18 January 1918 – Writing Home

“Canadian writing home from the line.”
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001388 (modified from the original). Colourized by Canadian Colour.

Following the many battles of 1917, the winter months of 1918 provided a brief respite for the Canadian Expeditionary Force as it settled into the “relatively quiet Lens sector” (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, p. 338). Without scheduled attacks, save for the nightly raiding parties, some Canadians took the time to step back and reflect on what they had just experienced. On 18 January 1918, one soldier’s letter home was published in a local newspaper :

“Any person who went through that Passchendaele Advance can safely say we went through more mud and shell fire, than was ever experienced in this God-forsaken hole called Europe… it is impossible to imagine what the Germans had to contend with… One prisoner who was captured said the Germans thought the Canadians were superhuman, and would not face them at all. It certainly looked like it, the way they disappeared when we started after them.”

– Lieutenant D. Lynn Dudley, 4th Canadian Trench Mortar Battery, private letter published in The Cobourg World, Friday, 18 January 1918, Page 5:3. (Climo, Let Us Remember – Lively Letters From World War One, p. 269).

#YearInReview – Canadian Flag from Parliament Hill – 9 April 2017

#YearInReview – The Vimy Foundation was fortunate to receive the Canadian flag that flew at half-mast over Parliament Hill on April 9th, 2017, marking #Vimy100. Thank-you to Judy Foote, former Minister of Public Services and Procurment Canada, for sharing this piece of Canadian history with us!

Do you have a special Remembrance Moment from 2017? Share it with us on our social media pages!
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10 November 1917 – The Battle of Passchendaele Ends

“Passchendaele, now a field of mud. November, 1917.”
Credit: Library and Archives Canada/PA-040139.

On this day in 1917, the Canadian Corps’ launches the final phase of the Battle of Passchendaele. With the subsequent capture of the high ground at Vindictive Crossroads and Hill 52, the Passchendaele offensive comes to an end. On the final day, another 1094 Canadians become casualties, including 420 dead. In total, Canada suffers 15,654 casualties in the Battle of Passchendaele (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 327).

One hundred years later, such mud, misery and destruction still endures as the world’s collective memory of that horrific patch of land.

Epitaphs of the First World War
Part IV

No one knows how much I miss you
No one knows the bitter pain
I have suffered since I lost you.
Life has never been the same.
In my heart your memory lingers
Sweetly tender, fond and true
There is not a day, dear Gordon
That I do not think of you.

Sergeant Clifton Gordon Carpenter, 1st (Western Ontario) Battalion.

Clifton Gordon Carpenter was born in 1898 in Montreal, Quebec. His father, Silas, served as the first chief of Montreal’s detective force before moving the family to Alberta in 1912. As a young man, Gordon was an avid sportsmen, who curled, skated, played hockey and baseball and loved the outdoors. (Note – he went by his second name, even signing his attestation papers as Gordon Clifton Carpenter).

The “Banff Boys” of the 82nd Battalion, all of whom came from Banff, Alberta. Gordon is marked by an ‘X’.

When war broke out, Gordon’s height seemed to mark him for military service, so much so that he would be stopped on the street and asked why he wasn’t in the army. Consequently, in November 1915, Gordon enlisted with the 82nd Battalion in Calgary, lying about his age (he was only 17). In his diary he noted that training in Calgary was lonesome, without family to visit. Before heading east, he was able to make final visits with his family in Banff, and even stopped off in Montreal to see relatives.

Once in England, his diary talks of training, visits to Folkestone, Shorncliffe, and Hythe to go to the movies and out for meals, and playing baseball. Eventually, through a number of reinforcement drafts, Gordon joined the 1st (Western Ontario) Battalion in late-April 1917. In September 1917 he was promoted to Sergeant, following the death of a Sergeant Adam Young, Service Number 406219 (presumably Gordon’s predecessor). He was sent to a Canadian Corps School and rejoined the battalion on 3 November 1917.

Canadians training in England. Gordon is marked by an ‘X’.

Only three days later, on 6 November 1917, during the third phase of the Canadian Corps’ attack at Passchendaele, the 1st Battalion advanced on the village of Mosselmarkt. Sadly, just as the final objectives were gained by the Canadians, an enemy shell struck Gordon, killing him instantly. In the mud and destruction of the Passchendaele battlefield, Clifton Gordon Carpenter’s body was never recovered, and he is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial To The Missing.

As one of the missing, Gordon’s family never had the opportunity to provide an epitaph on a tombstone for him. However, his grief-stricken mother, who was never able to come to terms with losing her son, did make an undated entry in her personal diary, perhaps to serve as the lasting epitaph she was never able to set in stone:

No one knows how much I miss you
No one knows the bitter pain
I have suffered since I lost you.
Life has never been the same.
In my heart your memory lingers
Sweetly tender, fond and true
There is not a day, dear Gordon
That I do not think of you.

Clifton Gordon Carpenter’s story was brought to our attention by his family, who hoped to help commemorate both the centenary of his death and the Battle of Passchendaele. All family notes, diary details and photographs come from the family collection.

The Memorial Plaque (“Dead Man’s Penny”) of Gordon Carpenter.

6 November 1917 – Victoria Cross Recipients
A Centenary Action

On 6 November 1917, the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions entered the attack on Passchendaele, having relieved the 3rd and 4th Canadian Divisions on the Blue Line during the night of 4-5 November. The objectives for 6 November now included the village of Passchendaele itself and the smaller hamlets of Mosselmarkt and Goudberg, encompassed within the boundaries of the Green Line. Once again, the mud made its presence felt, with Canadians having to advance through the knee or waist deep morass (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, p. 324). All the while, in the skies above, pilots from either side strafed each other’s infantry. (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, p. 324).

Despite all this, the Canadians advanced with great speed. At Mosselmarkt, surprise gained the surrender of four officers and 50 other ranks from a threatening pillbox and the Green Line was secured in only two hours (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, p. 324). To the south, within three hours Passchendaele village was captured, aided by Private James Robertson, who received a posthumous Victoria Cross for his actions. By day’s end, Canadian casualties numbered 2238, of which 734 were killed in action or died of wounds (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, p. 325). Two more Canadians earned the Victoria Cross for their actions, bringing the Canadian total to nine from the Battle of Passchendaele.

Colin Fraser Barron, VC
Sgt. Barron (right) with fellow-Canadian Cecil Kinross, in England to receive their Victoria Cross medals.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-006672.

Colin Fraser Barron was born in Mill of Boyndie, Banffshire, Scotland, emigrating to Canada in 1910. He worked in Toronto as a teamster before enlisting on 11 January 1915 with the 35th Battalion.

On 31 July 1915 he joined the 3rd (Toronto Regiment) Battalion as a reinforcement in France. His first year in France was littered with illness, being hospitalized with bronchitis, a foot infection, gastroenteritis (infectious diarrhea), and then gonorrhea. On 24 April 1917 he finally rejoined his unit with an extended period of good health and by 22 August 1917 was promoted to Corporal.

The official Victoria Cross citation of Cpl. Collin Fraser Barron, VC. (entry is second last from bottom in right-hand column).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication Date: 8 January 1918, Supplement: 30471, Page: 723.

On 6 November 1917, the 3rd Battalion was tasked with protecting the Canadian Corps’ left flank in the north. Three-hundred and fifty yards south-east of Vapour Farm, where George Randolph Pearke’s little band of fighters had held firm on 30 October 1917, the Germans had another strongpoint at the Vine Cottages. Before the 3rd Battalion could reach the Goudberg Spur, the Vine Cottages would have to be captured.

Just as they had on 30 October, the swamp lands of the Lekkerboterbeek tributaries created an isolated, bitter struggle, as Barron’s company went in against the Vine Cottages alone. When the Canadians came under tremendous fire from no less than six machine guns, Corporal Barron worked his way around to a flank. Assuming a position out in the open, Barron set his Lewis gun down and let loose a stream of accurate fire, methodically knocking out one enemy crew after the other. With two crews eliminated, Barron charged forward with his bayonet, eliminating four more of the enemy and setting the rest off in retreat before his platoon could catch up with him. Seizing one of the enemy machine guns, Barron turned it around and caught the retreating enemy in the open with devastating fire. The Vine Cottages strongpoint was now in Canadian hands, and Goudberg Spur would soon follow.

For his actions that day, Colin Fraser Barron was awarded the Victoria Cross. He would survive the war, ending the war with the rank of Sergeant. Barron later re-enlisted at the outbreak of the Second World War, serving with the Royal Regiment of Canada. He would survive that war as well, passing away in Toronto in 1958.

 

James Peter Robertson, VC
Pte. James Peter Robertson, VC.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada/C-0026832.

James Peter Robertson was born in Picton County, Nova Scotia in 1883. He was nearly 32 years old and working as a railroad engineer in Alberta when he enlisted on 14 June 1915. In England by the summer of 1916, he was taken on strength by Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), but within two months had been sent to the 11th Reserve Infantry Battalion. Within two weeks he was sent as a reinforcement to the 27th (City of Winnipeg) Battalion, joining the unit in France in November 1916.

Robertson would prove to be a difficult soldier, with his service file recording some of his more eventful moments overseas. Shortly after his arrival in France, he was hospitalized with suspected influenza, which soon developed to ulceration of the tongue. When these ailments failed to heal by the second week of December, it was quickly identified as syphilis, and Robertson was punished, forfeiting his field allowance of 50 cents per day for the duration of his hospitalization (54 days). Robertson’s troubles didn’t end there. In July 1917 he was docked three days pay for disobeying the order of a senior officer by being in an estaminet during prohibited hours. Then in September 1917 he received 10 days field punishment for drunkenness.

On 6 November 1917, Robertson was free of disciplinary action and back with his Battalion, taking part in the attack on the village of Passchendaele. When his platoon’s advance was checked by uncut wire and enemy machine gun fire, Robertson slipped through an opening to the flank. Charging the gun alone, he eliminated four of the crew in a desperate melee. Taking hold of the machine gun he had just captured, Robertson turned it around and fired on the now retreating enemy. He then led his platoon’s advance against the final objective with the captured machine gun in his arms, using it again to eliminate retreating groups of the enemy. Later in the day, two Canadian snipers were wounded while out in front of the trench. Disregarding the danger, Robertson climbed out and carried the first wounded man to safety. Returning for the second, Robertson was seen to fall, presumably wounded, but regained his feet and hoisted the wounded sniper. Just as he was reaching relative safety with the second man, a shell exploded nearby and Robertson was killed instantly.

For his actions that day, James Peter Robertson was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Provided a field burial, his body was later exhumed and re-buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery.

The official Victoria Cross citation of Pte. James Peter Robertson, VC. (entry is last in right-hand column and carries on to top of Page 725).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication Date: 8 January 1918, Supplement: 30471, Page: 724.
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication Date: 8 January 1918, Supplement: 30471, Page: 725.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30-31 October 1917 – George Randolph Pearkes, VC, DSO, MC, CDG
A Centenary Action

George Randolph Pearkes, VC, DSO, MC, CDG

Then-Major George Pearkes, VC, MC in December 1917 displaying his MC ribbon (the VC ribbon had not yet been received) and four wound stripes.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-002310.

George Pearkes was born in Watford, England. Immigrating to Canada, he served 5 years with the North-West Mounted Police before enlisting in Victoria, B.C. on 2 March 1915 with the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR). Pearkes’ service is a remarkable example of progression through the ranks, with both the medals and wounds to show for it.

Before embarking for England, Pearkes had already been promoted to Lance-Corporal. In September 1915, the 2nd CMR landed in France, where Pearkes soon attended a course at Grenade School, becoming a bomb thrower. By the early spring of 1916 he was an Acting Lieutenant and attached to the 8th Brigade’s Headquarters as Brigade Bombing Officer. In May 1916, Pearkes was hospitalized with severe gunshot wounds to the head and arm.  In September 1916 he was transferred to the 5th CMR, quickly becoming Acting Captain, then Acting Major. By October 1916 he had been wounded again.

In December 1916 Pearkes received the first of many awards – the Military Cross, for his actions on 21 November 1916. (See Image Below).

The official citation for Pearkes’ Military Cross.
Credit: Library And Archives Canada, Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 7681 – 35, Item Number: 567692, Record Group: Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), p. 101.

On 30 October 1917, the 5th CMR’s went into the attack on the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade’s left flank, bordering with the 18th British Corps. Fighting along a unit boundary line tends to create awkward, disjointed advances, and this proved true again as the 5th CMR’s British counterparts were unable to keep pace, creating a dangerous open flank.

Although wounded by shrapnel in the buttocks, Pearkes had led the 5th CMR’s through hard fighting to their objectives. With reinforcement hampered by the swampy low grounds of the Lekkerboterbeek (literally “Yummy-butter-brook”) tributaries, the men were on their own against increasing enemy counter-attacks. Locating enfilading fire coming from a strong point called Source Farm, Pearkes rallied his men and charged over the unit boundary line, taking the place by storm. Now greatly reduced in strength (some sources say only 20 fighting men – see Canadian War Records Office, Thirty  Canadian V.Cs., p. 69), Pearkes established a defensive line from Source Farm to Vapour Farm, and they continued to beat back enemy counter attacks. All this while, Pearkes had kept battalion headquarters appraised of the situation via carrier pigeons (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 322).

Realizing the importance of Pearkes’ gains, General Currie issued orders “at 7:00 p.m. that every effort should be made to hold the line.” (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914 – 1919, p. 323). When reinforcements of the 2nd CMR’s advanced over the swampy ground to join them, many were seen to fall from heavy enemy machine gun fire. But those that could carried on, reinforcing Pearkes’ tenuous position and saving the situation.

For his actions and leadership over 30 – 31 October 1917, Pearkes received the Victoria Cross. Pearkes survived the war, despite being wounded on five separate occasions, and ultimately received a Mention in Despatches, the Military Cross, the Distinguished Service Order, the French Croix de Guerre, and the Victoria Cross. He would end the war as a Lieutenant-Colonel in command of the 116th (Ontario County) Battalion, and remained a career soldier, serving again in the Second World War. He then retired and entered politics, ultimately serving as the Minister of National Defence from 1957 – 1960.

George Randolph Pearkes, VC, DSO, MC, CDG passed away in Victoria, B.C. in 1984.

The official Victoria Cross citation of then-Captain (Acting Major) George Pearkes, MC (second entry in left-hand column).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 8 January 1918, Supplement: 30471, Page: 722.
The official Distinguished Service Order citation of then-Lieutenant-Colonel George Pearkes, VC, MC copied into his service file.
Credit: Library And Archives Canada, Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 7681 – 35, Item Number: 567692, Record Group: Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), p. 102.

30 October 1917 – Victoria Cross Recipients
Centenary Actions

Credit: Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1914-1919, p. 322.

On this day in 1917, the Canadian Expeditionary Force renews its assault at Passchendaele. The plan is to gain what remains of the uncaptured Red Line, and then carry the advance a further 600-700 yards east to the Blue Line. On paper, the Canadians face positions with misleadingly peaceful names such as “Vienna Cottage”, “Crest Farm”, and “Duck Lodge”. But by nightfall, three Canadians have earned the Victoria Cross, while 884 have been killed and 1429 wounded (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919, p.323).

Cecil John Kinross, VC
Private Cecil John Kinross, VC.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-006734.

Cecil John Kinross of Uxbridge, England, emmigrated to Lougheed, Alberta where he worked on the family farm before enlisting with the 51st (Edmonton) Battalion in 1915. Once in France, he was transferred to the 49th (Edmonton Regiment) Battalion. In October 1916 he was wounded for the first time, taking shrapnel in his arm and neck.

On 30 October 1917, as the 49th Bn. advanced through the Red Line and on to the Blue Line, Kinross’ company was checked by a machine gun position. Surveying the situation, Kinross ducked into cover and stripped off all of his equipment. Now lightened of his load, carrying only his rifle and bandoliers of ammunition, Kinross stole across the pock-marked battlefield, creeping up on the machine gun. Having closed the distance, Kinross rose up and charged the position head on, killing the six-man crew and destroying the gun. Relieved and inspired by his actions, Kinross’ company then advanced another 300 yards, storming two more strongpoints.

Later in the day, Kinross was caught in a shell explosion and suffered serious shrapnel wounds to his right arm and left temporal region of his head. These wounds ultimately left him medically unfit for service, leading to his discharge in February 1919.

Cecil John Kinross, VC passed away in Lougheed, Alberta in 1957. Mount Kinross in the Canadian Rockies’ Victoria Cross Ranges is named in his honour.
The official Victoria Cross citation of Private Cecil John Kinross (last entry at bottom of left-hand column).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 8 January 1918, Supplement: 30471, Page: 724.
The “Medical History Of An Invalid” form in Kinross’ service file indicates his injuries had long-lasting effects on his body.
Credit: Library And Archives Canada, Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 5190 – 38, Item Number: 500752, Record Group: Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), p. 11.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hugh McKenzie, VC, DCM

Lt. Hugh McKenzie, VC, DCM.
Credit: Canada. Department of National Defence, 2017.

Born in Inverness, Scotland, Hugh McKenzie immigrated to Verdun, Quebec in 1911. With six years of service in various artillery units, Hugh enlisted almost immediately, on 12 August 1914.

By 22 May 1915, McKenzie had landed at Rouen, France. On 11 March 1916, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (see citation from service file). He later received the French Croix de Guerre and a Lieutenant’s commission. Having initially enlisted with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), he was later transferred to the 7th Canadian Machine Gun Company in the field.

The official London Gazette citation for Hugh McKenzie’s Distinguished Conduct Medal, copied into his service file.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada. Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 6960 – 28, Item Number: 165108, Record Group: Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), p. 11.

On 30 October 1917, while the PPCLI attacked the crossroads at Meetcheele, McKenzie and his section of 7th CMGC guns advanced alongside them in close support. When German machine gun pillboxes beside the road cut into the PPCLI, McKenzie saw the leading officers of his old unit fall and the entire company begin to falter. Acting quickly, McKenzie left command of his gun section to a Corporal and assumed control of the infantry. Rallying the PPCLI, McKenzie reconnoitered the positions and sent out flanking parties, one of which included Sergeant G.H. Mullin, who would receive a Victoria Cross for his actions as well. With the men in position, McKenzie placed himself at the head of the frontal assault and charged. With McKenzie drawing the attention of the enemy, the flanking parties made quick work of the position, but not before McKenzie was shot and killed.

For his actions that day, Hugh McKenzie was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. His body was lost during the subsequent fighting in the quagmire of the Passchendaele battlefield. He is commemorated on Panel 31 of the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

The telegram to Hugh’s wife, Marjorie, detailing that he has been reported missing and believed killed.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada. Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 6960 – 28, Item Number: 165108, Record Group: Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), p. 26.
The official Victoria Cross citation of Lt. Hugh McKenzie, VC, DCM (entry begins in right-hand column).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 12 February 1918, Supplement: 30523, Page: 2003.
The official Victoria Cross citation of Lt. Hugh McKenzie, VC, DCM (entry begins in right-hand column).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 12 February 1918, Supplement: 30523, Page: 2004.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Harry Mullin, VC, MM

Sergeant George Mullin photographed in the field, displaying the Victoria Cross ribbon and one wound stripe on his uniform. January 1918.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-002361.

George Harry Mullin was born in Portland, Oregon. His family moved to Moosomin, Saskatchewan when George was two years old, where he later worked as a farmer before enlisting. On 14 December 1914, George enlisted in Winnipeg with the 32nd Battalion, later joining the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI).

In June 1916, Mullin suffered gunshot wounds to the forehead, ear and groin. Evacuated to England, he recovered over two months, convalescing at Dartford and Epsom. Rejoining the PPCLI, Mullin received the Military Medal for bravery in the field in late 1916. He was soon promoted from Private to Corporal. By August 1917 he had reached the rank of Sergeant.

On 30 October 1917, Mullin was with the company of PPCLI held up by the machine guns in pillboxes at the Meetcheele crossroads, as described in the above account of Lt. McKenzie. When Lt. McKenzie left his machine guns to come take charge of the faltering PPCLI, Sgt. Mullin was tasked to one of the flanking parties. While McKenzie prepared his charge from the front, Mullin crawled out to the flank on his own reconnoiter. As the attack went in, with McKenzie charging head on, Mullin ambushed and destroyed a sniper’s post before crawling up on top of the concrete pillbox itself. In full view of the other Canadians rushing the post, Mullin used his revolver to eliminate the two German machine gunners, before jumping down from the pillbox roof and taking the surrender of the remaining ten defenders. The troublesome pillbox had been eliminated, but not before Lt. McKenzie was shot and killed in his courageous charge.

For his actions that day, Sergeant Mullin was awarded the Victoria Cross. He survived the war, ending his service with the rank of Lieutenant, and returned to Saskatchewan, passing away in 1963.

The official London Gazette citation for George Mullin’s Victoria Cross, copied into his service file.
Credit: Library And Archives Canada. Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 6474 – 21, Item Number: 206507, Record Group: Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), p. 3.

26 October 1917 – Victoria Cross Recipients
Centenary Actions

On this day in 1917, three Canadians receive the Victoria Cross during the opening attacks on Passchendaele.

Thomas William Holmes, VC

Thomas Holmes, VC.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-002352.

Born in Montreal, Thomas William Holmes was working as a chicken picker in Owen Sound, Ontario when he enlisted with the 147th (Grey) Battalion in 1915. Having joined the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) as a reinforcement on 7 April 1917, he was shot through the arm at Vimy Ridge just a few days later. He would rejoin the 4th C.M.R.’s on 13 October 1917, in time for the Battle of Passchendaele.

Private Holmes received the Victoria Cross for his actions on 26 October 1917, when he single-handedly stormed a concrete pillbox with only his rifle and a few grenades. Killing and wounding some of the two machine gun crews within, he retreated to his comrades for a third grenade and then charged the pillbox again, after which the 19 remaining occupants surrendered.

Thomas Holmes, VC, (middle) and comrades near the front.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-002353.

Holmes survived the war, ending with the rank of Sergeant. He embarked for Canada from Kinmel Park Camp on 30 March 1919, interestingly just 25 days after the massive Canadian riots there. In 1935 his Victoria Cross was stolen from his home in Owen Sound. Thomas William Holmes, VC, died on 4 January 1950. His Victoria Cross remains unrecovered.

The citation for Holmes’ Victoria Cross, copied into his service file from the official London Gazette citation.
Credit: Library And Archives Canada. Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 4464 – 25, Notes: Victoria Cross, Item Number: 457701, Record Group: Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), p. 53.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christopher Patrick John O’Kelly, VC, MC

“Capt. Christopher Patrick John O`Kelly, V.C., M.C”
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-002298.

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Christopher Patrick John O’Kelly enlisted with the 144th (Winnipeg Rifles) Battalion in 1916. As a member of the Active Militia’s 90th Regiment, Winnipeg Rifles, O’Kelly enlisted with the pre-existing rank of Lieutenant. On 2 March 1917, he joined the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion overseas.

On 26 September 1917, he led a bombing party against a machine gun, bombing the crew and capturing the gun, ending a threat to their flanks. For this, O’Kelly received the Military Cross. A few days later, he was temporarily promoted to Acting Captain.

Then on 26 October 1917, after his Battalion’s opening attack had failed, O’Kelly rallied two companies and made an advance forward of 1,000 yards, securing the enemy trenches and leading further attacks against concrete pillboxes. O’Kelly’s company captured six of the pillboxes, tallying 100 prisoners and 10 machine guns. A later counter-attack was repelled, with more prisoners taken, and then, during the night, an enemy raiding party was thwarted, with the capture of one officer, ten men and a machine gun.

Later in the war, on 28 September 1918, Captain O’Kelly was hit by machine gun fire in the groin, and then again by shrapnel in the leg while laying wounded. Evacuated to hospital, the machine gun bullet was removed from his left buttock and O’Kelly was also found to have fractured his foot. Despite all of this, he recovered.

O’Kelly survived the war and returned to Canada. Sadly, he is believed to have drowned during a storm on Lac Seul, Kenora District, Ontario in November 1922. His body was never recovered.
The citations for O’Kelly’s Military Cross, copied into his service file from the official London Gazette citation.
Credit: Library And Archives Canada. Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 7440 – 32, Item Number: 551723, Record Group: Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), p. 76.
The citation for O’Kelly’s Victoria Cross, copied into his service file from the official London Gazette citation.
Credit: Library And Archives Canada. Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 7440 – 32, Item Number: 551723, Record Group: Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), p. 77.

Robert Shankland, VC, DCM

Robert Shankland, VC, DCM

Robert Shankland, VC, DCM.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence 2017.

Born in Ayr, Scotland, Robert Shankland immigrated to Canada in 1911, settling in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Pine Street. Prior to the war, he worked as a clerk at Crescent Creamery Company (he would later assign a portion of his service pay to be sent directly to the company cashier).

On 18 December 1914, Shankland enlisted. At 27 years old, with prior service in the Active Militia’s 79th Regiment, Shankland was given the rank of Company Sergeant-Major in the 43rd (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) Battalion upon arrival in England.

One month after arriving in France, Shankland’s actions on 22 July 1916 resulted in his receiving the Distinguished Conduct Medal; “For conspicuous gallantry in volunteering to lead a party of stretcher-bearers, under very heavy shell fire, and bringing in some wounded and partially buried men. His courage and devotion were most marked.” (The London Gazette, Publication date: 18 August 1916, Supplement: 29713, Page: 8248).

Then on 26 October 1917, the 43rd Battalion took part in the opening attacks of the Battle of Passchendaele. Despite initial success, as the 43rd and 58th Battalions reached the Dotted Red Line objective, the Germans brought down heavy artillery fire on their old positions (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, p. 319). Now a Lieutenant, Shankland quickly acted as the entire brigade began to falter and retreat. Cobbling together a rag-tag force of reinforcements to bolster his own platoon, Shankland established a small hold on the Bellevue spur. Shankland’s force held firm, enabling the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion to come forward and re-establish the line while other companies went around to the south and flanked enemy pillboxes being engaged by Shankland’s group with diversionary rifle grenades and Lews guns (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919, p. 320).

For his actions that day, Shankland received the Victoria Cross. In the heat of battle, despite suffering a gunshot wound in the back, Shankland remained in the line. Similar injuries of gunshot wounds to the head and neck from November 1917, were not reported until after the war, during his medical exam before demobilization.

Pine Street in Winnipeg, Manitoba would later be renamed Valour Road, as the home address of Shankland and two more Victoria Cross recipients from the First World War (Leo Clarke and Frederick Willian Hall). Shankland would serve again during the Second World War before retiring to Vancouver. He died on 20 January 1968.

The official citation for Robert Shankland’s Victoria Cross (last entry, bottom of left hand column).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 14 December 1917, Supplement: 30433, Page: 13222.

The Etaples Riot of September 1917

“Troops going through bayonet practice and a physical exercise session in the famous “Bull Ring” training camp on the dunes between Etaples and Camiers.”
© IWM (Q 33326)

As the Canadian Expeditionary Force moved towards Passchendaele in October, a clear victory was becoming increasingly paramount. In mid-September 1917, riots had broken out in the reinforcement depots along the French coast, signalling a growing discontent in the ranks of the Commonwealth forces. These of course followed the massive French mutinies that had taken place over the summer of 1917.

At Etaples, the largest infantry reinforcement depot abroad, raw recruits, recovering wounded, and grizzled veterans were thrust together through training meant to prepare them for a return to the front (Dallas, Gill, The Unknown Army, p. 64). The training grounds, coined the “Bull Ring”, were simply considered hell (Dallas, Gill, The Unknown Army, p. 64-66). In fact, men were known to report back to the front still nursing wounds, just so that they could get away from the “Bull Ring” (Dallas, Gill, The Unknown Army, p. 65).

The massive expanse of the “Bull Ring” is clearly demonstrated here.
© IWM (Q 33328)

On 9 September 1917, tensions in the Etaples camp overflowed. Pushed to their limits by heavy-handed discipline, horrific training regimens, and poor food, an altercation between troops and the “Red Caps” (Military Police) was the spark that lit the fire. When shots were fired by the Red Caps, the camp exploded and the bridges and picquets leading into Etaples were rushed by crowds in their hundreds.

Victor Wheeler, a signaller in the 50th (Calgary) Battalion, was in Etaples recovering from wounds when he was placed on riot patrol. He described the scene: 

“I drew a rifle and ammunition and at 7:00 P.M., with several other front line men, I was rushed into Etaples… Wearing special white Military Force Police brassards, we patrolled the streets, in close groups, until midnight. Like a sudden flood, hundreds of soldiers broke into the town and joined in the melee. The rioters made an awful mess of the place… a Red Cap was shot and three draftees were wounded: a draftee was shot dead when he attacked several Red Caps… The explosive atmosphere was immediately sensed when one began to patrol. Keeping one’s eyes open for infringements and ears turned to any strange noises – and restraining oneself from the savage reaction of the front toward the enemy against a fellow Canuck – left me feeling as if I had been stretched on the rack.”
(Wheeler, The 50th Battalion In No Man’s Land, p. 151).

Episodes of rioting and outbreaks from camp would continue throughout the week at Etaples. The September 1917 Etaples Riots would not be the last of their kind. “Events”, (as they were classified by the military authorities), would continue to take place in the later stages of the war, and especially after the Armistice during the drawn-out periods of demobilization. Canadians especially would be involved in a number of high-profile cases that threatened to tarnish the reputation of the CEF.

Future posts will detail these “events” on their respective centenaries.

The Battle of Poelcappelle
A Centenary Action

“When the sweating horses became bogged belly-deep in the mire, manpower took over and dragged the guns into position.”
© IWM (Q 3007)

On 9 October 1917, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment took part in the Battle of Poelcappelle, in Flanders, Belgium.

True to form, the mud of Flanders wreaked havoc with the preparations for battle; “Gun teams were struggling to bring the field artillery forward; and when the sweating horses became bogged belly-deep in the mire, manpower took over and dragged the guns into position.” (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 392).

The mud slowed the Newfoundlanders to such extent that while forming up the night before the attack, it took them five hours to march only five miles along washed out roads and mud-slicked duckboards, invariably skirting one shell crater before falling into the next (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 393).

As positions were taken up in support of the 4th Worcesters, the Newfoundlanders saw a Very light suddenly soar into the sky from the opposing lines at 5:10 AM. Though wracked with suspense, no response came as the light fizzled out. “A few minutes later a solitary shell was heard whining far overhead, followed a minute later by the sharp bark of a French 75. Then promptly at 5.30 came pandemonium as the barrage crashed down.” (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 394).

Credit: Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 391.

Wading across the Broembeek, the 4th Worcesters and Newfoundland Regiment became disorganized and entangled, to the extent that the Newfoundlanders now formed part of the leading wave in the attack. Fortunately, this left more men on-hand to mop up the enemy dugouts found along the Ypres-Staden railway embankment (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 395). By 7 AM, the Green Dotted Line was gained, and the combined units continued the push to the Blue Dotted Line against mounting resistance.

At Pascal Farm, concrete ruins bristled with machine guns but thorough tactics of fire and movement carried the day. Additional buildings along the Poelcappelle-Houthulst Forest road were to be shelled by four tanks, but the mud had prevented them from getting past the start line. On the left flank, the Newfoundlanders watched as Lewis Gun teams from the Irish Guards stood upright, resting the Lewis barrels on their shoulders while their comrades fired continuously during an attack on Cairo House. (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 394).

By noon, the Newfoundlanders were consolidating their thinly held positions along the Green Line, the third and final objective. Enemy counterattacks were successfully thrown back, but trouble on the flanks forced an orderly retirement to stronger positions just north of the Poelcappelle-Houthulst Forest road. The Newfoundlanders were relieved by the 2nd Hampshires at nightfall, signalling the end of another hard-won victory.

The Royal Newfoundland Regiment suffered 67 killed and 127 wounded on 9 October 1917. For their bravery, thirty-three decorations were awarded to the Newfoundlanders; seven received the Military Cross or Bar, five the Distinguished Conduct Medal, while the Military Medal or Bar went to twenty others. The fighting at Poelcappelle produced “the only appreciable gains on the northern flank, in the Fourteenth Corps’ sector.” (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 397).