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Friday, April 17, 2015



The Valour of the 7th Battalion
If the Canadian Battle of Festubert in May, 1915 was a small, insignificant affair, then the action at Givenchy in June was hardly worth mentioning. Yet if you were to ask any of the 3rd Battalion participants what they remember I suspect most will reveal that that was there most brutal and intense fighting of the war.
Duck's Bill , near Givenchy, 1919
 This battle was the final act of British command that started at Neuve Chapelle and ended with defeats at Aubers Ridge and Festubert. Three Divisions were originally scheduled for the battle however in reality only seven battalions (including one Canadian, 1st (Western Ontario) Battalion) took part. With the Canadian Division remaining in the Bethune area after the Battle of Festubert, they were asked to move a few miles south to the La Bassee Canal and the village of Givenchy. The 1st Battalion held the right flank. Unlike Festubert, where the deadly German machine guns neutralized the British attacks before they started, on this occasion heavy artillery was used to eliminate the machine nests located on the parapets. As well a mine was set by Engineers to blow at Zero hour (5:45 pm, June 15) under the German line. From a Canadian perspective, the attack went well despite the mine blowing up short with heavy casualties. The German strong point H.3 was captured and some men made it across Duck's Bill into the German trench with a Victoria Cross being captured by Lt. Frederick Campbell. However the units on the flanks were not so successfully with the 1st Battalion reversing their attack and withdrawing back to the crater, assisted by the 2nd and 3rd Battalions. By 11:00pm, the men of the 1st Battalion were back behind their parapet. They had 386 casualties, 46% of their strength.
List of Brave Volunteers from 7th Bn
Despite the failure, orders were issued by the 1st Canadian Brigade to renew the attack. The 3rd Battalion  attacked 4:45 pm  June 16 after a two hour artillery attack."The attack seemed from every angle one viewed it, as futile and hopeless. The attackers had no supporting fire. They were shot down as they climbed over the parapet. None of them got over 25 yards, except perhaps a few who were trapped in the sap and could nothing but lie low and await a chance to return".

The 3rd Battalion lost 115 men, killed and wounded, at Givenchy. Total Canadian losses for two days fighting were 802, including 306 killed.  British losses totalled 3,009. The nonsense was called off early on the 19th with the 1st Canadian Division heading north to the Ploegsteert Woods area of Belgium. As mentioned, my Grandfather, John Cody, survived this torrid affair. So did Sgt Frederick James Rigby #18082 although he received a "Bomb Wound" of the left eye. Rigby was born 1891 in Newry, Co. down, Ireland immigrating to Canada in 1913 finding employment as a bank clerk in Edmonton. Joining the 101st Regiment militia in Edmonton, he ended up in the 3rd Battalion when the 9th Battalion was broken up in February in England for reinforcements. Although Sgt Rigby recovered physically from the wound suffered on June 16, his never recovered emotionally and ended up in being transferred to No. 1 Field Butchery, CASC by the end of 1915. He served with this unit through the war moving through the ranks from Private to Sergeant.  However early in 1919 Rigby was caught stealing tobacco, cigarettes and lighters from Government stores. He was sentenced by Field General Court Martial to #1 Field Punishment with penalty 20 days incarceration and loss of rank to Private. No doubt this lack of discretion was due to what we know as  shell shock or  Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS) from fighting in the front line of three intense battles. Frederick was discharged in Vancouver May 1919 dying single there in 1976 at the age of 85. I own his three medals (Victory, BWM, 1914-15 Star).
Pte Frank Potter #9478, 3rd Bn  KIA 16/06/1915
After the battle, as in all intense battles, bodies were left on the battleground as it was much too dangerous to remove the dead and wounded from the active battlefield. The same German machine guns and accurate artillery that were reasonable for the disappointing defeat at Givenchy and H.2, H.3 meant the casualties remained where they laid.  However on June 18, occurred an amazing and brave deed by the 7th (British Columbia) Battalion commanded at the time by Lt-Col Victor W. Odlum took place. I will let the 7th Battalion War Diary explain the situation:
Givenchy, Duck's Bill and the Red Dragon Crater, 1915
 June 17 - Marched from 5:30 AM from Oblinghem to Givenchy. Took over trenches from 2nd Batt. Found several dead bodies in trenches and buried them behind. Warm.

June 18 - After Artillery preparation, made feint demonstration of attack towards H.2. When enemy manned parapet, and opened fire, artillery recommended and enemy suffered many casualties.Time 2:45 AM. Many of our shells fell short in our own trenches destroying 1 machine and wounding 2 men. Day hot. At night volunteer party under Lieut G. Brooks brought in bodies of 52 men of 1st Brigade from in front of trenches at Ducks Bill. Buried them behind parapet. Lieut H.H. Owen brought in 1 wounded man who had been out between lines 2 days. Lieut R.F.E. Buscombe killed in early morning of 18th while burying 1st Brigade dead. Collected arms discarded by 1st Brigade.
The dead of the 1st Brigade buried
in Red Dragon Crater by the brave
men of the 7th Bn June 18

O/C 7th Bn.

Dear Col. Odlum
I want to let you know how much I appreciate the gallant conduct of your Officers + men last night in bringing in + burying so many of the 1st Brigade AAA Please tell your brave fellows that it was a brave deed + impress upon them that the 2nd Brigade will never have a wounded man unsuccessfully recovered or the dead unburied if it be written the power of mortal man to do otherwise.

C.W. Currie, Brigadier
2nd Inf. Batt. 5:00pm         

Some of the 1st Brigade men moved in 1925
 from Red Dragon Crater to Cabaret Rouge Cemetery
So this was the brave action by the men of the 7th Battalion. We also see that the men responsible for blowing the mine on June 15 were the 1st Field Coy, Canadian Engineers. Their War Diary states the sappers were resident in trenches, while the 1st Brigade were attacking H.2, H.3 and Duck's Bill. However the Engineers faced disaster as well as Capt Morrison was killed by shellfire, 9 O.R. (sappers) of 1st Coy were killed while 9 were wounded. During battlefield clearances by Exhumation teams after the war, the mass grave with the 52 men buried by the 7th Battalion was discovered. Although the majority of the 52 men had been identified during the original burial along with plot numbers, the reburial in 1925 in Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery was not so successful at identifying the remains. Only a handful of 2nd and 3rd Battalion men were identified. The remaining were buried as "Soldiers of the Great War" and had their names added to the Vimy Memorial.

Friday, April 3, 2015


Major Frederick Amy, 5th CFA 1944
Much has been written on the Canadians involvement in the 2nd Battle of Ypres, the first time use of chlorine gas in modern warfare and the horrendous loss of life until it was officially over May 4, 1915. However very little has been written about the subsequent battles of Festubert and Givency in May and June 1914, both of which were equally brutal and  man consuming. The 1st Brigade was first reinforced  by the few 1st Contingent men from their own battalions left in England and in the Canadian Depot in France. However by the end of April with some battalions at something approaching half strength, the 2nd Contingent reinforcement battalions were considered sufficiently trained being sent to France as front line reinforcements. Consequently the 3rd Battalion received a draft of 9th Battalion reinforcements in March/April as well as 4 officers and 296 men from the 23rd Battalion. (including my own grandfather, Cpl. John Cody #63207, on May 3, 1915. The 4th Battalion, on April 29, received a large draft of 15 officers and 523 men, most of whom were a draft from the 11th and 23rd Battalions. as the 1st Division was again called to the offence  in Festubert on May 15, it it easy to see that the battalions of the 1st Division,  had only a couple of weeks to train and integrate. Lance Corporal Raulin Amy, Jr # 63057 was one of the young men from the 23rd Battalion to join the 4th Battalion in the field. He was to be killed in action on May 31, 1915.

ThE Battle of Festubert May, 1915 (Thanks to Richard Laughton)
The Battle of Festubert was actually a continuation of other British battles in 1915. There were no trenches - only machine gun fortified breastworks composed of sandbags, no geographical features save drainage canals with the town and battlefield under observation from the Aubers Ridge. North and east of the town ran the German line which consisted of a strengthened position known as the Quadrilateral, a fortified farm Ferme du Bois and a Orchard. Commonwealth troops launched the attack May 15 with some ground being captured. However the Germans remained strong with a second assault made May involving the 3rd Canadian Brigade. Without going into details, repeated attacks n German strong points over following days, were unsuccessful for a variety of reasons, principally lack of intense artillery support and faulty communication.May 20 saw the Canadian 16th and 15th Battalions attack  successfully taking the Orchard and North Breastwork with a huge loss of life. Next day the 5th and 10th Battalions attacked German positions being turned back after initial success again with huge losses. Dissatisfied with the results, 1st Army Commander, Sir Douglas Haig, took charge requesting the 1st Canadian Brigade to attack on May24. The 2nd Battalion were instructed to attack and secure the strong position known as K.5 once again while the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion was instructed to consolidate and launch attacks from the position known as the Orchard..
When the attack was launched some men of the 3rd Battalion, supported by the 4th Battalion, did break into the German Line, but they were cut off and killed or taken prisoner. As the 3rd Battalion attacked from the Orchard, the 5th and 7th Battalions launched a determined assault on the South Breastwork, and finally after 30 minutes of fighting K.5 was in their hands again with heavy losses. The next day (May 25) dismounted Canadian Cavalry of the Lord Stathcona's Horse, made an attempt to take a bit more of the South Breastwork, but were unable to push the line forward.
Finally on May 25, 1915 the Battle of Festubert was called off. For a gain of two km the British Army had lost 14,500 men, killed, wounded and missing. Canadian losses were 2,468, including 661 dead. Norm Christie, Other Canadian Battlefields of the Great War, CEF Books, 2007.
However the Canadians, principally the 3rd Battalion and the 4th Battalion under the 3rd's command, remained on the from line until being relieved by the Gordon Highlanders on the morning of June 1 still suffering casualties until the last hours. L/Cpl Amy of the 4th Battalion was the final Canadian casualty of the battle. 
L/Cpl Raulin Amy #63057  KIA May 31, 1915
Raulin Amy, Jr. was the single son of a well-known Quebec accountant. Raulin Amy Sr. first shows up in the 1881 Census for Bonaventure, Quebec as an eighteen year old rooming house resident, native of Jersey, Channel Isles. The family name continues to this day and can be traced back to the 1300's in Jersey. Apparently he had immigrated about 1881. He and 20 year old Maltilda Clarke married in 1888 in Anglican Church, New Carlisle, Quebec. By the 1891 Census the couple has two daughters Beatrice and Elizabeth, living in St. Alexis, Quebec.. By 1901, the growing family is living in Quebec City, Montcalm Ward consisting of Raulin Sr, wife Maltilde, daughters Lillian 12, Beatrice 10, Else 9, Julia 6, Clara 2 and sons Raulin 8 and Michol 4. By 1921, the family was living at 39 Dartigny Street, St. Jean Baptiste, Quebec City and had added Winter 16, Ernest 15, Herbert 13 and Frederick 9 to their growing family. They ended up with thirteen children. Raulin Amy Sr. died 1950 in Quebec City. It appears the Maltilde died in 1912 during or after giving birth to Frederick Keith. Major Frederick Keith Amy was killed in Holland October 29, 1944 while serving with the Canadian 5th Canadian Field Artillery and is buried in Bergen-Op-Zoom Canada War Cemetery.

The area around Festubert 1919
Late 1914, Raulin Amy Jr. was a fast rising clerk in the Saguenay Paper Company when the 23rd Battalion was finishing its recruitment after moving from Montreal to Quebec City, preparing for departure to England. He enlisted November 16 as a Lance/Corporal age 21 years, He was a physical presence at almost 6 feet tall although had no previous military experience. He embarked with the battalion on the S. S Missanabie  February 17 for England landing at Bristol March 7. The battalion were immediately sent to Shorncliffe Camp, Moore Barracks where they received a few weeks training prior to landing in the trenches of 1st Division units. So this is how young Raulin Amy found himself at the front lines of France with the 4th (Central Ontario) Battalion on May 31, 1915.

The last notation in Amy's service record Casualty Sheet simply states "Killed - No particulars - 1/6/15". However an addendum was added by a person unknown as follows, almost in answer to questions being asked:

Aug 3.
This man was instantly killed at Festubert on the night of May 31, 1915 by a shell which exploded in his trench. He was buried in the part of the line known as the Orchard. The location on (comb.sheets 36aSE, 36SW, 36bNE, 36NW) is S.21.d.8.3.. Not known if a cross has been erected. 
The Canadian Orchard in 2015. Where is Raulin Amy?

L/Cpl Raulin's name is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial, strangely with a death date of June 1, 1915. There is a campsite situated exactly on the site that Amy was reported to have been buried. It is not known at this point if his body was ever recovered but seems quite plausible as the area remained in British hands until the great German advance of March 1918. Sergeant Martin Thomas Lyons #63550 was killed the same day possibly by the same trench shell. I presently own L/Cpl Amy's three World War One medals.