Monday 25 December 2023

John MacKay

It was a perfect spring morning with the temperature in the mid fifties when John MacKay, alias Tom Martin, showed up at the recruiting office to sign up with the 44th Battalion. He had chosen to enlist under an alias - as so many men did, perhaps avoiding the law, an employer or a girlfriend. His choice of “alias” was equally private.
  MacKay, the fourth son of Donald and Margaret Mackay (née Morrison), was just fifteen when he journeyed from the Isle of Lewis in the remote Outer Hebrides in 1903 to Canada, leaving behind three sisters and three brothers.

The 44th had just moved into the new Minto Armoury, but they would only be there a month before moving out in June to Camp Sewell where battalions from the West were training and where the 44th would assemble before heading overseas in October.  After a short stay in England Mackay left for France in the last week of March, 1916 and headed to the 1st Battalion Canadian Mounted Rifles. He arrived at the unit in the early evening of April 7th, joining them while they were in divisional reserve.

Two months later, in the early hours of June 2nd while the 1st Battalion CMR was in the front lines, the Germans commenced a bombardment along the entire front held by the Canadian 3rd Division but most severe in the positions held by the 8th Brigade. It continued in intensity for four and a half hours. Shortly after 1 o’clock all went quiet, but then the ground heaved in a massive mine explosion, and moments later the bombardment commenced again and the lines of the 1st Battalion were attacked by Germans and quickly over run. The battalion retired from the line on June 3rd having suffered 80% losses: there were 556 casualties among 692 men, including officers. 

John MacKay, alias Tom Martin, was listed as missing - believed to have been killed during the period of the attack - but it was a year before he was officially presumed to have been killed. In July 1917 a letter was received from Donald MacCallum, the parish minister of Keose Lochs, by Stornoway, Scotland, that stated the true name of John Mackay and his mother of the next-of-kin.

However, as of May 1921 there was still no information about the body of John MacKay and his name, serving as Tom Martin, was listed on Panel 32R of the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing. But in 1928, two years after the unveiling of the memorial, John MacKay's body was finally found - on Hill 60 -identified by his disc and a button.  Near his body was the identity disc of another man, Edward Currie, who was also in the 1st Battalion CMR, and the 44th Battalion before that. Currie's body, however, was not found and he is remembered on Menin Gate.

The body of John MacKay was exhumed and was buried in Sanctuary Wood Cemetery near Zillebeke. His mother provided an inscription on his gravestone. It was a biblical quotation from Psalms, chapter 90, verse 15:  Dean Subhach Sinn A Reir Nan La A Chraidh Thu Sinn Gu Goirt . . .  variously translated as Make Us Glad According to the Days Wherein Thou Hast Afflicted Us

Monday 30 August 2021

Robert George McDougall

"Their Glory Shall Not Be Blotted Out"
R.G. McDougall, Age 29
The Borden Motor Machine Gun Battery was one of three specialized mobile machine gun units that served as independent fighting units until they were consolidated into the 1st Canadian Mobile Machine Gun Brigade. 

Robert George McDougall, one of 8 children, grew up in the small northern Ontario town of Thessalon in the district of Algoma. He was living in Saskatoon, working as a motorman for the Saskatoon Municipal Railway, when he enlisted  with the 196th Western University Battalion in April 1916. The Battalion, was composed largely of university staff and students from the four western universities, and advertised advantages to "the educated man" who would find themselves among "congenial companions and educative influences throughout his term of service".  

Two months after enlisting, Robert was joined by his brother Edward who had travelled from Winnipeg to Saskatoon to enlist so both men could be together in B Company, the Saskatchewan Company.

The 196th arrived in England in November 1916 and underwent further training, but early in 1917 it was split up and Robert McDougall found himself in Borden's Battery; his experience as a Motorman no doubt a useful trade.  He was Taken on Strength in May, 1917.  His brother was transferred to the 46th Battalion.

Borden's Battery was active throughout the Canadian attack on Passchendaele, regulating fire during the opening phase on October 26th and again in the second and third phases of the battle. On November 10th, thirty minutes after zero hour when the Battery's guns opened fire, the Germans laid down a heavy barrage that lasted until the middle of the afternoon. At 1:30, while he was working in the gun emplacement, Robert was killed by a high explosive shell - 3 other men were killed and 3 more were wounded.

Robert was buried where he was killed - near Bellevue (28, D.4.D.2.3) where the Battery had been in position on the 10th. After the war, a special search was made for his grave but the search area had been obliterated by shell fire and no trace of the grave could be found.  

Serving with the 46th Battalion, Robert's brother was wounded twice during the war, including at Passchendaele, but he survived to return to Canada in 1919 and eventually passed away in Thessalon, Algoma in 1975 at the age of 90.

Saturday 3 July 2021

William McKay Little: A Hidden Past

On a day when the weather was perfect for a ceremony - a bright sky, occasional clouds, and a temperature that was not too severe for the marchers in the Decoration Day parade - Saskatoon added 45 new trees to the 421 that already lined Memorial Avenue, as a living memorial to the city's fallen soldiers in the two world wars.  William McKay Little, who had spent much of the pre-War years in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, was one of the men honoured on August 23rd, 1942.

Like many men from Weyburn, Little enlisted in the 152nd Overseas Battalion that began recruiting in Weyburn - Estevan in late 1915. He had just recently received his Lieutenants Certificate at the Infantry School of Instruction in Winnipeg - one of many such schools set up across Canada to provide qualified officers and NCOs for the army. Enlisting with the 152nd in June, 1916, Little shipped overseas in October and, as with many in the 152nd, was transferred to the 5th Canadian Infantry Battalion (Western Cavalry) - he was Taken on Strength on 28th April, 1917. 

In the years before the War, William Little had been a leader in the Weyburn community, having lived in the town for more than a decade. Married, with two young daughters, Little had been one of the originals on Weyburn's first hockey team in 1903; he was a member of the Weyburn Chapter of the Masons; he was one of the town leaders who had greeted Sir Wilfred Laurier on his whistle stop in Weyburn in August 1910; and, as Manager of the newly chartered Weyburn Security Bank, his signature was on the new five dollar bank note, issued in 1911; and in 1913, having left his long held position with the bank, Saskatchewan's Lieutenant Governor appointed Little as Sheriff.

In May 1916, however, William Little was arrested while employed as Sheriff on a charge of appropriating money from the provincial government.  While he plead "not guilty" and elected for a speedy trial, he was convicted. But prior to his arrest and subsequent to his conviction, Little had enlisted with the 152nd and the Crown raised no objection to giving him a suspended sentence which would continue for six months beyond the end of the War - and restitution of $10,000.

For much of the Battle of Passchendaele, the 5th Battalion was well behind the lines, only moving forward to Brigade Support on the November 9th, and the subsequent attack by the 7th and 8th Battalions on the 10th.  From the 9th to the night of the 11th, the 5th Canadian Infantry Battalion lost 320 men, one of whom was William McKay Little.

Three months after William's death, his brother George, an ordained minister who was living in Guelph enlisted with the Canadian Chaplain Service. He sailed for England and served with the 1st and 11th Reserve Battalions before crossing to France a week after the signing of the Armistice.  George returned to Canada in June 1919; he married, had two children, and died in 1958 at the age of 74.


Friday 8 May 2020

A Remarkable Life: R.C. Royston, Part 2

This is the continuing story of Private R.C. Royston #29015; a Canadian soldier in the 16th Battalion Canadian Scottish, who enlisted at Valcartier and was taken prisoner at the Second Battle of Ypres. It was inspired by a single photograph and name in Library and Archives Canada.

Cunard Line RMS Alaunia, 1913

When Richard Cuthbert Royston arrived in St. Nazaire he was a long way from Creston, British Columbia, his home for six months before the outbreak of war. He would never have imagined when he left Liverpool a year earlier, arriving in Halifax aboard the Cunard liner RMS Alaunia on February 13th, that he would be back in England eight months later, and in France two months after that.  He was an accomplished engineer, already a patent to his name at the age of 22 for improvements in the design of furnaces - but engineering was not his passion; it was the prospect of farming that drew him across the ocean.  

At the turn of the century Canada was opening up its land with grants to those willing to work hard and take their chance. Creston was a small town on the Crow's Nest Pass, halfway between Nelson and Cranbrook with a population in 1914 that was still well under 1000 people. But it was a fertile fruit growing district with more than 50,000 acres of rich fruit land, much of it for sale - and help would be needed on the farms. 

Farm land advertised for sale in Creston
in the 1910 edition of Henderson's
BC Gazetteer and Directory

Richard Royston was just one of many in his family who would make their way to Canada and take the CPR across the country.  A good many of his relatives left Lancashire in the early 1900’s to head out on their own and settle in Western Canada.
The first family member was an uncle and namesake who, along with a number of his countrymen from Lancashire, settled in the Kootenay’s in 1904. They settled in the fast growing mining town of Morrisey, not far from Creston.  Two cousins, both farmers, also travelled to Canada over the next two years, taking root in Winnipeg and becoming very much a part of that burgeoning gateway to the Prairies; and in late 1911 a second uncle, William Drage Royston, also an engineer, arrived in Vancouver with his wife and their 29 year old daughter.

But Royston’s stay was short-lived. Less than six months after he arrived in Creston Britain declared war on Germany and Canada was automatically in the fight. Like so many other young men across the country, particularly those from Britain who were newly settled in Canada, Royston was anxious to enlist. On the last Friday in August he stood on the platform of Creston station with five other young men ready to catch the train that would take them east to Valcartier as part of the West Kootenay’s contribution to the first Canadian contingent.

That same week, across the ocean, the British and German armies clashed for the first time in a decisive struggle at the Battle of Mons. The stories on the front pages told of the serious losses to both sides
High casualties and a long fight
The Vancouver Daily Province, August 25, 1914
and the desperate fighting expected to go on for many weeks.  On Sunday, August 23rd the Germans had attacked the British with overwhelming superiority in the town of Mons along the French-Belgian border: 160,000 men and 300 guns compared to the British strength of 70,000 men and 160 guns. Despite holding out for several hours the British were forced to retreat, withdrawing over a two week period to the outskirts of Paris. When they counter-attacked with the French army at the Battle of Marne on the 6th of September they forced, in turn, a German retreat - and what followed was the Race to the Sea that set the battle lines for the Western Front for the next four years.

In Creston, the send-off for the six men was pulled together on short notice because of the uncertainty of their departure date. The station was dressed in gala attire with flags in evidence everywhere, including the town’s flag that flew aloft on the new pole erected near the station the day before.  After the bands played and the crowd sang their selections, Edward Mallandaine, a prominent citizen of the town who was one of its early settlers and a witness to the driving of the Last Spike at Craigellaachie in 1885, delivered a brief but heartfelt thanks. He offered a few tokens of appreciation for their “loyalty in volunteering for active service in defence of the King and Empire and also as deep feelings of patriotism of the Canadians.”  The men were presented with a pipe, a pouch and a generous supply of tobacco.
The send off for the Creston Men, joining others in the
Kootenay Contingent from Nelson, Trail, Kaslo,
Rossland and Greenwood on August 28th, 1914 

The six men, Philip W. Barrington Foote, Dennis Bunbury Howard, Robert Sinclair Smith, Patrick Douglas Hope, and H.B. Ford boarded one of the three cars on the regular CPR Train 514 that would take them on the start of their journey. The first leg was a three hour journey to Cranbrook. From there they would join up with the rest of the Kootenay/Boundary contingent and board a troop train - eight first class carriages in length, along with baggage and dining cars - that would take them across country to Valcartier. 
But before Train 514 got to Cranbrook on the first leg of its journey, and unbeknownst to the men on board, an accident occurred that saw the first death of a Kootenay volunteer.  It was a short distance out of Creston when William Reid, a man well known in the area, accidentally fell from the train when he was standing on the platform of the rear car to wave good-bye to one of his friends whose shack was near the tracks.  Although he survived the initial fall he lay down on the rails a short time later to rest and, falling asleep, was struck by a train going in the opposite direction. It was a sad, tragic start.

Troop Train in Cranbrook, B.C. leaving for Valcartier with the West Kootenay Contingent
August 28th, 1914
By the end of the War two of the original Creston men, Howard and Smith would be dead; Foote, Hope and Royston would survive. Of the sixth man, Ford, there is no trace - there’s no service record and his name is not mentioned in the nominal roll of any the seventeen battalions that formed up in Valcartier. A story circulated that one of the Cranbrook volunteers deserted from the Camp after arrival, but the rumour was dismissed by the Sargent responsible for the Cranbrook men. In his letter home he wrote that "the boys are all well and that there is no truth in the report of a desertion of a Cranbrook volunteer. All of the boys behaved as gentlemen on the journey and are now encamped at Valcartier." 

Certainly a number of men did walk away from the camp before the enlistment process began in ernest in the middle of September, unwilling to put up with the discipline, drills and other requisites of being in the army. Hundreds of other would-be volunteers were declared medically unfit for any number of reasons.  For those who persevered and met the grade it was the beginning of the Great Adventure.

Saturday 25 April 2020

A Remarkable Life: R.C. Royston, Part 1

One of the things I am thankful for is the work done by archival teams around the world to capture history and move it online.  In Canada, tremendous work has been done by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) to move information online and various provinces and municipalities have done likewise.  I'm most familiar with the work done by the Vancouver archives, which has captured a rich visual portrait of life in the city over the past two centuries. Private organizations, like and are also a valuable resource to researchers, often providing the means for governments to bring more material online that they could not afford to publish themselves.  I'm of two minds when I have to pay so much to view our national heritage, but I understand there's a price to make it accessible, although sadly only to those who can afford it. I think every Canadian should think about the family heritage that might be kept in boxes in their basement and where appropriate - where it might be valuable history or offer a narrative - donate it at the right time to an archive. 

A few weeks ago I came across a picture of a young man, Richard Cuthbert Royston, in Archives Canada.  He was a soldier in the 16th Battalion Canadian Scottish and an escaped Prisoner of War; there was no other information about him. Ancestry was the natural place to start but it provided little more than tombstone information - a disjointed family tree with no substantive data. But it was a place for me to start my research that took me deep into archival sources and, as always, new personal connections with others around the world.   

So here's the story - the first of two parts - of Private Richard Cuthbert Royston.

Private R.C. Royston, May 1918
If I had to write the obituary upon his death in 1958 what a colourful story it would be: an inventor, a farmer, a soldier, a prisoner, a war hero - winner of the Military Medal for bravery - a landowner, a man who loved sports - cricket and rugby - a magistrate, husband and father; someone who lived life to it’s fullest, willing to take on new challenges and adventures; a very good friend - “extremely intelligent and well educated. . . a very fine type of man”.  He died at 68, in his prime, to be outlived by his wife by twenty-eight years, and his only son Toby, a big game hunter, who died in Zimbabwe in 1993. 

Richard Royston, standing next to his friend Louis Speirs, the man he’d been with in captivity for more than three years and had served alongside since they’d enlisted in Valcartier four years earlier, listened as they once again recounted the story of their escape to the reporter from the Metropolitan Press. The reporter hit the facts that would appeal: their narrow shave when they approached a farmhouse for directions, only to be told they were still in Germany; a little Hun-bashing about the prison guards who would deny them their parcels and then would empty the contents on the ground when they did hand them over - apparently a source of great amusement for the Germans. 

The Brattleboro Daily
Reformer, Vermont
April 20, 1918

Royston had read a story written by a reporter who interviewed them in Holland just a day after they crossed the frontier. The story had mixed up some of the facts - the date of his capture for one, writing 1916 instead of 1915. 

God wished it had been ’16: one less year in Dietersheim digging canals along the river for thirteen hours a day in all kinds of weather, in only the clothes they stood up in; the rolling mills at Wetzlar or the twelve hour days in the iron foundary near Brockenheim.  He’d spent a year at the American shoe factory in Rödelheim, near Frankfurt, that ended up making breach blocks for guns.  And in the periods between the work camps and factories he and Spiers returned to Giessen, the big prison camp about fifty miles north of Frankfurt-am-Main; but conditions there were not much better. There was one man - a man from the 13th Battalion - who boshed the job of trying to cut his own throat and was sent away and not seen again.

The stories of their escape, published in papers across Canada and the United States, captured the highlights: how they started out from a farm near St. Evor on the Rhine with two other prisoners who went off on their own after two days to better their chances; wearing a canvas waistcoat under their sweaters and carrying sixty biscuits to last them on their trip; the Dutch gendarme at the border who made them empty their pockets to make sure they weren’t smuggling gold to the Germans after a man was caught the week before with 20,000 florins in gold. 

But the stories bore little resemblance to the detail the two men had provided to their examiner, Captain Theodore Byard. He’d been appointed by the Committee on the Treatment of British Prisoners of War to debrief them when they got to England at the beginning of May, 1918. 

Giessen POW Camp - located on a slight hill just
of town, flanked on one side by the main highway
and the other side by pine woods

It would have been hard for a reporter to capture the true horror of the prison camps: how they were forced to labour for the Germans in conditions so bad that men were driven to maim themselves to escape the work: smashing a hand with a 15 lb hammer; giving themselves blood poisoning; scraping an arm or leg with a razor and covering it with a mustard poultice so the limb swelled, and then poisoning the wound with a rusty nail; pouring boiling water on legs, or putting a gloved hand into scalding water and pulling the glove off so it would remove the skin from the hand.  Even some Germans questioned conditions that would drive men to do such things: the soup with a few potatoes in it that could lead to a form of Bright’s disease that caused massive swelling in the joints; the  random acts of violence.

Royston and Spiers were captured during the second Battle of Ypres, on April 22nd/23rd 1915, along with 1400 other Canadians - the largest number of Canadians that would be taken prisoner on a single day in the War.  

16th Battalion disembarking in St. Nazaire, 
Feb 15th 1915. 
Photo courtesy of Jakealoo, "Doing Our Bit

The two men had arrived in France with the Canadian Scottish on February 15th - H.M.T. Maidan - docking in St. Nazaire after a stormy three day voyage from England.  A severe gale had hit them on the second night out and many of the men, unaccustomed to the sea, were violently ill.  Others were injured from the rolling deck and one man was washed down into the hold, while the starboard horse shelter and two horses were washed overboard. A number of other horses suffered injuries and had to be killed.

The troops disembarked at dawn and by late morning, to the sounds of the pipe band and carrying their overcoats with the new goat skin coats and mitts that had been issued to them earlier in the day, they marched through the streets of the town on their way to the train.  It had turned into a beautiful day, warm and bright.

The battalion boarded the train later in the afternoon - thirty-eight men to a cattle car, nine junior officers in a separate one, and the senior officers in the first class car - and at 5:08 the 16th Battalion headed towards the battlefields of France.

Entraining at St. Nazaire,
Feb 15th 1915.
Photo courtesy of Jakealoo, "Doing Our Bit"

Saturday 8 October 2016

The First Night

Despite all of the information available, researching events of the first world war presents many challenges; after a hundred years both the facts and the feel are easily blurred. One diligent officer's entries in the battalion's war diary during an uneventful week might include descriptions of working parties, church parades and baseball games, deployments of companies and platoons, intelligence reports with time and grid references, and listings of casualties; but this detail could be easily replaced with one-liners by someone less inclined to prose.

Example of a typical battalion diary entry for the
16th Canadian Infantry Battalion during their deployment
at the front lines, July 1916
Such is the case with the 16th Canadian Infantry Battalion - the Canadian Scottish. The daily entries from the first week of September 1915, when the battalion was holding the Ploegsteert front in the Salient, contain intimate accounts of their activities. But entries a year later, in the last weeks of their deployment in the Salient, offer little more than basic deployment detail.  Fortunately, diaries of supporting battalions, ones that relieved the Canadian Scottish, were relieved by them, or for whom they provided support, often fill in the gaps about supporting movements. Such is the case with the 13th Battalion, which went so far as to list out each individual casualty, regardless of rank - a very unusual practise; while not Shakespeare, it offers remarkable historical context.

In the two months that followed his arrival in France, Forbes was introduced to the routine danger of trench life, the monotony of life behind the lines, and the terror of sudden, unexpected and relentless enemy bombardments. Since the Canadian Scottish were serving in support to the 13th Battalion Canadian Highlanders and the 15th Battalion 48th Highlanders in the period immediately after his arrival, he had a soft transition to the War. But on the front lines, the two highland regiments were subjected to heavy enemy shelling and mortars - and in the case of the Canadian Highlanders, a local German attack on their trenches by three individual squads of seventy men; the casualty details in their Battalion diary attest to the ferocity of the brief encounter.

But for much of July Forbes remained in the relative safety of Corps and Divisional Reserve with the exception of five days, from the 15th to the 20th, when the Canadian Scottish relieved the 48th Highlanders and deployed to the infamous Hill 60. Again, their battalion diaries reveal little of the intensity of activity at the front during this brief period.  On the day after their arrival, trench mortars killed two men and wounded a third. The shelling and trench mortars was tame by the standards of the Salient, nothing atypical and far from the scale of the battle they had endured in the Spring, in Mount Sorrel, that decimated their ranks. But the shelling would have been enough to shock and terrify someone who'd arrived from England less than a month before and had yet to serve in the front lines.

"We have had with us a young lad (only 17 years old) since last night. He was going to the trenches with the 13th Battalion last night, and he opened our gun pit door and asked for a drink of water. He was just able to stumble in and I thought he was going to faint - he looked so white and sick. We asked him if he was a wounded and he said, 'No, just all in."    
Norman Macintosh, CEF June 1916
Two days later the Germans again bombarded the Canadian Scottish lines, this time for two hours, killing four more and wounding twelve.

Printed in the Vancouver Daily World
 August 4, 1916
One of the four was Private Monatgue Capon Victor Wix, an 18 year old from British Columbia: a young farmer from Fernridge BC, a member of A Company of the 72nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders who enlisted two weeks after Forbes and came to France with him in the First Draft in June. His passing was noted simply in the August 4th edition of the Vancouver Daily World, in the fashion of so many others:
"Son of Fernridge Resident Falls in Action:  Mr David Wix, of Fernridge, yesterday received the sad news that his son, Private Capon Victor Wix, had been killed in action on July 19th."
A two week break for the Canadian Scottish, following their July stint at the front, was an opportunity to refresh their knowledge and training: they attended aviation lectures, gas school (where they got a sample "taste" of gas) and performed general battalion work - as well as competing in baseball and soccer matches against neighbouring teams from the 29th Battalion and the Glasgow Yeomanry.
"I saw a grand football match this afternoon between two famous Canadian regiments. It did seem strange how everybody there forgot the blooming War and the thumping of the distant guns and were wholly taken up with the progress of the old game, so associated with peace times of old. The enthusiasm all through was tremendous, especially as the regiment that has the biggest name got beaten."   
John Pritchard Sudbury, 458189, 9th Cdn Brigade Machine Gun Company 
At the beginning of August their rest in the Dominion Lines would came to an end and the Canadian Scottish would be back in the front lines around Hill 60, in what would be their last engagement in the Salient, and Forbes's true Baptism of Fire.

Sunday 26 June 2016

The First Draft

The Kilt Apron bearing the names of the First Draft
from the Seaforth Highlanders to the 16th Battalion.
It bears the signature and regimental number of each man.
I wanted to write and post this today as this past week was an auspicious anniversary; one that until a few months ago I would not have noticed. But having connected with artifacts linked to my Great Uncle, Arthur Forbes Ruddock, I've taken a much keener interest in his past and specifically, piecing together the story of the months that led up to his death at Vimy Ridge. There's much more to tell in this story, even around this event, but this will come in due course. For now, let's simply recount the days a hundred years ago that he left England for France in the first draft from the 72nd Battalion to the Canadian Scottish, joining that famed Battalion on the 21st of June.

My grandmother used to describe her brother, ten years older, as a quiet, sweet boy; a comment echoed in his obituary that described him as having "a bright and kindly disposition". He was a lad who Colonel Cy Peck, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, Commander of the 16th Battalion Canadian Scottish and member of Parliament, remembered fondly when, as she recounted it, he visited the family in Vancouver upon the return of the Battalion in 1919, and delivered a copy of a small red book, A Remembrance, dedicated to the men of the Canadian Scottish Regiment from the survivors of the 16th Battalion, CEF.

A tribute from the men of the 16th Battalion
presented to Forbes parents after the return of
the Battalion from France in 1919
The 72nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders had arrived in England in late April, disembarking in Liverpool on the morning of May 5th after a nine day crossing of the Atlantic on H.M. Transport Empress of Britain.  In the month that followed Forbes and the men of the 72nd spent most of their time in routine preparation for war, stationed at Bramshott Camp in Hampshire: bayonet fighting, bombing, entrenching, wiring, and fine tuning their skills at musketry - something at which Forbes had demonstrated no particular prowess in the past.

It was not unusual for battalions upon arrival in England to be broken up or parcelled out to units already in France. In fact, the 72nd Battalion was one of the original Highland regiments from which men were drawn to create the Canadian Scottish.  But there would no doubt have been some disappointment on being selected as part of that first draft, comprised of men drawn evenly from Company A and Company B. He would be leaving those to whom he'd grown close, or at least gotten accustomed to, in the nine months since he had enlisted.

Nevertheless, he was joined by many others from his own company - men like Johnny Dewar, the "Kamloops Thunderbolt", who'd made a mark for himself in the boxing ring before they left Vancouver;  Lance Corporal Finlayson, a stalwart member of the Battalion soccer team, who some claimed was a bit of a grand-stander on the field but also known never to waste a kick; the 31 year old, Five Acre Mac" McGuire who was said to be able to do more with two acres than most men can with four - though it was a nickname he didn't take kindly to; and Louis Walker, at twenty-seven one of the older men in his company, who lived on the same street as Forbes, just two blocks away, on the other side of Kingsway.

Bramshott Camp 1916
And then there was Roy Dingee. Roy was a ruddy-faced young lad who had his medical just two weeks after he turned 18 and enlisted two weeks after that. Forbes would have known him well. They enlisted a day apart and only a year separated their age; they were also both born in New Brunswick and, of course, they were in the same company - Company B.  However unlike Forbes, Roy was at the front for less than a month.  While he survived the War he spent much of it in the hospital or on light duty. He was discharged, "medically unfit" in May 1918, diagnosed with neurasthenia - a diagnosis no longer in use, but at the time often used by doctors to describe "shell shock".   But we'll return to Private Roy Dingee at another time.

The Canadian Scottish were in dire need of replacements when the first draft was called. A little more than a year earlier, along with much of the Canadian 1st Division, they had been decimated in the fighting around Ypres; first, in their Baptism of Fire in the Second Battle of Ypres where gas was first used effectively, and then a few weeks later in the Battle of Festubert.  At one point they were down to half of their strength until, in late July, they again regained their full complement with the arrival of a draft from the Cameron Highlanders. But after spending the winter in the relatively quiet Ploegsteert front, they returned to the Ypres Salient at the end of March, reputedly "the most dangerous place on earth".  And on June 2nd, while stationed in reserve, the Germans launched a devastating attack towards Hill 60, Mount Sorrel and Sanctuary Wood that ultimately cost the Canada 1st Division 8,000 casualties.

German gun emplacements around Sanctuary Wood in the
aftermath of the Battle of Mount Sorrel in June 1916
On the evening of June 3rd the Canadian Scottish mounted a failed counter attack when a heavy barrage from the Germans threw preparations into disarray, and with troops so exhausted from the fighting no further action was planned until the evening 8th.  During the intervening five days the men of the 16th were continually shelled by German artillery while they worked on strengthening their defences and building out new trenches.  The clear warm days that had led up to the German attack were now gone and shallow, muddy trenches, worsened by the rain, provided little cover against German shells.  The planned attack on the 8th was again cancelled when it became clear that the men, exposed to miserable, wet and cold weather - "more like November" were unfit to attack and needed rest.

Finally, in the early hours of the 13th, in driving rain and wind, the Canadian Scottish attacked across ground that would latter characterize the battlefields of the Somme and Passchendaele.  The men "kept tumbling and slipping into the mud over the smashed branches and stumps; their rifles became useless".  The Battalion fought throughout the night and under cover of their own barrage they attacked the enemy around Observatory Ridge. As day broke on the 14th Lieutenant "Pete" Osler mounted the parapet of a trench with a red flare in hand that he waved back and forth, the signal for "alls well" (Lieutenant Osler would be killed the same day, shrugging of wounds that, once at the casualty clearing station were evidently more serious and led to his death).  

The Canadian Scottish had achieved all of their objectives, but at great loss. The officer corps in particular was hard hit.  In the preceding ten days they had lost ten officers, greater than that sustained by the Battalion in any engagement of the war.

Cant. James Hamilton, M.C. and Bar
t was in the aftermath of this that Forbes and the other men from the 72nd arrived at the 16th Battalion on the afternoon of June 21st. They were under the command of Captain James Hamilton, one of the officers from A company and formerly an accountant from Vancouver.  Hamilton survived the War and would be awarded the Military Medal (and subsequently a Bar) for "conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty where in command of half a company in an attack. By clever maneuvering he outflanked the enemy and captured five machine guns."

The trip had begun on the morning of the 18th with a swift three mile march to Liphook Station, a place they had last seen on their arrival six weeks before. From Liphook they took a train to Southampton which delivered them right to the docks; and from there they went aboard one of the many channel boats. Typically the channel crossing would have taken no more than a few hours - nine at most - but in June, likely less. It was then a day's travel by train to Poperinghe - generally in boxcars designed to hold horses. But what could have been a two day trip from Bramshott to the front seldom took less than three or four days, often requiring an extra night's stop after arrival on the French coast, to get kit in order or wait for transportation.

The contrast in the towns of Poperinge (left) and
Ypres (right), just a short distance from each other., in 1916.
On the afternoon of the 21st Forbes arrived in Poperinghe, a small Belgian town 12.5 Km west of Ypres where the Canadian Scottish were being held in divisional reserve.  The Battalion was resting and reorganizing after the battle of Mount Sorrel at an area referred to as "The Scottish Line", a quiet section behind the lines; they were also burying many of their dead in the nearby cemeteries, to the sound of pipe and drums.

The new draft was inspected by the new Command on the afternoon of the 22nd, while Captain Hamilton began his return journey to the 72nd Battalion, still in England.  There would be further inspections with the entire Battalion in the two days that followed, as well as a church parade on the morning of the 25th. And then late that same evening they boarded a train for the short journey to Ypres where they relieved the 5th Battalion: their role, to provide support for the 13th and 15th Battalions who were on the front line.

In the days that followed the front line was heavily shelled, and in the early hours of June 27th the 13th and 15th Battalions were forced to repulse a localized German attack. A day later the Canadian Scottish were hit and two men were killed and nine others were wounded. But this was a gradual introduction to the War for the men in the Draft. Through the weeks of July and August, as the Battalion gradually regained its strength in officers, it returned to Hill 60, site of the devastating battles  earlier in the summer, and the routine of War in the Ypres Salient.