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ARCHIVED - Oral Histories of the First World War:
Veterans 1914-1918

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Graphical element: Rendering first aid to a wounded Canadian soldier

Trench Warfare

In this section:

Interview with H.S. Cooper: 3rd Battalion
Transcript Excerpt, 4 minutes, 9 seconds

Q. This wetness and mud must have been really terrible. Were you ever in a situation where there was lot of trench feet, do you remember?

A. Oh no, no, no, that's one thing, I'm glad you brought that up. Because that's one thing that's not sufficiently recognized in Canada. We had in the 1st Division and he was ADMS First Division, General Ross of Kingston. He was ADMS First Division and then later on DMS Corp. His job was to see that the health of the troops was brought up, you see. Now the orders were that men rubbed their feet in the morning, and you had to witness it you see, and certify that you'd witnessed it. If a man had a case of trench feet you were for court-martial, no fooling about it all. I mean you had to prove that you had done everything; your orders were properly carried out.

Q. You mean the officer was to be court-martialled?

A. Yeah, the company commander was. We only had one case of trench feet, in the three winters we were in the line. No, we had a wonderful combination. Here was a doctor who had found out how trench feet could be avoided and here was a General at the head of the crowd, General Currie who would see that it was enforced, with the result that we'd have thousands of chaps - that wouldn't be an exaggeration at all to say there would be thousands of chaps that have lost part of their feet, if not their whole foot from trench feet that we didn't have at all. Didn't have one of them, as I say we had one in our Battalion.

Q. When you say rubbed the feet with…

A. Well you took a sandbag and you washed your feet in cold water you see, the hot water supply ran out so we washed them in cold water you see and then you'd take a sand bag and rub your feet good and hard and put your dry socks on. Along that very line, another thing that occurred the first winter. I got two or three pairs of socks sent to me by a lady in a church organization. I wrote back and thanked her and explained what it meant to have dry socks and that the issue was only two pairs of socks per man. It was impossible to dry the socks out and get back up again and I'd be awfully glad if we could get about three hundred pairs of socks. To my utter amazement along about November, to my utter amazement, along came a shipment of socks from that lady and her organization - about 300 pairs. We got them each winter, I got those socks. So that when [you had] wet ones, alright you picked them up, issued a pair of dry socks and that meant an awful lot for comfort, amongst other things. You [were] issued dry socks and you got your wet socks dried out properly and there was a second pair of dry socks ready so that you always had dry socks. That made a whale of a difference. There'd be maybe the odd cases where some slip up would occur, where they didn't, but there was enough that you could always have dry socks for the men that way. This meant a lot, but I often thought of that afterwards, the cheek of you to go and ask some person to knit three or four hundred, or two or three hundred pairs of socks, and they went ahead and did it and didn't say a word.

Q. Yeah.

A. They were awfully nice.

Q. Did you hear anything about the use of whale oil, was that…

A. Oh yes, you put whale oil on. You were supposed to, but the rubbing was the big thing.

Q. To keep circulation.

A. Yeah. Figuratively speaking, I've never had cold feet since. Lots of times I had cold feet, but figuratively speaking I've never had them.

Q. Yeah.

A. No, I mean I should put it the other way around. Physically I've never had cold feet, but figuratively I've had it lots of times.

Q. Yeah.

A. Too darn many.