Between August 14th and 17th, Canadian troops fought their way into Parvillers and Damery (approximately 35 kilometres east of Amiens). Despite heavy shelling and counterattack, they were able to hold both villages and take prisoners. Vincent Noskey, a South Peace soldier, was killed in action at Parvillers. You can read his story on YouTube or our Soldiers’ Memorial.
The opening day of the Battle of Amiens (August 8, 1918) was labelled by General Ludendorff as “the black day of the German Army in the history of the war”. The Canadians pushed his troops back as much as twelve kilometres on the first day of the battle, and on the 11th of August, the battle ended in a decisive victory for the Allied troops. A total of 5,033 prisoners were taken at Amiens by the Canadian Corps.
Norman Johnston was a South Peace soldier who served at Amiens, and was awarded the Military Medal for his brave actions. His story has been shared on YouTube and on our Soldiers’ Memorial.
August 8, 1918 marked the beginning of the end of the First World War. During these crucial final battles, Canadian troops were chosen to be at the forefront of the attacks on the Germans’ main defensive lines.
More than 6,800 Canadians were killed and approximately 39,000 wounded between August 8 and November 11. To commemorate the triumph and sacrifice of our soldiers during the Hundred Days Offensive, the South Peace Regional Archives will be sharing short videos in the coming weeks, featuring the stories of local soldiers who were part of that final big push that led to the Armistice.
On Monday Grande Prairie celebrated the National Day of Remembrance of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, marking 101 years since this Canadian victory. This battle was fought from 9-12 April 1917 and marked the first time in the war that all four Canadian divisions, or 100 000 men, were in one place. Many South Peace soldiers, including those listed below, fought at Vimy Ridge. To read more about their experiences, visit our Soldiers Memorial.
John Gibson Anderson
wounded at Vimy Ridge; killed in action at Passchendaele
killed in action on 9 April 1917 at Vimy Ridge
George Wesley Bass
worked with the Engineers building tunnels under Vimy Ridge
wounded at Vimy Ridge
Benjamin Thomas Gray
lost his right arm as a result of wounds received at Vimy Ridge
Edward Joseph Heller
mentions Vimy Ridge in his memoirs, available here
went missing at Vimy Ridge, presumed dead
George Elmor Lillico
wounded at Vimy Ridge
Robert Cornwall Louder
wounded at Vimy Ridge
Ernest Wesley McClelland
gassed at Vimy Ridge
Charles Edward Brendon MacDaid
wounded at Vimy Ridge
Wilfred W. Mace
wounded at Vimy Ridge
Kenneth John Murray
wounded at Vimy Ridge
mentions in his memoirs that graves were dug in advance for the expected casualties at Vimy Ridge
Howard Elliot Peffer
wounded at Vimy Ridge; suffered from shell shock
wounded at Vimy Ridge
Rupert Lee Perry
gassed at Vimy Ridge
Delmar Wentworth Pratt
wounded at Vimy Ridge
Oliver Mardon Tulk
killed in action at Vimy Ridge
After great success at Vimy Ridge and Hill 70, the Canadians were called upon to relieve the Australian and New Zealand troops in Flanders, Belgium. Many preparations were made under the careful eye of General Currie, and on October 26th the attack was launched. The Battle of Passchendaele lasted until mid-November, at the expense of 15,654 Canadian lives. Following is an except from the memoir of a South Peace soldier, Lance Corporal Edward Joseph Heller.
It seemed to be the policy then and there to have comparatively few in the front line, for if the enemy counter attacked he would probably overrun it anyway. We did some digging during the night, connecting shell holes, deepening ditches that were supposed to be trenches, etc. to make room for the extra men… The ground, as at Vimy Ridge, was all torn up. I am sure not a square foot being in its original condition or position. We suffered a few casualties during the night, subjected to what was called a harassing fire: the artillery mow and then dropping a shell here, one there. Our artillery did that too. When morning came, we settled down into the ditches… We lay where we were, in the mud of course, all day of the 29th. If one wanted to change position, get a hard tack out of the haversack, or move for any reason at all, one had to move very slowly… Of course we couldn’t move very fast anyway, as we were chilled to the bone.
There was a sort of step at the dead end of this ditch, so I sat upon the step. I probably dozed off (for we hadn’t had much sleep for some time), for the next thing I knew, I was laying in the mud up out of the ditch, in a sort of bewildered way, thinking perhaps something had happened, for it seemed the right half of my head had been shot off (how I thought I could still be alive after that?) and 72 bones (that’s about 1/3 of them, isn’t it?) were broken. Apparently a shell passed just in front of me… and exploded. How deeply I was buried or how long it took to dig me out was not thought of then, so I never found out, which never worried me any… Two fellows helped me start walking… perhaps to some dressing station… there is a flash of a few seconds of memory… there was this railway car, low sides but no top. How and why I and others were there, I didn’t know or care… Next I was lying on a stretcher in a large marquee. By evening I was in a cot, nice white sheets, hospital pyjamas so clean and dry.
Edward Heller had in fact sustained a gunshot wound to his left leg at Passchendaele. Later in the war, his right leg was also wounded. Heller survived the war and returned to his homestead near Beaverlodge.
Photograph: SPRA 194.03, from Edward Heller’s fonds, likely taken at Passchendaele
To get an idea of the devastation they fought through, consider attending the Passchendaele movie screening at the Grande Prairie Regional College on Friday October 27 at 7:00. We will also have a small display honouring our South Peace veterans who played a role in this important battle. Click here for more information on this event.
The South Peace Regional Archives has curated a new exhibit for the Community Room at the Grande Prairie Museum. The new exhibit features ten photographs from the SPRA collection that tell the story, “The South Peace Goes to War.” The ten photographs were chosen by SPRA staff from a variety of collections, including the Edward Heller fonds, Turner family fonds, and Harry Tuffill family fonds.
Beginning with the first enlistments of 1914 making their way down the Smokey on the Beaver to the celebration of war’s end at Bear Lake, these ten photographs lead the viewer on a journey through the social history of the Great War. Below is a brief description of the exhibit. For more information, feel free to visit the exhibit in person.
OFF TO WAR
The Beaver Carrying Freight and Men To Enlist, 1914.
The Beaver river boat is carrying freight and men who are going to enlist. Three men are sitting on the bow of the boat, another is poling and the rest are standing on the boat.
SPRA 024.01.09.28 Holroyd Drugs Photograph Collection 024
French Troops in Camp, 1914 ca.
World War I French troops in camp, with soldiers, officers, horses and wagons in the background.
SPRA 0164.02.10 Gabriel Basly fonds 164
Five men in World War I uniforms standing on the main street (100 Avenue) of Grande Prairie. Businesses visible in the background include the Crown Café, a pool hall, and a confectionary.
SPRA 555.04 Edith Mair fonds 555
TRAINING FOR BATTLE
WWI Soldiers on a Break, c.1917.
WWI soldiers at rest with their saddles, buildings in the background.
SPRA 589.04.14 Donald Gordon Morrison fonds 589
Charlie T.M.Turner and Army Friend, ca. 1915. [Charlie Turner may be the man standing]
Chas. T.M.Turner and his army friend during WWI.
SPRA 2011.44.05 Turner Family fonds 478
LIFE AWAY FROM HOME
Soldiers Playing Cards, 1914 c.
Harry Tuffill playing cards with a group of World War I soldiers.
SPRA 0056.01.075-3 Harry Tuffill fonds 056
WW1 Troops Sitting in a Trench, 1916.
The photograph shows soldiers, some injured, sitting in mud behind a trench wall. One is holding a stretcher, two men each have one arm in a sling.
SPRA 0194.02 Edward Heller fonds
NO MAN’S LAND
WW1 Troops Trudging Across a Muddy Field, 1916.
The photograph shows soldiers in the distance walking along a wired barricade through a very muddy field.
SPRA 0194.03 Edward Heller fonds
WWI Convalescent Hospital, 1918.
Patients and staff at “The Larches,” a WWI convalescent home at Paignton, Devon, England. Note on the back reads: “Shattock with best wishes from K.C. Gauney September 14, 1918.”
Great War Veterans Picnic, Bear Lake, Alberta, 1920
Postcard showing a people gathering at Bear Lake for a picnic in honor of the Great War Veterans.
SPRA 0112.02.23 Croken-Tomshak family fonds 112
Sir Samuel Hughes was Canada’s Minister of Militia & Defense until November 1916. While some of his equipment choices ended in embarrassing fiascoes, he was the driving force behind Canada’s war effort early in the war.
Image Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was the Canadian physician who penned the iconic war poem, In Flanders Fields. McCrae suffered greatly, both physically and mentally, as a result of his war experiences, and died as a result of fatigue and pneumonia in 1918.
Image Source: Wikipedia
General Sir Arthur William Currie became commander of the Canadian Corps after his success at Vimy Ridge, and he held that position for the remainder of the war. Currie’s fastidious planning in preparation for battle led to him being known as one of the finest generals of the war.
Image Source: Wikipedia
William Avery Bishop (from Owen Sound, Ontario) was the British Empire’s top flying ace in the First World War. He was officially credited with 72 victories.
Image Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia
Private John Chipman Kerr of Spirit River, Alberta, was awarded the Victoria Cross at Courcelette for single-handedly capturing 62 prisoners. There is a mountain named after Kerr in Jasper National Park.
Image Source: Memorials to Valour
George Lawrence Price
Pte. Price was a Canadian soldier in the 28th Battalion, Saskatchewan Regiment. During the liberation of Mons, Price was shot in the chest by a German sniper and became the last Allied soldier to be killed before the Armistice. He died at 10:58am, November 11, 1918.
Image Source: Wikipedia
Though not a Canadian, Edith Cavell was a figure who received international attention during the war. The courageous British nurse aided some 200 Allied soldiers in escaping from German-occupied Belgium and was shot by a German firing squad as a result. Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park is considered to be one of the greatest climbs in North America.
Image Source: EdithCavell.org
William George Barker was Canadian flying ace who achieved the status of “ace” during a 10-month stint on the Italian front. But it was on the Western front, near the end of the war, that Barker won a Victoria Cross for shooting down three of fifteen enemy aircraft that attacked him. Billy Barker is to this day the most highly decorated serviceman in the British Empire.
Image Source: Canoe.com
Although Arthur Roy Brown had only ten aerial victories during the war, he was officially credited with having shot down the Red Baron. It remains controversial to this day whether it was in fact Brown who downed the Red Baron, or if it was ground fire. Regardless, the gallant manner in which he defended his friend Wop May in the dogfight earned him a Distinguished Service Cross.
Image Source: Wikipedia
Margaret C. MacDonald
Major Margaret MacDonald was the Matron-in-Chief of the Canadian Army Medical Corps Nursing Service. She was one of the founding members of the CAMC’s nursing service, and by the end of the war, more than 3,000 nursing sisters had served overseas.
Image Source: Life on the Home Front
This week, the South Peace Regional Archives is celebrating Archives Week 2017: Alberta and the Great War.
The Archives staff have been hard at work curating a new display for the community room of the Grande Prairie Museum. This display features documents and photographs from the Archives collections and represents many aspects of the war, from recruitment and enlistment to discharge and celebration. It will adorn the community room for months to come and enhance the educational programming provided by the Grande Prairie Museum staff.
Meanwhile, Archives staff and Friends of the Archives volunteers are also busy preparing the finishing details of the upcoming Great War Gala. Archives staff created ten different displays featuring reproductions of archival records from our collections. Friends of the Archives volunteers designed tabletop decorations and silent auction displays. Both staff and volunteers are looking forward to the musical performances from GPRC’s Fine Arts students and faculty, including: Kristina Alexander (mezzo-soprano), Jeremy Thielmann (piano), Brad Luna (trumpet), Breanna Girvan (soprano), Mackenzie Lowen (soprano), Kyle Friesen (baritone), and Mark Woodman (tenor).
Don’t miss out on your chance to celebrate with us; purchase your tickets for the Great War Gala today!
Above photograph: H.P. Keith sitting in front of his tent, reading, ca. 1915 (SPRA 282.13, cropped from original)
Hindsight is 20/20, or so the old saying goes. Here are ten books about the Great War experience. Some are general histories while others delve into specific aspects of the war. The authors used a variety of documents to explore a wide range of ideas and topics related to the period. Most of these books are available at the Grande Prairie Public Library, and the call number is listed at the end of the title.
Canada’s Great War Album: Our Memories of the First World War
edited by Mark Collin Reid, Canada’s History Magazine, 940.371 CAN
This is an intensely beautiful book and not just because of the large collection of personal photographs and documents prominently displayed throughout. In 2012, Canada’s History Magazine called for contributions from the public for their stories and photographs about the Great War. Organized by topic, each chapter features an essay by an established historian, writer, or journalist, including Charlotte Gray, Tim Cook, and Peter Mansbridge along with accompanying images. While the book does provide a brief timeline of major events, this is really the story of the people who lived through this terrible conflict.
For King and Kanata: Canadian Indians and the First World War
by Timothy C. Winegard, 940.3089 WIN
Timothy Winegard chose the word “Indian” carefully in this text. Noting that it was the common terminology of the time, used by Whites and Indians alike, Winegard also makes clear that this history does not include non-status Indians, Métis, or Inuit Canadians, all communities now contained within the terms Indigenous or Aboriginal. Nor does it include many status Indians who “snuck into” the army in the early days of the war or Indians from the Northern Territories. As he clearly lays out, Indians were not initially welcomed with open arms and when they finally were, they were carefully documented. But only status Indians. For this reason, Winegard limits his analysis to the experience of “Indians.”
Winegard explores the racism, acceptance, and mythology surrounding Indian soldiers and their shameful treatment upon their return home from the war. He does this with an examination of official documents and personal stories. The many images featured throughout help personalize the story of these men and certainly helped me to better visualize and conceptualize the contributions they made in the war effort. It also sheds light on the beginnings of Indian activism following the war. This book is highly recommended for anyone wanting a deeper understanding of both Canada’s role in the Great War and the conflicted relationship between White and Indian Canadians.
Three Day Road
by Joseph Boyden, FNMI BOY
The main narrative of this novel takes place after the war as a physically and spiritually wounded Xavier recounts his war experiences on a three-day healing journey. Xavier’s narrative shows two extreme reactions to the horrors of war: his growing dread and his friend Elijah’s growing relish for the death and destruction. The novel was inspired in part by real-life aboriginal World War I heroes Francis Pegahmagabow and John Shiwak.
In the course of the novel, Xavier’s aunt Niska recounts her own tale of the death and destruction of her way of life. I would highly recommend reading both For King and Kanata and Three Day Road for a better understanding of the war and its aftermath in Indigenous communities.
A Doctor in the Great War
by Andrew Davidson, 940.40092 DAV
Based on three photo albums left to the family by his grandfather, Andrew Davidson presents a beautiful written account of Dr. Frederick Davidson’s experience as a doctor in the British Army. Davidson never met his grandfather, who died shortly before his birth. Bequeathed the albums, along with a set of binoculars, Davidson was prodded for years by friends to do something with them. That something was this book. Lacking his grandfather’s personal testimony, beyond the photographs, Davidson turned to official government records, secondary sources, and published and unpublished memoirs, letters, and diaries, to piece together this beautifully crafted account of one man’s life in the Great War.
Of course, like any life story, it contains many life stories intersecting throughout and Davidson takes pains to include many anecdotes about the men his grandfather befriended. Along with the images, this is a very personal account of the war in the trenches through the eyes of a man not there to take lives but to save them.
by Timothy Findley, CLA PB FIN
Written by thespian turned author, Timothy Findley, this is one of my favourite books. The narrative is told in first, second, and third person and moves back and forth in time as a historian tries to piece together the story of Robert Ross, a physically capable but emotionally scarred young man who enlists in the First World War. Ross, like many of his contemporaries, does not weather the war well, breaking down fatally and tragically. The novel examines the traumatic effect the war had on his already troubled psyche and challenges assumption and universality of military comradery. My favourite line in this book, which I’m going to paraphrase, comes from one of Ross’s friends while visiting him at his trench: “I retain the human right to be horrified by all that I see.”
The Journal of Private Fraser, 1914-1918: Canadian Expeditionary Force
by Donald Fraser, 940.4817 FRA
Private Donald Fraser writes vividly of his wartime experiences in this war diary. Like most soldiers of the initial Canadian Expeditionary Force, Fraser was an immigrant who enlisted early to fight for King and country. He served until wounded at Passchendaele. This is a no-holds-barred first person account of training and life in the trenches.
Drawing Fire: The Diary of a Great War Soldier and Artist
by Len Smith
Note: this book is not available through the library, but used copies can be purchased at reasonable prices through Bookfinder or AbeBooks and it is a worthy addition to your personal collection – too good to miss!
This is probably one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Illustrated by Len Smith, a British soldier and artist, the book features exact reproductions of his handwritten memoirs. Most of the handwriting is replaced by a regular font but some pages are reproduced in the original to get a feel for his style of writing. The book is interspersed with Len’s original drawings and memorabilia.
Len kept his diary on scraps of papers hidden in his pants, which he later collected and wrote out in long hand. Len notes in his introduction that he made no corrections or additions, wanting the reader to feel the immediacy of his original words. And you do. With his sense of humour and his generous understanding of the emotional toll on his fellow soldiers, Len comes across as a gentle and practical person. He was also ingenious, as his artwork sprinkled throughout and accounts of creative endeavours for the war effort will testify. My favourite inventions are the two-yard panoramic map of the enemy troop lines at Vimy Ridge which he created while dodging front-line enemy fire; and the fake, hollow spy tree. Len had crawled within yards of the enemy line to draw a real dead tree in exact detail. He recreated the tree with stairs inside and a window for the observers. During the night, the real tree was removed and the fake tree installed, along with an underground tunnel leading to the tree.
What Len has produced here is nothing short of miraculous and it is baffling that he is so relatively unknown and undecorated. The best way to rectify this injustice is to read this book.
In Fear of the Barbed Wired Fence: Canada’s First National Internment Operations and the Ukrainian Canadians, 1914-1920
by Lubomyr Luciuk, 940.31771 LUC or read it online
While Canadians were fighting the good fight for democracy overseas, fear led to some very undemocratic activity against one particular group of Canadians. Luciuk illuminates this dark chapter of Canada’s war experience largely through the judicious use of photographs, letters, newspaper clippings and official documents. The actually text in the book is fairly brief, with the images and the footnotes taking up the bulk of the book. The footnotes, however, pack a lot of informational punch. For me, the most telling testament of the prejudice of the time occurs on page 98: “… as many as 10,000 Ukrainian Canadians volunteered for service…From among the Canadian volunteers, all men with German names were, on orders received from the War Office, placed under arrest…” This seems like duplicity of the worst kind. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to understand how fear compromises our democratic ideals.
First World War for Dummies
by Dr. Seán Lang, 940.4 LAN
I guess there really is a Dummies book for everything. For those of us who are chronologically challenged, this is a great starter book. It is based on the British and European experience, but it lays out concisely and in an easy to follow format the events and issues leading up to the war, social changes during the war, the experience of women and civilians, the aftermath, and finally, how we remember the war. The book is text heavy but still an easy read. The format lends itself to quick dives in and out so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. The last chapter includes four top ten lists for generals (including our very own Sir Arthur Currie), films, wartime writers, and enlightening places to visit.
Clio’s Warriors: Canadian Historians and the Writing of the World Wars
by Tim Cook, 940.41271 COO; and “The Great War, Archives, and Modern Memory,” Archivaria 46, by Robert McIntosh
Okay, I’m fudging a bit here on the book part. Cook’s book examines the why and how of what we know about both World Wars. The first two chapters of this book are relevant to the First War. They explain the great chain of activity set in motion largely by two men – Sir Arthur Doughty, First Dominion Archivist, and Max Aitken, First Baron of Beaverbrook – that led to the intense document creation and collection researchers rely on today to study the Great War. Cook’s book places more emphasis on Aitken’s contribution to our military documentary heritage while McIntosh’s essay gives both men fairly equal weight. Besides helping us to understand the fluid role of archivists, document creation, and historical activity, these two works also help us to understand why and how World War I helped forge our distinct Canadian identity.
On a side note, McIntosh writes absolutely the best sentence to sum up the Great War: “The war’s most immediate consequence was mass bereavement.”
Lest we forget.
Our most recent Telling Our Stories features the article, “Embroidered Cards: Unraveling the Past.” The article touches upon the history of these lovely and very personal mementos soldiers from the trenches of the Great War sent to loved ones back home. The three postcards from our collection are from two different soldiers but all of them are addressed to the same person – “Jeannie.” While we were able to determine that the two soldiers were most likely Private Robert Bruce Leslie and Lieutenant John Pringle, we could not figure out who was their “dear little friend, Jeannie.”
Luckily, good friend of the SPRA, Margaret Bowes, was able to tell us. “Little” Jeannie was Margaret’s mother, Jean Emilie Alexander O’Brien. Jean was born in 1906 and was one of five surviving children of William Alexander (originally from Scotland) and Emilie Dannhauer of Pembroke, Ontario. Jean was only ten when her mother died of Bight’s Disease and shortly after, watched as friends and family, including Bob Leslie, walked away from the family farm to enlist in the war. Jean later told her children, “My memory is one of sadness.” She knew she’d never see her friends again and she never did.
Little Jeannie became a teacher, married and had three children. Widowed at a young age, she taught at Appleton until 1942, when she moved to Grande Prairie. She then continued her career at Montrose School and the Grande Prairie Composite High School until retiring in 1975. Jean was also very involved in the Grande Prairie music festival and served as church organist for the United Church for many years. She died in 2001 and is buried in the Grande Prairie Cemetery. You can find out more about her and her family in the family papers held at the SPRA in the Alexander Family fonds 572. You can read more about the postcards in the September issue of Telling Our Stories, available on our website.
Thank you to Margaret Bowes for passing this information on to us, as well as a transcript of a letter from Jack Pringle to Bill Alexander (from The Trenches, Sept 12, 1915), and an explanatory Addendum written by Jeannie’s youngest daughter, Erin O’Brien Woolley.
Top image: An embroidered card from World War I, “To my dear little friend Jeannie from Bob Leslie with best wishes for a merry Xmas and Happy new year.” (SPRA 1996.5.3)