Friday, July 31, 2015

Hang on, then

Yates and Douglas Streets in 1916. Victoria, BC.

Yates and Douglas Streets, Victoria, 1950s.
Yates and Douglas Streets, Victoria, 1970s.

Why did I show you three photos of an intersection in Victoria, BC? Because at a bus stop in this area, in 1959, my father proposed to my mother.
April 23, 1915, the 7th Battalion - which was in reserve - found itself holding the peak of salient under heavy bombardment. That night, Lieutenant-Colonel Hart-McHarg was killed and Major Odlum took command. The German shelling rose to an unprecedented crescendo and a second gas attack was launched.

Between 3:30 am and 4:30 am, wave after wave of Germans were thrown back by rifle fire. But the bombardment continued and by 6 am, the 15th Battalion - on the 7ths left - was entirely wiped out. The 7th was the only one holding the critical apex of the line. The 7th repulsed another attack at 6:30 am but the line was broken on the right flank. The battalion, along with the remnants of the 13th and 14th, was surrounded.

At 9 am, the shelling was recorded as "tremendous". At 10 am, the Germans brought out their field guns to the right within 200 years. The two right platoons were wiped out. 

Lieutenant E.D. "Smoke" Bellew and Sergeant H.N. Peerless were alone with the battalion's only two machine guns. Yet they held the flank. When Peerless was killed, Bellew dragged his body in front of his own gun for protection and continued to fire, beating back several attacks. When his ammunition was gone, Bellew destroyed both guns, stood up and charged the Germans, firing his last clips of ammunition and killing three of the enemy with his bayonet. He was shot down and taken prisoner.

The Vancouver battalion won its first Victoria Cross.

The battalion made a fighting withdrawal at 11 am, 300 yards. During this manoeuvre, two left platoons died to the last man. At 12:30 pm, a second withdrawal was made at which time six Canadian battalions had so shattered the attacking units that 20 German assault battalions and the 51st Reserve Division were withdrawn from the battle. At 1:40 pm, 3rd Brigade troops nearby were withdrawn as result of a garbled order. The remnants of the 7th and 10th Battalions stood alone.

General Currie, commanding the 2nd Brigade, ordering the men to retire. But both officers and men refused, declaring they would die where they stood rather than give way any further. 

"Hang on, then, and - good luck," was Currie's reply.

Thanks to the book, Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis by Alan Morley.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Untried Colonials

Here is a list of the battalions recruited later for World War I, which contained substantial numbers of Vancouver men.

November 1914, Lieutenant-Colonel H.S. Tobin and the 29th Bn.

March 1915 the 47th Bn commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel W.N. Winsby.

Lieutenant-Colonel H.B. Hulme and the 62nd Bn went to war in July of 1915.

September 1915, the 72nd Bn and Lieutenant-Colonel J.A. Clark.

The militia was reconstituted after the war. Its regiments were designated "continuing units" of certain of the battalions and they carried their battle honours.

If veteran officers and men of the battalions joined the militia, they naturally gravitated towards to "continuing unit" if possible. That being said, none of the battalions were formed or in any way represented militia units during 1914-18.

An example of this is the 7th Battalion. It continued after the war by the 1st British Columbia Regiment (DCOR), which was formed in 1914 from 250 men of the 6th Regiment (DCOR), 250 from the 11th Irish Fusiliers, 250 from the 87th Fusiliers (Victoria), 150 of the 104th Westminster Fusiliers and 150 of the Rocky Mountain Rangers (Kamloops). Nevertheless, the 7th, 16th, 29th and 72nd Battalions were considered to be particularly Vancouver's
"own" throughout the war. The exploits of the 72nd at the taking of Vimy Ridge were proudly marked up to the credit of Vancouver's "boys".

The progress of World War I is beyond the scope of Vancouver's story but it affected the city. Our boys had a baptism by fire at Second Ypres in which battalions 7th and 16th were blooded.

The Canadians had a quiet introductory tour of duty but that changed when they went  into the line in the critical Ypres salient. Trenches were practically non-existent and the artillery was limited to three shells per day per gun. The infantry's Ross rifles proved difficult to manage because they had ammunition for British Lee-Enfields.

At 5 pm on April 22, 1915, the Germans launched the first gas attack in modern warfare. The French on the right of the Canadians led to the rear, leaving the untried "colonials" the only shield for 50,000 Imperial troops penned in the salient. Their only orders were,

"You must hang on and take care of your left."

And they did. They faced furious German attacks during the night of the 22nd and the 16th battalion took part in the famous counter-attack on Kitchener's Wood. When dawn broke on the 23rd, of the 1100-man battalion, only five officers and 263 other ranks were left but they continued to hold.

I would say that the "colonials" proved themselves.

Thanks to the book Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis by Alan Morley for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hi Ho! Off to War We Go!

This Queen Anne style home was built in 1907 for Dr. Thomas Jeffs and Minnie Jeffs. The Jeffs came from Ontario to Vancouver in 1890.

When World War I was declared, Vancouver and the rest of the province were alarmed with the presence of the German cruisers Leipzig and Nuremberg off the coast. Bank gold reserves were sent to Seattle and to Winnipeg and arrangements were made to buy all stocks of currency if the city was raided. Armed protection was demanded for the harbour, which was eventually made a closed port. Small coast defence guns were mounted on concrete emplacements at Siwash Rock in Stanley Park.

August 8, 1914, the BC militia was placed on active service - two days after the rest of Canada. Vancouver's first contribution to the war effort was a detachment of 350 men sent to guard the port of Prince Rupert.

Local units were held under arms until September 12, when British naval forces arrived in the North Pacific. The emergency was over.

Dr. Jeffs was a physician and coroner who also served as an alderman in 1906 and the police commissioner in 1907. The Grandview neighbourhood features many houses like this but this one is unique because the turret is on the inside of the lot rather than on the corner. This allows for a spectacular view of the city, mountains and harbour.

Recruiting for the 1st Contingent, Canadian Expeditionary Force continued during this time. In 10 days, Vancouver contributed its full share. British Columbia had more officers on the rolls than any other province and more men than any other military districts except the 2nd Divisional Area (central Ontario) and MD No. 10 (Manitoba and Saskatchewan combined). Throughout the war, BC contributed more volunteers in proportion to its population than any other province.

The first detachment, 75 British reservists, left Vancouver on August 19 for active service. Three days later 46 officers and 1022 men left in two special trains. There were 25 officers and 516 men from the Seaforths, 14 officers and 350 men from the Fusiliers, two officers and 50 men from the 18th Field Ambulance, one officer and six men from the Corps of Guides. August 26, 20 officers and 350 men from the 6th Regiment, DCOR and a detachment of the 6th Field Company of the Engineers left with a large number of Victoria volunteers.

This house was divided into suites as early as 1922 - a year before Thomas Jeffs died - and the construction of larger homes was occurring in Shaughnessy. 

These detachments included the bulk of the peacetime militiamen and almost all the militia officers. What remained was a recruiting cadre who were funnelling volunteers into the CEF (Canadian Expeditionary Force) where they were trained and assigned to battalions. Little concern was made when organizing these groups as to where the men were originally from.

In the 1st Contingent, most of the Vancouver men found themselves in either the 7th Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Hart-McHarg with Major Victor W. Odlum second-in-command, or the 16th Battalion commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel R. G. Edwards Leckie. 

The restoration of the exterior as well as the development of the townhouses, was completed in 2013.

Thanks to the book Vancouver, From Milltown to Metropolis by Alan Morley for the above information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Karen Magill