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. 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.


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