ACROSS CANADA BY RAIL

Submitted by starosta on Tue, 12/04/2018 - 02:33
Autor prispevku

With reimbursement promised by Britain, the Canadian government facilitated the movement and accommodation of the Legionnaires across Canada. The original plan to temporarily house them in an old army barracks at Williamshead, B.C. was abandoned as it had previously been used as a hostel for Chinese Coolies employed on the railroad and was in need of major upgrade and maintenance. It was then decided to transfer them immediately from ship to train and move them across Canada to the WW1 training camp at Valcartier, twenty minutes north of Quebec City. Arrangements were then made to ship them home from either Quebec City or Halifax, through Cuxhaven, Germany, after a few weeks of rest and recuperation. Four ships were used in the trans-Atlantic crossing.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies provided direction to all Departments on December 17th, 1919 that the Department of Railways and Canals would coordinate the movement across Canada.


The Department of Immigration and Colonization advised the Department of Militia and Defence, on January 15, 1920, that, while there was no need for guards as the Czechoslovaks were under discipline, they did require a nominal roll certified at Vancouver and again verified at any Atlantic port where these troops were to re-embark for Europe.


The Department of Militia and Defence provided support in the form of medical staff en route and in the fifty bed hospital in Valcartier as well as accommodations at Valcartier. The Czechoslovak medical staff and orderlies proved to be very competent and well supplied with bandages and dressings. Only about two dozen Canadian medical personnel were required, most of them recently demobilized veterans of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces who were taken on as civilian employees at their old rates of pay with permission to wear their uniforms. About 140 of the Czechoslovaks required hospital care in Valcartier with stays from a few days to several weeks for various ailments and war wounds. The Department of Militia and Defence issued a bill for their services on December 11, 1920, totalling $34,980.30. This did not include the cost of transport across Canada or the meals provided in camp which were the responsibility of the Department of Railways and Canals.


An undertaking of this magnitude was not without a few wrinkles. Czechoslovak commander Colonel B.P. Vuchterle arrived with the first contingent of battle-weary veterans. They had survived six years in the battlefields of Siberia and landed penniless in Vancouver on June 6. The British Government had approved funding of $300,000 for wages for the troops. Through bureaucratic red tape the funds were not approved or provided by Canada on arrival, causing severe distress for this first group. They had to travel right across Canada with only a $5 advance, unable to buy gifts for their families, until they got to Valcartier. Colonel Vuchterle went to Ottawa on June 16 to meet with the Minister of Finance to sort it out. Funding was finally approved on June 19 and a few days later the men got their first pay.


Another issue that surfaced was the request by the railways to the Minister of Labour to allow recruitment of the railway workers for track maintenance on Canadian projects for the summer. They offered to relieve the government of the cost of transporting them across Canada and would cover the cost of sending them home in the fall, enabling them to earn high wages for the summer. The Labour Unions in BC were opposed to this and the soldiers just wanted to get home so no recruitment was done. Perhaps some felt their skills were above track maintenance work.
Rail transport was assigned to the Canadian National Railways who had provided transportation quotes per head of $56.52 to Quebec, $57.32 to Montreal and $70.22 to Halifax, with 75 cents a day for food. At the last minute Canadian Pacific Railways provided quotes of $50.00, Vancouver to Quebec or Montreal, $58.80 to Halifax and 75 cents a day for meals. Britain advised that it would only pay the lowest rates so CNR agreed to match the CPR rates. This resulted in a flurry of letters, laden with sarcasm, between CPR President E. W. Beatty, the Minister of Railways and Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden. Beatty originally referred to the Slovaks as prisoners of war and stated: that the British Government had promised CPR half of the transport work; that CNR apparently did not need to follow ordinary business methods as long as they had Government officials diverting business regardless of the instructions of those controlling the routing; and that the government was discriminating and unfair. The government’s response was: that no such agreement with the British could be found; that the CPR had previously been the sole beneficiaries of a British contract to transport some 125,000 Chinese Coolies throughout Canada without sharing the work; that the current project was deemed Federal Government business; that the CNR had mobilized trains and equipment to Vancouver at great expense and would suffer a great loss if terms were changed at this late date; and that any division of responsibility at this late date would result in confusion, so no changes were possible at this late date..
The CNR mobilized fifteen special trains, each composed of one baggage car, one commissary (kitchen) car, one table (dining) car, one tourist (smoking) car and nine to eleven Colonist passenger cars. Each train carried an average of six hundred passengers with the luxury of individual berths for sleeping.


The first one, Special W6, left at eleven p.m. on June 6, 1920, carrying thirty three officers and five hundred and ninety-two troops. The officer in charge was Major Rudolf Hásek. The CNR passenger representative was E.E. McLeod of Edmonton.


The route was Vancouver to Quebec City with one hour plus stops at Kamloops, Lucerne, Edmonton, North Battleford, Kamsack, Winnipeg, Sioux Lookout, Grant, Cochrane, and Parent and with twenty minute breaks at about a dozen points in between, including Hearst, Ontario. Valcartier was then just a short jaunt 20 minutes north of Quebec City.


There were also five special trains for excess baggage; one alone carried almost 400,000 pounds of military equipment and perhaps some of the gold from the Russian treasury?


Officers-in-charge for the Ixion passengers were Major Hásek, Major Nošal, Colonel Vána, Major Kouril and Major Papež. The Protesilaus passengers were under the command of Major Michmack, Major Kudrna, Captain Kopal, and Captain Korda. The final contingent from the M.S. Dollar had Colonel Nošal, Major Borečy, Major Fušek, Major Slunekl, Captain Sajbert, and Captain Silcer in charge of the trains.


The Czechoslovaks travelled with their own cooks and the railway supplied the necessary provisions. The officer commanding the Czechoslovaks reported that the feeding arrangements and quality of food was entirely satisfactory but requested an increase in bread rations. After six years of meagre rations and sleeping in their freezing tépluškas in Siberia this experience must have seemed first class to these men.


The travel across Canada was incident-free except for a handful of men who were left behind along the way when they took too long a sightseeing break and missed their trains. The Red Cross looked after them and they were put on the next train so that no one was lost.


At the rates charged by CNR the cost of moving 9,000 plus troops across Canada was about $500,000. Adding another $200,000 for meals over an average of 30 days in train and in Valcartier, $40,000 for Military medical support and $60,000 for excess baggage and other costs the total in Canada was about $800,000. This does not include the cost of shipping the entire 70,000 or the overland costs in the U.S and Europe.

Czechoslovak Legion in Cochrane in 1920
Czechoslovak Legion in Cochrane in 1920 from collection of Gerry Robichaud, used with permission.

 

 

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