Our Boys Were Certainly No Angels



“Examination of early war photographs show that in Canada, the universal Maple Leaf cap badge and collar badges were worn by soldiers assigned to Military Police duty. As Battalions and Corps adopted their own badges, Military Police added their own insignia to indicate their status. Often, the only insignia identifying a Military Policeman was an MP brassard worn on the jacket cuff.” Source: http://mpmuseum.org/ww1badge1.html


The role of an Assistant Provost Marshal is basically the Chief of Police for a military unit or encampment. Keeping control of the approximately 15,000 troops from all branches of the Army in the 2nd Division was a very real challenge. The “boys” being young, many far from home, but conversely many native born Britons, close to home which led to temptation of going home and visiting family and relatives. Meanwhile the inevitable search for experiences outside the realm of their previous home life would lead soldiers to experience drink, drugs and prostitution. The Provost Marshal War Diary is a fascinating look at the social fabric of the Canadian soldier when they weren’t being particularly martial. They certainly where no angels and the Imperial Force Officer establishment found dealing with the “colonial” forces a challenge. Canadian and ANZAC private soldiers’ respect for military authority and comportment (such as saluting and addressing officers by their Christian names) reflected the freedom from the social constrictions of the Home country and its strong stratification between the classes        [i].

The “boys” of the 2nd Contingent were mostly from the British Isles but their emigration to Canada and exposure to the distance from the cradle of Imperial culture and social influences had an effect on their attitudes and behaviour. Returning to the home country would be an interesting experience and the distance from family and familiar surroundings coupled with the intensified machismo of male military life would combine to create some challenging situations for the civilian and military police. The Canadian units had their problems with military and civilian law and the temptations of youth.

The 18th Battalion was no exception.

One example that stands out is the number of soldiers absent from the battalions of the 4th, 5th, and 6th Canadian Brigades, 2nd Canadian Division. The Assistant Provost Marshal records on July 15, 1915, 2-and-a-half months after arriving in Britain that the following soldiers were missing:


From this simple graph one can see, quite clearly, that the 18th Battalion was subject to the highest number of soldiers on record on that date. The bar graph offers a basic overview and some might note that the 19th Battalion, part of the 4th Brigade to which the 18th belongs, has no soldiers absent.


The pie chart gives a good overview of the proportion. The 4th Brigade lead the absentee rate with a total of 58 soldiers absent, while the 5th Brigade had 37 absentees, and the 6th 51. The chart shows graphically the proportion absent within the brigade and in total for the sample.

From the time of the 2nd Contingent’s arrival in Britain to the training environment in the many camps surrounding Folkestone until it was transferred from this sheltered training environment to active service on the line in September 1915, the types of incidents would be shaped by the geographic environment of the Kent countryside and urban areas. The soldiers found the many inns, bars, hotels places of libation and camaraderie. The seashore was a temptation to bath (or as we would now say, swim), and several external forces, such as prostitutes, “hawkers” and others would serve as further influences to for the Canadian soldiers to step outside the bounds of military comportment and risk involvement with military justice.

Their names obscured by time as five soldiers of the 18th Battalion were absent without leave and on June 1, 1915 the Provost Marshal War Diary records: “Five absentees reported from the 18th Battalion; descriptions sent to A.P.M., London and to the Head Constables of the towns in which their next of kin reside, notifying to arrest and detain.”[ii] As there is no digital war diary before June of 1915 one can assume that this type of absenteeism was not unusual and this was the typical response by the Canadian Military Police in trying to track down the men and return them to their units.

From the tone of the war diary entries it appears that the role of being a police force for the troops was not a role the Assistant Provost Marshal (A.P.M.) was familiar with in civilian life and the resources allotted to this role were not complete, even after the 2nd Contingent had been in the Folkestone area since April, 1915. Even as late as June 1, 1915 the A.P.M. was being issued with more horses and being assigned men from the battalions of the 2nd Contingent to fulfill the compliment required to police the Canadian soldiers. It is not known if this increase in resources was due to an increase in incidents or from a lack of resources being addressed over time.

Regardless, the A.P.M. was a busy man. He relates a typical day of arriving at his office at 8:30 a.m. and addressing a volume of correspondence to and from various sources. Then, typically, the A.P.M. would address various administrative and legal matters throughout the day and then, almost religiously, would make the rounds by car to Hythe, Saltwood, Sandling Junction, Westernhangar, and Otterpool returning from his tour as late as 11:30 p.m. before his duty day ended. Keeping track and control of a group of young Canadian soldiers was hard work. Some of the men of the 18th Battalion did not make it any easier.

One of the gravest concerns the A.P.M. was the “wastage” or loss of men due to unnecessary accidents and other influences. One of the most common diseases to impact the Canadian Expeditionary Force was venereal disease:

          “Canadians had their share of infamous accomplishments. The most notorious of these was the record level of VD in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). It was the highest among the troops in the Western theatre. (Cassel 1987: 122)

The statistics indicate that 66,083 cases of VD occurred and of that total 18,612 with the balance of the other cases being gonorrhea. The impact to the infrastructure of the army was significant. As one example the service record of an 18th Battalion soldier who contracted syphilis, identified in his service record on October 8, 1917 was not cured and discharged until July 8, 1918. This soldier was not available for duty for 305 days and did not return to combat duty, eventually being discharged in England on May 28, 1919.

This case illustrates the cost in time, money, and medical resources for one soldier. The A.P.M. would have concerns for the soldiers in his area of responsibility and Mary Needham was one such threat to the well being of the soldiers of the 2nd Division. The A.P.M. classed this woman as “a syphilitic, from Folkestone” who is attributed to having given “the disease” to eight men who were now in the Temporary Hospital. He had her photo and description and made sure to forward her description to the local police and medical authorities.

Mary Needham will pop up again in the A.P.M.’s sights later in the diary.[iii]

The range of incidents reflected society and all its faults to some extent and the A.P.M. reports certain incidents with a neutral detachment that accentuates the potential drama behind the event being reported: “Matter of Pte. Brooker, 21st Battalion, found by Sgt. Lunnie in a private house, Hythe, with Mrs. Thorton, wife of Pte. Thorton of the 21st.”[iv] History does not record the outcome of this situation but the A.P.M. indicates that the Battalion investigated and referred the matter up the chain of command to the commanding officer of the 4th [Canadian Infantry] Brigade “for action.”

The Boys of the 18th and the A.P.M.

The Assistant Provost Marshal’s war diary does not focus on only the men of the 18th Battalion. He was responsible for recording the significant events that occurred in the diary and used other reports, such as daily crime sheets, to report the activities of the Canadian Military Police under his command. In addition, each unit would have its own method of recording the defaults of the soldiers under its command and meting out appropriate punishments, without necessarily involving the military police.

All the same a summary of the A.P.M.’s war diary focusing on the men of the 18th is instructive – and typical – of the experiences of the other battalions and units of the 2nd Canadian Division.

On June 2, 1915 Private Cassell, reg. no. 53554 is recorded that[v]: “The Head Constable at Banbury[vi], reported that Pte. Cassell, 18th. Battalion had been apprehended. Escort detailed and returned at mid-night with prisoner, placing him in the Guard Room of the 11th Battalion, the await escort from the 18th. Battalion.” Private Cassell’s transgression is not formally recorded in his service record so it would appear that the Battalion decided to affect no punishment or a punishment that would not reflect on his service record. Private Cassell was visiting his wife in Horton, Banbury. Sometime between the date of his enlistment on October 26, 1914 and this event he was married, though an examination of his service record does not reflect this event. His attestation papers list his father as his next of kin and it is later in his service record that he assigns $12.00 pay per month to his wife, a Mrs. S. Cassell of the Cooperative Stores in Banbury.

Private Cassell survived the war, albeit suffering from shell shock and a G.S.W. to the stomach.

On June 16, 1915 the A.P.M. records: “Received report that Pte. Jackson[vii], absentee from the 18th. Battalion had been killed in the Carlisle wreck.” As it would come to light our Private Jackson survived the Quintinshill rail disaster, the worst rail disaster in British history.

A Sergeant Smith[viii] of the 18th Battalion was brought on charges on June 17, 1915 for an incident on the 15th. He was charged with neglect of duty and drinking while on duty. On the 17th he was further charged with conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline. The A.P.M. felt so strongly about this soldier and the charges that he wrote “a special letter” asking for a full report of the incident. Yet, given his opinion of the gravity of the charges it is recorded on the June 19, 1915 that the charges were dropped.

Another soldier, Private Robinson[ix], is found to be absent without leave and needed to be escorted from Windermere. This can be identified with a high level of confidence as being Private Thomas Hartley Robinson, reg. no. 54252, as he listed his next-of-kin as Underwood Robinson of Crown Villa, Bowness-on-Windermere[x]. Private Robinson was later wounded on October 3, 1915 and appears to have survived the war.

A mystery is recorded on July 2, 1915 as to the 18th Battalion Paymaster which was of concern to the O.C. 18th Battalion. Captain Stover (the A.P.M. diary has name as Stovel) went missing[xi] for several days. It eventually came to pass that this Officer went missing for over a month and a Board of Inquiry was convened later in July 1915 to determine the circumstances surrounding this disappearance.[xii]

A Private Hilton[xiii] (Private John Hilton, reg. no. 54161) is recorded on July 13, 1915 to be apprehended by the A.P.M. London and this soldier states that the reason for his desertion was he had venereal disease and in his desire to be cured he left the Battalion in search of a cure, leading him to London. The 2nd Canadian Division A.P.M. requested his return to his unit. Later, on August 12, 1915 the A.P.M. wired a Major Shaw to be on the look out for Private Hilton as he was discharged from the Rochester Hospital after his treatment.[xiv]

On the same day the previously reported Private Jackson who was purported to have been killed in the Carlisle train wreck is alive. So alive that he has been reported arrested and then had the temerity to escape from the Scotch Police[xv]. Later, on August 2, 1915, the A.P.M. records that Private Jackson awaiting a court martial, escapes from the 18th Battalion guard room[xvi]. One has to admire Private Jackson’s industriousness with is ability not to be held by the police.

A forgery case that occurred in the 18th Battalion some time previous is referred to Scotland Yard on July 23, 1915. The forgery a Postal Note of the value of 30 Shillings required that the note and the signatures of all the soldiers that slept in, or had access to Private Clark[xvii]’s hut were forwarded to the Yard for expert examination.[xviii] Later, the A.P.M. was able to deduce from the examination at Scotland Yard that the signature was that of Private Clarke [sic]. This information confirmed the suspicions of the A.P.M. as to the originator of the signature.

In regards to absentee soldiers, the 18th Battalion reports to the A.P.M. that the Battalion is having an “unusually large number of absentees…” which reflects the A.P.M.’s previous notations and reports pervious to this July 25, 1915 diary entry.[xix]

The tone of the A.P.M. War Diary changes in August. The Division is getting more fit militarily and the ability and experience of the Military Police, coupled with better Battalion level discipline, brings down the incidents being reported by the A.P.M. though his concerns for maintenance of general military discipline is readily evident by the war diary entries. Specific soldiers from other battalions are recorded and there are the continued concerns regarding prostitution, drug[xx] and alcohol abuse, theft, and a sundry of criminality that would be experienced in any society.

There is also, very likely, a realization by all the soldiers of the 2nd Contingent that the time for training was soon to be over and that they would be transported from the summer fields of England (and how beautiful they are) to the mire and muck of the front line and all that it holds for them. The third week of August found the men of the 2nd Division on a divisional exercise, a final rehearsal be the King’s review of the Division before it embarked for France.

The Military Police also became more adapt at their duties as their experience grew.

Notable Incidents from the A.P.M. War Diary

The A.P.M. also had do deal with a wide range of behaviours, some juvenile and some dangerous, that needed a fatherly hand of guidance to insure the safety and proper comportment of the troops:

  • On June 2, 1915 the A.P.M. recommends a picquet[xxi] to patrol the road in an attempt to prevent soldiers from going to an Inn 1.25 miles west of New Inn Green [sic] as “a great many soldiers congregate here in the evening.
The MetroPole Hotel, Folkestone, Kent. 1915 Post card via Mike Dugdale.

The MetroPole Hotel, Folkestone, Kent. 1915 Post card via Mike Dugdale.

  • Two Officers of the 4th Brigade Canadian Field Artillery were investigated by the A.P.M. June 14, 1915 for being “…under the influence of liquor, insulting two ladies,” at the Metropole Hotel. The nature of the “insult” is not recorded, and interestingly, neither were the names of the officers.
  • A complaint was received from the O.C. 24th Battalion indicating that some men were arrested by civilian authorities and were subsequently tried and “let off too easily, not example being made.”[xxii]
  • On June 18, 1915 the A.P.M. records that: “Instructions have been given to all police and to be published in orders that only one rider was to be carried on a motorcycle.
  • A complaint from the Range Warden, Hythe, that soldiers were “bathing” in a danger zone at the sea-front and that orders needed to be created informing soldiers of safe places to bath. The A.M.P., for some reason, considered it “dangerous” to post any guard to prevent this behavior.[xxiii]
  • The Pathe Animated Gazette was given tentative authority to take photographs and moving pictures of 2nd Canadian Division troops.[xxiv]
  • Another officer, this time of the 3rd Sussex (Imperial) was arrested for drunkenness at the Metropole Hotel.[xxv]
  • The 1st Canadian Division A.P.M. “…remarked re. slackness of 2nd Division troops and officers in saluting. Stopped all men who failed to salute in the forenoon and out of 31, only one was 2nd. Div.” In, perhaps a fit of pique, the 2nd Division A.P.M. suggested to the 1st Division A.P.M. to take the names of soldiers to verify if they were, indeed, 2nd Division soldiers so they could be dealt with.[xxvi]
  • The case of the lost horses in which it was determined that the horses were not properly tagged and documented and got mixed up with other units.[xxvii]
  • Attended to the moral and entertainment of the soldiers of the Division by visiting with a Mr. Davis. Mr. Davis wished to establish a motion picture tent in one of the camps which would “…offer strong inducements to the men to stay in camp.”[xxviii]
  • The Metropole Hotel continues to be a problem with another officer, Lieutenant Melville Greenshields, 42nd Battalion,[xxix] and Lieutenant Duclos, 24th Battalion, being investigated for drunkenness.

General Steele

  • The officers of the 24th Battalion were at it again at the Metropole Hotel. The A.P.M. alleges Lieutenants Duclos and Hastings were drunk again and that Lieutenant Hastings saluted General Steele (of Northwest Mounted Police fame) with his hat off.[xxx]
  • An apparent rivalry between the Canadian Training Depot Police when one of the men of the 2nd Canadian Military Police contingent, a Corporal Martin, was “molested” while traveling through Shornecliffe having papers and his badge taken from him. A.P.M. dealt directly with C.T.D.P and secured items.[xxxi]
  • A representative of a West Sandling brewery, Leney’s Brewers, reported the loss of 30-gallon barrel of stout and an 18-gallon of beer on evening of July 9, 1917. The barrels were later found. Empty. No drunks were reported in the battalion area and this ‘rendered the investigation more difficult.’[xxxii]
  • Concerns regarding an “epidemic” of absenteeism. The A.M.P. notes that many of the cases are soldiers overstaying their leaves and are not intentionally deserting as much as, once their leave is over and the have not reported back to camp, are now absent from leave. Several soldiers voluntarily report to the local police station and are taken into custody for return to their units.[xxxiii]
  • “A Moving Picture Theatre with a seating capacity of 900 erected by Mr. Thomas at New Inn Green [Newingreen].”[xxxiv] Later in August the proprietor of the Moving Picture Theatre reports to the A.P.M. that it is not “a paying proposition” and the A.P.M. states that it should be as it is a “very good one and well managed” and decides to contact the Officers Commanding of the Battalions and make “this theatre known to the men.”[xxxv]
  • A potential spy[xxxvi] was reported by Captain Taunton of the 27th A notation in the diary on July 23, 1915 indicates that a German Jew who resides on the Golf Links near Hythe, was seen with a flashlight and it appears he was signalling out to sea. As a follow up on the next day of this report, the A.P.M., with Captain Taunton and Major Parsons went to the house on the Golf Links in order to search it. The construction of the lower floor was noted as being concrete and the owner, Sir Wilfred Cohen (as previously noted – a German Jew) was not home but it is felt that the house was to be “…closely watched and his movements noted.”
  • “The Naked Man Mystery” which started on July 27, 1915[xxxvii] continued to perplex the efforts of the A.P.M. to get to the bottom of the mystery. Two civilians claimed to have found a naked soldier bound and gagged in an opening of a hedge “that borders Herrings Lane [possibly Harringe Lane], near Sellindge.” Sergeant Dent and Corporal Holland were allocated in an attempt to solve the mystery but as of July 30 no definitive information or leads were found.
  • The first case of civilians selling liquor to soldiers was reported August 1, 1915 and the A.P.M. intended to discourage this behaviour by meting out the maximum punishment of 20 English Pounds or 6 months in jail.[xxxviii]

As noted previously, when August arrived the tone of the A.P.M.’s war diary is more serious and relates a range of military justice matters. The small and petty incidents of the soldiers of the 2nd Division appear to diminish in frequency though the average number of arrests per day stays a consistent 5 per 24-hour period with some exceptions where the arrests numbers are greater than 5.

The issue of absenteeism continues to frustrate the efforts of the A.P.M. and several cases of interference from the 1st Canadian Division Provost Marshal Corp add to the problems of managing the troops returning from being absent. The 1st Canadian Division involved itself in the administration of these soldiers and it appears that this division’s communication with higher authority is either more efficient or it is given preference over the 2nd Canadian Division.

The 2nd Division becomes involved with a divisional level exercise and the Canadian Military Police comport themselves very well by establishing picquets and patrols to contain the troops of the Division as they move about Kent during the exercise.

On August 30, 1915 the A.P.M. receives notice that all leave is being cancelled and all men on leave are to be recalled immediately.

The 2nd Division is preparing to move to the Continent.


Note on Sources

The A.P.M. War Diaries for the 2nd Canadian Division can be found here:

  1. June 1, 1915 to February 29, 1916.
  2. March 1, 1916 t0 May 31, 1917.


[i] See Marwick, Arthur. “The Impact of the First World War on British Society …” Vancouver Island University. JSTOR, 29 Dec. 2008. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.

[ii] Acting Provost Marshal, 2nd Division War Diary, June 1, 1915.

[iii] See A.P.M., 2nd Canadian Division War Diary for dates July 11 and 12, 1915. The A.P.M. details the arrest, trial and outcome of same. He notes that the punishment is no were long enough to cure the accused of her disease.

[iv] Ibid, June 8, 1915.

[v] Ibid, June 6, 1915.

[vi] Banbury is North-west of London, England approximately 153 miles from Saltwood, Kent. It is an approximate 3-hour train trip.

[vii] This could be Sergeant C.J. Jackson, reg. no. 54145 or Private A.H. Jackson, reg. no. 53349. Check service records.

[viii] This is possibly Sergeant Chester Philip Smith, reg. no. 53651.

[ix] A.P.M., 2nd Canadian Division War Diary, June 30, 1915.

[x] This location is in the Lake District on the West coast of England and is approximately 350 miles from the Sandling Camp area.

[xi] A.P.M., 2nd Canadian Division War Diary, July 2, 1915.

[xii] At the time of this article the particulars of this case are unknown and the service record for Captain Charles Bowen Stover has not been digitized.

[xiii] Acting Provost Marshal, 2nd Division War Diary, July 13, 1915.

[xiv] The treatment report is available at his Soldier’s Page.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Acting Provost Marshal, 2nd Division War Diary, August 2, 1915.

[xvii] Possibly either Private Benjamin Clark, reg. no. 53549 or Private Robert Henry Clark, reg. no. 54012. An examination of their service records may determine if one of these soldiers is the man who is the object central to the forgery investigation.

[xviii] Ibid, July 22, 1915.

[xix] Ibid, July 25, 1915.

[xx] See Acting Provost Marshal, 2nd Division War Diary, August 28, 1915. “I have reason to believe that someone is peddling cocaine among the troops camped at Dibgate.

[xxi] Military spelling of picket. A picket was a patrol of soldiers, usually on the periphery of a military area or encampment used to protect a larger body of soldiers.

[xxii] Acting Provost Marshal, 2nd Division War Diary, June 15, 1915.

[xxiii] Ibid, June 19, 1915.

[xxiv] Ibid, June 23, 1915.

[xxv] Ibid, June 26, 1915.

[xxvi] Ibid, June 28, 1915.

[xxvii] Ibid, July 3 and 4, 1915.

[xxviii] Ibid, July 4, 1915.

[xxix] Captain Greenshields did not survive the war dying on June 3, 1916.

[xxx] Acting Provost Marshal, 2nd Division War Diary, July 7, 1915.

[xxxi] Ibid, July 5, 1915.

[xxxii] Ibid, July 10, 1915.

[xxxiii] Ibid, July 19, 20, 21, 1915.

[xxxiv] Ibid, July 21, 1915.

[xxxv] Ibid, July 17, 1915.

[xxxvi] This is not the only concern with German espionage noted in the A.P.M. War Diary and the other incidents make fascinating reading.

[xxxvii] Ibid, July 27, 1915.

[xxxviii] Ibid, August 1, 1915.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.