During World War I Jim Waddell served in the 11th Army Cyclist Corp and Military Foot Police until the armistice and afterwards with Captain Robert N. Thompson in Namur, Belgium until August 1919. After the war, in 1921, he came to Montreal, Canada and eventually married and settled in the Montreal area.
Jim (JV) Waddell's official World War I record was one of many that were lost in a fire caused by bombing in World War II. What we know is put together from his stories and memorabilia and the official World War I medal card and medal roll from the National Archives UK.
There are many questions which I would like to have the answers to, but lacking official documentation may never be answered. For example:
Where did he enlist in World War I?
Who did he enlist with?
Where and when was he injured?
Why do we have photos of him in uniform, 1915, 1916 if his Medal Roll entry shows his service from March 3, 1917? Does that only show his service once he got to a theatre of war?
Above: James (Jim) Verner Waddell. Uniform of Army Cyclist Corps? Photo dated 1915.
At right: James (Jim) Verner Waddell seated with another soldier standing, possibly his brother, Archibald Wotherspoon Waddell.
The parts of the story told below in italics were written by his younger son in 1991.
"At 15 Jim joined up. An uncle learned of it, told his father and Jim was released, but within a year he tried again. Men were needed but boys would do – and he stayed in the army."
"Perhaps he joined up for the adventure, to fight for the right cause, or to support the underdogs in Europe that the Germans were overrunning. Any of these reasons could have been his motive. Somewhere he had learned that one had to fight for what was right. In later years we noticed that he did not mind speaking out for the underdog – and he had little patience for B.S., being the type who called a spade a spade!"
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World War I Experiences
"Whatever his reasons, Jim joined up to fight the Germans – and did so. He was wounded by shrapnel at some point, recuperated and returned to the front, but he walked with an uneven gait for the rest of his life and frequently had a sore back."
Learning German from POW's
Presumably while a Military Foot Police in World War I, Jim Waddell drew duty guarding P.O.W.'s and learned to speak German quite adequately. His daughter remembers learning to say "Nehmen Sie Ihre Hände aus Ihren Taschen", which means, "Take your hands out of your pockets". Apparently a useful expression while working with P.O.W.'s!
"His knowledge of German was a source of pride and a means to welcome others who must have been particularly vulnerable here in North America between the wars and after World War II. Strange that he later found it almost impossible to learn French."
(although he claimed the ability to speak it on arriving in Canada).
"Perhaps his Scottish accent, which he never completely lost, had been an asset to learning German, while a handicap to French." (Nonetheless, he wasn't shy to use it . We have a recording of him telling a joke in French.)
Sentry Duty near Menin Gate, October 1917
Another job Jim Waddell had during World War I was sentry duty. He used to tell an amusing story about an encounter he had one night. Three written copies of this story exist, having been submitted to "The Saturday Evening Post"" in 1949, "BBC Television" in 1964, and The Reader's Digest, "Humour in Uniform"".
His daughter summarizes this story:
While standing sentry duty one cold and rainy night as the transport of munitions went on using mules, Dad reported meeting the most bedraggled, muddy pair of mule and mule skinner. The leader stopped in the muddy road in front of Dad’s post to roll a cigarette. The mule, obviously glad to interrupt its plodding, stopped with its nose close to the mud. The soldier, looked over at the sentry and with a straight face, asked: “’ave you seen the ‘ounds pass this way?" This facetious remark caused Dad to chuckle for the rest of his shift – and was shared after with others in his unit.
The following stories are three versions of Jim Waddell's humorous experience while doing Sentry duty during World War I, October 1917, near the Menin Gate in Ypres.
Sentry Story Version No. 1.
To the Editor of the Saturday Evening Post, dated January 22nd, 1949
“Tally – Ho”
Shortly after dawn on a chilly October morning in ’17, the attention of a British sentry stationed near the deserted Grande Place in Ypres was attracted by the approach of two objects emerging slowly from the direction of the Menin Gate.
On closer view they could be recognized as an Australian, helmetless, sporting knee-high rubber boots, hands in breeches pockets and leading by the reins linked over his arm, a listless and bedraggled mule.
One of the many teams employed to carry ammunition to the forward gun-pits, these sorely tried specimens of animal matter were liberally plastered with the clinging Flanders mud now drying into dirt brown and yellow cakes.
Obviously exhausted after a groping night journey through the mud soaked tracks and water logged shell holes of the battle area, they presented a sorry picture as they shuffled along towards some haven which promised rest and food.
Keenly aware of the bizarre figures they revealed to the morning light, the Aussie came to a halt at the sentry’s post (the mule complying without and order) and turning to the Tommy he enquired – “Have you seen the hounds go by?”
Original – Never been published to my knowledge. I was the sentry. W.
As dawn broke on a crisp October morning in 1917 I was alone on sentry duty not far from the famous Menin Gate at Ypres, Belgium. I spotted an Australian gunner, leading a mule, emerge from the gate and trudging towards my post.
They made a temporary diversion to the sporadic shelling. As they came closer, the bedraggled team, whose job was to deliver shells to one of the batteries, had evidently struggled through water-filled shell holes on the journey back.
Both were bespattered from head to foot with that notorious Flanders mud now frozen into cakes of brown and yellow hues.
Head down, hands in breeches pockets, the mule’s nose inches from the ground they appeared ready to drop from exhaustion.
When about to extend a friendly greeting my attention was held as the Aussie stopped and extracted pipe and matches from his pockets. Before moving on and disappearing round the bend he lit the pipe and turning to me enquired – “’Ave you seen the ‘ounds go by”?
Most of you have heard of the great battles of Ypres in the first war. Some of you may have heard of the Menin Gate. This entrance to the historic battlefields beyond the town is now a Memorial Archway containing the names of over 80,000 of the missing men of the Commonwealth troops who had fought in that infamous salient.
Out of this grim saga of carnage and bravery during the 1915-1918 period comes a very human story perhaps depicting the kind of spirit that eventually brought victory to the Allies.
On a crisp October morning in 1917, a British sentry was on duty at a cross-roads some 500 yards west of the Menin Gate. Around 7.30 am in the grey light of dawn he spied a man and horse emerge from the gate heading in his direction. On closer scrutiny he identified them as an Australian (slouch hat) walking ahead of a mule. The pace was very slow and as they trudged nearer he recognized an artillery man whose job was to deliver 18 pounder shells by pack mule to one of the gun pits and was returning from the previous night’s delivery. He now observed that both were covered from head to foot in that unmatched Ypres mud now frozen into cakes of yellow brown and reddish hues.
As the apparition came closer, (speed 1 mph) the sentry surmised that the unhappy pair must have set out in the dark of early morning and had the misfortune to slip into some of the numerous shell holes that lined the duckboard paths in the shell-poked area.
Obviously they were exhausted, hungry and miserable. The Aussie wore a pair of gum boots. The mule’s reins were over his right arm while both hands were thrust into his breeches pockets. His stooped shoulders were matched by the mule plodding along with his nose about a foot from the ground.
It was customary for the sentry to greet passers by with a “Hi, chum, how’s things up above?” However, the obvious misery and dilapidation of his first contact that morning held him tongue-tied. Before he could prepare a suitable greeting the Aussie had stopped opposite his post (the mule needed no command) and straightening up, extracted a clay pipe from his side pocket and a match from his right hand breeches pocket. Slowly and deliberately he lit the pipe and before resuming his journey he turned to the sentry and enquired…”Have you seen the hounds go by?”