If Ye Break Faith

This blog is dedicated to the promotion of educating about the Canadian experience of World War One. To discover who we are as a nation in the 21st Century, we must understand our past.


Monday, 4 July 2011

Mentioned in Dispatches

As most of you know by now, I love using my discretion in the publication of my blog, as exhibited in my delaying to complete my essay on trench warfare in favour of a special post for Canada Day.  Well, once again I'm delaying that essay, but for some very good reasons.  On Thursday morning, I received an email from a literary agent requesting I send them a book proposal.  This is a very important step as I am led to believe that agents don't make requests unless there is at least some interest in the work being proposed.  I have submitted this proposal just this morning, and in it was included a sample chapter of the first book.  I include this chapter below to share with you the work I hope to achieve.


Edward Osler Bath
Edward Bath, known to his family as “Tod” was born in Oakville Ontario in 1892 to Percy and Alice Bath who had recently moved to the town from East York. The Bath family was rather well to do and were able to provide well for Tod's education. He was enrolled in Upper Canada College at the age of twelve, continuing his secondary education at the exclusive private school of St. Andrew's College until 1907. Perhaps due to his privileged education and his father's influence, by the time of his enlistment at the start of the war, Tod was employed as a clerk with the standard Reliance Mortgage Corporation in Toronto.
Shortly after war was declared, Tod enlisted in the 48th Highlanders, a local Militia regiment. Due to his level of education and work experience he was awarded a commission to the rank of Lieutenant by the 19th of September 1914, and was assigned as a platoon commander in C Company of the regiment.
A photo taken around the date of his commission shows a handsome young man with a smooth, gentle face wearing a neatly trimmed perhaps a touch rakish moustache that makes him appear slightly older than his twenty-two years. Deep set, penetrating eyes described as “grayish blue” look directly towards and seemingly beyond the camera. Lt. Bath wears a neutral expression, giving a read of a thoughtful, practical young man who takes his office seriously. There is not a hint about him that impresses a notion of one looking for the romance and adventure of war. The peaked Highland headdress known as a “Glengarry” is canted quite carefully in the stylish manner lending an air of dash that is still practised today.
The 48th Highlanders arrived as a complete regiment to the training camp at Valcartier Quebec, which meant that as units were organised into the First Overseas Contingent, the regiment was a rare exception in that it wasn't amalgamated with other Militia units. This amalgamation caused some consternation, especially with other Highland units who had to decide which elements of traditional dress and tartan would be worn, an idea for which deep traditions offer little compromise and left many men and officers disappointed and upset that they would not be wearing their tartan into battle.
Not so with the 48th. The cap badge of a calling falcon and the Davidson tartan taken from the heraldry of John Irving Davidson, the Toronto banker who raised the regiment in 1891 would remain a strong sense of tradition and pride for the unit throughout the war. One point of controversy was that the regiment was officially renumbered the 15th Battalion. All documents, reports, maps and other correspondence would be sent with this title, but those of the regiment never accepted this new nomenclature. They refused to wear a standardised maple leaf badge stamped with the number 15, always referred to themselves as the 48th and kept a fierce regimental pride that exists still today.
The training at Valcartier was fairly basic and there was little sense of direction. This was due to the fact that Canada had quickly raised a large force without many experienced officers and NCO's. Those who had recently come into positions of authority, like Lt. Bath, would have had to learn on the job, a delicate balance of keeping enough steps ahead of their subordinates in an illusion of expertise. Usually desirable for a new officer to have a strong and experienced Sergeant to act as a guide and support, at this early stage a dearth of available men with suitable experience meant that this was not a guarantee either.
Things would change in a very drastic way when the First Overseas Contingent sailed for England and further training to take place at a new camp at Salisbury Plain. The British, under whose command the Canadians fell, held the colonials in contempt. They were viewed as undisciplined, rough and extremely under trained. Over the winter months of 1914-15 an intensive program of training was undertaken. Conditions were miserable. The winter was severely damp and cold, with rain far more often than not. Soldiers were billeted in accommodations that weren't adequately heated. Disease and illness such as influenza and pneumonia accounted for some of the first Canadian casualties of the war. Through this difficult and trying regimen the uninitiated such as Lt. Bath were learning valuable lessons in working under adverse conditions that would serve them well once they reached France and the trenches of the front line.
When they had been deemed properly trained, and after an inspection from King George V, the First Contingent was ready to depart for the Western Front. It was slightly reorganised, leaving three battalions of the fourth brigade behind to create the Canadian Training Depot. The remaining three brigades plus supporting units of cavalry, artillery and non-combat support comprised the Canadian Division, commanded by the very able British officer, Lt. General Alderson.
Lt. Bath and his battalion comrades left England aboard the SS Mount Temple on the 11th of February 1915, landing in France four days later. The following month was one in which the Canadian Division, so new to the front, continued it's learning curve. Battalions practiced trench occupations, routines and proper reliefs in a well established nature of rotation. The idea was to keep new units in quiet areas in order to indoctrinate them to the war, and such rookie elements would never be thrust into a “hot” sector for the reason that it would do far more harm than good.
The 15th Battalion spent their first month in France in the area of Esteres, rotating from billets to trenches. Though deemed a “quiet” area, the battalion war diary notes a few casualties from enemy artillery fire, including some fatalities. By mid April they had moved to Ypres, also considered quiet, and continued a routine of taking up trenches just outside of the small town of St. Julien to the north and east of the larger city of Ypres. This occupation including the entire 3d Brigade to which the 15th Bn belonged occurred on th 20th, with Lt. Bath's company, now known as No. 3 Coy in the middle with 4 Coy on the left shoring up with elements of the 13th Bn, and 1 Coy on the right.
The Germans, at the time, were planning an offensive in the area, despite British belief to the contrary. Higher command felt that the area would remain non-active. On the 22nd, canisters of chlorine gas were released against the French Colonial troops holding the line to the left of the Canadian Division, forcing them to retire and leaving an open gap. Hasty counterattacks by the Canadians mounted that night and throughout the next day towards Kitchener's Wood where the line had dissolved prevented a German breakthrough. The effort had strained the Canadians, with the rapidity of the German advance and the fluid nature with which the battle was joined disrupting the usual chain of command and communication. Contradictory orders were issued at different levels of organisation, and misunderstanding of the situation led General Alderson to misdeploy elements. These were all good lessons to be learned as battles rarely unfold in an orderly fashion, and perhaps it was the Canadians knack for disorder that allowed them to respond effectively to a fluid and dynamic situation.
By the 24th , units could no longer rely on cohesive command from higher levels, and it fell to junior officers and NCO's at the Company and platoon level to direct the battle when it came upon them. The Germans renewed their efforts that morning, pushing forward past Kitchener's Wood, once again using poison gas in advance of their infantry. This attack came directly against the 3d Brigade. The 13th Battalion, on the left of the Highlanders retired, overcome by the gas, but the 15th remained in place despite, as the diary entry on that day states “heavy casualties.”
The fighting was close and confused, men weeping and wheezing from the gas, their only protection being urine soaked handkerchiefs and cloths. Officers shifted men in the shallow trenches to respond to enemy movement, shouted orders given in hoarse voices that would have been hard to hear over the fire of small arms. Rifles jammed under the stress of rapid fire, machine guns overheated and became inoperable, hand to hand fighting took place along the line. With their left flank “up in the air” the Highlanders maintained their post, plugging gaps as they occurred and preventing the Germans from exploiting an opening to the Canadian rear, keeping the rest of the front from collapsing. Lt. Bath was suffering from the gas, but was still able to direct his platoon in defending their front. He took a bullet wound in his left hand, probably incurred as he was exhorting his men to keep up the fight. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. J A Currie later related about Lt. Bath in his narrative on the battle, describing him as a “quiet and mild mannered youth” who “greatly distinguished himself.” By the time the battalion was relieved the next day, Lt. Bath's whereabouts were unknown. In the after action casualty report 17 officers and 674 other ranks are detailed as killed, wounded or missing. Eleven officers, which included Lt. Bath are listed as missing. It was not until the 30th of April when a telegram was received from a Captain Harvey that informed his battalion that Lt. Bath was now a prisoner of war. Following this telegram he was reported to be at a prison camp at Hof Cusmar, transferring later to a camp at Hanvo-Munden, from which he successfully escaped.
He was recaptured not long afterwards and placed in the Citadelle Wessen, a fortress of sorts where prisoners who had shown determination in escaping captivity were held. It is the express duty of those who have been captured to use any means they can to free themselves from the enemy. The purpose of this is twofold. Primarily, it's the notion of being able to return to duty to continue the fight. Secondly, escape attempts disrupt and disturb the enemy, forcing them to use assets to prevent escapes and recapture those who've made good attempts that otherwise might be used on the front line.
Lt. Bath spent 7 ½ months at Wessel, and was then placed in a camp at Gefeld. He was moved twice more, to Holzmunden and Schwarmstadt. These frequent moves indicate he continued in his duty to agitate his captors. By March of 1918, in time for his twenty-sixth birthday he was exchanged and interred in neutral Holland, on account of being ill with bronchitis. Upon his arrival in Holland he was promoted to the rank of Temporary Captain in recognition of his attention to duty, having the promotion backdated two years to 1916, the idea being to give his rank some seniority, a particular privilege reserved only for those considered worthy of the distinction. In a letter written to his mother during this time he tells about “the best sailing we've had yet but the weather was pretty bad most of the time, being cold, blowing a young gale and thunderstorm....we had to drop our anchors and a little while later the dingy swamped.” Also expressed is his desire to be able to spend the winter in the town of Haarlem with a friend of his. This didn't occur. Capt. Bath's condition worsened and he was allowed to be repatriated on the 4th of November. He was taken from France by hospital ship and admitted to the Prince of Wales Hospital for Officers at Marylebone Road in London with influenza and pneumonia. A week later, Capt. Bath was transferred to Endsleigh Hospital with his condition noted as “seriously ill.” He died the next day, his condition believed to have been aggravated from his exposure to poison gas during the fighting at Ypres.
For his attempts to escape from captivity, Capt. Bath was mentioned in dispatches, a rather particular honour for recognition of service beyond the regular call of duty. His citation, printed on page 1235 of the January 30 1920 Supplement to the London Gazette notes that he was “brought to the notice of the Secretary of State for War for gallant conduct and determination displayed in attempting to escape from captivity.”

Captain Bath's body was brought back to Canada and he is buried in a family plot in Oakville. His name is also noted on the Upper Canada College Memorial Tablet.

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