Category: Books

AuthorBooksCanadaCanadian HistoryFlanders Fields

A Tale of Two Brothers – by Jim Little

A Tale of Two Brothers – Part 1

Ed and William Little were two brothers who distinguished themselves while serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in WWI.  They served with different battalions in different battles at different times from each other, and their lives had very different endings.  Each of them had separate connections with Farquhar McLennan.

Their parents William Little and Margaret (‘Maggie’) Campbell were of Irish and Scottish descent respectively.  Theirs was a family of farmers and sawyers.  They had a rural upbringing near the village of Campbellville, with the seven surviving siblings born between 1875 and 1889.

JimLittle Ancestors

Jim Little Ancestors

  

Lt. Charles Edward (‘Ed’) Little MM. 451157 (1889-1956)

 

Ed enlisted with the CEF 58th Battalion in Niagara on June 30, 1915, around the same time as Farquhar McLennan.  He was no ‘school boy’ (whom Farquhar held in disdain), but did work his way through the ranks as an NCO, and was confirmed with the rank of Sergeant in Bramshott on Feb 1, 1916, just prior to the 58th embarking to France.

JimCE Little Attestation IMG_0067

 

Ed or C. E. Little was one of the first members of the 58th to receive a Military Medal citation.  This occurred during the May 1, 1916 bombardment by the Germans at Sanctuary Wood, Battle of Mount Sorrel, which was also the first time the battalion was directly attacked by enemy infantry.[1] A good account of that action is described in the ‘Into the Breach’ chapter of Flowers of the Forest by Richard Law.

 

JIM2CE Little MM IMG_0018

Military Medal – C. E. Little

According to his service record, Ed was out of the field for a training course with the Second Army from June 3, 1916 until the end of the month, so would have been away from the battalion when Farquhar McLennan met his demise.  The 58th suffered 254 casualties in June, bringing their cumulative casualties to 398 (Shackleton, 2002).  Ed was promoted to Company Sergeant Major upon his return to the unit on Dominion Day, July 1, 1916.  This date also marked the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

We were able to visit Maple Copse Cemetery near Sanctuary Wood during our Sept 2018 war history tour of Belgium and France.  Some members of the 58th are buried there, along with a number of unidentified Canadian soldiers.  We also paid our respects to Farquhar McLennan, who is interred at Bedford House Cemetery near Ypres.

Jim3F McLennan Gravesite IMG_3300

Jim Little at Farquhar McLennan’s grave

JimMaple Copse Cemetery DSCF2338

Maple Copse Cemetery

The Canadian Corps three Divisions were all positioned in the Somme sector by mid September 1916, two and a half months after the battle had begun.[2]  The 2nd and 3rd Divisions (the 58th was part of the latter, 9th Brigade[3]) were involved in the successful attack and capture of Courcellete, France, with the use of tanks for the first time on the Somme.  Casualties were again heavy for the month of September, totalling 265, with cumulative casualties for the 58th up to 779.  The battalion had to reorganize its depleted resources while practicing for its next attack.

JIm5Battle of Ancre Heights IMG_0068

Battle of Ancre Heights, 1916

From Official History of the Canadian Army in First World War: CEF 1914-1918 p. 184

On October 8, 1916, the 58th battalion participated in the Canadian Corps attack on Regina Trench, one of the longest trenches constructed by the Germans on the Western Front.[4]  Sgt. Major C. E. Little was there for the Battle of Ancre Heights.

The attacking force of the battalion was roughly 500 strong.  The plan was to advance toward the enemy behind a creeping barrage, which was also intended to destroy the barbed wire barrier in front of the Regina Trench.  It didn’t work out that way – many men who survived enemy fire after marching through the mud with heavily laden packs found the rolls of concertina wire to be intact, thwarting their advance.  Some members of A & C Companies managed to make it into Regina Trench and held it for a short period before the Germans counterattacked, leaving few survivors to retreat.[5]

“In two months on the Somme, the 58th battalion lost 576 men, more than double its casualties during it six months of service in the Ypres Salient.  In less than a year, the battalion had suffered more casualties (1,096) than the number of men it brought to France” (Shackleton, 2002).  Ed Little was very lucky not to be among them.

We were fortunate to have local historian and museum curator Kieron Hoyle of Courcellete guide us on a walk of Ancre Heights and the Regina Trench, finding remnants of that battle along our trek.  A single red poppy blew in the breeze near the trail, an unusual sight in autumn, seemingly marking the way of the 58th in 1916.  Particularly poignant was our visit to the secluded Regina Trench Cemetery, where some fallen members of the 58th along with seven other CEF battalions were laid to rest.

JIm5Regina Trench Cemetery SAM_0227

Jim Little, Regina Trench Cemetery

JimRegina Trench Walk DSCF2152

Regina Trench

 

This was the last major battle that Ed Little was involved in.  He was transferred to Shorncliffe, England for officer training on March 14, 1917 after almost 13 months in France and Belgium.  Once there he was assigned to the 8th Reserve battalion.  C.E. Little was made temporary Lieutenant on April 4, 1917, subsequently receiving his permanent commission.  However, he was diagnosed with heart problems around May 1, 1917 while on a training course, and invalided back to Canada Nov 19, 1917.  He was discharged from the Canadian Corps as medically unfit Feb 15, 1918.

JimLt C E Little Torstar

Following the Great War, a group of officers from the 58th battalion (including C. E. Little) helped raise funds for the creation of the Church of the Transfiguration in Toronto, with former 58th chaplain Major Canon Charles Hedley as founder.  The 58th battalion flags were deposited in the Church in 1927.[6]  A decade after being discharged from the army, Ed married R.N. Miriam Lang (who had nursed him when hospitalized at one point) at the Church he helped raise, with the ceremony officiated by Canon Hedley.  The images below are of the front inside cover and page of the bible he gifted to the couple.

Jim6Bible 1 IMG_0304

Bible

JimBible 2 IMG_0305

Bible, page 2

 

Although they married later in life (Ed was 39), they went on to have 3 children born between 1930 and 1934, not the best of times to be sure.  Ed lost his Ford dealership in Fenelon Falls, Ontario early in the Great Depression, and battled with poor health.  He eventually recovered somewhat and found a new interest in gardening at their Richmond Hill home, providing leadership in the horticultural community as well.  Ed passed away in 1956, before meeting any of his eventual ten grandchildren, and will remain forever as the grandfather we never knew.

Jim7CE Little Obit IMG_0057

Obit, C.E Little

[1] Shackleton, Kevin.  Second to None. Dundurn Group, Toronto. 2002

[2] Ibid.

[3] Chartrand, Rene.  The Canadian Corps in World War I.  Osprey Publishing, Oxford UK. 2007

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] https://churchofthetransfiguration.ca/history-of-our-parish/

Advertisements