There Will Be No Intercourse: A Telegram Calls for Armistice
SAPPER JOHN BALMFORTH STATT
MOTOR AIRLINE SECTION, CANADIAN ENGINEERS
CANADIAN CORPS HEADQUARTERS / HEAVY ARTILLERY
John Statt was born in Halifax, Yorks, England on December 10, 1885. He moved to Canada with his family and in November 1915 he decided to do his part and enlist in Ottawa. During his training in the army, he qualified as a Telephone Electrician and Cableman.
He sailed for England In November of 1916, being posted to the Signals Replacement Pool. After another short period of training, in April of 1917 he would be posted to the Canadian Corps Headquarters and Heavy Artillery in France. Reporting for duty in Motor Airline Section, he no doubt was building new telegraph lines and repairing them behind the advance of the Canadian Corps at Vimy Ridge, which had ended just two days prior.
Signal companies worked predominately above ground. The men of Divisional to Corps level units were Generally Engineers Signal Companies, which included Air-line Sections. They were responsible for telegraph poles, buried cables, despatch riders, pigeons, dogs, semaphore and cables laid along and across the trenches themselves. Air-lines (telegraph poles) would be almost exclusively behind the lines from Corps level upwards. An airline section consisted of the Telegraphists office, Telegraphists (permanent line), Permanent Linesmen, Air-linemen, Wiremen, a Wheeler, a Blacksmith, a Fitter, an Instrument Repairman, and Pioneers (for general duties).
As an example of Signal Company gallantry, two men of the British 12th Divisional Signal Company won Military Medals at Cambrai for laying a telephone cable through a forest under gas shell fire for 22 hours (8 of which whilst in gas clouds and wearing the horribly uncomfortable gas masks of the time).
An old Lineman recounts the war: "The Air-line men were those who strung up cable along hedges or between trees using a thin cable called D3 or a thicker one called D8. They would have a big reel of cable on a wagon which rolled out as the wagon went along then a man on horseback would guide the cable onto the hedge or tree. He did this with a thing called a crook stick which was a stick with a small horseshoe shaped loop on the end to guild the cable. the common problem was that if the cable caught on the end of the stick the rider was whipped off the horse."
He would spend roughly the next two years in France, serving with the Motor Airline Section. His duty to follow behind the Canadian Corps while maintaining the essential lines of communication spurred on the ever-quickening pace of the Canadian advance. Together they fought their way across 100km to their final position of the war, the small Belgian town of Mons, where the war on the Western Front had begun four years prior.
He picked up many souvenirs, several of which can be seen here. The most incredible, however, is the framed message he received at 6:45am, on the morning of November 11, 1918. The original telegram can be seen below, the message as follows:
“Hostilities will cease at 1100 hours Nov 11th aaa
Troops will stand fast on that line reached at that hour which will be reported to Corps HQ aaa
Defense precautions will be maintained aaa
There will be no intercourse of any description with the enemy aaa
Further instructions follows Added Dwns* GOC RA CCHA CMGC CE replied all cmmd*
Cdn Corps 0645”
After four years and forty million dead, the war was over… for now.
John Statt would return to England at the end of March, and after spending some time touring around England on leave, he would sail home on board the HMT Mauretania, landing in Halifax on May 9, 1919. Just two days later he would be discharged, going on to live a happy life married to the same woman. He passed in Victoria, BC, Canada at the age of 78, on December 31, 1963.
picture credit: Improvised telegraph line. Telegraph wires being held up by spades along a trench (POST 56/6) https://www.postalmuseum.org/blog/post-office-war-heroes/
Canadian Motor Airline Section, Bonn 1919
Photo Courtesy of Joe Costello of the Royal Canadian Signals website. Check the Other Websites tab for a link to his website.