John Hewitt Laird was the son of John and Julia Grace Irvine Laird, born in Quebec City. He attended Appleby College in Oakville, Ontario. When he attested in August 1916, he listed his profession as bank clerk. He was killed at Hill 70 on 15 August 1917, weeks before his 20th birthday.
A long-departed British monarch still lends her birthday to a holiday that marks the unofficial start of summer in Canada, and her name to the highest military honour awarded for valour in the face of the enemy. Victoria Day weekend – a good time to remember those awarded the Victoria Cross in WW1. Here’s a look back at some VCs featured on Great War 100 Reads.
The village of Norwood, on Highway 7 east of Peterborough, honoured those who died in WW1 with the usual cenotaph, unveiled on 6 July 1924. It stands at the head of Colborne St, where it meets Ridge St.
The granite stele is topped by a lantern held by a maple leaf in each corner and a sword on each side. On the front: “Through sacrifice they gave their today for our tomorrow – our honoured dead … perpetuating their memory and in honour of all those who carried on in the Great Wars from the Village of Norwood.” Eight names from WW2 were added afterwards (as I suspect was the S on Wars, as that line is not centred like the others). On the back, the years of WW1. On the base, eight WW1 battles: Ypres, St Eloi, The Somme, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, Amiens, Cambrai, Mons.
Another week of travels close to home, to the many war memorials in Eastern Ontario.
A stone obelisk at 419 Cartier Blvd in Hawkesbury, Ontario was dedicated on 24 May 1914 by Governor General Lord Byng of Vimy. The Roll of Honour is dedicated in English “in grateful tribute to those of this town who gave their lives in the Great War 1914 – 1919” and in French “La Ville de Hawkesbury reconnaissante à ses soldats morts durant la Grande Guerre 1914 – 1919.”
The French bronze plaque is on the front face of the monument, English on the right. Each is topped by the Canadian coat of arms and framed by maple leaves and keys. (WW2 names were added later in English and French plaques on the rear and left faces.)
Private Henry Hesey Kerr, Quatre-Vents Military Cemetery
Gunner Pittam Singh, Quatre-Vents Military Cemetery
Private Victor Hugo Sørensen, Quatre-Vents Military Cemetery
Every soldier tells a story. Some died of battle wounds, some were shot at dawn.
The area near Estrée-Cauchy was used by dressing stations for most of WW1, first by the French and then by British field ambulances. British, Canadian, French, German, Indian and South African soldiers were buried in Quatre-Vents. French and German bodies were moved to other cemeteries after the war, leaving 137 identified casualties in the burial ground enclosed by a low wall in the middle of a farmer’s field. Let’s look at three.Continue reading →
Graves of James Wilson and Côme Laliberté, Poperinghe New Military Cemetery
Every soldier tells a story.
Twenty-five Canadian soldiers were executed for military offences in WW1 – court martialled and shot at dawn. Two were found guilty of murder, one of cowardice, 22 of desertion. Privates Côme Laliberté and James Wilson were both shot for desertion. They are buried side by side at Poperinghe New Military Cemetery.Continue reading →
Dedication stone, Hill 70 Memorial, Mountain, Ontario
Mountain Memorial Park is in use year round
Between 15 and 25 August 1917, the divisions of the Canadian corps captured and held Hill 70, a defensive position near Lens that had been held by the German Army since October 1914. While the April 1917 offensive at Vimy Ridge was the first time the Canadians fought together, Hill 70 was the first time they did so under Canadian command, that of Lt-Gen Arthur Currie.
The victory came at a high price. Over 9,000 Canadians were killed or wounded, as were an estimated 25,000 Germans. Six Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross.
Yet the battle remains in the shadow of Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, little known in Canada. Until the dedication of Hill 70 Memorial Park near Lens in 2017, a memorial in a park at 10480 Clark Rd in the village of Mountain (near Ottawa) was the only monument to the battle.Continue reading →
James Cleland Richardson was early to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, signing up at Valcartier in September 1914, aged 18. He fit the typical profile: a young man who had emigrated from the UK (in his case, Scotland) to Canada with his family. In his adopted home of Vancouver, he joined the Seaforth Cadets and distinguished himself as a piper.
In an August 1915 letter to his mother, Richardson wrote:
I haven’t heard of a piper playing in a charge yet and if the truth be known I don’t think there ever will be such an occurrence. Just picture a man standing full height playing the pipes, facing machine guns, rifles, bombs, shrapnel etc. How long would he last? The tighter you hug the ground in a charge the better for yourself and the worst for the enemy. This is not a war at all it is “scientific slaughter.” What chances have men against guns.
Celtic cross erected by 15th Battalion near Vimy Ridge
Memorial cross for four members of 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade
Original grave marker of Lt Norman Howard Pawley
April 9 -12 marks the 103nd anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, part of the Battle of Arras. On a snowy Easter Monday in 1917, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together for the first (and only) time. Training and tactics won the ridge, but at the cost of about 3,600 Canadian lives.
Visitors to Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries along the Western Front today see neat rows of grave stones in well-groomed garden settings, a stark contrast to the original graves. Those killed were usually buried close to where they fell, in graves marked simple wooden crosses. The three crosses pictured here are from Vimy Ridge, placed to mark a grave or to honour the dead from a particular regiment.Continue reading →