The war worsens while Robert and his fellow soldiers are in Ontario, creating a need for more Canadian troops. Robert is promoted to Second Lieutenant. On December 18, 1915, he and the rest of the 39th Battery, C.E.F. (which he joined in Kingston) embark on the S.S. Massanabie ship for England. Three days before, he and the other soldiers celebrated his nineteenth birthday, drinking a bottle of wine provided by Clifford Purchas and drunkenly singing songs in the latrine after lights out.
The lighthearted celebration of Robert’s birthday is a stark contrast to the worsening conflict overseas. The soldiers are happy to hold onto this last shred of adolescent innocence as they prepare to face the certain violence of the war.
In August 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm promised that the troops departing at that time would “be home before the leaves had fallen from these trees.” When Robert embarks for war, the leaves have already fallen twice.
August 1914 is when Canada first became involved in World War I. At this time, Kaiser Wilhelm was the Emperor of Germany, one of several countries that Canada was fighting against in World War I. His broken promise to the troops implies that the war has become much more serious (and deadly) than expected over the past two years.