begun his first adventure. He felt ". . . fear of letting go of that to
which I was previously attached. Moreover, my life in Europe had been a comfortable one
surrounded by goodwill and consideration and Nell, but here in the west it was
each man for himself and a question of survival." (DM p. 23)
travels in the West began with a transcontinental journey on the Canadian
Pacific Railway. The vastness of the new land, he said, filled him with
loneliness. At Moose Jaw he had to
change trains and wait
overnight for his connection on the freezing station. The only hotel was full
and little more than a doss house. Western Canada was not for
those who liked their
creature comforts in those days. It was the wild frontier of an ever expanding nation.
After a cold, uncomfortable night he continued on to Tuxford and then made his
way by road to Buffalo Lake. His host
welcomed him into his
home. It was a busy ranch and Conrad spent much time alone wrestling with
misgivings for the life he had left behind.
traveled to Regina barracks of the
Royal North West
Mounted Police and presented himself as a prospective recruit. He sees a troop
of mounted police leaving for London as he arrives. They retrace his
steps and represent the Mounties at the Coronation of King George V. There was a
shortage of recruits and as a consequence they rushed through basic training
and were sent on to their far-flung postings in a matter of a month. Conrad
soon found himself on detachment near the US border. Here the intensive
training continued. He was taught how to use his revolver; then told that under
no circumstances was it ever to be drawn! The Mounties’ reputation rested upon
their strength of personality and resolve, not their gun craft. To quell a
brawl in a rough outpost saloon by force of personality and unflinching
adherence to the rule of Law was the substance that made an officer of the RMVP
a figure of so much respect. This foundation in self reliance and courage was
the making of the man.
basic training was completed, Conrad was posted to Cypress Hills – ‘so named by
the French fur traders of the 1800's who mistook the local Lodge pole pine for
Jack pine (Cypress in French).
It is now a National
Park but then was an absolute untamed wilderness. Conrad’s quest for adventure
had placed him in the ultimate 'sink or swim' situation –
Frontier! He learned the value of the spirit – not just the word – of the law.
He tells tales of resolving every type of local disagreement – from boundary
disputes over potato crops to felonious acts deserving imprisonment – with
common sense solutions, all parties accepting the fairness of young Conrad’s
|On smooth watercolour Paper
Conrad was posted to Willow Creek, the harsh character of the land he had
chosen as his home became known to him just a month after his arrival. One day
on patrol, he set out from a ranch he had stayed at overnight. He noticed it
was a dark day, with a rising wind and falling temperature, but continued on
his way regardless. He found himself overtaken by a blizzard and was soon enveloped
in a blinding whiteness. Sometimes he could only see as far as his horses ears.
I had felt for a bunch on trigger happy drunks was nothing compared to this. It
was as if one was in a white hell . . . One was being consumed by white tongues
of ice . . . I felt too numb to think for the cold seemed to freeze my brain .
. . Dropping my reins I left it to my horse." (DM p 31)
hours floundering about in the drifts, Conrad blundered into a barbwire fence.
Eventually he found a gate, and soon a ranch. He notes later how often Mounties
owed their lives to the good sense of their mounts.
intervened. Conrad received news from home that his mother was seriously ill.
He applied for his release and returned home. But he had fallen in love with
the wild woods of Canada,
and knew he would return one day.
So he would – but much much later than he could have imagined. The press was
still full of the loss of the Titanic as Conrad sailed home. In Britain, Conrad’s mother fell into her
final decline and died the following summer. Conrad saw her interred next to
his beloved Rollo.
War was coming and Conrad joined a special reserve battalion of the Royal Irish
Regiment, the Tipperary Militia. Having seen his little sister Yvonne cared for,
he reported to barracks. "A wilder
month I have never spent!" He enrolled in a military school to prepare him
for exams – exams he was never to take. War came instead. Conrad and his
regiment were immediately despatched to France, but their first engagement was to
be in Belgium at
The Daily Mail correspondent,
George Curnock, reported the Tipperary
Rangers singing as they marched by at Boulogne in August 1914.
"as a company
of the 2nd Battalion
Connaught Rangers passed us singing, with a note of strange pathos in their
rich Irish voices, a song I had never heard before" The song? – “It's a
long way to Tipperary”.