December 26, 2016
Chronicle Journal (A2)
Thousands of men and women from Port Arthur, Fort William and the region served in the armed forces during the First World War. The poppy was adopted as a national symbol of remembrance in Port Arthur in 1921.This monthly column will share stories and photos about life here in Thunder Bay and overseas during World War One.
“Moyer, you’re wanted at the orderly room. Captain Rutherford’s got a new idea for a cartoon!” Such was the unusual relationship between a Private and a Captain of the 52nd Battalion. Private Sylvester “Sy” Moyer has left us several sketch books full of cartoons depicting life in the trenches and behind the lines with the “Fighting 52nd” from Thunder Bay. During the war he drew these vignettes and presented them to various people.
Twenty-nine year old Sylvester Edward Moyer was from Waterloo, Ontario and signed up in Saskatchewan in December 1915. He arrived as reinforcement to the 52nd in June 1916. Here he was posted to the Scout Platoon and apparently he was quite skilled at doing reconnaissance. One of the Commanding Officers who led the 52nd, Lieutenant Colonel W.W. Foster, liked to personally do a bit of reconnaissance prior to each battle. Moyer typically accompanied him. During one venture into enemy lines, Foster became suspicious of Moyer, who had boldly guided him along an intricate route. On questioning him, Foster was relieved to be told by Moyer, “Oh, I blazed the trail last night.”
The sketches show the life of a Canadian soldier during the First World War. Many of the officers of the 52nd are depicted as well, some in not so very flattering positions. One sketch depicts a soldier in a trench, cigarette in hand, along with barbed wire, an unexploded shell, a rum jar and a rat checking out a bully beef tin. He states “Here we are”, a reference to the fatalism of the popular song of the time. In the trenches runners were used as messengers and sometimes to guide soldiers to their proper location. An unidentified Captain tells a soldier he has lost his cap, but the solider replies “That’s nothing, sir. I’ve lost all of “B” Coy.” Another cartoon shows the Quarter Master, Captain Reginald Maples, inquiring if the cook knows anything about a bag of potatoes that has been stolen from a local French or Belgian woman. Behind then on top of the shelter for the field kitchen is clearly a sack of potatoes. Even regarding the ever present problem of body lice, Moyer finds humour. Military regulations required soldiers to stand when an officer approached. In one instance, even the officer finds this awkward, as Lance Corporal Whittaker (there were several with that name in the 52nd) who had been “reading” his shirt for lice, complies and so do the lice. Most of the humour is the “you had to be there” variety, though anyone with an understanding of life in a military unit can still get a chuckle out of the situations.
After the war Moyer spent time on the west coast and moved to the United States and continued to produce sketches, including the illustrations for a collection of anti-war and social justice poems by veteran Burnett Ward, called “Verey Lights”. During the Second World War he gained notoriety for anti-Japanese propaganda cartoons. Moyer’s legacy is his sketches and cartoons which offer a sidelong glimpse at the horrors of war, as well as the humour and comaraderie that developed as a result of the men sharing the same experiences.
This article runs on the fourth Monday of each month. David Ratz is a member of the World War One Thunder Bay Centennial Project committee. Please visit www.tbayworldwarone.com for more information about this project or to contribute personal stories and photos.