, see, and they'd be in there. Well, we'd have to march back to them in the trench and get our orders and relieve them. Interviewer: Okay. The new men that would join your battalion. They would, they would join you though when you went back at the village? Well we were getting draftees all the time and after a while, after a while the, the what was it, what year was it of the war? The government passed conscription. That was the last year of the war wasn't it? Yeah. and the 22nd Battalion from Montreal they refused to go to the trenches. They were stubborn because they didn't want conscription. The next day, after a while boy you saw the brass, the brass hats come and the red bands and all brigades, court officers and they read the riot act to them. They could, they could have shot the whole battalion if they wanted to for refusing and made it clear that, that they had to those officers that so many hours to get their battalions together and go and relieve the regular relief. They went. They could, they could have raised hell you know. Interviewer: That's the only time that, that happened ... Yeah that's the only time. 4 years. They didn't know. They, they should have known, that you could be shot for refusing to go. If an NCO give me an order "I want you to go and pick that man up out there." Alright if I volunteer. I can, I'll go alright. But if he give me an order to go and I say "No", well they could have shot me. The whole thing is not very good, but anyway someone has to do it.

Mr. Downey recalls arriving at the trenches on the front lines in France during the First World War.

Philip Downey

Philip Downey was born on January 28, 1891 in Shemogue, New Brunswick. His father was a carriage-maker and a farmer. When the First World War began, Mr. Downey was working in an automobile factory in Amherst, Nova Scotia. In the Autumn of 1914, he enlisted in the 26th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Following basic training in Saint John, New Brunswick, he sailed to England for further training. Late in the autumn of 1915, he joined the Canadian troops in France, attached to the 5th Brigade. Mr. Downey was 105 years old when he was interviewed in 1996.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Philip Downey
War, Conflict or Mission:
First World War
26th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force

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