Library and Archives Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Institutional links

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

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.

Graphical element: Rendering first aid to a wounded Canadian soldier

Perspectives on War

In this section:

Interview with Vick Lewis: 4th Battalion
Transcript Excerpt, 7 minutes, 15 seconds

A. Can I say, you say you're going to fight. That has a peculiar ring. We weren't going to fight. To go to the fight you have to feel angry. We weren't going out to fight. Army training is a peculiar thing. It teaches the men warfare when you use the term "to fight". Those men are taught to do this, to do that as the expediency of the moment warrants. It is to fight but not in the term that that word is used today. You go out to do a job, let's put it that way. Admittedly, the job is to kill people but you don't, somehow or other it doesn't strike you that you're going out there to kill other men. Some way or other, in your training or something like that, it becomes second nature to you to do this job. It happens that the job is to kill another man but you don't realize it as such. You're still going out to do a job. It's peculiar when you look back at it. As we are now in civil life without taking into consideration background military training, you would think twice about going out and pulling a gun on somebody or pulling a knife on them or something of that nature but actually speaking that's what you're going to do but it's second nature to you because you've been trained to do a job but it hasn't been instilled in you as going out to kill. It's a term you don't seem to use. You see death around you in warfare. You get hardened to it.

Q. Can you remember the first time that you were under fire?

A. The first time, it's a funny thing that people say "Why is it that returned men always talk on the funny side of life?" The first time we were under shellfire we were marching through a village, it was in Flanders, the villages are cobble-stoned, the roads cobblestones, and the vehicles of that day were farm carts or big-wheeled carts peculiar to the country and horse-drawn or mule-drawn or even drawn with the cows and they make a peculiar sound, the rattle of the wheels over the cobblestones and it just sounded as if there were a few of these carts going past and, never having been subjected to artillery fire, we didn't realize that it was the German shells coming over. In this town there was a town clock and we're going past and, as you will, look around you and a shell went right through the clock. We were going in but there was a British unit coming out. They had been under fire and, as soon as they heard this rattle we thought was vehicles going over cobblestones they all hit the ditch. We didn't, pure ignorance, but those Englishmen sure had a great respect for us. "Blimey, look at them damn fools, they took no notice of that shell". They thought we were brave. We weren't any braver than them. After we'd been under shellfire we'd hit the ditches as quick as anybody but it's a peculiar thing: you will never hear the shell that hit you.

Q. Did you ever see anything that really was brave? I know everybody says there were a lot of brave things happen but did you ever see anything that you thought was remarkably brave? Did anybody ever do anything that you saw?

A. That's a question that is the hardest thing in the world to answer, "What is bravery?" You speak to any man that has won the Victoria Cross and he'll tell you he was scared stiff. Bravery is a thing that you can't pinpoint.

Q. Certainly you don't recognize it in yourself but you might see it in somebody else.

A. You can't see it in yourself and you can't see it in others when you're actually in a spot and somebody does something. It seems second nature or good training but when you review it back it was outstanding. You can't pinpoint things of that nature to that extent. Everything, in a sense, what is bravery? The fact of a man standing up under shellfire and not cracking up.

Q. Or you could be so scared you'd do something brave.

A. Yes but in the other sense a man can stand up under shellfire and you'd say, "Take no notice of it, he's not scared, he's brave, he's standing there and taking everything they can throw without flinching and he's ready to stop the other guy coming over". The man who does something outstanding, saving somebody or doing something of that nature, he's done it because it's second nature to him. Actually he wasn't brave, he was doing something that he figured had to be done, either training or his own make-up. You've seen the same thing there, a horse runs away and somebody will rush out and grab the line. You say the man was brave. That man did not think of being brave or being a hero, something had to be done and he was there to do it. We were soldiers, we had a job to do. They were all brave. The outstanding one was classified as a hero and usually the man that gets the Victoria Cross, he's dead. There were very few that did that, we're not like the American Army who issue their medals by the barrel.