During his service as Regimental Bard, Mister Jack Whyte provided the unit with a lasting set of tributes to the men of both the Tenth Battalion, CEF and the First Battalion, Calgary Highlanders. The two tributes, reproduced below, were performed by Mister Whyte on the commercially produced recording “EIGHTY YEARS OF GLORY: The Regimental Pipes, Drums and Bard of The Calgary Highlanders.” Also included below are the lyrics Mr. Whyte penned to Highland Cathedral, the unofficial regimental hymn.
St. Julien Wood
The Battle of St. Julien is commemorated annually by The Calgary Highlanders and the sacrifices of the Tenth Battalion – predecessor unit to the Regiment – are remembered with special pride. The battle is described in detail elsewhere on this site. Mister Whyte composed this touching piece of prose to honour the “Glorious Memory of the 22nd of April” and recites this piece on the recording “Eighty Years of Glory.” On the recording, the Refrain is sung to the tune of “The Black Bear”, a traditional pipe tune and one of the favourites of the Regiment.
Five hundred yards to the front, a black silhouette stood
Outlined by the flickering gunfire; St. Julien Wood.
The land between had been blasted and shattered and raped
And, concealed between black, smoking craters, the gates of Hell gaped.
Canadian soldiers stood, waiting for word to advance,
Their minds drinking in this grim vision of beautiful France
While their ears cringed in mental discomfort and physical pain
At the noise of the barrage that screamed around Ypres again.
The time came, and they moved out, advancing in alternate waves
Each two companies strong; each one moving as water behaves,
Flowing forward in silence to find its own level, around
All the upflung confusion of shell-tortured, treacherous ground.
In spite of the darkness of midnight, the going was good
So that, still undetected, their front rank came close to the Wood
Until, just as the forest developed a visible edge,
They ran into the French farmer’s border – a strong, healthy hedge!
What to do? There was no way around it, and time was their foe
Just as much as the Germans: smash through; there’s nowhere else to go.
So they tried, and they died, row on row, as though caught in barbed wire
As the enemy, startled alert, laid down murderous fire.
Decimated – each tenth man laid dead – was a word coined in Rome,
And the Tenth would have happily settled for that, and gone home,
But the hedge all around them confined them, and try as they would,
They had no way but forward to go … To St. Julien Wood.
They were out of the hedge now and into the enemy trench
Swinging bayonet and rifle butt, covered in mud, blood and stench,
And they out of the trench and on, up to the edge of the trees
Where the enemy, hidden by tree trunks, could snipe them with ease.
But the surging Canucks were demented by now — men possessed
By one single and burning incentive — to clean out this nest
Of demonic and venomous hornets; this devil-spawned brood
Who were trying to stop them from taking St. Julien Wood.
And the Hun staggered backwards, his dead lying heaped on the ground;
Hundred tried to surrender, appalled by the fury they’d found
In these madmen who fought like blind Furies unleased by the gods
Coming forward, and winning, in face of incredible odds!
But then, somehow, the stunned German infantry rallied again
And perceived that the demons who tore at them really were men,
And from enfilade points they set up a new withering fire
That would force these Canadian berserkers to stop and retire.
Those first three hellish hours dragged on to become sixty four;
Almost three solid days of exhaustion, gas, gunfire and gore,
And only one hundred of eight hundred and sixteen men
Came back out of St. Julien Wood into sunlight again.
What they did in that wood, amid carnage and slaughter and strife,
Moved their General to say that the thing he most prized in his life
Was the “Canada” armlet displayed with such pride on his sleeve,
And the honour he felt just to know what his men had achieved.
For, as machine guns spewed at them
And shellfire chewed at them
The tired survivors had no water and no food
Because for sixty hours
They’d defied the powers
Of the Kaiser’s crack battalions at St. Julien Wood.
The place had been the test of them; It saw the best of them
Blown into glory in the battle’s bitter feud,
And the oak leaf medallion
Of the Tenth Battalion
Is the symbol of its glory at St. Julien Wood.
Loud sing the bugles that sound in November,
Calling the Living to pause and remember
Arthur; Lowry; Ormond; Boyle; Comrades resting after battle’s toil.
So when the mess kit’s sparkling
And the pibroch’s darkling
Melody brings gooseflesh and a tingling in the blood
You know the rank and file and Brethren of the Highlanders
Are reliving the Glory of St. Julien Wood.
The Battle at Walcheren Causeway is also remembered annually each year by the Regiment with a full battalion parade and religious service. Mister Whyte’s prose, reproduced below, is also performed by him on the Eighty Years of Glory recording.
I recall I sat on the porch that night, Sipping whisky, straight and neat
Watching tiny goblins and lanterns bright Flitting up and down the street,
But I don’t recall his approach at all; He just suddenly came into view,
Walking straight and tall by my garden wall And I greeted him as I would you.
“Good evening, soldier. God save the Queen! ” I toasted him.
“Slake your thirst With some good malt Scotch, for it’s Halloween, October the thirty first.
The kid’s are all out in the neighbourhood
And I’m drinking some lonely toasts
To the wee folk, there, to my own childhood,
To the darkness and the ghosts!”
He turned and eyed me – I’d never seen His face in my life before.
“Sure,” he said. “I’ll be happy to toast Halloween – Halloween, nineteen forty four.”
He crossed the lawn and he shook my hand
And I cheerfully poured him a glass.
I assumed from his clothing he played in a band;
He was kilted and glittering with brass.
He proposed “The Calgary Highlanders!” We downed it. I poured us one more.
“To the Walcheren Causeway!” he said. “Halloween, Nineteen hundred and forty four! ”
“To the what?” I enquired, and his eyes went blank
And a strange look came over his face
And, embarrassed, I flushed and my self-esteem sank,
For I felt myself, somehow, disgraced.
“The Walcheren Causeway.” He said it again.
“It’s a roadway; a long, narrow belt
Of a road built out over the water and fen To a Dutch island, out on the Scheldt.
Just a high, built-up roadway; flat; narrow; exposed
To the wind and the rain and the sleet.
God! The first time we saw it, we never supposed
We’d be crossing the thing on our feet.
“It was two thousand yards long, and each exposed foot
Of it made it a breeze to defend
For the Germans who held it; you see, they could shoot
From the roadblock they’d built at their end.
“I know two thousand yards may not seem much by day
when you’re taking a stroll with your sons,
But at night, in a fight, it’s a long, long way
When you’re facing an enemy’s guns.
“They had told us at first we’d be crossing in boats
To assault Middelburg ‘cross the Slooe,
But the mud was as thick as the fear in our throats
And it stuck our assault craft like glue.
“Yet we had to cross over; we had to attack;
And by land, there was only one route
And that route was the Causeway;
straight, long, bare and black.
“Well, the Highlanders moved in on foot
Under cover of darkness with no place to halt;
No surprise; no maneuvering room; Just a mad, midnight dash;
a straight frontal assault Into blackness, confusion and doom.
“Jerry’s mortars and field guns were well zeroed in,
And the roadblock machine guns, as well,
But we had to approach them, engage them, and win,
So we charged them, like bats out of Hell!
“All the guns, theirs and ours, turned the night into day
And the shell splinters, bullets and stone
Fragments turned the air solid and slaughtered men lay
Where they fell, lifeless, limp and alone.
“Twelve Platoon of B Company took the full force
Of a hellish, defensive crossfire;
They were out in the front, unprotected, of course,
And B Company had to retire.
“Daybreak came, and the sight of that shell shattered road
Would have riven an archangel’s brain,
But D Company moved forward and took up the load
And the whole place erupted again.
“How they did it, God knows, but they went all the way
Where no human could hope to survive,
And they captured the roadblock; they carried the day
And the rest of us crossed there alive.
“Like the Light Brigade charging the jaws of death,
Riding into the mouth of Hun,
They smelled the stink of the Demon’s breath
As they friends and their messmates fell.
“Like their Highlander forbears who fought with pride
On the rolling Zulu veldt,
They faced extinction and stemmed its tide
On that Causeway over the Scheldt.
“Like their Sister Regiment’s Thin Red Line On the Balaclavan clay,
They defied false gods for the narrow spine Of the Walcheren Causeway.
As the Calgary men took St. Julien
In the War that had gone before,
These ones captured the Causeway to Walcheren
And distinguished the oakleaf they wore.”
His voice tailed away and he stared at me
And between us, a silence hung;
As I reached for the bottle to charge his glass,
I was thinking he looked too young
To have seen the things he said he’d seen;
But then shock unhinged my jaw,
For the chair sat empty, where he had been
And the night had turned cold and raw.
I jumped up and ran to the garden wall
And I searched the empty street
But I saw no sign of him at all
And I heard no sound of feet.
Then his voice said, clearly, “To Walcheren:
Don’t forget!” inside my head,
And I shivered and turned, and went slowly in
To a sleepless, comfortless bed.
The melody played by the pipes was originally written in Germany in the 1880’s by Roever/Korb specifically for the bagpipes. Several pipe bands have recorded it and the Regimental Pipes and Drums first became familiar with the tune in 1989 at the Nova Scotia International Tattoo, where it formed part of the required performance repertoire. In 1990, Jack Whyte put words to the melody which was rearranged slightly by Pipe Major Henderson. The tune may be heard on the recording “Eighty Years of Glory” and has become a traditional part of the annual St. Julien’s church service, with the Pipes and Drums playing to the accompaniment of the organ at the Cathedral of the Redeemer in Calgary.
Lyrics by Jack Whyte, Melody written by Roever/Korb
Look to the mountains when you turn to pray;
Think how they reach to Heaven every day,
Lifting their snowy heads and shoulders broad;
Offering all they are to the eyes of God.
Misty and mystic in the morning light;
Painted with colour in the noonday bright;
Golden and purple in the evening air;
All day and every day mountains stand in prayer.
Lift your eyes and see where they rise
Higher and higher, steeple and spire;
Buttress, gable and soaring tower,
Dwarfing Man’s earthly power!
These are Cathedrals that no man could build;
Awesome and glorious and wonder-filled;
Each is a masterpiece, each one unique,
Living a prayer, ‘though lacking a voice to speak.
So look to the mountains when you turn to pray;
See how they strive for Heaven every day,
Lifting their snowy heads and shoulders broad,
Offering all they are to the eyes of God.
The Kandahar Poem written and narrated by Jack Whyte.
Private George Gilmor
Private George Gilmore was born in London, England on 5 January 1876, and before the war was married and worked as a book-keeper. He also served for many years with the 7th Royal Fusiliers, the 100th Regiment (Winnipeg Grenadiers) and the 90th Regiment (Winnipeg Rifles) in the Canadian Militia. He was attested for overseas service in September 1914, with his attestation signed by Lieutenant Colonel Russ Boyle, Commanding Officer of the Tenth Battalion, CEF. At 38 years and 9 months, he brought considerable life experience to the unit, and a poem of his, to the Glorious Memory of the 22nd of April, was published in War Illustrated. The following is reproduced in the Tenth Battalion’s published history Gallant Canadians.
O! Canada, Mistress of snows and of mountain,
Tears are the dew of thy prairies to-day;
Thy blood has gushed forth as if it were from a fountain,
‘Neath Belgium’s sweet soil thy noble sons lay.
Gallant the “Charge” that made the world-story,
Fierce were the odds, but they knew not dismay,
Ever their fame will reflect in the glory
Of self-sacrifice, as they fell on the way.
– Private George Gilmore, Tenth Battalion
Private George William Frost
Private George William Frost (information collected from this website, and information posted there by great-grandson, Les Frost of Ottawa, Ontario, and great-granddaughter, Marian (Frost) Nurse of Victoria, British Columbia. Thanks to Mr. Frost for his permission to use this information on this site.
George William Frost was born August 29, 1872 at Newsham Station, Blyth, England, and was signed onto a sailing ship as a young boy. His mother died while he was at sea, and he lost contact with his father. He married Mary Furniss in 1896 in England. He volunteered to fight with the Americans in the Spanish-American War in Cuba, then fought in the Boer War with the 69th Imperial Yeomanry. In 1904-05 he served as a seaman on a troopship during the Russo-Japanese War. In 1905 he emigrated to Canada. By 1914 he was homesteading in Alberta; he installed his wife in Red Deer and travelled to Calgary to join the 103rd Regiment (Calgary Rifles) from where he was taken on strength as a Lance Corporal with the Tenth Battalion and given Regimental Number 20477.
Frost was taken prisoner during the Battle of St. Julien in April 1915, and worked in camps at Meschede, Friedberg, and Essen in Germany. In November 1917 he was part of a prisoner exchange in Switzerland. He was discharged from the military in February 1919, returned to Alberta, and moved to B.C. in the 1920s. In the 1930s the family moved to California, and towards the end of World War Two they returned to Canada, living in Winnipeg, then Vancouver. He passed away 26 February 1953 and is buried in the Field of Honour, Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver, British Columbia.
His poetry was written under the pen name “Pat Riot” (patriot) and also under his own name. He was granted a copyright for his book “Poetical Soliloquies of a Prisoner of War” published in 1932.
According to his family:
“His poetry reflects his values and his great respect for friends and family. He was very disheartened by the conditions found by Canada’s veterans returning from the first world war to a country soon to be ravaged by a deep depression. Jobs were scarce and men starved and struggled to get by. After the glory of a victory at war, their hopes for a better life were dashed and many of their spirits broken. This and many varied life experiences were the fodder for George’s poetry.”