April is a significant month for the Queen’s Own Rifles for a number of reasons and this week in particular. In this post we’ll take a look at a few.
2nd Battle of Ypres and the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF)
When the 3rd Battalion was raised for the Canadian Expeditionary Force in September 1914, it consisted mostly of soldiers from the Queen’s Own Rifles including all three of its wartime Commanding Officers, however it also had elements from the 10th Royal Grenadiers and the Governor General’s Bodyguard. Today the 3rd Battalion, CEF is perpetuated by the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and the Royal Regiment of Canada (as the successor to the 10th Royal Grenadiers.)
After some training at Valcartier the 3rd Bn embarked for England On October 3rd as part of the 1st Brigade where they would spend four more months equipping, training and reorganizing. They arrived in France in mid February 1915 and were assigned to their first front line trench duties on March 5th. The first combat casualties occurred the next day with two men reported killed by shrapnel from shelling. But it was not until the April that they would see their first and perhaps most significant battle.
“On April 22nd the 2nd and 3rd Brigades were holding the line, the 2nd on the right, the 3rd on the left with the 1st Brigade in reserve about Vlamertinghe. In the afternoon the enemy launched the first gas attack of the war against the French and to a lesser extent against the Canadian left. The attack entirely broke the French, exposing the Canadian left flank which bent but held. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions, the latter commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Rennie, were rushed up in support, arriving at midnight, and were attached to the Third Brigade at Shell-trap Farm. The former at once went into the line on the exposed left flank. During the following morning “C” and “D” Companies of the 3rd Battalion were placed under command of Major Kirkpatrick and moved forward to fill in a gap on the right of the 2nd Battalion between the famous Kitchener’s Wood and the village of St. Julien. Throughout the day and night this flank held in spite of desperate German attacks, but the following day it was pushed back, “C” and “D” Companies being completely wiped out in a vain attempt to stem the tide. All this was done under heavy artillery fire and without artillery support, for the line had not been expected to hold and most artillery had been withdrawn. Meanwhile, many British battalions were being rushed up and about April 27th, the line was stabilized and the Division relieved, the 3rd Battalion being the last to be withdrawn. After several days in support, the division left the Salient and moved south.. This was the battalion’s first battle. It is known as the Second Battle of Ypres and the Canadian part of it as St. Julien sometimes Langemarck. It cost the battalion 19 officers and 460 men in casualties.”
From a “A Brief History of the 3rd Canadian Battalion Toronto Regiment”
Included in that total and what hurt the 3rd Battalion the most was the fact that 287 men taken as prisoners of war by the Germans – including Kirkpatrick – the second most of any Canadian unit during the war. Those that were not considered casualties, from the Commander on down, were all suffering from fatigue and irritable nerves.
The war dairies written during this battle are worth a read and you can find them on our website here. Note the 10 am April 24 entry which records instructions to Major Kilpatrick that “You must hang on to your position” and which would lead to his nickname of “Hang On Kirkpatrick”.
Here are two additional accounts of the battle from participants:
Corporal J.W. “Jack” Finnemore #9785 – 3rd Battalion
April 22, 1915 – 2nd Battle of Ypres
“I was wounded on the last jump over between leaving an old trench and building a new one. My brother F.A. Finnimore (Staff Sargeant Frank Finnimore #9781) was wounded there just before I was.I started to take his putee off when Captain Strait (Major John Everett Streight, Prisoner of War)said to me “.Come on Finnimore. Look after your section. Never mind, you’ll have to leave him (my brother).” A newspaper back home reported that we kissed each other goodbye on the front, but I only did his leg up.That was all!.” Jack was captured by the Germans and became a Prisoner of War. Frank survived his wounds.
Private Frank V. Ashbourne #9170 – 3rd Battalion
April 24, 1915 – 2nd Battle of Ypres
“We went into the line with a thousand and only two hundred of us came out of it. Sir John French said that it was our Battalion that stopped the advance of the Germans. “C” and “D” Companies suffered the most and were almost wiped out. I was with my brother Bert (Private Bertram Ashbourne #9171), shortly before we were separated by the gas attack at St. Julien, on April 24-25, 1915. My brother was wounded at Langemarck and taken prisoner of war. During the gas attack at St. Julien we lost the first line of trenches and had to move back to the supports. At the back of those trenches we lay down flat and covered our mouths with wet clothes, waiting for the Germans to come up. They came up slowly thinking we were all dead from their gas, but not so. It drifted slowly over us and showed the Germans about seventy-five yards away. We were suddenly ordered to rapid fire and I don’t think that about more than a dozen Germans got away alive. We advanced again and regained our front trenches with minimum losses”.
As many of you may already know, the QOR itself was formed by General Militia Order on April 26, 1860 under the name Second Battalion Volunteer Rifles of Canada. It consisted of several formerly independent rifles companies that had been raised in 1955 in the County of York and the surrounding communities. Lieutenant Colonel William Smith Durie of the Barrie Company appointed Commanding Officer.
The past 113 years, Queen’s Own Riflemen have seen service in the Battle of Ridgeway (Fenian Raids), the Red River Rebellion, the North West Field Force, the South African War, the First World War, the Second World War, peacekeeping in Korea and Cyprus, NATO service in Germany, various United Nations postings, Bosnia and most recently Afghanistan where 61 soldiers of the regiment saw active service.