Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book Reviews

What have I been doing over the Christmas Holidays? Mainly catching up on my reading. Unlike others who go through a bazillion blogs I prefer to read - YES BOOKS ! Partly a life long habit, partly because it's tough to get everything you want in military history online, and partly because genea-computer geeks leave me gasping for breath, and grasping for a dictionary.


This is a look at what I have read. not in depth reviews. That way I can stay out of trouble at least until Monday.

Two of the books are a reread years after I first looked at them. Pierre Burton, “Vimy”, and Daniel G. Dancocks, “Sir Arthur Currie: A Biography”. Both books were written by journalists. Yep, you can tell. Well written, and repeating many of the old cliché’s that recent military historians are questioning.

David Williams, “Media, Memory, and the First World War”. Mr. Williams is an English professor. Yep, you can tell. He never uses a $5 word when a $10 one could be found. I swear that he has made some of them up. You definitely need a dictionary beside you when you read this one.

Andrew B. Godefroy (ed.), “Great War Commands: Historical Perspectives on Canadian Army Leadership 1914-1918”. This one is a recent overview of some of the officers of the Canadian Corps (not army as that designation belongs to the Second World War). A good start in looking at the Canadian Corps. More in depth studies are needed. For me the most interesting article is by Timothy Winegard, “ Lieutenant Colonels Glen Campbell and Andrew T. Thompson and the Evolution of Native Canadian Participation during the First World War”. This is a look at two battalions that served overseas - the 114th. (Brock’s Rangers), and the 107th. (Timber Wolf Battalion)(1). Both battalions had at least 50% of their enlistments from the native communities. On the whole, good stuff, and a good indication of where today’s military historians are headed with their research.

As far as I know none of the above books are online so that means a trip to either the bookstore or the Library. Sorry for your luck folks !

1. The 114th. battalion was broken up in England and used to reinforce other units on the Western Front. The 107th. battalion was initially to be broken up as well but in February 1917 was redesignated a Pioneer battalion. Pioneers are infantry soldiers who who performed minor engineering tasks - ie. digging trenches, the grunt work in building roads, railway lines, etc.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Major James Emanuel Hahn

The London Advertiser, August 17, 1914.

James Emanuel Hahn was born in New York City July 30, 1892 to Alfred Hahn and Eugenie Schlossburg. (1) The Hahns’ immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1890, and some time before 1898 to New Hamburg near Kitchener (Berlin at that time), Ontario.


Major James Hahn is a very interesting man, and shows that little has be done by historians researching the men who served in the Great War. Sometimes being distracted by little nags of - “just who is this guy ?”- can result in a goldmine of information. As it turns out he wrote an autobiography in 1954 entitled “ For Action: The Autobiography of a Canadian Industrialist (Clarke, Irwin & Company, 1954)”. I had hoped that there would be some information on the 1st. Battalion; but that was not to be. It turns out that Major Hahn is a good example of not assuming that just because a soldier is on the nominal rolls he served with that battalion.
Library and Archives Canada.
He served with the 1st. Battalion only until the point where the 1st. Division was heading overseas to Britain. Just before leaving he was transferred to Military Intelligence, and served in that capacity on the Western Front through to November, 1918. He took part in all of the major battles of the Canadian Corps with the exception of Vimy Ridge. At that time he was recovering from a serious wound. The first part of his autobiography is an interesting account of the duties and experiences of the junior officers’ intelligence functions, and of the rise of a young officer through army staff appointments. He reached G.S.O. 3 in the Fourth Canadian Division.

It is his roll after the Great War as an industrialist that is the most interesting read. Early involvement in radio, and in 1938 the purchase of the John Inglis Company. This company became the largest manufacturer of Bren guns in the British Commonwealth during the Second World War.


(1) The Hahns’ are found in the 1900 U.S. Census in the Bronx. Just to confuse things James’ year of birth is given here as 1893 while he put 1888 in his attestation papers. I expect that he wanted to be seen as older than he was. By the 1911 Canada Census they are in Stratford, Ontario. James Hahn was a Captain in the Lambton County Militia which also, it seems, included men from Perth County.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Medals, Honours And Awards Database

Library and Archives Canada has introduced a new database called “Medals, Honours and Awards.



“Library and Archives Canada holds medal registers, citation cards and records of various military awards. These records indicate the medal, honour or award to which an individual was entitled. This research tool provides the relevant archival references for those documents.
There are no service files for the Canadian military in the 1800s, so these records often provide the only proof of service for 19th century conflicts.
The names of the recipients of the Queen's South African Medal are indexed in our South African War database.”

The database is particularly useful in two ways. It will give you some information about servicemen pre-1900, and the regimental unit that the man was serving with when he received the medal. In my case I found that Peter Hillman, a distant cousin, was serving in the Essex militia during the Fenian Raids. Information I was not aware of before. So that makes two of my family serving in militia units in 1868 to 1870. Son of a gun !

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Major William Norman Ashplant And The Somme

In a letter to Henry Brinsmead Ashplant published in the “London Free Press” September 23, 1916.


“Referring to the lucky nature of my wound, Major Ashplant says, gee, but twas a near thing for me, another half inch and I’d be pushing daisies. I’ve got the piece of shrapnel, a very nice souvenir from Fritz, and an ugly piece it is, from one of his deadly high explosive 5.9 shells, one of the best shells made. I had only come up from what recently was a German dugout, now our advance battle battalion headquarters, to get a breath of fresh air and a rest. Our artillery and that of the enemy were pounding away at each other, with all calibre guns, but about 10 shells of ours to his one…..I had just laid down on the side of the smashed up trench in my “tin hat”. Two or three of my runners (message carriers), were stretched out resting around, when “plug”. I felt as though half my head had gone.

I up and hopped it around for a second and soon realized what a squeak I had. The velocity of the falling splinter seeming like a brick, compared to what it actually was. One of my runners soon had my field dressing out from my tunic and going down into the dugout, the artillery liaison officer washed off the dirt splash and blood and iodined the wound, after which I strolled down to our front regimental first aid post, and got temporarily fixed up. I was ordered to immediately get to the main dressing station, and get inoculated against tetanus.

You can bet I was feeling nearly all in, having only had four hours sleep in 60, which under the hellish strain of this battlefront is near the limit of a man’s endurance. For 18 solid hours I had been at the bottom of that dugout, reeking with the contaminated atmosphere of those irritating lachrymatory gas of tear shells which Fritz had been liberally dosing this vicinity with, and the place is swarming with big, bluebottle flys which thrive on the dead, laying around half buried.

I had spun off scores of messages and instructions incidental to an adjutant’s duties in the field in direct phone communication with the O.C. (1) companies in the front line and support s and the reserve battalion headquarters in the rear, etc.

I wasted no time getting away, as I was, of course, a walking case. We beat it over and, but had to pick our way through the German artillery barrage. Heavens alive ! I thought the Ypres salient was hot stuff, but it’s got nothing on what is transpiring around here. On getting to the dressing station, I found our brigade major being fixed up with a badly smashed left arm….Fritz’s 5.9’s (great favourites of his) were plowing about close to the right, searching out some of our batteries, which were firing from well-concealed positions, all around our route. I eventually got into the 6th. Australian dressing station and had the serum against tetanus pumped into my right breast. Also was given two steaming cups of cocoa, dosed liberally with some Scotch. Lord, how that did go down ! …………From there with Capt. Cosby(2), who had been hit with shrapnel in the right hand, we were brought on here by an Australian ambulance. I was given a hot bath, a good dinner, and the staff sergeant dressed and readied my scratch, and put me to bed like mother would have done. I certainly was feeling tough.

Next morning I strolled down to watch some German prisoners badly wounded, and being fixed up, Prussian guards, and some big fellows, which the Australians had trimmed up in the morning.

Tis an awful shambles, close to the lines we are holding, and hundreds of Germans and Australians lay there, at present unburied. It’s been an inferno all right, but believe me, Fritz is getting it hot now, and his morale is getting shattered. He is fighting a losing game and his troops are beginning to know, and sooner or later, their army will revolt and turn on their arrogant, besotted, selfish, military leaders, but Germany has to be cleaned from within. ……One of these Germans and X.C.O.(3) speaking a little English, said ‘We did not know what a bombardment was like. Verdun was a picnic to this,’ so I guess we are giving it to him pretty bad.

Fritz has now learned pretty well the art of putting his hands up, and these prisoners are glad to be in our hands. Two big wire cages of prisioners are in close proximity to here. It’s surprising how indifferent you get to what may happen when once in line, but he’s a lucky man who pulls through this war and gets amongst the hot stuff without losing some of his anatomy. I guess I’ll clear from here in a week or so and get on the job again.”




1. O.C. - Officer Commanding
2. I found three Cosby’s - Frederick Lorne Crosby of Pt. Hope, Ontario; Crawford Stuart Cosby of Toronto, Ontario ( a civil engineer); and Norman Weber Cosby of Toronto (also a civil engineer). Take your choice.
3. X.C.O. - guessing here but I think he means former C.O.

“The London Free Press” And William Norman Ashplant

Since Major Ashplant was city engineer at the beginning of the war the local paper showed considerable interest in his career.



“ LIEUT. ASHPLANT SLEPT IN KRUGER’S ROOM IN VRELAND


Lieut. W.N. Ashplant, of London, city engineer and all-around good fellow of this good old English school, is suffering from a badly swollen arm as the result of his inoculation against typhoid by the military doctors. He is an officer of the 18th. Battalion(1), and is just itching to get into active service against the empire’s enemies.


Lieut. Ashplant has seen much service as a soldier and an engineer. When he was a mere lad he wnt out to South Africa. In 1896 with a number of the famous Jameson raiders, who were then out of a job, to take part against the Matabeles(2), who were on one of their periodical rampages. After a time Mr. Ashplant went into the city engineer’s office at Capetown, where he secured much valuable experience. He joined the Cape Artillery as a volunteer, every Englishman going into the army in Africa, as it is necessary and proper to be prepared.


Everybody in 1896 knew the Boer war was coming and, in common with other Britishers, the lieutenant joined the Cape Peninsular Regiment, after having been in the artillery for some time. He did garrison duty during the Boer war and was at Johannesburg, Victoria Capetown, and Port Elizabeth.

SLEPT IN KRUGER’S ROOM

Later, when the war was ended, and Britain had won. Mr. Ashplant was employed in drawing the plans for the Pretoria drainage system, and during that tibe(time) be boarded in the buildings know as the Presidency, which were formerly the home of President Kruger. When Oom Paul died a Dutch lawyer rushed to the woman who kept the boarding house and notified her to get out inside of 21 hours and the remains of the former president were to be brought back to South Africa and were to lie in state in his former home.

Mr. Ashplant occupied the bedroom which had formally been used by Kruger, and he did not propose to give it up unceremoniously. In going over the lease with the woman who conducted the place it was observed that a clause had been scratched out which forbade any person wearing the British uniform to be harboured in the place. This so angered the Britishers that they engaged a lawyer to fight the Dutch claims to the residence, with the result that the boarding lady was offered 500 pounds to vacate and she asked 1,000. The friends of Kruger would not pay this amount and the lady clung to her four year lease. Then the body of Kruger was laid in the old Dutch church, where friends of the late president were able to view his remains.

Altogether Mr. Ashplant is a most interesting man. He has been a splendid city engineer and now that war has broken out he is going to the front to fight side by side with Englishmen, Irishmen and Scotchmen to preserve British liberties. He was on a leave of absence from Nigeria when told that the city engineer’s position in London was vacant and he left England on a few hours’ notice to come to this city.”



“The London Free Press”, December 7, 1914.

1. Actually he enlisted with the 33rd. Battalion, and is found in the 33rd. Battalion’s nominal rolls as a Major. The 33rd. Battalion embarked for Great Britain April 6, 1916 where it was broken up for reinforcements. In July 1916 it was absorbed by the 36th. “Overseas Battalion”, and disbanded July 17, 1917.


2. The link will give you a better understanding of theses events. The newspaper is not at all accurate. Journalists with the “Free Press” at that time rarely let facts get in the way of a good story. Go figure !

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Major William Norman Ashplant


William Norman Ashplant was born July 23, 1877 in Haverhill, Suffolk, England, and died on the Somme with the 1st. Battalion on September 22, 1916. His body was never found. He was a civil engineer by trade, and in 1914 city engineer for London, Ontario. Even though he spend only a couple of years in London he still received mention in Michael Baker and Hilary Bates Neary’s (ed.) book, “Fascinating Londoners” (James Lorimer, 2005).


Major Ashplant is a very good example of the men who made up the Canadian Corps (Canadian born becoming a majority in the Corps did not happen until 1918), and assuming that the battalion that they enlisted in would be the battalion that they would serve in in the trenches. He was born in England, and he was a South African War veteran. The attestation papers has him in the 33rd. Battalion upon joining; however, he was in the 1st. Battalion at his death.



Digging to verify information in the attestation papers can (for me at least as a historian) lead to some interesting facts. Major Ashplant lists his father as Henry Brimstead Ashplant living at 807 Waterloo St., London, Ontario. In fact, Henry Brimstead Ashplant is his brother. The brothers’ father was named William.(1)
The brother, for me, is a far more interesting character. Henry Brimstead Ashplant was born November 15, 1863 in Ipswich, Suffolk, England, and died March 12, 1941 in London, Ontario.(2) Henry Ashplant arrived in Canada in 1891(3), and married Alice Hargreaves April 6, 1892 in London, Ontario.(4) He served five times on city council, and was city auditor from 1922 to 1938. Of great interest to me was that he was the one who organized the International Socialist Labour Party in London in 1895. What ! A socialist in London? When did that happen? I thought they were extinct ! Bears further research.




1.England and Wales, Free BMD Birth Index, 1837-1915

2. BMD Birth Index, “The London Free Press“, March 13, 1941.

3. Canada Passenger Lists, 1865-1935

4. Ontario, Canada, Marriages 1801-1926

Monday, November 1, 2010

Elgin County Book Launch

On Saturday October 30th. Jeff Booth’s book “Dreams of Food and Freedom” was launched at the Elgin County Military Museum in St. Thomas, Ontario. The book launch was well attended by surviving veterans, and their families. My brother and I took dad along although I am not sure that he had entirely clued in to what the event was all about. Nevertheless He did recognize some of the items in the displays, and had some interesting comments about them. A few of the other veterans also started to reminisce.

Two of the veterans represented the other side. I approved whole hardly. It was interesting to hear from them about their experiences in a Canadian prisoner of war camp.
Jeff Booth holding copy of book with the veterans who could make it to the launch.


The book covers most of the wars in which Elgin County boys participated - The War of 1812, the American Civil War, the South African War, World War 0ne, and World War Two. An excellent addition to the library for a genealogist researching families in Elgin County.
I bought one! The book is available from the Elgin County Military Museum.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nominal Rolls

My Stat Counter  lists of recent keyword activity shows a number of people using “nominal rolls” as a keyword search term. Nominal Rolls of the Canadian Expeditionary Force can be found in two places. Library and Archives Canada  have put the nominal rolls on microfilm. My library in London, Ontario, has a complete set, and I expect that many of the larger libraries throughout Canada would have them as well. For those outside of Canada they can be found  on “The  Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group: ‘The Matrix Project’.

One word of warning for genealogists. The nominal rolls are in many ways a boarding list for the troops that were making their way to England for training prior to their posting to France. Do not assume that because they are listed with a particular battalion that that means that they served with that battalion in the trenches. (too many that’s. Must be a term for that!) There were transfers while training, sickness, accidents, and other adjustments for various reasons (lets not forget politics - eh!). After 1916 chances were that the battalion was broken up in England after training, and the men used as reinforcements to keep existing battalions up to strength. If nothing else, and if your ancestor was not an officer, the nominal rolls will give you his regimental number which is very useful for further research.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sock It To E’m Boys

Knitting socks was one of the moral boosters that the ladies on the home front provided the front line troops -  thousands of socks. Soldiers were very happy to get them. Some even put them on their feet! Little did the ladies know that they had many uses - mittens, covering for rifles, stowing away trinkets picked up here and there.

A veteran in Library and Archives Canada‘s “Oral Histories of the First World War” outlined how much the men appreciated these treasures from home:

“I got two or three pairs of socks sent to me by a lady in a church organization. I wrote back and thanked her and explained what it meant to have dry socks and that the issue was only two pairs of socks per man. It was impossible to dry the socks out and get back up again and I'd be awfully glad if we could get about three hundred pairs of socks. To my utter amazement along about November, to my utter amazement, along came a shipment of socks from that lady and her organization - about 300 pairs. We got them each winter, I got those socks. So that when [you had] wet ones, alright you picked them up, issued a pair of dry socks and that meant an awful lot for comfort, amongst other things. You [were] issued dry socks and you got your wet socks dried out properly and there was a second pair of dry socks ready so that you always had dry socks. That made a whale of a difference.”
Lady in Red Cross uniform from Whitby, Ontario shows off socks she made. Whitby Public Library.
Wool was supplied by the Daughters of the Empire to all who would knit away. These are directions for making socks that appeared in the “Dutton Advance“, January 13th, 1916:

Cast on 68 stitches: 4 ½ in. 2 plain, 2 purl; knit plain 7 ½ in. (12 in. in all)

Heel-Knit plain 34 stitches on to one needle; turn, purl back these 84 stitches; slip 1, knit 1 to end of row, turn, repeat these two rows (always slipping the first stitch) 16 times, 17 in all. With the inside of the heal towards you, purl 19 stitches, purl 2 together, purl 1.

Turn, knit 6 stitches, slip 1, knit 1,pull slipped stich over, knit 1, turn, purl 7 stitches, purl 2 together, purl 1.
Turn, knit 8 stitches, slip 1, knit 1,pull slipped stich over, knit 1 turn, purl 9 stitches, purl 2 together, purl 1.
Turn, knit 10 stitches, slip 1, knit 1, pull slipped stich over, knit 1, turn, purl 11 stitches, purl 2 together, purl 1.
Turn, knit 12 stitches, slip 1, knit 1, pull slipped stich over, knit 1, turn, purl 13 stitches, purl 2 together, purl 1.
Turn, knit 14 stitches, slip 1, knit 1, pull slipped stich over, knit 1, turn, purl 15 stitches, purl 2 together, purl 1.
Turn, knit 16 stitches, slip 1, knit 1, pull slipped stich over, knit 1, turn, purl 17 stitches, purl 2 together, purl 1.
Turn, knit 18 stitches, slip 1, knit 1, pull slipped stich over, knit 1.

Pick up and knit 18 stitches down the side of the heel piece.
Kit the 34 stitches of the front needles on to one needle. Pick up and knit the 18 stitches at the other side of the heel piece. Divide the heel stitches on the two side needles, and knit right round again to the center heel.

First needle: knit to within three stitches of the front end of side needle, knit 2 together, knit 1.
Front needle plain.
Third needle: knit 1, slip 1, knit 1, pull slipped stich over, knit plain to end of needle.
This reducing to be done every other row until there are 68 stitches on the needles (front needles 34, side needles 17 each).
Knit plain until the foot (from the back of the heel) measures 2 ¼ in. less than the full length required, 8 ¾ for No. 3 and 9 ¼ for No. 4 sock.
To decrease toe begin at front needle: knit 1, slip 1, knit 1, pull slipped stich over, knit plain to within 3 stitches of the end needle, knit 2 together, knit 1.
Second needle: knit 1, slip 1, knit 1, pull slipped stich over, knit plain to end of needle. Third needle: knit plain to within 8 stitches of the cud, knit 2 together, knit 1. Knit three plain rounds, then decrease as before; knit another 3 plain rounds, then decrease as above. Knit 2 rounds and decrease  ; 2 more decrease; 2 more and decrease.
Knit 3 plain rows, decreasing each row and decrease as above in each of the next 3 rows, which leaves you with 24 stitches on 2 needles.
Intake of toe; Thread a wool needle. Begin on front needle, put needle in as if to knit, pull wool through and take off stich. Put needle in next stich as if to purl, pull wool through, but leave stich on. Go back to needle, put needle in next stich as if to knit, pull wool through but leave stich on. Come to front needle and repeat.

There you have socks! I have no idea what all the above means. Hopefully knitters do!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The 1st. Battalion

Yes I have been researching the 1st. Battalion with the idea of writing a history of this unit. Why? Perhaps the simplest reason is that no history of the 1st. Battalion has ever been written. Mind you, the 18th. Battalion which was recruited from Southwestern Ontario as well also does not have a published history. This somewhat makes them unique of all the other 48 Battalions (1) that saw active service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the Great War. One Battalion at a time.

There is more documentation available now than ever before.We will see the 100th. Anniversary of the end of the First World War on November 11, 2018. Library and Archives Canada has released a huge amount of material from attestation papers to unit diaries. There is a great deal more that needs to be made available. John Babcock was the last man standing from all who served in the C.E.F. There are no more remaining.
1st. Battalion, Salisbury, England, 1915. Library and Archives Canada.
Canadian memory of the Great War over the last 90 odd years has been shaped then re-evaluated, and re-evaluated again. Once again historians are looking at the war. Opinions on how the battles changed, and defined Canadian nationalism, has been hotly debated over the last few years.The debate goes on.

What is known is that Canada, and particularly the 1st. Battalion, paid a butcher’s bill from 1915 until November 11, 1918. In a country of 7 to 8 million people Canada enlisted around 620,000 men and women into the Canadian Corps. That figure does not count those who served in Imperial services. The highest percentage of casualties were of course “the poor bloody infantry”.  There was no more dangerous spot to be in than in the infantry.

The 1st. Battalion holds the dubious distinction of being the single most devastated battalion in the Corps. From the spring of 1915 to 1918 6,449 of the rank and file passed through the battalion.(2) If we take battalion strength as 1,000 men that means that the 1st. Battalion was destroyed six times through the war. Of course, a statement like this is not always accurate as the battalion was not ever wiped out in one battle as were the Newfoundlanders. Instead this represents a constant bleeding of manpower as the war dragged on.

When you read an outline of the battalion you can understand why kids tend to fall asleep during history class. There must be more to it than that!

(1) There were many more than 50 battalions recruited; however, Currie resisted  re-organizing the Corps into an Army with more and smaller divisions in favour of larger divisions within the existing Corps. So newer battalions were broken up as reinforcements for the 50 active frontline battalions.
(2) Tim Cook, “Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting The Great War 1917-1918”, Viking Canada 2008, p. 614.
Flags of the 1st. & 18th. Battalions in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, Ontario.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mutt and Jeff Go To War

With the entry of the United States in the Great War Mutt and Jeff get into the act.
"The London Advertiser", May 4, 1917.
"The London Advertiser, May 30, 1917.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lest We Forget

"The London Advertiser, May 4, 1917"
From left to right:

Annie Henderson Henry, b. July 6, 1889 (Whitechurch, Bruce County).
Vera Edith Sotheran, b. Oct. 2, 1893 (Fordwich, Ontario).
Annie Isabel Elliot, b. Aug.15, 1888 (Wingham, Ontario).
Annie May Ferguson, b. April 15, 1890 (Wingham, Ontario).
Mary Evelyn Wood, b. Jan. 29, 1891 (Iderton, Ontario).
Helen Abel, b. Jan. 27, 1882 (Fergus, Ontario).

All of the above nursing sisters in the photo survived the war.

At the beginning of the Great War Canada had five Permanent Force nursing sisters, and  fifty-seven listed in reserve. By the end of the war  3,141  nurses had volunteered . Because of their blue dresses and white veils they were nicknamed the “bluebirds”. Approximately 45 gave their lives. The most famous tragedy was the sinking of the hospital ship “Llandovery Castle” on  June 27, 1918. All 14 nursing sisters aboard the ship lost their lives. There is a Nursing Sister’s Memorial in the Hall Of Honour in the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.

Mabel B. Clint wrote an account of  her experiences as a nursing sister titled, “Our Bit: Memories of War Service By a Canadian Nursing Sister” (Barwick Ltd. 1934).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- Nov.11, 1918- London, Ontario, Canada

"The London Advertiser", November 12, 1918.

"The London Advertiser", November 12, 1918.
"The London Advertiser", November 12, 1918.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Online Data Bases For Canadian Military History

At  the September 7th.meeting of the London and Middlesex Genealogy Society I was asked about an outline of the online resources for researching veterans of the Canadian Forces. (they were thinking local of course). I will outline in a more general way what I have found so far. Local resources later.

I will list resources by event in the case of Library and Archives Canada. War is largely a Federal concern in this country so that the vast majority of  the documentation of any one of the services is held by Library and Archives Canada. This is a huge data base covering all of the wars that Canada has participated in. Not everything is online. What is online is free to use. I have covered in previous posts how one can order information from Library and Archives Canada. The data bases can give you the microfilm reel # of any topic or individual that you want to research. We can break the topics down in this way:

1. British forces in Canada. Records are with the British Archives: however , Library and Archives Canada have some copies on microfilm.For those researching an ancestor who served in a British regiment in Canada there is also “British Regiments in Canada”.



2. Militia before 1914. This can be the toughest to research. The numbers of Militia regiments across the country is staggering. Library and Archives Canada has microfilm reels of militia musters, militia payrolls, officers, and casualties.

3. The Northwest Rebellion. A list of the Officers and men killed or wounded in the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. This is online and accessible.

4. The South African War 1899-1902. List of microfilm reels containing attestation papers, records of active service, etc.

5. Northwest Mounted Police(NWMP), 1873-1904 personnel records.  Why the police? They were a strong recruiting group for regiments in the Boer War and the Great War.

6.Soldiers of the First World War  Attestation papers are digitalized and free to use. The data base in the “Canadian Genealogy Center” outlines the availability of personnel records. Some are online most are not. 

7.The Second World War. Nothing much as yet, but I can imagine what a job that will be in the future. You can request service files if you have proof of the death of the veteran or permission of the veteran.

8. The Canadian Virtual War Memorial lists the country’s dead along with a short description of the veteran. 

If you are disappointed and can not find the individual that you are looking for that does not mean that he or she did not serve. Paper has been lost, destroyed, and burnt. You might have to go instead to more local resources such a newspapers.

Other Data Bases:

This could really fill a book by itself. So I will highlight the ones that I use most often.

To my mind the finest Provincial data base is “The Newfoundland Regiment and The Great War”.

“Canadian Military Force Study Group” is a forum on the Great War. It is searchable and you might find some useful information.


Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group “The Matrix Project” is an excellent source for looking at how the Canadian Corps was organized. It's not for the cursory researcher or the weak hearted. 

The Legion Magazine produces “The Last Post” a listing of the veterans who have recently passed away. The data base contains well over 100,000 names dating from 1987.

In another post I will outline some of the web pages and blogs devoted to individual counties or regiments(and battalions) that are of a more local nature. There are dozens of these and I am sure that I have missed quite a few.

Also, do not forget the printed word. There are hundreds of out of print books on the military out there. Many can be found using google books or the internet archive

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Researching Soldiers Of The First World War- Part 1

When looking for an ancestor who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force the very first place you can go are the Attestation Papers at Library and Archives Canada data base “Soldiers of the First World War“. Service numbers are the primary identifier in the Canadian Corps.

When the Battalions were been organized service numbers were allotted in number blocks. This did not last so do not assume that because your veteran has a service number in the 6000 block he served in the 1st.Battalion. Probably because of the tremendous growth in numbers in the Canadian Corps there was a certain amount of confusion in assigning numbers. There are some duplications in the early years. By 1915 this system was re-organized (of course with some exceptions), and each unit as it was organized was given a block of numbers and each soldier served throughout the remainder of the war with an unique service number. Even so, you do need that soldier’s service file if want to identify exactly which Battalion he served in in the trenches. The Battalion that he joined in Canada was not necessarily the Battalion he was sent to as a reinforcement once he reached France.

Following British army traditions, officers were not assigned service numbers. However, with the high casualty rate for officers in the trenches NCO’s were promoted. After promotion they were identified by name not service number from the date of their promotion. For these veterans when requesting service files from Library and Archives Canada  the researcher should use both the service number and name.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rally At Victoria Park For Veterans

Retired colonel Pat Stogran a staunch advocate for veterans as an ombudsman spoke to veterans in Victoria Park today decrying the lack of support for Veteran Affairs from our present Conservative Government. Among the issues that are at the forefront are pension benefits, lack of mental health care, impending cutbacks at Parkwood Hospital that will reduce the number of patients by 72, and a major budget cut planned in the Veteran Affairs Ministry.

Irene Mathyssen MP will take a petition signed by those present at the rally to the Minister of Veteran Affairs Jean-Pierre Blackburn.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tracing Father 1944-1945

I noticed  while looking at recent key word activity for this blog that there has been considerable interest in the prisoner of war maps. For me they have been useful in tracing my father's route through Poland and Germany as a P.O.W.
Some of Dad's Lancaster crew members 426th. Squadron, 1943. From my personal collection.
My father John Arnold Hillman was a P.O.W. from March 1944 to May 1945 at Stalag Luft 6,  Stalag Luft 4, and Stalag Luft 3. Tracing his route from Stalag to Stalag up to his liberation by British troops has been a challenge. Much of the online information is been written by American authors who do not seem to distinguish between Canadians and English. Perhaps to them we are all the same.

Dad’s Lancaster went down during a raid on Stuttgart on the evening of the 15th. March, 1945. He was captured not far from the Swiss border near Tiengen.  From Tiengen  he was taken to a P.O.W. camp in Frankfurt. In an interview for an article in the “London Free Press”(1) Dad remembered Frankfurt:

“Frankfurt was being bombed, While the prisoners were in air raid shelters, a 3,000 pound bomb dropped on the compound Hillman was in, and blew it to smithereens. Gone were most of their clothing and possessions. They were soon outfitted with American clothing and boots through the Red Cross.”(2) From Frankfurt Dad was shipped to Stalag Luft 6.(3)
Library and Archives Canada.

With the approach of the Russian army the P.O.W.’s  were transferred to Stalag Luft 4. One group was sent to the Baltic Port of Memel (now Klaipeda in Lithuania), and boarded steamers to Sinecure (now Swinouiscie in Poland). From there they boarded trains to Stalag Luft 4. Dad remembers what he calls a coal ship so I suspect that there were Canadians included in with the American P.O.W’s that traveled in this manner.(4)
Telegram from the International Red Cross lists John A. Hillman in Stalag Luft 4 in October, 1944. Library and Archives Canada.

From there Dad was in Stalag Luft 3 which was the site of the “Great Escape” portrayed in the 1963 film. To trace Dad’s route from Stalag Luft 3 to the Rhine is iffy. All I can say at this point is that he walked all of it. Apparently the American P.O.W.’s went to Stalag Luft 7A at Moosburg where they were liberated by Patton’s Third Army. Dad’s group: however, seems to have been marched North and West as he was liberated by the British Army near the Rhine.
P.O.W. telegram Dad sent from Stalag Luft 3 to his mother. Unfortunately there is no date or anything written on the inside. They were used to let relatives know that you were alive and well. Library and Archives Canada.



(1) “The London Free Press”, June 6, 1986
(2) Ibid.
(3)There is an interesting web page “G.P.S.- practice-and-fun” on Stalag Luft 6. Stalag Luft 6 was a P.O.W. camp for NCO”s (non-commissioned officers); however Dad clearly remembered that when he arrived his whole crew were there. Since his pilot was an officer I suspect that the Germans did not necessarily follow any NCO only rule.Also a month after his capture Dad was promoted.
(4) In the “Free Press” article Dad remembers being boated to Heldelberg to a new Stalag Luft 6 before he was sent to Stalag Luft 4.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Harry Wellington Swanson #6406

There are two dates given for Harry Swanson’s birth - in his attestation papers he gives his date of birth as April 12, 1873. In the Ontario Canada Births, 1869-1911 there is a declaration signed by his brother on  16th. Of March 1931 that he was born April 12,1870. He was born to David Swanson and Mary Whyte. In his 1914 attestation papers he says St.Mary's, Ontario, and in the 1917 attestation papers Scotland. By 1914 he was living in Windsor. The second attestation paper suggests that he returned to Canada (probably wounded), and re-enlisted. To trace him further means finding his record of service file at Library and Archives Canada.
Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada

In a letter published in “The Windsor Evening Record” (1) Harry Swanson wrote:

“It makes a fellow feel pretty good when he gets a letter from someone at home, especially when the bullets are flying around. They are coming pretty thick just now. We take shifts of five hours on and eight hours off. The heavy batteries have started on our left; I suppose they are going to take another place over there. We captured three miles of trenches  the day before yesterday, Feb. 9, and one mile and a half yesterday, Feb. 10. I am not allowed to say in my letter where I am, but I am here and on the job.(2)

This isn’t war, Harvey, this is hell, and then some. The Germans are using all kinds of bullets on us, from dum-dums to split noses. (3)They are using a lot of flat-nosed bullets that expand about four inches, and when one hit’s a man in the forehead it takes very nearly all his head with it.

This has been a beautiful country, but you ought to see it now. The Germans have destroyed everything in sight, the church spires and convents being a special target for their big guns. One of the men who left Windsor with me - he lives in the east end- got struck with a piece of shrapnel, which took a pound or two of ‘steak’ with it. He is getting along fine. I am not allowed to tell what his name is.

We are going out of the trenches tomorrow for a few day’s rest, then we have to come back and face the music again. I have been very lucky so far: I haven’t had a scratch, but some close shaves. The Germans have the greatest spy system in the world and we are picking some of their spys (4) up every day. Some of the French, too, are selling their own country, but you know what we do with them.

If any of the boys would care to send us a few cigars or cigarettes I would feel like a millionaire. We have plenty of money, but we cannot buy anything. By the time we get a place the Germans have taken everything and there is nothing left to buy.”







(1) The Windsor Evening Record, April 7, 1915.

(2) The 1st. Battalion at this time were just outside of Ypres undergoing training. Unfortunately, the unit war diary starts after this date. We do know that the war diary of the 1st. Field Company (engineers) places the engineers at Neuf-Berquin in Northern France near the Belgium border. The infantry would be near. At this time the Canadians were occupying trenches under the supervision of British Battalions as was outlined in an earlier posting of a veteran’s interview.

(3) The terms dum dum and split nose are almost interchangeable. Both refer to hollow point bullets designed to expand on contact.

(4) I know - it’s spelled “spies” but I try not to correct their spelling. It’s hard not to. Perhaps I should put a red sp. next to the word?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

German P.O.W. Camps

Its amazing what you can find in a shoebox. When my father John Arnold Hillman was admitted to the Veterans Hospital in London, Ontario, my brother and I started to look through the things that my father had saved in shoe-boxes. One contained his and my mother’s medals, and the silver star which had been given to my grandmother after uncle Bruce’s death in 1945. Another contained what I think is a bayonet, and a well worn burnt in places map of German prisoner of war camps.

I could not get the whole map digitalized as a single unit so I took several pictures. Dad was in Stalag Luft 6, and Stalag Luft 4. It has been a bit of a challenge to trace his route from East Prussia to the Rhine where he was liberated by the British Army.
The map was given to the Elgin County Military Museum in St.Thomas, Ontario.

Port Burwell Lands Sub

An article in “The London Free Press” today states that the Elgin Military Museum has decided to exhibit their cold war era submarine, the H.M.C.S. Ojibwa, in the village of Pt. Burwell. 
H.M.C.S. Ojibwa
The H.M.C.S. Ojibwa is an Oberon class submarine that the Canadian Navy commissioned in 1963. She was based in Halifax until she was decommissioned in 2001.

The Newfoundland Regiment and The Great War

We are getting away from Southwestern Ontario but anyone with a Newfoundlander in their family tree should be aware of this excellent data base. The data base contains the names of over 6000 men who served in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment during the Great War. If existing the data base contains each soldier’s attestation sheet, troop conduct sheet (yes, the bad boys are there), casualty forms, Medical forms, allotment forms (these forms were used to deduct part of their pay that would go to family back in Newfoundland), and application for pensions. These are a few of the forms as there are more included depending on the soldier involved.

This is the type of data base I would like to see from Library and Archives Canada.  The numbers of men and women involved are of course quite a bit different; however, it could and should be done.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

James Fiddes Murray #6256

James Fiddes Murray was born March 31, 1884 in London, Ontario to Scott Murray and Judy (Ancestry.ca has her as July which seems to me to be a transcription error) Fiddes. He died on September 7, 1948 in London, Ontario. He enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Valcartier on September 18, 1914. He was with the 1st. Battalion until January, 1917 . He then returned to Canada on January 23, 1917. He reenlisted and left for England August 10, 1917 where he served with the Canadian Railway Troops and Canadian Postal Corps until he was discharged at London, Ontario, April 8, 1919.(1)
Attestation Papers, Library and Archives Canada

He received the Distinguished Conduct Medal March 11, 1916:
“For consciencious gallantry; during a bombardment, he continually carried messages under heavy shrapnel fire. With a comrade’s assistance he rescued three men who had been buried in a “feather” trench after the remaining five in the same place had been killed. He also did fine work on three other occasions.”(2)
Distinguished Conduct Medal, Veteran Affairs Canada   

He was interviewed by the “London Advertiser” when he returned home in 1917.

“He is the second last of the original 1st. Battalion, who remain. The other, Sergt. Chas. Owens, D.C.M, Woodstock, is now the last man of the battalion that left London in August, 1914, to go to the front.
Sergt. Murray went into the trenches in February, 1915, and came out on November 29th, 1916, 22 months continuous service. During that time he had two holidays, one of eight days after ten months fighting, and one other of ten days.
“I am one of the lucky fellows,” said Murray, when questioned abut his record. “I only did what I could not help doing. I do not deserve any more credit than lots of other boys, who only had a short stay in the trenches. They did what they could, and that’s all I did.”
“I lost nearly all my pals. The majority of them are killed. One loses a lot of friends when a battalion is shot to pieces. I miss them very much, That’s war, and, this is an awful war, believe me.”
Sergt. Murray was named for the D.C.M. at Givenchy, where Lieut.-Col. Becher was killed. He carried the colonel back, and later dug three companions out of the trenches where they were buried. He volunteered as an ambulance man, and spent the night on the battlefield, looking after the wounded.” (3)


(1) Particulars of Service, Canadian Expeditionary Force, Library and Archives Canada.
(2) Library and Archives Canada.
(3) “The London Advertiser”, February 1, 1917.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jesse Carl Biggs

Jesse Carl Biggs #7172 is an interesting case of a man who served in both the  South African, and First World War. He was born in Windsor, Ontario, 26 April, 1880 to A. James Biggs and Sarah ?. (1901 Canada Census) The Biggs family were originally from Ohio.
 Men from the Essex Fusiliers in Company "B" of the First Contingent. Windsor Public Library. Biggs is 2nd. from the left in the first row.

Jesse Carl Biggs is referred to in the book, “Painting The Map Red: Canada and The South African War” by Carman Miller. He was at first rejected from enlisting apparently because of chest size. Actually, he should have been rejected because of age but apparently this was not taken into account. However, contacts in London used their influence to get him in. This was Victorian Ontario after all where status and politics accounted for a lot.


“Bloemfontein, O.F.S., April 14, 1900

To Mr. Wm. Gray:

Dear Sir, - Possibly  you will be surprised to hear from me again, for I should have written more frequently. In order that you may remember me, I will say here at the beginning that I am the boy whom you helped into Company “B” of the Royal Canadian Regiment after he was discouraged by rejection. I have often thanked you for what you did that day in London. If I had had to go back to Windsor I don’t know what would have become of me.” (1)

Library and Archives Canada has a Jesse Carl Biggs font which contains four letters to his aunt Alice C. Dick during his service in South Africa. Unfortunately this is not online.

The 1911 Canada Census finds Jesse Carl Biggs in Edmonton, Alberta. In 1915 he joined the 3rd. Canadian Mounted Rifles as Captain and Adjutant. To find out more about his service from 1915 to 1918 it would be necessary to get a look at his service record from Library and Archives Canada. Needless to say, these records are not online.
               Attestation Papers, Library and Archives Canada.

We do know that the 3CMR left for England in June 1915 as part of the 1st. Canadian Mounted Rifles Brigade. This unit operated basically as an infantry unit. In 1916 the 3CMR was broken up and used as reinforcements for 1st. and 2nd CMR to bring their numbers up to battalion strength.


(1) “The London Free Press”, May 28, 1900.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Canadian Contingent in South Africa - “B” Company of the First Contingent


 Sample of South African Medal Rolls - Library and Archives Canada.


“B” Company comprised of the men from Southwestern Ontario. The following is a list of names I have been able to get out of newspapers of the era. There may well be some holes. I will fill them in as I continue the research.

Anderson, A.H. - St.Thomas - #7162
Andrews, E.C. -Windsor - #7161
Atkinson, D.H. - Ailsa Craig - #7163
Ballard, H.E. - Stratford - #7164
Barr, H.B. >- Windsor - #7165
Becher, Archibald Valancey#, Sergeant - #7257
Bethune, Alexander - Sergeant -  London - #3068
Biggs, J.C. - Windsor - #7172
Beers, F.C. +- Windsor- #7167
Bowden, R.B. - Windsor - #7153
Buchan, L., Lieut.-Col.
Brenden. J.G. - Brantford - not at L&A
Burns, W.J. - London - #7168
Burwell, H. - Chatham - not at L&A
Campbell, Glen Eden - #6330
Carley, J.H. - Mt.Forest - not at L&A
Craig, E.D. - Windsor - #7179
Dalgleish, Arthur Duncan> - Galt - #7183
Day, J. - New York - #7182
Dolman, E.N. - Windsor - #7185
Donahey, H.R. - London - not at L&A
Donegan*, John Andrew - London - #7188
Edwards, A. - Sweaburg - #7189
Evans, F. - London - #7190
Farley, J.E. - St.Thomas - #7157
Foote, W. - Galt - #7191
Galloway, George William> - Quartermaster-Sergt. - London - #228
Gorman, Frederick - Sarnia - #7154
Gorrie, W.B. - Chatham - #7194
Graham, G. - St.Mary’s - #306
Green, W.J. - London - #7197
Greene, A.E.C. - London - #261
Hendrie, Murray> - London - Sergeant - #7345
Hill, J.C. - London - #7202
Jell, A.P. - Walkersville - #7205
Johnston, K.G. - Sarnia - #7207
Jones, M.L. - Goderich - #7206
Lane, H. - Ingersoll - #7209
Leonard, G.W. - Woodstock - #7208
Marentette, Victor F.+ - Windsor - #7218
Marshall, A. - Woodstock - #7217
Mason, J.C.> - Lieut. - London - officers do have reg.#
McBeth, George - Strathroy - #185
McLean, M. - Ailsa Craig - #7212
McMahon, W. H. - Guelph - #7213
McMillan, D.C. - Thedford - #7214
McMurchy, A. - London - not at L&A
Moore, D.L. - London - #7089
Mullins, Ernest* - London - #3676
Munro, G.H. - Ailsa Craig - #7219
Northwood, J. - Windsor - #7222
Peart, Ernest W. - St.Mary’s - #7226
Powell, J. - Galt - #7229
Rae, A.H. - Glencoe - #7230
Reid, D.A. - Windsor - #7232
Robinson, J.B. - Windsor - #7235
Odlum, V.W. - Toronto - #7223
Odlum, G.M. - Toronto - #7224
Padden, Arthur E.+ - Windsor - not in L&A
Phillips, G.R.S. - Windsor - #7155
Pink, H. - St.Thomas - not in L&A
Rorison, C.K. - Windsor - #7234
Scott, C.R. - Forest - #7239
Sipi, George B.+ - Sergeant - London -  not in L&A
Smith, John - Thames ford - #7156
Smith, Robert* - London - #7236
Stanbury, F.G.  - St.Thomas - #7237
Stevenson, William Richard - London- #7101
Stuart, Duncan E. (Major)> - London
Sutherland, J. - St.Thomas - #7238
Trolley F.H. - Alvinston - #7242
Webb, A. B. - Clinton - #7251
Wells, J. - Elora - #7246
Westaway, H. - St.Thomas - #7250
Wheatcroft, A.H. - London - #7252
White*, Walter Raymond McCullough. - Windsor - #7255
Wilson, A. R. - Clinton - #7247
Wilson, H.R. - Tillsonburg - #7159
Woodward, A.W. - London - #7249

Symbols - *died in South Africa - >land application (land applications are not online; however, they can be accessed through Library and Archives Canada) - + wounded - L&A - Library and Archives Canada
Medal rolls, Service Files, Land Application records are available at Library and Archives Canada. They are not online; but you can access them on microfilm. Microfilm reel numbers are online. Not of the records are available.

Burwell, H might be Burwell, Alfred Edward. The newspapers sometimes get the initial wrong.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Boer War - London Area Casualties

On the side of London’s Boer War Memorial is a list of six names of men who died in the fighting in South Africa.

Deaths did not even come close to the scale experienced in the Great War. The Boer War was Londoners’ first taste of battle outside of  Canadian borders. They were very enthusiastic about the whole thing. In 1900 the average Londoner considered himself a good citizen of the British Empire, and they supported the Canadian Contingent wholeheartedly. To judge by pictures in the local newspapers, that supposedly depicted reality, one can see something of a romanticizing of the war. Nothing was mentioned about getting your head blown off by a dumdum bullet. That would change after the Great War.
                          "The London Free Press", March 24, 1900.
Company “B”, Royal Canadian Regiment. “City Of London: The Pioneer Period and The London Of Today”, 1900, p.175.

John Andrew Dunegan #7188
Killed in battle at Paardeberg February 18, 1900. He was buried in the Vendusiedrift Garden of Remembrance, Paardeburg (Veteran Affairs Canada: The Canadian Virtual War Memorial). He is #17 in the above photo.

Douglas Leeds Moore #7089

Died of enteric fever February 14, 1900 at Orange River Station, South Africa. He was born September 1877 to George James Moore and Agnes ? in Cambridgeshire, England (England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915). He is buried at the West End Cemetary, Kimberley, South Africa (The Canadian Virtual War Memorial).

Robert Smith #7036

I have very little on Robert Smith. He is  #11 on the above group photo. He was killed February 18, 1900 at Paardeburg along with John Andrew Dunegan. He is buried at the Vendusiedrift Garden of Remembrance, Paardeberg.

William George Adams #7160
He died of enteric fever on April 16, 1900 at Bloemfontein. He was born in 1881 to Robert Adams and Isabella (Bella) Stockdale in London, Ontario (Canada Census 1881). He is buried at the President Brand Cemetary, Bloemfontein. He is #2 on the group photo above.

Ernest Mullins #3676
Another one that is difficult to find. He died June 11, 1900 at Kroonstad, and is buried at the Kroonstad Garden of Remembrance. According to his entry in the Canadian Virtual War Memorial he was 26 years old.

Francis George William Floyd #7193
He was born May 14, 1878 to William Floyd and Hannah Osworth in Middlesex County (Ontario Birth Records), and was killed at Zand River in the Orange Free State. He is buried at the Kroonstad Garden of Remembrance. He is #21 in the group photo above.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Changed Profile Photo

I changed the profile picture. Thought maybe the graduation photo of June, 1974 added an aura of Yep I really did get those degrees!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Victoria Park

I have been trying out a new (to me new) digital camera. So off I go to Victoria Park to get those shots of anything military.

Victoria Park is what is left of the parade grounds of the British garrison in London. It's 15 acres of cool quiet oasis in the middle of the city. It's also the home of dozens of very fat black squirrels.
The Boer War Memorial is I think the center piece for the park. It was erected in 1912 although I could stand to be corrected on this. Just in front out of the picture are four cannons from the Crimea War. Why these cannons are here I do not know as of yet. Perhaps they were left by one of the British regiments. (Looks like I need to redo the date on the photos.)

The "Holly Roller" is a Sherman tank that saw service with the 1st. Hussars in World War 2. For the kids its a climbing toy. I climbed over it as a kid ,as did my sons, and I expect any grandchildren I might have.

The Cenotaph was erected in 1934, and it is here that Remembrance Day ceremonies are carried out each November 11th.
The Dutch Canadian Memorial Carillon erected in 2006 just to the west of the Cenotaph.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Robert John Edwards

        In the collection of the London Room, London Public Library.


Robert John Edwards #190186 was born on March 2, 1892 in the County of Suffolk, England. He died in London, Ontario January 25, 1977. He was a well know maker of stained glass windows in the London area. He joined the Canadian expeditionary Force on March 22, 1916. At the time he was living in Union, Elgin County, Ontario.



                                     Library and Archives Canada

 “I enlisted on the 22nd. March 1916. My training, what little I had, was in St. Thomas- I had very little in Canada. I had some at the ranges over London west at the Coves. They picked me out there as a sniper, my being a crack shot, and they sent me on a six weeks training course in England. There was 12 men in the group- the crack shots. I joined the 1st. Battalion in the Second Battle of the Somme. That’s where I got my initiation. That was October, 1916.

We would be back of our trenches- behind them. We would hide anywhere - I can remember being in a hollow tree one time. Another time I got up into an old house and I crawled up and sniped from the top of a big square chimney.

Half a mile down there might be another sniper, then we would cover the area facing us. We had telescopic sights right on the rifle. We would be in our cubbyhole all day- maybe all night and move early in the morning. We’d take our food along- whatever we had- and we might sit all day without firing. Of course, when we fired we sort of exposed ourselves to a certain extent, but just a single shot didn’t make much noise because there was firing all along the line.
             1st. Battalion's #2 Scout Platoon Library and Archives Canada

(Vimy Ridge) It was mostly sniping and observation. You’d have a big map and mark out these places on the map and get your locations and distances and then memorize them so you’d really know where you were shooting. As a sniper you’d carry a long distance. In some instances we might even be a few hundred yards behind the lines. We used Lee-Enfields. I took the Ross (1) to France with me but exchanged it for a Lee-Enfield. They (the Rosses) were too big and clumsy for sniping. I remember once, I picked out a German sniping post. I finally got a range on that and it wasn’t very long before they soon disappeared somewhere. They knew that somebody had got track of them so they soon disappeared. I remember all through the winter of 1916, I was in a place called Soucez, right in the Souchez Valley, back of Vimy ridge- I sniped there all that winter in 1916 and the spring of ‘17. The Battalion was in the line, but the line was very quiet, other than the sniping. There was about a dozen snipers in the battalion- three from each company. As a sniper we got out of a lot of fatigues. I’ve seen me going into the line and taking up a position on a step and stay there all day and all night and maybe never fire a shot. We used a telescopic sight on the rifle. We were shooting (the target) may have been three or four hundred yards, but we knew the distance. We had previously checked out the potential targets on a map so we knew the exact distance of each. We spent the winter with the battalion training, shooting, bombing with the Mills bomb and keeping in shape.”(2)


(1) The Ross Rifle was Sir Sam Hugh’s baby. The problem with it was that it tended to jam at absolutely the worst moments in a fire fight, and became nothing more than an expensive club.
(2) Interviews by William G. McKenzie with veterans of the 1st. Battalion in the London Room, London Public Library.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- 1st. Battalion



1st. Battalion at Valcartier 1915 Library and Archives Canada.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Music Drives The Cares Away

Bandsman William Christopher Dillmutt #190075 wrote to Francis Patterson of Dutton, Ontario from France in 1917. (“The Dutton Advance” August 2, 1917).

Attestation Paper: Library and Archives Canada


“You have asked me to tell you something of what I am doing. When the boys arein the trenches we are practicing new music to entertain them when they come out. We play for them twice daily when they are resting. During the past week we were very busy, doing sentry duty twice a day, a concert in the afternoon and some place or other at officers’ mess. Sometimes the officers give a garden party and of course that means we have to play. At present the boys are back in the trenches and we go on with our daily routine - polishing buttons and cleaning up in the morning, inspection, practice, then dinner, more practice in the afternoon, then we have our so-called supper - not cold ham, strawberries, ice cream and cake, but just tea, bread and jam.

The boys love the music and ours is the only band here that has officers leading them. We always have the newest music, but the boys like the rag-time the best. We often play for the Y.M.C.A.”

Music and songs were important to the soldiers. It allowed them some release from the horrors of the trenches by reminding them of home, and relieving some stress. Many of the songs you see on archival sites such as Library and Archives Canada were not the most popular songs sung by front line troops. Remember that the Western Front was very much a male dominated society. Writing the lyrics here to many of the songs would probably  result in this blog being considered in bad taste - Eh!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Harry William Rowlands

Harry William Rowlands #402392 was born 10 June, 1892 in Birmingham, England. Unfortunately I do not yet have the date when he died. Originally he enlisted in the 34th. Battalion, and then sent to the 1st. Battalion as a reinforcement. Harry Rowlands ran a successful flower shop in London for many years. The interview with Harry Rowlands took place on 27 November, 1974. The cassette tapes of the interview are in the London Room, London Public Library.





“Plugstreet Woods was a noted place. We got the name Plugstreet from the fact that the name of the little town was Ploegsteert which is Flemish and it became Plugstreet to us.

We were at Plugstreet for quite some time- about two or three months- in and out of the trenches. We would put in six or eight days in the trenches and then we would move out to Brigade Reserve, a matter of not more than a couple of miles behind the front lines for a few days. That is where the brigade offices were. You would then go back into the trenches for another six of eight days and then you would be taken out again and sent back to divisional reserve. That was about five or six miles to the rear. You might possibly be able to get a bath there of some sort. There were no tents or huts even there.”

“While we were at Ploegsteert we got word that we were going to parade as close to the trenches as we could, which meant about five miles because Lord Kitchener was coming through. He had been making a survey of the front and they had the troops that were out of the trenches on their resting period lined up for inspection up along a highway as far as you could see. There was a cluster of generals waiting for Kitchener to come down into their section and amongst them was our firebrand, Sam Hughes. (1) He was a firebrand. He got into an argument with this Australian. Sam Hughes, as usual, was boasting that the Canadian troops were the best in the world and the Australian thought his were just as good and to prove it he would show him and started to take off his coat and put up his fists- all this in front of thousands of men. Now this was something that we watched. He was a real firebrand. (2)(3)”






(1) Sir Sam Hughes was Minister of Militia at that time. He was a real character. The center of a whirlwind of motion decisions were often made off the cuff resulting in a great deal of confusion. The English thought that he was mad; however, he did keep them from using  Canadian troops as reinforcements for battered English Battalions.
(2) by 1917-1918 the Canadians and the Australians were certainly the cockiest troops on the Western
Front. If they were bivouacked near each other the British took to putting British troops between them.
(3) Berlin, Ontario was renamed Kitchener after Lord Kitchener.

Photo #1: Attestation Papers, Library and Archives Canada.
Photo #2: King George, Queen Mary and Lord Kitchener inspect Canadian troops on the Salisbury  Plain, 1914. These troops are part of the First Contingent which included the 1st. Battalion. Library and Archives Canada.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Maurice Henry Brown

Henry Maurice Brown #6189 was born on 19th. January, 1894 in Cheltenham, England, and died on the 23rd. January, 1985 in London, Ontario. He was interviewed sometime in the 1970’s (I do not have the exact date of the interview). The cassette tape of the interview is in the London Room of the London Public Library, London, Ontario.



“I was working down at Cook Fitzgerald (attestation papers show him as a shoemaker) when war was declared and I just suddenly went. I didn’t even go back to the factory, I just left. I don’t think I gave notice that I was going, just walked off. There was myself, and Ed Barney( #6175) and another chap in the same boarding house and the son (Roy Curtis #6202) of the landlady. Both of them were killed at Ypres. All three of us went up right then and joined. We were living at 308 Ridout Street, across from the old jail. We went up to the London (Dundas Street) Armory, just walked right in there and offered our services. ‘Aye, you’re not very big, said the recruiting sergeant, but come on in.’ I was 5’4” and weighed 130 at the time. ‘How’s your health?’ First Class, I said, perfect condition. They had me up before the medical officer right away and from there I was sworn in and equipped- the same day. I went home that night and packed up what clothes I had.”

Ypres- April 1915

“Our company was to the left. My platoon was led by Chester Butler (1). I followed him. He and I stuck together all the way- in full day light this was, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. You could just run for so long- if there was any cover you took it. You just had to take your chance. The ridge was pretty near a mile away so we had to do it in leaps and bounds. Every time an officer blew his whistle another group got up and moved ahead for a few yards. As we got close to the trench- we were a little to the left- the trench we were about to occupy, which had been vacated by the French troops  during the gas attack, we saw a nice little ridge. So we sat  down for a half a minute to catch our breath when a big shell exploded above us and rained shrapnel down on us. One caught me on the right hip and another one in the back. Fortunately the Germans were still using up their old style pre-war ammunition and the shrapnel consisted of round balls- not like the sharp jagged pieces of metal they used later on- and they made a much cleaner wound. So I just dug it out of my leg myself- and was it hot! But Chester- he didn’t have on heavy equipment as I had- busted his kneecap. He said, ‘I think I’ve got it, I don’t think I can move.’ So I said, ‘We’ve got to get out of here Ches. We’d better crawl over and make as small a target as possible’. That’s what we did, we crawled over and I helped yank him into the trench. We were on the left about 25 or 30 feet from the Pilckem Road. There we stayed and before I left this little ridge that thumb I had hold of my rifle at the time a bullet came right across the top of it and flattened it and took that nail clean off. It didn’t hurt, but in a few minutes it was sore. Then I couldn’t handle my rifle. It was a bad day.”



(1).Walter Chester Butler in attestation papers as Lieutenant. Officers were not assigned regimental numbers.
Photo: Library and Archives Canada.