Each Monday, we will share a brief biography of a soldier of the First World War with a Vimy connection. Today we honour Brigadier-General Alexander Ross.
Ross was six years old when his family immigrated from Scotland to Silton, Saskatchewan. A pre-war militia member, he served as a recruiting officer in 1914. Once in France, Ross commanded the 28th Battalion (Northwest) from 1916 – 1918. After the war, Ross returned to the law profession, being appointed District Judge of Yorkton. He was also a prominent figure in the Royal Canadian Legion, serving as Dominion President for four years and heading the Vimy Pilgrimage of 1936.
Ross is perhaps best known for his statement concerning the Battle of Vimy Ridge, made in 1967 on the 50th Anniversary of the battle: “It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then, and I think today, that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.”
Each Sunday we will share a story of Remembrance. This week begins a new series on the construction of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.
Part I – Building the Vimy Memorial
When Will R. Bird visited Vimy Ridge for Maclean’s Magazine in 1932, Walter Allward’s work on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial was well underway, having begun in 1925. But progress on the memorial had been slow and tedious, as Allward and his crew faced the same perils Bird had stumbled across during his tour of the trenches.
Littered with unexploded shells and grenades, rusted weapons and wire, 100,000 yards of earth had to be removed by hand to prepare for the monument’s base. Other relics of the war, the dugouts and tunnels, (when discovered), had to be emptied of the explosive munitions that were often stored within, and filled with wet chalk or concrete. Finding these underground caverns hidden beneath the monument’s base was crucial, for in total, the memorial would weigh more than 50,000 tons.
Each Tuesday, we will feature a place in Canada (or international!) with a Vimy Ridge connection. Today we highlight an international Vimy connection – in Arkansas, United States.
After the battle of Vimy Ridge, the news of the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s achievement flashed across the globe. Both in Canada and abroad, people felt compelled to honour the monumental occasion. A common gesture at the time was to re-name a community building. In Arkansas, USA, the Germania Missionary Baptist Church did just that, re-naming itself the Vimy Ridge Missionary Baptist Church in 1917. The community went even one step further, re-naming both its post office and the road upon which it was situated to “Vimy Ridge”.
Each Monday, we will share a brief biography of a soldier of the First World War with a Vimy connection. Today we honour Brigadier-Magistrate Oliver Milton Martin.
Oliver Milton Martin was a Mohawk of the Six Nations Grand River Reserve. Taking a leave from his job as a school teacher, Martin enlisted in 1916 with his two brothers. Martin was first an officer in the 114th Battalion (Haldimand), also known as “Brock’s Rangers” due to its high concentration of First Nations volunteers. In 1917, he was trained as an observer in the Royal Flying Corps and the following year qualified as a pilot.
After the war, Martin returned to teaching, while remaining in the Militia and taking command of the Haldimand Rifles in 1930. During the early years of the Second World War, Colonel Martin oversaw the training of new recruits at Niagara-on-the-Lake. Martin retired from service in 1944 with the rank of Brigadier. After the Second World War he was appointed the Provincial Magistrate in Ontario for the counties of York, Halton and Peel. As a Brigadier, Martin held the highest rank ever attained by a First Nations man in the Canadian Forces. In his honour, the East York branch of the Royal Canadian Legion is named the Brigadier O. Martin Branch.
Touring the old battlefields for Maclean’s Magazine in 1932, Bird found the scars of war remained throughout the countryside. Of Vimy, Bird wrote: “the Ridge seemed to me the most isolated ground in France… The hillside in front was scarred with white streaks – old roads and footways that time has not erased. I climbed, slipping and sliding on the wet, greasy soil… On and on and on… in and out of shell holes, skirting the bigger ones, marvelling that such conditions remained… one sees old wire and iron stakes, battered helmets, and old mess-tin covers. Here and there a broken bayonet… Bombs of every kind” (Bird, Thirteen Years After, 107).
And still 13 years after, always more bodies of the dead. “Two boys visited Givenchy Wood last summer, and while playing there found a German and Canadian soldier lying together, their hands locked so tightly that they were buried together as they had died… One, or both, had been badly wounded, and they were trying to help each other when death overtook them. No weapons were there… They had died as comrades” (Bird, Thirteen Years After, 108).
Each Saturday, we’ll share some reflections from our past student participants about the impact of their visit to Vimy Ridge and other sites of the First World War.
Andrew Yin travelled to Europe as part of the Vimy Foundation’s 2016 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize. Andrew’s experiences fostered an emotional connection with a Canadian soldier of 100 years ago: “I chose J.B. Hill, a First Nations man as the soldier I would commemorate. Having not been born in Canada, I don’t have any familial connections with the soldiers who fought in the war. However, the months of researching the life of J.B. Hill connected me to his experiences. I started to see him as a friend. Visiting the cemetery where he is buried, I felt that I was visiting an old friend. I feel sad that he sacrificed his young life, but also proud of his contributions to our nation. The process of paying tribute to him furthered my appreciation of the brave individuals who put our country before themselves, and fought for our nation’s future.”
In November 2016, the Vimy Foundation polled respondents from six Western Front nations. Asked if they were a descendant of someone who served in the First World War, (46%) of those in Great Britain, France (36%), Germany (34%), USA (31%), Belgium (30%) and Canada (29%) responded positively to having this personal connection to the war.
Do you have a personal connection? Are you a descendant of someone who served?
Each Thursday, we run a social media contest! Share with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and you can win a Vimy Prize Pack each week! Contest for Thursday, January 26 2017:
On Monday we learned about Joseph Kaeble, VC, the first French Canadian to be awarded the Victoria Cross. Kaeble was a member of the “Van Doos”. Can you tell us why the 22e Regiment is referred to as the “Van Doos”? One response from all correct answers will win a prize! This week, we give away a copy of Georges Vanier: Soldier from Dundurn Press, edited by Deborah Cowley. Georges Vanier, the Governor General of Canada from 1959 to 1967, was one of the first men to join the “Van Doos”. His service in the First World War shaped his character, and he often described the four years spent on the battlefields of Europe as the most rewarding of his life.
Comment on our Facebook post, Instagram post, or tweet at us by 11:59pm PT on Thursday, Jan 26 with your answer. Only one submission permitted per account per platform (i.e. if you have an account on both Facebook and Twitter you can enter twice; you cannot submit two entries through Facebook). One winner will be chosen at random from all eligible entries received during the time period on all platforms. The winner will be contacted on Friday January 27, 2017! These contests are not sponsored by Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
Each Wednesday we will highlight the women of the First World War. Today: Grace MacPherson
At the outbreak of war in 1914, 19-year old Grace MacPherson of Vancouver wrote to both the Canadian government and the British Red Cross, indicating her intentions to help the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). Her appeals for assistance rebuked, Grace paid her own way on a transatlantic voyage, landing in France, where she managed to join the Voluntary Aid Detachment. There she became an ambulance driver, tasked with transporting the wounded to safety. During the attack on Vimy Ridge in 1917, Grace drove the wounded back to field hospitals directly from the trenches.
Ironically, despite the resistance of military authorities in the early days of the war, Grace’s presence as a female ambulance driver so close to the frontlines turned her into a propaganda star. Photographs of Grace tending to her ambulance were later used to promote the roles available to women in the war effort.
Each Monday, we will share a brief biography of a soldier of the First World War with a Vimy connection. Today we honour Joseph Kaeble.
Joseph Kaeble, VC, MM, was born on May 5, 1892 in St. Moïse, Matane County Quebec. A mechanic in civilian life, Kaeble enlisted with the 22e Battalion (the “Van Doos” of Quebec) in 1916 and was made a machine gunner. During fighting near Mercatel, France (near Arras) on June 8, 1918, Kaeble single-handedly held off the advance of 50 Germans with his Lewis gun. Fatally wounded during this action his last words were “Keep it up boys; do not let them get through! We must stop them!” For his actions that day, Kaeble was phosthumously awarded both the Military Medal and the Victoria Cross (VC). Joseph Kaeble, VC, MM, was the first French Canadian to be awarded the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest medal for gallantry.