HISTORICALLY SPEAKING: "D-Day" - Burford, June 7,1910
D-DAY - BURFORD, JUNE 7,1910 By Mel Robertson
The term "D-Day" has been used in many ways. It began in 1944 to indicate the day when the invasion of Europe would begin in the Second World War. Since then it has been used to describe almost any event. I will now use it to describe a military event that took place in Burford every June until the First World War. I refer to the departure of the local militia for summer camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake. This was an event that rivalled Burford Fair and Harley "Show" in popularity and which drew almost every able-bodied person in the Township to Burford Railway station. It was our "D" or "Departure" day.
Why was this event so popular you may ask? The popularity of the militia in Bur-ford Township goes back to the King's Birthday on June 4,1799 when the Burford militia company of 64 men paraded on "the Common Parade Ground" that is now bounded by King St. West, William St., Dufferin St. and Jarvis St. The history of Burford's militia since then has been recorded in Major R.C. Muir's "Early Political & Military History of Burford". This gives an excellent account of the local militia. However, recently through the Public archives, the Historical Section of the Department of National Defence, local diaries, old newspapers, etc. I have turned up information that has not been published previously.
One of the early publications that refers to Burford's militia is "The Volunteer Review" which was a magazine devoted to volunteer militia activities. Burford is mentioned in a number of issues. For example, on May 6,1867 the village authorities were congratulated for their liberality in providing funds for the erection of a militia drill hall on King St. East (Manley Beam's property). On June 3, 1867 the Burford cavalry received an excellent report for their smartness at the King's Birthday Review in Brantford where along with militia detachments from Stratford, St. Mary's, the Grand Trunk RR militia and the British regulars (the Royal Fusiliers), they drew prolonged cheering from a crowd of over 10,000. The Aug. 19 issue stated that the Burford militia was in "a high state of readiness". Then on Jan. 18, 1869 the magazine referred to a report by R. Doubledick which stated, "It speaks well for the military ardour of the place that Burford village is the headquarters of a cavalry and infantry company both of which have mustered well under the new law thanks to the popularity of the officers of which nine of the cavalry and seven of the infantry have attended military school."
In the early days all able-bodied men, except Quakers ahd Tunkers, were required to serve in the militia and provide their own uniform and musket. However, this service became voluntary in later years but still drew almost every able-bodied man to the militia. Why did so many men want to be part-time soldiers? It cannot be argued that they did so for social reasons and to have a place to "get together". There were plenty of places for social gathering. A review of early Burford papers shows that an amazing number of fraternal lodges and orders were in existence. For example, the Bur-ford "Advance" of 1909 lists the following -The Masonic Lodge met on the first Wednesday before the full moon, the Odd Fellows met on the first and third Fridays, The Foresters convened on Fridays, the C.O.F. on the first Tuesday and the R.T. of T. met on the second and fourth Tuesdays. In addition, there were the Grange, The Farmers' Institute,The Temperance Society and the local football, baseball and bowling clubs.
One of the main reasons for the popularity of the local cavalry was the interest in horse breeding. In 1868 a report in the "Volunteer Review" described a review of the local cavalry. In this Col. Drurie remarked on the fine condition of Burford horses. He ascribed this to the number of young farmers who belonged to the troop
and to the pride they took in their horses. Indeed, the history of the 2nd Dragoons (of which the Burford troop was a part) that was written by Ernest Green in 1947, indicates that in 1906 the local dragoons were among the best four militia cavalry units in Canada.
Riding was a popular activity in this area before the First World War and a number of riding schools were in operation. My uncle Mel Woodin, who was an accomplished horseman, operated schools in Delhi and St. George. Train connections were so good that in the summer he could catch the 5 p.m. train in Burford and be in either St. George or Delhi in time for a couple of hours instruction before nightfall. The Lloyd-Jones family was also noted for its interest in riding and I can recall many occasions as a child, seeing the Lloyd-Jones twins ride into Burford on their thoroughbreds and tie them to the hitching posts that were in front of every store.
The big event of the local dragoon year was the annual summer camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake. This was a 12 to 14 day camp that was attended by all the cavalry units in Western Ontario. The departure of the local dragoons for the camp was a township-wide event for which there is no modern comparison.
A good example of the excitement generated by the annual trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake can be found in the 1910 Burford "Advance". The departure was announced in the paper of June 1 by Major W.K. Muir, the Commanding Officer, as follows: "The squadron will parade on Thursday, June 7 at 6 a.m. sharp and will at 6:30 proceed to the station. Lt. R. Balkwill will inspect all horses before loading and unsuitable horses will be returned at their owner's expense. All horses must have their fetlocks clipped and be 14.2 hands high. There will be stable pickets in each car. Loading of luggage will be under Lt. C.E. Stuart who will be responsible that all luggage is loaded and unloaded at the Officers' tent in Niagara. Lt. W.T. Hearne will be responsible for the erection of the Mess Tent assisted by Lt. J. Lattimer. The Advance Party under Sgt. Deveney will go to Niagara on the regular train on June 6. Lt. R. Secord will be Orderly Officer at 7:30 a.m. on June 7th. He will go through the cars regularly to see that the men are comfortable and that there is no intoxicating liquor. Sentries will be placed on all doors and no men will be allowed off the train without permission. Sgt. Major Glass will see that there are horse pickets in all cars. Train departure will be at 10:30 a.m."
The loading of horses required considerable skill and men like Ben Force and my uncle Mel, who had good thoroughbreds, always looked after their own horses, seeing that they were loaded in a position where they would not be kicked or crowded by other horses. Horse injuries were not uncommon. The Auditor General reports list a number - In 1901 J. Silver-thorne received $28 to cover injuries sustained by his horse. In 1903 J. Currie received $25 for the loss of his horse for 28 days due to injuries. Other horse injury payments were $40 to Major J.Z. Frazer in 1903, $60 to M.F. Muir in 1904 and payments in 1913 to William Holt, J. Pierson and J. Lawrence.
According to the local paper and other sources, the morning of the departure was like the departure of troops for war. Everyone in the Township was up at the crack of dawn and soon the station yard was crammed with rigs and people waiting to see the militia leave. Flags were displayed along Maple Avenue and people who couldn't get into the station yard hitched their horses to the posts that existed in front of every house. Stores opened early with patriotic displays. Finally, the word "here they come" would go through the waiting crowd and from afar off the music of the Burford band would be heard as it "issued out" (a favourite description used for the band). Excitement ran rampant as the
mounted Band officer trotted slowly along Maple Ave. at the head of the 12-piece band. Then, with a clatter of hooves, the squadron approached slowly and majestically. People cheered and waved little Union Jacks. Small boys ran into the street with sticks over their shoulders and marched in front pretending to be soldiers. People moved along the sidewalk beside the troops. At the station the troopers dismounted and the business of loading the horses began. The "Advance" described an exciting scene as pretty girls in summer dresses and big hats "admired" the "Soldier-ly-like bearing" of the "boys". Wives were astonished to hear their husbands being ordered about by men who, in ordinary life, were their neighbours. They were even more astonished to see that their husbands did what they were told to do the first time they were told to do it.
As the time for the departure neared people crowded the station platform waving handkerchiefs. The band, which was the last to get aboard, played patriotic tunes such as "We'll Never Let the Old Flag Fall" and then, at the very last, a hymn to make everyone feel that the "boys" were off to war. Everyone cheered frantically until the train was out of sight.
It is hard to realize in 1991 that such military ardour could exist, but we must remember that this was before the First World War when newspapers gave great emphasis to the exploits of British Empire troops in the little colonial wars and when many books had war as a theme. The local paper added to this by publishing articles saying that "The Boys will be in good shape to defend us from foreign invasion" and emphasizing the "Warlike appearance" of the local troops. The only modern comparison would be the TV coverage of Canadian forces leaving for, and returning from, the recent Gulf war. I would like to emphasize that I neither praise nor condemn such early military enthusiasm in Burford. I record it merely as an historic fact.
Summer militia camps in the early days could create some unusual social problems. Since most of the instructors at the camp were British regular officers, great stress was placed on such things as officers having military servants or "Batmen". These men were expected to polish the officer's buttons and boots, keep his saddle, etc. shining and bring him tea when he woke up. In rural cavalry units many private soldiers were well-to-do farmers, or the sons of such men. They believed in the slogan "Jack is as good as his master" and refused to be servants. Roy Miles told me recently of an incident involving his father. Mr. Miles, when a young man, joined the local dragoons as a private soldier. When the time for summer camp came he was ordered to be the "batman" for one of his neighbours who was an officer. He and the neighbour were friends in civilian life. However, Mr. Miles had no intention of cleaning his neighbour's boots and refused the order with considerable emphasis. Nothing came of this and most local militia officers found that that they could get their "batmen" from young English immigrants who were familiar with British practice in this regard.
Another incident involved my grandfather, C.N. Woodin. Charlie Woodin was a well-known building contractor who was considered to be the best house-mover in Western Ontario. He was involved frequently on large construction projects and employed several gangs of workmen, most of whom were also local dragoons. In 1882 many of his men returned from summer camp complaining that the food consisted of stringy beef, boiled potatoes and beans. My grandfather was determined to do something about this and in 1883 joined the dragoons as a Corporal cook. He knew nothing about cooking but knew what gangs of workmen wanted to eat. He left the actual camp cooking to the army cooks under him and set about selling or bartering the army rations for chickens, hams, vegetables and fruit. As a result, the Burford dragoons of 1883 ate better than
anyone else in camp. The selling and bartering of army rations was illegal, but Charlie Woodin was an "easy come - easy go" sort of person who felt that the troops should eat as well in camp as they did at home, or at his work camps. Being a cook meant nothing to Charlie Woodin and as a man whose civilian business was as big as (or bigger than) that of most of the local officers, he called them by their first names the same as he did at home. Charlie Woodin served only one summer as a cook. Apparently the camp authorities did not care for the way he managed such good meals for the Burford troop while the rest of the camp was gagging on the stringy beef.
Despite the rigid military discipline that the British military instructors tried to instill in the summer camp there was considerable informality. On one occasion two Burford men who had particularly fine horses managed to smuggle a fancy gig onto the troop train. In camp they hitched up their thoroughbreds in tandem style (one horse behind the other - a "smart" way to drive) and drove about the camp on Sunday. This created quite a stir and one of the men wrote home to say that "all eyes were on us." There are also old post-cards showing uniformed Burford troopers posed in front of the then-popular Niagara Falls carnival back-drops of fancy aeroplanes, fake motor-cars and barrels to go over the Falls. Sunday was a big day at camp and despite lack of motor cars, there was such good train and trolley car service that many local people managed to attend the church parades and military displays that took place on Sunday.
Anyone who has the good fortune of possessing a copy of Major Muir's political and military history of Burford will note a number of photos showing Burford troopers at camp. Some are of troops on horseback or in posed shots. One shows the men waiting for dinner which is being cooked over an open fire in two big pots. Most are clad in heavy uniform pants with knee boots and spurs. In viewing this picture one has to wonder how the men survived the summer heat in such clothing. I have a complete set of an 1890 dragoon officer's uniform. It is so heavily padded and of such thick cloth that it can almost stand up by itself. To ride about in such a uniform with a high, but-toned-up collar, sword belt, etc. on a hot day must have been a severe test of endurance. It is no wonder that Auditor-General's reports of the day list payments for illness. One such report covers the payment of $348 to a local officer for illness.
The local militia is now a thing of the past and the armoury is the residence and studio of a well-known Canadian artist. The beautiful shrubs and flowers that now grace the grounds are a far cry from the grim "warlike" appearance that was so dear to the hearts of various "Advance" editors. However, before we say farewell to this aspect of our history it may be of interest to note the cost and work involved in maintaining this building for the local militia. In 1913 Sgt. R. Cavin was paid 50 cent a day to act as caretaker. This was no sinecure for he was required to shovel the 40 tons of coal that was used in the furnace and to maintain wood fires in the Officers' and Sergeants' messes, he also had to maintain the acetylene gas plant that lit the building and which in 1912 took 600 pounds of carbide. This was a hazardous task, for local "toughs" thought it was funny to break into the generator building and shut off the gas. One one such occasion Sgt. Cavin was cited for his heroism in shutting down the plant seconds before an explosion. In addition to building maintenance Sgt. Gavin's wife received $44 a year to launder any Mess linen that needed it (Auditor-General's reports). Later the caretaker's salary was raised to $1.50 a day and he was given housing accommodation on the top floor.
And so times and interests change for better or worse. Time marched on and with it marched the Burford dragoons. They left behind them many glowing reports and compliments in newspapers and books but they took with them a certain sense of community cooperation that does not seem to exist today.