Remembering Stanley Royal

 In Opinion

When war was declared in 1914, Stanley Royal was a young man of 26.

He was born, grew up and later farmed on the property we now know as the Mingay Conservation Area.

His steady work in a factory in Meaford came to a sudden end when it closed and he was unable to find any other work. Along with another man from Creemore he enlisted with the 48th Highlanders under Colonel J. A. Currie.

Stanley Royal was one of the men who lived through all the years of fighting and bloodshed of World War I and returned to his father’s farm. He spent many evenings visiting with his neighbours, Frank and Alice Webster, relating his experiences.

They took notes and later wrote up his account, 21 pages of close typing. In the past, The Creemore Echo has published three excerpts from his story. After Armistice Day, he and some other soldiers were billeted with a German family in a chateau. What follows tells of his experiences.

“The German people had not wanted war. Like ourselves they had suffered extreme hardship and loss of life, for the same reason that the war makers might profit. When we first went the German people were very nervous. They had all their valuables buried, expecting that we would be looting. It took about two weeks to gain their confidence and to be able to get German coins for souvenirs. As a result of the British food blockade they had suffered severely from food shortage. It was not that money was scarce, the food was not to be had. They were eating a kind of black bread that we thought abominable.

“We sometimes pinched food from our headquarters and gave it to the German woman in the chateau where we were billeted. She was an excellent cook. She had more ways of cooking potatoes than anyone I know of. It is a pleasure to recall the savory dish she would make from a hambone and saurkraut.

“We spent our Christmas there and ate our Christmas dinner with the family. They had a Christmas tree just the same as we have here and kindly put little presents on for us. There were four children in the family, the youngest not starting to walk. We became great friends with the little fellow, sharing our gifts of cake and candy with them. They wanted to stay right with us. The baby would creep to our door first thing in the morning.

“We remained at the chateau over a month and when we left the burgurmaster read an address expressing appreciation for our conduct and paying us the usual compliments. Leaving there we went to Huy in Belgium. This was the time of the flu epidemic. We lost some of our own men and we would see four and five funerals a day of the Belgian civilians. Our division was taken to Liege for a week and after we cleaned and polished up we were reviewed by King Albert of Belgium. We were in Belgium a month, billeted at Huy but we could get leave any time for Brussels.

At the end of the month they went to Bramshott in England. “We were the last to leave so we were able to see the aftermath as each battalion departed. Those who had sweethearts, apparently expecting to go with them, would tell them the wrong date so they would arrive a day or two after the men had sailed. Then there was weeping and wailing and swearing.

“We sailed on the Baltic. It had been fixed up for a troop ship with hammocks slung in the hold. The odour was sickening. We arrived at Halifax after a seven-day trip. We trained for Toronto and on arriving at Exhibition Park we were greeted with the usual cheering. After checking our personal effects and souvenirs in a check room we were taken away by friends to visit with them.

“I had to wait from Saturday until Monday to get my discharge papers and belongings. Everything I had left with them was gone. They took the diary that I had kept during the whole time and my collection of coins amounting to $22 in silver pieces from different nations. I had carried them safely through Belgium, France, Germany and England. It was left to Imperial Toronto to rob me. This ended my four years and nine months experience in the army.”

Helen Blackburn is a retired teacher, avid gardener and a long-time contributor to the Creemore Echo. She writes about local history.

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