Remembering the Somme

In addition to being Canada Day, July 1, 2016 marks one hundred years since the beginning of the Battle of the Somme.  The battle, which lasted more than four months, is one of the bloodiest in military history – more than one million men were killed or wounded.

To commemorate this anniversary, here are the stories of two Grande Prairie men who fought at the Somme.

Gordon Belcourt

Gordon was born in Lac St. Anne to Magloire and Constance Letendre, some of the early Metis settlers to this area. Gordon signed up for WWI from Lake Saskatoon on July 17, 1915, at the time he owned land on the outskirts of Flying Shot Lake. He joined the 49th Regiment and left for France in April of 1916. At the time of enlistment he is listed as 23 years old standing 5 feet 7 inches tall. On Sept 28, 1915 he put in a request to be transferred from the 9th Reserve Battalion to the 49th. Gordon was wounded in June 1916 (shell or shrapnel wounds to his left side and leg) at the Battle of Mount Sorrel, which was a prelude to the Somme offensive. He was transported to the 3rd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station hospital where he died on June 4, 1916 from the wounds he received. Gordon is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium.

Archibald Setter

Archie was born in Battleford, Saskatchewan and homesteaded near Spirit River.  A rumor had reached Grande Prairie that he had deserted, but a letter written to William Taft and printed in the Grande Prairie newspaper on February 20, 1917 told the truth:

Northumberland War Hospital

Dear Friend,

 I suppose you will be quite surprised to hear from me; however, as I am living in my bed at the above hospital I thought I would write you a few lines. We arrived in Liverpool on the 7th May 1916 and there went to a place called St. Martain’s Plains and from there I was drafted in to the 8th Bttn. and went to France in June. I was in the battle of Ypres in June and also was at the Somme when I got hit in the left ankle, and I have finally lost my left foot, it is cut off about 5 inches above the ankle, so my chances are pretty good for getting back to Canada once more. Well Bill, you people have no idea of the war, but I can tell you that it is simple hell.

…I suppose Grande Prairie is a big place now since the railroad is there….

Dean Hodgins was in the same Bttn. as me, I wrote to him a few times since I got wounded, but I have got no answer so I don’t know what has happened to him.

My leg is not quite healed yet but I am improving greatly. I think it will be some time yet before I will be able to use an artificial limb.

Well, Bill, this will be all for this time and if you don’t answer this letter please tell Mr. Rae that I want some papers.

I remain your friend,

Pte. A. Setter

No. 101051 No. 5 Ward, 8th Canadians

It was later reported in the Grande Prairie paper that Archibald came back to Canada and was working as a postmaster in Saskatchewan.

View Archie’s letter here

These are only two of many soldiers who saw action at the Somme.  A casualty list in the October 3, 1916 paper shows that nine more were wounded, and two killed – and that was only one list in a four month battle.  The casualties included:

George Perry Peebles (wounded)
William Bousfield (wounded)
Edgar Hudson (wounded)
Harold A. Wellwood (wounded)
Donald M. Innes (wounded)
Arthur Doubleday (wounded)
Clement Gawler Mead (wounded)
Wesley Harper (wounded)
Charles William Alfred Herbert (wounded)
Reid Crossley Watson (killed)
John Pringle (killed)

To find out more about the soldiers of the South Peace, visit our memorial page.