Veteran Stories:
Austin Lane

Army

  • The Memory Project, Historica Canada
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My mother's name was Helen Davis. She lived in a small town called Smithville, Ontario. Austin Lane lived in St. Anne's, and they both attended the same Smithville high school, and it was in 1916 that they were on the train going back to Smithville when he told her that he had joined the Army and was going off to England. I guess they decided then that they would correspond.

His first letter announced the fact that much to his surprise he has been seconded by the British Army, he's left the Canadian Army, and the British have sent him to B Company, No. 2 Cadet Battalion, Pembroke College, Cambridge. And what is he doing in Cambridge? They are teaching him Persian. Austin Lane, for some reason, had already studied Arabic at Victoria College in Toronto, but when the British found that out they thought, "Ah-ha! With that background, and if we teach him Persian, he'll be able to talk to the enlisted men in the South Persia Rifles and command them, which is what we need. Somebody has to be able to speak their language. Then in the spring of 1916, he was shipped all the way around the coast of South Africa and up to Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf. All of his letters are about the fact that he finds the people and the scenery absolutely wonderful.

He was there until long after the war ended, because they didn't even know the war was ended for a long time. Here's his letter of August the 19th, 1917:

"Dear Friend,

On the tenth of August we completed our long sea voyage and came to our camp in the desert, along the shore in the Gulf. Our camp is an hour's ride from the town, which makes it all the better. It is one of those places that one soon tires of, with its low mud houses. There are at least three interesting bits of scenery, which I can see fairly well through my glasses from our tent. The island of (?) is eight miles away, and at one end is an old Portuguese fort. Two miles to the east is a beautiful village situated in a large grove of palm. To the north, visible on clear days, stretch the (?) mountains, with their peaks towering among the clouds at a height of eight thousand feet. Their bare and furrowed slopes look quite rugged and imposing. I like it very much, and find the Persians quite interesting to train."

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