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Tuesday, January 29, 2013


One of the items I have in my collection of items related to the 3rd Battalion is a small booklet titled " A Brief History of the 3rd Canadian Battalion Toronto Regiment". It is a 30 page synopsis of the founding, fighting and finishing days of this 1st Brigade, 1st Canadian Division battalion during World War One, the battalion my grandfather, Corporal John Cody.

I thought it might be interesting some to reproduce this booklet in a series of chronological blogs, featuring men of the battalion and archival material. This item does not show an author nor does it mention anything about a date or copyright so I am assuming it is safe to publish as it appears to be extremely old. A much more comprehensive history of the 3rd Battalion can be found in the book Battle Royal, Major D.J. Godspeed, The Royal Regiment of Canada, 1962.


S.S. Tunisian
The 3rd Canadian Battalion was formed in September, 1914, at Valcartier, Que., from drafts from three Toronto units, the 2nd Regiment, Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, the 10th Royal Grenadiers and the Governor-General's Bodyguard. Lieut.-Col.Robert Rennie, M.V.O., (QOR) was placed in command. It at once became a unit of the 1st Canadian Infantry-Brigade under command of Brig.-General M.S. Mercer, (then Lieut.-Col.).

On October 3rd, in company with the remainder of the 1st Contingent, the battalion having embarked at Quebec on the S.S. Tunisian, sailed from Gaspe Bay for England and went under canvas on Salisbury Plain. Three and a half months were spent there in training, organizing and equipping and during this time the 1st Canadian Division was formed from the units comprising the First Contingent. Each of the selected battalions then received a name, and the battalion became the "3rd Canadian Battalion, Toronto Regiment."


Captain G.C. Ryerson, 3rd Battalion
In February the division crossed to France, the remainder of the contingent being left in England to supply (reinforcement) drafts. (editor's note: a large number of men, about 200, from the broken-up 9th Battalion were sent to the 3rd Battalion to replace ill, over aged, under aged and deserted soldiers of the 3rd).  On February 11th, the 3rd Battalion landed in France at St. Nazaire and after a 48 hours' train journey, went into it's first billets at Merris, 15 miles west of Armentieres. A few days later it received its initiation into trench warfare from the Imperial Divisions, holding the line before Armentieres, and on March 4th went into the line on its own for the first time, a little further south at Fleurbaix. Toward the end of March the division was relieved and moved south to take part in an attack on the Aubers Ridge, but this attack was cancelled, and the division marched up to the neighbourhood of Cassel, in the rear of the Ypres Salient, taking over in the middle of April the French trenches from Langemarck to Zonnebeke, northwest of Ypres, and thus forming the extreme left of the British Army.

Kitchener's Wood, 1915
On April 22nd the 2nd and 3rd Brigades were holding the line, the 2nd on the right, the 3rd on the left with the 1st Brigade in reserve about Vlamertinghe. In the afternoon the enemy launched the first gas attack of the war against the French and to a lesser extent against the Canadian left. The attack entirely broke the French, exposing the Canadian left flank which bent but held. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions, the latter commanded by Lieut.-Col. Rennie, were rushed up in support, arriving at midnight, and were attached to the Third Brigade at Shell-trap Farm. The former at once went into the line on the exposed left flank. During the following morning "C" and "D" Companies of the 3rd Battalion were placed under command of Major Kirkpatrick and moved forward to fill in a gap on the right of the 2nd Battalion between the famous Kitchener's Wood and the village of St. Julien. Throughout the day and night this flank held in spite of desperate German attacks, but the following day it was pushed back, "C" and "D" Companies being completely wiped out in a vain attempt to stem the tide. All this was done under heavy artillery fire and without artillery support, for the line had not been expected to hold and most artillery had been withdrawn. Meanwhile, many British battalions were being rushed up and about April 27th, the line was stabilized and the Division relieved, the 3rd Battalion being the last to be withdrawn. After several days in support, the division left the Salient and moved south. (editor's note: actually the Battalion moved back into the front line briefly on May 2, suffering a number of casualties). This was the battalion's first battle. It is known as the Second Battle of Ypres and the Canadian part of it as St. Julien sometimes Langemarck. It cost the battalion 19 officers and 460 men in casualties. (editor's note: It was at this time the 3rd Battalion received its first substantial reinforcements May 3 when some 296 men from the 23rd Battalion were sent to the 3rd Battalion while in reserve, including my grandfather).
Kitchener's Wood, 3rd Battalion, 1915
In May, in order to relieve the enormous pressure at Ypres, the First Army opened an attack at Festubert, a little north of Labassee, then the right of the British Line and after a couple of weeks rest, the Canadian Division was thrown in at this point.

Corporal J.W. "Jack" Finnemore  #9785 - 3rd Battalion
April 22, 1915  - 2nd Battle of Ypres
"I was wounded on the last jump over between leaving an old trench and building a new one. My brother F.A. Finnimore (Staff Sargeant Frank Finnimore #9781) was wounded there just before I was.I started to take his putee off when Captain Strait (Major John Everett Streight, Prisoner of War)said to me ".Come on Finnimore. Look after your section. Never mind, you'll have to leave him (my brother)." A newspaper back home reported that we kissed each other goodbye on the front, but I only did his leg up.That was all!." Jack was captured by the Germans and became a Prisoner of War. Frank survived his wounds.

Private Frank V. Ashbourne #9170 - 3rd Battalion
April 24, 1915 - 2nd Battle of Ypres
"We went into the line with a thousand and only two hundred of us came out of it. Sir John French said that it was our Battalion that stopped the advance of the Germans. "C" and "D" Companies suffered the most and were almost wiped out. I was with my brother Bert (Private Bertram Ashbourne #9171), shortly before we were separated by the gas attack at St. Julien, on April 24-25, 1915. My brother was wounded at Langemarck and taken prisoner of war. During the gas attack at St. Julien we lost the first line of trenches and had to move back to the supports. At the back of those trenches we lay down flat and covered our mouths with wet clothes, waiting for the Germans to come up. They came up slowly thinking we were all dead from their gas, but not so. It drifted slowly over us and showed the Germans about seventy-five yards away. We were suddenly ordered to rapid fire and I don't think that about more than a dozen Germans got away alive. We advanced again and regained our front trenches with minimum losses".

These men all survived the war.

(to be continued)

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