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ARCHIVED - Oral Histories of the First World War:
Veterans 1914-1918

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Graphical element: Rendering first aid to a wounded Canadian soldier

Trench Warfare

In this section:

Interview with M. Wiseman: 7th Battalion
Transcript Excerpt, 9 minutes, 59 seconds

Q. What did you feel like the first time you went in?

A. The first time we went in we just stayed in the trench and kept your eyes open. Of course you kept your head down below the parapet. Then just about sundown they'd call a stand-to. The sergeant would come along or the corporal with a shot of rum for you but I wasn't drinking then and the fellow next to me, he was Dutchman, and when I refused my drink, he raised hell with me. He said, "You crazy fool, put it in your canteen". I said, "What for, I don't drink?" "Well," he says, "give it to me, give it to me" so I figured maybe I'd give him a drink. We stayed at Ploegsteert until about the end of September and the nights were getting kind of chilly. I gave him this shot of rum every once in a while and the nights started to get chilly so I decided I'd have one myself and it was alright, I'll tell you. I never refused it after that. I stood up after I got my shot of rum and at about daybreak and you could see right across No Man's Land, I was still standing on the firing platform with my head above the parapet. Some fellow came along and he gave me a jog and he said, "Get down out of there!" It's a wonder some German didn't take a shot at me. I wouldn't think there was more than thirty yards across from the German line to ours in No Man's Land, you know. Well, I got down that time, of course. I was alright. A few nights later I got up on the parapet again and, of course, you put your rifle on the firing step. I put my rifle across the parapet and watched these flare lights being shot up by the Germans. This guy shot one up about every three or four minutes, he shot a flare, you know. Of course it lights up the whole of No Man's Land so I took my rifle and I took a good aim of where that spot was, that flare light came up from. I was a new guy into the war so, when he shot up about three or four, I decided I'd let him have it and, sure enough, I pulled the trigger and naturally everybody heard it. There was an awful commotion. The corporal came around, the sergeant came around. "Who fired the gun, who fired the gun" so I figured I'd better not get anybody else blamed for it so I says "I did". He says, "Who gave you orders?" "What the hell kind of a war is this", I says. "We got to kill some of these Heinies," I says. There were no more flares went up there anyway. I says, "I think I got him anyway". He says, "Do you know what can happen?" He says, "Them buggers over there, they got about twenty pieces of artillery to our one". He says, "They could wipe us out". Then I realized what I had done and I never did it again. When you're in the trenches, you know, you get a turn at going into No Man's Land. You crawl over the parapet and get a place where you can kind of keep down below the surface of the dirt and every once in a while you look out and see if the Germans are sending out a patrol, you see. I had that experience for a while and I was lucky enough to get away with it. There was a fellow, well-known Vancouver man, got shot during one of the patrols in No Man's Land. There was a Reverend Orr who was in Vancouver, he died some years ago and it was his son that was shot at Ploegsteert while he was on patrol in No Man's Land.

Q. Your first major battle, as it were, Mr. Wiseman, was on the Somme in the Regina Trench affair. Do you remember that?

A. I was a runner for a fellow by the name of captain Fielding at that do. We went down from Ypres to the Somme. That was after the Mount Sorrel battle.

Q. Would you tell me about Sorrel first then?

A. At Mount Sorrel, I came back from England, I was on leave, and that was after the battle and I think there was only about a third of the battalion left.

Q. You weren't in the Mount Sorrel thing?

A. I wasn't in the battle. They wanted me to become a corporal, a lance-corporal and I figured I wanted two stripes and if I couldn't have two I didn't want any. They put me on the headquarters of the battalion as a runner or a scout. I was with the scouts for a while and then I was with the signallers for a while in the battalion. These units were all connected with the battalion at the same time. Later on they were disassociated and they had them as separate units.

Q. Tell me about Regina Trench then, will you?

A. I didn't get into the Regina Trench. As I say, I was a runner for a fellow by the name of Captain Fielding.

Q. What do you remember about it anyway.

A. We went up and we went right into the battle, you know. The shells were falling thick and fast there and I was standing there and my officer says, "Wiseman, take care of this". He left a jug of rum with me and he went on. He says, "I'm going to see how the boys are getting along in the front there". I was sitting there on a mound. I think it was blown up by a shell. They were shelling pretty heavy, you know. They were trying to stop us from getting the Regina Trench. I took a swig or two out of this jug, you know, and reinforcements came up and I was directing them which way to go. However, I woke up next day and I was in the cubbyhole of the trench and I don't know how I got there. When I went to get up I put my hand on something and I looked around and it was a dead German in the cubbyhole. You know, they built these cubbyholes in the trenches to keep you from getting hit. It was kind of a protection for shellfire. Then I got up and looked around to see where I was. I couldn't find anybody, couldn't see anybody. It was a beautiful day after that battle, you know. I did see one fellow finally and I said, "Where's headquarters?" I figured that's where I had to go back to, I was a runner. I got back to headquarters and was right there in the trenches and there was a trench just facing the Germans, just going along with the German line and I was waiting there for orders and I heard this shell being let out from the German side and it came right along this trench, straight as an arrow, and everybody ducked. I ducked too and there was about four or five of us, there must have been about seven or eight there in that place and it was just where the doctor was. I tried to help two or three of them and I felt something hit me in the shoulder and I didn't know what it was. I thought it was pebble or something. Anyway I tried to reach out and help somebody else that was hurt and my arm felt awful stiff so I took my tunic off and I said, "Did I get hit?" One fellow says, "There's a hole right through there". I says, "That was easy". That darned thing must have just passed my steel helmet to hit me in the shoulder. It burst, I could almost see it burst right above my head and it hit me in the shoulder and that knocked me out. I couldn't use my arm so they sent me back to blighty. I think it took me about four or five months to get over it. It got infected, you know. I was in hospital in England for about three months.