The World is a Stage

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The Canadians' attack on Vimy Ridge began a push, up and over the ridge into German held territories. All the recent information for the 100th anniversary should have given you an idea of the horrors and results of those days.

Three men from Tillsonburg and area died in that battle - William Heaped died on Easter Sunday, April 8, the day before the battle officially began; Thomas McGregor Smith, Monday, April 9 and George Robert Mowforth, Wednesday, April 11. Their bodies were interred in cemeteries.

Vimy was only a five-day battle of the very large offensive known as the Battle of Arras, during April and May 1917. The Canadians continued to push east over the Douai Plain throughout April with the attacks on Arleux-en-Gohelle and Gavrelle, the capture of Hill 70 and the second Battle of the Scarpe. Our men trained so well for the success on Vimy Ridge, and continued to prove their mettle and abilities were not a one-time fluke. They became a known entity for ferocious fighting, like a shock troop.

Tillsonburg and area had no further deaths until 3rd Battle of the Scarpe. This was another concerted effort by the Canadians, which they rehearsed for two days. On Thursday, May 3, 100 years ago today, the 2nd Canadian Battalion had the main thrust into the town of Fresnoy, with the 1st and 3rd Battalions on either side sent through the woods.

“In the centre, 2nd Battalion’s attack was carried out with surgical pin-point accuracy. The three machine gun posts that guarded the town had been silenced within minutes with the use of rifle grenades and covering fire as the assault squads advanced upon the German guns. After cleaning out the trench network, the battalion proceeded to secure the town, neutralizing any remaining resistance that they encountered in buildings. By 6 a.m. the battalion was consolidating their newly won position and digging new defenses, 250 yards east of Fresnoy.”

The Germans, of course, counter attacked and by 10 a.m. our troops were being shelled. The fighting went on for 16 hours. That day the Canadians had 400 casualties. We lost Arthur John Easey, mortally wounded near the enemy third line between 4:30-5 a.m. on May 3, 1917. His wounds were immediately attended, but he succumbed before he could be taken to the dressing stations. He was then missing. Then reported killed in action.

We also lost Garfield Kaar, a Brownsville boy, also killed in action and buried, however his grave was lost (probably shelled), and Samuel George Starkiss, a farmer near Springford killed in action, probably in the early morning with the others. And Henry B. Ostrander, of Ostrander, died after 10 a.m. when shrapnel killed him. Their names are all on the Vimy Memorial as their bodies were never found.

The fighting did not stop. One hundred years ago, Friday, May 4, Frederick Stroud was killed. He was one of three brothers from Mount Elgin who went to war. Fred lied about his age when he and his older brother George signed up together, the same day in Tillsonburg, in the 168 C Company of Oxford’s Own. Ollie, the youngest, also lied about his age to enlist three months after his brothers in Woodstock. Only Fred died.

The 2nd Battalion was relieved on Saturday, May 5 but not before Robert Edwin Richey was wounded. He actually made it to No. 42 Casualty Clearing Station before he succumbed. Robert was buried in the Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension and has a known grave. Robert was 25, Irish, from Co. Down, having only farmed in Canada for three years before signing up in Tillsonburg in 1916.

The fresh troops, including 8th Artillery Battalion, moved in and held the position a few days with furious fighting. With the 8th was 45-year-old bombardier William H. Covington. Will was a seasoned soldier having fought in India and 11 years in the Royal Army. He joined the reserves in Canada for 208 days before being shipped out to fight.

The position was lost to the Germans on May 8 but the attack and victory by the 5th Bavarian Battalion was a fluke: “The British Official History regards all the early attack, at 3:45 a.m. as not an intentional counter attack but fresh troops blundering into Canadian and British lines, not knowing the lay of the land. The only shelling at this point being the gas attack on the artillery.”

Will was killed in action and has his own grave in the Ecoivres Military Cemetery.

I’d like to thank Jerry Turner for the research he did discovering the men who died from Tillsonburg and area. If you would like more information on any of these heroes, please call me at 519-842-9416. 

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