Thursday, April 29, 2010

Battle Of The Atlantic

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest of the Second World War. A memorial garden is planned in London to honour the fallen in that battle.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

150th. Anniversary Of The Queen's Own

The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada marks its 150th. anniversary this month. The original unit the Second Battalion, Volunteer Militia Rifles of Canada was formed on 26 April 1860. Units participated in the Fenian raids, the Northwest Rebellion, First, Second and Korean Wars.

During the First War the Queen’s own provided the majority of men in the 3rd. Battalion of the Canadian Corps. The Queen’s Own also recruited for the 83rd., 95th.,166th.,and the 255th. Battalions. In May 1920 the regiment was renamed the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.

Monday, April 19, 2010

World War One Canadian War Graves In England

There is a project ongoing in England to photograph and profile all of the Canadian war dead of the First World War who are buried in England. The project website canadianukgraves list each veteran and the county in which he is buried. CD’s with more complete information can be ordered from the website .

Thursday, April 15, 2010

First Photographs Of Northwest Rebellion

The Northwest Rebellion of 1885 was a short lived uprising of the Metis of Saskatchewan, and some native allies against the Canadian Government. Canadian artillery Captain James Peters took photos of the conflict often on horseback, and often under fire.

This article that appeared in the Calgary Herald is a very interesting outline of how Captain Peters was able to photograph the conflict.

Photo: Captain James Peters Gun Pit 1885

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cooking For An Army

There is a great deal of information out there on the “sharp end”.  That is to say the infantryman in battle. So articles on other aspects of military life tend to catch my eye. As any great general knows supply can be the most difficult part of a campaign. This was one of the things that the Canadian Corps became very good at. This excerpt from the “Dutton Advance. Feb. 1917” caught my eye:

4,000 lbs. fresh meat and bacon
1,200 lbs. beans
1,500 loaves of bread
65 bags of potatoes
1,400 lbs. of sugar
400 lbs of coffee
100 lbs. of tea
300 gallons of milk
500 lbs. of butter
500 lbs. of oatmeal
Some of the staples provided  for a battalion en route Camp Borden, Ont., to Halifax, N.S.

“The Grand Trunk commissary car is the largest  traveling kitchen ever devised. It is eighty feet long, has a full sized hotel range ten feet in length, steam cooking apparatus, and sixty foot refrigerator space and store room capacity for many tons of provisions. Eight cooks work in it without confusion, while a passageway running the whole length of the car allows the military waiters to pass on their way to and from the coaches. When a battalion entrains the Commissary Department is always the subject of keen interest among the men in khaki. The military cooks are for the time being out of action. The comfort of the men, so far as diet is concerned, depends upon the railway’s crew, in charge of a specially chosen steward.  The system of service is explained to the soldiers by the steward at the first meal on the train. The non-commissioned officer in each coach appoints his own waiters. Punctually, as the minute hand of the watch reaches the meal hour the waiters from the first car on the train and the last car walk through to the commissary. The cooks have been preparing for hours and everything is ready and piping hot. Along the great counter is spread the various portions of the meal. It is breakfast time and the morning menu calls for oatmeal porridge, meats, potatoes, bread and butter, jam,, and coffee. Two men take the big trays of meats and potatoes, another the bread, already sliced and buttered, another the porridge, another the coffee and so to the end. As soon as the first two coaches have been supplied two more squads of waiters arrive until all are served. Within fifteen minutes every man on the train is busy with his meal. Serving over twelve hundred men in fifteen minutes without fuss or furore means organization and that is the secret of this railway’s method of handling the problem. The rule is that every man shall be amply supplied and nothing delights the cook more than to see the boys relish some favourite dish so well that that they come back for “more”. Three fine meals a day make happy interludes on the long rail journeys. The appreciation of the officers and men for the service given makes the hard work necessary in carrying out the task a pleasure to the men concerned.”

I would not doubt that many soldiers in the trenches probably looked back at their train trips with some nostalgia.

Friday, April 9, 2010

George Cole Hefford 25 May 1891- 9 April 1917 #189989

As part of the Vimy Ridge anniversary I thought that I would have a look at one of the local veterans who died at Vimy Ridge. Interesting at how a simple look up can turn into an all afternoon research project.

We can start with his obit published in the “Dutton Advance  May  1917”.

   “ On Friday Mrs. Hefford received official notice from Ottawa that her husband, Pte. George Hefford, had been killed in action at Vimy Ridge on April 9. He had enlisted with the 91st. Battalion in October, 1916, and went overseas in July last year. On the breakup of the battalion  in England he was transferred to the 38th. And had been in the trenches for several months. Pte. Hefford was 25 years of age, was born in England and came to Dunwich when a mere lad and made his home for a number of years with Mr. John G. McClallum, and for the past seven years resided in Dutton. He leaves his wife and two sons, aged four and two years, and also a brother , Harry, residing at Bowmanville. He is a member of the Canadian Order of Foresters.”

According to his attestation papers he was born in Yorkshire, England on 25 May 1891, he states that his father George Cole Hefford was a soldier. Unfortunately, that does not bear up to what’s in the English archives. George Cole Hefford was born 25 May 1891 and was baptized on 19 June 1891 in the County of Surrey(1). His father was also George Cole Hefford  (1861-1897)(2) and his mother Hannah Griffiths who were married in Kensington, London, England. It looks very much like his parents were life long residents of London, England, and according to census records worked mainly at labouring jobs. (3)

Of particular interest for me is the part of the Advance’s obit that mentions that he came to Dunwich Township as a mere lad. Was he a home child? As this is the year of the British Home Child perhaps it is worth it to find out more.

Photo: “Dutton Advance May 1917
(1) London, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813-1906, p.186
(2) England & Wales, Free BMD Death Index, 1837-1915.
(3)1881England Census, 1891 England Census.

93 Years Ago

On April 9,1917 the Canucks went over the top to begin the Battle of Vimy Ridge. One of the best planned and executed battles of the Western Front.

Photo: The Vimy Ridge Memorial “Canada Remembers” Veteran Affairs Canada.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Snake Hill Cemetery

Last night I enjoyed an hour long chat with my Pro Gen study group. The focus of the discussion was on educational opportunities available for genealogists.That led to a discussion of professional opportunities. As a historian I suggested that there was a role for genealogists to work with historians, archaeologists, etc. I thought that the archeological dig at Snake Hill near Ft. Erie, Ontario, in the 1990’s was a good illustration of the possibilities. One of the chatters had not heard of this dig and I promised to look into it and post .

There is an excellent book written by three of the principal organizers of the dig, “Death at Snake Hill: Secrets from a War of 1812 Cemetery,  Dundarn Press Ltd., 1993”. I also found an article from the New York Times about the dig and its aftermath.

Old Fort Erie is situated on the Niagara river a thrown baseball distance from Lake Erie. In 1814 it became a battleground where hundreds of men died. Today it has become a tourist destination, and old Ft. Erie is often visited by school groups (such as my own grade eight class- date unknown on purpose). It is also an area of rapid urban development . In 1987 a residential development project unearthed bones. It took an anonymous tip to a local newspaper to start things moving. The old development vs. heritage battle that still has not been resolved in Ontario. It took the interest of the U.S. Army to shame provincial and federal authorities into acting. An article by the Hamilton Spectator outlines some of the problems.

In total 28 skeletons were found. The work of identifying the skeletons makes for  fascinating reading. In the end it was found that they represented both militia and army units, and probably were those of men from Upper New York State and Vermont.

It would be interesting to find out what would have been found out with the advances in archeology since the 1990’s.

Photo: reparation of War of 1812 veterans to the United States.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


The battle of Vimy Ridge was fought from 9th  April to the 14th  April, 1917. Under its commander Sir Julian Byng  the Canadian Corps captured a ridge that the British and French suffered 150,000 casualties trying to capture in the previous years. The Canadian Corps lost 3598 men killed out of total casualties of 10,602.

The local boys were there. Lance-Sergeant Ellis Sifton of the 18th  Battalion won his Victoria Cross at this battle.

Lieutenant  Stuart Cameron Kirkland joined the 91st  Battalion in St. Thomas, Ontario, 16 April, 1916. The 91st Battalion was broken up in England, and its units were used to reinforce existing Battalions in France. A veteran (wounded ) of the Vimy battle he wrote to his brother in Dutton, Ontario(1).

    “Now that I am laid up in dry dock for repairs. I will have time to write more. Just a week ago yesterday morning I got “mine”. I had better try and tell you about it as well as I can without violating any of the censorship rules.
    Well, we knew of course for some time before that we were going to take part in a big offensive. We had been practicing and rehearsing  the details for several days, but didn’t know the hour it was to start till the very night before. Then the officers were informed of the zero hour. (The zero hour is the hour which the attack begins) All watches were synchronized, that is compared and set the same, so that there could be no mistake. All the battalions taking part were to be in the front line trenches ready by the appointed hour. Well our battalion moved off from billets early on Sunday evening and marched to our part of the line where we were to go over. It was one o’clock in the morning before I had my platoon in position in their jumping off trench, and we stood there in mud to our waists all night waiting for the eventful hour. I can never describe my feelings as I stood there waiting for the moment to come. At a certain hour our artillery was to open up on Fritz’s front line and we were to jump out and advance as near as possible, ready to rush his front line when our artillery fire was raised. About fifteen minutes before the time set, I took two water-bottles of rum and gave each of the men a good swallow, for it was bitter cold standing in the mud all night. Then I stood with watch in hand, waiting, waiting.

     Precisely on the moment the most wonderful artillery barrage ever known in the history of the world started. Hundreds, thousands of big guns, from 18-pounders to 15-inch guns, opened at the same second. Imagine 15-inch guns firing from miles behind the line and throwing each of them about 1,400 pounds of explosives. The very earth rocked, and the noise and thunder was awful and maddening. Then I jumped over the top and called to the boys to come on. I had gone about 15 yards when I felt a stinging sensation and looking down saw a trickle of blood  on my left hand. A Heinie machine gun had got me. At the same time a sergeant just to my right crumpled up in a heap, riddled with machine gun bullets. How lucky I was! I can never thank God enough for my escape. It was miraculous. How I only got one instead of a dozen I can never tell, and through the left arm of all places, when it might just as well as not have been through my head.
     I dived into a shell hole and got my arm tied up a bit. A wounded man come along and I helped to bandage him up in return for his helping me tie up my own. By that time our company was ahead of me, into Fritz’s front line and following our barrage on to the second line. Our men, you know were going ahead on a frontage of 12 miles long. Thousands and thousands of men, imagine the scene if you can.
     I got up and started ahead again, but I found my arm was going to be a bother so I turned back to go to a dressing station. By this time the German artillery was throwing everything they had at our old front line and on No Man’s Land to harass our supports coming up. It took me a long while to get back the few yards to our front lines. Heinie shells were dropping all around me. I got into a mine-crater with a couple of other wounded men, but a big shell dropped right in the crater not far from us and we thought it time to leave those parts. We finally got into the front line but a long way from where I had gone out a while before. The first thing I saw when I got into the trench was an officer I knew lying badly wounded and his batman near him dead. Just then a Heinie cam along on his way to the rear. Hundreds of prisoners went that way without escort. Our boys, when they surrendered, gave them a kick and told them to keep moving forward our rear, where they gathered them in droves and put them in big enclosures. The Heinie who came along while I was examining the wounded officer happened to be a Red Cross fellow, so I got him to bandage the wounds. Then I continued on my way out.
     In one place where the trench had been blown in and it was very narrow I came on a poor fellow lying lengthwise of the trench and everyone had been tramping right over him till he was almost buried in the mud. Of course he was dead so I suppose it didn’t inconvenience him any. But imagine the sensation of having to tramp on dead bodies. In another place I came on one of my own company lying with both legs blown off at the knees but still alive and conscious. I stopped and talked to him a few moments. Scenes like these are not uncommon in war.
     After dodging shells for sometime and seeing more than one party of men blown to atoms I finally found a dressing station. The doctor sent me down the line after dressing my arm, and after passing through the field ambulance and then the C.C.S. I was put on a hospital train for Boulogne, where I stayed just one night and was then packed into a hospital ship and ultimately arrived in Dover, thence by rail to Reading, and here I am.
     I will tell you more of my experiences in next letter. I may say just here that the Canadians “got there” anyway and  showed they could  fight as well as anyone and a little better than Heinie. We had beat him to a “farewell”.
     Well, I must close. My arm is doing nicely and doesn’t pain much. It was a lucky scratch. The bullet went through clean as a dollar making a nice clean wound.”

Photo: Library and Archives Canada. The 29th  Battalion in ‘No Man’s Land’ at Vimy Ridge
1. The Dutton Advance, 10 May, 1917.