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In this section:
Interview with G.N. Francoeur: 22nd Battalion
Transcript Excerpt, 4 minutes, 39 seconds
Q. This is what I've been trying to find out from different people. What sort of things would an experienced officer teach a recruit about his fighting in the trenches, about his life in the trenches? What kind of things did you teach them?
A. The proper word on that I cannot say but the main thing is how to live and how to save our life in the trenches. To give you an idea of that, the casualties we always had in trenches were new men. New men were always getting killed within a week and we always said that if they could go through the first ten days, they were alright. A great percentage were killed coming in trenches.
Q. How does a new man get himself killed?
A. He's nervous, they didn't know where they were going to and they didn't know how to walk, how to grab things. The first noise, the first thing they could hear, they wanted to see it. Instead it was the opposite thing, they had to head down first and wait after and that's where our great casualties were coming from and that's what we had to prevent and that was the training that we did for our soldiers.
Q. Were you nervous when you were a private?
A. No, I would not say that I was nervous. I was like all the others. I would not say that we were afraid to be killed but we were trying to make a good service, what we had there to do. Altogether, everybody did a good job out of that but there was that special training that we had to pass to the others, the men coming through trenches. You knew something better and they could carry on better.
Q. Well, instead of teaching them how to defeat the enemy, you taught them how to stay alive.
A. No, in doing their work they were staying alive. No one could say that you were sure of going there and coming back. That was a bad policy. Anyone who said he was going there to be decorated, he was drawn back right away because he was not a good fighter, he was not a good man. We were there trying to make the best of it. Making the best of it is to organize our lives, that was the main thing.
Q. It was a difficult life.
A. A very difficult life. First, a soldier had to be happy. To be happy he had to be well-fed but in trenches we cannot expect that because we did not have the food and we could not even cook the food that we had so we had to make the best of it. That's part of the character that we had to go through. In making the men happy we could see what was going on and try to live through it, not in trying to save lives but he was saving his life in being cautious because dead men were no use for the army. We had to do what we had to do and do it in the right way.