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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

3RD BATTALION DURING THE 2ND BATTLE OF PASSCHENDAELE, OCT.26 - NOV.10, 1917

 
The 3rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force and the 2nd Battle of Passchendaele, October 26 - November 10, 1917
 The word Passchendaele invokes a feeling of helplessness, terror, horror, mud – all the vulgarities of war – still 100 years after the battle. The British Army commenced a major offensive the Germans at the end of July 1917. The goal was to break the German grip on the Ypres Salient and the Channel posts by seizing the Bellevue Spur and the village of Passchendaele, the village and its surrounding countryside controlling the heights overlooking Ypres. Initially the British attacks met with some success capturing ground lost in 1915. However the attacks soon ground to a stop and by August rains came with the low-lying countryside becoming waterlogged. The villages of Langemarck and St. Julien were recaptured August 16 however between July 31 and August 31, the British suffered 70,800 casualties. British and Anzac attacks were renewed in September and October resulting in the capture of Polygon Wood, Gravenstafel, Poelcapelle and Zonnebeke however by October’s end all had been lost, with the exception of Poelcapelle, However in the worsening weather, the British High Command called in the Canadian Corps led by Sir Arthur Currie, to achieve success where others had failed AGAIN!
The Canadian Corps headed by Currie, after intensive planning, were to attack in three waves each with objectives on October 26, October 30 and November 30.  The plan included an upgraded transportation system, artillery placing and extensive communications, all of which were required to be in place prior to any attacks. The rain and resultant mud were omnipresent however everything had to be in place prior to any attacks By October 26 all systems were go with the Canadian Corps ready to go over the top with the overall objective being the Passchendaele Ridge. The 3rd Canadian Division would attack the Bellveue Spur directly, south of the morass of the Ravebeek River, the 4th Canadian Division would attack up the Passchendaele Spur towards the village. In the later stages the 1st Canadian Division would replace the 3rd Division while the 2nd would replace the 4th.  By October 30, the 4th Division had success on the Ridge however the 3rd Division was short of it’s goal and had paid a heavy price. However the Passchendaele Ridge was now under Canadian control.

SECRET ARTILLERY MAP FOR PASSCHENDAELE
NOVEMBER 6, 1917
 The 1st Canadian Division entered the fray early on November 6 proceeding farther along the Bellevue Spur with Passchendaele Village within their grasp. The 1st and 2nd Battalions captured Mosselmarkt and the small ridge north of the village. Now the 3rd Battalion was assigned the northern flank and the capture of a number of German strong points including Vine Cottage.
The 3rd Battalion left six officers and 108 other ranks out of the battle and with the transport lines. On the morning of November 4 “C” and “D” Companies were positioned in the Wurst area with “A” And “B”Companies taking their place when “C” and “D” moved into the line that evening. Battalion HQ and First Aid station was positioned at Kronprinz Farm. Most of the low lying land was either under water or covered deep in mud. By day’s end “D” company was at Yetta Cottages, “A”, “B” and “C” Companies were in the line. General Currie’s plan for November 6 called for the 1st Division was to capture the Green Line within 1000 yards of Graf Farm including Mosselmarkt, Goudberg and Passchendaele. The 3rd Battalion on the Division’s left flank, was set to act in two capacities. First it was to provide an attacking force of 10 platoons to capture Vine Cottage, a German strong-point guarding the Goudberg Spur some 350 yards south-east of Vapour Farm. This force was headed by Major Mason and consisted of “C” Company and two platoons from each “A” and “D” Companies. The Battalions second role was to provide “B” Company and the other two platoons of “A” Company, as a supporting force for the 2nd Battalion, on their right.
PTE. THOMAS ASHDOWNE, #427646, KIA NOV.6,1917
POELCAPELLE MILITARY CEMETERY, PASSCHENDAELE
 At 8:00am Intelligence patrols were sent out and shortly after casualties from the “Hood” Battalion passed back through the lines. During the day also, Headquarters for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions was consolidated at Waterloo House, a large pill-box at the base of Gravenstafel Ridge. At 6:00pm, an intense artillery barrage fell on “A” Company killing six and wounding 13 including Major Hutchinson. At midnight all 16 platoons involved were in place for the attack, at Vanity House, at Yetta Cottage and on the Bellevue Spur. At exactly 6:00am the guns opened up and the men began to move forward into the marsh in front of Vine Cottage. The two main attacking parties advanced their pace quickening when the barrage had lifted, supported by Stokes mortars. Lieutenant Lord’s platoon, attacking Vine Cottage surprised the enemy and with the sentries eliminated, they pressed on. One concrete pill-box was captured with 40 prisoners along with two other strong points. However one concrete pill-box remained in this sector and held up the advance. Corporal Colin Barron was able to get close enough to toss bombs and eliminate the post. For this brave action, Barron was awarded the Victoria Cross. Many more machine guns had to be silenced, one at a time in the drizzling rain with ammunition running low, captured German machine guns being turned on the enemy. After Vine Cottage had fallen, what was left of the attacking force closed up on the final objective. By now Lieutenant Holland had been killed, Lieutenants Lord and Shill wounded, and many other casualties. The 58 enemy prisoners captured were held at Vine Cottage until dark then used as stretcher bearers to the rear. By 12:30pm word had been received by Major Mason that all 3rd Battalion objectives had been captured and their line ran through Vanity House to the left flank and the 2nd Battalion. During the day and evening, British artillery and defensive fire were required as well as stretcher bearers  from the 15th Battalion 48th Highlanders. Later two platoons of “D” Company reinforced the decimated “C” Company in the line. However by 9:30pm Passchendaele Ridge had been reported captured by the 2nd Battalion who were in touch with the 1st Battalion.. The remaining companies supplanted and consolidated the positions during the day and into the night.

A STRONG POINT IN PASSCHENDAELE BELIEVED
TO BE VINE COTTAGE
The next day (November 7) was spent improving defences, evacuating the wounded, burying the dead and supplying carrying and working parties. Between November 5 and 8, the 3rd Battalion suffered a total of 240 casualties, of which 87 were either killed or missing, including 8 officers killed.


PRIVATE JOHN FIELDER, #10027 - A 3RD BATTALION ORIGINAL
 
 In 2007,  a local group called the Diggers, found and helped to excavate three Canadian soldiers from the cart path along Vine Cottage which were identified as soldiers from the 3rd (Toronto Regiment) Battalion. One of the soldiers had unique gold teeth. The three soldiers were given military burials in Passchendaele New British Cemetery. I believe the three men were : Private Sydney Churchward, #1024345, a Toronto policeman; Private William Tricker, #1024315, a 17 year old Barnardo Boy and Private John Fielder, #10027,  a 3rd Battalion original from 1914.
 
THE PASSCHENDAELE LANDSCAPE, NOVEMBER 1917
 
Photos courtesy of Marika Pirie and Library & Archives Canada
Bob Richardson  (416) 434-7784   mustangbooks@hotmail.com

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

3RD BATTALION AND THE BATTLE OF MOUNT SORREL, JUNE 2-14, 1916


The 3rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force and the Battle of Mount Sorrel, June 2 – 14, 1916

The Battle of Mount Sorrel, in the grand scale of War World One was a relatively insignificant albeit bloody and vicious battle. In the short period of twelve days, over 9,600 Canadian soldiers were killed, captured or wounded, the newly arrived 3rd Canadian Division was demolished,  Divisional Commander and former 2nd Regiment Queen’s Own Rifle militia man Major-General Malcolm S. Mercer was killed, a Brigadier General was captured and 5 of the 12 Battalion commanders was killed or captured.  However for the 3rd (Toronto Regiment) Battalion, as we will see, the battle was a success in cementing the comradeship and fighting spirits of over 1000 individuals into a single, dangerous and efficient fighting unit. According to British Official History of the War, the Battle of Mount Sorrel was “the first Canadian deliberately-planned attack in any force resulted in an unqualified success” and the 3rd Battalion played an integral part.
Company Sargeant Major Francis G. Nagle
#63672 Loyola College KIA 13/06/1916
 

Private Frederick Davis #9311
Sanctuary Wood Cemetery
and Menin Gate Memorial

The Battle of Mount Sorrel (sometimes also called the Battle of Hill 62) was a localized conflict of World War One between three divisions of the British Second Army and three divisions of the German Fourth Army in the Ypres Salient, near Ypres, Belgium, from June 2 to June 14, 1916. It started as a result of the German Army wanting to divert British troops from an obvious observed buildup in the Somme. The XIII (Royal) Wurttemberg) Corps and the 117th Infantry Division attacked an arc of high ground positions defended by the Canadian Corps. The German forces initially captured the heights at Mount Sorrel and Tor Top after an intense artillery barrage before entrenching on the far side of the ridge. In the following days a number of attacks and counterattacks by two divisions of the Canadian Corps, supported by British artillery recaptured most of their former positions at great cost.
After the initial German attack on the 3rd Canadian Division June 2, the failed Canadian counterattack of June 3 and a second German attack June 8 involving exploding four large mines under trenches of the 2nd Canadian Division, a whole scale attack was ordered by the Commander of the Canadian Corps, Sir Julian Byng. Major-General Arthur Currie, as Commander of the 1st Canadian Division, including our 3rd Battalion and the 1st Brigade was ordered to plan a careful attack involving infantry, artillery, deception and specialized forces in composite units, on Mount Sorrel and Tor Top. Brigadier-General Lipsett in turn was ordered to attack with the 1st, 3rd and 8th Battalions from his 1st Brigade, on Mount Sorrel. The 3rd Battalion was chosen to conduct the actual assault with the other Battalions attacking other high ground along the front to with the goal to retake the original front lines.
Private Ovila Dion #416490
Sanctuary Wood Cemetery
With Lt.-Col. W.D. Allan in command of the 3rd Battalion and Major D.H.C. Mason second in command, late on June 12 the artillery concentration stopped and “B” and “D” Companies moved up to their jumping-off trench. By 10:00pm “B” and “D” were in position, with “D” Company on the right, “A” Company in the centre, and “C” Company on the left. “B” Company was in reserve to the right of “D”. Smoke diversions were launched from the left flank made more effective by heavy rainfall. The attack was launched 1:30 am June 13 after the lifting of the artillery barrage through knee-deep mud, putrid shell holes, tree stumps, and remnants of enemy wire with patches of tangled undergrowth all through pitch black of night.
Very little opposition was encountered by “D” company on the right, who were soon in the German trenches using bayonets liberally. “C” and “A” Companies however were met by heavy opposition by rifle and machine-gun fire. Substantial hand-to-hand fighting took place with the enemy finally driven out of his trenches. By 2:00 am red victory flares could be seen above Mount Sorrel and the target 3rd Battalion trenches. “B” Company followed along minutes later under heavy counter fire to consolidate the captured German front line. As they continued on down the far slope the trench disappeared and the forward motion was halted with numerous casualties taken. Reinforcements and supplies were requested and given by a company from the 1st Battalion and a squad of Pioneers. At the same time the attacking Toronto Battalions continued on from the original positions to the second enemy positions taking out threatening enemy machine nests. Lt. H. Gordon led his platoon taking the enemy position being killed immediately afterwards. The crest of Mount Sorrel was taken by bayoneting and hand-to-hand combat. Close to 70 German prisoners were taken. Once the final positions were taken, consolidation was begun immediately with great difficulty. The combination of shell holes, heavy rain and the darkness meant that the new front line was actually built some distance inside the old German position. A continuous trench was impossible so bombing posts were installed at intervals in shell holes.
L/Cpl D'All #63260
40 years old, Married
Menin Gate Memorial
From 2:30 am on the 13th, the Germans commenced an intense bombardment on the new Canadian line with the heaviest concentration on Mount Sorrel and the original Canadian front line. Substantial casualties resulted from shrapnel and high-explosives. Digging, patrols, and wiring were the norm all night while the regimental band acting as stretcher bearers removed the wounded. By morning small but valiant group of 3rd Battalion survivors remained on the summit of Mount Sorrel.  German counter-attacks were stopped at 6:45 and 9:00 am with well placed artillery replies. With bombs, grenades and small arms ammunition running low, urgent details from Battalion Headquarters were required. A reinforcement company from the 1st Battalion was sent out to help “A” Company deal with the harassing Germans soon to be followed by two more 1st Battalion Companies who helped consolidate and hold the position on Mount Sorrel. When Major Mason had been wounded for the third time, command reverted to Captain Van der Smissen. Lt.-Col. F.A. Crieghton, 1st Battalion, then took over operations on Mount Sorrel. The German artillery assault on the heights continued into the afternoon with Captain McNamara, Lieutenants Grasett and Weston being killed. Casualties continued until finally at 11:00 pm that evening, the 3rd Battalion was relieved on Mount Sorrel by the 8th Battalion. During the transfer Captain Van der Smissen was killed, Lt.-Col. Creighton mortally wounded and Lt.-Col Harold Matthews, 8th Battalion seriously wounded all by the same shell. By midnight all the survivors of the 3rd Battalion had been evacuated from Mount Sorrel. 
Trenches of Mount Sorrel, 1916
 The attacks by the Canadian Corps all along the line on June 13 and 14 had been extremely successful. The 16th 13th and 58th Battalions had all enjoyed success in securing their objectives, however at heavy cost. 1st Division casualties for the assaults stood at 1214. The cost to the 3rd Battalion had been high. Casualties totalled 16 officers and 399 other ranks of whom five officers and 132 other ranks either killed or missing. Like 2nd Ypres, the vast majority of the killed and missing were never to be found and identified. Most have their names inscribed on the Menin Gate Memorial. A handful of men were identified some time after the conflict and reburied in Sanctuary Woods Cemetery while still having their names on the Menin Gate Memorial. Brave men all!
 





Photos courtesy of Timothy McTague, Battle Royal, Veterans Affairs Canada, and Library and Achives Canada
Bob Richardson  mustangbooks@hotmail.com     (416) 434-7784

Thursday, February 27, 2014

3RD BATTALION AT 2ND BATTLE OF YPRES, APRIL 22 -26, 1915


The 3rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force and the 2nd Battle of Ypres
 April 22 – 26, 1915

The Second Battle of Ypres in April 1914 represents Canada’s introduction to modern warfare. It is the first use of Chlorine gas as a weapon of destruction, the first battle  involvement of Canadian troops in World War One and resulted in the death of over two thousand Canadians in four days. Our own 3rd (Toronto Regiment) Battalion played an integral part in the Battle.

Kitchener's Wood near St. Julien, Ypres Salient
 
By April 22, 1914 the 18,000 Canadian troops of the 1st Canadian Division were established in shallow trenches (2nd and 3rd Brigades) and in reserve (1st Brigade that included the 3rd Battalion) along a line that ran from 50 metres north of the Ypres-Poelcappelle Road, four miles (6km) to the Gravenstafel-Passchendale road. On the right were British troops and on the left, French Colonial troops. The Battle started when German troops, after waiting days for ideal conditions, released the contents 5,500 cylinders of lethal Chlorine gas opposite the French and on the flank of Canada’s 13th Battalion. Leaving an open left flank the 13th and the remainder of the French Colonials did everything possible to stem the tide of onrushing German soldiers in the enlarging gap in the Ypres Salient. All immediately available Canadian units were moved up. For the next 24 hours an intense battle ebb and flowed as the Canadian 1st Division was ordered to hold the Germans at all costs otherwise Ypres would be taken with nothing stopping the Germans from rushing to the English Channel.
Late on April 22, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 1st Canadian Brigade were ordered to move up  to reinforce  and be prepared to launch an attack with the 16th and 10th Battalions respectively in Kitchener’s Wood and join up with the 13th Battalion holding the village of St. Julien. At this time the 1st and 4th Battalions were moved from reserve as well and ordered to recapture (unsuccessfully) the east-south ridge south of Pilckem village, known as Mauser Ridge. By early morning of April 23, “A” and “B” Companies of the 3rd Battalion  had dug in for the night along the roadside and right angles to the new G.H.Q. Line between the original Canadian front and the Yser Canal, along  with four fellow Canadian companies and two British battalions. “C” and “D” Companies settled in farther east. The 2nd Battalion had come to the aid of the suffering 10th Battalion with a remaining company settled on the right flank of the 16th Battalion. However there was a 500-yard gap in the line between the Company from the 2nd Battalion and the 13th Battalion holding St. Julien. “C” and “D” Companies of the 3rd Battalion under command of Major A.J.E. Kirkpatrick were ordered at 4:00am to fill that gap, ”C” Company under command of Captain J.E.L. Streight and “D” Company under Captain C.E.H. Morton. Objective was a German trench  some 400 yards in length about a mile and a half away.  The two companies advanced through a deadly barrage to a position north of Vanheule Farm. From here they crossed an open field swept by machine gun fire. They captured their trench after fierce hand-to-hand combat losing 500 men of their 750  with 250 remaining after the battle. By the time they had plugged the gap between the 2nd and 13th Battalion troops, the two 3rd Battalion companies had been sadly depleted however the line was unbroken from the crossroads east of Keerselaere south-west to Oblong Farm (north of Keerselaere there was still a mile gap eventually to be filled by the 7th and 15th Battalions).                                                                                               
 
Pte. Frederick Blacklock, T.Eaton Co
At 8:30 on the morning of April 23, orders were received to move “A” and “B” Companies and it’s machine gun detachment to the G.H.Q. Line trenches to the left of the 3rd Brigade H.Q. at Mouse Trap Farm. “C” and “D” Companies remained sustaining casualties and in perilous situation. That evening (April 23) the 3rd Battalion still held the front  west of St. Julien and the G.H.Q. Line near Mouse Trap Farm. During the night supplies were sent in, repairs made and wounded brought out. However before morning and after an intense artillery barrage, the Germans again released deadly Chlorine gas along the Canadian north-west portion manned by the 8th and 15th Battalions. The result was a small arms German attack that opened another hole in the Canadian line. The news of this attack was directly relied to the detached companies of the 3rd Battalion. Soon the St. Julien line was also under attack with “C” and “D” Companies instructed at 4:30am to hold the line at all costs. The artillery attack was intensive all along the line. At 8:30am orders were received at 3rd Battalion H.Q. to send 2 officers and 100 men to fortify the garrison manned by the 13th and units from the 7th and 15th Battalions in St. Julien. Led by Captain L.S. Morrison and Lieutenant W.E.Curry their orders were to provide a rearguard while what was left of the 13th Battalion retired. In the meantime, “C” and “D” Companies facing repeated attacks were running short of ammunition and healthy men. Overwhelming numbers of Germans began to approach from all sides as the right and left flaks gave in with retirements of the 7th, 14th and 15th Battalions. By 12:20 pm St. Julien was reported as being overrun. With the massing of German troops in the direction of Langemarck about 300 yards away and the retirement was mentioned. Orders were given by General Turner, Division commander gave instructions for the all Battalions to retire and fortify the G.H.Q. Line. The remaining men from “C” Company were in no position to retire due to being wounded and surrounded on three sides by machine gun fire. “D” Company fought on. At 3:30 pm, April 24, the few surviving members of 3rd Battalion’s “C” and “D” Companies, including Major Kirkpatrick and Captain Streight, were completely surrounded and captured. Only 43 wounded men from these two companies escaped death or capture. The 100-man party under Captain Morrison fighting in St. Julien divided when the retirement order came in.  Lieutenant Curry and 27 men withdrew with the 14th Battalion however the remaining 70 or so totally disappeared never to be located dead or alive! Some of us remained convinced there is a mass grass of 3rd Battalion men buried very near to St. Julien remaining to be discovered.
Men of the 3rd Battalion Menin Memorial 
In the next few hours masses of British troops were rushed to the Ypres Salient. A new British attack was launched late on April 24th from Mouse Trap Farm on Kitcheners Wood and St. Julien unsuccessfully. The line was reinforced but substantially shorter after the 2nd Battle of Ypres, however Ypres was saved and the line held almost totally responsible by the Canadians. The 3rd Battalion more than valiantly held their  own – the Canadian 1st Division was gradually withdrawn into reserve.  Late on April 25, the 3rd Battalion was relieved by the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders. A few days later (May 5) after resting in bivouac near Vlamertinghe the 3rd Battalion received 362 reinforcements from the 23rd Battalion (including my Grandfather, Corporal John Cody).
Between April 22and 30, the 3rd Battalion suffered losses of 19 officers, including four company commanders, and 469 other ranks. A total of 268 men from the 3rd Battalion were captured in St. Julien by the Germans and remained in captivity until the war’s end. Most of the men listed officially as killed were originally missing in action and have no known graves. Their name are inscribed on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.

 
Bob Richardson  mustangbooks@hotmail.com     (416) 434-7784

 Thanks to Marika Pirie and Library & Archives Canada for photographs.

 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

L/CPL CHARLES FENTON HOLT , A CANADIAN FIGHTING FOR BRITAIN

LANCE CORPORAL CHARLES FENTON HOLT, #G/6827, 6/THE BUFFS (EAST KENT REGIMENT)


The Holt Family name is synonymous but not exclusive to the weaving industry in the Midland district of England. Specifically the family "Holt" can be traced back to 1626 when Charles Holt of Balderstone Hall, Rochdale was mentioned as a freeholder farmer and weaver farming thirty acres around the Hall. The Holt Family remain known in Rochdale to this day.
Alice Holt, born 1877, Rochdale, Lancashire, England
On March 25, 1869 James Holt, 23, born about 1846 whose father was John, a cotton carder living on Vicar's Move, married Alice Holt, 18, whose father was John, a ginger beer manufacturer living on Stoney Field in St. Chad's Parish Church, Rochdale. Jame's occupation was listed as a "woolen slubber". Sometime after their marriage and the English Census in 1871 they emigrated to Canada with young daughter, Alice, where they settled in Thorold, Ontario. Here James found employment with Robert MacPherson and his bustling Thorold Woolen & Cotton Mfg.Co. The couple had two more children, William Edmund (b.1884) and Charles Fenton (b.November 23,1885). Young Alice died December 23,1876 at the age of 10 being buried in Lakeview Cemetery. Thorold after a service at the family's home on Pine Street. Cause of death at this point remains unknown as is the actual burial site.Shortly afterwards the family apparently returned to England where James died in 1897.

The Thorold Woolen Cotton Mfg. Co.
 


Charles Holt can be found in both the 1901 and 1911 English Censuses as living with his mother in Rochdale, being single and employed as a "cotton mule piecer". The family was living in the same Rochdale neighbourhood as their original 1600-era ancestors. With the start of the Great War, Charles attested into Kitchener's Regular Army, Cavalry of the Line in Rochdale September 5, 1914. At that time he gave his birthplace as Toronto, Canada. After training, Private Charles Holts was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). Home address was given as 65 Broad Lane, Rochdale with his next of kin his mother. Sent to the battlefield June 1915 with the 6th (Service) Battalion of the Buffs, Charles was wounded and suffered shell shock April 4, 1916. Returning to his unit, he was given 10 days leave in England December 1916. Other than his promotion to Lance Corporal there is no major notations on his service record until July 12, 1917 when the notes read "Killed In Action".


Lance Corporal Charles Fenton Holt
With the assistance of battle diaries and the Regimental History, we learn the following details of the fateful day in question:

"On the 1st July the 6th moved from Arras to the Wancourt Line, on on that date it mustered 33 officers but only 483 other ranks. While in this sector it was sometimes in front, sometimes in support and sometimes further back.

Amongst the various excavations on this region is what is known as "The Long Trench" which, commencing about 1,200 yards south of Keeling Copse, runs southward and is continued in that direction by Tool Trench. In this long work was the 6th Battalion on the 10th July, when it received orders to raid the enemy's shell holes east of Tool Trench at 7:30 a.m. the next day. The enemy, however, had made his own plans and, taking the initiative himself, attacked at 5:00 a.m. after an exceptionally heavy bombardment of guns of all sorts and sizes, smoke and liquid fire being also used. This heavy rain of projectiles was directed not only on Long and Tool Trench's, but also on the supports. The infantry attack was directed mainly on Long Trench, and the Germans managed to penetrate at one point after feinting or making a holding attack along the whole front of it. Having effected his penetration he rapidly deployed and occupied shell holes in our rear or on our side. 2nd Lieut. Stevens, who was holding a post nearby, at once realized the situation and organized and carried out a counter-attack along Long Trench, and almost at the same time L/Cpl Edgington and two men, who were all on duty with the 37th Brigade Sniping Company, seeing that the attack was serious, at once dashed up to ascertain the true situation. These three went up Long Trench for three or four hundred yards till they reached the point where the breakthrough occurred. Here, of course, they came across a lot of Germans who hurled bombs at them. The corporal, however, was a good and resolute Buff soldier, and he, potting one of his own men in an advantageous position in the trench, with the other commenced to erect a block or stop in the work.He was soon joined by 2nd Lieut.Stevens and another  man, and between them they consolidated the block and opened fire at close range on a number of the enemy. About two hours and a half later on, the Buffs tried a counter-attack which was duly preceded by artillery preparation, but it failed owing to the heavy machine-gun fire it was subjected to. The enemy's aeroplanes were very noticeable during this affair, flying low over our lines all day, particularly during the attack. 2nd Lieut Gunther was killed, as were 9 men; another officer and 26 men were wounded, and there were 30 missing. Long Trench was recovered a week later the the 35th Bridge and the Royal West Kent Regiment."

 Buersil & Balderstone War Memorial, Rochdale, England
A British War Medal, 1914-15 Star and a Victory Medal were are sent to the next of kin, with the Victory medal following the other two, several years later (1921) presumably as his qualification was being assessed. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists the death of L/Cpl Charles Fenton Holt occurring July 12, 1917. However given that the Battalion was in reserve that day, his death must have occurred July 10, 1917. He has no known grave and therefore is perpetuated on the Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France. The Veteran Affairs Canada Virtual Memorial database website includes his information despite the fact he did not fight in Canadian forces. His name is inscribed as well on the Buersil and Balderstone War Memorial. There is also a beautiful war memorial in Thorold however at this time I am unsure if L/Cpl Holt's name is on it. It should be as he was born in the town!

Special thanks to Ray & Melanie Holt, Rochdale, England and to British War Medals Forum members "lovey" Jamie & "Steffan" Stefan for photos and information.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

TOO YOUNG, TOO INNOCENT TO DIE A HORRIBLE DEATH

When the rather mundane medals came up for auction, I remember my only interest was based on the fact that World War One grouping named to a Canadian Railway Troops killed in action are relatively rare, so I submitted a low bid. Much to my surprise it was successful and thus my research began. The story of Sapper Thomas Arthur Reeves #136500, his demise and his family were to dominate much of my awake time for the past week.
Reeves Family Home, Humber Bay, ON
Francis Frederick Reeves was 1862 born in Canterbury, Kent to schoolmaster Henry Reeves and wife Jane. Francis emigrated about 1882 to Canada and found employment with the CPR in Nipissing, ON. He met Catherine Tompkins, a native of Great Horwood, Bucks, England marrying her in North Bay 1885. By 1891, the couple had moved to Etobicoke West, had children Harry (4) and Jennie (2) were working as gardeners living with Frank's younger brother Charles and younger sister Violet, who had also emigrated to Canada. By 1901, the family had moved to Humber Bay,ON. The brother and sister had departed by 1901 however the following children had been added: Frank (9); Egerton (7); Cedric (5); Thomas (3) and Winnifred (4 months). Thomas had a twin brother who died at a young age. In the 1911 Census, for some inexplicable reason, the family name is listed as "Burnes". However Frederick (8) and George (6) had been added along with employee Fred Bragg (22). All these people with housed in a very substantial dwelling located at today's northwest intersection of Berry Road and Stephen Drive, the site today of the Stonegate Plaza. A number of area market farmers banded together in 1892 to form nearby Humber Vale Cemetery (later to become Park Lawn Cemetery in 1916), it is probable that Frank Reeves was one of them. It is worth noting at his point, Frank Reeves was employed as a "gardener" and not a "farmer". He and his Reeves family were to develop a number of garden nursery locales in the City of Toronto, under various names, which exist to this day. There is also to this day family living across the street from the location of the first site of the market garden in nowadays Etobicoke.



Humber Bay Cenotaph, R.C.L. 8th Street
Thomas Reeves gave his birthday as September, 1897 when he enlisted in Toronto's 74th Overseas Battalion, C.E.F. in Toronto on November 13, 1915. Barely old enough (18) to enlist with his parent's permission. However certainly not old enough to fight in the brutal trenches of Europe given his true age (born late1898) under any circumstances! He was following older brother Cedric Reeves #10069 (born 1896), an original Valcartier member of Toronto's 3rd Battalion who had already been wounded in the 2nd Battle of Ypres, April 1915. Still older brother Frank Owen Reeves #324907 (born 1892) was to follow the two of them into battle when he joined in Guelph the then forming 56th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery March 20, 1916. I feel that Frank may have been either a student or instructor at Guelph Agricultural College.

Humber Bay Market Gardens, circa 1935
 
The 74th Battalion was raised in the Western outskirts of the Toronto, by the 36th Peel and Dufferin Regiment mobilizing in Camp Niagara.The battalion sailed for England  on the S.S. Empress of Britain with a strength of 34 officers and 1,046 ranks under the command of Lt.-Col.J.M. McCausland. It had departed Halifax March 29 and arrived Liverpool April 9, 1916. An earlier draft (October 1, 1915) had already departed for the U.K. On arrival in England, the 74th Battalion was broken up for badly needed reinforcements to front line units. Thus young Thomas was sent  on June 8, 1916 to the 1st Canadian Mounted Battalion, then fighting in the front lines in France, arriving at the trenches June 12. Serving with this dismounted Infantry battalion, Private Reeves suffered a gun shot wound to the cheek September 17, 1916. He had not yet reached his 18th birthday!.While recovering in hospital in England, his actual age was found out. After convalescence, Thomas was transferred to the much less risky Canadian Railway Troops on February 4, 1917 and arrived back in France February 24 being assigned the the 5th Battalion The, CRT. Now Sapper, Thomas Reeves, 18 years old, was killed in action May 14, 1917.

Sapper Thomas Reeves
The official war diary for the 5th Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops, for May 14, 1917, reads as follows:

Duisans - Arras, France
B Company double tracking Duisans to Achicourt. The attached labour, 12th West Riding, 550 strong, has now changed into the 24th and 5th Labour Companies, the total average attached labour on the work, including 450 2nd Canadian Labour Battalion mounts to 990 attached labour altogether. C Company ballasting Arras-Pampoux Line north of Scarpe River, also grading into Pampoux. 2 other ranks killed and one wounded of the 5th Bn., C.R.T., 4 other ranks killed and 7 wounded of 12th Lincolns attached. Damage to line, 1 break, repaired at once. 2 platoons worked till 2:00 am 15-517 unloading train at Q Dump. General maintenance carried on. D Company, 1 platoon grading on "B7" Line, 1 platoon on "B6" Line, 2 platoons on maintenance of "D" and "D2" Lines. 180 attached labour divided between "B6" and "B7" Lines. Weather - fine.

And so a brutal day for the "C" Company, 5th battalion, CRT and young Sapper Thomas Reeves and his brother in arms, Sapper Jacob Orr Cherry #27524, were initially interred in the closer burial ground, Rue St. Michel British Cemetery, Arras. However with battlefield consolidations, the bodies were exhumed in 1921 and reburied int he larger Faubourg-D'Amiens Cemetery, Arras, where they lay to this day.
 I have yet to receive the World War One service records of Thomas' two older brothers, Cedric and Frank, however they have been ordered. The Reeves family have remained active in the florist/garden business in Toronto since the turn of the century. The area of family market gardens located in the Humber Bay/Stonegate area of Etobicoke, north of the Queensway and south of Bloor street, west of the Humber River, is now asphalt and concrete. By count there are approximately 75 low-rise apartment buildings in the neighbourhood. Plans have been announced to redevelop the plaza into a high-rise community with food stores, library and storefront community centre. Park Lawn Cemetery remains as tranquil as ever and home to Francis Frederick Reeves and wife, Catherine (as well as our Richardson, Timpson and Clearwater Families).

Special thanks are extended to Michael Harrison, Denise Harris from the Etobicoke Historical Society and Jessica Ehrenworth of Toronto Archives, without whom their cooperation, this blog would not be possible.

Illustrations and photographs: special thanks to Marika Pirie and book "Memories of a Place Called Humber Bay", Harry & Blanche Hall, 1991

Thanks as well to David Bluestein, new owner of the medals, for the Telegram newspaper clippings.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A HISTORY OF THE 3RD (TORONTO REGIMENT) BATTALION, PART 9

SETTLING UP

During the war 245 officers and 8096 N.C.O.'s and men have passed through the 3rd Battalion and it has suffered battle casualties amounting to 181 officers and 4596 other ranks.

The Honors awarded it include:
  • Victoria Crosses                         2
  • C.M.G.                                        1
  • Distinguished Service Order       11
  • Bars to the D.S.O.                       2
  • O.B.E.                                          1
  • Military Crosses                           50
  • Bars to the M.C.                           11
  • Distinguished Conduct Medals    42
  • Military Medals                            233
  • Bars to the M.M.                          23
  • Second Bar to the M.M.                1
  • Meritorious Service Medals           6
  • Foreign Decorations                     9
  • Mentioned In Dispatches             44    
The battalion took a great pride in the turnout of the horses and vehicles of its transport which was successful in winning, 7 times out of 11, the whip awarded by the Brigade Commander for the best transport in the 1st Brigade.

3rd Battalion marching into Germany, 1919


The Band of the battalion was formed in the Autumn of 1915, all of the bandsmen being men who were then doing duty in the trenches, The original instruments were provided through the generosity of a few Toronto friends.

3rd Battalion Band, 1915
The battalion received a great deal of assistance from the 3rd Battalion, Toronto Regiment, Women's Auxiliary, which under the Presidency of Mrs. Amilious Jarvis, was untiring in supplying socks and other comforts and helped each year to provide the men\s Christmas Dinner, besides performing a multitude of services for the women relatives of the men of the battalion. Shortly after the Armistice this association presented the battalion with its regimental colours.
In 1916 an Association, of which Major Ward Wright was President, was formed in Toronto, for the purpose of keeping together ex-members of the battalion.

The Following Officers, N.C.O.'s and Men Who Went To France With The Toronto Regiment Returned To Toronto With It:-
  • Lieut. - Col. J.B.Rogers, C.M.G.,D.S.O.,M.C.
  • Lieut. - Col. D.H.C.Mason, D.S.O., O.B.E.
  • Capt. E.H.Minns, M.C.
  • Capt. A.K.Coulthard, M.C., M.M.
  • Capt. H.T.Lord, M.C.
  • Lieut. A.V.Noble
  • Lieut. D. Morrison, M.M.
  • Lieut. J.L.Austin

  • 9356  R.Q.M.S. G.R.Pollock
  • 9068  Sgt. H.V.Spence, D.C.M., M.M., Belgium Crosse de Guerre
  • 9306  Sgt. R.J. Clapton, M.S.M.
  • 9070  Sgt. N.Thorn, M.S.M.
  • 9265  Sgt. R.H. Williams
  • 10153 Sgt. W.H. Minett
  • 9074  Cpl. J. Mullen, M.M.
  • 9226  Cpl. R.J.Murdock
  • 9606  L.-Cpl. G.Spraggett
  • 9889  Pte. W.Bennett
  • 18171 Pte. J.Bodell
  • 18761 Pte. J.J.Burns
  • 9900  Pte. T.Clarke
  • 9434  Pte. G.W.Dent
  • 10026 Pte. T.Franklin
  • 9513  Pte. H.Kingsley, M.M.
  • 9801  Pte. W.J.Leatham
  • 9463  Pte. W.C.Legier
  • 18213 Pte. Ed Lindsay
  • 9332  Pte. A.S.Lukeman
  • 9073  Pte. W.Maitland
  • 9105  Pte. R.G.Ottey
  • 9748  Pte. S.H.Pilling
  • 9714  Pte. Wm.Renfrew
  • 9251  Pte. H.Sanderson
  • 9373  Pte. H.F.Smith
  • 9057  Pte. P.C. Stephenson
  • 10171 Pte. G. Stretton, M.M.
  • 9497  Pte. E.W.Thorne
  • 9494  Pte. P.H.Theberge
  • 9385  Pte. H. Webster
  • 10079 Pte. G.White

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A HISTORY OF THE 3RD (TORONTO) BATTALION, PART 8

LATE 1918 - PART TWO

The 1st Canadian Division then took over a new sector farther north , the 1st Brigade being in Reserve at Vis-en-Artois. On October 10th, the enemy withdrew to the Sensee Canal.The 3rd Battalion took over from the 15th here and co-cooperating with the
3rd Battalion Divisional Patch
engineers, carried out a daring and successful raid. The Engineers bridged the canal with a cork bridge , "B" and "D" Companies crossed, captured several prisoners, 4 machine guns and accounted for many of the enemy. Two days later the enemy again retired, the 3rd Battalion following to the Cambrai-Douai Road. The next morning the 1st and 4th Battalions carried on the chase, getting as far as Pecquencourt, where there was over 1000 civilians.The pursuit continued for three more days, when the 3rd Battalion arrived at the outskirts of St. Amand. Here the 1st Division was relieved by the 3rd Canadian Division, the 3rd Battalion being moved to Montigny, where it remained training and resting until the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918.at 10:00 am, on December


3rd Battalion Machine Guns August, 1918
Two days later, on November 13th, as part of the Army of Occupation, the battalion, commanded by Major Mason, commenced the march to the Rhine, a distance of some 250 miles. The route lay through Valenciennes and Mons, the latter only recently being freed by the 2nd Canadian Division. Everywhere flags were displayed and enthusiastic crowds greeted the troops. At Arquennes a civic reception was tendered the battalion. On November 24th and 25th "C" and "D" Companies formed the Infantry of the Advanced Guard. The Meuse was crossed at Andennes on the 28th, and the hilly country of the Ardennes entered on the 30th. At noon on December 4th, the battalion, led by the Corps and Divisional Commanders, entered Germany at Poteau, bayonets fixed, and the band playing the "Maple Leaf Forever." Two days later the battalion furnished "A" and "B" Companies to the Advanced Guard, under Major Mason, which pushing steadily forward, reached the Rhine at Wesseling, 5 miles south of Cologne, at 10:00 am, on December 9th, the first Canadian troops to reach the River.They had covered 85 miles in five and a half days Four days later, on Friday, December 13th the whole Division crossed the Rhine at Cologne, being inspected as they did so, by General Sir Herbert Plumer, Commanding the Army of Occupation. After a few short moves, the battalion settled down in the workman's barracks at the Wahn Dynamite Factory, 10 miles south-east of Cologne, where here Christmas and New Year's Day were very pleasantly spent.  
3rd Battalion Marching Into Germany December 4, 1918



S.S. City of Poona
On January 10th, 1919, the Battalion entrained for Belgium and went into billets at Moxhe, Ciplet and Avin, 10 miles northwest of Huy on the Meuse, where it remained till March the 18th, before entraining for Le Havre. The monotony of this period was relived by a good deal of short leave for trips to points of interest in Belgium, and by a review of some 2500 men of the Division in Liege. Early in March the King's Colour given by His Majesty to the Battalion.was formally presented by the Divisional Commander, Maj.-Gen. Sir Archibald C. McDonnell, K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O. On the night of March 22nd-23rd, four years and six weeks after its arrival in France, the Battalion crossed to England and went into hutments at Bramshott, where the demobilization documents of all ranks were made out, and eight day's leave granted during the following three weeks. April 14th saw the Battalion again commanded by Lt.-Col. Rogers, embarked on the S.S. "Olympic" which on the following day sailed for Halifax, reaching that port on the 21st. The Battalion arrived in Toronto with the 4th Battalion in the afternoon of April 23rd, with a strength of 31 officers and 694 warrant officers, N.C.O.'s and men; of the former two were originals officers and six had been in the ranks when the Battalion entered the war. Of the latter 32 were originals. Detrainment took place at North Toronto Station were the previously returned veterans of the Battalions' were drawn up to receive it. Preceded by them, and followed by the 4th Battalion, it marched down Yonge St. and via Queen's Park to the University Stadium, the grand stand of which was crowed with the fiends, and relatives of the members. For the last time the Battalion formed Mass. The next movement it was over-whelmed by a rush of its friends and then there and there ceased to exist as a military unit.

Private Eric Richard Seaman #9825, 3rd Battalion
Prisoner of War Repatriation, December 1918

"I'll never forget the train that pulled out of this camp and on to the docks in Hamburg, and it was Christmas Day, 1918. There were soldiers everywhere, on the running boards, on top of the railway cars, and everything. I'm sure there must have been about twenty-five hundred of them and we got off it whooping and yelling, and there what do you suppose we saw at the very dock, right in Hamburg? There she was, the "S.S. City of Poona", with the Union Jack floating at the stern. Oh gee, the sight of that flag after months and months in that bloody country, you know. It got so you wondered if you would ever get back."

Major D.H.C. Mason, 3rd Battalion
March Into Germany, December 1918

"The march to the Rhine finished up in a race between the 1st and 2nd Divisions quite unexpectedly. I happened to have the advance guard, and just before noon I was just mounting my horse and the signaller was just going to leave the telephone when a message came through from Brigade, a very excited Brigade Major said,": The Brigadier wants you to get to the Rhine tomorrow as soon as possible." So I said, "Right." 10:15-10:30, something of that kind, the next morning we hit the Rhine and gave them the time. All I heard was a fervent "Thank God". That afternoon I think that I had pretty near every member of the Divisional Brigade staff in to see me to shake my hand. It appeared that hey had suddenly discovered that the 2nd Division was further ahead than they thought, you see. Hence this frantic message. Sir Archie MacDonnell wouldn't have been fit to live with for a week, you know, if the 2nd Division had got there before the 1st."