Tag: battalion

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Remembrance Day, 2015

 

On Remembrance Day, 2015, I was sitting at home watching the Remembrance Day ceremony from Ottawa on my TV. My phone rang and I answered it. On the line was my great friend Karen Dallow and she was calling from the Menin Gate at Ypres, Belgium. She was with her son, Jake, and they were trying to find Farquhar McLennan’s name on the Menin Gate. I informed her that Farquhar was buried at Bedford House Cemetery which was close by.

“Would you and Jake mind going to the Cemetery and paying your respects on my behalf?” I asked.

“Certainly!” came the answer, and they hopped into a taxi and traveled to Bedford House.

With the help of the taxi driver, Karen and Jake were able to locate the grave stone. Karen took this video and emailed to me. A precious gift.

Within a year I was able to travel to Ypres and pay my respects personally.

I am forever thankful for the deeds of Karen and Jake.

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Jake at the Menin Gate, Ypres. (Ieper)

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Ypres

Well now, where did I leave off? Oh yes! Bedford House Cemetery. I did manage to make my own pilgrimage to the cemetery. It was in May, 2016, and the weather was beautiful. My wife, Beth, accompanied me. We flew to Luxembourg, to stay with our friends, the Defoa Clan. Karen (of the previous post) offered to drive us to Belgium, and ultimately to Ypres (now called Ieper). We arrived in the beautiful medieval  city in time for lunch on a gorgeous spring day. After lunch, we booked into our B&B and then headed out on the Menin Rd., through the Menin Gate towards the tiny hamlet of Hooge. At Hooge there is a road that right turns toward the south. The road is called Canadalaan. Less than a kilometre…

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Sanctuary Wood Cemetery

down this road is Sanctuary Wood and the museum. Beside the museum is Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. Just a little beyond the museum is the Canadian Memorial for the Battle of Mount Sorrel.

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Battle site of Sanctuary Wood – note the craters and the memorials.

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A reconstructed trench.

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Shell holes.

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Tree stumps that survived the War. Bullet holes and crosses!

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The view toward the Messine Ridge, from the Mount Sorrel Memorial.

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Using the Trench Maps that I have seen and Google Earth, it is possible to ascertain that Pte Farquhar McLennan lost his life on June 13, 1916, only a few metres from the the Sanctuary Wood Museum and the trenches.

Once we had paid our respects at this sacred place, we left for Bedford House Cemetery, where Pte. Farquhar McLennan rests.097

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The Cross of Sacrifice at Bedford House.

This cemetery, like all of the other Great War cemeteries are tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. They are all in splendid display and it is impossible to enter one of these sites without your eyes tearing and your heart hurting. After we walked past the Cross of Sacrifice, we could see the area where Farquhar was buried.

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Beth and I at the Cross of Sacrifice

 

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Farquhar’s Headstone. Beside is the headstone of Pte. Watson, 60th Battalion CEF.

 

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Karen and Beth, Bedford House Cemetery.

 

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The City of Ypers at sunset.

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Ypres during the Great War, same view as above.  Heavily shelled by the Germans.

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A “Jack Johnson”. 15 inch artillery shell in the Cathedral of St. Martin.

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Cloth Hall, 1916. One wall propped up.

Every evening, since 1929, the City of Ypres (Ieper) holds a ceremony at the Menin Gate to honour the dead. The ceremony starts at 8:00 PM with a procession to the Gate from Cloth Hall. Hundreds of people are there every night to witness the event. Below is a video of the ceremony.

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Cloth Hall, May, 2016.

Every evening at 8:00 there is a ceremony of remembrance at the Menin Gate. Hundreds of people attend each night. This has been an ongoing event since 1929 with a disruption during WW2. Below is a video of the procession which begins at Cloth Hall.

 

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Jake Defoa in front of the Menin Gate.

There are about 55,000 names of missing allied soldiers listed on the gate. All names are from the area we call Flander’s Fields, also known as the Ypres Salient, just east of Ypres.

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Our last night in Ypres and a chance to unwind.

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The next day, a trip to Passendaele.

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Paradise

When I found Farquhar’s attestation papers in the Archives, it was obvious that he signed up for duty somewhere in the Niagara Region. With a search on Google, I found that there was a training camp in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The camp occupied the open field next to Old Fort George. This field is called the Commons and is still existent.

In the archives of the Niagara Historical Society, I found photos and information about the training camp.

This area had been used as a military/cadet summer training camp since the 1800s. It was used for this purpose until Camp Borden was built to replace it after the War. On the edge of the field was a stand of trees called Paradise Grove. Hence, the camp was called “Paradise Camp”.

The name “Paradise Camp”, was one of the first inspirations for me to write a story about Farquhar McLennan. I was struck by the irony of the name. The young men were being trained to become cold, efficient, killers in a place called “Paradise”! Where were they going? The were destined for Hell!

There were two ways for Farquhar to travel from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake. One method was by ferry boat, the “Cayuga” for instance, or by rail. There was a steam locomotive that ran to St. Catharines and then he would have to switch to an electric tram to finish the trip to Niagara. The tram traveled right into Niagara-on-the-Lake by way of King St.

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Tram line on King St., Niagara-on-the-Lake. (courtesy of Niagara Historical Museum Collection)

The recruits would disembark at the corner of King and Queen Sts. and then would head over to the Commons to sign up. They would be greeted by an eye-popping sight. Bell tents by the thousands! (I think I slept in one of these vintage bell tents when I was in Scouts)

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Enlisted men’s tents in Paradise Camp. (courtesy of Niagara Historical Museum Collection)

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These tents, I presume are mess tents. (courtesy of Niagara Historical Museum Collection)

In the summer of 1915, there were twelve battalions in residence at Paradise Camp, so just over 12000 men. Farquhar was enlisted in the 58th Battalion, Central Ontario Regiment, CEF. His battalion number was 451889. The attestation papers indicate that Farquhar had been in the militia at some point. In fact, he had joined the 48th Highlanders while in Toronto.

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Recruit’s uniforms. (courtesy of Niagara Historical Museum Collection)

There were no proper military uniforms available for the recruits, so they wore the uniforms that you see above. The men nicknamed the straw hats; “cow’s breakfast”. I wonder what impression these uniforms made on the young ladies of Niagara. Of course the officers had full gear!

Proper uniforms didn’t arrive until August.

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Panoramic view of the 58th Battalion. Can you find Farquhar? Neither could I!

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The officers of the 58th, Lt. Col. Genet OC, in the centre, second row.

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Officers of the 58th.

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B Company, 58th Battalion. Farquhar is in this picture and it took me hours to find him.

Hint: one recruit has a tiny red arrow above his head.

The battalions trained here at Niagara until the fall. One contingent from the battalions was sent overseas in August, ahead of schedule. The casualties at the Western Front were taking a toll and reinforcements were badly needed. Farquhar wasn’t among that contingent.

More to come in my next Blog.

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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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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 – 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.

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Riverdale Park

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The Don Valley at Riverdale.

Formation marching, CNE camp. - 1915

Exhibition Grounds

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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.

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Portrtait of Farquhar taken at a Queen St. studio.

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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.