Item is an interview/narrative of Alfred Joseph Cleeton's experiences during World War I. Private Cleeton served with the 7th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. Interview took place on December 11, 1981.
Born on Aug. 17, 1892. Cleeton left school at age fourteen, but after working in a men's clothing store and for a railway, returned to school for a year before emigrating to Canada in 1913. He joined his father in Rossland, B.C. Obtained a job with the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) at a wage of sixty dollars per month, twelve hours a day, 365 days per year. In Aug. 1914 he joined the army and, with 160 other men from the West Kootenays, moved to Valcartier Camp where he later joined the 12th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.). Overseas to Salisbury Plain where he eventually became a member of the 7th Battalion, C.E.F. In 1915 landed at Saint-Nazaire, France. Describes soldier's kit, including the infamous Ross rifle. Near Ypres on Apr. 22, 1915 Cleeton saw the greenish-yellow cloud of the first chlorine gas attack approaching, but was able to take shelter. To hold the line the Canadians dug shallow trenches so that the heavier-than-air chlorine gas would not affect their respiratory tract. During a German attack two days later he was wounded in the leg and captured by the Germans. (20:00) He lay in a large wooden shed with minimal medical attention for two or three days, and with only one blanket over him. Later at a German hospital he was completely and painfully immersed in a very hot bath to soak off his encrusted bandage and to render him somewhat cleaner. Sent to the prison camp at Sennelager in Westphalia. Describes hard conditions at the camp. Prisoners banded together in small groups called "schools". Rations consisted of a small piece of black bread for breakfast, hot soup for lunch, and a piece of sausage and a piece of black bread in the evening. Comments on friends made in the camp. (30:00) In Dec. 1915 he believed that he was to be sent to work on a farm (a desirable situation), but after two days travel in a freight car, he arrived at Hoerde near Dortmund where he and the others were expected to work in a German munitions factory. (45:00)
As such work was contrary to international law, the prisoners of war refused to work and were beaten daily (kicked, hit with rifle butts, etc.) The group was made to stand at attention from 5:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m., by which time they had all collapsed. Returned to Sennelager after this ordeal. Spent the next five months in the prison hospital without any medication. Finally food parcels began arriving from Canada and he was able to keep a record of all he received. Prisoners were allowed to write one letter home per month and to send two printed postcards. (10:00) In the camp they attempted to keep up their morale through songs, poems, sketches, a newsletter, etc. A neutral Medical Commission inspected the camp in 1916. Cleeton believes that, because of this, in Aug. 1918 he was among a group of wounded and sick prisoners repatriated to England. Obtained sixty days leave after a short stay in hospital (weighed only eighty-nine pounds). He married his fiance in Oct. 1918. Returned to Canada in a hospital ship in Dec. Spent several months in Shaughnessy Hospital in Vancouver. Discharged in June 1919. Rejoined the C.P.R. He notes that he was the subject of a story in the Vancouver Sun newspaper during the last half of June 1919. (26:00)