Wednesday, 4 June 2014

WW I - The Great War

Original post date: 5 Jun 2014

 Military Week – 4

I grew up listening to my Grampa, Herbert James Mavor, sing songs from WWI with my Mom, while my Granny played the piano. The only thing he ever said about the war was that the scar on his neck was from an enemy bullet. The rough talk he saved for his buddies at the Legion. They understood. His family were Salvation Army and before the war it was unheard of for Herbie to use foul language, drink or smoke.  When returned from the war he did all those things and had not much use for the church. I can’t imagine the horrific things he saw in Europe. Herbert saw action at the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, the Somme in 1916, Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele in 1917, and the Pursuit to Mons in 1918.

Herbert had had some training with the cadet corps at his school in 1910, and also spent 1 year with the Canadian Army Service Corps, 6th Company, Montreal. At the start of WWI Herbert signed his attestation papers November 15, 1914 with the Black Watch, while his older brother Alexander had enlisted 2 weeks before on October 31, 1914. Herbert was transferred to the 42nd Battalion Royal Highlanders after training and he was shipped to England September 1915. On arrival the men were given 7 days leave.  Old Gramps (or I guess young Gramps at that time) met a girl and was late getting back to his unit, for which he was docked a day’s pay.

After leave they were shipped from Folkestone to Boulogne. On March 20th the Battalion marched to Poperinghe and were billeted in a convent. The next day they were taken by train to a point near Ypres, then marched to the trenches of the front lines. Up to March 25th, last day of their tour, they had 8 casualties. They received heavy shell fire that day, with 7 more casualties, then they marched back to Camp F. On April 4th his battalion marched through Ypres amid heavy shelling and suffered 4 casualties, going to the Zilleheke Dugout. The next day they moved from the Zilleheke Dugout to the front line trenches for 4 days before they were relieved and moved back to the Zilleheke Dugout.

Meanwhile, after experiencing heavy artillery fire and blowing snow at the Wulverghem trench, Alexander moved with the 4th Batallion to the Tea Farm, a trench near Ypres. It had been quiet on the balmy March evening of the 20th when, at relief change near 7 pm, the enemy fired 2 undetonated rifle grenades with cloth streamers into their trench.  Attached were post cards that read: “Thanks for your invitation we shall come but never without arms, we the Huns should be very glad to accompany you to Doberitz near Berlin, your cousin on the other side of the channel, Michael.” The next few days saw alternate heavy and light artillery fire and sniping. They then marched to the Reserve Billets at Dranoutre to rest up, and also to get inoculated against typhoid. They marched north, stopping here and there until April 9th when they relieved the 1st Battalion in the trenches at “The Bluff”. On April 10th the commander wrote in his diary: “Enemy very active and aggressive both in in sniping and artillery fire. The Huns are using a new form of trench mortar or serial torpedo which is very effective in blowing down parapets.”  That day Alexander was hit by a bullet that glanced off a periscope and hit him in the stomach.  They took him to the No 17 Casualty Clearing Station at the Remy Siding near Poperinghe, where he died the next day of his wounds, at the age of 24. Herbert was still at the Zilleheke Dugout on April 11th just a few kilometers down the road.

Alexander was buried at the Lijssenthoek Cemetery in Belgium. Herbert was hospitalized 3 times over the next 2 years, for gunshot wounds to the arm, shoulder and neck, and each time patched up and sent back to the trenches. As the war ended he was sent home on the vessel Carmania which docked at Halifax on December 30, 1918. Herbert was formally discharged in Montreal on March 17, 1919. Herbert was awarded a medal for bravery in the field, when he saved the life of a fallen soldier.
You can tell your ancestor’s story with the help of the war diaries, trench maps, and the soldier’s service records. Also go to the website of the Great Canadian War Project and search for your ancestors record.  If you register, you can upload photos and add information and stories.

For additional information about WWI (locations of hospitals, mapping, etc) and tremendous help in deciphering CEF service records I highly recommend the website The Regimental Rogue.

At Internet Archive search using keywords: roll of honour (or honor), roll of service, nominal roll, name of battalion or regiment, etc

Relevant Links:

Canada Veterans Death Cards WWI  (only those deaths reported to Veterans Affairs up to the 1960s. The collection does not include those who died overseas during the war.)

CEF 29th Infantry Battalion, Nominal Roll 1915 (search for your ancestor's battalion)

CEF 244th Infantry Battalion, Nominal Roll 1917

British WWI Service Records – most damaged by bombing

WW I Trench Maps - McMaster University

A Nation's Chronicle: The Canada Gazette – database (search "military")

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