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Friday, April 1, 2016

A Sergeant of the Great War, 3rd Battalion Canadian Infantry

Photo by Bob Richardson 2007
There is a French cemetery named Sains-Les-Marquion British Cemetery, Plot 1 Row B Grave 29, a Sergeant, according to the grave stone, of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Battalion killed on September 29, 1918. I have a photo of a gravestone "A Sergeant of the Great War 3rd Battalion Died 27 September, 1918" grave number E 29, Sains des Marquion Cemetery.

Checking the War Diary casualty list there are no Sergeants from the 3rd Battalion missing that day. There were 17 other ranks killed and 12 other ranks missing in the Battle for Bourlon Woods. All men found were "handled entirely by 1st Brigade Burial Party" which consisted in part of 1 NCO and 12 other ranks from the 3rd Battalion. There was one Sergeant wounded, Sgt. Tellier #426722 but he appears to have survived. As well Sergeant M.Roberts #171720 was KIA that date but buried in Queant C.C. British Extension, grave C-20.

The obvious problem with this burial is that there are no Sergeants from the 3rd Canadian Infantry Battalion missing that day. Nor are there Sergeants missing from any surrounding day. So who is buried in the grave? Richard Laughton of the CEF Study Group Forum is convinced the man might be a Sergeant Donald Land #782323 of the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Machine Gun Corps. Here is Richard's preliminary analysis: 

There was only one that day, Sgt. Donald Land #782323 of the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Machine Gun Corps. The only other 3rd Battalion Sergeant KIA in 1918 and recorded on the Vimy Memorial is Adam Gaw #138579 and that was back on September 2, 1918 (and way out of the area).

I think I need some help with this one. Although it is the only option, there remains the question of someone marked "3rd Battalion Infantry" versus "3rd Battalion CMGC". The GRRF only says "3/ Cn. Bn.". Shown below are the 2 pages of the COD file and the GRRF page. The details from the war diary for late September and early October in in Appendix 1A of October 1918(page 1page 2Page 3Page 4, and Page 5).

Where this got messy was reading the COD file as it says the body was buried at 51a F10 4.5/4.5 which is not anywhere close to where the action was on that day. After considerable searching and identifying the area where the 3rd Bn. CMGC was located it became obvious that the card should have read 51a S10 d4.5/4.5. That is just SE of Blecourt almost due north of Tilloy (bottom left corner of MAP 51a). The area is as depicted on Nicholson Map 13 for the Canal du Nord and Cambrai 27 Sept - 11 Oct 1918. SEE update in posts that follow!

What identification would a Sergeant in the 3rd Bn. CMMG have been wearing on September 29, 1918? This cemetery had bodies brought in from Marquion Churchyard and the surrounding battlefields. I have not located any COG-BR for this cemetery. The body was brought in from the location noted above where a cross was erected. It may have said 3rd Battalion CMGC and they noted only 3rd Battalion. The CWGC notes that this cemetery was constructed by the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade of which the 3rd Battalion CMGC was a part. The "3/" may thus refer to 3rd Brigade as well as "3rd Bn." in this case.

Everything points to this body being that of Sergeant Land. I checked all the other Vimy Memorial Sergeants as well and there is nothing close in time or location and most certainly nothing related to "3rd". Once again I was also sent on a wild goose chase because the map coordinates were wrong.

Having read Richard's report. I do not feel the man buried in this grave is Sgt Land, 3rd CMGC for the following reasons

1. The Sergeant was buried in a mass trench grave among his comrades from the 3rd Battalion.
2. A 1st Brigade Burial Party, including one N.C.O. and 12 ranks from the 3rd Battalion buried these men. I feel that they would know their own men and could differentiate from men from the CMGC
3. The date and location was very specific to an attack launched by the 1st Brigade and the 3rd Battalion Battle of Bourlon Woods.
4. Date of death for Sgt Land is incorrect
5. Death location for Sgt. Land is far from the location of the 3rd Battalion men on the GRRF report, all recovered at the same time and buried in a trench grave.
6. I believe they would have been several closer cemetery burial location options to where Sgt. Land was found.

So who is the mystery Sergeant? My guess is that if indeed it is a Sergeant buried in this grave, then we could look at the other 1st Brigade Battalions (1st, 2nd, 4th) all of whom took part in the battle. Otherwise it could be a mis-identification situation -the man may have not been a Sergeant" at all, date was incorrect, or ?
I do not have an answer at this point but feel that all avenues should be investigated to support the details on the GRRF and the gravestone. Could our man be mentioned incorrectly on the Vimy Ridge Memorial? I believe the date is correct on the gravestone and GRRF unless proven otherwise. The dead of the 3rd Battalion KIA September 27-28, 1918 can be found HERE

Richard Laughton continues:
It is September 28th as when I first was looking at these I thought they had the 1916 war diaries in 1918 and so I went through a number of pages before I convinced myself that the Underwood had a "bad 8" that looks like a "6". A few other keys as well.

If it was Land, he was hit by a MG bullet in the head. If it was not Land and the Corporal, he was lost and missing so we have no idea what condition he was in at the time. If he got hit by the "Milton Gun" it was all over as it was firing over open sites. When I was writing that story a few years ago and read about that I always wondered how many it took out in the hours before it was captured.

There is no doubt in my mind now that it is either Sergeant Land or Corporal Paterson. The problem with Paterson is that:

  1. He is not a Sergeant, unless he had a recent battlefield promotion. Even if he did, why did his men not recognize him if it was a 3rd Battalion burial party? The cemetery at Railencourt was much closer then and host to a number of other burials. That cemetery hosted a number of 3 Bn. CMGC as well who were not involved with the barrage fire units.
  2. He was about 4,500 yards past the burial site on his path from Cagincourt ( 51b.V.9.c.6.0 ) to Haynecourt ( 51b.X.15.a.9.8 ) and north to Sans-le-Marquion (51b.W.10.c.2.0). Those are "central" codes for the communities off the trench McMaster map.

One of the leads I was following on this case was the whereabouts of Sgt. Elton Kight of the 3rd Battalion CMGC (see Where is Sgt. Elton Kight?). Well that opened a whole new CAN OF WORMS as he may not even exist and if he does he is lost!

After spending a large part of the afternoon going through PT II orders, I sadly have to report that I found absolutely nothing on Cpl. Paterson, 3rd Battalion. Appears not to have been promoted to Sergeant. He is also absent from the 83rd Battalion sailing nominal roll which is strange. The QOR Memorial Honour Roll show his date of death as 24/10/1918. So I guess he is not our man. Back to Sergeant Land I guess but I still feel his evidence is largely circumstantial until something concrete is found. Not sure the CWGC folks will buy this one.
I just read the appropriate excerpt from The History of the CMGC (abt. page 340). It appears to me that the 3rd Battalion CMGC and 3rd Infantry Division did not enter the action until morning of Sept 28 6:00am. The attack was launched from areas already captured the previous day Sept 27. Note the 1st Brigade Burial Party was despatched Sept 28 7:00am to collect dead and wounded from the previous day. To me the burial party was in action possibly before Sgt Land was killed. They would not have been collecting bodies in an active battle zone - restricted to areas captured in the previous day's action.

Our Sergeant KIA September 1918 remains a mystery!

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