Football behind the lines.
Authorbritain in warCanadaFlanders FieldsGreat War

Story Synopsis

Synopsis: Flowers of the Forest

 

Just after the start of the Twentieth Century and before the start of the Great War, three young men emigrated from Aberdeen, Scotland to Toronto, Canada to start a new life. Jonathan (the narrator), Farquhar and Elmer move to Toronto and begin work at Dunlop Tire in the city’s east end. They play on the Dunlop football team and win a city championship. One of the young men, Farquhar, is an exceptionally talented football player and his skills are noticed by others. The Great War breaks out in the summer of 1914, and one year later the three friends decide to enlist. They travel to Niagara-on-the-Lake and join the 58th Battalion, Central Ontario Regiment. The founder of the battalion is Lt. Col. Harry Genet, and he is one of the football organizers who had noticed the level of Farquhar’s talent. Genet owned and ran a football club in Brantford, and he has arranged for the three lads to be enlisted in his battalion. His desire is to have them play on the battalion football team, and also to keep them out of harm’s way when they travel to the Western Front.

The battalion trains for five months in Niagara at a camp ironically named “Paradise Camp”. Life is good there and the men learn the basics of warfare, make new friends and thrive in the warm summer sun in Niagara. Two young men from Northern Ontario ( the Wonkey Twins) become indispensable mates, along with Lenny, from Owen Sound, who is older and provides some wisdom. There are several battalions training there, and sports competitions become paramount, particularly, football. A great rivalry develops between the 58th and the 35th Battalions.

The summer comes to an end and with the cooler weather; Paradise Camp must close for the winter. Twelve thousand men take part in the “Great Trek” from Niagara to the CNE grounds in Toronto. This is a route march that takes about six days to complete. The battalions billet at the CNE and continue their training until they are shipped out to fight overseas. The 58th leave Toronto by train for Halifax at the end of November, 1915. In Halifax they board a troopship, HMT Saxonia, bound for England. The trip across the mighty Atlantic is not without adventure. Bad food, rough weather and German submarines give them nightmares. Their destination is Bramshott Camp, located in the Salisbury Plain. At Bramshott, the Battalion receives its’ colours and the men continue their training. The three good friends manage a trip to London where they encounter some fine food, good drink and pretty women. They have an excellent adventure.

All too soon, news comes of their call to arms in Belgium. The battalion travels across the Channel to LeHavre, France and then move by train to Belgium. By increments the men are moved closer to the front, all the while continuing their training. As the spring of 1916 approaches, the 58th finally get close enough to the Western Front to get a taste of it. When they are deemed ready, they experience their first combat missions. Lt.Col. Genet makes an effort to keep his valued football team away from direct conflict. He assigns them to kitchen duty. The team rebels, and asks to be placed back in the lines with their battalion mates. Genet relents, but pulls a fast one by sending them to a “live and let live” combat zone ( more a non-combat zone ). After some time fighting boredom instead of Germans, they end up playing a game of football in no man’s land against their foe. High Command gets wind of the game and sends the football team back to a full combat zone near Ypres, Belgium. The team is integrated back into their units where they will face real combat.

The 58th is assigned to work with the Third Division to win back lost territory in area called Sanctuary Wood, in June, 1916. On the 13th of June, the Battle of Sanctuary Wood takes place. It is a vicious battle that results in a historic victory for the Canadians, but horrific losses on both sides of no man’s land. Farquhar McLennan is killed in action during this battle. His two best friends are devastated but continue on in the war and survive to return home. Jonathan makes a mission of telling Farquhar’s young nephew all about his heroic uncle. The story ends with Jonathan “passing the torch” to William (the nephew) as William prepares to leave for duty in the Second World War.