Friday, March 11, 2011

Searching For Roots

John Haddow had two brothers; Thomas born August 9, 1876 and Arthur born March 17, 1879. Both  John and Arthur immigrated to Canada in 1908. Both worked in the goldfields in Larder Lake in 1910 and both settled in the Temiskaming 'Clay Belt" in 1913. The Great Fire of October 1922 destroyed  John's main barn, much of his winter feed and some of his livestock, but his brother Arthur was completely wiped out. Shortly after his wife Mary had recovered from burns that she had received in the fire, the family left for North Bay where Arthur found work in the bush camps.

Graves of Arthur and Mary. Terrace Lawn Cemetery, North Bay, Ontario.

At the onset of the First World War Arthur enlisted in the Forestry Corp and served in England and France, setting up saw mills and training workers. I had known of Arthur for some time and since I lived not far from North Bay for some years I had the chance to visit his grave. A well know man in the North Bay Nipissing area he married Mary Whittle and had seven children including Florence, Walter,Elsie, Hilda, Bert, Archie and James (Jimmy)

Arthur Haddow's Attestation Papers (Double click to enlarge)

Thomas joined the Scots Guard in Lancashire, England, just as war broke out between the British Empire and the Dutch Boer Republics, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

The 1st Battalion soon departed Ireland for South Africa to join up with the 1st Guards Brigade, and reached that country in November. The battalion quickly saw its first engagements in November, at Belmont, which ended in a British victory, and at the Battle of the Modder River, another British victory, though it had come at a heavy cost in British life after the British forces had come under a terrible withering fire from the Boer defenders, but the Boers eventually withdrew; the Scots Guards gained a battle honour for their part in the battle.

A group of Scots Guards

In December, the battalion took part in its first major engagement of the war at the Battle of Magersfontein. The Boers, well defended in their positions, poured a terrible fire into the attacking British, causing very heavy casualties, with the battle ending in a defeat for the British who had battled bravely against the Boers, and ending the attempts to relieve the town of Kimberley which was besieged by Boer forces; the siege would not to be lifted until February 1900.

In 1900, the 2nd Battalion departed the UK for South Africa, landing there in April, whereupon it joined the 16th Infantry Brigade. The Scots Guards then saw action at another major battle, at the Battle of Paardeberg, which last for a number of days in February, though the Boers there were eventually defeat when the Boer leader Piet Cronje surrendered.

The following month, the regiment took part in the Battle of Driefontein and in May, the 2nd Battalion took part in a small engagement at Biddulphsberg and on the 31st, the regiment was present at the capture of Johannesburg. During their time in Africa, the regiment performed a variety of duties, including manning blockhouses, rather than just their involvement in the many battles of the war.

In 1902, the British and their Commonwealth Allies triumphed over the Boers, after suffering dreadful casualties, appalling conditions and the terrible fighting they took part in against their tough adversary, the Boers.

That same year, the regiment returned home, having proven their professionalism once more to the world, and returned to the usual public duties that accompany the Guards.

In 1910 Thomas escorted my Grandmother Elizaeth and her two small children Tom and Art to Canada to join my Grandfather in Larder Lake. Thomas stayed on in Toronto and eventually married Florence Butler from Queensville. To my knowledge they only had one child, a girl named Evelyn.

Thomas worked as a motorman with the Toronto Transit Company until the beginning of World War 1, when he enlisted. He was posted to the 20th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Thomas Haddow's Attestation Papers (double click to enlarge)

The 20th CEF battalion was authorized by the Privy Council on 6 August 1914 for service overseas and was mobilized on 7 November 1914 at the Exhibition Grounds, Toronto.It was raised from volunteers from Militia regiments of Central Ontario

Upon arrival in France on 15 September 1915, the battalion was assigned to the 4th Brigade, 2nd Division, Canadian Corps and given a section of the front on the Ypres Salient, near Messines. Duty holding the line included: nightly patrolling in no man's land, endless repairs to wire and trenches, and almost continuous enemy shelling. The winter of 1915-16 was spent in a routine of 18 days on the front and 6 days in the rear, all the while battling lice, trench foot, and disease. In March 1916, steel helmets were issued to all ranks.

In the spring of 1916, the Commander of the British Second Army decided that it was essential for an enemy salient near the village of St. Eloi to be eliminated. Following attacks and counter-attacks, the 4th Brigade tried to retake the craters that the 6th Brigade was forced to fall back from. The 20th Battalion managed to retake one crater and held it through a month of concentrated shelling. In one month, the 4th Brigade suffered 1373 casualties.

The Somme
On 15 September 1916 the Second Division joined the attack at the Somme, supported by tanks for the first time. The infantry captured three lines of trenches and reached their final objectives in just 40 minutes. The tanks, however, had broken down. Meanwhile, the 20th was trying to consolidate its position despite taking machine gun fire from both flanks.

Early October brought heavy rain and a second attack at the Somme. Under heavy shelling, the 20th captured two lines of trenches in close combat, mainly with grenades and bayonets. In both these actions, the 20th captured all of their objectives and held them until relieved, but at a cost of 111 killed and 319 wounded in only three weeks.

The winter of 1916-1917 was spent holding different parts of the line, patrolling, and carrying out trench raids. One particularly large raid was carried out on the morning of 17 January 1917. On this raid, in 90 minutes, the battalion took 57 prisoners, including one officer, captured one mortar piece, and destroyed 35 deep dugouts, two bomb stores, and two mortar pieces. Two officers and thirty men of the enemy were counted dead, besides an indeterminate number killed inside dugouts. Our casualties were two officers wounded, 27 other ranks killed, 51 wounded and one missing.

Vimy Ridge
Spring of 1917 found the Canadian Corps preparing to take Vimy Ridge as a part of the Battle of Arras. The ridge had been in the hands of the Germans since the early days of the war and provided them with good observation on our rear area, while denying us a view of the wide Douai Plain behind it. The French made an unsuccessful attempt to take the ridge in May 1915.

They tried again in September 1915, and this time got as far as the second trench lines. These positions were consolidated by the British but were lost to German counterattacks in May 1916. Vimy was one of the most heavily defended points on the whole Western Front.

The Second Division attacked in the direction of Farbus, on an initial frontage of 1500 yards and a final frontage of 2500 yards. The total depth was 3500 yards. The attack went in on 9 April 1917 with the 4th Brigade right, the 5th Brigade left, and the 6th Brigade and the 13th Imperial Brigade moving through the lead brigades to capture depth objectives.

The 20th Battalion attacked in right depth of the 4th Brigade, mopping up the enemy still holed up in trenches and craters, taking prisoners and collecting maps and documents. During the attack, contact was lost with the 5th Brigade troops on the left, a gap filled by C Company of the 20th. This company also captured a German Field Gun at the entrance to Thélus.

The attack was a complete success. The Canadian Corps captured the entire ridge, a stunning achievement that many in the High Command had declared impossible, but which proved the worth of Canadian troops. Casualties of the 20th Battalion were relatively light, i.e. under one hundred, of whom only six were killed. This was, unfortunately, not true of the Canadian Corps as whole.

Hill 70
After Vimy, the battalion spent the summer in intensive training exercises, learning the new principles of fire and movement. On 15 August 1917, the Canadians began their attack on Hill 70, where Sgt Hobson won his Victoria Cross.

This German wireless report of 18 August 1917 was referred to by the Corps Commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie, when he visited the battalion:
"In Artois, the British by destructive fire lasting for four weeks have turned the foremost German positions into a shell hole area like that in Flanders. They engaged the whole of their four Canadian Divisions. The Canadians, whom the the British Higher Command always employs for the most difficult and costly fighting, advanced with obstinate bravery during the whole day against the German positions."

For some time rumours - which were hoped false - had whispered that a number of units of the Canadian Corps were on their way to Passchendaele. One morning, the Battalion were ordered to fall in very hurriedly and mysteriously, without any of the usual preliminaries. Then Lieut.-Gen. Sir Arthur Currie appeared and ordered the ranks to close in around him. He made a speech, characteristically brief and to the point, saying that although he had begged the Commander-in-Chief to spare the Canadians the ordeal of Passchendaele, his plea had been refused because pressure on the enemy must be maintained. The Passchendaele Ridge had to be captured, for reasons he was unable to divulge, and for that task the Canadians had been chosen.

The terrible conditions of Passchendaele are legendary. All features of the landscape were completely obliterated, leaving nothing behind but water-filled shell craters, trenches like drainage ditches, and endless mud. There were hardly roads left, or even solid ground. Board walks were constructed to make movement possible, but were frequently destroyed in the constant enemy artillery bombardment. The bodies of men and horses were left unburied to rot in the muck.

When the battalion was finally relieved, the struggle to get out was so great that many of the walking wounded died of exhaustion. "The memory of it is still horrible. Never had been experienced such general suffering from shelling, aircraft activity by day and night, such weather and ground conditions." The Canadian Corps captured two square miles at Passchendaele, suffering 16,404 casualties.

Following Passchendaele, the 20th saw action at Cambrai and then spent a relatively quiet winter, holding trenches in the Vimy area and patrolling. The collapse of Russia in November 1917 was bad news for the allies. The Germans could now divert many more divisions to the Western Front for a large attack before American troops arrived at the front. When the first attacks came in March, it was disastrous for the Allies; the British were unable to hold their ground and were driven back almost to Amiens. That summer, the 20th relieved British troops who were exhausted from the constant pressure of the Germans.

Cap Badge of the 20th.

Canada's Hundred Days
Early August 1918 found the movements of the 20th Battalion cloaked with secrecy. Marches were made at night and orders to move were sudden. Eventually, it was revealed that the whole Canadian Corps would be taking part in a counter-attack near Amiens. "The great secret had been well maintained up to the last moment; the Germans would naturally expect an attack on any front where they found the Canadian Corps, which had been held in reserve during the fighting in March."

The Battle of Amiens was the turning point in the war, the beginning of the end for the Central Powers. It began on 8 August 1918 and its spearhead was made up of the Canadian Corps and the Australian Corps. On the first day, the Second Canadian Division advanced an unbelievable eight miles. On the second day, they made another advance of 5000 yards. Ludendorff, the German Commander-in-Chief, in his memoirs called 8 August "the black day of the German Army". The battalion met with more success at Arras, later that same month. These gains, however, exacted a heavy toll on the battalion; casualties during the month of August 1918 totalled 18 officers and 563 other ranks.

While the Allies had finally managed to win ground and build momentum, the Germans also continued to resist fiercely.On 10-12 October 1918, the battalion found itself exploiting bridgeheads across the Canal de l'Escaut. In 42 hours of almost incessant fighting there were casualties of 11 officers and 319 other ranks. It was here that Lt W.L. Algie won his Victoria Cross.The fighting continued in the Pursuit to Mons up until the last moments of the war. In the last 24 hours before the armistice, the Battalion lost one officer and 11 other ranks killed, and 30 other ranks wounded. Also, the 20th captured the last prisoner taken by a Canadian unit, at 10 A.M. on 11 November 1918, at Mons.

No Canadian unit of the First World War has a prouder record of service. The 20th Battalion won a total of 18 Battle Honours and 398 decorations and awards, including two Victoria Crosses. During the entire war, on no occasion was the battalion ever driven out of its trenches by the enemy, nor did any company, platoon, or section ever flee the battlefield. Altogether, 855 officers and men of the 20th Battalion died in the First World War. Over 60,000 Canadian men died in the First World War, one out of every eleven who served.

By the end of the war thomas had reached the rank of Company Sargeant Major. He stayed with the military until retirement.

Thomas was awarded the Military Medal for 'bravery under fire'.

This obituary notice in the Temiskaming Speaker dated July 13, 1939 was the only evidence that I had regarding my great uncles final resting place.

With the help of the office manager at the Prospect Cemetery and a small map she had given me, at long last I found my great uncle.

Main entrance to Prospect Cemetery

There are over 300 veterans buried in Prospect Cemetery.

Headstone of C.S.M Thomas William Haddow MM. Veterans Plot, Prospect Cemetery, Toronto.

It is difficult to express the feelings that I had as I stood at the foot of his grave marker. There were so many things that i would have loved to ask him. I would have loved to have had the chance to know him better, to meet his wife and daughter. But those opportunities have long since gone. It should have felt as though I were meeting a stranger .. but it did not. I knelt down by his marker, touched it's rough surface and told him that I was glad to have finally meet him.  I told him about my Dad (I am not sure if he ever met him), my sons and my grandkids. As I was leaving I looked back and told him that I would be back in the spring.

Thomas died in the Christie Street hospital (later known as the Sunnybrook Hospital)