Category Archives: First World War

Gothas Over London

This article appeared in the The Maple Leaf magazine of the Central Ontario Branch Western Front Association (Vol.39, Fall 2021) and is kindly reproduced with permission of the author, Glenn Kerr.

Two Canadian soldiers survive the trenches only to be killed on last day of leave in London.

By Glenn Kerr

In the spring of 1917, Londoners carried on with an ease that had grown with an extended period of peace in the skies over England. It had been eight months since the last Zeppelin appeared over the city with its deadly cargo of bombs and the threat of terror brought by the airships had been successfully met withby new tactics and the Royal Flying Corps. A year had passed since Lt. William Leefe Robinson unloaded his magazines of incendiary ammunition into the SL11 in the high-altitude darkness bringing down the German airship over the village of Cuffley. It became clear to the Germans that sending the lumbering airshifts across the North Sea on these missions was no longer an effective way of bringing the war to English soil. A new approach was needed.

Sergeant Bartley Gibson Lumley #602944 was a 26-year-old railway worker from Iona, Ontario. The First World War would forever connect him with Private Albert Henry Bond #602952, a newly married 20-year-old brickmaker from nearby Woodstock. Both men were declared fit by the 34th Battalion medical officer when they enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force 18 August 1915 and their friendship and path together to the Great War began. They did not wait long for active service and sailed for England from the port of Montreal on the SS California on 23 October 1915 and arriving on 1 November 1915. With casualties at the front consuming men at an alarming rate, the 34th met the same fate as many battalions arriving in England: supplying reinforcement drafts to the front-line units. And so, after a brief stay with the 23rd Reserve Battalion, the two friends found themselves separated. Lumley was dispatched to the 2nd Battalion from Eastern Ontario on 26 March 1916, while Bond was sent to Toronto’s 3rd Battalion. The 1st Brigade of the 1st Canadian Division would be their home for the rest of the war, a war with almost three long years to go.

On 14 April 1916, Private Bond caught up to his new unit and began his life in the trenches in the shattered landscape near Bedford House in the Ypres Sector. The 3rd had gone back into the trenches on the 10th, ironically relieving the 2nd Battalion that had welcomed Lumley the previous day. The Battalion diary on the day of his arrival listed the weather as fine with no activity, but the 3rd had lost one of their originals, Private Britton had survived the gas attacks at St Julian, but had now been killed by a sniper on the day of Bond’s arrival. As the men of the 3rd buried Private Britton, 80 km away, a Belgian airfield near Ghent hid a carefully guarded project, a secret weapon if you will, and the Germans for a time believed it would win them the war. Its imposing name was chosen specifically to instill awe in the citizens of England who would live again in fear in the spring of 1917, when the Gotha German heavy bombers first appeared. Ernst Brandenburg had been chosen to lead the new England Squadrons or Englandflieger. At the onset of war, he had served as an infantry officer but severe wounds in 1915 brought him to the Air Service. On the morning of 25 May 1917, he led his squadron of 23 Gothas into the sky toward England.

The first stop was the airfield at Nieuwunster, 40 miles away, where the thirsty aircraft with a crew of three, topped off their tanks before the 175-mile trip across the English Channel to London. With a range of 500 miles, and taking into account time over the targets, every drop of fuel would be precious. One by one the bomb and fuel laden Gothas lifted off the grassy runway under the power of twin 160 hp Benz motors assisted by a 71-foot wingspan. The Gothas could maintain speeds of 88 mph and reach altitudes of 16,000 feet well above the capability of defending British aircraft. And with a load of 14 60-pound bombs, the Germans had every right to feel their new weapon would change the war.

As the war raged on, Private Bond saw action across the Somme, Ypres, Vimy and Arras without so much as a scratch. In fact, his only medical issues involved a bout of influenza. His 3rd Battalion would finish the war with 21 Battle Honours and two Victoria Cross recipients and of the two thousand soldiers who served with the 3rd, only 40 originals would return from the war in 1919. His friend Bartley Lumley was also in the thick of the fighting with the 2nd Battalion and had survived the assault on Vimy 9 April 1917 and was awarded the Military Medal for bravery. He distinguished himself in the trenches and was promoted three times, eventually arriving with the First Canadian Trench Mortar Battery in July 1917, just prior to the Canadian Corp’s attack on Hill 70. The two friends from a quiet part of Eastern Ontario were seeing the war in all its forms and horrors but were alive.

By the time the Squadron of Gothas had reached the coast of England, Ernst Brandenburg found himself with 21 of the original 23 bombers that had set out from Nieuwunster. They made their way along the Thames Valley completely unopposed and expecting clear skies over London only to find the city obscured by cloud cover. With no distinguishable target the squadron turned southeast and the target-rich industrial and staging areas of England. Lympne Airfield near the coast was a busy hub for aircraft returning from France and was one of the first targets to receive bombs from the Gothas destroying numerous aircraft on the ground. The group then followed the coast toward Folkstone, the final stop for troop and munitions trains before crossing the Channel. The resort town and busy military staging area received the full might of the raid. Bombs rained on the town destroying buildings, killing nearly 100 and wounding 260. In 10 minutes over Folkestone, the first raid of the Gotha Heavy Bombers had brought death, destruction and a new sense of fear and unease to the people of England. Ernst Brandenburg and his Gothas, dubbed The Kaiser’s Secret Weapon, had successfully brought the war to English soil and the era of intense aerial bombing was born.

Weeks would pass before weather conditions appeared favourable enough for another attempt on London, but on 13 June 1917, Brandenburg had a window and led 14 Gothas in the first massed aircraft attack of the war on the British capital. The primary target for the mission was Liverpool Station, but secondary targets were hit causing many deaths and by lunch time, 72 bombs had rained down around Liverpool Station and Londoners counted 162 dead and 432 wounded citizens including many children, 18 by one direct hit on the Upper North Street School. The following day the East London Advertiser newspaper’s headline read, “Children Killed in German Air Raid”.

Brandenburg and his squadron mates celebrated his successful raid later that night with a party but an inquest delivered in the aftermath of the attack revealed that the Gothas were dropping high explosive bombs filled with shrapnel on civilian targets and the morality of the weapon and wounds to the civilian population was drawn into question. As the individual stories of tragedy emerged, there were also stories of heroism such as the actions of Police Constable Alfred Smith who was killed by a bomb only moments after dispersing a crowd of factory workers that had gathered in the street. He left a wife and three-year-old son and, in 2017, his relatives gathered on the site of his death and dedicated a plaque in his honour.

The Gothas returned on 7 July 1917 with 21 aircraft newly under the command of Captain Rudolf Kleine, who had replaced Brandenburg who had lost his leg in a crash. The raid was met by ineffective defences of anti-aircraft fire and the 95 British planes sent aloft to meet the threat were unable to catch them. The cost was 57 killed and 97 wounded and the Gothas’ crews, with a sense of invincibility, continued to arrive over England, but the British prioritized development of counter measures and the Gotha strategy soon would be forced to evolve.

On the night of 4 September 1917, Sergeant Bartley Gibson Lumley and Private Albert Henry Bond sat a world away from their peaceful farm communities in Canada. In the front lobby of a London hotel, the two veteran soldiers enjoyed the final hours of a welcome leave together on Agar Street in the Strand district of London. Their return to life in the trenches, where they had both toiled for nearly two years, was undoubtedly a topic of conversation. Meanwhile, across the English Channel, Captain Rudolf Kleine was launching his squadron of 11 Gotha heavy bombers, at five-minute intervals to avoid collisions, into the night skies in the direction of England. Formation flying for the trip across the Channel was not possible on the first night bombing raid of the war on an unsuspecting London.

Not long into the mission, two aircraft from the staggered line of bombers turned back with mechanical issues. The remaining nine carried on and safely crossed over the English coast where five set off for central London leaving four to attack targets on the fringes around Essex, Suffolk and Kent. Just before midnight, the five Gothas began dropping their bombs into different areas of central London. In the confusion of the unexpected night raid, the Royal Flying Corp sent 18 aircraft into the sky to meet the threat. Anti-aircraft fire combined with an accompaniment of search lights were also brought into action but the Gothas, acting independently, were difficult targets.

As bombs began to land across London, one of the aircraft approached from the north and dropped its first bomb into Oxford Street, not far from Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace. The noise in all likelihood was heard by an unsuspecting Lumley and Bond, who would have had no time to react before the next bomb landed in front of their Agar Street hotel. It was a terrible blast and fragments struck Lumley in the head, chest and abdomen, while Bond received serious head injuries. A 64-year-old woman, Eileen Dunleary, was also struck. Lumley was carried to the hospital in his chair, but all were pronounced dead at the hospital.

Three more bombs fell in quick succession from the Gotha as it completed its run between the Strand and the Victoria Embankment roadway along the Thames. Alfred Buckle was driving his single-decker Tram along the embankment when he heard the explosions and sped up with the hope of sheltering in the Kingsway Tunnel, but his tram sustained a near direct hit as he passed the Cleopatra’s Needle monument. The blast killed two passengers and mortally wounded Buckle. Witnesses reported that despite having his leg blown off, he stayed at the controls and applied the stop lever before succumbing to his wounds. Cleopatra’s Needle and the nearby Sphinx were heavily damaged by the blast and still bear the scars to this day from the explosion that killed tram driver Buckle and two passengers. Captain Rudolf Kleine’s night raid on London had killed 16 and wounded another 56 but one Gotha was shot down by anti aircraft fire and disappeared into the River Medway.

The unfortunate stray bomb that killed the young Canadian soldiers was believed to have been meant for the Charing Cross Station. Their military files were updated with the cold reality of their demise, “Killed by enemy bombs during a hostile air raid whilst on leave in England”. They were buried side by side at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surry. The following June, the Governor General of Canada presented Sergeant Lumley’s posthumous Military Medal to his sister Mildred in an emotional service in London, Ontario. The headlines of the day read; “Sister of a Dead Hero Given M.M by His Excellency”.

Captain William Wendell Rogers

The tragic story of Sergeant Lumley and Private Bond came full circle 12 December 1917 when Canadian Pilot, Captain Wendell Rogers from Prince Edward Island, led a patrol of five Nieuport aircraft over the Ypres sector of Belgium. While climbing through the clouds, the small patrol came upon two Squadrons of Gotha Bombers that immediately opened fire from above. Maneuvering out of range, the Nieuports skillfully climbed above and behind the enemy formations where they opened fire on the three trailing aircraft. Rogers then selected the centre aircraft and fired a burst into the fuselage scoring a direct hit near the observer, sending the aircraft plummeting towards earth. Following his target, he witnessed two of the crew jump from the burning aircraft prior to an explosion. He did not know it, but Captain Wendell Rogers had shot down, not only the first Gotha over Europe, but he had killed Captain Rudolf Kleine, and avenged the deaths of Lumley and Bond.

Australian soldiers on the ground, who witnessed the crash of the Gotha, presented Captain Rogers with the fabric black iron crosses from the wings as a trophy for his unique aerial victory. He proudly displayed one in his Squadron’s Mess. Sadly, it was lost when the Germans overran the area during the 1918 offensive. The other was displayed in a number of sites over the years before it was donated to the Canadian War Museum in 2004 by Lloyd Rogers, son of Captain Wendell Rogers, who died in St John, NB in 1967. The Gotha he shot down that afternoon was his seventh victory of the war; he would finish with nine.


Two-seater Ace: Andrew Edward McKeever, DSO, MC, DFC

Canadian pilot and his observer took on 8 enemy aircraft in one dogfight

By Rod Henderson
(Reprinted with permission from “The Maple Leaf”, magazine of the Central Ontario Branch Western Front Association, Volume 38, Fall 2020 issue.)

Major Andrew McKeever, DSO, MC

Major Andrew E. McKeever, the “King of the two-seaters” sits at 10th in the ranking of Canadian aces of the Great War with 31 aerial victories. McKeever was born on 21 August 1894 in Listowel, Ontario. He attended Central Technical School in Toronto and was working as a bank teller at the outbreak of war.

McKeever joined the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, a Toronto militia unit, in October 1915. Some biographies mistakenly indicate that McKeever went overseas and served in France as an infantryman. In fact, he remained in Canada and joined the Royal Flying Corps from Canada in November 1916, sailing for England on the 25th. On 5 December he was appointed to the rank of probationary Second Lieutenant.

His aviation training began in January 1917 at the School for Military Aeronautics at Oxford, England. He received flying instruction at Northolt and graduated as a pilot at Hounslow in late April. On 28 May 1917 he was posted to Number 11 Squadron as they were transitioning from the Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b to the Bristol F2b (image above). This aircraft was typically armed with a forward-firing .303 Vickers machine gun. The F2b carried an observer/gunner in a rear-facing seat immediately behind the pilot. The observer’s position was armed with one or two Lewis guns. This aircraft gained the nickname “Brisfit”.

McKeever with officers of No. 1 & 2 Fighting Squadron, Canadian Air Force, Upper Heyford, Oxon / Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-006023

McKeever’s first victories came less than a month after he joined 11 Sqn. On 26 June he shot down two Albatros D.Vs while flying with Second Lieutenant E. Oake as his observer. This was followed by a three-kill day on 7 July, making him an ace.

McKeever was awarded the Military Cross on 17 September 1917. The citation notes a day in which he single-handedly attacked eight enemy aircraft and the fact that he had downed eight aircraft in a period of three weeks. He steadily racked up more victories over the summer and autumn, scoring three-kill days on 5 August, 28 September and 31 October. His observers accounted for 11 kills with Second Lieutenant Leslie Powell picking up eight of them. McKeever’s squadron-mates nicknamed him “Hawkeye” for his ability to spot enemy aircraft. He was promoted to Captain in late October.

McKeever in flying gear

His most distinguished day came on 30 November 1917 with Powell as his observer. That morning McKeever, volunteered for a reconnaissance mission 60 miles from his aerodrome that would take him six miles behind German lines. He took off in a pouring rain with low cloud cover. The sky cleared enough near his target that he was able to complete his observation mission. As he was turning for home, a large explosion caught his attention. A German ammunition dump had exploded and, after flying closer, he could see large numbers of German soldiers trying to get the situation under control. He decided “that it would be a good stunt to fly around close to the ground and sprinkle a few belts of bullets” at them to take “all the heart out of the poor Hun”. As he turned to tell Powell of his next move McKeever noticed four German planes at about 100 yards from his right wing and five more behind him, effectively blocking his escape back to Allied lines.

McKeever made an instant decision to fight. He quickly turned his plane toward the closer group of four, nearly colliding with one while firing his machine gun at it. The German plane went down in flames and McKeever had a clear shot at the next Albatross D.V. Again he fired and the second enemy aircraft went down. At the same time, Powell unleashed his Lewis gun and put a third enemy plane out of action. This exchange of fire happened in no more than 90 seconds and there were three German airplanes falling to the ground simultaneously. The fourth plane of the group broke away and joined the original group of five.

Against all logic, McKeever did not try to escape but instead flew farther into German territory. He turned to face his pursuers and brought down another with a quick burst as he passed through their formation. Powell also accounted for his second kill of the day during this pass. McKeever looked back at Powell to see why had not continued firing his Lewis gun. The expression on Powell’s face told McKeever that Powell’s machine gun was out of action. McKeever turned his Bristol back toward the Germans only to find that his own machine gun was also inoperable. German fire came at the RFC plane from several directions. McKeever decided on a ruse; he flopped his aircraft onto its side and it dropped toward the ground, appearing that he been hit and was falling out of control. The Germans fell for McKeever’s trick and they did not fire again or follow him down. McKeever recovered his aircraft about 20 feet from the ground and remained low, following a road and using trees as cover. Once he was confident that the Germans had left the area he turned for home, avoiding enemy ground fire as he passed over their positions. He arrived safely at his aerodrome with four more victories to his name. McKeever was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for this action.

Major A.E. McKeever, Canadian Air Force, Upper Heyford. OC No. 1 Fighting Squadron / Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada PA-006026

These would prove to be McKeever’s final kills of the war. His last aerial mission was in the first week of December and he was posted to England in January 1918 where he worked as an instructor for the remainder of the war. His total of 31 victories made him the leading two-seater ace of the First World War. He received the bar to the Military Cross on 18 March 1918.

In August 1918, the Canadian government authorized the formation of the Canadian Air Force, made up of Canadians serving in the Royal Air Force. McKeever was promoted to Major and placed in command of Number 1 Squadron in January 1919. The CAF was disbanded again in early 1920.

McKeever’s secondment to the Canadian Air Force ended on 16 August 1919 and he left the military on 28 August. He returned to Listowel before taking his new job as the general manager of the Mineola, New York airfield. On 3 September he was injured in an automobile accident. The injury did not heal properly and he was moved to Toronto to have a broken bone reset. Complications set in and he passed away on 25 December 1919. [He is buried in Fairview Cemetery, Listowel, Perth County, Ontario.]

Curator’s Note: McKeever wasn’t the only QOR to take to the skies – see Percy Hampton’s profile.

The Evolution of the Rifleman’s Uniform 1860-1900’s

Thanks to the hard work of our museum volunteer team and despite pandemic restrictions, the museum has produced this short video on the evolution of our uniform over much of our history.

In particular our thanks to:

  • Sergeant Graham Humphrey
  • Colin Sedgewick-Pinn
  • Steven Hu
  • Steven Ye
  • Anne Fraser

Making Connections to the Past

I would presume that most people working in museums inherently believe that preserving history is important – I would certainly hope so at least. And while preservation can be a monumental task all on its own, it’s really only half of the challenge. The real value comes in being able to share this history – to make it accessible in some ways.

When we think of museums, the first method of achieving this that usually comes to mind is through exhibits.  Visitors can see – and in some cases touch – real artefacts and are provided with additional background, context and perspectives to better understand the history we present.

This might be considered the ideal approach and while over 350,000 people visit our museum’s exhibits each year, we also know that many people around the world with some link with our Regiment, may never get that opportunity. With that in mind, we’ve tried to digitize much of our collection and make it available online, here on our website, on our Flickr site (over 10,000 photos currently),  Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And we’ve also made our collection catalogue available online as well with images and descriptions of almost 2,000 objects entered to date.

All of this takes an incredible amount of work and coordination, and most of our volunteer team have contributed to this effort in some way or another.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to occasionally wondering if anyone actually accesses any of this information, and if all this work is worth it.  The stats tell us that our Flickr site has had over 1,000,000 views and our website gets about 80,000 page views annually which is very exciting but still somewhat impersonal.

Occasionally though we get comments on our website about how the information helped them connect with a relative or letting us know they have more information to share – even objects to donate, and those always seem to make our efforts worthwhile.

Last month though, we received an email that couldn’t help but recharge the whole museum team:

“My name is Liz Grogan and I am the granddaughter of Sgt. J. Lutton 6164.

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting with my 95 year old mom, John’s middle and only surviving daughter, Kathleen ( Kae) Smith who was browsing through a book I was reading for my book club called “The War that Ended Peace, The Road to 1914” by Margaret MacMillan.

Knowing that her father, my grandfather had been in WW1, I decided to google his name, and you can imagine my surprise and excitement to discover this:

John Lutton WWI Letter to Annie Deyell
This letter in our collection was written in 1917 in England by Sergeant John Lutton, 198th Battalion, to Annie …

I had researched his name prior to Remembrance Day on other occasions , but I had not seen this letter before!

So Mom and I sat together and I read the letter out loud as mom watched the screen. I had not scrolled through to see how long it was, so my thanks to WO Emily Kenny for her hard work!

I can’t express how magical this moment was, that I will never forget. We laughed, we cried and we were simply in awe of having this amazing opportunity to have a personal peek at the life and love between mom’s future mom and dad and my future grandmother and grandfather.

And to reflect that this letter is 100 years old is beyond magical!!”

When I read this email, I couldn’t help but smile and was clearly reminded that our efforts are definitely worthwhile!

Of course Liz was interested in how we came to have the letter.  In June a stamp collector in Nova Scotia contacted us because he had this letter in his collection and had found online that we perpetuated the 198th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. We quickly accepted his offer and the letter was soon in our collection.  WO Kenny just happened to be directing staff on a music course at CFB Borden for the summer and offered to transcribe the letter in her spare time so we could put it online.  The letter is long and rather rambling, and proper punctuation was not Sgt Lutton’s strong point but she soon had it done and we posted it to our website.

While this was happening we also researched Sgt Lutton’s life and service.  While training in England he contacted meningitis and was hospitalized for 6 months before being found unfit for overseas service and returned to Canada where he was hospitalized for another three months. Though he never made it to the trenches of France or Belgium, his story does illustrate the other dangers many soldiers faced from diseases and poor health conditions they faced just getting to the front.

Lutton was lucky enough to recover from his meningitis and married Annie in 1919. He died in 1948 and is buried in Park Lawn Cemetery.

We’re very thankful that Liz took the time to share their experience and to send us the delightful family photo below of Annie and John.

Annie (nee Deyell) and Sgt John Lutton

The Vickers and Lewis Machine Guns of the First World War

This article first appeared in RCMI Members’ News March-April 2017, written by Ryan Goldsworthy, Curator, RCMI Museum.

Photo credits: Billy Bishop: Department of National Defence; Lewis and Vickers: Eric Morse.

“Keep it up, boys; do not let them get through!”

The artifacts being featured in this edition of RCMI Members’ News Museum Pieces’ are the Vickers Machine Gun and the Lewis Gun. Both the Vickers and Lewis were widely used by the Allies in the First World War and both proved to be extremely reliable and effective. These particular weapons are being featured in this edition as a pair, because both guns were recently installed in dynamic displays on the 3rd floor short bar of the RCMI. The examples on display at the RCMI, both dating to 1915, were originally donated to the Institute in 1966 by Captain S. G. Sigel. Though the RCMI has been in possession of these weapons for over 50 years, they have never before been on display for members and their guests.

The 1915 Vickers on display in the RCMI is exhibited as it would have been mounted on the Western Front. The Vickers display is complete with a fluted barrel, tripod, water can and hose, ammunition box, 250-round canvas belt, and an oil can and brush. The RCMI’s Vickers is a spectacular specimen of its kind and this specific artifact was originally a gift from the 5th Prime Minister of Nepal of the Rana dynasty to the British Army in 1915. The Vickers Machine Gun, with a calibre of .303, was accurate from 2,000m and fired at a rate of 400-500 rounds per minute, but it could also fire indirectly as far as 4,000m. It was preferred by Allied soldiers in the First World War, because it rarely jammed or malfunctioned, it was relatively simple to operate and it had considerable range and power. The Canadians used the Vickers to great success at Vimy Ridge, utilizing its coverage and power to “thicken” the barrages that liquefied many of the German defences in the lead up to the battle. Indeed, the Vickers established itself as one of the iconic instruments of the Great War and it was notably featured on the badge of the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s Machine Gun Corps.

The Lewis Gun, though significantly smaller than the Vickers, fired the same calibre and had a more rapid rate of fire at 500-600 rounds per minute and was air-cooled instead of water. Though the Lewis was only accurate up to 800m, it was more portable than its larger and heavier counterpart and was used by both the army and the air force. The 1915 Lewis on display at the RCMI is suspended in a vertical case accompanied by several of its original tools, required for repair and maintenance, and a very rare anti-aircraft sight on the barrel. Unlike the belt-fed Vickers, the Lewis is instead loaded with a pan magazine on the top holding 47 rounds—which can be seen on display (the air force used 97-round magazines, pictured on Bishop’s aircraft). The Lewis was a versatile weapon that could be mounted by its bipod into nearly any terrain on the Western Front including trees and stumps. Becoming a Lewis-gunner in the CEF was equivalent to a trade and those proficient with the weapon had an “LG” patch stitched on to the arm of their tunic.

The Lewis Gun has also been featured in several citations of Canadian Victoria Cross winners during the Great War in otherworldly acts of heroism. In June 1918, Cpl. Joseph Kaeble of Saint-Moise, Quebec, repulsed or killed over 50 advancing Germans with a Lewis Gun on his hip. Despite being wounded numerous times by shrapnel and bullets, Kaeble “emptied one magazine after another into the advancing enemy” until he was mortally wounded and finally succumbed to his many wounds (his last words are the titular quote). During the Hundred Days Offensive, Pte. Thomas Ricketts of St. John’s Newfoundland, was able to save his entire platoon. When his Lewis Gun had run out of ammunition and his platoon was exposed to the advancing Germans, Ricketts ran over 100 yards and back through withering fire to procure more ammunition and then returned to his Lewis Gun to pin the Germans into a nearby farm. His platoon was then able to move forward without a single casualty and captured 4 field guns, 4 machine guns, and 8 prisoners.

In a last example, and perhaps the most famous, Capt Billy Bishop of Owen Sound, Ontario earned his VC in 1917 with a Lewis Gun affixed to his aircraft. Bishop single-handedly attacked a German aerodrome and downed several German aircraft—emptying out several drums of his ammunition. Though all three of these VC acts of “most conspicuous bravery” are rightly and roundly about the individuals who earned them, they also speak to the effectiveness of the Lewis Gun.

Ultimately, the strength of both the Vickers and the Lewis is confirmed by their longevity, both being used through WWII and well into the Twentieth Century. I would highly recommend the new exhibit of these weapons to all RCMI members, as they represent an important part of Canada’s military history.

Ryan Goldsworthy
Royal Canadian Military Institute

Major General Malcolm Mercer


Written by  Gordon MacKinnon and originally published in Vol 8, Issue 1 of the Canadian Military Journal.  Mercer was killed one hundred years ago today.

Deafened by a German artillery barrage, his leg broken by a stray bullet as he tried to move to safer ground, Major-General Malcolm Smith Mercer was fatally wounded by shrapnel from a British artillery counter-offensive trying to prevent the Germans from bringing up reinforcements.

The highest ranking officer of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) to be killed in action in the First World War, General Mercer succumbed to his wounds in the early hours of 3 June 1916 in No Man’s Land at the foot of Mount Sorrel near the ill-fated town of Ypres, Belgium. But for the quick thinking and perseverance of a Canadian corporal sent out to locate and bury soldiers killed in the area, Mercer’s body might have been lost forever in the quagmire churned up by the shelling.

Instead, the general was buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery on 24 June 1916 in a full military funeral with all battalions of the Canadian Mounted Rifles represented. He was also posthumously Mentioned in Despatches by General Sir Douglas Haig for his valiant conduct, the third time he was so honoured.1

Except among the Mercer family and students of the Great War, General Mercer’s name is virtually forgotten today. The absence of letters and documents has meant that historians have overlooked the contribution of this hard working, amateur soldier who endeavoured to solve the problems of the new trench warfare of 1914-1916. However, the contents of a diary written by Mercer during the period 22 August 1914 to 10 November 1915 – now part of the collection of the Queen’s Own Rifles Museum – give some insight into the conscientious officer who became the first General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the CEF’s 3rd Division.

Mercer was born on the family farm in what is now north-west Toronto. Until age 25 he worked on the farm, acquiring a high school diploma and then enrolling at the University of Toronto in 1881. He must have felt embarrassed at being older than other first year students because he under-misrepresented his date of birth by three years. The Great Fire at the university in 1890 destroyed the student records, so it is not possible to know exactly when he made the change. Contrary to dates in published biographical sketches, census evidence is conclusive that he was born on 17 September 1856.2

Mercer graduated in 1885 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He then studied law at Osgoode Hall and was called to the Bar in 1888. While at university, he enlisted as a private in the Queen’s Own Rifles of the Non-Permanent Active Militia, a prestigious battalion of volunteers. Mercer did not exploit the social position open to him as an officer as he nonetheless rose steadily through the ranks. However, he did excel at rifle shooting, resulting in several trips, not only to provincial and national competitions, but also to the Bisley Rifle Competition in England – as a competitor, and, in 1909, as the adjutant of the Canadian team. The Queen’s Own Rifles grew to two battalions, and, in 1911, Mercer became Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant, replacing Sir Henry Pellatt, who was promoted to command the 6th Brigade.3 All known portraits of Mercer show him in the uniform of either the Queen’s Own Rifles or the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He stood ramrod straight, six feet tall with dark brown hair and blue eyes, as well as a generous moustache that completely hid his mouth. Most observers noted that, upon first meeting, he created an impression of cool reserve.

Mercer established a comfortable law practice in 1889 with classmate S.H. Bradford that lasted until his death. The contents of his estate, auctioned in 1925, showed him to have been a collector of art, and included European and Canadian paintings, sculpture, porcelain, and antique furniture. Many of the Canadian paintings were by Carl Ahrens,4 whom Mercer had supported financially when Ahrens was a young artist.

Later, a fellow officer described Mercer as “a man who above all else took a sane view of life; quiet and reserved, with a touch of cynical humour but great kindness of heart, he impressed one as a born leader of men.”5 His “even temper, kind and open nature” continued to be noted by his friends and admirers well after his death.


Moonrise Over Mametz Wood by William Thurston Topham. The painting has been described by veterans as “an eerily accurate impression of the Somme battlefield in 1916”. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, CWM 19710261-0752

The Call to Arms

During the early part of the 20th Century, Canada’s only perceived threat by land was an expansionist United States, and the country had depended upon maintaining good relations with its American neighbours to avoid a repeat of military invasion last seen in the War of 1812, followed by some unofficial armed incursions by the Fenians in 1866. Britain, then in control of Canada’s foreign and defence policy, followed a similar course of action and withdrew its troops in 1871, except for those garrisoned at the Royal Navy base at Halifax.6 Until 1904, by law, the General Officer Commanding the Canadian Militia had to be a British Regular,7 and the few remaining British troops were withdrawn from fortresses only in 1905 when the British decided to cease using Halifax and Esquimalt as naval bases.

The Canadian defence force in 1914 was very small, consisting of 3000 Permanent Force Active Militia and 55,000 Non-Permanent Active Militia, and a navy of just two ships.

 …the total authorized establishment of the [Permanent] Force was 3110 all ranks and 684 horses. It…comprised two regiments (each of two squadrons) of cavalry – the Royal Canadian Dragoons and Lord Strathcona’s Horse; the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery with two batteries, and the Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery with five companies; one field company and two fortress companies of engineers; one infantry battalion – the Royal Canadian Regiment; together with detachments of various service and administrative corps. The Permanent Force’s main peacetime functions were to garrison fortresses on either coast and assist in training the militia.8

Entry into the widely anticipated war was never in doubt, and plans to raise quickly a force of 30,000 volunteers had been made before 4 August 1914. However, this 1911 plan to give the commanders of the existing six Military Districts of Canada responsibility for recruiting the overseas battalions was peremptorily changed by Colonel (later Lieutenant-General Sir Sam) Hughes, the Minister of Militia and Defence in Sir Robert Borden’s Conservative government. Hughes initiated matters through a night lettergram to 226 militia commanders, ordering them to recruit volunteers.9 This impractical, impromptu, chaotic methodology eventually had to be modified, but it led to the CEF being composed mainly of numbered battalions, not battalions carrying the names of existing militia units.

Because there were very few professional officers, senior militia officers who appeared to be competent and had the right political affiliations and opinions were given senior appointments within the new CEF. Lieutenant-Colonel Mercer had never seen active service, but he possessed the political and religious qualifications needed to impress the Minister of Militia. He had even accompanied Sir Sam on a pre-war military reconnaissance tour of Europe, resulting in both men concluding that war with Germany was inevitable.10

When Mercer left Toronto on 22 August 1914 for Camp Valcartier, then under construction near Quebec City, he was in charge of the soldiers from the Queen’s Own Rifles. At Valcartier, he was given command of the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade, composed of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4thBattalions recruited in Ontario.

The 1st Contingent of the CEF left Quebec City on 25 September 1914 on a fleet of passenger liners destined for England. Delays in the Gulf of St. Lawrence while waiting to rendezvous with its Royal Navy escort, followed by embarkation of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, compounded with the slow speed of the convoy, resulted in a 20-day journey to Plymouth. One man fell overboard and another was operated on unnecessarily for appendicitis; otherwise, the voyage was undoubtedly as dull as the weather was fine.

The Canadian Contingent was under the command of Colonel V.A.S. Williams, one of the few Permanent Force officers on board. This Permanent Force officer shortage was due to the fact that the Royal Canadian Regiment had been sent to Bermuda on 6 September to release a British Regular unit, the 2nd Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment, for deployment in Flanders.11 Williams, a graduate of the Royal Military College, Kingston, and the Adjutant-General of the Canadian Militia, would ultimately play a role on Mercer’s last day.

Winter in the Mud and Rain

Upon arrival at Plymouth, a British Regular, Lieutenant-General E.A.H. Alderson, who had been appointed after previous Canadian government consultation, took over command before the troops disembarked.12 Mercer was placed in command of Bustard Camp on Salisbury Plain near Stonehenge. The troops resumed the routine commenced in Canada that would continue their transformation from civilians into professional soldiers: route marching and physical exercises for fitness, and entrenching, bayonet drill, musketry and other instruction to improve their military skills. The conditions were appalling. The rapid expansion of the British forces meant that there was no extra barrack accommodation. Consequently, the Canadians were housed in tents. Contractors were building huts, and hundreds of carpenters and bricklayers were seconded from the Canadian Contingent to speed up construction.13 Slowly, the troops were moved into the huts or were billeted in private homes in the small villages nearby. There was never enough space, however, and Mercer’s brigade was the only one that spent the entire winter under canvas. Several severe storms blew down most of the tents and marquees. It rained 89 out of the 123 days that they were so quartered. Surprisingly, the health of the troops remained good, and those in huts and billets suffered more illness than those in tents.14

The 1st Canadian Contingent was renamed the 1st Canadian Division, and British staff officers were added to this largely amateur army. Inspections were frequent, and Mercer must have felt satisfaction when, after a Royal Inspection on 4 November 1914 by King George V and Queen Mary, accompanied by Field Marshal Lord Roberts (who was Honorary Colonel of the Queen’s Own Rifles at the time) and Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, he recorded their comments in his diary: “No finer physique in the British Army. A fine brigade. Splendid.”15

Malcolm Smith Mercer

Major-General Malcolm Smith Mercer as General Officer Commanding of the CEF’s 3rd Division. Courtesy of the Woodstock Museum NHS.

Mercer Takes Command and Learns on the Job

All three brigade commanders of the 1st Division had spent many years in the Canadian Non-Permanent Active Militia, but only Brigadier-General R.E.W. Turner, VC, DSO, had combat experience. He had won his decorations as a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Dragoons during the South African (Boer) War. Turner was the GOC of the 3rd Brigade, and, for a brief time, was also GOC of the 2nd Division. Controversy over his eventual handling of the Battle of St. Eloi Craters (June 1916) would result in his transfer to a staff position in England. Brigadier-General Arthur W. Currie, a Vancouver real estate broker and speculator, commanded the 2nd Brigade. He would later become commander of the Canadian Corps, earning a reputation as one of the war’s outstanding allied generals. Mercer had been in the Queen’s Own Rifles (QOR) for more than 30 years, but had never led troops in battle. The brigadier-generals and their soldiers would just have to learn on the job.

Four days before the brigade embarked for France on 9 February 1915, Mercer was promoted to full colonel.16 The training routine intensified in France and Belgium, where units of Canadians were placed in the front line at Armentières, along with experienced troops of the British 4th and 6thDivisions. Then the Canadians moved into the trenches at Fleurbaix, where their role was to hold the trenches defensively while the British 1st Army attacked at Neuve Chapelle. Mercer received another promotion on 2 March, this time to temporary brigadier-general. The brigade was at the Fleurbaix front from 1 to 24 March. Rotations of four days each in the trenches interspersed with four days in reserve billets resulted in the troops enduring 16 days and nights in the trenches. As it materialized, neither side attacked. However, Mercer demonstrated that he was not a ‘château general’ – to understand fully the conditions his soldiers endured, he visited the trenches on 16 occasions and the billets on five.17 After 1 April, the 1st Canadian Division took over four kilometres of trenches north of Ypres, where the British were assuming more of the line from the French. Training and inspections continued. On 12 April, Mercer records that General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the 2nd British Army, under whose orders the 1st Canadian Division operated, complimented him and the troops, saying that, “for steadiness and precision this Brigade was the finest Salute he had ever seen.”18

Although fatal casualties at Fleurbaix totalled only one officer and 29 men, the Ypres Salient was to be a much more lethal introduction to war. On 22 April 1915, for the first time in warfare, an enemy attacked using clouds of poison gas. The French colonial troops on the left flank of the Canadians were hardest hit by the gas and fled in panic, but the untested 2nd and 3rd Canadian Brigades filled in the gap and held despite the lack of any better protection from the gas than urine-soaked cloths.19 Mercer’s 1st Brigade was in Divisional Reserve in Vlamertinghe. Its 2nd and 3rd Battalions were transferred to the 3rd Canadian Brigade at 2130 hours on 22 April. Early on the morning of 23 April, Mercer was ordered to march the 1st and 4th Battalions across the Yser Canal, and attack in the direction of Mauser Ridge west of Kitcheners Wood. The attack failed for several reasons: there was little time for planning and coordinating the British, French and Canadian forces involved, and the Canadian troops had never attacked before. French troops failed to advance along the canal on the Canadians’ left flank and, in the same area, Geddes’s Detachment of British battalions under Colonel A.D. Geddes, commanding officer of The Buffs, 2nd East Kent Regiment, was attached to the Canadian Division, but was not under Mercer’s command.20 Mercer, with only two battalions at this time, had a complete brigade headquarters staff. Geddes had four to seven battalions but almost no staff. Of note, Colonel A.F. Duguid, in his official history of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, infers reluctance by the British to put a Regular colonel under orders of a Canadian militia brigadier-general.

[Mercer]…could have handled several attached battalions with ease. On the other hand Colonel Geddes was a regular officer, a graduate of the Staff College, and tried in the 1914 campaign. It may be noted that no regular British battalion was in the line under a Canadian brigadier during the battle.21

There were casualties of over 400 in each battalion, and the remnants of the 1st and 4th Battalions withdrew to Wieltje on the afternoon of the 24th. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions continued to fight under General Turner’s command on 24 April when another gas attack was launched. During the evening of the 25th, the 1st and 4th Battalions marched west across the canal, and the 2nd and 3rdBattalions rejoined the brigade at night. The 3rd Battalion, partly composed of men from the QOR, reported more than 400 men captured.22 On 28 April, the entire 1st Brigade was again under Mercer’s command, guarding the canal bridges and in billets for reorganization.23 For their conduct under fire, he and the three other Canadian brigadier-generals were named Companions of the Order of the Bath (CB) by King George V in his Birthday Honours List of June 1915. The award is given for military service of the highest calibre and only 144 military CBs have ever been awarded to Canadians.24

After two weeks of refitting and adding reinforcements, Mercer’s brigade marched southeast to Festubert, where it relieved the 3rd Brigade in the front line on 22-23 May. A company of the 3rdBattalion assaulted from the Orchard on the night of the 24th. A shortage of troops caused by casualties sustained at Ypres made it necessary to use the dismounted Canadian Cavalry Brigade under Brigadier-General J.E.B. Seely as additional infantry in this attack.25 In spite of further heavy casualties, no real progress was made. By the end of the month, Mercer’s brigade was back in billets in Béthune. On 10 June at Givenchy, a short distance from Festubert, the 1st Brigade relieved the 3rd Brigade in the trenches and was to be the main Canadian formation in the attack that began on 15 June.26 For the first time in battle, they would use the Lee-Enfield rifle in place of the Canadian-made Ross rifle that had caused problems in previous engagements. The Ross was an excellent target rifle, but could not stand up to rapid fire with British-made ammunition in muddy conditions.27 While more time was available for planning the assault, a shortage of shells and strong German resistance doomed the action. On the following day, an attack by the 3rd Battalion ran into heavy machine gun fire and was forced back into its own trenches. On the 17th, the 1st Brigade was relieved, moving back into billets. Mercer had protested to General Alderson that orders for Canadian troops to man the front trenches while a mine was exploded under the German lines were both dangerous and unnecessary. He was overruled, and subsequently, there were many casualties.28 By this time, Mercer was developing a reputation as a general who frequently visited his troops in the front line trenches to assess the situation for himself, and as one who was concerned about his soldiers’ welfare.29

At the end of June, the Canadian Division was sent to a ‘quiet’ section of the line near Ploegsteert; quiet only in comparison to the active areas they were leaving. The brigade received reinforcements and continued to integrate the new men through marching and training. Mercer notes that Field Marshal Sir John French, the commander-in-chief of the British forces, inspected the brigade on 14 July and was “very eulogistic on the quality of the Canadian troops at Ypres, Festubert, and Givenchy.”30

Back in Canada, enlistment continued vigorously. More troops had arrived in Britain; a second division had been formed and sent to France at the end of September 1915. This resulted in the creation of the Canadian Corps, with Lieutenant-General Alderson as General Officer Commanding (GOC). Major-General Currie became GOC of the 1st Division, and Major-General Turner took over as GOC of the 2nd Division.31 A third division was planned, and Mercer notes in his diary that on 23 September, “Gen A called – said he had a new position in prospect for me.”32 On 19 October, Alderson told him that he was being recommended for the position of GOC of the Corps Troops from which the 3rd Canadian Division was to be formed.33 The official notice of the appointment was issued on 22 November. Mercer subsequently was struck off strength of the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade on 4 December and appointed GOC 3rd Division with the temporary rank of major-general.34 Thus, the GOCs of the three Canadian divisions had risen from lieutenant-colonels in the Non-Permanent Active Militia to major-generals in the Canadian Corps within 14 months. They had earned quick promotions, not only because of their achievements, but also because the Canadian government insisted that Canadians be promoted to command positions in their own army.


No Man’s Land by Maurice Cullen. This was the drab reality of the Western Front. It was also where General Mercer would die. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, CWM 19710261-0134

A Last Reconnaissance in the Trenches

When the 3rd Division was formed in December 1915, “…the six regiments of Mounted Rifles [CMR] were converted into four battalions of infantry, making the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Battalions of the 8thBrigade under Brigadier-General Victor A.S. Williams.”35 They were holding the line at Mount Sorrel on 1 June 1916. The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) held Trenches 47-53 on the brigade right, and the 1st CMR held Trenches 54-60 in the left sector up to Sanctuary Wood; while the 2nd and 5th CMR were being held in brigade reserve at Maple Copse. On 1 June, the Germans dug a trench joining the heads of the saps they had made opposite Trenches 51 and 52.36 As an aside, Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng had been appointed GOC of the Canadian Corps a few days before on 28 May to replace Alderson.37 Under Byng’s command, the CEF was to develop into a formidable fighting force.

On the 1st June, he [Byng] visited Major-General Mercer, who explained the situation at Mount Sorrel and Tor Top [Hill 62]. General Byng then told Major-General Mercer that he wanted him to carry out a reconnaissance with a view to a local operation to improve it. Later he went round all the headquarters in front of Ypres. Whilst he was at 8th Brigade headquarters, Major-General Mercer came to make arrangements with Br-General Williams for this reconnaissance, and asked General Byng if he would come. After a considerable pause, General Byng said. “No. You had better go yourselves tomorrow and make your own proposals. I will come around and see them on Saturday.”38

Major-General Mercer and Brigadier-General Williams met the Commanding Officer of the 4th CMR, Lieutenant-Colonel J.F.H. Ussher, in his battalion headquarters, “…in a dug-out in the immediate support trench, about twenty-five yards back of the front line”39 to evaluate the situation. Just as the generals had completed their inspection of the 4th CMR trenches, German artillery smashed the 3rd Division’s front from 0830 hours to 1300 hours with the most intense bombardment witnessed up to that time. A shell explosion deafened Mercer and seriously wounded Williams in the face and head. Mercer’s Aide de Camp, Captain Lyman Gooderham, was knocked unconscious briefly but was not wounded. Williams was taken to the dressing station in a long, narrow tunnel that had two entrances: one a shaft dug from the communication trench known as O’Grady Walk, and the other in a shelter trench called the Tube. Mercer, Ussher, and Gooderham remained in the 4th CMR headquarters.40 Ussher went to the tunnel to check on the condition of General Williams and was trapped when enemy shelling blocked both exits. The German infantry occupied Mount Sorrel above after detonating four mines.41 Gooderham attempted to move Mercer from the headquarters dugout to safety across the open stretch, since all trenches had been flattened. In the process, a random bullet broke Mercer’s leg. Gooderham bandaged the wound and the two men sheltered in a ditch. That night, British artillery fired shrapnel shells to prevent the Germans from bringing up reinforcements. Gooderham, who had stayed with the general throughout this ordeal, recorded that between 0100 hours and 0200 hours on 3 June, shrapnel from these British guns pierced the general’s heart and caused his instantaneous death.42 He was three-and-a-half months short of his 60th birthday.

Major-General Currie had learned from earlier battles that saturation artillery bombardment was essential to infantry success. Employing this technique with some innovations, his 1st Division recaptured the lost ground within one hour on 13 June 1916. “The first Canadian deliberately planned attack in any force” states the British Official History, “had resulted in an unqualified success.”43 Several German counterattacks were defeated, and the fighting ended in a stalemate typical of trench warfare.


PA 004356 The grave of Major-General Mercer. 

Recovering the Body

Corporal John Reid of the 4th Battalion was one of a group of men assigned to explore No Man’s Land at night, tasked to locate and bury soldiers who had been killed in the German attack of 2-3 June. On the night of 21 June, his party found and buried approximately 30 corpses.44 Corporal Reid’s letter describing the finding and recovery of General Mercer’s body was published subsequently in a Toronto newspaper.

… I was examining bags of stuff that had been taken off the dead the night before when I came across a pass with “General Mercer” signed on it. Just think of the excitement then, as we believed he was in the hands of the Hun. I called Pioneer Range, as we were together out searching the night before and he said that must be the spot where they opened the machine gun on us…The real excitement then started for we were spotted as soon as we left the dugout and [it is] thanks to some shell holes that we ever got there. They were not contented putting the machine guns on us. They even sent coal boxes [heavy shells] over, and some near ones too. Anyway, by six o’clock, we got the body dragged to a shell-hole about five yards from where we dug it out, where it had been buried except one boot and about four inches of a leather legging sticking out of the mud. That disinterring was really the worst part of the lot, as we had to lie face down and scratch until we got the General’s body uncovered, and then we searched the body again and saw the epaulets with crossed swords and star. I then cut off the General’s service coat and placed the body in a shell-hole till after dark.45

Williams, Ussher, and Gooderham had all been captured by the Germans and became prisoners of war.46 Sir Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook) wrote at the time of Mercer’s death: “It is tragic to think that such a brilliant soldier, who had risen to the command of a division by sheer force of ability, should have died just as his new command was going into its first big action and needed his services so greatly.”47

Equally tragic, perhaps, was the fact that the fatal injuries Mercer suffered in the opening bombardment in the first major battle fought by his 3rd Division makes it impossible to evaluate his tactical competence. Organizational ability and hard work were his contributions to the development of the formidable Canadian Corps. He organized the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade out of partly trained amateur soldiers, and then trained it so that it was able to withstand the first shock of battle at Second Ypres. He took 12 battalions of partly trained troops, of whom only the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry had much front line experience, and from them created the 3rd Canadian Division, which, under his successor, was to become one of the best combat divisions in the British forces.

Gordon MacKinnon, MA, a retired Toronto high school history teacher, served as a teacher and vice principal in Department of National Defence Schools Overseas, Metz, France, 1962-1966.

  1. At this time, the only valour awards that could be made posthumously within the British honours system were the Victoria Cross and the Mention in Despatches.
  2. Census of 1861, District 3 Township of Etobicoke, p .37. Census of 1871, District No.13 South Oxford, Sub-District A, Township Dereham, Division No. 3.
  3. Lieutenant-Colonel W.T. Barnard, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada 1860-1960 (Don Mills, Ontario: The Ontario Publishing Company, 1960), p. 104.
  4. Catalogue of Highly Important old and modern Pictures and Drawings, Piranesi etchings, fine old Delft Pottery…and works of Art of the Late Maj.-Gen. Malcolm S. Mercer C.B., …under Instructions from Executors, Toronto, Jenkins Galleries, 1928. Toronto Reference Library, 708.11354 J25
  5. University of Toronto Archives, [UTA] A73 0026/318/43.
  6. Desmond Morton, Understanding Canadian Defence (Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2003), p. 32.
  7. Colonel G.W.L. Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919 (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1962), p. 8.
  8. Ibid., p. 7.
  9. Ibid., p. 6.
  10. J.E. Middleton, Municipality of Toronto: A History, Vol. 2 (Toronto & New York: Dominion Publishing Company, 1923), p. 39.
  11. Nicholson, p. 24.
  12. Colonel A.F. Duguid, Official History of The Canadian Forces in the Great War 1914-1919, Vol.1 (Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1938), p. 120.
  13. Ibid., p. 137.
  14. Ibid., p. 142.
  15. Unpublished manuscript diary of M.S. Mercer, 22 August 1914-10 November 1915, QOR Museum, Casa Loma, Toronto, 4 November 1915. Hereafter referred to as ‘Mercer’s Diary’. No diary for 11 November 1915 to his death on 3 June 1916 is known to have survived.
  16. Ibid., 5 February 1915.
  17. Ibid., March 1915, passim.
  18. Ibid., 12 April 1915.
  19. Tim Cook, No Place to Run – The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the First World War(Vancouver: UBC Press, 1999), p. 25.
  20. Nicholson, p. 67.
  21. Duguid, p. 266. The Buffs had a regimental association with the QOR. Colonel Geddes was killed on 28 April 1915.
  22. Mercer’s Diary, 25 April 1915.
  23. Ibid., 28 April 1915.
  24. Veterans Affairs Canada website
  25. Nicholson, p. 102.
  26. Mercer’s Diary, 10 June 1915.
  27. Ibid., 13 June 1915.
  28. Ibid., 16 June 1915. On 6 July 1915, he protested orders that 200 of his exhausted men be employed as a working party. On 7 August he records his indignation when his men are kept waiting for an inspection that had been cancelled without informing them.
  29. General Mercer was in the trenches nearly every day that his troops were in the front line. During the period from 1 March 1915, when Mercer’s 1st Canadian Brigade assumed active control of front line trenches, until 10 November 1915, when his Personal Diary ends, Mercer records 57 personal visits and inspections of trenches held by troops under his command. Mercer’s Diary, passim.
  30. Ibid., 14 July 1915.
  31. Nicholson, p. 115.
  32. Mercer’s Diary, 23 September 1915.
  33. Ibid., 10 October 1915. The promotion was announced in the London Gazette, 21 December 1915.
  34. Personnel Records Envelope, LAC RG150 Box 6121-45, Casualty Form.
  35. Captain S.G. Bennett, The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles 1914-1919 (Toronto: Murray Printing Company Limited, 1926) p. 12.
  36. War Diary 1st CMR, 2 June 1916, War Diary 2nd CMR, 1 June 1916, War Diary 4th CMR, 1-2 June 1916, War Diary, 5th CMR, 1 June 1916.
  37. Jeffrey Williams, Byng of Vimy, General and Governor-General, (London: Leo Cooper, 1983), p. 120.
  38. Brigadier-General Sir James E. Edmonds, History of the Great War Military Operations France and Belgium, 1916 (London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1932) p. 231, fn.1. There is no source cited for Byng’s statement.
  39. J. Castell Hopkins, Canada at War 1914-1918 (Toronto: The Canadian Annual Review Limited, 1919) p. 146.
  40. War Diary 4th CMR, June 1916, pp. 3, 4, 5.
  41. Hopkins, p. 148.
  42. Letter from Lyman Gooderham to Professor Oswald Smith, University of Toronto Archives, UTA A73 0026-318/43.
  43. Quoted in Nicholson, p. 136.
  44. The 8th Brigade’s casualties for the battle of 2-3 June were 74 officers and 1876 ORs.
  45. The Globe, Toronto, 15 July 1916, p. 9, ‘Signed Pass Permit Finds General’s Body – Corporal Reid Tells Dramatic Story of Locating Remains of Gallant Mercer.’ There is no mention of this event in the 4th Battalion War Diary.
  46. The three officers were released in prisoner exchanges before the end of the war. Williams returned to Canada in late 1918 and was promoted to major-general in command of Military District 2 based in Toronto. The most senior Canadian to become a POW, he died in 1949 at the age of 82.
  47. Lord Beaverbrook, Canada in Flanders,Vol.II, (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1917), p. 175.

Launch of the “From Vimy to Juno” Travelling Exhibit

On Thursday March 31, we were pleased to host the launch of the “From Vimy to Juno” travelling exhibit and education program. The exhibit was created by the Juno Beach Centre in partnership with the Vimy Foundation and with funding support from the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Thanks to the Liberty Entertainment Group, operators of Casa Loma, the reception was held in the beautiful Casa Loma library with about 150 people present through the evening.

The formal remarks phase of the event was MC’d by Juno Beach Centre Executive Director Jenna Zuschlag Misener and included remarks by Jeremy Diamond, Executive Director of the Vimy Foundation; Major Shawn Stewart, Deputy Commanding Officer of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada; and the Juno Beach Centre Association President Mr Don Cooper. The formal portion of the evening was concluded by the Honorable Kent Hehr, Minister of Veterans Affairs who spoke and formally announced the Government of Canada’s support of this project.

QOR Brass Quintet at Vimy to Juno launch

We were also pleased to have three regimental skirmishers present and a brass quintet from the Regimental Band which performed throughout the evening.

A contingent of re-enactors from both WWI and WWII also provided excellent displays and contributed to the exhibit atmosphere with their period dress.


Thanks also to our museum volunteers who helped through the evening.

At the end of the night the exhibit was moved to the Austin Room on the third floor and accessible from our Museum area where it will remain until April 17 when it will then move on to its next location.

The exhibit includes a major educational component and JBC has worked with Lisa Kaplan at Casa Loma on how this can be effectively used by visiting school groups over the coming weeks.

You can see more photos of this event on our Flickr site.

Looking for 3rd Battalion CEF Descendants

One of the friends of the museum WO (Ret) Bruce Walter CD, sent us a great photo of the HQ Lewis Gun section of the 3rd Canadian Battalion, Toronto Regiment taken on January 1st, 1919 “on the Rhine, Germany”. The photo includes his wife’s grandfather – James Herbert Smith.

Bruce recently wrote to us with an update and a request:

"It's been almost a year since I sent those pictures and I've even met a descendant of one of the guys who served with Leanne's grandfather!   The guy on the far left of the 2nd row is Frank Adderley (mis-spelled on the back).  He sits beside Leanne's grandfather, Herb Smith (2nd from left in the 2nd row).  Maureen Adderley is the granddaughter of Frank and we met her (finally) this past Remembrance Day.  

I'd like to initiate a search to find present day descendants of these men.  I'll be using the information from the back of the picture and also information taken from their Attestation papers.  From there I hope to "reach out" to localities and newspapers.  I was wondering if you could initiate an item on the QOR web page in case there are any descendants still contact with the QOR (or possibly still serving)!"  

So we’re doing just that. Below is the information from the back of the photograph about the soldiers.

If you have any information that you think might be able to help Bruce, you can contact him directly via email by clicking here.

Service # Name Initials Address Town
138005 BESSO J.W. 30 Murial or 30 ½ Hebet Ave Toronto
1096162 CHURNSIDE F. 464 Euclid Ave Toronto
916307 WILKES T.E. Lovering, Ont
757560 ISHERWOOD S. 34 Primrose Ave Hamilton
800109 BRIGGS J. Box 17 Holland Landing
202004 WINDLE F.W. 2 Fermenaugh Ave Toronto
201523 ADDERLEY F.d.S. 19 Lyall Ave Toronto
785103 SMITH J.H. 443 Wilson St Hamilton
A4197 SHARLAND T.S. 2185 Gerrard St. E. Toronto
139211 WIGGINS W.R. 1032 Ossington Ave Toronto
757162 PAGE T.W. Bronte, Ont
784781 LEWIS C. 172 East 23rd St Mt Hamilton
238196 HOUCHEN E.V. c/o W.J.H. Miller RR2 No. 8 St Thomas
669487 KERBY W.D. Copleston, Ont

“It is Written” painting on loan to our museum

This summer we were pleased to accept a loan of the spectacular painting It is Written by Brian Lorimer. The loan was facilitated by Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Brendan Caldwell on behalf of the Caldwell Foundation which owns the 5′ x 6′ painting which now hangs in our Riflemen Room. LCol Caldwell also donated a copy of the beautiful Project Remembrance book to the museum library.

Providing a glimpse into one of the more mundane yet psychologically important aspects of a soldier’s life, It is Written represents a soldier engaged in the quiet pastime of writing a letter home.

The canvas is inscribed with one-time Rifleman John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields”. This canonical war poem was penned from the back of an ambulance after McCrae’s friend Alexis Helmer died as the result of wounds sustained in the Second Battle of Ypres and is perhaps the most well-known English-language poem of the Great War.

Project Remembrance is a fine art collection by Canadian painter Brian Lorimer that inspires remembrance and commemorates the centenary of the onset of The First World War. The paintings are a fresh and compelling rendering of the Canadian experience of the Great War, describing moments of individual fortitude and trial. More than that, they are a call to Canadians to consider and draw inspiration from the strength of character exhibited by our soldiers.

Their mission is to preserve, promote and celebrate Canadian history and heritage through the powerful medium of art. Their goal is to raise funds to assist in the betterment of Military personnel and their families. Funds raised with the support of Project Remembrance, individual and corporate donations are provided directly to the Support Our Troops Program.

If you would like to support Project Remembrance, you can purchase copies of the work as framed or unframed on paper, reproduced on canvas, as art cards or the book, via their online store.

We are extremely grateful to the Caldwell Foundation for this loan and encourage you to view it on your next visit to the museum!

100th Anniversary of the 2nd Battle of Ypres

Major Adam Saunders is a Queen’s Own Rifles officer currently posted to 32 Brigade Headquarters. His grandfather Thomas Cully, served in D Company, 3rd Toronto Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. This article was written by Adam while in Belgium.

Most of the participants eyes were watering, as the scene at Vancouver Corner was an emotional one. The tears were from being lost in another time while listening to Belgian school children signing songs of peace and remembrance. One hundred years earlier the tears at this place were a result of the effects of the first industrial scale gas attack in history. Here we stood at the Vancouver Corner Memorial at 5 pm on April 22nd, 2015, lost in the nightmarish reflections of 5 pm on the 22nd of April 1915 when the German Army unleashed chlorine gas against the French portion of the Ypres salient. Canadians immediately felt the effects of the ensuing attack by the German ground troops. The French line had broken and the Canadian flank was ripped open.

Today school children, diplomats, history books, photos, the land itself all reflect the scars from 100 years earlier. The Canadian ambassador to Belgium, together side by side with the German ambassador to Belgium, laid a wreath at the foot of the Brooding Soldier monument on the 100th Anniversary. It was a fitting union of remembrance and forgiveness. The children sang songs of forgiveness, but nothing tells the story like the tens of thousands of graves and a few massive memorials in the Ypres salient marking the final resting places of a generation efficiently mowed down by industrialized warfare.

The Canadian 'Brooding Soldier' memorial was unveiled in 1923 to commemorate the Second Battle of Ypres.
The Canadian ‘Brooding Soldier’ memorial was unveiled in 1923 to commemorate the Second Battle of Ypres.

On April 24th 1915 the Canadians would soon have their turn to experience the full-on effects of chlorine gas. The gas was indiscriminate. It routed out mice and rats and rabbits from their homes in the ground and it strangled sheep and cattle. The gas also kills people. Our troops suffered the full effects of the chlorine gas, just as the French had two days previous. We were better prepared and managed to hold some of the challenged ground and many still hold that very ground. They are included on the lists of the missing and are more than likely in the ground in the area.

For a week previous in 1915, the Canadian 2nd and 3rd brigades had been occupying the front lines of the already infamous Ypres salient. They were tucked between the French on the left and the British on the right. Our 1st Brigade under then Brigadier General Malcolm S. Mercer (of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada) was held in reserve near Vlamertinghe. Finally after the Division was subjected to six months of awful weather, it was spring. It was a nice day.

Early on April 22nd it was becoming evident a German attack was imminent. The reserve brigade was put on short-notice-to-move a number of times. As pressure mounted throughout the day and that evening on our two brigades in the front line it became necessary to push the 1st brigade forward into the evolving battle. The battalions of the 1st brigade (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th) were sent forward in pairs. The 1st and the 4th engaged in a heroic action up Mauser Ridge to establish some kind of viable flank to protect against the rapidly advancing Germans. The French army had all but ceased to be an effective force due to the initial gas attack and the Canadians had to re-establish some semblance of a protracted defensive line.

The 2nd and 3rd battalions crossed the Yser canal at pontoon bridge number 4, in the dark moving past Essex Farm where John McCrea’s medical teams were at the ready. They marched cross country past the ongoing flanking attacks of Geddes detachment and the 1st and 4th. As the 3rd advanced towards Mousetrap Farm which was the 3rd Brigade HQ, they suffered their first casualties from German artillery fire. Those who were killed were immediately buried and those wounded were the first guests of the newly established forward medical aide stations, manned by stretchers bearers, medics and battalion Medical Officers.

As the 3rd awaited orders, 400 yards away the 10th and 16th Battalions were ordered forward into the legendary attack of Kitchener’s Wood just before midnight. The battalions formed up in line by company and advanced in the dark towards the woods, using the North Star as navigation reference. They chased the Germans out at bayonet point and recaptured the guns lost by an London Artillery unit days earlier. The 10th and 16th ceased to be effective fighting forces due to the number of casualties they sustained, yet more was expected of them over the next few hours.

C and D companies of the 3rd Battalion under QOR Major Kirkpatrick were ordered to plug a gap in the line between Kitchener’s Wood and St Julien. These men formed up in line by company, and advanced cross-country in short rushes. They came under fire and fought a pitched battle from farm house to farm house. Our men dug in under fire and under cover of darkness. Many officers and men had been killed. From first hand accounts, the officers led from the front and their men bravely followed. In the morning of the 24th it was the Canadians turn to suffer a gas attack. Artillery fire preceded the gas and followed-on after the gas, as did masses of advancing German soldiers. The Germans were flanking the Canadians so the order to retire was given. The men of C and D companies had nowhere to go. Their comrades from A and B companies, just 500 yards away heard the withering fire as they ran out of ammunition and were silenced. Six wounded men had escaped from the two forward companies. The rest were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The Ross rifles our men were using weren’t up to the task of such a fight.

Upper Canada College First World War prisoners of war including 3rd Battalion's Major Kirkpatrick.
Upper Canada College First World War prisoners of war including 3rd Battalion’s Major Kirkpatrick.

On our right an equally dramatic and heroic battle was taking place with the 13th and 15th battalions. A Victoria Cross was won that day by Corporal Fred Fisher of the 13th. Both battalions faced the gas attack, full on.

For the historians in the crowd we think deeply about the exploits of this one battle and the losses of so many brave souls. It doesn’t seem to make sense now and it was on an unfathomable scale, but our thoughts return to the Belgian school children finishing songs of peace and forgiveness. I stood today for my grandfather Thomas Cully service number 10014 of D Coy. I remember all his pals and their families from the 3rd on the solemn and historical day. I shared the day at this place with a few new and old friends, many of whom were here for the same reason as I. I was here to feel, to remember, to be sad, to look for meaning and to thank goodness for all that we have as Canadians.

Sadly there remain 4 years of such commemorations. We will tire of hearing about WW1 soon enough, yet imagine how tired a generation became of fighting it 100 years ago.

Private Harold Reginald Peat (3rd Battalion), Lieutenant Colonel Pete Anderson, DSO (3rd Battalion) and Sergeant Arthur Gibbons (1st Battalion) each wrote and published first hand accounts of this battle. They are well worth a read. Peat’s “Private Peat“*, Anderson’s “I, That’s Me” and Gibbons’ “A Guest of the Kaiser” are available online at no cost.

Adam Saunders

*Perhaps also worth noting that in 1918 Peat’s book was made into a silent film in which he starred as himself:

“This propaganda picture was based on a book of the same name by Harold R. Peat, and put together inexpensively by Artcraft/Paramount with the help of newsreel footage. Peat, one of the first North Americans to enlist in World War I, was actually a Canadian, but here they make him a red-blooded American. He is alone in the world, except for his girlfriend Mary (Miriam Fouche), and he is anxious to join up when war breaks out. But the army rejects him because of his small chest. He is despondent until he and his friend, Old Bill, concoct a scheme whereby they are both accepted. After a stint in training camp, Harry bids his sweetheart Mary goodbye and accompanies Bill to France. Following several adventures at the front, Bill is killed and Harold, in trying to save a load of ammunition, is wounded. Harold spends some time in a French hospital, after which Mary comes to France to bring her heroic private home.” [from

RCMI Installs Captain Charles Rutherford’s Pistol

Captain Charles Smith Rutherford, VC, MC, MM
Captain Charles Smith Rutherford, VC, MC, MM

The Royal Canadian Military Institute’s museum collection was started in 1890 and it now holds many significant items. For example there is the Colt pistol used by Captain Charles Rutherford, V.C., to capture 80 Germans and 2 machine gun posts, for which he won the Victoria Cross in August 1918. Rutherford was born on a farm in Colborne Ontario on 9 January 1892. He joined The Queen’s Own Rifles in 1916, transferred to the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles and went off to war.

At 26 years of age, Rutherford was in command of an assault party during the 4th Battle of the Scarpe near Monchy, France on 26 August 1918. He found himself a considerable distance ahead of his men when he confronted a strong enemy party. With a masterful bluff, while brandishing his revolver, he took 45, prisoners including two officers and three machine-guns. The lieutenant then observed gunfire from another pillbox that was holding up the assault, so he attacked with his troops, capturing another 35 prisoners and their guns. The last sentence of his VC citation reads, “The bold and gallant action of this officer contributed very materially to the capture of the main objective and was a wonderful inspiration to all ranks in pressing home the attack on a very strong position”.

On 11 June 1989, C.S. Rutherford was the last winner of the Victoria Cross from World War I to die. He was 97 years of age and is buried at in Union Cemetery, Colborne, Ontario. His story is one to be remembered as his combat revolver goes on display once again.

By Gil Taylor

WWI Symposium Reminder

Just a reminder about our First World War Symposium is being help on Sunday September 28th, hosted jointly with the 15th Battalion Memorial Project (48th Highlanders).

We have several well known and highly respected military authors presenting and we encourage you to purchase your tickets as soon as possible so that we can finalize plans for the day!

You can find all the details here: or click on the information at the right side of this page under Museum Events.

Please also share this link with anyone you know who might be interested in attending.


Voices of War, Dreams of Peace: The Legacy of the First World War

Toronto for Voices of War, Dreams of Peace: The Legacy of the First World War

St. Andrew’s Church on Saturday, October 4 at 7:30 p.m.

Foreign correspondent Brian Stewart, classical music expert Rick Phillips and friends will be featured in an evening of talks, dramatic readings, music and a visual show about the First World War and our community.

Voices of War: Dreams of Peace: The Legacy of the First World War will recall an important period in our history – from 1914 “Toronto the Good” to the wartime stories of St. Andrew’s fallen soldiers and their families – and examine the legacy of “the war to end all wars” for 2014.

Period music including It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, Keep the Home Fires Burning, and Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations will be performed on the church’s splendid Bösendorfer Imperial grand piano and Karl Wilhelm organ.

A reception will follow the event.

Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students. Advance tickets are available or at the door (cash or credit card). For more info, call (416)-593-5600, ext 231.

St. Andrew’s Church is on King St.W. at Simcoe St., opposite Roy Thomson Hall. Nearest TTC Station: St. Andrew. Wheelchair Accessible.

Voices of War

First World War Symposium

On Sunday September 28, 2014 the Regimental Museum of the Queen’s Own Rifles and the 15th Battalion CEF Memorial Project (48th Highlanders of Canada) present a symposium on the First World War featuring acclaimed authors and presenters on the Great War:

  • Andy Robertshaw: Feeding Tommy: Battlefield Recipes from the First World War; Digging the Trenches
  • Robert Konduros and Richard Parrish: WW1: A Monumental History
  • Norm Christie: For King and Empire
  • Jack Granatstein: The Greatest Victory: Canada’s One Hundred Days, 1918
  • The event will be held at Moss Park Armoury, 130 Queen Street East, Toronto, M5A 1R9 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Seating is limited to 100 attendees so make sure you register early!
  • The cost is $65 which includes lunch.
  • There will also be book signings, dealers, and artifacts.

Eventbrite - First World War Symposium

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are my transport/parking options getting to the event?

There is a municipal parking lot one block west of the Armoury on Queen Street. Parking on side streets near the Armoury is limited and mostly metered. If at all possible we encourage you to use public transit. The Queen St East streetcar passes in front of the armoury a short distance from the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line (Line 1)

2. Is my registration/ticket transferrable?

Yes you can transfer your ticket online up to to another person (see updating your registration info below) by the end of day on September 25th.

3. Can I update my registration information?

You can update the information on your order (like name, email address, or answers to the organizer’s questions) from Current Orders under My Tickets.

4. Do I have to bring my printed ticket to the event?

Please print and bring your ticket to the event. If you do not have your ticket you will be required to provide identification that will support your registration information.


On this the 100th Anniversary of Canada going to war in 1914, we wanted to share some milestones with you. We’re very excited that late last night we surpassed 100,000 views on our website since we launched in February 2012! About three-quarters of those views were from visitors in Canada however the remaining 25% were from 134 countries.

We started small but since then we’ve made 119 posts, have 249 static pages and have uploaded 1,025 images.

Fittingly some of the most viewed pages on our site our the transcriptions of the war diaries of the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force which were completed as part of a crowdsourcing project in the Fall of 2012.

We’ve continued to add material relating to the First World War including nominal rolls, letters from soldiers, personal diaries and profiles on a number of QOR that served. We’ve recently put links to all this material on our WWI Resources Page to make it easier for visitors to find – please take a look!

Of course this isn’t the end – we’ll continue to post information and resources particularly related to the First World War over the coming years and months. Thank you for being on this journey with us!

WWI Public Commemorative Ceremony

Thursday July 31

On behalf of Blake Goldring, Founder and Chair of Canada Company, you are invited to a special evening to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of the First World War.

Join the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History, the Munk School of Global Affairs and the Canadian Armed Forces on the evening of July 31 at Varsity Stadium for this commemorative event.

Host: former war-correspondent, Gemini-winner Brian Stewart, Remarks by noted historian Margaret MacMillan and the CDS, Gen Thomas J. Lawson, CMM, CD. Vocal performances by Ruth Ann Onley, Danielle Bourre, and Jean Miso with the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus.

Event is free but tickets required; for reservations and further info click here.

3rd Bn CEF War Diaries Online

Perhaps not surprisingly, as the centenary of the First World War approaches, some of the most popular pages on our website are the transcribed war diaries of the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Libraries and Archives Canada had scanned several hundred pages of these diaries and posted them on to their website as jpeg photos. As valuable as this was, they were impossible to search and the way they were listed on their site made it a challenge to find a particular date quickly.

First entries in the 3rd Battalion, CEF War Diaries
First entries in the 3rd Battalion, CEF War Diaries

So in the Fall of 2012, we undertook to crowd-source the transcriptions of these pages and were very pleasantly surprised by the results! Within just eleven weeks, 27 volunteers all recruited online and some from the far corners of the world, had transcribed 53 months of diaries and they were posted on our website! This has also allowed us to link to other information on our website such as specific soldier profiles and to include photos of relevant artifacts. We continue to add to these pages as we can.

I highly encourage you to check them out if you have not already done so because they give, in concise military way, a chilling perspective on this horrible war.

We’ve received some positive feedback on this resource but I was particularly pleased to see the recent comment reprinted below, from a US Army Lieutenant Colonel whose Scottish grandfather crossed the border from US to join the 255th Battalion, CEF. He eventually see combat with the 3rd Battalion. His story also illustrates how the war continued to impact families long after it had ended.


Thanks for transcribing the 3rd Bn war diaries. In August 1913, my grandfather, John Denning Wallace, immigrated from Paisley, Scotland to Kearny, New Jersey. In April 1918, he crossed the border and joined the Toronto Regiment to fight with the CEF in WWI. He served with the 3rd Bn on the front lines near Arras, France, from November 1917 until July 15, 1918, when he sustained a gunshot wound in the left arm. In February 1919, he was medically discharged for the “GSW left arm” and for “trench exposure.” A few years later, he died from the trench exposure at age 30 [1926].

On review of my grandfather’s CEF discharge certificate and military records, they did not reveal how he sustained his combat wound, and for many years I often wondered. Thankfully, the 3rd Bn war diaries provided me with some background. The 3rd Bn war diaries for July 14-16 1918, and the 3rd Bn end of month casualty report for July 1918, reveal that my grandfather, “Wallace, J.D.”, and three other 3rd Bn soldiers were wounded by machine gun fire whilst “laying wire ” near Post 7 in the Fampough sector near Arras. The next day, one had died from his wounds.

Now I know.

Wayne S. Wallace,
LTC, U.S. Army

Regimental Christmas Cards from the First and Second World War

As we approach another holiday season, we’re sharing some of the Regimental Christmas Cards that will be on a temporary exhibit at the Museum starting 1 December. This first series is primarily from the First World War with one from 1941. The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada perpetuate the 83rd, 166th and 198th Battalions represented below.

Approaches to Canadian Epitaphs of the Great War

By Eric McGeer
Originally published in Canadian Military History, Spring 2013

Eric teaches at Northmount School in Toronto. He is currently working on the military history of the University of Toronto, focusing mainly on the university’s contingent of the Canadian Officers’ Training Corps. He is also serving on our Museum’s First World War Advisory Team.

“Time but the impression deeper makes”*

This paper begins with a flight of fancy meant to put its subject in a novel perspective. Imagine archaeologists at some distant time in the future coming upon the British memorials and war cemeteries clustered along the old Western Front. Suppose, too, that although the written sources for the Great War no longer survive, the mandate of the War Graves Commission to maintain the monuments in perpetuity has ensured a good state of preservation. In the same way that archaeologists test the historicity of the Trojan War against the evidence from Bronze Age sites, or reconstruct the workings of the Roman army from its camps and fortifications, our imagined archaeologists would set about collating and interpreting the details in the commemorative monuments to form a reasonably coherent picture of the Great War. They would infer from the sheer density of the war cemeteries that it had been a very static conflict; from the dates, regiments, and nationalities incised on the headstones they could establish a chronology of events and a latter-day “Catalogue of Ships” listing the peoples drawn from all over the world into the British Empire’s order of battle. The number of nameless graves, tallying with the registers inscribed on the memorials to the missing, would induce recognition of a frighteningly destructive war that inflicted not only mass death but mass annihilation. Some explanation for this would emerge from the insignia on the headstones identifying artillerymen, machine gunners, tank crewmen, and fliers, which bear witness to the advances in military technology that made such a rigidly concentrated war so consumptive of human life. An archaeologist sensitive to the contradictory logic of human affairs might perceive the trap into which the belligerents worked themselves, that victory alone, at any price, could redeem the sacrifice that mounted with each year of the war.

The evidence responding to the basic questions of who fought the war, when and where and how it was fought, would naturally lead to more speculative inquiry. Anyone beholding these monuments would marvel at the herculean effort involved in creating them and at the scrupulous desire to commemorate every last one of the fallen by name, signs of the debt of remembrance which the survivors felt they owed to the dead. In seeking answers to the very human and very taxing questions as to how people at the time justified so costly a struggle, and how the victors rationalised the appalling price of victory, our future archaeologists would seize upon a body of evidence, unique in history, which historians of our age have been slow to exploit in their study of the memory of the Great War. Thousands of personal inscriptions, engraved on the headstones of the fallen, convey the grief of the families who suffered the loss of fathers, husbands, brothers, sons (and, lest we forget, daughters), and the consolatory themes by which they reconciled themselves to their loss. In their great abundance, cutting across all levels of society, and in their affecting simplicity, the epitaphs preserve the voice of the generation that bore the burden of the war and tried to find meaning in its terrible exactions. They invite us to explore the sources of comfort to which they turned in their distress, and – to do what our age finds it very hard to do with respect to the Great War [1] – to accord fair recognition to sensibilities and attitudes which we have long since discarded, and to beliefs and ideals which ever since the 1960s have come to have less and less meaning. “Our dear Daddy and our hero”; “Baby of the family. Mother still anxious for his return”; “Also in memory of his brother Samuel, killed at Courcelette, 16th September 1916” [2] – these are but three of countless examples reminding us of the claim of the bereaved on our sympathies and of our obligation in return to examine the epitaphs through the prism of their emotions, values, and sources of consolation. [3]

The personal inscriptions, let it be said, have not gone entirely unnoticed. The provision allowing next of kin to contribute short valedictions is duly noted in histories of the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission, [4] even if its significance as the first occasion in history that the general populace could add a private voice to the official commemoration of the war dead is not as emphasized as it might be. The poignancy of these inscriptions – and many truly are gems of compression – has inspired two anthologies, John Laffin’s We Will Remember Them, presenting Australian epitaphs, and Trefor Jones’s On Fame’s Eternal Camping Ground, a wider selection of British and Dominion examples. [5] Both fulfill the purpose of anthologies in providing a selection of memorable personal inscriptions; and it is not to detract from the value of these collections, particularly Laffin’s, to point out that neither ventures into the larger questions of the cultural context and provenance of the epitaphs. It is to say, however, that there has as yet been no attempt to situate the epitaphs of the Great War in the long tradition of sepulchral inscriptions originating in Antiquity, [6] to identify and elaborate upon their sources, [7] and to integrate them within the cultural history of the Great War, a subject in which myth and memory have come to occupy the high ground. Such an undertaking lies beyond the remit of this paper, which proposes instead to outline the approaches to a deeper, and potentially more revealing, study of the personal inscriptions. Although the focus is mainly on Canadian epitaphs, the sense of imperial unity and the close cultural affinity between Great Britain and the English-speaking dominions make the observations offered here broadly applicable to the corpus of epitaphs from the First World War. [8] Any discussion of the personal inscriptions must first balance their worth against their limitations as sources. Though they echo the sentiments of their time, they speak directly for only a small proportion of the dead and those who commemorated them, as some rough calculations will show. Of the 66,000 Canadians killed in the Great War, 11,000 have no known grave; of the identified graves, just under half carry a personal inscription, many of which repeat formulae (“Rest in peace,” “Gone but not forgotten,” “Son of … born in…”) of little more than fleeting interest. The number of inscriptions that offer insight into the minds of the bereaved, individually and collectively, comes to about 3,000 by my count, speaking for about five percent of Canada’s war dead. [9] Their form and realm of expression, though not without variety, adhere to the restrictions imposed by the War Graves Commission and by the conventions of the time. Here the exceptions prove useful in illustrating the rules and, more importantly, the latitude shown in their application. When scanning the collection, for instance, it becomes clear that while most inscriptions stay within the prescribed length of 66 characters (including the spaces between words), a great many do not, the most striking example being a text of over 450 characters covering the headstone of a Canadian lieutenant buried in France. [10] Similar discretion is evident in the content of the epitaphs. The Commission reserved “absolute power of rejection or acceptance” over the inscriptions submitted, yet there are several noteworthy examples giving vent to anger or resentment which demonstrate the range of acceptability. “He did his duty. My heart knoweth its own bitterness. Mother”; “A bursting bud on a slender stem, broken and wasted, our boy”; “Another life lost, hearts broken, for what”; “Sacrificed to the fallacy that only war can end war”; “Many died and there was much glory.” [11] The lengths to which the Commission was prepared to go in accommodating the wishes of next of kin stand out in one stark inscription, indescribably moving in its restoration of honour to the memory of a soldier executed for desertion: “Shot at dawn. One of the first to enlist. A worthy son of his father.” [12]

The taut, pointed simplicity of these examples proves yet again that economy of words makes for much greater impact than does prolixity, something that Rudyard Kipling and Frederic Kenyon well understood when they made their recommendations on personal inscriptions. [13] The infrequent but telling departures from the norm also bring out another point deserving of emphasis. Whatever control the Commission exercised over the personal inscriptions should be construed not as censorship but as a safeguard of propriety and dignity in the war cemeteries. The restrictions on length, and the small fee charged for an inscription, were deterrents against “the effusion of the mortuary mason, the sentimental versifier, or the crank,” and are consistent with the opposition to inappropriate epitaphs that the proponents of the cemetery reform movement of the nineteenth century had long made part of their programme. [14] They took the view that irreverent or semi-literate inscriptions undermined the moral benefits to persons visiting cemeteries to reflect on the vicissitudes of this life and the promise of the one to come. As this view took hold, collections of epitaphs judged suitable for sepulchral inscriptions proliferated throughout the second half of the 19th century. The trend in civil cemeteries towards the spiritual edification of visitors was even more pronounced in the military burial grounds, in which the common aim of the architects and horticulturalists was to create the tranquil, contemplative atmosphere of an English garden, a setting designed to inspire reflection and meditation on the sacrifice of the fallen. We must also take into account the emotional restraint bred into a generation of parents born in the 1850s and 1860s commemorating sons born in the 1880s and 1890s – in other words, people deeply rooted in the Victorian Age – which surfaces in this epitaph, “Sadly missed, silently mourned by his wife and children,”15 and many more referring to private sorrows, silent thoughts, or hidden tears – faultlessly Victorian in concealing the intensity of the grief behind the stoic façade presented to the world.

Few epitaphs represent original compostions. The Victorians preferred to select their gravestone inscriptions, and it seems to have been the assumption on the part of the Commission that next of kin contributing epitaphs would draw from venerable authorities. In the years immediately following the war, a canon of remembrance verse took shape, including such familiar pieces as Laurence Binyon’s “For the Fallen” and John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields,” which supplied a number of apposite lines; but most of those seeking literary valedictions turned to the poets whose works they had learned in their schooldays when memory work and recitation were staples of pedagogy. A trawl through the University of Toronto’s calendars from the years before the war reveals that the poems most often quarried for epitaphs – Tennyson’s “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington” (“The path of duty was the way to glory”), “Break, break, break” (“O for the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is still”) or Shelley’s “Adonais” (“He hath outsoared the shadow of our night”) – were required reading for high school matriculants in English who, like all students of the time, went through a thoroughly Anglocentric curriculum. [16] Sunday School, following or followed by church, immersed people from an early age in the hymns and writings, particularly John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and John Henry Newman’s “Lead, Kindly Light,” which provided a plentiful source of spiritual comfort. But if the generation raised before the war entrusted the expression of its grief, acceptance, or hope to one book, it was to the King James Version of the Bible. It is impossible to overstate the centrality of the Bible in Victorian culture. To paraphrase one scholar, Scriptural knowledge is a prerequisite for entering into the thought-world of the generation that went through the Great War. [17] “(Assurance) What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee. Ps. 56.3”; “O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee. Ps. 84.12”; “God hath delivered my soul from the place of hell for He shall receive me. Ps. 49. 15”; “My favourite reading, 1st bk. Cor. ch. 13”:18 these are among the epitaphs that display the family’s awareness of the passages which the soldier read each day and to which he turned in times of trial. The annotated Bible of a Canadian soldier killed in 1918 contains a list of 18 passages, all from the New Testament, connecting the teachings, experiences, and tribulations of Christ and His followers to the various aspects of a devoutly Christian soldier’s life on active service – and in two texts frequently used as epitaphs, 2 Timothy 4: 5-8 (“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”) and Revelation 21: 4 (“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes”) – to the eventuality of his death and reward. [19] If these readings formed a kind of spiritual anchor for the men in the trenches, other standard selections supplied comfort to the bereaved. The very Victorian habit of reading one’s experiences through the lens of the Bible, and making sense of this earthly pilgrimage by identifying oneself with its stories or characters, guided the next of kin who in like fashion turned to familiar consolatory passages (“Blessed are they who mourn”) or sought reassuring parallels. The mother of a Newfoundland soldier killed on 1 July 1916 chose a line from Luke 7: 12, “The only son of his mother and she was a widow,” that movingly depicts the loneliness of her grief, eased, we can only hope, by the compassion which Christ shows to the sorrowing mother in the Biblical passage. [20]

Epitaphs drawn from the Bible broadened rather than narrowed the range of expression. There are examples to suggest that families selected passages to give voice to feelings which, phrased in less authoritative tones, might have been rejected as too contentious or excessive. “Young men, ye have overcome the wicked one. I John 2.13,” represents a rare instance of triumphalism that puts paid to the Kaiser and all his works without overtly hostile reference to the enemy, a practice discouraged by the Commission.21 “By this I know Thou favourest me, that mine enemy doth not triumph against me” quotes Psalm 41.11 to imply that God had denied victory to Germany; an epitaph drawn from Psalm 68: 30, “Scatter Thou the people that delight in war,” issues a veiled call for divine retribution against a militaristic enemy held responsible for causing the war.22 Those opposed to war were aware that no one could object to the injunction against violence uttered by Christ, “They that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Matthew 26: 52,” or His promise of benediction, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” [23]

The depths of love between a wife and husband might find their most tender expression in Scripture, particularly in the oft-chosen Song of Songs (“Mine till the day break and the shadows flee away”; “Many waters cannot quench love”), or in this richly allusive passage: “My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of En-Gedi.” [24] The great number of personal inscriptions citing the Song of Songs should also remind the present generation, no longer on instantly familiar terms with the King James Version, not to overlook the significance of epitaphs that can sometimes pall through repetition. Though often interpreted in allegorical or mystical ways, the Song of Songs was for the people who lived at the time of  the Great War the most powerful expression of married love and the firmest pledge that this love was stronger than death. [25]

Where the study of Canadian epitaphs proves most fruitful, however, is in further elucidating the themes of consolation so thoughtfully explored by Jonathan Vance and in broadening our understanding of the meaning assigned to the Great War by those whose lives were blighted by loss and grief. Two inscriptions, “He gave his all for freedom, the whole wide world to save” and “I have given my life to promote peace between nations,” [26] encapsulate the general belief that this had been “the war to end all wars.” From our disillusioned perspective a century on, this idealism seems wishful and naive, but the people who had these epitaphs engraved on the headstones of their loved ones had grown up with the Victorian world view that suffering and death had purpose, all disasters had a moral, and progress came at a price. [27] They also belonged to the first generation to realise what kind of war the technically advanced armies of industrialised, fully mobilised countries could fight; and they saw in this harrowing experience a warning to the future: “If death be the price of victory, O God forbid all wars”; “Break, day of God, sweet day of peace, and bid the shout of warriors cease.” [28] The unquestionable sincerity of these pleas compels us to recognise the consoling vision of a better world which the people of Britain and the Dominions drew from the Allied victory. The losses, terrible as they  were, had resulted in the triumph of one set of principles and values over another: “Right is stronger than might”; “For King and country thus he fell, a tyrant’s arrogance to quell.” [29] The defeat of autocracy and militarism which had brought on the war, and the moral obligation imposed by the horrendous cost to uphold the ideals of freedom, democracy, and concord among nations (“Justice owes them this, that what they died for not be overthrown”), [30] would ensure that such a catastrophe could never happen again. In the minds of comtemporaries the replacement of Tsarist Russia with democratic America in the Allied coalition had reinvigorated the Allied cause by transforming it into a crusade to create a better world (taking Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points as its blueprint) that would abide by a just and stable peace. [31] The belief that a husband, son, or father had given his life in what was surely a divinely sanctioned cause (“Yet remember this, God and our good cause fight upon our side”) [32] found its way onto many a headstone: “He allured to a better world and led the way”; “We grudge not our life if it give larger life to them that live”; “Liberty and freedom had to be won by the willing sacrifice of life”; “He died so that life might be a sweeter thing to all. He liveth.” [33]

“Christ Jesus Who gave Himself, a ransom for all”; “By his death our life revealing, he for us the ransom paid”; “He died for others. Even so did Christ.” [34] From casting a soldier’s death as an offering towards a world made new, it was but a short step to hallowing the fallen as an elect who had died that their kin and country might live and, in the highest sense of sacrifice, laid down their lives for humanity: “Our soldier boy endured the Cross and won the crown” is one of many epitaphs assigning redemptive significance to the suffering of the soldiers who in remaining “faithful unto death” had given the ultimate proof of their devotion: “He gave his pure soul unto his captain Christ”; “Jesus died for me. I’m not afraid to die for Him.” [35] As Vance has shown, after the Somme or Passchendaele, the established churches, which had wholeheartedly supported the war, were at a loss to explain the carnage in terms of historical theology or as the operation of God’s providence. [36]

The only explanation lay in passages emphasizing the Christian virtues of suffering and sacrifice (“Thou, therefore, endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ”) which bestowed meaning and purpose on the deaths of so many soldiers whose sacrifice had led to victory (in itself confirmation of the righteousness of the Allied cause) and the prospect of a world purged of iniquity: “The blood of Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin,” on one soldier’s headstone, could not proclaim more forthrightly the belief that the fallen had done their part to redeem mankind by shedding their blood in willing emulation of the Redeemer. [37]

“It is finished,” Christ’s dying words in the Gospel of John, is inscribed on the headstone of a young artilleryman who died four days after the Armistice. [38] The war was over, the long agony had ended, and death had been swallowed up in victory, leading many families to exalt their dead as “One of Christ’s faithful warriors,” “A volunteer for Jesus,” or “A Christian hero,” [39] as they found solace in a conviction widely shared among Canadians that the battlefields of France and Flanders had been, in the words of John Arkwright’s hymn “O Valiant Hearts,” “a lesser Calvary.” For those pondering the reward for the soldiers who had not lived to see the victory which their travails had helped to achieve, there were comforting reminders from Scripture of God’s covenant with His servants: “And I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten”; “And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. Heb. 8. 12”; “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.” [40] But where the soldiers’ endurance and sacrifice had won them salvation and life everlasting, the mourners had to carry on along their own Via dolorosa: “I lift my cross each day and think of thee, brave heart”; “He wears a crown. I wear a cross. Mother.” [41]

“For God and right. Let not a whisper fall that our hero died in vain.” [42] Confronted by a death toll so terrible and benumbing, those left to cope with their grief were understandably inclined to embrace the idealism or religious faith that made the sacrifice meaningful and necessary. These were not the only barriers against the unwelcome – and unbearable – feeling of despair or futility at so great a loss of life. “I will give him a white stone and in the stone a new name – victory.” [43] Canadians could also take considerable pride in the exploits of their soldiers which in many cases tempered the grief of the mourners. The same impulse that led Canadians to name schools, streets, geographical features, and even their children, after famous battles is apparent in epitaphs proudly noting soldiers’ deaths in the feats of arms that made the reputation of the Canadian Corps: “Died of wounds received at Ypres”; “He fell at the Somme. It is immortal honour”; “Mort à Vimy à l’age de trente ans en combattant pour la grande cause”; “Killed near Passchendaele”; “Killed in action at Cambrai”; and one more that reflected the renown won by the Canadians in spearheading the war-winning offensive that began at Amiens on 8 August 1918 – “Tomorrow will be Canada’s day.” [44] Other epitaphs no less proudly record the soldier’s courage in the performance of his duties or the esteem in which his comrades held him: “Died for King and country while keeping line open under shell fire”; “Killed leading an attack at Regina Trench”; “Mentioned in despatches for gallant and distinguished conduct;” “Beloved by officers and men”; “His captain said ‘No braver soldier ever led men into battle’” [45] – this last being one of several examples indicating that letters of condolence to next of kin inspired the inscription on a soldier’s grave.

Just how protective Canadians were of the heroic and morally bracing legacy of the Canadian Corps can be seen on the headstone of a soldier killed in May 1917, five weeks after the United States entered the war. “I raised my boy to be a soldier” states the epitaph supplied by his mother. [46] Her choice of words, baffling to our eyes, would have met with grim approval at the time. It is a Canadian retort to the popular American song, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier,” which grated on Canadian nerves when the sanctimonious Yankees stayed out of a struggle that strained Canada to the limit, and again when the Doughboys began to claim all the credit for winning the war. [47] The doyen of Canada’s military historians, Charles Stacey (1906-1989), recalled a joke passed around after the war which had the American general Pershing annoyed about the late arrival of his cab in Paris. “When it did arrive, Pershing protested to the driver, who was a female, ‘My good woman, you’re three minutes late.’ And the lady replied, ‘My good man, you’re three years late.’” [48] When borne in mind that the Dominion of Canada had lost a much greater proportion of her young manhood than had her far more populous, late-coming neighbour, both the levity and the epitaph make palpable Canadians’ resentment at the diminution of their efforts in the Great War, not simply for patriotic but for intensely personal reasons.

A new appreciation of the composition of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and of the assorted backgrounds and loyalties of the men in its ranks, emerges from the epitaphs. If the CEF is pictured as a pyramid, the “Canadians” born in Britain would form the broad base of the structure, their origins indicated by the hundreds of inscriptions noting addresses or birthplaces in the United Kingdom, and by professions of allegiance to their native lands and empire: “A son of England – from Canada, given to the Empire”; “Mortuus est pro Scotia” (i.e. “He died for Scotland”). [49] A sprinkling of epitaphs in Welsh (“Yn eich Duw coeliwch uchw dig gelyn all alw’n iach” – “Believe in God and even your enemy will respect you”) and in Scots Gaelic (“G’un robhdiagrasmhor ohuit a mhic” – “God be gracious to you, my son”) show that English was by no means the mother tongue of all the British immigrants who made up half the CEF. [50] The next layer up would contain the men born in Canada, whose epitaphs display an increasingly self conscious national identity. Many record Canadian birthplaces; and while declarations of loyalty to Britain and Empire abound (“One of Canada’s gifts to the Empire, a life”), a swelling tide of Canadian sentiments (“Our lad is a hero, great Canada’s pride”) support the general consensus that the Great War marked the first step on the road from Dominion to nation. [51] Nor was all the patriotic phraseology penned in Britain, for we find an epitaph citing what would one day become the national anthem (“O Canada, he stood on guard for thee”) and another drawing attention to Canada’s rediscovered war poets: “In years to come when time is olden, Canada’s dream shall be of them.” [52] Within the great cross-section of Canadian society represented in the epitaphs (“From a homestead, Quantock, Sask.”; “Dearly beloved son of Maj. Gen. S.C. Mewburn C.M.G. Minister of Militia & Defence, Canada”), [53] we find faint but perceptible echoes of the trials and controversies as much a part of Canada’s experience of the Great War as the deeds of her soldiers. May we take, for instance, the many epitaphs emphasizing the soldier’s voluntary enlistment or the ready acceptance of his duty (“I am going. My country needs me”) as the last shots in the battle over conscription? [54] “Rejected four times, accepted the fifth”; “Discharged from N.Z. forces as unfit, having lost the sight of an eye. Re-enlisted at Vancouver” [55] – what do these two extraordinary examples tell us about the standards for enlistment as the need for men became ever more desperate after 1916?  The paucity of epitaphs in French testifies to Quebec’s indifference to an English war, yet if few in number these adieux attest to the determination of the only French speaking battalion in the teeming hosts of the British Empire to uphold the reputation of their people on the field of battle: “O Dieu, prenez ma vie pour Votre gloire et celle du Canada-français”; “A la fleur de l’age il sacrifia héroïquement sa vie pour son pays.” [56] Also among the epitaphs that should spur interest in the groups which have until recently gained little purchase in the predominantly English-Canadian narrative of the war are the ones which commemorate native soldiers (“One of the many Canadian Indians who died for the Empire”) and the men from non-British backgrounds (“He was the first Icelander to give his life for Canada”). [57]

As we move up towards the apex of the pyramid, the CEF begins to resemble the Foreign Legion. Not surprisingly, given the geographical proximity, we come upon Americans who headed “over there” by way of Canada long before April 1917. One acted on the outrage felt by Americans at an incident that nearly brought the United States into the war in 1915: “A volunteer from the U.S.A. to avenge the Lusitania murder.” [58] Some were students (“One of American Harvard vanguard, entering Canadian service in 1916”) motivated by the desire to help not Britain but a country much dearer to American hearts: “A citizen of the United States who fought and died for France.” [59] One wonders if this young man ever crossed paths with Private Victor Hugo Sørensen, one of a surprising number of soldiers identified by their inscriptions as a “Dansk frivillig” (Danish volunteer). [60] A handful, like Sørensen and the impressively named Count Ove Krag-Juel-Vind-Frijs, [61] had immigrated to Canada, yet most were Danish citizens motivated either by the strongly Francophile tendencies shown in Private Sørensen’s given names, or, as is more likely the case, by lingering anger at Bismarck’s craftily orchestrated annexation
of Schleswig-Holstein in 1864 and concerns that the Kaiser’s Germany had the same regard for Danish neutrality as it did for Belgian. A handful of epitaphs in Dutch may hint that men from another traditionally neutral country bordering Germany shared these apprehensions. If the Danish and Dutch volunteers were 20 years ahead of their time, there were others whose motives to enlist in Canadian service had more to do with defeating Germany’s major ally. The epitaph of a Czech who died on active service with the Canadian Pioneers strikes the nationalistic note of a people longing to be free from Austro-Hungarian rule: “Lehkou ti zeme Belgie chloubo matky čechie” – “May the earth of Belgium be light upon you, pride of the Czech motherland”; [62] that of a Serbian immigrant and volunteer leads us to shake our heads yet again at the incredible interplay of events that linked Canada in common cause with a country to which few Canadians can have given much thought before 28 June 1914: “Za otatsbinu i saveznika život svoj dao” – “For his fatherland and ally he gave his life.” [63]

The study of the personal inscriptions, as this paper has attempted to show, touches on subjects ranging from the broad to the particular, casting light on national, cultural, and social history, and, above all, on the myriad experiences and stories submerged within the vast depths of the Great War. “Be ashamed to die until you have gained some victory for humanity’; “Son of my heart, live for ever. There is no death for you and me”; “It is well done, Dad” [64] – ennobling, saddening, austere, rarely bitter, never cynical, the epitaphs cannot fail to touch the hearts of sympathetic readers; however, to return to the flight of archaeological fancy with which we opened, it has been the purpose of this paper to take the reader below the layer of emotion and expose the strata where further investigations must begin if the epitaphs are to enhance our understanding of the memory of the Great War. It is no great revelation to say that the epitaphs speak with the voice of a very different time, not of artists or writers, but of a populace in mourning. It warrants saying only to point us in the direction in which further research should proceed – back into the nineteenth century, not forward into the twentieth, led by Jay Winter and other scholars who have rightly insisted on the durability of the cultural traditions which sustained the generation faced with the mass death of the Great War, and would sustain a following generation faced with the mass evil of the Great War’s sequel. [65] Only by excavating, so to speak, down to the foundation of the epitaphs, unearthing clues to the reasons behind their choice and setting them firmly in the cultural context of their time, can we hope to retain our ever attenuating link with a generation whose response to the tragedy of the war is so rich in historical and human interest.

*From the inscription on the headstone of Lance Corporal Andrew Ramage, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (Wimereux Communal Cemetery).

1. The contrast between the attitudes of one time and those of another struck one historian at Tyne Cot War Cemetery as he compared the inscriptions on the headstones with the comments in the visitors’ book; see Paul Reed, “Vestiges of War: Passchendaele revisited,” in Peter H. Liddle, ed., Passchendaele in Perspective. The Third Battle of Ypres (London: Leo Cooper, 1997), pp.467-78, esp. 471-72.

2. Epitaphs of Private George Brignell, 54th Battalion Canadian Infantry [CI] (Cantimpré Canadian Cemetery); Private Albert Kick, 4th Battalion CI (Sancourt British Cemetery); Private Alec Feltham, 52nd Battalion CI (Nine Elms British Cemetery).

3. Best described by David Cannadine, “War and death, grief and mourning in modern Britain,” in Joachim Whaley, ed., Mirrors of Mortality: Studies in the Social History of Death (London: The Stanhope Press, 1981), pp.187-242, esp. 212-17. See also Jonathan Vance, “Remembering Armageddon,” in David Mackenzie, ed., Canada and the First World War: Essays in Honour of Robert Craig Brown (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005), pp.409-33, and Alan R. Young, “We throw the torch’: Canadian Memorials of the Great War and the Mythology of Heroic Sacrifice,” Journal of Canadian Studies 24, no.4 (Winter 1989-90), pp.5-28.

4. Philip Longworth, The Unending Vigil: A History of the Commonwealth War Graves
Commission (Reprinted Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Books, 2003); Mark Quinlan, Remembrance (Hertford: Authors OnLine Ltd., 2005, pp.69-153). The cemeteries in which Canada’s Great War dead are interred are the subject of Norm Christie’s projected Sacred Places: Canadian Cemeteries of the Great War (Ottawa: CEF Books, 2011-).

5. John Laffin, We Will Remember Them: AIF Epitaphs of World War 1 (Kenthurst, New
South Wales, Australia: Kangaroo Press, 1995); Trefor Jones, On Fame’s Eternal Camping Ground: A Study of First World War Epitaphs in the British Cemeteries of 11 the Western Front (Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Cromwell Press, Ltd., 2007).

6. The study of the epitaphs and the standard themes of consolation which have endured in western culture from Antiquity down to the present day begins with Richmond Lattimore, Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1962), esp. pp.215-65, and Joshua Scodel, The English Poetic Epitaph: Commemoration and Conflict from Jonson to Wordsworth (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1991).

7. This cuts both ways, since scholars writing on the epitaphic tradition have not taken the personal inscriptions of the two world wars into consideration. They have no place, for example, in Karl Guthke’s otherwise valuable study, Epitaph Culture in the West: Variations on a Theme in Cultural History (Lewiston-Queenston-Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2003), pp.325-58.

8. British, Canadian, Newfoundland, Australian, and South African epitaphs would come together within this corpus. The New Zealand government forbade personal inscriptions on the grounds that not all families would be able to afford the cost involved. Though one can appreciate the egalitarian spirit of this decision, it must be reckoned a great loss to posterity that the families of New Zealand soldiers – so highly regarded for their performance in both world wars – could not add their voice to the commemoration and popular memory of the Kiwis.

9. Jones estimates that about 45 percent of identified graves have an inscription, noting that the percentage on officers’ graves is much higher since their families could afford the fee charged by the Commission (which was eventually made voluntary, but too late for poorer families who had declined to submit an inscription). The issue of cost did not affect Canadian families since the Canadian government covered the cost of inscription s. See On Fame’s Eternal Camping Ground, pp.11-12; Longworth,  The Unending Vigil, p.44.

10. Lieutenant Alfred Evans, buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension. In full it reads: “In loving memory of Lieutenant Alfred James Lawrence Evans. B.Sc. McGill. 1st Canadian Division 7th December 1915. Aged 26 years. Born at Quebec. Died of wounds received on 23rd November 1915 while in command of 1st Bde Mining Sec. 3rd Btn. front line trenches, Belgium. Mentioned in despatches for gallant and distinguished conduct in the field. ‘The brave die never, being deathless they but change their country’s arms for more, their country’s heart.’”

11. Private Reuben haley, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (Puchevillers British Cemetery); Private Thomas Quinlan, Royal Warwickshire Regiment (Rat ion Farm Cemet ery); Private William Rae, 20th Battalion Australian Infantry (Villers-Bretonneux Cemetery); Lieutenant Arthur Young, Royal Irish Fusiliers (Tyne Cot Cemetery); Sergeant William Clegg, Canadian Army Medical Corps (Bramshott Churchyard).

12. Private Albert Ingham, Manchester Regiment, (Bailleulmont Communal Cemetery); on his execution and his father’s insistence on having the details of his death inscribed on his headstone, see Cathryn Corns and John Hughes-Wilson, Blindfold and Alone: British Military Executions in the Great War (London: Cassell and Company, 2001), pp.256-60.

13. The recommendations on personal inscriptions were set out by Sir Frederic Kenyon, War Graves. How the Cemeteries Abroad Will Be Designed (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1918) (reprinted in Quinlan, Remembrance, pp.245-63 (the relevant passage on pp.251-52); Rudyard Kipling, The Graves of the Fallen (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1919), passim. See also Jones, On Fame’s Eternal Camping Ground, pp.8-14, and Laffin, We Will Remember Them, pp.24-27, with examples of the inscriptions suggested by the Commission.

14. See John Morley, Death, Heaven and the Victorians (London: Studio Vista, 1971),  pp.42-44, 52-57; Guthke, Epitaph Culture in the West, pp.67-81; Karen Sanchez-Eppler, “Decomposing: Wordsworth’s poetry of epitaphs and English burial reform,” Nineteenth-Century Literature 42, no.4 (1988), pp.415-31.

15. Private Alfred Cogan, Canadian Army Medical Corps (Oxford Road Cemetery).

16. On the reading material in Ontario schools before and during the war, and the values it imparted, see the illuminating, well-judged new study by Susan Fisher, Boys and Girls in No Man’s Land: English-Canadian Children and the First World War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), pp.15-27, 51-103.

17. Timothy Larsen, A People of One Book: The Bible and the Victorians (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp.1-8, 295-98.

18. Private William Barnes, 19th Battalion CI (Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery
Extension); Private James MacDonald, 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles (Menin Road South Military Cemetery); Driver Charles Maxted, Canadian Engineers (Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery); Private Alfred Blackmore, 46th Battalion CI (London Cemetery and Extension).

19. Michelle Fowler, “Faith, Hope and Love: The wartime motivation of Lance Corporal Frederick Spratlin, MM and Bar, 3rd Battalion, CEF,” Canadian Military History 15, no.1 (Winter 2006), pp.45- 50. Lance Corporal Spratlin died on 8 August 1918, and lies buried in Toronto (Demuin) Cemetery. Given the strength of his character and convictions, the inscription on his headstone, “I died that truth and honour might live,” is no empty sentiment. The evidence of the epitaphs also throws light on the religious beliefs of Great War soldiers studied by Richard Schweitzer, The Cross and the Trenches: Religious Faith and Doubt among British and American Great War Soldiers (Westport, CN and London: Praeger, 2003), pp.84- 117, 129-39; see also Duff Crerar, Padres in No Man’s Land: Canadian Chaplains and the Great War (Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1995), pp.161-65.

20. Private Arthur Jones, Royal Newfoundland Regiment (Knightsbridge Cemetery).

21. Private William McGreer, 47th Battalion CI (Cérisy-Gailly Military Cemetery). The
Australian historian Bruce Scates gives an example of an epitaph rejected by the Commission (“His loving parents curse the Hun”) and again when resubmitted
(“With every breath we draw we curse the Germans more”); see Return to Gallipoli:
Walking the Battlefields of the Great War (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2006), pp.48-53.

22. Private Vernon Earle, 27th Battalion CI (Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery).

23. Private Eugene Smith, 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (Bouchoir New British Cemetery); Private William Harpham, 50th Battalion CI (La Chaudière Military Cemetery).

24. Private Kenneth Neil MacDonald, 13th Battalion CI (Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery).

25. The interpretative approaches to the Song of Songs in Jewish and Christian exegesis are reviewed by Marvin H. Pope in The Anchor Bible: Song of Songs. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1977).

26. Private Adon Smith, 87th Battalion CI (Adanac Military Cemetery); Private Emanuel Fulton, 31st Battalion CI (Passchendaele New British Cemetery).

27. It is very striking to compare reactions to the First World War with reactions to various catastrophes in the Victorian Age. To take one example, the collapse of the Tay River Bridge in 1879 was seen as a regrettable but acceptable accident in the great march of progress. As one contemporary put it, “life is not lost which is spent or sacrificed in the grand enterprises of useful industry.” See John Prebble, The High Girders (London: Pan
Books, Ltd., 1959), p.59.

28. Private John Wray, Lancashire Fusiliers (Authuille Military Cemetery); Sergeant
Wellesley Taylor, 14th Battalion CI (Chester Farm Cemetery).

29. Private Albert Boustead, 15th Battalion CI (Bruay Communal Cemetery Extension);
Private Harrison Allen, 16th Battalion CI (Villers Station Cemetery).

30. Private George Hargrave, 29th Battalion CI (Brussels Town Cemetery).

31. The ideological contest of the Great War, and the issues at stake in the minds of contemporaries, are well expounded by John Bourne, “The European and International consequences of the Armistice,” in Hugh Cecil and Peter Liddle, eds., At the Eleventh Hour. 12 Reflections, Hopes and Anxieties at the Closing of the Great War, 1918 (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Books, 1998), pp.315-326. The impetus given by American churches to the notion of a Crusade for a better world has been analysed by Richard M. Gamble, The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2003), pp.163-79, 209ff.

32. Private Sydney Turner, 2nd Battalion CI (Fosse No.10 Cemetery); Private Reginald
Aldridge, 5th Battalion CI (Bully-Grenay Communal Cemetery, British Extension).

33. Company Sergeant-Major Arthur Dunlop, 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (Nine Elms British Cemetery); Captain Alexander MacGregor, 28th Battalion CI (Rosières Communal Cemetery and Extension); Private William Stanley Mills, 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles (Maple Copse Cemetery); Private William Sime, 29th Battalion CI (Adanac Military Cemetery).

34. Private Mackie Stewart, 102nd Battalion CI (Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery);
Private Alexander Dunn, 78th Battalion CI (Barlin Communal Cemetery); Lieutenant
Thomas MacKinlay, 29th Battalion CI (Boulogne Eastern Cemetery).

35. Private Charles Everett Clark, 5th Battalion CI (Maroc British Cemetery); Lieutenant Guy Drummond, 13th Battalion CI (Tyne Cot Cemetery); Private Alexander McDonald, Canadian Machine Gun Corps (Bac-du-Sud British Cemetery).

36. Jonathan Vance, Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War
(Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997), pp.35-48.

37. Private Ernest McClelland, 1st Battalion CI (Chester Farm Cemetery).

38. Driver Alex Henderson, Canadian Field Artillery (Etaples Military Cemetery).

39. Lance Corporal Colin Broughton, 5th Battalion CI (Railway Dugouts Burial Ground); Private John Reid, 52nd Battalion CI (Nine Elms British Cemetery); Private Leslie Unthank, 18th Battalion CI (Ridge Wood Cemetery).

40. Corporal William Bowyer, 7th Battalion CI (Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension), citing Joel 2: 25; Corporal Alfred Jones, 20th Battalion CI (Ridge Wood Cemetery); Sergeant David Hunter, 102nd Battalion CI (Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery), citing 2 Timothy 2: 12.

41. Lieutenant William Clipperton, 8th Battalion CI (Lapugnoy Military Cemetery); Private Charles Ainslie, 8th Battalion CI (Brookwood Military Cemetery).

42. Lieutenant Lloyd Scott, 38th Battalion CI (Bourlon Wood Cemetery).

43. Private Hal Bowers, 47th Battalion CI (La Chaudière Military Cemetery).

44. Private Eusèbe Loiseau, 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion (Wimereux Communal Cemetery); Private James Stickels, Royal Canadian Regiment (Contay British Cemetery); Private Arthur Goyette, 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion (Bruay Communal Cemetery Extension); Private Edward Beldam, 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (Tyne Cot Cemetery); Private William Bartling, 52nd Battalion CI (Canada Cemetery); Lieutenant-Colonel Elmer Jones, DSO and Bar, 21st Battalion CI (Longeau British Cemetery). It is worth noting that references to the battles of the war set the corpus of Canadian epitaphs apart from British and Australian collections, in which one finds comparatively fewer specific mentions of the engagements where the soldier lost his life.

45. Sergeant Harold Flynn, 38th Battalion CI (Albert Communal Cemetery); Lieutenant
Willoughby Chatterton, 3rd Battalion CI (Adanac Military Cemetery); Major Edward Norsworthy, 13th Battalion CI (Tyne Cot Cemetery); Corporal George Brown, Canadian Field Artillery (Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No. 3); Lieutenant Eric Lane, 85th Battalion CI (Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery).

46. Private Mostyn Scott Sands, 28th Battalion CI (La Targette Military Cemetery).

47. Vance, Death So Noble, pp.176-80; see also Paul Litt, “Canada Invaded! The Great War, Mass Culture, and Canadian Cultural Nationalism,” in Canada in the First World War, pp.323-49, esp. 333-40.

48. C.P. Stacey, Canada in the Age of Conflict: A History of Canadian External Policies. Vol.1: 1867-1921 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), p.234.

49. 2nd Lieutenant Francis Lawledge, Royal Flying Corps (Bailleul Road East Cemetery); Private Harry Walker, 29th Battalion CI (Wulverghem-Lindenhoek Road Military Cemetery).

50. Private Llewellyn Jones, 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles (La Targette Military Cemetery); Lance Corporal Alexander MacDonald, 72nd Battalion CI (Nine Elms British Cemetery).

51. Private William Smith, 49th Battalion CI (Raillencourt Communal Cemetery Extension); Private Wilfrid Spicer, 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (Caix British Cemetery).

52. Private Reginald Box, 16th Battalion CI (Sancourt British Cemetery); Gunner Donald McKinnon, Canadian Field Artillery (Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension). The line is taken from a poem by Helena Coleman (1860-1953), “Autumn, 1917,” which appeared in her Marching Men: War Verses, first published in 1917 and republished in 2008 by Dodo Press. The themes and diction of Canadian war verse would make for an interesting comparative study with the epitaphs; see Jonathan Vance, “Battle verse: Poetry and nationalism after Vimy Ridge,” in Geoffrey Hayes, Andrew Iarocci, and Mike Bechthold, eds., Vimy Ridge: A Canadian Reassessment (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2007), pp.265-77. On the resurgence of interest in Canada’s war poets, see Joel Baetz, Canadian Poetry from World War I: An Anthology (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2009).

53. Private Ayrton Wragge, 13th Battalion CI (Puchevillers British Cemetery); Lieutenant John Mewburn, 18th Battalion CI (Courcelette British Cemetery).

54. Private Edward Panabaker, PPCLI (Nine Elms British Cemetery).

55. Private Charles Turner, 10th Battalion CI (Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery); Private Arthur Hackney, 29th Battalion CI (Rosières Communal Cemetery Extension).

56. Lieutenant Joseph Hudon, 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion (Tranchée de Mecknes Cemetery); Captain Maurice Bauset, 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion (Sunken Road Cemetery, Contalmaison). On the 22nd Battalion as the standardbearer of French Canada’s martial reputation, see Jean-Pierre Gagnon, Le 22e bataillon (canadien-français) 1914-1919 (Ottawa et Québec: Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 1986), pp.301-307.

57. Private Lawrence Marten, 52nd Battalion CI (Wimereux Communal Cemetery); Private Magdal Hermanson, 8th Battalion CI (Wimereux Communal Cemetery).

58. Driver Leland Fernald, Canadian Field Artillery (Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery).

59. Lieutenant Phillip Comfort Starr, Royal  Engineers (Bedford House Cemetery); Private Roy Marshall, Canadian Army Service Corps (Lapugnoy Military Cemetery).

60. Private Sørensen, 4th Battalion CI, is buried in Quatre-Vents Military Cemetery. His name is incorrectly rendered on his Canadian attestation paper and in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database as “Sorenson.”

61. Buried in Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery; his inscription in Danish would read in English: “Now my eyes are closed, Father in Heaven, and I enter the care of the world above.”

62. Private Dominick Naplava, Canadian Pioneers (Tyne Cot Cemetery).

63. Private Chris Meti (Metič), Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (Bois-Carré British Cemetery).

64. Lance Corporal George Edward Pike, Royal Newfoundland Regiment (Y Ravine Cemetery); Private Hal Sutton, 5th Battalion CI (Hinges Military Cemetery); Private Richard Boughton, 21st Battalion CI (Courcelette British Cemetery).

65. The reliance on Great War precedents in the epitaphs commemorating Canada’s
Second World War dead is discussed in my book, Words of Valediction and Remembrance: Canadian Epitaphs of the Second World War (St. Catharines: Vanwell Publishing Ltd, 2008), pp.44-54, 57-91.