Looking back over the years and pondering, I ask myself the question, "What was I fighting for in the First Great War?", which took the lives of two of my brothers, myself and another one wounded, which ultimately cost him his life also.
In Scotland the school age was compulsory from 5 to 14 years, after 14 years in my town, there was no school for advanced education; had there been one, I could not have afforded it.
But at 14 years it was considered that one had received sufficient education to go to work in the shoe factories which were the main source of employment. I started work at the age of 13 years, having obtained what was then called a labour certificate from the school board. This was granted by the board after satisfying themselves that the applicant was not an out and out moron and that the proceeds from his labour would be a help at home. There was also a further stipulation that on reviewing the certificate, one must attend evening classes for two years and any breach of these conditions meant a return to day school, so the rules were generally strictly observed.
Now lets have a look at those shoe factories, where fathers, mothers and sometimes the whole family worked, from the age of fourteen upwards.
The work day started at 6 a.m.; just think of having to get up and light the fire on a cold winter morning, grab a cup of tea and perhaps a piece of toast, and dash off to the factory and be on time when the horn or siren blasted off.
On entering the factory there was a large board on which were hung brass dice, similar to dog tags in appearance and like them also, each one was numbered, the numbers designating the different employees.
Underneath this was a black tin box; a deed box, which had a slot in the lid. On entering one would take off his numbered check from the board and deposit it in the box. About two minutes grace would be allowed after the whistle blew, then the doors would be locked, the numbers of remaining checks left on the board would be taken. Fifteen minutes later the doors would open again and the tardy ones could deposit their checks, but would be docked fifteen minutes for being late. The same procedure would become effective for the next fifteen minutes, with a 30 minute penalty, if later than that one had to go home.
The working hours were from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., then home for breakfast, back to work from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., for lunch, then from 2 p.m. until six o'clock.
Note how the work day was broken up, so that the maximum of energy was drained out of the employees body and transferred to the employer in the form of shillings and pence. Due to long hours, low wages, unsanitary conditions and poor food, many children and grown ups alike contracted T.B. and died.
When I first started work; for five and a half days, 55 hours, received the generous wage of four shillings with the added incentive, if my production or usefulness warranted it, of getting and increase of sixpence every six months.
Well the shoe factories hit the skids; father and David left for Canada, Hugh a little later and shortly after, father with David's help, sent for the rest of the family. So at a fairly early age I arrived in Canada.
Well here we were, a family of shoemakers and not a shoe factory within a thousand miles, so knowing nothing else we had to take whatever work was available and as railroading was the big employer of labour, it was with the railway we found employment. As I had been working prior to our arrival in Canada, I elected to continue to do so, but all the others younger than me started school at Portage la Prairie.
Now about this time the country was opening up, the G.T.P. "Grand Trunk Pacific" was pushing its way through to the coast, opening up new townsites as they went along and following closely on its heels were the settlers; farmers taking up homesteads.
As the railway pushed ahead, like an army; about every hundred miles or so, bases or what they called divisional points were established for the maintenance of the rolling stock and as a supply depot, stocking all the materials needed for the upkeep of the railway.
Around these divisional points, town-sites were laid out and almost over night it seemed a boom town came into existence. With real estate agents, doctors, lawyers, stores and members of the various building trades setting up in business.
In Winnipeg in those days there were numerous employment agencies around Higgins and Logan avenues, where for a buck one could be shipped out on some railroad gang, fare paid clear across the country. Taking advantage of this, I came to Winnipeg, paid a buck and got shipped to Edson, which at that time was pretty close to the end of the steel, and the job I got was driving a team of mules hooked on to a scraper, leveling off a place. I think it was for the building site of the depot.
I can remember a sports day they had, whether it was to celebrate the advent of the railway, or the receipt of their charter on becoming a town; I can recall however, as one of the attractions of the day, a man, driving a team of oxen with a big sign on his wagon, bearing the legend, "Peace River or Bust" and from the look of his outfit it would have been no great disaster if he had gone bust.
From then on I roamed all over the West, where-ever my fancy dictated, and my jobs were as varied as my moves.
Some of them I can still recall, sailing on a Stern paddle boat named the S.S. Slocan, from Slocan City to Roseberry, as there were no roads then the boat was the connecting link, with both ends of the railway. The towns in between were Silverton and New Denver. Another job I can remember with pleasure as it was more like a holiday to me than work, was the putting through of a road from Castle Mountain (now Mt. Eisenhower) to the B.C. border coming out close to Golden.
I then worked in Lethbridge when they were paving the streets and laying the tracks for the street railway, which I believe have long since been taken up, as the street cars gave way to the buses.
The next and last of my ramblings was sailing out of Vancouver on a coastal boat the "Cowichan" of Union Steamships. From there I started to wind my way home, arriving home as usual broke or badly bent, but whatever the circumstances, the same glad welcome was always there.
I had scarcely got settled down and started with the C.N.R. when Kaiser Bill upset my plans, and before I knew it I was in the Army and on the move again. This gets me to the end, and the beginning.
What was I fighting for? Surely it was not for the good life I had in Scotland.
It was harvest time and the farmers were looking for help, and I had already refused offers of $1.75 per day to go stooking as even in those days it was a small wage for working from morning until night in the harvest field.
Now I had a great respect for the R.C.N.W.M.P.( Royal Canadian North West Mounted Police) and still have, but there is always a rotten apple that can contaminate the whole barrel. While enjoying the shade and the coolness from the heat of the day which the grain loading platform afforded, there appeared before me a member of this famous law enforcement body.
There he sat astride a magnificent horse, whose hide glistened from head to hoof from the effects of curry comb and brush, the harness oiled clean and military correct, to the chalk white halter shank around the animals neck.
The horse was a picture but so also was the rider, from his wide bell blocked Stetson, to his scarlet tunic, blue riding breaches, with yellow stripe running down the outside leg, to his knee high leather boots nicely shined and adorned with glittering spurs. This together with the brown belt, white lanyard from shoulder and attached to butt of his revolver made Constable Taylor quite a picture.
After a few questions as to what I was doing there he intimated that I was trespassing on C.P.R. property, still the grain elevator which the platform serviced, belonged to a private company, and anyhow there was no notice of trespass anywhere in the vicinity, however I was invited to accompany him to an old log cabin which served as the clink.
The constable then departed returning shortly, with a crippled old Bastard, carrying a large book under his arm and after he had got himself settled in a chair and the book opened on the table, I was brought out of the cage.
The charge was then read, trespassing on railroad property, and this old --------, here I will just make a dash, as any appellation I could give him would be too obscene to notate.
The -------- then demanded guilty or not guilty, on replying "Not Guilty", he stated, "you have to be guilty" and I learned later that he was right. I had to be guilty, so he fined me five dollars and costs, OR, one month in Moosemen Gaol.
Now as he was damned well aware, the fine was slightly more than I possessed, but I requested that he wire Portage at my expense and the fine would be immediately forth-coming. This set them both back on their hindquarters for a moment, then the Mountie opened the door and brought in a farmer, whom I presume by pre-arrangement, was waiting in the wings. This gentleman offered me $2.25 per day to go stooking which I accepted and was immediately released.
Now to make a long story short, I worked for him for a couple of days and having completed his stooking, he sent me over to help his brother with his, so that they could both get started threshing together. It was while I was stooking along with this lad and carrying on a conversation as we worked, that he informed me how his brother had tipped the Mountie to get him a man. Up until then I was quite satisfied to work and make a few bucks, but on getting this piece of information something told me he would have to be tipping the Mountie again pretty soon. The following day being Sunday, I ate a hearty dinner, went out for a walk and never returned.
So in joining the army in 1914, it was not for what Canada had given me, nor can I say it was patriotism, perhaps just a phase of growing up, or just a vacant spot in the head which mature reasoning had not yet occupied.
After me and mine Lizzie.
1939 Royal Tour - King George VI and Queen Elizabeth - the Queen Mother (with backs to camera) greet Portage la Prairie residents including William Peden, President of the local chapter of the Army and Navy Veterans Association, seen over right shoulder of the King.
What about native Canadians, how did they stack up, in the first war, 40,000 of them took to the bush and our good Canadian citizens were quite content to see wounded men, time and again being sent into the trenches, as long as the pressure was taken off their boys at home, but when it was all over they were right in the front rank to take the credit.
Well this is all behind me and after 43 years with the Railway
Mail Service, I have come to rest.