Friday, May 13, 2011

William George Kerr and William Stewart McKeough

Both William George Kerr and William Stewart McKeough were at the time Lieutenants in the 18th. Battalion.

William George Kerr was born 13 December 1894 in Chatham, Ontario. (1) He survived the war.

Library and Archives Canada.
In a letter published in the “London Free Press”, November 1, 1915, he discusses the state of the Battalion in France.

“Speaking of the Ross rifle. “It’s all right. The men like it since we have had the chamber bored out a bit, and one of our snipers picked off two Germans at 650 yards, so you could not kick much at that.

We were bombarded on our first day by high explosive shells, coal boxes and 8-inch shells. I can’t say that I felt very brave when the first one lit about 25 feet from me on our wire.

The form of trench here is narrow and irregular. As regards traverses they are almost wholly built above ground of sandbags, the parapets and parados being about the same height.

They were quite dry, too, in wet weather. We used no loopholes. Periscopes are utilized by day and by night a man puts his head up between two loose sandbags. The dugouts were fine, and I guess the men had a pretty good time. I could stand up easily in my dugout, and it was about eight feet square. This is a terrible country for mud, and when it rains it is almost impossible.”

William Stewart McKeough (1) was born 2 September 1893 in Chatham, Ontario, and died 15 September 1916.

Canadian Virtual War Memorial, Veterans' Affairs, Ottawa.
Library and Archives Canada
In a letter also published in the “London Free Press” , November 1, 1915 he wrote:

“We have been in the game over here almost a month and having lost little time after our arrival in France in gaining experience or instruction. We have been kept busy. You may have heard by this time of our narrow escape in crossing this channel, when our transport was rammed amidships by a torpedo boat steaming 22 knots per hour and for several long and dreary hours we were truly a shipwrecked crew in distress, on a cold black night and a choppy sea.

The next few wet days were occupied in heavy marches over cobblestone roads across France. By the end of the week we had taken over our trenches and had received our baptism of fire in good order. We have since then been in and out or just behind the line in, support or reserve.

The Canadians to date have not been utilized as a driving force, but, of course, have had our part to play in other ways, connecting with the move on the 25th of last month.(3) On that day we surely realized that we were in the midst of a terrific bombardment by our artillery, which, however, was carried on more particularly and incessantly some distance south of us. Last week, after enjoying a few days and a bath, etc, two miles behind, we turned over our line, which was composed of exceptionally good trenches, and moved a few miles north, taking over a new frontage. Our former trenches were splendid, but these I believe are in a class by themselves - a hot corner where the wind and water of Flanders, large quantities of which we have already encountered, are at their best.

For the past two days we have been occupying dugouts just a year old, which, having been hurriedly and very poorly constructed, are now rotting and falling to pieces. Damp, musty and filthy, with the grass and weeds and moss sprouting in patches over the sand bagged walls, we have been kept busy cleaning up and making them habitable, as well as building new quarters.

Altogether this is quite a life out here, everyone making the best of matters and all getting along in good style. I am enclosing you clipping from one of the London papers, which gives a rather elaborate account of the billeting system in France and Belgium. Well, we have put up in every kind of quarters, in fields, in barns, in sheds and stables, in tents, in live beds, on marble floors and in dugouts, etc.

I was fortunate one night in locating a grand Louis quatorge canopied feather bed, while the following night caught a good four hours’ sleep on a bundle of straw in a manger with a noisy young calf, having to pull out at 2:30 a.m. in the pouring rain to go into the trenches. Such is this life.”

(1) He was born to John Garner Kerr and Louisa McLean in Chatham, Ontario. Archives of Ontario, Registrations of Births and Stillbirths - 1869-1911. John Garner Kerr was a lawyer, businessman, and a judge.

(2) His father was William Edward McKeough ( 12 February 1860-3 December 1929). He was mayor of Chatham, Ontario in 1904. Family papers are held by the Ontario Archives as the William Edward McKeough Family fonds ( F 2131). William Stewart’s nephew William Darcy McKeough became a member of the Provincial Legislature for West Kent in 1963, and later the Minister of Municipal Affairs (1967, 1972), Minister of Energy (1973-1975), and Treasurer and Minister of Economics and Intergovernmental Affairs (1975-1978).

(3) Although not stated I think that the letters were written sometime in October so that the reference may well be to the Battle of Loos, September 1915.

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