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Letters from the front. Being a record of the part played by officers of the Bank in the great war, 1914-1919 (Volume 2) online

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Letters from the Front







The Volunteer

Here lies a clerk who half his life had spent
Toiling at ledgers in a city grey,
Thinking that so his days would drift away
With no lance broken in life's tournament:
Yet ever 'twixt the books and his bright eyes
The gleaming eagles of the legions came,
And horsemen, charging under phantom skies,
Went thundering past beneath the oriflamme.

And now those waiting dreams are satisfied;
From twilight to the halls of dawn he went;
His lance is broken; but he lies content
With that high hour, in which he lived and died.
. And falling thus he wants no recompense,
Who found his battle in the last resort;
Nor needs he any hearse to bear him hence,
Who goes to join the men of Agincourt.

— From "The Volunteer and Other Poems," by Herbert Asquith, by
Permission of the Publishers, Messrs. Sidgwick and Jackson, Limited.



1 The Memorial Plaque Frontispiece


2 Map illustrating the chief operations in the

Western theatre of War xxxviii

3 *Private L. J. Sydney-Smith xlii

Members of the staff who were decorated or

mentioned in Despatches. (Supplementary). . . xlvi

Lady members of the staff who saw Active

Service 22

The King's Letter to wounded Canadians on

the occasion of their departure for Canada .... 62

The King's Letter accompanying the Memorial

Plaque. (See Frontispiece) 63

Badges presented to Mr. H. V. F. Jones 118

British Honours awarded to members of the

Bank's staff 118

Foreign Honours awarded to members of the

Bank's staff 119

A Branch Memorial Tablet {small size) 198

A Branch Memorial Tablet {large size) 198

"Healing the Scars of War" {Proposed Memorial

for the new Head Office building) 238

"Crushing the Power of the Sword" (Proposed

Memorial for the new Head Office building) 238

Badges of British Units in which members of
the Bank's staff saw Active Service




Illustrations— continued

Badges of British Units in which members of
the Bank's stafiF saw Active Service

Badges of Units of the Canadian Corps in
which members of the Bank's staff saw Active


37 Badges of United States Units in which members

of the Bank's staff saw Active Service

38 German Heavy Machine Guns




T was originally considered that one
volume, containing the "Letters from the
Front" pamphlets issued during the course
of the great struggle recently concluded,
would suffice as an official and historical
record of the part played therein by the members of
the staff of The Canadian Bank of Commerce. Mr.
C. L, Foster, the Editor of Volume I, however, con-
ceived the idea of making a more detailed record by the
publication of a supplementary biographical volume,
and the present Volume II is the result of our labours
in this connection.

Biographical volumes of necessity contain an array
of dry facts and uninteresting figures. Nevertheless we
are confident that the information given herein will
prove not only of vital interest to the Bank as constitut-
ing an historical record of the war service of members
of our staff, but also of intrinsic value as part of the
military annals of the Dominion.

Unfortunately the exigencies of warfare do not permit
of chronicling the countless deeds of heroism performed
on the field of battle, and many gallant acts must perforce
go unrewarded and even unknown. It is inspiring,
however, to read the citations from the "London Gazette,"
and they contain flashes of fire which cannot fail to thrill
the reader and visualize the scenes of gallantry which
they record.

In the compilation of the military records, no pains
have been spared to make the work as complete as

possible, and exhaustive searches have been made of
official documents and archives, at Ottawa, in London
and elsewhere.

The assistance rendered by the members and former
members of the staff, and the next-of-kin of those who
died on active service, in furnishing particulars, has been
of the utmost value, and we take this opportunity of
extending to them our cordial thanks for their courtesy.

Since the publication of Volume I we have received
more recent information concerning the ranks and dates
of enlistment in the case of a few members of our staff
and the necessary changes have been made in this

We record with deep regret that our obituary list is
now 265 and not 258 as stated in Volume I.

Chief credit is due to Lieutenant A. D. Golden,
M.C., who compiled and edited the biographies and to
Lieutenant D. P. Wagner, M.C., who devoted much of
his time to the work and prepared the accompanying
map. If any errors or omissions have occurred they are
not owing to any lack of effort or diligence in obtaining
the fullest information possible regarding each officer.
The material examined and sifted, and the correspondence
involved, would have been sufficient to deter from the
undertaking any but those having at heart a deep interest
in the work.

Included in this volume are photographs of the
Memorial Plaque presented by the King to the next-of-
kin of deceased soldiers, and one of the many tablets
which have been erected in the various branches of the
Bank in memory of the men who went to the war. In
addition, there appear photographs of the various Orders
won by our men, which include almost every British
Order awarded for service during the war. The


reproduction of the badges worn by the various regiments
in which our men served, will undoubtedly prove of
interest as well as a matter of historical record, and in
this connection it will interest friends across the line to
note the insignia of the various regiments in the United
States Army in which the members of the staff served.
For the latter we are indebted to the courtesy of Major
F. B. Wells of MinneapoHs.

We are glad that we have been able to welcome back
to our service a large percentage of our staff who under-
took military duty. A number have pursued different
walks in life since the cessation of hostilities. To all of
them we tender our esteem and appreciation, and we
assure them it will be ever our privilege to look with
grateful pride on their achievements and service in defence
of our fair Dominion.

In dedicating this volume to all those of our staff
who assumed military duty, and particularly to the
memory of those "very gallant gentlemen" who laid
down their lives in defence of the right, we hope that the
example of their seK-sacrifice will prove a source of
inspiration to future generations of officers of the Bank.

Assistant General Manager.
31st March, 1921.


HE men and women whose biographies are
recorded in the following pages have contributed
something more than an isolated chapter to the
history of the Great War. Their story for the
most part is, naturally enough, that of the
Canadian Corps, but many served with Imperial
units, and not a few with the Allied forces,
not only in France and Belgium, but also on the high seas and in
Italy, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Egypt, India and Southern Africa.
They were to be found as well throughout the complex organiza-
tion of the modern army which lies behind actual operations in
the field — holding administrative posts, doing duty in garrisons,
in orderly rooms and in hospital and ambulance units, and serving
on the many lines of communication upon which the combatant
forces depend not only for their success but also for their very

The first member of the staff to come into action was a reservist 1914
in the Coldstream Guards,* who was stationed at a branch in Western
Canada and rejoined his regiment in the field during the advance of
French's "Contemptibles" from the Marne in September, 1914.

After the definite checking of the enemy offensive and the
victorious passage of the Aisne, the British hne was relieved, sector
after sector, by the French and transferred to the north, taking up its
position from La Bassee to Hazebrouck, with the original intention
of outflanking the German right wing and joining up with the
Belgian Army. While the right of the British Army was engaged
on the Estaires-La Bassee line, the left succeeded in recapturing
Ypres, Bailleul and Armentieres, and took its stand east of the
Yser side by side with the French and Belgian forces.

On 21st October began the German offensive known as the Ypres I
First Battle of Ypres, which was soon raging from Dixmude to La
Bassee, the most violent fighting taking place at Neuve Chapelle,
and to the east and south of Ypres. It was in this connection that
the first of our "Letters from the Front" was written, describing the
fighting at Messines on 31st October.! The attack was later
renewed on 8th November, but was abandoned owing to the com-
plete repulse of the Prussian Guard at Zonnebeke on 11th November.
•A. Hornby, Vol. II, p. 213. fVol. I, p. 1.

With their numbers steadily reinforced from home and from India,
the British now stabilized their positions and, during the long winter
months that followed, improved their acquaintance with Flanders
mud, churned as it was by rain, snow and shell-fire, and settled
down to a trench routine of which small attacks and counter-
attacks were an integral part.

Towards the end of December, 1914, Princess Patricia's
Canadian Light Infantry arrived in France, followed in February,
1915 1915, by the First Canadian Division. On 13th March, a British

offensive, aiming at the capture of the Aubers ridge and the libera-
Neuve ^^°^ °^ Lille, was launched at Neuve Chapelle, preceded by the

Chapelle most intense artillery bombardment the enemy had as yet experi-
enced, which caused great havoc and demoralization in his lines,
although it did not achieve for the assaulting troops all that was
expected. The Canadian infantry brigades, which had arrived in
the trenches on 1st March, were used in this engagement as reserves,
the divisional artillery taking an active part in the bombardment.
As a diversion, the Germans advanced on St. Eloi, but were repulsed
by a counter-attack in which the Princess Patricia's were engaged,
and in this sector a period of crater-warfare followed. On 20th
March occurred the first death in action of a member of the
Bank's staff.*

Ypres II It was expected that, with the coming of spring, the enemy

would renew his attempt to drive to Calais and the sea, and counter-
preparations were accordingly made by the Commander-in-Chief
of the British forces. The defences of Hill 60, a slight elevation
three miles south-east of Ypres, used by the Germans as an artillery
observation post, were mined and blown up and the position won
after four days' heavy fighting. On 22nd April the Canadians
received what was virtually their baptism of fire in the memorable
gas attack which opened the Second Battle of Ypres. With their
left flank in the air as a result of the retirement of the French
Colonial troops before the chlorine, the Canadians swung back their
left to a wood just west of St. Julien, in order to cover both sides of
the Ypres-Poelcappelle road, their right still resting on Zonnebeke.
On the following day the centre and right were severely gassed
and on the 24th the attack was concentrated at St. Julien. The
fighting which followed and lasted until 15th May involved many
Imperial and French units, but the brunt of the attack was in the
first instance borne by Canadian troops. Seven members of the
Bank's staff fell in action or died of wounds received in the Second
Battle of Ypres.

•W. N. Galaugher. Vol. II, p. 159.

Meanwhile the ultimate objective of the Allies' spring cam-
paign continued to be the recapture of Lille, and on 9th May, while
fighting was still in progress in the Ypres salient, a Franco-British
offensive began between Armentieres and Arras. The British were
allotted the now familiar Neuve Chapelle sector, the French that
in front of Lens. On 19th May the Canadian Division came into
action at Festubert, where a series of attacks and counter-attacks
took place, and several enemy trenches were captured. Although
the greatest gallantry was shown by the Allied troops during this
offensive, which lasted until the last week in May, the campaign
had small tactical results; its chief effects were a sustaining of
military morale, the speeding up of munition-making in England
and a deepening of the sense that every resource of science must be
put at the command of the armies in the field. The end of May
and the early part of June saw further heavy fighting in the Ypres
salient and a continuation of the struggle on the La Bassee sector,
where the Canadians were engaged at Givenchy-lez-la-Bassee on
15th June. From the end of June to September there was a com-
parative lull on the Western front, except for continued activity
in the Ypres salient, where the enemy used Flammenwerfer for the
first time on 19th July at Hooge.

In the summer of 1915 letters arrived from members of the Gallipoli
staff serving with Imperial units in Gallipoli,* which throw an inter-
esting side-Hght upon the soldiering in what proved to be the one
disastrous campaign of the whole war. The main story is grim
enough. It had been decided in January to attack the Dardanelles
and to make a bid for Constantinople, for the isolation of Turkey
from her chief ally would undoubtedly have an invaluable moral
effect upon the still neutral countries of south-western Europe and
would materially aid in shortening the conflict. The campaign
opened with a series of naval bombardments, and on 20th March
a naval attack was launched which ended in a serious reverse.
On 25th April, under perhaps the most trying conditions existing
in any of the theatres of war, the gallant and costly landings of
British, Australian and French troops were effected at several
points on the southern part of the peninsula. In spite of the
greatest heroism and endurance, little progress was made through-
out the summer and autumn, even after the Suvla Bay landing of
6th August, and the Allies determined to evacuate Gallipoli, an
undertaking of almost unparalleled difficulty, but one successfully
carried to completion by January, 1916.

The latter part of 1915 was spent by the Canadians on the
Bailleul sector, chiefly in front of Ploegsteert. Life in the line was

*Vol. I, pp. 24, 26. 37.

pleasant enough, provided the sky was blue and the shooting good
— Germans from the front line, partridge from the supports. The
imperative need of constructing dugouts and proper defenses for
the coming winter supphed the troops with plenty of good healthy
work, and they had the satisfaction of handing over to their succes-
sors in the spring several miles of model trenches. The frequency
of patrols, raids and small encounters kept them in fighting fettle
and went far to sustain their morale during the inevitably trying
first winter in France. Games and battalion sports while they
were resting in reserve and occasional visits down the line to
civilization were the natural complement to life in the trenches.
The intensely human side of what was, in great part, a war of
machines, is illustrated by references in these "Letters from the
Front" to peaceful events and homely or imaginative ideas. "I
was just thinking last night," writes one, "what a queer thing life
was out here. I was lying on the cricket field about seven o'clock
looking towards the town, which is a very old one. It was a lovely
night, with a magnificent sunset, and the old round tower standing
up against the sky was like a scene from the 'Arabian Nights,' and
for the modern side of life, all around us the Germans were shelling
our aeroplanes."*

There is also among the letters a diary which, in its laconic
and impersonal telling of events, is an excellent record of the fife
of the first Canadian Division during its early days in France.
"We prepared all day for the trenches . . . At 2 p.m. we marched
to the trenches. All got in safely, no casualties. At 10 a.m.
Sergeant H — was wounded, which was our first casualty. After
twenty-four hours in the trenches we were relieved. ... At 2 p.m.
we went into the trenches again for twenty-four hours, not quite
so nervous. Two were killed from an English regiment who were
with us. . . . We received our first pay, $5. We went into the
village and had a good feed. . . . We relieved the Camerons. . . .
Private J — B — was killed and H — wounded with the same bullet.
. . . We were moved into an old trench. . . . We built our trench
and made two dugouts and laid a brick floor. . . . We had to
march three miles to a barracks in Bac St. Maur. There we
received our first bath in a laundry. . . . We each received a pair
of socks from Princess Mary. In the evening we went into the
trenches. . . . Three cattle strolled round back of the firing line,
and that day we had fresh beef. . . . Our company had sports
back of the firing line. . . . We marched closer to Ypres, passing
through Poperinghe. . . . We had orders to stand to in case we
were needed at Hill 60, where there was a fierce battle raging."!
•Vol. I, p. 41. tVol. I, p. 34.

What more graphic or comprehensive picture of life in France than
this matter-of-fact description could one desire?

The autumn of 1915 was not a quiet season for the entire
Western front, for it witnessed a renewal of the Allied offensive
in Artois and a powerful blow delivered by the French in Cham-
pagne. The British forces, reinforced during the summer by men
of the New Army and more efBciently equipped with artillery and
ammunition, took over from the French the sector from La Bassee
to Grenay, about four miles west of Lens. It was decided once
more to attack the ridges that gave the enemy possession of the
industrial centres of northern France. While naval demonstra-
tions were being made along the Belgian coast and attacks delivered
from the Ypres salient and at Neuve Chapelle, the real offensive
was accordingly launched, on 25th September, by the British at
Loos and by the French at Vimy. Preceded and supported by Loos
terrific bombardments, the advance was made over a terrain
difficult by nature and rendered more so by the enemy's system of
defence. Loos and Hulluch, and part of Hill 70, were taken
by the British, while the French took Souchez. The fighting
among the slag-heaps and coal-pits of Lens, converted by the
Germans into formidable redoubts, lasted until 15th October, but
the limited success of the operations was evident some time before
this date. Lack of co-ordination among the units engaged and
lack of mobile reserves prevented an even and sustained advance.
Meanwhile intense fighting was proceeding in Champagne, to the
north of Suippes, where the French on 25th September had broken
the German line over a length of fifteen miles and in five days had
taken 23,000 prisoners.

On the junction of the Second Canadian Division, which landed
in France on 14th September, with the First Division, the newly
formed Canadian Corps took over the line from Ploegsteert to St.
Eloi. During the Loos fighting, the Corps staged a sham attack
to weaken the enemy's concentration, and in the succeeding months
of the year carried out many patrols and trench raids. The
Messines sector and the line in front of Kemmel were particularly
active in this regard, several brilliant surprise attacks being made,
one of which, carried out on the night of 16-17th November, was
mentioned in Marshal Joffre's orders as a model of that type of
operation. Towards the middle of January details of the Third 1916
Division took their place in the line as relieving units, and arrange-
ments were made in March for the Canadians to take over from
the Fifth British Corps the line from St. Eloi to Hooge. On the
St. Eloi front, this meant holding the craters of a number of mines


sprung by the British on 27th March. The craters were taken
over by the Second Canadian Division on the night of 3-4th April,
but two nights later, during a relief, a terrific bombardment fell on
the scarcely consolidated line, followed by a powerful attack by
the enemy. Counter-attack after counter-attack was delivered by
the Canadians and on 11th April three out of the five craters were
again in their hands; two, however, were carried by the Germans a
week later. These engagements, local though they were, consti-
tuted the bloodiest series of actions fought by the Canadians since
the Second Battle of Ypres.

The fighting that took place during May and June in "The
Sahent," as also on scattered portions of the Western front, was
only part of the great battle that had broken out on 22nd February,
when the German storm-troops were hurled against the outer forts
of Verdun. The defence of that stronghold, through all the fluctua-
tions of four months of battle, is one of the finest achievements in
the history of French arms, but the ordeal was correspondingly
severe. The main object of the British campaign in 1916 was there-
fore the relief of the pressure on Verdun. The British fine, now
stretching from a point on the Yperlee Canal a few miles north of
Ypres to Bray on the Somme, was the scene of numerous small
engagements. Partly as a holding device, therefore, and partly as an
offensive movement, the enemy concentrated a second force oppo-
site Ypres, and on 2nd June made his third attempt to dominate
the salient from the eastern ridges. An intense bombardment was
directed on the lines of the Third Division (which now included
the Princess Patricia's) in front of Mount Sorel and Observatory
Ridge, which wiped trenches and garrisons literally out of existence.
Later in the day, the fire fell upon the line skirting Sanctuary Wood.
The Canadian defences were pierced and the safety of Ypres itself
appeared to be threatened. On 6th June, after springing a series
of mines north of the Menin road, the enemy extended his artillery
bombardment to the left flank of the Canadian Corps, seized Hooge,
and established himself in Zouave Wood. On 13th June the
Canadians made a vigorous counter-attack between Hooge and
Hill 60, which drove the enemy from the ridges and practically
restored the old line. Thus ended what is known to many as the
Third Battle of Ypres, although that title is more generally applied
to the operations of the following year. Ten members of the
Bank's staff fell in this series of engagements.

Midway between the powerful enemy concentration opposite
Verdun and the less formidable but nevertheless powerful force in
front of Ypres lay the most favourable opening for an Allied

counter-oflfensive. On 25th June, a cannonade such as the world
had never before known broke out from Ypres to the Somme, and
on 1st July, over a front of twenty-five miles, from Gommecourt
to Fay, the Franco-British advance began. The primary objective
of the attack was the ridge running from Thiepval to Combles, the
final objectives being Bapaume on the British front and P6ronne
on that of the French. The first day saw a considerable advance
on the French sector and on the British centre and right, with
particularly sanguinary fighting at Montauban and Contalmaison.
By 14th July, after memorable engagements at Mametz and Trones
Woods, the southern spur and lower slopes of the ridge were gained,
and by 27th July Delville Wood was captured and the top of the
heights reached. The battle now centred at High Wood, and the
ultimate capture of this strong-point, after a protracted struggle,
cleared the way for a further advance. On 3rd September the
French, who had continued to advance on both sides of the Somme,
co-operated with the British in an attack on a wide front. The
attack was renewed on 22nd September in a united Franco-British
action. During this month engagements took place at Ginchy,
where the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery saw heavy fighting,
Guillemont Farm, Lesboeufs, Courcelette and Gueudecourt
(names which occur with frequency in the biographies that follow).
By 26th September both Combles and Thiepval, at either end of
the ridge, had fallen, and by the middle of October the entire ridge
was in the hands of the Allies. The last quarter of the year, how-