1st Canadian Mounted Rifles - History

The 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles Regiment was organized in December 1914 under General Order 36. They were mobilized in Brandon, Manitoba, from: Yorkton ("A" Squadron), Brandon ("B" Squadron), and Saskatoon ("C" Squadron) and were recruited from nine mounted regiments in Military District 10, including the 5th Princess Louise's Dragoon Guards, the 22nd Saskatchewan Light Horse, and the XII Manitoba Dragoons. The Regiment was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel H.I. Stevenson.

They left Montreal on 12th June 1915 aboard RMS 'MEGANTIC', arriving in England on 21st June 1915. Its strength was 28 officers and 602 other ranks. The battalion arrived in France on 22 September 1915, becoming part of the 1st Brigade Canadian Mounted Rifles (with the 2nd and 3rd CMR). Its designation was changed from Regiment to Battalion with the formation of the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade on 1st January 1916. The Battalion returned to Canada on 20 March 1919, was demobilized at Brandon on 24th March 1919, and was disbanded by General Order 207 of 15th November 1920.

The Battalion supported a mounted pipe and drum band. The Battalion colours were presented at Bramshott in March 1919 by Brigadier General D.C. Draper. These colours no longer exist. From information contained in "Old Colours Never Die" (by Francis J. Dunbar and Joseph H. Harper) the King's and Regimental Colours of the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles were placed in safekeeping at St. John's Church, Lloydminster, Saskatchewan on 30th March 1919 by Burnett Laws. There was a special service of dedication on May 29th 1919 ('Bordering on Greatness: A History of Lloydminster's First Century, 1903-2003', page 38). In 1971 they were re-located to the Lloydminster Museum. Because of their inevitable deterioraton they were cremated and their ashes were returned to St. John's Church on 30th April 1981. The ashes were deposited in an urn enclosed in a glass case on the west wall of the church. (Brian Sutherland Directorate of History and Heritage)

The 1st Canadian Mounted Rifle Battalion was perpetuated by The Manitoba Mounted Rifles which converted to artillery in 1946. It was also perpetuated by The Saskatchewan Mounted Rifles which, in 1936, amalgamated with the 16th Canadian Light Horse to form The 16th/22nd Saskatchewan Horse.


 The Yorkton Enterprise

                                         VOL.19, No.5   YORKTON, SASKATCHEWAN, THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 1915 $1.00 per Year

CRACK SQUADRON

1ST C.M.R. LEFT

YORKTON FRIDAY

 

WILL COMPLETE TRAINING AT REGIMENTAL HEADQUARTERS AT BRANDON – GIVEN ROUSING SEND OFF BY YORKTON CITIZENS.

 

   With flags flying and pennants fluttering in the breeze and to the stirring strains of the bagpipes played by Piper Morrison, “A” Squadron, 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles, marched from the barracks to the C. P. R. depot on Friday evening and boarded the Great West Express for regimental headquarters at Brandon, there to complete their training before leaving Canada for active service abroad.

   The sight of this splendid body of khaki-clad men was a most impressive and inspiring one. There was a look of “real business” about them that will long be remembered by all who witnessed their departure. With shouldered rifles and complete equipment they looked fit and ready for the stern duty which they have donned the king’s uniform to perform. They looked the part of the crack squadron of Canada’s premier regiment of Mounted Rifles and all who have known them here and watched them drill have every confidence that they will earn and maintain a reputation in keeping with the enviable distinction which the position they occupy as “A” Squadron of the “1st” C. M. R., in Canada’s second volunteer army confers upon them.

   Led by Major Maxfield, O.C., Major Washington and Capt. Bradbrooke, senior subaltern of the squadron, with Lieuts. Robinson, Lloyd and Livingstone each at the head of their respective troops, the station was quickly reached and here the men were given an opportunity of bidding their friends farewell. Once again were witnessed the touching scenes which marked the departure of Yorkton’s first, second and third contingents for the front – with the difference that all now fully realize the seriousness of the mission upon which our citizen soldiers are engaged, and although over half of “A” Squadron come from points distant from Yorkton, they have made many friends during their two months’ stay in town who were loth to see them depart and who were present in hundreds to bid them Godspeed and cheer them on their way.

   The scene was not a sad one, taken all-in-all, the boys being glad of the fact that another move towards the realization of their desire to fight for honor and freedom was being made. The familiar air of “Tipperary” and similar songs blended with cheers for the officers and men of the squadron, and counter cheers for Yorkton, gave the occasion an air of gaiety and good-fellowship which the long wait and the biting wintry blasts failed utterly to dissipate.

   But at last the three special cars were filled and the Great West Express rushed away taking with it the 158 strong, sturdy, square-shouldered sons of Canada, comprising the Officers, non-commissioned officers and men of “A” Squadron, accompanied by the best wishes of every Yorkton citizen for a safe return following an honorable and successful issue to the cause that has been responsible in this district and throughout the West for such a prompt and eager response to the call to arms from the centre of the Empire.

 Addressed by Mayor Patrick

   At 7.30 on the evening of departure the Squadron paraded for the last time in Yorkton at the town hall where a brief and appropriate farewell address was delivered by Mayor Patrick.

   On this, the fourth occasion on which it had been his privilege to bid farewell to troops about to leave for the front, he expressed the pleasure it afforded him, and he deemed it an honor to stand before such a fine body of men and bid them adieu.

   He voiced the sentiment of the citizens of Yorkton in expressing pride because of the exemplary conduct and demeanor of the men during their stay in our midst. He congratulated the men on their gentlemanly and orderly conduct and expressed the hope that this spirit would continue to animate them until their return to Canada as part of that victorious army which had fought for the Empire and for the freedom and liberties of the world. He was sure the towns and districts which they had left would look forward earnestly to the time for their return and would extend to them, as would Yorkton and district to those from this vicinity, a most hearty welcome home. And to those who might have no settled place of abode he guaranteed a warm welcome to Yorkton should they decide to locate here.

   He reminded them that a great work remains to be done in the settlement and development of this country, as when the war is over Western Canada will require the assistance of all her brave sons in this mighty task, a feature of which will be the molding into Canadian citizens, imbued with our high aims and ideals, of the large foreign-born population of this country.

   You have with you, he added, in Lieut. Livingstone, a man who a couple of years ago was the unanimous choice of the citizens of Yorkton for the position of mayor of this town and in Capt. Bradbrooke, one who has served for many years on the Council and last year was the chairman of the Finance Committee. It is an honor for you to have men such as these for officers and in their departure Yorkton is certainly sustaining a great loss. We hope and pray they will return safely and that each and every one of you will return to our shores to share in the work of foundation-builders of Canada.

 Appreciated Yorkton

   On behalf of the Squadron, Major Washington expressed appreciation of the Mayor’s kind remarks, stating that if circumstances permitted they would have been only too pleased to remain in Yorkton to finish their training. He also expressed the appreciation of the Squadron for the many courtesies and kindnesses which had made their stay here such a pleasant one and closed by proposing three cheers for Mayor Patrick and Yorkton which were hearfor the squadron were given by the citizens present and the National Anthem brought the proceedings to a close.

 An Efficient Squadron

   On the morning of their departure a representative of The Enterprise was privileged to see the squadron at drill at the armory and the town hall and was greatly struck with the proficiency in every branch of drill displayed by the men. All who have seen them on parade know that in point of physical fitness nothing could be desired. The men have never missed a parade nor a drill since coming here, regardless of weather conditions, and the freshness with which they finished 8, 10 and 12 mile marches attested the splendid physical condition which they have attained.

    In their arm drill and bayonet exercise the same proficiency has been acquired and every movement while on drill is performed with the utmost military precision.

    At the conclusion Major Maxfield in a brief, soldierly address, complimented the men on their proficiency and on their satisfactory behaviour, by which they have earned an enviable reputation. He urged them to continue to live up to this and by each man striving to excel to earn for their squadron the name of being the best in Canada and to deserve in every respect the premier position it occupies by virtue of being “A” Squadron of the “1st” Canadian Mounted Rifles.

                                                           Remembered by I. O. D. E.

   With kindly thoughtfulness for the welfare of all engaged in this titanic conflict which distinguishes the I. O. D. E. throughout the British Empire, the ladies of Yorkton Chapter I. O. D. E. prepared a bountiful and appetizing luncheon for the men while en route, an act which called forth many expressions of appreciation from the squadron.

 (Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire)

   

The Edge Of Hell (from Legion magazine)

March 1, 2007 by Tim Cook

Dear old Governor,
This is Good Friday, and I am spending the day girding myself for action. For our Easter Sunday, with peace on earth and good will towards men, I take part in the greatest battle in Canada’s history and perhaps in the history of the world. So this is to say farewell in case I go down.

This ‘last letter’ was posted on April 7, 1917, by Lieutenant Gregory Clark to his father, only a few days before he was about to go into his first battle. It was at Vimy Ridge, a name that he could not mention to his kin at home for security reasons, but also one that they would not have recognized either. That would change in the months and years ahead as Vimy took an epic place in Canada’s pantheon of national signposts and historical events.

In April 1917, however, Clark and his companions in the Canadian Corps only saw the ridge as a hulking obstacle, heavily fortified and nearly impregnable. Previous offensives against the seven-kilometre ridge by French and British troops had failed. The attempt by the French occurred in the early summer of 1915 while the Canadians were at Festubert and Givenchy. The French threw many divisions at the ridge and were repulsed in a bloody slaughter that saw the loss of more than 100,000 French and approximately 80,000 German soldiers.

Clark well understood the magnitude of the task facing the Canadians, and that there was a good chance they would be defeated and that he might not come home.

He was 24 when Canada went to war in August 1914. At the time, he was at his cottage with his girlfriend, Helen. They had been courting for about a year and cared deeply for one another. Gregory and Helen returned to Toronto on Aug. 15, and were more than a little surprised to find that the Dominion had been at war for almost two weeks. But they were nonplussed by the event and Clark, an inveterate writer and outdoorsman, returned to his post at the Toronto Star newspaper. He penned in his private diary: “The war is still raging. It does not stir us at all deeply…. It seems so far away.”

Clark worked on the newspaper’s crime beat throughout 1914, but increasingly he was interested in the families of soldiers. Toronto was rocked by terrible casualty figures after the titanic battle of Ypres in April 1915, where the Germans unleashed chlorine gas for the first time in the history of warfare and more than 6,000 Canadians were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Clark interviewed family members and publicized their stories through his articles. The war was coming home. His father and brother were deeply patriotic; brother Joe soon enlisted, while his father urged able-bodied men to do their duty in widely published newspaper editorials. Clark increasingly felt pressure to serve his country, but his love for Helen was strong, and he could not bear to leave her.

The strain of knowing that others were fighting on his behalf eventually drove Clark to make the gut-wrenching decision; he enlisted as a private in the 170th Battalion on March 27, 1916. Standing a mere five feet, two and a half inches, and weighing 110 pounds, he nonetheless had the education and bearing to be an officer. He was quickly promoted, then commissioned, and spent much of 1916 in officer training schools in Canada. He also married his beloved Helen. For a couple that had barely been apart longer than a day, he would ship out to England four days after the wedding, and not see her again for another 1,039 days.

***

By the end of 1916, Clark was transferred to the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, a former light cavalry unit that had been converted to gravel-crunches, as the Western Front proved that horsemen had little chance against high explosives, shrapnel and deadly small arms fire. Clark arrived in France at the end of 1916, immediately joining his unit in the strange, desolate, troglodyte world of the trenches.

Like most soldiers, Clark found the fighting on the Western Front alien and threatening. Throughout the winter of 1916-17, his trench experience consisted largely of dullness and drudgery, but he suffered through some of the terrible artillery bombardments that left men quaking and hugging the mud. “I had seen something of the terror,” he wrote in his diary, “the vast, paralyzing, terrific tumult of battle: a thing so beyond humanity, as if all the gods and all the devils had gone mad and were battling, forgetful of poor, frail mortals that they tramped upon.” But word came down that an offensive would be planned against Vimy, and all knew that the fighting there would be even more intense and lethal.

The 4th CMRs spent months preparing, planning and training for their role as one of the lead attacking infantry battalions in the forthcoming Vimy show. Clark would command 15 Platoon–about 45 men–in the battle. On the night of April 7, the Canadians began to form up in the rear trenches. For the last five days, shells had shrieked overhead, day and night, from the guns that pounded the enemy positions.

On Easter Sunday, April 8, 1917, the lead elements of the 4th CMRs set off for the front at midnight, moving through one of the engineering marvels of thebattle, Goodman Tunnel. During the long preparatory phase, the Canadians had built more than a dozen underground tunnels to bring troops close to the front for zero hour. Most were several hundred metres long, but Goodman was over a kilometre in length. It was tall enough for men to stand upright in, although it was not for the faint of heart or the claustrophobic.

In the cold, dark hours of April 9, Clark assembled his platoon in what were called the “jumping off trenches” outside of Goodman Tunnel. Every man was left alone with his thoughts. Would this be his last day on Earth? Prayers were said, lucky talismans fingered, last letters written for loved ones at home. Above them the shells hurtled over their heads towards the German lines, bursting in massive explosions. The minutes ticked down painfully slowly to zero hour.

Then, at 5:30 a.m. on Easter Monday, the full might of the artillery hammer crashed down on the German lines with 983 guns, howitzers and mortars unloading a continuous stream of death and destruction. The Canadians, who had rehearsed for weeks before the battle, would follow a creeping artillery barrage into the enemy lines. This moving wall of shells and explosions rent the air, as it slowly crawled over the battlefield. But there was a big difference from the pre-battle practice assaults where officers had carried flags to signify the barrage, moving forward a hundred yards every three minutes, and the reality of following an ear-shattering barrage that was tearing up the earth.

At three minutes past zero hour, Clark rose from the trench, shouting, “Come on, boys,” even though most of his words were lost in the cacophony of explosions. His platoon followed his lead, along with dozens of others within sight, and hundreds of others along the ridge. The Canadians were off, and chasing their creeping barrage.

Gregory Clark recounted the sensation: “In one sense, it was a beautiful sight. It was still quite dark. Sleet was falling. There before us, frightfully close, was the edge of hell. It blazed, flashed and flickered, the bursting shells; white and coloured flares were fired frantically by a distracted enemy. And the flashing, flickering lights showed an infernal wall of twisting, boiling smoke and flame, against which stood out the distorted silhouettes of men advancing into it.”

Forward they went in a measured walk, behind their creeping barrage that was tearing up the enemy lines. They passed craters the size of houses; barbed wire had been torn apart; dead Germans lay splayed out in grisly poses of death. All were passed in the steady march up the ridge. The iron discipline of the troops took over. Every three minutes they halted, lying down–waiting for the barrage to jump another hundred yards. Forward they went through more than a dozen jumps, and each time they lay tense under the umbrella of fire. Occasionally, the sound of the heavy German MG-08 could be heard firing above the din, but on Clark’s front they encountered no Germans except those prisoners fleeing back, hands in the air.

But men were killed all around Clark, as bullets and shrapnel whirled over the battlefield. For 35 minutes they continued this advance until they hit the main enemy reserve trench. Here, the artillery barrage paused for 45 minutes, raking the enemy lines, but allowing straggler units to catch up. There was not much for the infantry to do, and so they dug in to the craters, smoked cigarettes, and relieved heavy bladders. The entire front continued to be obscured by the hurtling artillery shells.

During this wait, Clark and a small group of men were in a crater, studying the front, eyeing their watches for when to move off again. Without warning, an enemy shell landed in the bottom of the crater–putting paid to the superstition among soldiers that a shell never landed in the same hole twice. In Clark’s words, it “blew us all in the air, smashing the cigarette case Sergeant Windsor had in his hand, cutting Bertrand’s rifle in two at the breech and heaving us in all directions.” Stunned and shaken, Clark’s small group patted frantically at arms and legs to make sure everything was still attached. Almost miraculously, no one was hurt.

After checking on his platoon, Clark heard the change in the sound of the barrage, and off it went again, like some fiery rake tearing through the enemy lines. Clark scrambled forward, slithering over the muddy, cratered ground, following the barrage. By 7:05 a.m. they were on their final objectives, with neither Clark nor any of his men firing a single shot. That was not the case for other platoons in his company, nor with the other 22 attacking battalions along the line in the first wave. Yet it was far from over. Capturing the ridge was only half the battle; the Canadians had all been trained to prepare for the expected German counter-attack to recover the important terrain.

Clark and his men dug in on their lines, creating a series of strongpoints to hold off a German attack. On top of the ridge, they could look down on the Douai Plain below and see the Germans frantically pulling back their artillery units. The forward line was established on the eastern slope of the ridge, which gave them good fields of fire. But not all Germans had yet been cleared from the front, and the battle still raged on the far left where the 4th Division was in a desperate engagement to capture the highpoint of Vimy around Hill 145. Even on the 4th CMR’s front, German troops were dug in and hidden on the lower slope, where the Canadian guns had been unable to bombard.

Throughout the day, Clark’s platoon and several others kept up a firefight with these Germans. Artillery fire had also begun to slam into the ridge, both from the enemy and from Canadian shells firing short. In the early afternoon, his friend and fellow officer, Lieut. W.G. Butson, was about 20 yards from Clark trying to organize his men into rifle pits, when he fell to the ground. Clark raced over to help him and saw to his horror that a bullet had passed through his head, ripping out both of his eyes. Clark nearly vomited. As one of the men wrapped Butson’s head in bandages, Clark held his friend’s hand as he cried out deliriously for his mother.

Now, all of his superior officers had been wounded or killed, and he was left to co-ordinate the defence. The rest of the day was spent digging in and dodging enemy shells. There were a few random enemy counter-attacks down the line, but Canadian gunners, directed by their forward observers on the ridge, rained down punishing fire. A few German planes flew low over the hill, sweeping it with machine-gun fire, but there was no attack.

After being subjected to artillery fire for much of the 10th, the CMRs were desperate for a relief on the 11th, with Clark and most of his men now having gone without sleep for three days. Snow fell heavily. Exhausted, hungry and with bloodshot eyes, Clark continued to visit the men in their shallow trenches and gun pits, reassuring them that relief was coming soon.

A fellow officer, Lieut. L.C. Johnston, invited him to come out of the muck and share lunch in the cellar of a ruined building on the hill called Cable House. Clark thought it too dangerous since the Germans had been shelling around it all day, so he went back to his muddy trench after failing to convince Johnston to join him. He was sitting there munching on cold canned meat with one of his trusted sergeants, too tired to speak, when they heard a shell strike the Cable House.

“Then Johnston’s leg, severed at the hip, landed in the trench, striking Mackie’s helmet and my feet,” wrote Clark. “I do not remember a more horrible moment. Then over our heads sailed the rest of Johnston, landing 40 yards from where he was first hit.” In shock, they tossed Johnston’s leg out of the trench, but when they got their nerves back, they retrieved it and laid it beside Johnston, who was “mutilated beyond recognition.”

This was the start of an inferno of enemy shelling, which fell all along the front. Clark and his men tensed for the counter-attack. Cries of pain and shouts for stretcher-bearers could be heard in between the shelling. No attack came, although the CMRs lost a considerable number of men as their bunched troops–ready to repel an attack–provided greater targets during the saturation bombing. The shelling ceased around dusk, and Clark remembered the eerie sight of a padre making his way along the front, stopping at mass graves full of bodies where he gave a communal set of last rites.

At sundown on the 11th, the 4th CMRs were finally relieved. Clark and his men stumbled to the rear. Although some men were cheering and singing about the victory, many more were silent with tears in their eyes. They had left behind too many friends on the ridge. Battlefield reports note that the 4th CMRs lost 43 men killed, 118 wounded and 18 missing. “I fell asleep that night hardly caring if I ever woke up, yet my spirit filled with a far, faint exultation. I was alive.”

***

Lieut. Gregory Clark was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery and inspirational leadership during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. His citation read: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He assumed command of and led his company with great ability, gained his objective, and consolidated the position. He set a fine example of courage and initiative.” Indeed he did, but the battle nearly used him up, and he admitted that his nerves were badly shaken and he was suffering from a hacking cough from breathing poison gas. A sympathetic commanding officer sent him to the rear to rest for a few weeks, but he returned to the front, serving until the beginning of August. He was again pulled back to a “bomb-proof” job at battalion headquarters, but returned to the front as a major and company commander for the devastating series of battles that were known as Canada’s Hundred Days, which lasted from August to November 1918. Several times he avoided death only by inches, and, during those grim hours, “I had my mind fully made ready to meet my maker and was feeling very sad for Helen and Mother and Dad.” But he survived and was sent back to Canada in September 1918, where he was to be a war journalist. The Armistice was struck before he had a chance to write in an official capacity, and so he was demobilized, beginning his life again with Helen.

But the war had changed him. Gregory Clark returned to his job at the Toronto Star, but then moved to the newspaper’s Star Weekly. He was no longer content with the crime beat, and instead turned towards humour. Clark and his lifelong cartoonist partner Jimmie Frise–another veteran of the war–began to tell stories about Canadians. They were good-humoured, gentle tales of human foibles, and they appealed to Canadians across the country. He also indulged in his passion for fishing and the outdoor life. Clark would become one of the best-loved writers of his generation before his death in 1977.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge had been the defining moment in his young life, as it was for Canada up to that point in its young history. Speaking years after the war, Clark reflected on his experience: “I got back greatly enlarged by the war in mind and in spirit and in personality. I was a bookworm, a quiet little bookworm when I went, and I came home a rather tough character.” The same might be said for Canada as a whole. The “tough” Dominion would never be the same after being forged in the fire of the First World War.

***

I found that article that my grandfather had copied in pencil. One line is very hard to decipher - very faded pencil on a large crinkled fold. I've put what I'm pretty sure it does say: "...Thousands flew to Hunland..." I do not know the author.

Twenty Years ago TO DAY. April 9th

VIMY Ridge was a military position of imposing strength, of innumerable fortifications, of formidable reputation. It was defensively strong in natural characteristics as well as in the machinery and devices of the Hun. Their batteries were all sunk beneath and behind elaborate constructions of steel and concrete. On the morning of Easter Monday the Canadians struck at Vimy Ridge on a wide frontage of Four Divisions in line.

At five-thirty in the morning of the 9th of April the attack was launched. Hell was let loose. Every piece of our massed artillery and many advanced eighteen pounders opened fire. Our "heavies" bombarded the German positions beyond the Ridge, and our field guns laid an intense barrage of shrapnel, strengthened by indirect machine-gun fire, along the front. The barrage advanced by lifts, and close behind the barrage moved the waves of indomitable infantry. The early hours of the morning were cold and blustery, with flurries of snow blowing over the field.

All went well with the right and centre of the attack.

Intricate systems of defence and many fortified shelters fell into our hands. The enemy put up a stubborn resistance.

The left was not so fortunate. At this point of our attack the enemy had constructed a tunnel running from his fire trench towards our position; and now, by way of this tunnel, his infantry came to the surface in the rear of our advancing infantry, remanned their front-line trenches and attacked the attackers. Desperate fighting, without quarter given or asked followed. It was not until ten o' clock that night that the Canadians gained the mastery of the tunnel and trenches.

Snow was falling heavily by now, and there was immediate need of consolidating gains. The fight continued on Tuesday. Our troops devoted their energies to consolidating their gains in expectation of vigorous counterattack, this did not develop. The enemy had no retort ready. His ejection from Vimy Ridge had been so swift and violent and sure as to leave him utterly unnerved and in a state of physical and moral collapse. Having been broken once by that unbearable and indescribable onslaught, he had neither heart nor nerve to court a repetition of the experience.

Thousands flew to Hunland; even the immortal spirit of man while still encased in human clay may reach a limit to the endurance of war. This limit was showed upon Vimy Ridge by the guns of the Canadian Corps. (Easter morn)

On Wednesday morning, at five thirty in a blinding snow storm, Canadian Infantry went forward behind an intense barrage to capture the last outstanding point on the northern end of the Ridge. The ground was almost knee deep in snow and mud. The men moved slowly, guided by their curtain of shrapnel-fire that lifted before them by easy stages. In spite of the mud and cold, and the protesting fire of the enemy, they found their objective and took it. This desperate assault concluded the capture of Vimy Ridge.

Derby Evening Telegraph
Northcliffe House
Derby

PERCY ARGYLE, #198747
Lance Cpl., 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles, Company B, 3rd Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force

Percy Argyle was born in Ilkeston, England on August 6, 1890. He came to Canada in 1905 to join siblings who had earlier immigrated to Manitoba. He joined the 94th Overseas Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Rainy River, Ontario, on January 11, 1916. In England, he was assigned to the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles on December 12, 1916, and arrived in France on February 13, 1917. He saw action at Vimy Ridge April 9-10 as part of the 3rd Division’s assault on heights near the La Folie Farm, midway between Hills 135 and 145, strategic goals of the assault. He was wounded on April 14 in further fighting near Passchendaele and hospitalized, first in France and then in England. He was discharged on March 14, 1919, on his return to Canada. In December 1916, he married Kate Connor of Hull, England. They had met in Canada and she followed him to England after his posting there. After the war, Percy and Kate lived in St. Louis, Mo., Winnipeg, Man., and Creston, B.C., where he died on May 22, 1978. They had four sons.

The following is a letter Percy wrote to his youngest son, Ray Argyle.

January 2, 1962

Dear Ray,

It is hardly possible to put into words what we, who went through this experience, felt at the time. Age has a habit of dimming names of places and names of people but it can never dim the sights and sounds of what we experienced. The shelling, the mud, the apparent confusion out of which grew a single purpose, take the Ridge or else.

In reserves every battalion had a mock-up of the ground we were to take and every day for weeks we practices going over the Ridge. The evening of the 8th we in the 1st Canadian Canadian Mounted Rifles and our supports massed at Mont St-Eloi and after dark we moved out. At Neiuville St-Vasst we were shelled and held up for a short time but by 5 a.m. we were already in position and waiting for the orders to go. As soon as we got in position our Sergeants came with the rum jug and gave each man a shot of rum. It was cold and damp and mud up almost to your knees, shell holes full of water, a wounded man if he fell into one almost always drowned.

At zero hour it seemed as if the heavens opened with one huge crash, it became light as day, and after, only one thought, press on, get going. I do not remember how long we were getting to the top of the Ridge but it did not seem very long. By this time it was broad day and we could see right across the plain [of Douai] to the towns and villages on the other side. I do not know how far it was but it seemed to be about five miles to the opposite side. The Germans thought the Ridge could not be taken, the dugouts and shelters themselves were impregnable to shell fire, but what are you going to do when someone sneaks up to your back door and lobs a stokes mortar down your stair way. I would say lots of Germans were buried alive this way because after a Stokes mortar exploded in a dugout it caved the whole thing in.

There is room for lots of argument over Vimy one way or another but I would say it was a walk over for us, the shelling had been so long and persistent and we had followed it up so close there had been no chance for Fritz to do anything about it. The artillery was massed wheel to wheel as well so it is not hard to imagine what happened when they all opened up at once. It was possible on a still night to hear a bombardment on the English coast that was going on in France, roughly about 60-70 miles away or more. Even after the terrific pounding the German defences took they were still in good shape to use, if they had time to remobilize before our infantry caught up with them.

It is not easy to write about this, we did not have an overall view of what was taking place, it was limited to what we could see ourselves. I did see just before we went in the line, a German flier in a Fokker come over and shoot down five of our observation balloons, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, just like that and off back to his own lines.

Sanctuary Wood: 2nd June 1916

Lieut.-Col. A. E. Shaw, of the First C.M.R. Battalion, also made a wonderful stand with a group of his unit. Lieut.-Col. Shaw banded a small number of soldiers into the ruins of a strongpoint just behind the front line—the remains of the fire-trenches were then in German hands. Lieut-Col. Shaw, together with Major Palmer and Lieut. Rowles, was killed as he fought there with cold steel. (Palmer was captured)


Account from: In Kultured Kaptivity, Life and Death in Germany's Prison Camps and Hospitals 

by Ivan Rossiter of the First and Third Canadian Mounted Rifles,(CEF). Dated 1918. 
The story of a Canadian Prisoner-of-War in Germany. 
From the American Libraries Internet Archive:
 
The stillness was suddenly broken. There was a report, a roar overhead, and immediately before our trench rose a geyser of earth, smoke and water, followed by an ear-splitting concussion. This was the first shell. The herald of what was to come. “Where did that one go to?” cried Bailly, through a shower of falling mud and water. “I think we’d better call the rest of the bunch,” said I. But this was unnecessary as the boys were already coming from the dug-out. They were mad at Heinie for so rudely disturbing their sleep, and were inclined to call him some very ugly names. At first we thought this was to be a repetition of the day before, but soon we had another thought coming to us. Gradually the shelling increased until the noise became deafening. Shells were falling all around us. It kept getting worse and worse until it was impossible to distinguish one explosion from another; it was one mighty roar. We had been through this sort of thing before, but never any of like violence. Trenches rocked and swayed from the crash and concussion. Tons of metal were concentrated on this short space as if the heavens were opened and deadly missiles were being dropped upon us. High above even this awful roar came a terrible screech from the mighty naval guns that had been specially massed for the occasion. They tore out whole sections and the concussion was sufficient to cave in the walls of trenches some distance away. Sand-bags were blown into the air, and there was a continual hum of flying shrapnel, broken in on now and then by the crash of falling trees. Sanctuary Wood was at the apex of the Ypres salient and the Germans had silently massed great numbers of guns of all sizes and on both sides, so that shells were coming not only from the front, but from the right and left as well. Besides the terrible rain of high explosive there was also a barrage of shrapnel, hunting out those that the shells did not get, and another curtain of fire behind us that successfully cut off all reinforcements from getting to us. Between it and their own front line the Hun systematically bombarded every inch of ground. It was impossible to find any protection; there was only one thing to do and that was to sit tight and wait for the inevitable end. It seemed to me it would never come.

Early in the shelling my chum and I had taken up a position in what looked to us to be a strong traverse. This withstood the bombardment for some time but eventually was hit, and we were buried. We dug ourselves out, but another shell coming from the rear demolished the parados, burying us again. Once more we extricated ourselves and found to our surprise that neither one of us was hurt. We then decided to get back to the supports by crawling along over what had once been the trench. This was not a pleasant trip. Arriving at the communication trench we discovered it was receiving exactly the same attention as the front line, so we turned about and crawled back. On the way to the supports we had passed four fellows huddled together in a dug-in traverse, so we joined them. The shells were falling thick and fast here as elsewhere but somehow we managed to escape. I am not going to say we weren’t frightened, because we were, but all we could do was keep perfectly still, hug close to the parapet and wonder why death did not put us out of our misery. Soon we noticed an aeroplane flying overhead, not much more than seventy-five feet above us. Now, six men clustered together in a traverse said only one thing to the air men: a machine-gun crew. They immediately signalled back to their artillery, and soon we were the special object of their attention. The shells would rush past us, so close we could almost feel the hot breath of them, and explode just behind us. But still we were not hit, though under this gruelling fire the traverse gradually crumbled away. With a sickening crash a big one fell near us and the six of us were buried. We dug ourselves out, unharmed except for the shock. “I’m getting out of this,” said one of the fellows. “With you,” replied another. “Come on. Me for supports.” And the four that we had joined left to go overland to the support trenches. My chum and I gathered together a few of the sand-bags and built ourselves a little wall or barricade, but the shells in their search soon found us and the barricade was blown in. This time I was wounded in the leg and we decided to try for the supports. Crawling back, under and over fallen trees, smashed and battered trenches, we found a fairly deep shell-hole. “I think we might as well stop here,” said my companion. The hole looked good to me, so we took to it. Between us we had only one rifle, one bayonet and one entrenching tool. Now there is no hole, however deep, that is deep enough for the average fighting man, so we immediately began to dig. Crouching down, we worked as we had never worked before, my chum loosening the earth while I scraped it into a little pile and shovelled it over. Suddenly a “crump” landed alongside of us but we were both below the force of the explosion and so escaped. However, I was in the act of removing some earth and my hand was above the edge of the hole’s rim. I felt a sudden burning sensation in it and knew that I had been wounded. “I’ve got my Blighty,” said I, turning to my companion. “You lucky dog!” he cried. While he was bandaging me I said “Just think of the time I’m going to have. No more war for a while. Pretty nurses to tend to me, and lots of good things to eat. And say, it is June, too, - strawberries and cream.” I made him envious of my wound. While I was raving on he happened to look over the edge of the shell-hole. What he saw there evidently did not please him. “Great lord, there are a thousand Huns out there!” he exclaimed. “You’re seeing things,” I replied. “Well, suppose you take a little look for yourself.” I looked. Gone were all my dreams of Blighty, for there on all sides were the Germans, advancing in a sort of open formation, the officers in the rear, driving their men into action instead of leading as do our officers. The attacking troops were loaded down with rolls of barbed wire, picks shovels and sand-bags. They were equipped for a long stay. At first they ran into no opposition as there was no one there to stop them. But soon to our right a machine gun got busy and then the Germans began to look for cover. Their artillery lifted and moved farther back to prevent our reinforcement from coming through. Spasmodic rifle fire opened up behind us. Then we could hear the lighter explosions of the bombs. 

What few of our men were left in the supports put up a magnificent defense. Colonel Shaw, our commanding officer, seeing how desperate was the position, threw down his revolver, grabbed up a rifle and bayonet, and at the head of eighty men went over the top leading them into certain death. Very few of that eighty ever came back. Most of them died fighting to the last, our leader among them. The colonel was one of the best of men and officers. He never allowed “his boys” to go in where he had not been himself. Patient and kind and brave, he was loved by every man in the regiment. Captain Wilkin, our greatly loved regimental chaplain, and a fighting man as well, went over with the colonel and his little party to try to stop the Germans. The chaplain used his bayonet to good advantage, and when, unluckily, it snapped off, he used his fists on the boche, and was captured while mixing it up with a German private. They respected the cloth apparently and took him prisoner. When the action was over the Germans had captured our first line on a twelve-hundred-yard front, and a bit of the supports in one or two places. They had done it by their artillery and not by the infantry attack. There was only a handful of defenders left at the last charge and yet they could not penetrate through the supports. They won a temporary victory by a preponderance of artillery. When we saw the Germans attack, we knew we would be unable to put up any worth-while defense. I was wounded and could do nothing. But being isolated and only two of us, we never expected we’d be taken alive. “Well, good-by, old scout. We’ll meet somewhere else before long.” And we shook hands and waited, but not for long. Suddenly two dirty, unshaven and brutal faces appeared over the edge of the shell-hole. For a moment or two nothing happened. Then they growled something we could not understand and signalled to us to come out. We crawled over the edge and were immediately confronted by a German officer with a large revolver – the largest I thought I had ever seen. We felt nervous but I guess he was almost as shaky as we were. He gave us the once-over and then signalled us to move back. We moved from one Hun wave to another, crossing the desolate ruins of our old trench system, crossed No Man’s Land, which was now German land, and into the German trenches – two prisoners of war.

The Raid December 1916: from: The Canadians in France, 1920, by Harwood Elmes Robert Steele

Raids were now harassing the Germans with clockwork regularity, and a rich haul of prisoners, machine guns and equipment stood to the credit of the Canadians. This haul was greatly augmented when, on December 20th, one of the most successful raids ever launched was made upon the German lines.

The First C.M.R. Battalion, Lieut.-Col. R. C. Andros, delivered the assault. The frontage attacked lay just north of the road from Arras to Lens, the right flank touching the road and the left lying four hundred and fifty yards beyond. The trenches here formed a small salient inviting aggression and contained several objectionable machine gun emplacements. Major Laws, commanding the battalion at the time, was largely responsible for the careful planning of the attack. After very thorough wire-cutting and reconnaissances, which occupied several nights, the attackers, who numbered nearly seven hundred, manned the assembly trenches and a large crater in front. At the appointed time dense clouds of smoke were released from our trenches, completely concealing the scene of action from the enemy around it. As the smoke poured over No Man's Land our furious barrage came into play, covering fire was opened from our machine guns, and at 3.15 p.m. our men moved forward in orderly waves through the smoke.

Majors Maxfield, Taylor, Caswell and French, each in command of his company, led the attackers, assisted, of course, by their subalterns. A few machine guns attempted to stop the advancing waves, but were of no effect and soon ceased their useless sweeping of the hidden country. The Germans were cowering in their dugouts and were unable to get out before the assailants were upon them. Except for a brief bombing struggle, practically no resistance was made, and the men went quickly to their tasks of wholesale destruction. Pushing on to the support line, they established bombing posts in it, in all communication trenches and to the flanks. Then everything breakable was destroyed. The machine gun emplacements were smashed to pieces. All dugouts were battered in by throwing down bombs or incendiary explosives. The Germans sheltering in them were given a chance to come out and surrender. Most of them were overjoyed to do so, but those who refused paid the penalty of their obstinacy. Wherever sentries attempted to show fight they were either killed or overpowered. The prisoners were rapidly collected together and their arms disposed of.


The systematic wrecking of the hostile trenches was complete before we had been in possession two hours. Under cover of night our men then very quietly withdrew, taking their prisoners with them. Long afterwards, during the midnight watches, the Germans violently shelled their ruined trenches and launched a counter-attack, thus displaying their complete ignorance of the situation.


Our casualties were very slight. The enemy's were heavy. They lost two officers and fifty-six men in prisoners alone, and their killed and their smashed trenches must have cost them dear. This raid was the most fruitful raid on the Western front, up to that time. But the precedent it set—that it was possible to raid the enemy in daylight with impunity – was of even greater value than the mere local results. The decision to raid in daylight was a very daring one, but the success of the move justified the risk and blazed the trail for grander strokes.



Second Battle of Passchendaele, First Stage. 26th October 1917 (from Wikipedia)

Weather: Overcast, 48°F, 7.8mm (0.3in) rain.

The assault began at 5:40 a.m. on the morning of 26 October. The assaulting troops were preceded by a rolling barrage, edging forward in lifts of 50 yards (46 m) every four minutes, permitting the infantry to keep up while negotiating the mud. On the left flank, the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade captured Wolf Copse and secured its objective line but was ultimately forced to drop a defensive flank 300 yards (270 m) back to link up with the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division, the flanking division of the British Fifth Army. 


Not a 1st CMR man, but the experience and places are interchangeable, as the 49th (Edmonton) Battalion, was also from the Third Canadian Division, but 7th, rather than 8th, Infantry Brigade.

JANUARY, 1960 THE FORTY-NINER MAGAZINE.  Pages 7 and 8

Just the number 49. I have only to see it to be back where the pettiness and the monotony of today had little place.

Just an ordinary man, doing ordinary work and thinking ordinary thoughts; yet I have climbed the heights with that number set on cap badge and shoulder strap.

I see again the snow covered Exhibition Grounds and the partitioned horse barns in which we had our quarters.

The old Metagama once more ploughs her slow way across the Atlantic and at last casts anchor under the green sward of Plymouth Hoe.

We drill and sweat on St. Martin's Plain and discuss qualities of Sergeants and Officers, and at last climb the hill at Boulogne en route to the fields that those who will live will remember always.

We taste our first French beer, make love to our first French girls and see our first shells burst around and from the hill at Mont des Cats. And then a few days in the trenches at Plug Street, and two officers and several men en route to England with the 49th's first "blessés". Not all en route to England for two made a longer journey.

And then pick and shovel and trolleys; mud and rain - darkness and lice and a daily modicum of rum and weary months at Kemmel with one or two returns to Mont des Cats and a premier as holders of the line. A few more blessés and a few more crosses and the thought that we had tasted realities.

And then Ypres: shattered walls and shell harried streets and sturdy Canadians relieving tired out English troops.

And then a holocaust and more boys carried out in one tour than had occupied our stretcher bearers in all the previous months.

And then Hooge and unwearying snipers, and men snatched away, and evil smelling mine craters, and mud and mud and mud, and a burning dugout with cold precise curses from a dugoutless Company Commander.

And thrice again the wood that travestied its name of Sanctuary, where the stripped and splintered boles of once lovely trees seemed to point accusing fingers at an unheeding sky, and endlessly, the shells fell. Then the huts and a morning when the Eastern sky was black with the smoke of bursting shells, and the air was heavy with rumors of disaster. A stand-to, a march to the Ramparts with an ominous order to get all the sleep we could.

Sleep, too many slept the next night after we had stumbled into the fire of hell and yet got through to reinforce trenches full of dead and dying and a very few dauntless living.

Over the top in a blind charge no one knew where, to meet a sheet of lead and to die as heroes have died since the dawn of the Empire.

And everywhere dead and everywhere wounded and the thought we would be attacked before relief came.

At last relief, and little Winnizeele that we marched to through persisting rumors of an immediate return to the Hell we had left,

Again Ypres and news of the Somme and the wonder as to when it would be our turn.

At last, and we detrain at Contoville and march and march with aching backs and weary feet, and the thunder of unceasing bombardment in our ears.

And then Albert, and holes dug in earth banks, and eyes that for the first time behold the majesty of our own guns.

And Courcelette and chaos and yet advance and our first V.C. Then the mud trip, and then Regina Trench and once again over the top. We lay the wire before that trench with a swarth of our bravest.

And then march and march and march to Neuville St. Vaast where Glory rested on past memories of mighty harvests of gallant Frenchmen reaped. Now shells seldom intrude and bold spirits sit on the parapets to smoke their Flag cigarettes.

No for long: Taid and Stokes and winter and mud and trench mortars, and Neuville St. Vaast sends yet again her daily quota to add to the crosses in the nearby fields.

Dear Bruay and training over tapes for what all know will be success.

Then one morning the earth shakes and soon Canadian eyes looked down from the edge of Vimy Ridge into the smiling valley beneath. Smiling, but its smiles cease, and more square miles are added to the total of sepulchural villages and tortured farm land.

A valley of gas and a big raid, and now we have scarcely any of the old faces left.

A bath of blood and the Glory that was Passchendaele, and in one day four hundred and twenty heroes pass from our thin ranks, and we have gained our second V.C.

Then again the shadow of Vimy Ridge, and retirement on our right and retirement on our left and ever the fear of disaster.

Yet strange: it is not as troops to stave off disaster we are taken to Liers and Fauequenham, but as troops training for victory.

And train we did, over growing grain and through woods and villages and with tanks and aeroplanes.

Then a train that is to go North, yet goes South, and the wood of Hebecourt and the knowledge that the hour has almost struck.

Gentelles Wood and disclosed plans and the morning that rivals all the thunders of Jove, and six miles gained by ten o'clock.

Then Parvillers and later Arras.

Once again Hell rages and once again forward and such targets to be had along the Scarpe stream by Pelves as we had scarcely dreamed of. Then Canal du Nord and the day we leap-frog over those who had broken the line called impregnable, and press on to Bourlon Wood.

Then attack in the morning and attack in the evening and attack in tlie morning again, and we hold the outskirts of Cambrai.

The cost; the cemeteries near Cambrai best tell the tale, where with dimmed eyes we give the last salute to so many of our best.

Then on again and we look down on the spires and white streets of Valenciennes.

Still on and on and at nine o'clock of the morning of the eleventh of November we march into Mons with band playing and the surety that Victory is indeed at long last ours.

And after; nay my tale is told, and an ordinary man, I lead once more an ordinary life and think ordinary thoughts, save when my memory takes me back to the heights that I once climbed in company with so many, who reaching a Zenith of earthly glory, paused not, but climbed still.

Lt. H. L. HOLLOWAY. 49th Battalion, 7th C.I.B.

Officer's sleeve ranks:

One 'pip' in the panel and one band round the cuff - 2nd Lieutenant
Two 'pips' in the panel and one band round the cuff - Lieutenant
Three 'pips' in the panel and two bands round the cuff - Captain

One crown in the panel and three bands round the cuff - Major
One Crown and one 'pip' in the panel and three bands round the cuff: Lt.-Col.
One Crown and two 'pips' in the panel and four bands round the cuff: Colonel

Size and make-up of an Infantry Battalion:

http://www.1914-1918.net/whatbatt.htm


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