War is declared! What will you do? Will you enlist?
In 1914, Canada as its own country had never been at war. The War of 1812 was Britain against Napoleon and the United States. Back then we were only a colony of Britain. The Boer War was between Britain and South Africa, and although Canada was now its own country we agreed to send only a battalion of volunteers.
The First World War was different. As noted in last week's article, Europe divided up, for or against, the Austria-Hungary Empire and Germany. The Canada At War website (canadaatwar.ca) noted:
"That Canada was automatically at war when Britain was at war in 1914 was unquestioned as, from coast to coast, in a spirit of almost unbelievable unanimity, Canadians pledged support for the Motherland. Sir Wilfred Laurier spoke for the majority of Canadians when he proclaimed: 'It is our duty to let Great Britain know and to let the friends and foes of Great Britain know that there is in Canada but one mind and one heart and that all Canadians are behind the Mother Country.' Prime Minister Robert Borden, calling for a supreme national effort, offered Canadian assistance to Great Britain. The offer was accepted, and immediately orders were given for the mobilization of an expeditionary force."
People were very different 100 years ago. Words like honour, duty and pride were in the actual makeup of the people. Men would go to war because duty to one's country meant something. In doing one's duty, one was being honourable and good. Much of that attitude has been lost, for today if you don't like to do something, you don't do it. The fact that you really should do it doesn't seem to matter anymore.
On Aug. 6 at 7 p.m., you can experience the For King and Country Patriot Garden Party at Annandale National Historic Site. There will be an evening of patriot speeches, music and good old-fashion ice cream! You will need to bring a blanket or lawn chair and, just so you are ready, the hat will be passed (most likely to support the war effort.)
Inspirational and rousing music of the First World War era will be played by local musician Ian Bell and his Norfolk Volunteers. Stephen & Maureen Bourne, new citizens of Tillsonburg and re-enactors will also be there to get you to sign up.
People tend to forget that we were not as technologically savvy as we are today. There were no instantaneous news reports of the war posted on Twitter or Facebook, just as there were no cellphones -- many people did not yet own a phone. There was no television, and radio as we know it did not start until the 1920s.
What we did have was telegraph, so the word could come quickly from Europe via the Marconi Telegraph to Canada and then to various cities and towns. This message would then would be printed in the paper. There was often a day or two time lag before the word started to spread. If you live in the country and didn't come to town for a few days you were even further behind.
Getting the word spread that we were at war and recruitment was necessary was of primary importance. That would have been done by someone here in Tillsonburg or Oxford County, a gentleman of some importance locally that everyone would know and respect -- perhaps a character such as Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey.
This fictional gentleman has fought for his country in the Boer War (1899-1902) and understands exactly what war is all about for the enlisted man. In fact, his own son is about to sign on with the army. He will be exhorting you to stand up and enlist for King and Country, and to contribute generously to the Patriotic Fund in support of wives and families whose men are going off to war. Your hearts will stir with patriotism.
I found a song by Paul Rubens called, Your King and Country Want You, which was used as a means of persuading young men to enlist for military service in 1914. The veteran theatrical performer Vesta Tilley often performed the song at recruitment rallies, and men who declined to enlist at the end of these were invariably handed white feathers by children as a sign of cowardice.
Your King and Country Want You, by Paul Rubens:
We've watched you playing cricket and every kind of game, At football, golf and polo you men have made your name. But now your country calls you to play your part in war. And no matter what befalls you, We shall love you all the more. So come and join the forces, As your fathers did before. Oh, we don't want to lose you but we think you ought to go. For your King and your country both need you so. We shall want you and miss you, But with all our might and main, We shall cheer you, thank you, bless you, When you come home again."