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.


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

To Arms! To Arms!

To my right is a clip from the BBC series "Blackadder Goes Forth."  It's a fairly tongue-in-cheek approach to the beginnings of the war.  I happen to like it, and was thinking about it for something to do with today's post. When searching YouTube for this segment, I couldn't help notice the comments section in which many people admit to being first exposed to this series in history class.

That stopped me in my tracks.  Certainly Blackadder's (Rowan Atkinson) explanation of the genesis of the Great War is fairly correct and entertaining, but lacks a great deal in a complete understanding.  I don't fault the show, as it's intention is to entertain; I find fault with an education system that can't engage students by means other than showing videos from old situation comedies in order to impart the lessons of history.

One thing I run into often enough is people who have no interest in history because it is "boring."  I rail against that.  If I can say so without sounding too vain, I'd like to think I challenge the notion of history being boring twice a week.  Without the study of history, we cannot understand the present.  If we don't "sing our own songs" we loose a sense of who we are as a collective community.

There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of individual artefacts and remains yet to be recovered from the battlefields of our past; and not nearly enough people to find, preserve and interpret these leavings.  Some risk never being found, others might be destroyed or lost by our present day impact on the surrounding environment.

We've sent young men and women off to war, asked them to do difficult things and put their lives at risk so that we at home can feel safe.  There's an obligation we owe to them, and in my opinion, not enough being done, especially with recent "clawbacks" being discussed.

Keeping up with this site and the project it supports can be done by following our Facebook Page, and Twitter Feed.  Any suggestions, questions or comments, please forward them to me here: ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.


I'll leave you all with that for now, and I thank you in advance for your efforts at helping us achieve our goals.  Regular posts will return on Monday, with an update on how well this appeal was received.  If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please post them to ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com



Monday, 21 November 2011

It's Not a Straight Line

Well, it's been a busy week.  Traffic to this site is down significantly since Remembrance Week, but on average higher than before, so the net gain is ours.  Much of the time over the past week has been dedicated to projects and meetings to help spread the ideals that this project is setting itself up to support.  To that end, there is some great progress to report.

For most of the rest of my day today, I'm putting the final touches on a detailed proposal for Iron Spirits, a process that I will touch on in more detail during the essay below.  A proposal, mind, is not an acceptance to publication, but a very important step along the way; I'm very pleased by the opportunity.  I held a meeting with a local politician on Friday, a man who enjoys my work and sees some value in my writing.  The opportunities to network with his business colleagues will certainly not harm any prospect of freelance work they might have, while being able to promote "If Ye Break Faith" to people who may be able to aid in corporate sponsorship.  It's very win-win at the moment.  I also have an article prospectively submitted to The Laurier Centre, but haven't had word on its publication yet, I shall keep you informed as that develops.  While we're on the topic, if any of you out there would like me to guest blog or submit a piece I'd be open for that, as well as the idea of doing so with this space in exchange.

The big news is that "If Ye Break Faith" has re-launched a crowd funding campaign on IndieGoGo.  The first time we went live with a campaign was really premature; the project hadn't the direction and scope that it does now.  The funds raised by this campaign will go towards the start-up and maintenance of the business as well as providing the initial funding for two bursaries "If Ye Break Faith" will be awarding annually.  These awards will be both at the undergraduate and graduate level for students of history.  Qualification for the bursary will be contingent on GPA as well as an essay competition.

Hand in hand with the IndieGoGo campaign is "If Ye Break Faith's" first ever promotional video.  It was hammered together using Power Point and good intentions, but I admit it's pretty bloody awful.  Don't watch it, even though it fairly well explains what it is we intend to do.  As usual, spread the word through Twitter and Facebook.

Have a suggestion, question or submission?  They can all be sent through to ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.

In putting together my sample chapter for the submission of "Iron Spirits", I found myself for the first time having to describe the notion of a "salient."  Admittedly when I was younger, the word was so often paired with Ypres that I took it to be descriptive of a natural geographic feature alone.  The difficulty isn't in defining the military context of a salient, but doing so in a way that balances ease of understanding without being insulting to intelligence.  Since it is my goal to make military history more accessible, I'd best learn how to write in such a way that the concepts required to be understood which may not be familiar to the average person can be expressed in an engaging way.

The reasons why salients become important here is tied into that primary question, the inspiration to curiosity and understanding and the foundation of historical study: Why?

By the spring of 1915, the war had been deadlocked on the Western Front since before the previous winter.  The catch phrase used by almost every historian I've consulted, and is so ubiquitous I've used it myself is "a line of trenches stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss Border."  Of course, we know that it's a bit more complicated than that, and I think I disabused certain notions (like the one continuous line running North-South) in my two piece work In The Trenches I & II.

Take a look at the map above.  The red line (representing the Germans) curves around the blue line in a gentle arc.  We are looking at the Ypres Salient circa April of 1915.  Formed by necessity of terrain, or by a successful advance on a narrow front, salients both large and small developed all along the Western Front as the war of movement stalled out and trench warfare took over.  What I hadn't thought much about, until I began doing background work on the little known Battle of Festubert in May of 1915, was the existence of salients and their tactical difficulties for forces on either side. The existence of little bulges along the line dictated much of the offensive work by both sides during 1915, which for the Western Front would be a year of adjustment and building strength prior to the grand campaigns the following year.  One very crucial part of that would be to eliminate salients as much as possible.  For the blue people above, they are constantly watched over and can be fired upon from three directions, the red people, while they have that advantage, are really quite a ways away from their friends to the left and right of the curve, making mutual support difficult.  Any advance made from them would have to take a fair amount of enemy ground before even reaching the start line for flanking units.  For either side there are advantages, but ideally in a static position, you desire to have as straight a line as possible.

Which is why (partially) the British decided to fight at Festubert.  Ostensibly it was to reduce a salient in the area, but that in itself was a trade off for failing to take the high feature of Aubers Ridge.  Like most offensives in the second year of the war, small gains were being made at the cost of unforeseen numbers of casualties.  From this and from a fundamental misunderstanding of tactical necessity comes the long held notion of "slaughter for no gain."  Without meaning to be too glib, there is some truth to that as '15 was a real learning year from top to bottom, an analogy of eggs and omelettes would be apt.  Though the real issue is that both the Allies and the Central Powers were not in a position, materially or in manpower to achieve victory.  The public impression is that the army should have been working towards a decisive end, but was proving incapable at doing so.  Reality was that the small gains that were being made were necessary to shore up the line, straighten it out and afford the best possible jump-off point for the upcoming grand offensive.

As a side note, the work done by the British in 1915 to gain position having been done in Flanders was motivation for Haig to plan for the 1916 offensive there.  It was pressure from his French allies that dictated he attack along the Somme.

I'll leave you with a quote from the sample chapter of "Iron Spirits"

"The desire to cause a large breakthrough was present, but 1915 could not be the year for it.  Opportunities based on political flights of fancy would keep a great deal of British and French assets pinned down in other theatres.  Kitchener's Armies, the erstwhile civilian volunteers for the war were at the front, with numbers steadily increasing as the year unfolded.  They would not be either numerous or experienced enough for a large scale offensive until midway through the following year at the earliest.  Small offensives for limited objectives would achieve three goals: Put allied forces in the best possible starting position for the anticipated offensive in 1916; units new to the front would have opportunity to learn while doing, and hopefully keeping pressure along the line at different points would help "fix" the Germans to their present locations."

Any thoughts?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Lost in the Woods


Keeping up with this site and the project it supports can be done by following our Facebook Page, and Twitter Feed.  Any suggestions, questions or comments, please forward them to me here: ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.

To carry forward the notion of a continued spirit of Remembrance,I’m going to digress from my usual style of offering a discussion piece on the First World War, and tell one of my own stories.  On the most part, my military background is merely anecdotal, but the majority of my experiences in this environment seem to involve to some degree my Company Sergeant Major, now Captain Ron Alkema.  It seems his name has been coming up recently as there is an effort under way to help find a photograph of him and his son taken at a rather precious moment during the Regiment’s Remembrance Parade. 

CSM Alkema was a wiry, tough man who had a long service of experience and great knowledge of his trade.  He was assigned as the Platoon Warrant (a Warrant Officer serving as second in command to the platoon’s officer) to QL2 9411, my basic training serial.  My first day in the army, the first words Warrant Alkema said to me were “fix your fucking headdress, troop.”  Over the course of my training, and beyond when I was assigned as a rifleman in A Company, where he was the Sergeant Major, there developed a number of times in which our interactions are cause for thought.  A running joke about chicken stew or the incident where I went into the field wearing a pair of puttees come readily to mind
.
However, it was a force on force patrolling exercise that I address this public column as until now, much like a certain Douglas Adams story involving cookies, the other half has never heard the punch line.  I was tasked to bring my three man reconnaissance (recce) patrol to a particular patch of a distant grid square.

My navigation, I would like to think, is tight.  I’ve taught lectures on use of map and compass, so to figure a route based on a staggered approach, with way-points including the ruins (MTSC Meaford near Collingwood, Ontario has a wealth of stone foundations left from the farm buildings that used to dot the area) where we would hold up until dark, with a separate return route was an easy affair.  On paper.

Soon after we set out, the man I had assigned as the pacer (an independent counter of distance) told me he didn’t know how to pace.  That was a minor concern as it quickly became apparent that despite shooting proper bearings we had come off course somehow.  Two problems could be to blame.  The map might be sufficiently out of date so as landmarks and features may be different, or the compass might be set to a different magnetic declination than the area calls for. (there is a difference in declination between Meaford and CFB Borden, the two bases we went to for exercises, enough to require an adjustment.  If a compass is set for when while at the other, it’s fair easy to get lost.)

My little band never quite made it to our objective.  Even after cheating by closely following roads and trails in a fashion known as “handrailing”, we got close, but had to turn back due to time concerns and the fact that besides all else, the radio wasn’t working.

Turns out that the “enemy” was exactly where I was supposed to be looking for them.  As our two other patrols had made their objectives and found nothing, process of elimination put them in my patch.  Our objective was to move out as a platoon, lay up in the woods down a slight rise about fifty meters from the supposed position and assault at first light.  Small problem being we didn’t know how they were laid out and what assets they had, as it would have been my job to provide that information.

All things considered the assault went well, having caught the enemy after they had gone into morning routine following the first light “stand to.”  After the exercise was called over, Sergeant-Major Alkema pulled me aside to have a word.
“I understand you had some problems getting to your objective, Corporal Harvie.” He said by way of prodding me to give my input.

“I can’t figure it Sar’nt Major, could be an old map, or the compass declination.”

“It’s a poor navigator who blames his map and compass.” And that, to him is the end of the story, as he walked away after making that statement. 

The real problem, I found out later, had to do with the fact that I am left handed.  Now, CSM Alkema is left handed himself, so just on the face of it, the explanation requires further background.  When I was fourteen, I broke my left arm in a spectacular fashion.  A metal plate affixed to the ulna with six screws was required to properly set the fractures.  Years later, attempting to shoot bearings with a compass in my left hand would result in a seemingly unfathomable inconsistency between my class work and field craft.

If you see Captain Alkema, could you please set him straight on this?

Friday, 11 November 2011

Remembrance Week Special Collection: Cpl H G Munro


Our Remembrance Week Special Collection concludes today with the biography of Cpl H G Munro, written by Kathleen Minkowski.  I'd like to express a deep thanks to all who took time from their days this week to read these contributions. Keeping that in mind, I would like to appeal to you all to keep the memory of the loss of life in war with you beyond the moment of silence at 11 this morning.

The founding principles of "If Ye Break Faith" were based in the belief that the sacrifices made on our behalf by those who went to war is something that should be more present in mind throughout the year.  This is why we intend to initiate our first long running campaign "Give A Minute of Your Time" over the next twelve months to not only drive support for the causes of perpetuating history education, preserving physical history and supporting veterans, but keep the memory of sacrifice more present.  Only through understanding our past can we understand our present.

Today, I will be at the ceremony held at the war monument on Trafalgar Rd in Oakville, Ontario.  I certainly hope that many of you will take some time to remember in your own way.  On Monday, our regular posts return, as I hope you all will.  You can keep up to date with all the latest news and developments via Twitter and Facebook.



Hugh Gordon Munro, Corporal
15th Battalion, Central Ontario Regiment
3rd Infantry Brigade, 1st Infantry Division
Canadian Expeditionary Force

Not many of us can remain optimistic in our darkest hours. Not many of us are able to realize that our misery won’t last forever. Hugh Gordon Munro experienced war, death, and a lot more misery that any of us have every experienced in our lives. Despite all of this, Munro was able to remain optimistic throughout the war, no matter what happened. He would always dream of the future because he was so determined to tell his story. Munro made so many contributions to the war effort and they must be remembered…

Personal Information: Hugh Gordon Munro grew up with his loving parents Rev. J. E. and Jessie Munro and an enthusiastic brother, Arthur Melville, in the town of Gladstone, Manitoba. They were devoted members of the Presbyterian Church. Munro’s family later moved to Oakville, Ontario, and Munro’s father became the reverend at Knox Presbyterian Church. As a young unmarried man in Oakville, Munro took a job as a bank clerk.

On May 26, 1915, with having no previous military experience, Hugh Gordon Munro enlisted with the Canadian Over‐Seas Expeditionary Force in Niagara, Ontario. After a brief, but thorough examination, Munro was seen fit to be a part of the Canadian army. Munro was lean and above average height, described as 5 foot 10 inches and weighing 165 lbs. He had a fair complexion, grey eyes, and brown hair. Munro left his post as a bank clerk to represent his country overseas in World War I.

Military Movements: Hugh Gordon Munro was an Acting Corporal with the 37th Battalion. He was later taken on strength by the 15th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry (Central Ontario Regiment) in the 3rd Infantry Brigade and 1st Infantry Division. The 15th Battalion was organized at Valcartier, Quebec and was composed of recruits from the Toronto area. During the summer of 1915, Munro set sail with his battalion to Europe where their theatre of operation was in France. Some of the major battles Munro may have fought in are the Battle of Mont Sorrel and the Battle of the Somme.

The Final Days: During mid‐September, the 15th Battalion was resting and training in Vadencourt, France at a camp. Then, the battalion left Vadencourt for Brickfields but rain slowed them down and many of the soldier’s uniforms got wet. Training was limited due to the constant rainy weather. However, when the weather looked promising, practice attacks were carried out and gunners were trained.
On September 24, 1916, the 15th Battalion marched to the trenches in Albert, France to relieve the 14th Battalion. On September 26, 1916 the Canadian and British troops attacked and the Battle for Thiepval Ridge began. It was a very successful invasion for the 15th Battalion as hardly any lives were lost and they strategically avoided enemy shelling.

In early October, 1916, the 15th Battalion was in Warloy, France sleeping in billets and training with guns and bombs. The days went by slowly. Companies and Units held inspections and gas helmet inspections. Rain delayed the battalion’s plans so tasks were carried out in the soldier’s billets. The days would go by with normal enemy artillery activity, but here and there some
shelling would occur and the enemy would attack. The Canadian and British troops tried to advance further near Courcelette, France but the enemy attacked and regained some trenches.

Medical Records: Three vaccination marks were found on Hugh Gordon Munro’s arms when he was examined before he enlisted with the army. He was also inoculated on May 29, 1915, by a Dr. Thompson, just after he enlisted. Munro also spent 11 days in the hospital in 1916. He was admitted on August 7, 1916. In his unit base report, it states that rejoined his unit on August 18, 1916.

Lest We Forget: Hugh Gordon Munro died in No. 49 Casualty Clearing Station on October 9, 1916 from gunshot wounds to the arms and legs while fighting on the front lines when the enemy attacked with shelling and gunfire. He received three medals to honour his actions: the 15th Battalion Star, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal. He had received $15 monthly while being a Corporal during the war. He was 19 years of age at the time of his death. Munro is buried at Contay British Cemetery in Somme, France. The cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Bloomfield in August 1916 and was used for burials by the 49th and 9th Casualty Clearing Station. It was not until after the Germans withdrawal from the Hindenburg Line in the spring of 1917, when the Germans advanced on Albert, that the 38th and other Divisions used the cemetery. Today, the Contay British Cemetery holds 1,133 First World War soldiers.

Conclusion: In his letters home to Oakville, Hugh Gordon Munro was always optimistic. He would write about what tomorrow would bring, and he always hoped that he would eventually be able to go home. Munro demonstrated determination, courage, and strength. Despite the cruelties of war, Munro was able to remain fearless, confident, and brave. He can be a role model for so many people; he showed us that we should cherish the little things in life and to always remain positive.

Written by: Kathleen Minkowski

On behalf of "If Ye Break Faith", I would like to dedicate our Remembrance Week Special Collection to all my fallen comrades; in particular Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer and Major P D Hess von Kruedener.  Dileas Gu Brath.

Christopher J Harvie
Project Director, If Ye Break Faith.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Remembrance Week Special Collection: Capt. D R Mackay


Our Remembrance Week Special Collection continues today with the biography of Captain D R Mackay, written by Stephen Im.  Again, the response we've had is wonderful, and we are enjoying bringing you these stories, and hope that they give cause for reflection on the human cost of war.

On Remembrance Day itself, most of us will observe the two minutes' silence to make those reflections.  We at "If Ye Break Faith" encourage this practice, and in keeping with that we announce today our first fund-raising program.  The logistics are a bit touch and go as NFP status hasn't come across any desks yet, but running from 11/11/11 to 11/11/12 will be our campaign; appealing to our audience worldwide to "Give a Minute of Your Time."  In our contemporary climate of financial unrest; money is tight all over.  Concerned with meeting the needs of the day to day, thoughts tend to be less towards extra expenditures.  The suggested level of donation to each person would be the equivalent of one minute's worth of earnings.  For the average Canadian, that works out to .40-.60 cents depending on what statistics one starts with.  Individually it is not much at all; but the underlying idea of this campaign and "If Ye Break Faith" itself is a collective effort.  

Having a broad mandate of promoting history education, preserving physical history and supporting veterans past and present means that money gained from the "Give a Minute of Your Time" campaign, and other fund raising events upcoming will be spread amongst a network of associated charitable organisations.  This gives the prudent contributor the ability to stretch their donation across a wider scope.  While we'd like to encourage you to make donations along these lines, we'd prefer to have our business status confirmed before accepting any funds. (We won't stop you, though, so if you really can't wait, go ahead.)

In other news, "If Ye Break Faith" has been nominated for the Cliopatria Award for Best New Blog.  If you like, head on over to History News Network to cast a vote.  We're still seeking reader contributions of their own Remembrance Day stories.  Submission deadline is Friday, so if you haven't yet, please post your story to ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.  As always, keep up to date with news and developments via Twitter and Facebook.

Ancestry.ca has announced a limited promotion for free access to military records.  The promotion ends on the 13th, so take advantage of this offer soonest!  The Ottawa Citizen has just announced the creation of a new Twitter feed, We Are The Dead, which is set to automatically tweet the names of Canada's fallen, at the rate of one an hour.  It's estimated that the 'bot will need to work continuously for thirteen years to complete its task.





Donald Roy Mackay, Captain
4th Canadian Mounted Rifles
8th Brigade, 3rd Division
Canadian Expeditionary Force

It was December of 1914, and Donald Roy MacKay was enlisting at the Toronto office. He was an 8 year veteran of the militia and felt that it was his duty to go to war. But little did he know what was about to happen.

Personal Information: Donald Roy Mackay was born on June 30th, 1883, in the city of Oakville, Ontario. He was the first son of John and Elizabeth Mackay and the eldest sibling of three younger brothers and one sister. When he enlisted he was 31 and married to Evelyn Marjorie MacKay. He and his family were strong believers in the Presbyterian faith. Before the war started, he had been a member of the active militia for eight years. Mackay enlisted at the recruitment office in Toronto on Dec. 3rd, 1914. His medical exam did not note any previous diseases or current ones and he had no obvious disabilities or impediments. He was in peak physical condition; he was 5 ft. 10 inches and weighted 155 lbs. He had a fair complexion with brown eyes and brown hair. His original trade, or calling, was as a farmer.

Military Movement: Donald MacKay was part of the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, 8th Brigade, 3rd Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force. Although MacKay had enlisted on December of 1914, he did not arrive at France until October 24th of 1915. Even before he arrived in Europe, in July, he was promoted from the rank of Lieutenant to Captain.

On November 4th of 1914, soldiers were taken from the Governor General's Body Guard, the 2nd Dragoons, the 9th Mississauga Horse and the 25th Brant Dragoons to form the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles. They originally trained in Toronto, however they were soon asked to give up their horses to be used as chargers by the officers of the 2nd Canadian Division which was heading overseas to Europe. However, the regiment accepted an invitation to volunteer as a dismounted infantry unit. They were moved to Niagara‐on‐the‐Lake and later on to Valcartier to continue their training. In July of 1915, they departed to continue further training in England. In October they sailed to France to receive final training in trench warfare and to enter the war. They received their first casualties on Dec. 1st. Their second wave of casualties happened two days later when a raiding party got spotted and received fire on the 3rd of December. Captain MacKay was part of the second group of casualties of three dead and four wounded.

The Final Days: MacKay did not see much action before he was killed. The 4th C.M.R had been sent to Belgium and had trained and moved around a short time there. They finally settled down in the Aldershot Huts near the small town of Neuve‐Eglise, Belgium. Captain MacKay, another officer, and ten soldiers were part of a raiding party when a nearby artillery explosion killed him and two others.

Medical Records: Donald Roy Mackay was a healthy man both at the time of enlistment. Artillery fire was the cause of his death when a shell exploded nearby and fragments pierced his body.

Lest We Forget: His father, J.A Mackay, who was his closest of kin, was informed of his death by cable. His total earnings while in the war were $954.55. His wife, Evelyn MacKay, received a monthly allowance from the government. MacKay received the Plaque and Scroll for his war efforts. He also received the 14‐15 Star, the Victory Medal, and the British War Medal. At the time of his death he was 32. He was buried in Belgium, and now rests in the Berks Cemetery Extension.

Reflective Response: Donald Mackay was one of the thousands of people who helped preserve our freedom. It is extremely interesting to know that he went to OTHS (known as Oakville High School). He was a committed soldier who was caught in the line of fire and sadly never returned home to friends and family in Oakville.

“All we have of freedom, all we use or know – our fathers bought for us long and long ago.” Rudyard Kipling

Written By: Stephen Im

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Remembrance Week Special Collection: LCpl H M Gorman


"Poppy Field" by Steve Thoms

Our Remembrance Week Special Collection continues today with a biography of Lance Corporal H M Gorman, written by Sabrina Shrestha.  So far, these posts have received a great amount of attention, and it's very pleasing that so many of you are reading, and hopefully enjoying these stories.

Submissions are still being accepted for our post concluding Remembrance Week on Sunday 13 November.  If you have a story about a veteran in your life you'd like to share, please post it to ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com before Friday, 11 November for inclusion.

If you haven't yet, please check out History News Network to place your vote for "If Ye Break Faith" in the "Best New Blog" category.  You can always keep up to date with all the latest news and announcements through Twitter and Facebook.


Howard Mahoney Gorman, Lance Corporal
26th Battalion, New Brunswick Regiment
5th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division
Canadian Expeditionary Force

Personal Information: Howard Mahoney Gorman was born on April 21, 1894, in the town of Simcoe, Ontario, 45 kilometers southwest of Brantford, Ontario. He was brought up in a family of Methodist by his father, Robert J. Gorman and his mother, Estelle Gorman. Later, Howard and his family moved to Oakville, Ontario.
He was an unmarried 21 year old farmer who enlisted on June 19, 1915 in Niagara to go to war with the Canadian Over‐seas Expeditionary Force. After the medical check up, he was considered fit and was of good health to fight.

Military Movements: Howard was a member of the Canadian Army Service Corps (CASC). The CASC departed for England in May 1915 and went to a military training camp in Shorncliffe, England, on the coast of Kent.
On September 9, 1915, Howard was struck off strength and transferred to the 2nd Division by train; he embarked for France on September 14, 1915. The Canadian Corps was formed on September 15, 1915, at the Ypres Salient in Belgium, when the 1st Division was joined by the 2nd. Howard was struck off strength again on April 25, 1916, and was transferred to the 26th Battalion of the New Brunswick Canadian Infantry in the 2nd Division. On June 26, 1916, Howard was taken on strength by the Canadian Casualty Assembly Center (CCAC). On August 9, 1916, he was struck off strength from the CCAC to the 40th Battalion of Nova Scotia in the 2nd Infantry Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).(These movements are indicative of a wounded man moving back through lines.  Examining the War Diary of the 26th Bn reveals that they were subject to intermittent and heavy enemy bombardment throughout the17-18 June 1916.  This reconciles with Gorman’s movements at the time. CJH Ed.) On September 21, 1916, he transferred to the 26th Battalion, taking the place of a man whose health condition was failing. Howard remained with the Canadian Corps in the 26th Battalion until his death.
Howard was promoted to Lance Corporal on November 6, 1917. Unfortunately, he was killed in action on the same day, during the Second Battle of Passchendaele.

The Final Days: LCpl Gorman lost his life fighting in the Third Battle of Ypres during the third stage of the Second Battle of Passchendaele, on November 6, 1917. The First Battle of Passchendaele had begun early on October 12, 1917, and the Second Battle of Passchendaele started on October 26, which lasted until November 10. Many Canadian soldiers including the 26th Battalion (5th Brigade) were involved in this battle. The Canadian Corps were under the command of Lieutenant‐General Sir Arthur Currie. Throughout this Battle, the
Canadians, British, French, and the Australians worked together and fought against the Germans to gain control of the village of Passchendaele.

The 1st assault was done by the 2nd Anzac Corps on October 12; due to terrible weather, further attacks were delayed. The Canadian Corps presented a plan to capture Passchendaele on October 23, 1917. Moving through the Zonnebeve Road (southwest of Passchendaele), Gravenstafel, and Mosselmarkt (northwest of Passchendaele) were the only ways for the soldiers to advance towards Passchendaele. As the weather improved, the Germans shelled/bombed during the night injuring many Canadians; the Germans also used Yellow Cross gas (mustard gas) and Blue Cross Gas (sneezing gas) to weaken the enemy’s army.
As the 1st and the 2nd Division were held in army reserve, the 3rd and the 4th Division, at 5:30 a.m. on October 26th did the attack of the first stage. By the 27th, about 300 yards were gained and on October 28th, the first stage ended with heavy casualties on both sides.
At the beginning of November, the 1st and 2nd Divisions moved from an area east of Cassel to take over the exhausted 3rd and 4th Division. They arrived at the ruined station of Ypres after a tiring three‐hour train ride. On the night of November 5th and 6th, they prepared to fight in their positions and were ready to attack by 4:00 a.m. During the third stage, the mission for the 26th Battalion (5th Brigade) was to attack Passchendaele from the south, while the 1st and 2nd Battalions advanced to Meetcheele‐Mosselmarkt road and the 3rd Battalion were on the left of the 26th Battalion. The 2nd Division was in pillboxes attacking from the north of Passchendaele.

 (An appendix to the 26th Battalion War Diary for November 1917 includes an after-action report for the attack on 06 November.   Despite the Battalion receiving 200 casualties, objectives were reached and held; with individual Companies linking up in good order with flanking units.  The report is quite comprehensive, and available through Library and Archives Canada. I think it's worth a read: Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 CJH Ed.)

On November 6, at 6:00 a.m., a barrage exploded and the battle began. There were low flying aircraft but due to visibility, it did not go well. On all of the sides, the plan went like expected. Unfortunately, there were heavy loss again; 464 Germans captured, 2,238 casualties and 734 men died on that day and one of them was Howard Gorman.

Medical Records: On June 20, 1916, Howard was admitted to the Red Cross Hospital in Pembury because he was wounded on his left arm by a shrapnel shell. On July 12, 1916, Howard was admitted to Mill Convalescent Hospital, Woodcote Park, Epsom for the shrapnel wound on his left arm. He was again admitted to Mill Convalescent Hospital, Woodcote Park, Epsom on August 8, 1916, because he had a left arm discharge due to the Shrapnel wound from June. Howard was killed in action on November 6, 1917, and his body was never found. There are no records of how or what he actually died from.

Least We Forget: LCpl Gorman wrote his will on October 21, 1915; he left $15 to one of the soldier friends and the rest of his money to his mother, Mrs. Estelle Gorman. Mrs. Gorman received the Memorial Cross and Mr. Gorman received the Military Plaque and Scroll Memorial identified by his serial number 778782. During the time of his service, he earned $550 in total earnings from the CEF (Canadian Expeditionary Force) from November 1, 1915, to January 9, 1918. From November 1, 1915, to April 30, 1916, he was paid $25/month and from May, he was paid $20/month. After two years of service, he died at the age of 23.

Howard Mahoney Gorman is one of the soldiers listed on the Menin Gate (Ypres) Memorial in Belgium during the defense of Ypres Salient in World War I. This memorial is in the eastern side in the province of West Flanders, which has the names of over 54, 000 officers and men who died without a trace. Sir Reginald Blomfield designed this memorial, which was created by the War Grave Commission. Inside the memorial, there are names of the soldiers on the panels inscribed by regiment and corps. These soldiers are still remembered today. Every evening at 8:00 p.m., the traffic is stopped at the Menin Gate.

 “Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”
‐Sir Winston Churchill
Written by: Sabrina Shrestha

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Remembrance Week Special Collection: Pte W J Conder


We continue our Remembrance Week Special Collection with the biography of Pte W J Conder, written by Richard Liu.  

If Ye Break Faith has been nominated for a Cliopatria Award in the category "Best New History Blog."  To be perfectly honest, the nomination is self-generated.  However, if you feel that IYBF is deserving of this recognition, please visit the History News Network to place your vote.

We are still accepting reader submitted remembrance stories for our post concluding Remembrance Week this coming Sunday.  Please forward your contributions to ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com before Friday, 11 November for consideration.  You can keep up to date with all the developments and news by following us on Twitter and Facebook.

William Joseph Conder, Private
5th Battalion, Saskatchewan Regiment
2nd Infantry Brigade 1st Infantry Division
Canadian Expeditionary Force

William Joseph Conder was born on October 28, 1895, in Aurora, Ontario. He was the son of Joseph William Conder Sr. and he worked as a tinsmith before his call to action in World War I.

Military Movements: William Joseph Conder was one of the first Canadians to serve in World War I. When war broke out in Europe, the British Empire (along with Canada) declared war on August 4, 1914. Conder enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on September 23- a little over a month after the war began.

During his time in World War I, Conder was a member of 5th Battalion of the Saskatchewan Regiment in the 1st Infantry Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Upon enlistment, Conder along with other members of the 5th Battalion were organized in Valcartier, Quebec, which would later become Canada’s largest military camp. The division arrived in Great Britain in October 1914, and received military training until its deployment in January under the command of Lieutenant General E.A.H. Alderson. The division consisted of a Cavalry Squadron, a  Cyclist Company, four Infantry Brigades, three Artillery Brigades and Divisional Engineers. The training in the winter of 1914 was painstaking and rigorous due to the heavy rain and snow on the Salisbury Plains. After Royal Inspection of the division in 1914, the division moved off to France to fight in the war.
In April, 1915, the First Division was deployed to Ypres Salient, where they would be stationed for the next several months.

The Final Days: On April 22, the First Division encountered its first offensive by the German forces. What would later be known as the Second Battle of Ypres commenced in the afternoon of April 22 when German Forces released over one hundred and fifty tons of chlorine gas over a 6km stretch of the Allied front. This is widely considered as the first major use of chemical warfare in history. The chlorine gas dropped by the Germans killed approximately 6,000 French troops within the first few minutes, and forced the rest to retreat leaving a 6km gap in the frontline (the figure of 5-6000 fatalities is a generally accepted, but erroneous figure.  More recent investigations estimate French Colonial casualties for the dates of 22-24 April 1915 at 1500 of which it is supposed 200 were fatal [from research by Simon Jones, King’s Regiment Museum]-CJH Ed). Fortunately, the German High Command failed to realize the effectiveness of the gas attack, and did not mobilize enough troops to take advantage of the French retreat. The British and the Canadian forces quickly moved in to defend the front, and held the line against further attacks.

On the night of April 22, the Canadian 10th Battalion were ordered to counterattack into the gap left by the Germans in the gas attack. The counterattack would be known as the Battle of Kitcheners’ Woods, which would be recognized as the first major offensive by the Canadians in World War I. The battle took place in a heavily forested area to the front of the Canadian positions. At 11:46pm, the Canadians advanced into forest and charged at the unsuspecting Germans. The clash mostly involved hand‐to‐hand combat as the night was too dim and shady for the use of firearms. The melee resulted in success as the Canadians were able to throw out the Germans. However, 3 out of 4 Canadians were wounded or killed in the clash, and the aftermath of the battle would leave the 1st Division with a 60% casualty rate.

After the Battle of Kitcheners’ Woods, the remaining soldiers of the 1st Division resided in the town of St. Julien. On the morning of April 24th, German forces released another cloud of poison gas toward the Canadian forces in St. Julien. The cloud of chlorine gas was clearly detectible as it was green and grayish. Seeing the cloud approaching, the troops were commanded to damp their handkerchiefs and hold it over their noses and mouths. This was done to avoid inhaling the poison gas, but it was ineffective and the Canadians were forced to retreat. The Germans took advantage this time and captured the village. Several countermeasures were taken by the British and the Canadians to recapture the village. However all of the attacks failed and on May 24, the Germans released another cloud of chlorine gas, which ultimately destroyed any hopes of recapturing the village.

By May 8th, the Germans had already moved their artillery to opposite the Frezenberg Ridge. The Germans began heavy bombardment on the Canadian trenches, and advanced their troops to the front. Although the British and Canadians were able to hold off the first two German assaults, they were running short of men and ammunition and were forced the retreat after six days of fighting. The battle ended with the Germans gaining 2000 yards of front.

Despite the heavy losses during the Second Battle of Ypres, the victor of the battle was indecisive. The Germans failed to achieve their primary objectives but still managed to make good progress. But the most memorable accomplishment during the battle was the Canadian 2nd Brigade and 10th Battalion pushing back the Germans in the Battle of Kitcheners’ Woods. The battle was the first time a colonial force was able to defeat a major European power in battle.
(This summary of the 2nd Battle of Ypres is fairly well researched and written, though the actions of 22-24 April, particularly the attack of Kitchener's Wood, only involved the 5th Battalion peripherally. We can be relatively certain that Pte Conder was present for these events. CJH Ed.)

Medical Records: Little is known about the background of William Joseph Conder’s death on the battlefield. On May 21st, 1915, his body was found on the front line, and he was pronounced dead. The most probable cause of death was shelling by German artillery.  (The War Diary of the 5th Bn for 21 May 1915 indicates that a "bombing party" was detached to support the 10th Bn in their attack along the line Illies-Voilaines-Festubert.  The subsequent diary entry reports 22 casualties, of which five were fatal.  As these are the only casualties reported; it can be reasonably assumed that Pte Conder was a member of that party. CJH Ed.)

Lest We Forget: William Joseph Conder left his possessions to his father, W.J. Conder Sr. At the time of his death, he was 19 years old.. For his war effort, Conder was awarded the 14/15 Star, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal.
Written by: Richard Liu

Monday, 7 November 2011

Remembrance Week Special Collection: Pte JTC Bowerbank



It's with great pleasure that "If Ye Break Faith" begins its first Remembrance Week Special Collection.  Over the next five days, we will present an essay written by a high school student from Oakville, Ontario telling the story of a soldier of the Canadian Expeditionary Force who was killed on Active Service during the First World War.  Today's essay is on Pte JTC Bowerbank, written by Julia Barber.  

Remembrance Day-Poppy Day
By *daliscar
deviantart.com
We would also like your input to help us close the week out, and are planning to have a very special post on Sunday, featuring reader submitted stories about veterans in their lives.  Send your remembrances to ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com before Friday, 11 November for consideration of inclusion.  As always, you can keep up to date with all the latest news and developments by following us on Twitter and Facebook.

The writer of "Antiquated Canada", a fellow history blogger forwarded me a post from her site featuring the profile of a Canadian WWI soldier, killed in Palestine in 1917.  It's a great piece of work, and I promised to link to it : Antiquated Canada: Lt. Clark.  

We would also like to mention thegreatwar1914-1918.  The site is dedicated to providing information and memorabilia concerning the great war, for private collectors as well as educators.  There's a wide range of products available, and our Project Director can attest that they are responsive to customer concerns.



Jack Telfer Conway Bowerbank, Private
116th Battalion, Ontario County
9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division
Canadian Expeditionary Force

Jack Telfer Conway Bowerbank, a previous Oakville High School student was only 21 years old when he gave up his everyday life to fight for our country.

Personal Information: Jack Bowerbank was born on February 23rd, 1894 in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. Later he moved with his family to 60 Oak Ave. Hamilton, Ontario, Canada after living in Oakville for a few years.   Jack was the fourth child in a family of six children to Thomas Ion Bowerbank and Lydia Buszard. He never married and did not have any children. He belonged to the Methodist faith.
Jack Bowerbank had five siblings.  Out of all the siblings, Ernest, Harry, Jack and Frank all went to war. However, Ernest and Jack never returned.

On November 5th, 1915, Jack enlisted in Hamilton, Ontario. He was considered fit for the Canadian Over‐Seas Expeditionary Force. There are no pictures of Jack but his physical description said he had blue eyes, dark brown hair and a shallow face. He was also five feet four inches and had a few distinctive markings. For example, his 2nd and 3rd toes on both feet were partly webbed and he had a brown mole four inches above the right knee on the outside. Prior to war, he attended a high school that was called Oakville High School, known today as Oakville Trafalgar High School. He also played the clarinet for several years in the Oakville Band.

Military Movements: Jack Telfer Bowerbank was a member of the 3rd Canadian Division, 116th Battalion (Ontario County), 9th Infantry Brigade, and he was a private for his entire duration of service. When it was time for Jack to travel to England, he travelled on the Empress of Britain and arrived on the 23rd of August, 1916. For the training that Jack went through, he trained in Uxbridge, England all winter long.  As part of the final training the Battalion marched in May from Sunderland to Uxbridge where they were greeted along the way.  As the war progressed, soldiers were trained more quickly and shipped to England at a quicker pace as relief was needed for the troops fighting in France. Leading up to when Jack was on the fields in France, he was taken on and struck of strength a couple of times. That means he was transferred from unit to unit.  Jack started with the 120th Battalion until he was struck off strength on the 2nd of February, 1917 in Bramshott.   He was taken on strength from the 120th Battalion to the 2nd Reserve Battalion on the 4th of February, 1917 in Bramshott.  Later on May 18th, 1917 he was taken on strength by the 116th Battalion in the field. Lastly, he was struck off strength on the 22nd of August, 1917 when he was reported missing after action on the 23rd of July, 1917.

Service in France: Jack Bowerbank left England for France on May 18, 1917. He arrived after the battle of Vimy Ridge and died before the battle of Passchendaele, so he did not participate in any major battles. However, his battalion was active during the war.

The 116th Battalion was organized on December 22, 1915 with 943 men. It did not disband till September 15, 1920. The battalion is now remembered for serving in France and Flanders with the 9th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division.  The 116th Battalion came to France during the Spring Offensive in 1917, to replace the 60th Battalion. However, both the 116th and the 60th were at Vimy in April, 1917.  This Infantry Battalion was an active unit after taking over from the 60th Battalion and continued this role all the way to the Armistice in November 1918. Nicknamed the “Umpty Umps” the Battalion distinguished themselves in Vimy, Passchendaele, Cambrai and Mons. Lastly, this battalion was assigned the final task of guarding the Brussels‐Mons Road from unauthorized passengers.
May, 1917: Starting from when Jack arrived after May 18th, 1917, the battalion was busy with relief on May 20th. From May 21st to May 23rd, the Battalion was patrolling on the front but did not encounter any enemies. At this time they were located on Vimy where the enemy artillery was very active. They were also busy building new communication trenches and destroying enemy wire and trenches. On May 24th, they had a 15 minute barrage on the left line at 4:30a.m.; however, it was expected and the enemy artillery was very active at the Vimy Railway Station. It wason the 24th  that the 116th Battalion moved to the Vimy‐Lievin Line and Headquarters. For the next few days, the enemy artillery was active using gas and firing until May 27th, when they fell silent. On May 28th, the enemy bombarded at 1:15a.m. over the right flank and raided Canadian trenches but this did not last long and the 116th Battalion was soon relieved at the Vimy‐Lievin Line by the 4th C.M.R. (Canadian Mounted Rifles) Battalion. For the rest of the month, the 116th Battalion worked on roads, tramways and buried cables.
June, 1917: For the first half of June, the battalion was busy training and advancing. On June 14th, the 116th Battalion moved from Torton to relieve the P.P.C.L.I (Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry) on the right sub sector of the front line. It was after more days of planning that the sketches were drawn on June 17th to take the enemy trenches the next day. However, the next few days were spent moving to Villers au Bois and practicing the attack over the top of the trenches during the day. It was not until June 25th that orders were issued for attack and capture of the enemy trenches on Divisional Front at 2:30a.m. Following, they captured a trench where they took 23 prisoners. To close this month, they moved in to support the Red Line on June 30th.

The Final Days ‐ July, 1917: Starting on July 2nd, all units moved to Quarries Area and then to Chateau Delamare Area where the 116th Battalion went to St Lawrence Camp.  On July 11th, the 116th Battalion went to relieve the 2nd  Battalion C.M.R. (Canadian Mounted Rifles) in the Coburg dugouts. The following day, they planned a raid on enemy trenches to the South east of Fasse. However, when the 116th Battalion went for the raid, they were moved back to be near the top of the trenches. The next few days involved raids in the evenings and practicing during the day at taped trenches. On July 17th, the 3rd Canadian Division got the orders to carry out operations as planned. The 116th Battalion relieved the 5th CMR Battalion in the Red Trench. Following on July 19thand 20th, the artillery was busy cutting wire in front of Metal Trench and the patrols were active during night. For the next few days leading up to the 23rd of July, the patrols and artillery were active cutting and finding wire.

July 23rd, 1917 – Last day of Battle: It was on July 23rd, that the 116th Battalion raided enemy’s trenches at 1a.m. The operation was successful and 53 prisoners of the 61st R.I.R. (Reserve Infantry Regiment), 36th Reserve Division were captured.  Machine guns and trench mortars were captured but had to be destroyed as it was impossible to get them back. All dugouts in Metal Trench and Railway Embankment were destroyed, resulting in numerous enemy casualties.  

Standing patrols were left in the captured trenches by orders from the 3rd Canadian Division. Following at 4:45a.m., the Germans counteracted from both flanks, putting down a heavy barrage. It was at this time that the standing patrols went missing.  At 12:05p.m., while our troops were assembling, the enemy put over gas shells and caused some more casualties for us. This also made the operation much more difficult than originally planned. The total casualties were around ninety, one of whom is presumed to be Jack Telfer Conway Bowerbank. However, the artillery barrages were faultless and they responded to the SOS very quickly. It was then reported of the efforts by the 116th Battalion and intelligence summary of the raid. Following, wires of congratulation were received by the General Officer commanding from the Commander‐in‐Chief and from General Byng commanding the Third Army. At the end of the raid, one company of the 116th Battalion was placed under orders of the 52nd Battalion for the remainder of the tour.

The efforts put forth by this battalion were greatly appreciated as seen from this extract of text from 1917. “The assault was delivered at 1:00 a.m. on 23 July by the 116th Battalion (of the 9th Infantry Brigade). In spite of a gas attack launched by the enemy just as our troops were forming up, the operation, adequately supported by the divisional artillery, was completely successful. The 116th quickly took the trench that formed its first objective, killing many Germans. In solid hand‐to‐hand fighting the attacking companies gained the railway embankment and blew up a number of dugouts and a tunnel. After thirty‐five minutes the main body returned to its original position as planned, leaving outposts who subsequently came under a heavy counter‐attack and had to be withdrawn. The Canadian battalion, whose own casualties numbered 74, brought back

53 prisoners from the 36th Reserve Division, one of a number of formations that had been transferred from the Eastern Front earlier in the summer.”1

Jack Telfer Bowerbank was presumed dead on July 23rd, 1917. During this day, his battalion was involved in a raid into the enemy’s trenches at 1a.m. This operation was successful, and the 116th battalion was given a lot of praise for their attack. However, the Germans counterattacked on both flanks by putting down a heavy barrage. During this procedure the standing patrols went missing. After this event the Germans then put over gas shells at 12:05pm while the troops were assembling. This caused around ninety casualties, one of which is presumed to be Jack.

Lest we Forget: Jack did not have a will or bank statements that were mentioned prior to death. When he died, however, his notification went to his mother Lydia Bowerbank and his father Thomas Bowerbank who lived in Hamilton, Ontario at this time.  The Cross of Sacrifice was sent to his mother and his medals and decorations, plaques and scrolls went to his father. From serving in the First World War, Jack received the British War and Victory Medal.  While Jack was serving overseas, he sent fifteen dollars a month to his mother from August 1, 1916 to August 25, 1917.

 Jack lost his life at the age of 23 years old. After Jack died, his death was mentioned in a newspaper from the Halton Area. The origin of the article is not specific but it could have come from newspapers like the Toronto Star, The Oakville Record or The Canadian Champion (from Milton). His name also now appears on many memorials as he does not have a known grave. His name appears on the famous Vimy Memorial, in France.

By Julia Barber

1 Laughton, Richard. 116th Battalion. 3 July 2008. 11 Apr. 2009.