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Winkler, Howard Waldeman, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Occupation: student Manitoba Agricultural College. B.S.A. (1916). Military Service: Private, Reg. No. 531654, No. 11, Overseas Field Ambulance, Attestation Papers.
Additional Biographical Information:
H. W. Winkler
We had not been in the lines for some time, and the third meal of the day having been disposed of, those of us who were not on special fatigue were left to our own initiative. For my part, I was resting after the exertion of devouring a slice of bully beef, two mustard pickles and a liberal helping of stewed figs, and naturally enough was not yet inclined to begin any evening escapade. Some of the boys were having a heated argument over the definition of the word “mechanic.” Another was regarding the small pup whose tail had been recently docked. I was idly taking what amusement I could get out of this when I happened to look up. Corporal Downer’s amiable countenance was looking down at me. “How the mighty are favored! The King desires that you should enjoy yourself in Paris for ten days.” Instantly I was surrounded by the boys, who congratulated me on my good luck. Leave is one of the great incidents in a fellow’s life over there, and everybody is glad to hear when his friend is selected. Some of the boys laughed, some joked, and some just winked knowingly. Some assumed the role of a father when his son leaves home for the first time. So when I marched to the orderly room to get full instructions, I felt equal to any emergency. My effort of keeping body and soul together with figs and such like was promptly forgotten, and I started off to report to the Paymaster at once.
There were four of us among the chosen people: J. G. Andison, D. A. Patterson, A. T. Pincock and I – all from the U. of M. It was almost dark when we arrived at the dead poplars, long since the victims of Prussian gas, near the totally destroyed village of S____. We could barely see some parts of the white stone walls that remained in the semi-darkness. A few miles beyond the village, from which the Germans long ago had been ejected, we could see Fritzie’s nightly display of flares as they shot up into the air, then turned as though to shoot back to earth, but seemed to poise in the sky, breaking out at the same time into an intense ball of white light. We could hear the muffled k-r-r-r-ump of bursting shells, and not far away our heavy batteries broke out sharply. Occasionally, a heavy shell would come as though in reply, with its grinding, squeaking sound somewhat like a stone-boat over loose gravel, yet considerably more hair-raisingly ominous.
But we were not concerned with these distant sounds of battle. Was that not the Paymaster coming down the road? When he approached the tent we gave him, in anticipation of the 500 francs we were about to receive, a salute that would have done credit to the King’s major-domo. Soon we were rich men on our way back to camp, thinking only of the ten bright days that lay before us. On our way we passed a long column of men of a Western battalion. They were trudging along in silence, with rifles and ammunition to practice a raid that they were to “pull off” the following night. Poor fellows! I wondered how many of them had been on leave, and how many would never get their leave, and if most of them didn’t really deserve leave as much as I did – if not more. I was occupied with these thoughts when we reached camp. To be ready the following morning, I had to get busy at cleaning up right away. Soon all my brass shone like gold – (the military ideal) – and my Webb equipment looked like new. So I forgot about the poor chaps with their ordeal before them, and my fancy was busy at building Paris out of what I had ever heard or read.
I was up before the picket woke the bugler to play reveille in the morning, and I managed to induce good old Dad Cockburn, the cook, to give me my breakfast before the rest. There was the usual lecture on good behaviour, and nothing further of importance until we arrived at the rail-head with all of our worldly possessions on our back.
After a tedious journey over a narrow gauge railway, we arrived at a large railroad town. We had barely enough time to down a cup of coffee before our train arrived. It happened to be almost filled with French soldiers returning from leave. We were invited into a compartment with five of them, where there was just room enough left for us.
They were a jolly good crowd, and entertained us all the way to Amiens with their songs. Their eatables and wine were placed at our disposal, and we felt we had to partake of something to avoid offending them. Fortunately one of our boys could speak French fluently, so we all were on the best of terms before we parted.
At Amiens there was considerable delay. A fast train was leaving for Paris in fifteen minutes, but soldiers were not supposed to travel on it. Try as we would, it was impossible to elude the red-caps, so there was nothing to do but wait. At last we were on board our train, and enjoying the pleasant country between Amiens and Paris. There were the prettiest valleys and such cozy little farm houses, with their beautiful shade trees and orchards, that soon we “didn’t know there was a war on.”
Finally it was dark, and we got chattering, through our “interpreter,” Andison, with an old French couple in our compartment. At one of the small stations, it happened that our old friends, the poilus, who were out promenading, spied us and poured into our compartment. They remembered more songs and choruses, and the rest of our journey was lively enough. When the train pulled into the Gare du Nord, we parted from them with regret.
At the station, the Y.M.C.A considerately had a man to direct us. We were advised to avoid taxis, and to go with their guide, who would show us one of the hotels they recommended. Finally, the crowd of Canadians was assembled, and we marched at midnight down the smoothest streets I have ever seen. Everything was in comparative darkness – I use the word “comparative” because no bright street lights were shining. Such is the rule wherever Fritz tries to carry his campaign of terrorism. Finally we approached our hotel, and after tipping our guide, the neglect of which has been [almost] regarded as a criminal offense in Paris, our journey was at an end.
The hotel clerk in his livery, stood behind his desk and regarded us closely as we entered. Outwardly he was the meekest of individuals, with his eyebrows raised and his eyes half closed, but we found later when we scrutinized our itemized account that “things are not always what they seem.” But the hotel clerk doesn’t concern us except that he showed us to our rooms, and I must confess I never felt so unreal in my life. After having tried to imagine for fourteen months what I would feel like when at last I was in a real room with a real bed, I found I couldn’t believe the reality of it. Long after I went to bed, I failed to realize the extent of the transformation, and finally went to sleep in disgust. Verily, anticipation is greater than realization.
However, in the morning I took great satisfaction in the thought that I was comfortable, and set to work to accustom myself to my new surroundings. We spent our first morning in reporting to headquarters. Rather I should say we enjoyed the walk along the Rue Hausmann, so named after the architect who remodelled Paris. Before the morning was over, we all agreed that one could not possibly “do” Paris in a life-time, let alone ten days. From the accounts of many who have gone on Paris leave, I think that conclusion was not overdrawn.
In the course of our wanderings, we followed Boulevard Hausmann to its “source,” the Place l’Etoile. This spot is on the top of a high, yet gently sloping mound. From here the boulevards run in all directions like the spokes from the hub of a wheel. Situated in the very centre, and dominating all the converging streets, is Napoleon’s Arc du Triomphe – a huge arch more than two hundred feet high, yet on the pattern of the old Roman triumphal arch. Carved on the walls of the arches are the names of the different engagements of all the Napoleonic wars. Of the streets running out from the star, the principal is the Champs des Elysees. We walked down this, admiring the enormous width of the street, for we had thought after all the booming of the real estate men, that Main street, of Winnipeg, held the palm for width. But much of these spacious streets of Paris is given to boulevard, and several rows of sycamore trees, which seem to hold the municipal monopoly of street decoration. Then the walks are often very much wider than the roadways, for after a day’s work the Parisians love to promenade. The Champs Elysees broadens out at the end into very wide boulevards, then gradually into a veritable park. The remarkable part about this is the central location. In most cities the boundaries of parks are more abrupt, but in this case it would be difficult to locate where the boulevard leaves off and the park begins.
Continuing straight down towards the Seine, one comes abruptly into the great square of Paris, the Place du Concord, with its Egyptian obelisk and fountains and statues of the large cities of France grouped around. We noted that Lille was draped with black, in mourning of the German occupation.
We crossed Pont Alexander III and visited old Hotel des Invalides, once the hospital of the French kings for their maimed soldiers, but now a museum. The large central court-yard is filled with German guns, airplanes and other equipment captured in this war. The interior of the old building is filled with every kind of relic of French history but of the Napoleonic wars in particular. I noticed the enormous number of captured regimental standards of various countries, and was glad to see that the present cordial relations between Britain and France have not produced any mock sentiment which would induce the French to hide from view captured British colors. Of course there were many inspiring paintings of revolutionary times, but these and many other things well worth seeing should hardly be discussed here. One thing peculiar to Napoleon’s time I noticed, was the method of recognizing veterans. During each battle medals were struck commemorating the victory to be. As it happened, Napoleon had his reverses, and we saw medals that were never issued.
While it is an unusual privilege for us Westerners to be able to visit good museums and rummage among the antique, nevertheless we always felt relieved to get out again into the Parks. We soon divided Parisian institutions into two classes: those places we must study in order to understand something of France’s past, and those places we would visit for relaxation. We found practically all the great old buildings came under the first class, for while it was a pleasure to admire them, yet it was soon apparent that to know anything of their detail in the limited time at our disposal, one would be forced to study them carefully, and too much of this on end is wearisome. So we made a plan of variety. We would go from cathedral to park, from the university to the quay, from cemetery to zoological garden, from the Louvre to the Opera Comique, from the Trocadero to the Ferris wheel, in fact from the more serious to the entertaining. I must say, though, that the balance is with the latter, for I find that I have a number of them that I cannot fit up with contrasts.
There are many places of historic interest in which we spent hours. Old Notre Dame is undoubtedly the gem among cathedrals. The old fortified church of St. Germain des Paris [Pres], whose bells rang out the signal for the massacre of St. Bartholomew, was celebrated for having more brass in cannon than in bells. In fact there are a score of old and new churches that are noted the world over. Among the new ones, is the church of the Sacre Coeur on Montmartre. This huge church, begun in 1870, is unfinished today. The carving has not yet been started. The huge organ for this church was in the process of construction in Lille when the war began. Possibly the brass from it has done service in the form of driving-bands for German shells.
Among other places, we visited the University, which is situated in the so-called old Latin Quarter. Practically all the shops and cafes in the vicinity are devoted to the student trade. As one of the boys said, the long rows of book-stores “did the heart good.” I will not mention the remarks that rows of long-necked bottles of old wine aroused. It happened that in our party this time there was a Canadian kiltie. As we passed through one narrow, crooked street, his appearance was met with shrieks of laughter. The heads of women were thrust from every window and the alley echoed with their mirth and cackle. How different from the trenches, where Fritz always takes the kilts seriously.
In our wanderings, I think we hit upon a form of amusement that was new even to the Parisians. On the Seine there is a boat service which calls at all the principal streets as far as the Marne. We discovered we could ride all one way for three sous. So we meant to spend our time “yachting” on the river if funds ran low.
On the public buildings, including all churches erected before 1870, are engraved these words: “Liberte, Equalite, Fraternite.” This is the watchword of the people. There seem to be larger crowds visiting their public buildings than in any other place I have been, and it would seem their national feeling expressed in the three words runs strong. Not only do they love to visit their buildings, but weather permitting, they congregate in the streets and parks. In the heat of the day, thousands of small children frolic under the trees, while their mothers and their nurses knit and gossip. In the principal streets, it is a common thing to see half the sidewalk under awning, where fashionable people sip their drinks and watch the crowd surge past. Not only do people habitually drink on the sidewalk, but they dine there as well. I might say in passing, that one who orders a meal without wine of some sort is regarded as a curiosity. And while [when] you’re in Rome, you know … .
One could not help but admire the extreme friendliness of the people. We were always treated with the utmost courtesy when we stopped a citizen to make some inquiry. I remember one man in particular who graciously gave us directions. We had gone on our way a few blocks when he came rushing breathlessly after us to apologize for having misdirected us.
Paris in ten days! It is ridiculous. We had wandered around the streets, gazing into shop-windows and had seen every part of the town. We had seen some of their amusements and gotten to like the way of the people. In fact we out-Pareed the Parisians. But we had gotten only a smattering of historic Paris. Yet when the time came to say good-bye, it was like parting with a friend.
University of Manitoba, Archives and Special Collections, Managra, v. XI, No. 4 (Feb 1918), 16-20.