Friday, 11 September 2015

Enlistment

Lately I've been scraping into the background of my Great Uncle, Arthur Forbes Ruddock, who was killed at Vimy Ridge on the morning of April 9th, 1917.  As is the case with so many young men who were killed in the War, very little about his life was left behind. Part of the tragedy in this isn't because there wasn't much to tell - even at twenty, he would have forged memories that would have made an imprint on relatives who survived him.  But by the time interest in him rises three generations later, when we start to ask questions, those relatives have died, and with them the stories.

I just finished an interesting book, The Forgotten Soldier, that very much mirrors the tale of Arthur Forbes Ruddock and my investigation of his past. Written by author and broadcaster Charlie Connolly,  it tells the story of his quest to learn more about his Great Uncle who was killed  just a week before the Armistice, at the age of nineteen.  Like me, Charlie Connolly had little to go on in piecing together his uncle's past: he had a birth certificate, a few mentions in ancestry records and a cemetery record with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission - even his uncle's service record had been destroyed in the Blitz.  But following regimental diaries he retraced his uncle's footsteps, from West London to Dixmuide to Ypres, a trip very reminiscent of mine six years ago - in fact Charlie was likely in Ypres the same month that I was, in May 2009, and describes a scene at the Menin Gate similar to the one I captured where "Buglers competed with iPods" in the ceremony of the Last Post.


But even at this point, early in my discovery, I can say with certainty that September 11th 1915 was a very significant day in the life of Arthur Forbes Ruddock. A hundred years ago today, Forbes enlisted in the newly created (July 1915) 72nd Overseas Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders;  later he would be re-assigned to the famed 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish).  On his attestation papers he listed his trade as Jeweller - he had worked for Birks Canada in its impressive ten story building on the corner of Granville and Georgia that had opened less than two years earlier.

At the time Forbes enlisted he was living with his parents in Vancouver. His father, Arthur Edward Ruddock, had relocated to the west coast (to Powell River) from Chatham, New Brunswick in 1906, shortly after the birth of their daughter - my grandmother.
Forbes (standing alone on the left side) working at Henry
Birks in Vancouver in 1915.
With the rest of the 72nd Battalion, after their initial training at Hastings Park in Vancouver, Forbes set sail from Halifax on the HM Transport Empress of Britain on April 26th 1916, and arrived in Liverpool eight days later, on May 4th.  But a month later, while the rest of the 72nd were enmeshed in their more advanced training at Bramshott, training that would have involved bayonet-fighting, entrenching, bombing, wiring and shooting, Forbes was included in a draft of 150 men that was sent to France as reinforcements for the Canadian Scottish - a reinforcement that would have occurred before the Canadian's bloody attacks in the Somme in the fall of 1916, the Battle of Ancre Heights and the capture of Regina Trench.

Unlike Charlie Connolly, I am fortunate to have a copy of Forbes' service record, the original of which is in the process of being digitized by Library and Archives Canada (see Digitization of Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files), and I have access to a wealth of information in the archives of the Canadian Scottish, held at the University of Victoria. But at this point, like Connolly, I simply know some loosely pieced together facts. And to me, the fascinating part of this will be flushing out those facts and weaving them together in a story that saw its beginning late in the summer of 1915.



5 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  2. Your Great Uncle was buried in a mine crater in No Mans Land, numbered CA40 and designated to be exhumed and moved to Nine Elms Cemetery, but there is no evidence of any of the men from CA40 are there. Canadian historian Norm Christie has determined that your Great Uncle along with 43 other members of the 16th Canadian Scottish are buried in that crater that is now a potato field. Alongside your Great Uncle is William Milne who walked 40 km to Moose Jaw to enlist and later won a Victoria Cross for his bravery at Vimy. Norm is trying to raise funds to move these men to the cemetery they were meant to be moved to almost 100 years ago. Check for the funrazr page and the video that Norm created. I do hope that Vimy heroes, such as your Great Uncle, finally get the burial they deserve. I hope you don't mind that I attached the link. A picture and a biography of your Great Uncle and the other men buried in the field can be seen on the site. https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/4zeCb?fb_action_ids=903176726421357&fb_action_types=fundrazr%3Adonate

    ReplyDelete
  3. My children's great grandfather enlisted in Vancouver on Sept 9, 1915 - just two days before your Great Uncle enlisted - and was also part of the 72nd - later the 16th Canadian Scottish. He died on Oct 8, 1916 at the Battle of the Somme (Battle of Ancre Heights) the same day that VC winner Piper Richardson of the 72nd died, but not before he piped his men onwards to take Regina Trench. The body of my children's great grandfather was one of 20,000 never recovered, but they did find Richardson's. And they found your great uncle - and he and 43 other men are still waiting for the cemetery burial that was meant to happen. I truly hope that one day you get a chance to get back to France and visit his grave.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi there - if you don't mind my asking, what was your grandfather's name and regimental number?

    ReplyDelete