Friday, January 28, 2011

The Dumbbells Come To London

"The London Advertiser" Speptember 27, 1919.
The Dumbbells was an entertainment troupe that was formed just after the battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. Formed to entertain the troops, and build moral, the members were formed from the ranks of the Third Division. Thus their name - which was also the division’s symbol.

As far as I know no one from Southwestern Ontario was a member of the Dumbbells. Managing Director and comedian was Capt. Merton Wesley Plunkett (1899-1966).

Library and Archives Canada
The Dumbbells played to the front line soldiers with skits and songs about life in the trenches. Theirs was very much a vaudevillian act. Through 1917 and 1918 the show would be taken to wherever the Canadian Corps happened to be . The skits tended to dark humour which went over well with soldiers, but was sometimes was over the heads of civilians who could not quite see the trench humour. Songs tended to be, for the time, racy, with titles like “These Wild, Wild, Women Are Making A Wild Man Of Me”, or “I Know Where The Flies Go”.

After the war the troupe re-formed, and after rehearsals in Orillia, opened for three nights September 30, October 1 and 2nd., 1919, at the Grand Theatre in London (the Grand is still here and thriving). Theatres in London by 1919 were mixing both vaudeville acts, and silent films, on their playbills.
Library and Archives Canada
Library and Archives Canada
Both London papers found the show well received. “The London Advertiser” in its review stated:

“A capacity audience, which included the staff and patients of the Western Military Hospital, was delighted with the performance of the “Dumbells” in the original overseas review. “Biff Bing Bang”, at the Grand Theatre last night. These talented artists, who repeat their bill tonight and twice tomorrow, present an offering which is of high order, the entire cast being male, although R.D. Hamilton, as Marjorie, could easily become the ace of female impersonators should he care to try for the honour. His work was of the best, possessing a good singing voice which aided greatly in the impersonation.”

“The artists in this company have served an average of sixteen months in the firing line before being selected by Capt. Plunkett for the revue, and last night was military night, the “boys” being welcomed in London by local soldiers, this being the opening engagement in Canada”. (1)

For “The London Free Press”;

“ London theatregoers were presented with something new, something, which they have not seen here before, last evening when “The Dumbbells” in their original overseas revue , “Biff Bing Bang” opened a three day engagement at the Grand. The house was packed to the roof and the boys in France got as much fun out of the entertainment as those present last evening , life on the other side was not as black as most folk imagine.” (2)

I might add in closing that they hit Broadway in May 1921 with their show “Biff, Bing, Bang”, and were a hit. The Dumbbells' popularity with veterans reminds me of the popularity that Bob Hope enjoyed with American veterans in his long career.

Library and Archives Canada. In front of the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway, New York, 1921.
 For more on the Dumbells, and biographies of some of the members, check out Library and Archives Canada "The Virtual Gramophone".

(1) “The London Advertiser”, September 30, 1919.
(2) “The London Free Press”, September 30, 1919.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ancestor Approved

Ruth Blair of Blair Archival Research. And her blog "The Passionate Genealogist", has nominated Veterans of Southwestern Ontario for the Ancestor Approved Award. Thank you very much Ruth. Ruth is a professional genealogist and researcher based, I believe in Toronto. Or as we say in London “Tranto”.

The Ancestor Approved Award was created by Leslie Ann Ballou of the “Ancestors Live Here” blog who asks two things of those who receive the award:

1. Write ten aspects of their research that surprised, humbled, or enlightened them.

2. Pass the award along to ten other researchers whose family history blogs are making their ancestors proud.
What ! - only ten aspects that surprise, enlighten, or humbled me in my researches ? Surprises seem to come every day !

1. I restricted my research to the counties of Southwestern Ontario partly because my own ancestors largely lived in this area, and I naively thought that researching in a restricted area might lessen the scope of my research. Give your head a shake Bruce! The shear volume of the material (I might add most of which is not online) is awesome.

2. Of all the frontline battalions that were in the trenches from 1915 to 1918 two do not have a published history. Guess which two ? The 1st. , and 18th. , from Southwestern Ontario, of course.

3. Tim Cook, a military historian from Ottawa, writes that the 1st. Battalion had the highest casualty rate in the First World War - a turnover of over 600%. (1) Increasingly, I am becoming aware of the fact that it is a rare family that was not affected in some way by the war.

4. That a Canadian identity predates what many historians identify as starting after Vimy Ridge. In the nineteenth century people viewed themselves as good Canadian subjects of the British Empire. I suspect, but its only conjecture that part of that has to do with an increasing number of 2nd. , and 3rd. , generations away from the pioneers. These generations have fewer or no memories of the old country, and are rooted in Ontario.

5. Just how many from my own family (paternal as well as maternal) served in the various wars, or skirmishes, that involved militia units (the Fenian Raids 1866-1870) , the Canadian Expeditionary Force (1914-1918), the Canadian Army, Airforce, and Navy (1939-1945). Quite surprising for a family that were largely peaceful hard shell Baptist farmers.

6. I have not yet found anything that would fit a Hollywood script. Anything I have seen from veteran memoirs outlines only a profound respect of soldiers for the Nursing Sisters - their Bluebirds. I suspect that anyone mistreating a nursing sister would have to answer to the “poor bloody infantry”.

7. Like the British we seem to be able to throw up some real eccentrics. These people are fun !

8. Local archives on the whole are not aware of what they have. I have found treasures that have not been catalogued. I do not think that the archivists really know what to do with this material.

9. Studying the 19th. Century militia units can give you a real insight into the social and cultural values of the society. It is clear that these people are Victorian Edwardian. They do not think as we do.

10. Genealogy is indeed a insight into the history of our province. It is interesting to see how our ancestors coped with the economics of the times, world events, and each other.

Ten blogs I would recommend ?

As I have said in a post in my other blog “Hillman’s Of Elgin County” I am not a big blog reader. I tend to be somewhat tough in my regard for blogs. I divide them into worthwhile, and fluff. I do keep tract of the following some of which I am sure have already been nominated:

1. "Anglo-Celtic Connections" by John Reid. John keeps us informed of the goings on at Library and Archives Canada. This is the most important archival source for military historians.

2. Brenda Dougall Merriman. A genealogist and writer. She is the author of “Genealogical Standards of Evidence: A Guide for Family Historians” (2010) published by Dundurn Press.
3. Diane Rogers "Canadian Genealogist, “Or“, “Jane’s Your Aunt” A well written blog that keeps me informed as to what’s happening in the British Columbia genealogy world.

4. Elizabeth Lapoint’s “Canadian Genealogist“. Elizabeth is a genealogist writer, and editor, of the Ontario Genealogical Society’s journal “Families”. Surprising this journal is in the London Room at my local library.

5. Elsie Cole’s “Librarians Helping Canadian Genealogist Climb the Family Tree”. God knows we need all the help from librarians and archivists that we can get.

6. I like Lori’s blog “Family Trees May Contain Nuts”. Actually the goings on in British Columbia fascinate me. Yes, I’ve been there.

7. You will notice that so far I have not listed any military blogs. Most seem to be centered around an individual soldier. A listing of what is available to date can be found on a blog sponsored through the CEF Matrix Project. “CEF WW1 Soldier Blogs”.
8. Annette Fulford’s blog “Canadian War Brides Of The First World War” looks at the War Brides of the First World War. This is a little known subject. Far better known are the Second World War war brides. For one thing there were more of them. Probably due to where the troops were in the two wars. The trenches were hardly a place for romance in spite of Hollywood.

9. There seems to be considerable interest in the nursing sisters. Sue Light’s blog “This Intrepid Band” looks at the British nursing sisters, and their experiences in the Great War. I find it of interest probably because the British nurses often found themselves working in different theatres of the war.

10. “Mole’s Genealogy” looks at the South African War. It’s an interesting history especially as there were some lessons of trench warfare which it appears no general paid much attention to.

(1) Tim Cook, "Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting The Great War 1917-1918", Vol.2, Penguin Canada 2009.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Middlesex County, Ontario, Militia Units

Well - Here’s where confusion reigns supreme. Try and sort through the Middlesex County pre-1900 militia units. We will give it a go in several postings.

First, something about the state of the militia in Southwestern Ontario prior to The Boer War. The Militia system was organized after the creation of Upper Canada in 1792 by the first provincial legislature in 1793. The militia system was based on the British regimental example. Was it an effective military system ? Hard to say as it was rarely tested. Units were quickly recruited during the Fenian Raids; however, units from this area did little more than guard Sarnia, and Windsor, and as such saw no action. By the 1870’s fear of invasion from the United States had abated, and the locals saw little reason to get excited over the militia. Ultimately the militia became an officer’s social club, and a way for an ambitious man to rise on the social ladder within his community. All that changes under the pressures of the First World War.

I will look at the 4th. Middlesex Militia Regiment first. Prior to the 1820’s little was done in organizing a militia regiment in Middlesex County (which includes London). In 1822 command of the regiment was given to James Hamilton ( a sheriff from Sterling). Companies were recruited on a township basis. At this time London was a village so when the individual is identified as from London usually that is a reference to London Township. In a muster of 1824 I found the following names:

Ira Schofield (Major)

J.S. Harrison (Captain)

Rosewell Mount (Captain)

Simeon Bullen

Duncan McKenzie

Richard Talbot

Daniel Hine

Hiram Schofield (Adjutant)

James Fisher (Lieutenant)

John Siddall (Lieutenant)

John T. Jones (Lieutenant)

William Geary (Lieutenant)

Thomas Lawrason (Ensign)

Archibald McFarlane (Ensign)

Daniel Campbell (Ensign)

William Putman (Ensign)

Thomas H. Summers (Ensign)

George Robson (Ensign)

In 1829 the 4th. Middlesex Regiment mustered 415 all ranks. Finding the names of anyone other than the officers is a daunting task. One would need the pay records of the regiment which may or may not be in Library and Archives Canada. Many of the records of this period have not survived.

Interesting that one of the burning questions for the regiment was - what colour should the uniforms be ? The Lieutenant Governor wanted a grey jacket with collar and cuffs of black velvet, and trousers of grey cloth. The officers wanted a green jacket, and sent one of their number off to Scotland to buy green cloth.

Secondly, as will happen when there are big fish in a little pond - the officers fought with each other. In 1829 Ira Schofield pressed court martial proceeding against Edward Allen Talbot. Apparently Talbot “in a seditious manner” resisted attending a muster of the regiment. Wouldn’t you know that the written proceedings of the court are nowhere to be found. Maybe he got the firing squad ?

Monday, January 24, 2011

More Bluebirds

Bessie Maud Hanna second from the left. "The London Advertiser, July 20, 1916". Others are not identified.
This photo was sent to the “London Advertiser” by Bessie Maude Hanna, a nursing sister who served at the Ontario Hospital, Orpington, Kent, England.

Library and Archives Canada
In 1915 the Ontario Government donated $2 million dollars to build a treatment center for soldiers wounded on the Western Front. Fully staffed, it treated over 15,000 soldiers from 1915 to 1919. There were 182 who died. Most are buried in the “Canadian Corner” of the All Saints churchyard . Not only Canadian soldiers but all soldiers in the British Expeditionary Force were treated. Advances in plastic surgery, and occupational therapy for shell shock victims, were pioneered here. Renamed the 16th. Canadian General Hospital during the war the building was torn down in the 1980’s. It has been replaced by a modern hospital.

C.B.C Archives, prefab unit 16th. General Hospital

Monday, January 17, 2011

The country the world forgot - again

This article was written by Kevin Myers, an Irish journalist, for the London Telegram, 21 April, 2002. It bears repeating.

“UNTIL the deaths last week of four Canadian soldiers accidentally killed by a US warplane in Afghanistan, probably almost no one outside their home country had been aware that Canadian troops were deployed in the region. And as always, Canada will now bury its dead, just as the rest of the world as always will forget its sacrifice, just as it always forgets nearly everything Canada ever does.

It seems that Canada's historic mission is to come to the selfless aid both of its friends and of complete strangers, and then, once the crisis is over, to be well and truly ignored. Canada is the perpetual wallflower that stands on the edge of the hall, waiting for someone to come and ask her for a dance. A fire breaks out, she risks life and limb to rescue her fellow dance-goers, and suffers serious injuries. But when the hall is repaired and the dancing resumes, there is Canada, the wallflower still, while those she once helped glamorously cavort across the floor, blithely neglecting her yet again.

That is the price which Canada pays for sharing the North American Continent with the US, and for being a selfless friend of Britain in two global conflicts. For much of the 20th century, Canada was torn in two different directions: it seemed to be a part of the old world, yet had an address in the new one, and that divided identity ensured that it never fully got the gratitude it deserved.

Yet its purely voluntary contribution to the cause of freedom in two world wars was perhaps the greatest of any democracy. Almost 10 per cent of Canada's entire population of seven million people served in the armed forces during the First World War, and nearly 60,000 died. The great Allied victories of 1918 were spearheaded by Canadian troops, perhaps the most capable soldiers in the entire British order of battle.

Canada was repaid for its enormous sacrifice by downright neglect, its unique contribution to victory being absorbed into the popular memory as somehow or other the work of the "British". The Second World War provided a re-run. The Canadian navy began the war with a half dozen vessels, and ended up policing nearly half of the Atlantic against U-boat attack. More than 120 Canadian warships participated in the Normandy landings, during which 15,000 Canadian soldiers went ashore on D-Day alone. Canada finished the war with the third largest navy and the fourth largest air force in the world.

The world thanked Canada with the same sublime indifference as it had the previous time. Canadian participation in the war was acknowledged in film only if it was necessary to give an American actor a part in a campaign which the US had clearly not participated - a touching scrupulousness which, of course, Hollywood has since abandoned, as it has any notion of a separate Canadian identity.

So it is a general rule that actors and film-makers arriving in Hollywood keep their nationality - unless, that is, they are Canadian. Thus Mary Pickford, Walter Huston, Donald Sutherland, Michael J Fox, William Shatner, Norman Jewison, David Cronenberg and Dan Aykroyd have in the popular perception become American, and Christopher Plummer British. It is as if in the very act of becoming famous, a Canadian ceases to be Canadian, unless she is Margaret Atwood, who is as unshakeably Canadian as a moose, or Celine Dion, for whom Canada has proved quite unable to find any takers.

Moreover, Canada is every bit as querulously alert to the achievements of its sons and daughters as the rest of the world is completely unaware of them. The Canadians proudly say of themselves - and are unheard by anyone else - that 1 per cent of the world's population has provided 10 per cent of the world's peace-keeping forces. Canadian soldiers in the past half century have been the greatest peace-keepers on earth - in 39 missions on UN mandates, and six on non-UN peace-keeping duties, from Vietnam to East Timor, from Sinai to Bosnia.

Yet the only foreign engagement which has entered the popular non-Canadian imagination was the sorry affair in Somalia, in which out-of-control paratroopers murdered two Somali infiltrators. Their regiment was then disbanded in disgrace - a uniquely Canadian act of self-abasement for which, naturally, the Canadians received no international credit.

So who today in the US knows about the stoic and selfless friendship its northern neighbour has given it in Afghanistan? Rather like Cyrano de Bergerac, Canada repeatedly does honourable things for honourable motives, but instead of being thanked for it, it remains something of a figure of fun. It is the Canadian way, for which Canadians should be proud, yet such honour comes at a high cost.

This weekend four shrouds, red with blood and maple leaf, head homewards; and four more grieving Canadian families know that cost all too tragically well.”

Its ironic that it takes a journalist from Great Britain to point out just how well Canada has operated on the world stage for the last 100 years. Wish I could hear this from Canadians.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Recent Key Word Activity

I admit that I do pay attention to key word activity to see what draws readers to my blog. Listed below are some of the most recent. I apologise if some of my responses are a little cheeky. I can not help myself sometimes.

1.Boer war and southwestern Ontario
2.canadian contingent for south africa

I have written a little bit on the Boer War. If you believe the press coverage of the period Southwestern Ontario was behind the British Empire 110%. Probably that was not far off what the majority of people thought. Library and Archives Canada has “Soldiers Of The South African War (1899-1902)" if you are searching for a specific name.
3.”great war commands” wingard

I’M AHEAD OF THE GAME ! See previous blog.

4. how to apply for history of Canadian Veteran ww2
Online form is at Library and Archives Canada.
5.elgin county home front ww2

Online very little. Looks like library time.

6. submarine port burwell

I mentioned this in an earlier post and eliminated the dirty politics that went on.

7. Nominal Roll of the 161st Battalion London Ontario
    Nominal Rolls 18th. Battalion

Online at “The Matrix Project”.
8. photo of Major V.W. Odlum 1915

Victor Wentworth Odlum (21 October 1880-4 April 1971) reached Major General in the First World War. He was known by his men as “old Lime juice” after he made them drink lime juice rather than a rum ration before an engagement. It was not appreciated. Here’s his picture.
9. “German P.O.W.” London ontario

Got me stumped. Could be. Have not run into one yet in my research. If so, it is far more likely to have been from the Second World War.

10. canadian veterans second world war from ontario canada

Wow ! Not asking for too much here. There was somewhere around 179,000 men and women from Southwestern Ontario serving in all services. Maybe twenty years from now (should I last that long) I will have a partial list. Do not expect Library and Archives Canada to digitalize all of these records anytime soon. There were 1.1 million men and women from across Canada serving from 1939 to 1945. The volume of paperwork is stagering.
11. home guard fenian raid

Yep its here: but tongue in cheek.

12. Pictures of English military medals 1800’s

I’M not that into it ! Up until recent years though Canada tended to follow the British lead.

13. Was all cdn infantry battalions effective ww2 ?

Got me. Could be.
14. Names of the 18 battalion 1915

Usually - “The poor bloody infantry”.

15. veterans cemetery london ontario

Not as such. Veterans are scattered in cemeteries throughout London. The practice here is each November 11th to put little flags on the burial of each veteran .

16. mabel mccalla Ontario

This shows google search at it best (tongue in cheek here). How this resulted in a hit on this blog heaven only knows; but I did check just in case, and found no Mabel McCalla in World War One Canadian data bases.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Canadian Corps: Great War Commands

A recent book on the Canadian Corps is now available in PDF format in a free download from the Regimental Rogue. Hopefully this is the start of a good thing !

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Nursing Sister Agnes Davies

"The London Advertiser, June 16, 1916"
Although the majority of the casualties of the First World War were suffered by the infantry other services suffered as well. The nursing sisters did not go unscathed. In this article in the “London Advertiser, June 16, 1916” outlines some of the pressures on the nursing sisters.

Agnes Balfour Davis was born on February 9, 1875 in Milton, Ontario. “The London Advertiser” considered her a London girl.

Library and Archives Canada.

“ That it is almost beyond human conception to appreciate the wonderful fortitude and patience with which wounded soldiers bear up under the strain while in the hospitals near the front, was the idea conveyed by Miss Agnes Davis of 472 English street, a nursing sister who returned to this city yesterday.

Miss Davis went with the first contingent, and spent the first winter at Bulford, Salisbury Plain in England, where her work was principally with convalescent soldiers.

In February, 1915, she was transferred to Taplow, Buckinghamshire, to the Canadian Red Cross Hospital, the matron in charge being Miss Edith Campbell of Ottawa.

Miss Davis was one of five who organized the Duchess of Connaught Canadian Red Cross Hospital.

Remaining at Taplow until May, 1915, their own unit, No.2 Canadian General Hospital, in charge of Col. Brydes was ordered to France, the hospital being located at La Traporte, on the French coast, near Dieppe.

This town Miss Davis described as being a beautiful situation for a hospital, situated on the white chalk cliffs 300 feet above the sea level.

The hospital had a capacity of 1,060 beds, all of which were constantly in use.

During her stay at La Traporte, to which hospital the soldiers are taken direct from the trenches, Miss Davis witnessed many heartrending scenes, in addition to the wonderful exhibitions of bravery of the wounded men under such trying circumstances.

Owing to the excessive strain connected with her work, Miss Davis suffered a complete nervous breakdown, and in December, 1915, she was invalided to England, where she had since remained prior to leaving for Canada a week ago.

Miss Davis was accompanied by Nursing Sister F. M. Nichols (1) of Paris, Ontario, who has returned to her home on sick leave of absence.

Miss Davis will remain at the home of her brother, Mr. James Davis, of 472 English street for a time.”

(1)Florence Nichols born 1875 in Paris, Ontario.

Library and Archives Canada.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Officers Of The 1st. Battalion

The Regional Room, London Public Library, London, On.

From left to right:

Capt. W.J. Taylor, Capt. Frank Wall, Lt. Col. Henry Campbell Becher, Lt. Walter Chester Butler.

Henry Campbell Becher born in London, Ontario, January 20, 1874 to Henry Becher and Katherine Campbell died June 15, 1915 at Givenchy.

Libary and Archives Canada

I have the attestation papers for Walter Chester Butler. who was wounded at Vimy, but so far little else on the other officers.
Library and Archives Canada
Dating the photo is problematic except that is was definately taken in 1914 either in London before they went to Valcartier or at Valcartier. Since Henry Cambell Becher is identified as a Lt. Col. ( a militia commission) I would bet on London. When he died he was commissioned as a Major in the 1st. Battalion.