Twenty-six years after I went to Belgium to appear in the last bareknuckle fight for championship ?????? I tramped back into that game little country as a buck private in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, to figure in what I believe will be the last Great War. War must pass just as bare-knuckle fighting did. There is no sport or humanity in either. In the bare-knuckle game it was win, tie, or wrangle. In war it is wind, gas, and bungle. When the war broke out in 1914 I felt that I would like to have a share in it. Fighting with a rifle was something I had not tried, although I had tasted pretty nearly every other kind of fighting. I went to the recruiting office a few days after Great Britain threw her hat in the ring and offered myself as a private. They shooed me away.
"You're too old," the recruiting sergeant laughed.
I'll admit I was no chicken, but I felt as fit as any youngster. My life in the ring and the hills had toughened me against hardship and privation, and I felt that I could stand up under the strenuous activities at the front better than the young men from the offices. I had passed my fiftieth birthday, but I told the recruiting sergeant that I was under the age limit, 45 years. But I was declared ineligible. At that time, there was a general feeling that the Germans would he beaten in a few months, and that there were enough men of serviceable age to do the job. Old men could stay at home and keep the home fires burning.
I went off prospecting in the interior of British Columbia, and when I came out in 1915 I read in the papers of the return from France of Col. Lorne Ross, D.S.O. He had been wounded and was sent back to Victoria, British Columbia, to form a new battalion. The papers credited him with the statement that he wanted a battalion of frontiersmen, and didn't care if they were 60 years old, as long as they were physically fit.
"By gosh, there's my chance, so here goes," I said to myself. It looked as though I was to get a chance to see what a real war looked like. It's surprising how ambitious we were to get in the mix-up, when we were so many thousands of miles away. I interviewed Col. Ross on July 20.
"Sure, you're just the kind of man I want," he said with a smile and a handshake.
I signed on after passing the medical examination with ease. I was outfitted and detailed for recruiting duty. My battalion, known as the 67th Western Scots, composed of as smart a lot of veterans as you ever clamped your eyes upon, left Victoria in March, 1918. We crossed the Atlantic on the steamer Olympic, and when off the Irish coast encountered two German submarines. One of the underwater craft was sunk by our gunfire. We arrived in England safe and sound. It was my first visit there in 20 years, and it was soon noised abroad that I was among the Canadian volunteers in England. ????????? came down to our training camp at Bramehott. They expressed surprise that one of my age should be so ambitious for more action. ???????? that I should go on s recruiting tour for the British Government. I spoke at the Oxford Music Hall one evening and the royal box was placed at my disposal. Lord Lonsdale, my former backer, the late Sir Richard McBride, Jack Munro, former heavyweight boxer, who at that time was an officer in the famous Princess Pat's regiment, my commanding officer, and several other prominent people were my guests. I was offered a six-months contract to lecture throughout Great Britain as part of a recruiting campaign. I declined, however, as I was anxious to go to France. I felt that I would be a better drawing card and my words would have more effect if I had front-line experience, and then came back and did my talking. On the night of August 13, 1916, my battalion marched into Poppy lane, in that wicked lector known as Ypres. When I learned that we had crossed the border into Belgium I could not help but compare my present position with that of 36 years before.
In 1889 I went to Belgium as a vigorous, highly trained youngster bent on fighting my way to the heavyweight championship of the world. I was a regular fashion plate, and titled men and rich men were my companions. I was to be one of the principals in a fight that was to arouse much interest all over the world and bring me much fame. My fists were to be my only weapons. In 1916 I entered Belgium us a man well on in years. I was but one of millions of other tommies, pollus, and doughboys who were sent on the same mission; that of beating the Hun. My fists counted for naught; in my hand was a rifle, about my waist ammunition, a bayonet, mess tin, water bottle, and entrenching tools. On my head was a steel helmet, and on my chest a gasmask. My clothes were plain khaki. Instead of one man being opposed to me there were millions. There was no peace and quietness. Star shells were throwing off their ghastly light. Flashes told of the firing of our own guns and the heavy detonations were the result of the exploding of the enemy shells. What a contrast! Little wonder that I walked along with mingled thoughts. My boy had gone into this hell-hole ahead of me. He went over with a number of his pals from the Yukon. They laid them all to rest beneath the poppies, all but one. That one was not my boy. After a spell in the Ypres salient we were sent to the Somme to lend a hand in the heavy offensive undertaken by the British Army. We spent seven weeks there without a relief. We slept in the mud and wet, worked in it, and groveled in it. But still we held on. Many of the boys went west. A machine-gun bullet went through the leg of my pants, but didn't scratch me. That was the closest they ever got to me. From the Somme we headed up towards Vimy Ridge to prepare for the big show that was pulled off on April 9, 1917, and which brought imperishable fame to the Canadian Army. The seven weeks in the Somme, however, was too much for me. Rheumatism set in and I became very sick. I could not stick the work up at the front, and was sent down the line. Rheumatism played havoc with the older men. While they were used to hardships, the incessant strain of heavy work under such trying conditions undermined their strength and let in that cruel enemy, rheumatism.
It was pleasant for me to be continually meeting people who either knew me personally or by name. Everywhere in England and France, officers and men came up to me. When going through the hospital at Boulogue, France, the nurse handed me a bottle of champagne, and said that it was the M.O., who was an old friend of mine. I wondered who he could be. In the afternoon the doctor paid me a visit and recalled that he had seen me in several of my fights in London. After recuperating I was made an instructor at the pioneer school at Seaford, England. This gave me an opportunity to renew a number of other former acquaintances in that part of the country. The late Sir Ernest Shackleton, who had a house at Eastbourne, was among them. I was invalided back to Canada and discharged in Victoria in November, 1917, with a disability amounting to ?? percent. It was a wonderful experience for me, and I would not exchange it for all my ring and mining thrills. It was the biggest game of all, and I happened to be on the winning side. Many times I have been asked the truth of a story which was published in some American papers shortly after my return from France. The writer pictured me as the hero of one of the greatest duels that had been staged during the war. The story had me meeting a big German in no man's land. He had lost his rifle. Being a sportsman I dropped mine and invited the German to settle the whole business with our fists. There beneath the flashing starshells we fought, with the machine guns spitting their deadly hail all about us, and the trench mortars, field guns, and heavy artillery banging away. And what a fight the writer made out of it. Of course he wound it up properly. I won by practically battering the German to death with my fists. There is not one word of truth in that story. It would certainly have made a great ending for my own reminiscences. One: could not wish for a more gripping climax. But I think I have had enough thrills and dramatic touches in my life without resorting to fiction. To-day I am breezing along very nicely. I can't fight any longer, and I can't do any heavy work, but my faculties are all keen, and I ought to be able to watch a few more heavyweight champions arise, if they get them inside the ring more than once in every 10 years.
The Register (Adelaide, South Australia), March 31, 1926.