By John Morden
Today on the blog series commemorating Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we remember Lieutenant James Edward Tait, who was awarded the Victoria Cross one hundred years ago, in August 1918, for his actions on the battlefield in France.
Born on May 27, 1888, in Dumfries Scotland, James Edward Tait later immigrated to Winnipeg, Manitoba. Prior to the war, he was a civil engineer who was active in the 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers as militia. He also had prior military service, having served five years in the Imperial Yeomanry, four years in the Regimental Scouts and one year in a unnamed squadron. Tait enlisted in the 100th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on January 22, 1916. He transferred to the 78th Battalion in the winter of 1917. He was wounded twice in 1917, on April 1 and September 16, and then again on April 21, 1918. On August 16, 1917, he was awarded the Military Cross.
Tait earned the Victoria Cross for his bravery on August 11, 1918. By this stage of the war, the Allies had begun the Hundred Days Offensive, their final push on the Western Front. On the first day of the Battle of Amiens, August 8, British and Canadian forces made massive gains in what German commanders later coined the “black day” of the German army. Over the next several days, German resistance stiffened. Tait’s unit came upon reorganized and strengthened German positions in France’s Beaucourt Wood. Here, the 78th was hampered by German machine gun fire. Tait continued to lead his men forward despite the shower of bullets. One German machine gun was still blunting the Canadian advance, so Tait charged the position himself, killed the German operating the position, and rallied his men. His actions are described in the London Gazette in September 1918:
“For most conspicuous bravery and initiative in attack. The advance having been checked by intense machine-gun fire, Lt. Tait rallied his company and led it forward with consummate skill and dash under a hail of bullets. A concealed machine-gun, however, continued to cause many casualties. Taking a rifle and bayonet, Lt. Tait dashed forward alone and killed the enemy gunner. Inspired by his example his men rushed the position, capturing twelve machine-guns and twenty prisoners. His valorous action cleared the way for his battalion to advance.”
Later that day, however, Tait was mortally wounded by a German shell. Nevertheless, he continued to give orders and rally his men until he died. Tait is buried in the Fouquescourt British Cemetery near the Somme, France. Today, Tait’s Victoria Cross is at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.
Library and Archives of Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant James Edward Tait.
John Morden is an honours history student from Carleton University doing a practicum in the Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.