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The Man in Command

The imposing man in the picture above is Lt. Col. Harry Genet, OC of the 58th Battalion, CEF. Born in London, England on Feb, 20, 1864, Harry Genet eventually imigrated to Canada and settled in Brantford, Ontario, where he found work at the Adams Wagon Works as an accountant. Genet also found time to become the Commanding Officer of the 38th Dufferin Peel Rifles.

The Ministry of Militia ordered a battalion to be raised in the central Ontario region in May, 1915. By July, 1151 men had been recruited and were at Paradise Camp, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Lt.Col. Genet took on the mission of recruiting the officers for the battalion.

In the novel, Flowers of the Forest, Lt. Col. Genet and our football prodigy, Pte. Farquhar McLennan, come face to face at Paradise Camp. This is the start of a very complicated relationship that carries over to the Front in Belgium. I don’t want to give away too much here; I’ll let you read about it.

Genet suffered a war injury (sort of) when he was thrown from his horse in High Park, Toronto. He was treated for broken ribs and a separated shoulder. After a spell in Toronto, stationed at the CNE, the 58th moved to England in November, 1915. In Jan., 1916, they moved across the Channel to France. The next stop was the Ypres Salient, in Belgium.

In June, 1916, the Germans mounted an advance that pushed the Canadians out of an area called Sanctuary Wood. It was a bloody, embarrassing loss for the CEF. On June 13, 1916, the Canadians, with the 58th Battalion, attacked the German positions in Sanctuary Wood, pushed them back, and regained their old lines. This was a historic event for Canada. This was the first time a Canadian fighting unit had conducted an offensive mission in the theatre of war.

Only a short time later, Lt. Col. Harry Genet won the DSO (Distinguished Service Award) in a battle at Observatory Ridge. He also received further commendations during his service at the Front. Genet led the 58th at the Battle of the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Lens and Passchendaele. After Passchendaele, Genet left the 58th and the Front.

 

At the anniversary of their mobilization—June 23 1916—only seven officers re-
mained out of forty who sailed from Canada with the unit. The following extract of a letter received from Lieut.-Col. H. A. Genet will speak for itself:
“We certainly have had a very rough time of it.
Our losses have been severe, but the battalion did
splendidly, and we received commendation and
thanks from brigade and corps commanders, also
from army headquarters. The loss of so many of
our gallant fellows weighs heavily on me.”
Shortly afterwards the battalion was ordered to
a rest camp some distance in the rear to receive re-
inforcements, to reorganize and to recuperate.
After a period of rest the battalion, with the whole
Canadian corps, moved to the Somme front, where
added lustre has been won to the proud record made
in the defense of Ypres. Of the officers who went
from Brantford with the 58th Battalion, all, with
one exception, Lieut.Col. Genet, are on the casualty
lists. Major Ballachey, of loving memory, was
killed in action. Major F. Hicks, a splendidly effi-
cient officer, was wounded in the knee. Lieut. J. R.
Cornelius, keen, enthusiastic and thorough, is suffer-
ing from shell shock. He has been recommended
for the Military Cross. Lieut. J. A. Pearce, the sig-
nalling officer, who did his difficult and dangerous
work so well that the Colonel in a letter writes:
“Pearce I have recommended for the Military Cross,
and I have no doubt he will get it,” is home on sick
leave after being wounded. Lieut. W. J. Wallace,
another of the battalion’s capable and highly-
thought-of officers, is lying seriously ill, suffering

from a multiplicity of wounds.

Brantford has great cause to be proud of her
gallant officers and men. One would like to speak
in detail of the courage and heroism evinced by the
men in the ranks, equally as great and worthy of
mention as that of the officers. To one and all we
bear our tribute. “Where duty called or danger”
they never were wanting. They have left an example
worthy of emulation to their comrades who may fol-
low them along the hard, but noble, road to victory and peace.
 The Lt. Col. survived the Great War and returned to Canada to resume his career. He had a son, John Ernest Genet, who also became a Lt. Col. in the First Canadian Divisional Signals in the Second World War.

Harry Genet eventually returned to England and took up residence in Mervstham. His life came to an end on March 17, 1946. We shall remember.

www.doingourbit.ca/profile/harry-genet-dso

 

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His death card.

 

On a completely different note. This post came up on Facebook yesterday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death in action of this soldier.

Lance Corporal Richard Law

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Football Players and the War

On the 25th March, 1918, Walter Tull was killed by machine gun fire while trying to help his men withdraw.

Second Lieutenant Walter Tull was the first black British Army Infantry officer.
Walter Tull, the son of a joiner, was born in Folkestone on the 28th April 1888. Walter’s father, the son of a slave, had arrived from Barbados in 1876. In 1895, when Walter was seven, his mother died. Walter’s father remarried but he died two years later. The stepmother was unable to cope with all six children and Walter and his brother Edward were sent to a Methodist run orphanage in Bethnal Green, London.

Walter was a keen footballer and played for a local team in Clapton. In 1908 Walter’s talents were discovered by a scout from Tottenham Hotspur and the club decided to sign this promising young footballer. He played for Tottenham until 1910, when he was transferred for a large fee to Northampton Town. Walter was the first black outfield player to play professional football in Britain.

When the First World War broke out, Walter abandoned his football career to join the 17th (1st Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment.

During his military training Walter was promoted three times. In November 1914, as Lance Sergeant he was sent to Les Ciseaux in France. In May, 1915 Walter was sent home with post traumatic stress disorder.

Returning to France in September 1916 Walter fought in the Battle of the Somme, between October and November, 1916. His courage and abilities encouraged his superior officers to recommend him as an officer. On 26 December, 1916, Walter went back to England on Leave and to train as an officer.

There were military laws forbidding ‘any negro or person of colour’ being commissioned as an officer, despite this, Walter was promoted to lieutenant in 1917.

Walter was the first ever Black officer in the British Army Infantry, and the first black officer to lead white men into battle.

Walter was sent to the Italian Front where he twice led his Company across the River Piave on a raid and both times brought all of his troops back safely. He was mentioned in Despatches for his ‘gallantry and coolness’ under fire by his commanding officer.

He was recommended for the Military Cross but never received it.

After their time in Italy, Walter’s Battalion was transferred to the Somme Valley in France. On the 25th March, 1918, Walter Tull was killed by machine gun fire while trying to help his men withdraw.

Walter was such a popular man that several of his men risked their own lives in an attempt to retrieve his body under heavy fire but they were unsuccessful due to the enemy soldiers advance. Walter’s body was never found and he is one of thousands of soldiers from World War One who has no known grave.

(courtesy ww1 Colourized Photos)

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The Great Trek and Good Bye Paradise!

Donald Trump has been yearning for a parade. When he reads this Blog, he will be green with envoy. Enjoy, Donald!

John Boyd Sr. Toronto military training photograph album

Photos from the City of Toronto Archives.

The summer of 1916 was long, hot and hazy. The food was good and the sports were competitive and lively. For the most part, the men enjoyed their time in Paradise. They were certainly aware of what lay down the road.

John Boyd Sr. Toronto military training photograph album

There was one terrible thunderstorm that almost led to tragedy. But, you will have to read about it in the novel, “Flowers of the Forest”.

The amazing football skills of Pte. McLennan were on display for all to see in inter-battalion football matches. Every Saturday was football day on the Commons and no one missed a game. Even the locals came out to watch and the local press from St.Catharines and Niagara Falls covered the matches.

John Boyd Sr. Toronto military training photograph album

Like all things, the summer eventually drew to an end. The nights grew longer and cooler. Word was out that the battalions would be shipped out in the coming Autumn.

By the end of August, the men had their khaki military uniforms. They made a trip across Lake Ontario, by ferry, to the CNE for Labour Day and a parade through the City of Toronto.

 

John Boyd Sr. Toronto military training photograph album

As September blended into October, the nights were becoming cold and creature comforts were being challenged. On October 18, 1915, there was a Grand Review of the troops by the Governor General, HRH Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught. Around this time, the officers of Military District #2 decided that the men at Paradise Camp should make a 112 KM. march to their winter quarters in Toronto. The march was set up as a tactical  exercise based on a mock war. The troops at Niagara were to make their way through enemy- controlled territory to reinforce their allies in Toronto.

John Boyd Sr. Toronto military training photograph album

The battalions were to depart Paradise Camp, starting on October 25, 1915. They would leave, one battalion on each day for 12 days. All battalions were preceded by  their bands , a screen of about 15 to 20 scouts on watch for enemy, and stretcher bearers brought up the rear. Each man carried a full kit that weighed about 60 lbs.

The first destination was The Lake Street Armoury in St. Catharines, where they would billet for the night.

to be continued

 

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The Great Trek – continued

Well now, where were we? Oh yes, St. Catharines! The 58th spent their first night at the Lake Street Armoury. The people of the city went out of their way to make the Battalions feel comfortable and welcome.

Early the next morning they were up and marching off, on the second leg of the trek. Grimsby was their destination. As they marched into Vineland they were greeted by the “Pie Wagon”. Here, the locals treated them to pies and refreshments. They passed through Beamsville and spent the second night on the beach at Grimsby, Chautauqua Park.

The next day set Hamilton as their new destination. When they entered Fruitland, they were again treated to apples and pies at the side of the road by an adoring public.  The Battalion spent the night at the Armoury in Hamilton.

Military_parade___Super_Portrait

After leaving Hamilton, the troops passed through Burlington, and spent the next night at Bronte. Port Credit was next, where they spent the night at the St. Lawrence Starch Company grounds. The men were able to bathe in the vats at the factory.

John Boyd Sr. Toronto military training photograph album

The final destination, where all of the units would rendezvous, was High Park, in the west end of Toronto. Once here, the battalions readied themselves for a Grand Recruiting Parade into the city. This was the largest military parade the city had ever seen – 16 miles long.John Boyd Sr. Toronto military training photograph album

The People of Toronto treated the men like heroes, as they lined the streets to glimpse the passing parade. Homes and buildings were decorated all along the route. Whenever the parade stopped, the the cheering crowd would shower the men with gifts of cigarettes, tobacco and “sweet meats”.

Torontoimage

The parade wound through the city to Yonge Street, and then on to the City Hall at Queen and Bay. The final stop for all of the battalions was the Canadian National Exhibition.

 

 

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The Great Trek – one last thought

My family recently relocated to Burlington, Ontario, along the shore of Lake Ontario. It certainly is a delightful city with a beautiful waterfront. It also has the Lakeshore Rd running through it, and if you recall, this was the route for the Great Trek. Since I have moved here, I have become aware of the older buildings and features of downtown Burlington. I have become aware, in the context of, what would Pte. Farquhar McLennan have seen as he  and the 58th passed through: for sure some of the old houses, built in the 1800s, and huge trees that tower over the houses and streets.

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Lakeshore Rd. looking west in Burlington. Near Brant St.

There is one structure though, that really caught my eye. It is a simple building, a municipal hut. Look at the date on the stone. – 1915. This structure was built in the year that the Great Trek passed by it. They passed by in November, so the hut probably would have been completed. Did Farquhar look at it? What did he think?

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North side of Lakeshore Rd. near Brant St.

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Bright Lights, Big City

Almost bright lights, big city. This was back before Toronto was the centre of the Universe. In the featured picture above, you can see the intersection of Yonge St. and Carleton St. It looks a little different today, obviously. But this is how Farquhar McLennan and the boys of the 58th would have seen it.

The battalions of the Great Trek were billeted at the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition, in tents and in the buildings.

CNE Military Camp. - 1915

*** Local Caption *** Item consists of one photograph taken on the site of the Ontario Government Building.

John Boyd Sr. Toronto military training photograph album

The battalions arrived in Toronto at the beginning of November, 1915 and would stay at the Exhibition site until close to the end of the month. They knew that the day was drawing close for them to be shipped overseas. Make no mistake, they were aware of what they heading for. It was no secret. The time was used for additional training. The city parks, High Park and Riverdale were used for field practice and maneuvers.

Riverdaleimage

Riverdale Park

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The Don Valley at Riverdale.

Formation marching, CNE camp. - 1915

Exhibition Grounds

'C' Co. 58th

C Co., 58th Battalion at the Exhibition Grounds

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Marching through the old Dufferin Gates at the CNE.

While the troops were in Toronto, they were able to do other things, beyond training. They were able to tour, shop and visit friends and family in the area. The COs encouraged their men to get photos taken of them in uniform to give to their families and friends. A bit of a chilling thought, don’t you think? Below is a portrait of Pte. McLennan, probably taken during this November stay in Toronto. This particular picture was given to my Grandmother, Catherine.

Farquhar Mclennan

Portrtait of Farquhar taken at a Queen St. studio.

Epsom

Farquhar visiting his sister, Catherine and her husband, Peter on Epsom Ave., Toronto. Peter, in this picture is my Grandfather.

Near the end of November, the troops boarded trains, right in the Exhibtion, to head for Halifax and a trip across the cold, grey Atlantic. For some, this would have been their last glimpse of Toronto.

John Boyd Sr. Toronto military training photograph album

The bottom 3 pictures show the troops leaving Toronto, by train, from the CNE.

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Europe, here we come!

On November 15, 1915, the 58th boarded a train at the Exhibition grounds and headed for Halifax, Nova Scotia. The men used this time to play cards, sleep, eat and enjoy themselves. Two days later they arrived. Not much time was wasted transferring them to the city port and to the ship that they were to sail on – the HMT Saxonia.

click for more information on the Saxonia

Saxonia loading for England.

Saxonia loading for England.

The ship had just arrived from a 4-day stay in New York City. The 58th was to share the ship with the 54th Kootenay Battalion and the 1st Siege Battery of Halifax. The Saxonia could accommodate about 1100 troops in relative comfort. For this trip, she would be carrying 2400.

A last glimpse of Canada for those destined to die.

3rdclassroom

3rd class accommodations

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3rd class state room

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On deck

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Scenes taken by Col. Lamb when 1st Division crossed the Atlantic in Oct. 1914. The Canadian Press/HO, Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada

The Saxonia was originally a Royal Mail Ship of the Cunard Line. She was now one of His Majesty’s Troop Ships. She was painted in camo to make detection more difficult.

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HMT Saxonia, troop ship in WW1

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Saxonia in Camo

It certainly doesn’t take much imagination to picture the living conditions aboard ship. To make matters worse, they shared the vessel with a couple of dozen horses. There were many complaints about the amount of food that was served to the men. On November 29, some of the men raided the food canteen and this resulted in the Captain of the ship relenting, and increasing the portions given to the men.

Off the coast of Ireland the Saxonia picked up a destroyer escort for the duration of the journey. She arrived safely in Plymouth Harbour on December 1, 1915. For many of these men, it was a return home.