In 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm referred to the British Army as that “contemptible little army.” British Expeditionary Force (BEF) veterans fondly adopted the epithet and those who served from August to November 1914 referred to themselves as the “Old Contemptibles” which was also used as the titular name of several British veterans groups. The Kaiser’s pejorative rhetoric did highlight the very small land forces available to Britain especially relative to the mass conscript land forces of continental Europe. Canada’s offer therefore of an entire division was warmly welcomed by the War Office in Whitehall, London, England. Canadian and Imperial pre-war strategic plans in case Britain went to war was for Canada to furnish a single division with a total of 25,000 officers and men. The 1st Canadian Contingent sailed in October 1914 for England with a strength of 33,000. The British selected Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England for stationing and training these Canadians. The poem below “King George’s Boys on Salisbury Plain, 1914 / The Empire’s Boys” was composed and published by B. Winton as part of his “Benwint Series” 60 North Road, Brighton, England in late 1914 but probably printed in early 1915 as the postcard has an undivided back which such postcard back types produced from 1915 onwards.
Winton’s patriotic poetic bugling was hardly needed but is poetically pictorially representative of the overwhelming numbers of English who viewed the Canadians (and the Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Indians and other British Imperial forces arriving in Britain and elsewhere to support the war effort) with very real warm feelings of welcoming, comradeship, support in crisis times and shared efforts amidst the significant stresses of war. Given the vastly outnumbered British forces, the admitted superiority of German military organization and training and very real invasion fears at the start of the war the arrival of “Canadians” (the clear majority of this 1st Contingent were unmistakably British immigrants to Canada – note 3rd stanza opening line “Real British sons,…”)
Many centuries ago on Salisbury Plain,
A terrible battle was fought,
The men on both sides strove with might and main,
But dearly was victory bought.
Their duty they did and to martial strains
Died thousands of brave men and true;
And now are encamped on the same ancient plain
The Empire’s Canadian Boys — True Blue.
Real British sons, steadfast and brave,
As their Fathers were of yore;
Each fond of a ‘gal’ and true to a ‘pal,’
Earnest in play or war.
Though short is the time since the Empire’s Call,
You hastened at once to obey;
You are doing your “bit” for the dear homeland
Each minute you work or play.
You’re anxious to get to the Front at the Foe,
And sure — you’re fine lads and true;
Might proud was His Majesty when saw the fire
In the eyes of his troops on review.
You have come up like men to play a man’s part,
(For slackers the Empire’s no use);
And when the dare-devil CANADIANS get to the front,
KAISER BILL will think HELL’S been let loose.