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Monday, February 15, 2016


Over 418,000 Canadians served overseas during World War I, out of a population of eight million. Two thirds were born in the United Kingdom. Some 60,000 died, 145,000 were wounded and only 1 in 4 came home unscathed.  

Cpl. John Cody #63207
My grandfather, John Cody, was born in Manhattan, New York May 21, 1886. His parents, Patrick and Elizabeth had immigrated to the United States about 1880. Patrick had been born in Urlingford, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland about 1860. The family settled in Bridgeport, Connecticut, between 1886 and 1889 home of many Irish Catholics. Patrick passed away in 1909 leaving Elizabeth and their six children. Family hearsay claims that John had served with the U.S. Marines but I can find not evidence of that fact.
Non-Commissioned Offiers, 3rd Battalion 1916
In August 1914, Hamilton Gault had received permission from Sir Sam Hughes the Canadian Minister of Militia and Defense, to raise a new private infantry battalion to send to England to fight alongside the British and French against Germany in World War I. The regiment was known as the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Recruiting however was not restricted to Ottawa, but proceeded across Canada and even stretched across the American border to persons of British descent. The regiment particularly was interested in trained soldiers of high standards in experience, size and physical fitness.  John saw this great global conflict, as assaults against the freedoms’ of man and the British Empire while the promise of adventure and employment was appealing. His height of 5’ 11”, weight of 180 lbs., maturity and his Irish ancestry seemed to fit the bill. Americans of British background had been enticed by poster and newspaper advertisements from the PPCLI and other regiments in major cities subsequently John and about 65 others from New England answered the call. During the First World War, 35,612 persons of American origin who were resident in Canada, or who later crossed the border into Canada, independently or voluntarily enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. A substantial number (almost 10%) deserted before being sent overseas. By wars end in 1918 over 600,000 in total had served in the CEF. Over 60% of the CEF was composed of men of British origin.
The Band Minden Prison Camp 1917
By the time they arrived in Valcartier, Quebec late October 1914, the PPCLI had reached capacity (in ten days of recruiting) and was on the way to England in late September and to join the British 27th Division. By the time John signed up in Montreal on November 27, the newly proposed 2nd Division had already formed its complement of 12 regiments and surplus regiments were to be broken up in England to supply the depleted 1st Division. Many of the new arrivals therefore were added to the roster of the 23rd Battalion, which was forming as a component of the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s second contingent. It was composed of soldiers from across Canada and additionally supplied about 200 men to the PPCLI 500 Reinforcement Draft. As as a reinforcement battalion, they sent their members in England to other battalions who had suffered tragic losses in the Ypres Salient. They received only abbreviated training in Levis Quebec and Shorncliffe, England. The unit set sail for England in February 23,1915 from Halifax on the S.S. Missanabie arriving in Shorncliffe, Kent via way of Queensland, Ireland and Liverpool in early March. This predated the arrival of the 2nd Contingent forming the 2nd Division by several months. John was promoted to Lance Corporal at Shorncliffe on 23rd of March. It was during the three months that John spent in England that he met his future wife to be, Alice Elizabeth Tuffrey, native of Weston on the Green, Oxfordshire. Alice had a position as a domestic in London working for a prominent physician and presumably met John while he was on leave in London, perhaps at the Maple Leaf Club?
Alice E. Cody (nee Tuffrey)
By this time the First Division was already in the front line. In the 2nd Battle of Ypres late April the Germans launched poison chlorine gas against the British and French forces for the first time in the war with almost 59,000 British Army casualties including Canadians. Almost 6000 of the 11,000 Canadians were killed, injured or taken prisoner at St. Julien, 4 miles northeast from Ypres. Reinforcements were required so L/Cpl John Cody #63207 was sent from England to France as one of a draft of 5 officers and 357 ranks May 5 to join the decimated 3rd (Toronto) Battalion of the 1st Division. Although the battle raged into late May, the Canadians were rested, reinforced and re-equipped from May 4 until May 24th being issued gas masks by month’s end.

RMS SS Missanbie carried the 3rd Battalion to England
The 3rd. (Toronto) Battalion was a prestige unit in the 1st Brigade, 1st. Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force. Formed shortly after the declaration of war in 1914, it was considered a composite unit and consisted mostly of militiamen from Toronto’s Queens Own Rifles with small groups from the 10th. Royal Grenadiers and the Governor General’s Body Guard, all from the Toronto area. The battalion first came under fire on March 6, 1915. During the Ypres offensive in late April 1915, the battalion lost 19 officers, including 3 of 4 company commanders and 469 other rank casualties including 200 POWs. By war’s end in 1918, it had been awarded twenty-one battle honours and had fought in Northern France and Belgium from Amiens to Langemark, always with distinction. The battalion was reorganized after war’s end and evolved into the Royal Regiment of Canada, fighting a lifetime of battles during World War II at Dieppe where it faced decimation at Dieppe in 1942 and Normandy in 1944. From May 1915 and for the next six months, John, was involved in all the actions and movements with the Battalion and the 1st. Brigade. He became of veteran of the stress, squalor and stench of the front line trenches including rats, mud, lice, lack of sanitation no sleep and the threat of instantaneous death. He was promoted to full Corporal, as a senior non-commissioned officer, on August 9 leading his own section in “B” Coy. The 1st Division remained in the Ploegsteert Wood area 17 miles around the base of the Messines Ridge south of Ypres. The 3rd Battalion was in a period of relative inactivity until moving to Wulvergham. That is until the fateful rainy night of October 30, 1915. It had rained none stop for six days and the battlefield was a quagmire of mud. Frequent daring night border patrols into No Man’s Land were necessary to convince the Germans that the Toronto Regiment owned the uninhabited area up to the German wire. These patrols were also used to identify the units of the German opposition and to capture some of the enemy for interrogation. John as a section leader in “B” company led a night patrol into the darkness, mud, shell holes and foul weather. When the patrol lost its bearings, Germans captured it near their trenches. Ironically, the Battalion was placed in reserve on November 1 and withdrawn from the front line for several weeks. Thereafter the 1st Division was in the front line continuously from May 1915 to August 1916.While thousands of Canadians paid the supreme sacrifice during World War I, and many thousands more in other major conflicts, John Cody survived to tell his story and foster with new wife, Alice, new generations of our family in this great country.  

Killed In Action men of the 3rd Battalion left behind
John was at first listed as “missing in action” then later listed as an unconfirmed Prisoner of War on November 28, being confirmed as such on January 28, 1916.  The Germans moved him from the front line to a POW camp in Munster, Germany initially. Thereafter he was moved to Paderborn, a hospital camp, in November 1916 and to Minden February 1917. Although Officers and NCOs were not compelled to complete work assignments, many were asked to and when they refused were treated more severely. Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders were also singled out for special treatment, as the prevalent feeling of German officers was that Commonwealth soldiers did not belong in this war and were hired mercenaries despite the fact that over 50% of the Canadians were of British origin. Minden was noted to be a punishment camp with a sordid reputation therefore we can assume that John’s work refusal was related to his assignment to this camp. While at Minden, it would appear that John made many friends, especially in the ANZAC Corps (Australians and New Zealanders) as evidenced from his correspondence. One in particular, James Spackman, was a witness at the wedding of John and Alice on December 21, 1918 in London. Other POW camp assignments included Dulmen (May 1917) coal mine in Westphalia, Minden once again (July 1917), Soltau, home to the infamous salt mines (September 1917) and finally Hamelm in Hanover (October 1917). Presumably John persevered three years of crowded huts, barbed wire and monotonous labour that most of the other 3800 Canadian POWs endured. By 1917 the British government had refined the prisoner exchange program with Germany to include long-term POW’s and NCOs. Therefore John was released as an internee in neutral Holland April 24, 1918 along with friend and fellow 3rd Battalion POW Cpl.Matthew |Foster #974, In Holland, the plus 300 Canadians were detained at seaside resorts in Scheveningen, many later being moved to Leeuwarden in north Holland, including John. Most entered training programs but despite the relative freedom, they complained of boredom, the food and the high cost of living. It is noteworthy that John had a “clean” military record the entire war except for ”Disobedience of Orders” from the senior British officer for “being in a cafĂ© during prohibited hours” on August 9, 1918 in Holland. No, not a Cody!
On the 23rd. of November 1918, John was transferred from Holland to Land End Military Hospital in London for observation. He was being treated for stomach problems. In December he moved to the Maple Leaf Club in London until his marriage. John was stricken off service in Ripon, England on April 15, 1919. The newlyweds returned to Canada on the SS Corsican, arriving in St.John, NB on April 25, 1919, strangely not to Bridgeport or Oxforshire. It seems John had met many Canadian friends; John Cody was officially discharged from the Canadian Army on April 28, 1919 and was entitled to both compensation and retribution for injuries and health considerations received while as a prisoner of War from November, 30, 1915 until November 28, 1918. Ultimately in the 1930’s, he was approved for the maximum compensation of $500. by the McDougall Royal Commission Maltreatment of Prisoners 1930-31 for the abuse he had received from the Germans. He and Alice moved into a fine house on Pape Avenue, worked at Canadian Radio Manufacturing in Toronto, fathered four children and many grandchildren including yours truly. John Cody was a longtime member of the Royal Regiment of Canada Association and the Canadian Legion. While I never really met my grandfather, we are grateful for his commitment to the preservation of a free world from tyranny and certainly if he were still alive, we would all welcome the opportunity to tell him so. At the same time we should also remember the commitments to our safe keeping by other family members, in other horrific conflicts and prayer that we will never have to fight an unknown enemy in faraway foreign lands, to preserve the freedom of our people and country.


Christie, Norman Futility & Sacrifice The Canadians at the Somme, 1916 CEF Books, Ottawa 1998
Christie, Norman The Canadians At Mount Sorrel, 1916 CEF Books, Ottawa 2000
Christie, Norman Gas Attack! The Canadians At Ypres 1915 CEF Books, Ottawa  1998
Gaffen, Fred Cross-Border Warriors  Dundurn Press, Toronto 1995
Godefroy, A.B. For Freedom and Honour CEF Books, Ottawa 1998
Godspeed, Major D.J.  Battle Royal, A History of the Royal Regiment of Canada 1862-1962 The Royal Regiment of Canada Toronto, 1962
Hall, J.N. Kitchener’s Mob, The Adventures of an American in the British Army Thomas Allen, Toronto 1917
McClintock, Alexander Best O’Luck CEF Books, Ottawa 2000
Morton, Desmond   Silent Battle, Canadian Prisoners of War 1914-1919   Lester Publ. Toronto, 1992
Morton, Desmond & J.L. Granatstein Marching To Armageddon, Canadians and the Great War 1914-1919 Lester & Orpen Dennys, Toronto 1989
Naismith, Col. George G.  Canada’s Sons and Great Britain in the World War John C. Winston Co. Toronto 1919
Newman, Stephen With the Patricia’s in Flanders 1914-1918 Bellewerde Publishing, Saanicton 2000
Roy, Reginald H. (editor) The Journal of Private Fraser 1914-1918 CEF Books, Ottawa 1998
Scott, Frederick The Great War As I Saw It CEF Books, Ottawa 2000
Swettenham, John   To Seize the Victory, The Canadian Corps in World War I  McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Toronto 1965
Vance, Jonathan F.  Objects of Concern, Canadian Prisoners of War Throughout the 20th. Century  UBC Press, Vancouver 1994
William, Jeffrey First in the Field, Gault of the Patricias Vanwell Publ., St. Catharines 1995
Evans, Pvt. John   Sixteen Months in Germany Maclean’s Magazine Toronto March 1918
War Diary 3rd. (Toronto) Battalion, 1st. Brigade, 1st. Division, C.E.F.   April – November 1915
Personal correspondence John Cody   1914 – 1919
Service Record   John Cody Regt. # 63207   Archives Canada
Cody family interviews   October 2003


Bill Cody said...

Well Done Bob, Thanks for posting this. Bill Cody

AJH said...

Superb story telling. I am very fascinated by the before, during and after stories of CEF soldiers, particularly those not of native Canadian birth.
A couple of years ago I read the re-published work by George Pearson 'The Escape of a Princess Pat' telling the story of a Cpl Edwards (Service No.:39; ex-Gordon Highlanders) who was capture at Ypres in 1915, spent a time as a PoW and subsequently escaped. Life as a PoW seemed significantly worse 1914-18 than in the Second World War.
I am interested in your best sources for the high UK-born content of the CEF. Desmond Morton certainly mentions that until Vimy 1917, over half of soldiers were British born. Can you point me to any better sources.