Canada’s first declaration of war

By J. Andrew Ross

Among the rarest documents at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) are those signed by Canada’s monarchs, and they represent some of the most important moments in the nation’s history. As part of our digitization programme, we recently scanned one such document that resides in the Ernest Lapointe fonds: a single sheet of paper that marks Canada’s entry into the Second World War.

A typed, one-page document asking the the king to authorize a proclamation of war on the German Reich on September 10, 1939.

Submission requesting the king’s approval to issue a proclamation declaring a state of war with the German Reich, September 10, 1939 (Ernest Lapointe fonds, e011202191)

Signed by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, the document is a request for permission to issue a proclamation declaring war against the German Reich. The king indicated his approval with a handwritten “Approved” and a signature: “George R[ex]. I[mperator].” Though a seemingly straightforward document, the date—September 10, 1939—raises a question. While this was indeed the day Canada declared war, as Lester Pearson (then working at Canada’s High Commission in London) observed, “some historian of the future will wonder how George VI and Mackenzie King could have been together on September 10th 1939.” (Pearson, Memoirs, 139) In the era before supersonic transatlantic air travel and the wireless transmission of documents it would have been impossible for Mackenzie King (in Ottawa) and the King George VI (in London) to have signed the same document on the same day.

The answer to this conundrum can be found in LAC’s collections, and further research shows that this document was just one of several that had to be created to resolve a problem Canadian officials had never encountered before: How do we declare war?

As the prospect of Germany invading its neighbours grew in 1939, Canada expected to have a role in the resulting conflict. Unlike the onset of the First World War, when British dominions like Canada had been assumed to be included in the British declaration of belligerency against the Central Powers, Canada now had the option of making its own decision. In 1926, the Balfour Declaration had established that the United Kingdom and the dominions were now autonomous in domestic or external affairs, and this had been formally enshrined in the Statute of Westminster of 1931.

Fast forward to September 1939. As the Blitzkrieg rolled across Poland, prompting the UK to declare war against the German Reich on September 3rd, it was now up to Canada to decide its own fate—to join in, or to stay neutral. Most Canadians generally understood that Canada would be involved, if not militarily then at the very least economically, but Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King wanted parliament to formally endorse the decision to enter the war. It did so on Saturday, September 9th.

Major policy announcements such as declarations of war also required a formal proclamation to be issued by the governor general on the advice of the Cabinet of Canada. This advice was in the form of a formal request signed by a cabinet minister, called a submission, to the governor general. To issue a proclamation in this case, there were two obstacles to overcome.

First, despite the independence given by the Statute of Westminster to Canada to make its own decision to go to war, it turned out that the Canadian governor general himself did not actually have the power to approve a proclamation declaring war, so the government required the permission of George VI himself, as king of Canada. After the House of Commons vote on September 9th, the Department of External Affairs asked Canada’s high commissioner to Great Britain, Vincent Massey, to arrange an audience with the king to get His Majesty’s signature on a document approving the issue of the proclamation. On the morning of September 10th, Massey hopped into his son Hart’s sports car and was driven to see the king at the Royal Lodge, the monarch’s country retreat on the grounds of Windsor Castle. Massey got the royal signature and cabled the news back to Ottawa, where Mackenzie King was anxiously awaiting the news and convincing himself that “the enemy” might have contrived “to destroy the [transatlantic] cable between Canada and England.” (WLMK Diary)

The other obstacle was that the two-page document that the king had approved had been written out in longhand from a telegram and was not signed by a cabinet minister, as was required. For this reason, External Affairs referred to this as an “informal approval” document and promised that a formal (signed) submission would soon follow.

Even before the king’s approval had been received, the proclamation had been drawn up and signed by Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir (in the name of the king), Prime Minister Mackenzie King, and Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe.

A proclamation, bearing the Great Seal of Canada, announcing that Canada was at war against the German Reich.

Proclamation of war against the German Reich, September 10, 1939. Note that the day (“tenth”) is handwritten in the document (Registrar General sous-fonds, e011202192)

The staff of the Government Printing Bureau also produced a published version as an “Extra” edition of The Canada Gazette, the official organ for conveying government announcements. The Printing Bureau staff were locked into their office on Saturday and Sunday, to preserve secrecy, and were released only after the arrival of the published Gazette at the offices of External Affairs (then in East Block on Parliament Hill). The time of delivery was 12:35 p.m. EDT (another source says 12:40 p.m.), and by pre-arrangement this was agreed to be the moment that Canada could be considered to be officially at war against the German Reich.

But was it?

A printed, bilingual declaration of war against the German Reich bearing three signatures across the page.

The Canada Gazette “Extra”, September 10, 1939, the published version of the proclamation of war against the German Reich. Curiously, this copy is autographed by Tweedsmuir, Mackenzie King, and Lapointe (Arnold Danford Patrick Heeney fonds, e011198135)

On October 24th, six weeks after Canada’s announcement, Massey cabled External Affairs asking when the formal submission with a minister’s signature would be received, as had been promised. The king’s private secretary, Sir Alexander Hardinge, had told Massey he was concerned that “the document which the King signed on the basis of cabled representations may well have no constitutional validity owing the fact that it did not and could not bear the actual signature of the minister.” In other words, there was some question as to whether Canada was technically at war at all.

External Affairs went into action and sent a typewritten document signed by the prime minister and backdated to September 10th. King George VI signed this on November 27th and returned it to Ottawa. So it took two-and-a-half months after Canada had declared war for the official documents to catch up to the event!

In the end, there are four key items that document Canada’s first declaration of war: the informal approval created from a telegram and signed by King George VI; the proclamation issued by the governor general; the “Extra” of The Canada Gazette; and the backdated formal submission signed by both Mackenzie King and the king. Three of these documents reside in LAC’s collections and are reproduced above, but the whereabouts of the first—the informal approval from the King—is unknown. There is a clue, however: we know that over the fall and winter of 1939–1940 Massey had actually refused several requests to send the document back to Canada, saying that Buckingham Palace did not want it “embodied in the records of the Canadian government” because of its dubious constitutional status (Pearson, Memoirs, p. 140). Lester Pearson, who was second-in-command to Massey, later wrote that he understood that the document had remained in London, “though whether in the possession of His Majesty or the Canadian High Commissioner, I never learned.” (Ibid.)


By J. Andrew Ross, archivist in the Government Archives Division, with contributions from Geneviève Couture, archival assistant in the Private Archives Branch, Library and Archives Canada.

Private Walter Leigh Rayfield, VC

By Ashley Dunk

Library and Archives Canada’s blog series on Canadian Victoria Cross recipients remembers soldiers on the 100th anniversary of the day they acted bravely in battle and for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today we commemorate the courageous actions of Private Walter Leigh Rayfield.

A black-and-white photographic portrait of a soldier.

Walter Leigh Rayfield, VC, undated (a006711)

Born on October 7, 1881 in Richmond, England, Rayfield immigrated to Canada before the war. He worked as a lumberjack before enlisting on July 10, 1917 at Victoria, British Columbia, joining the 7th Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).

At the beginning of September 1918, the Canadian Corps was making efforts to break through the six-kilometer front known as the Drocourt-Quéant Line, east of Arras, France. Having taken the enemy strong point, the Crow’s Nest, on September 1, 1918, the Corps needed an intense assault to break through the German lines and head toward the Canal du Nord.

A black-and-white image of a textual document summarizing the activities of the 7th Canadian Infantry Battalion on September 2, 1918.

7th Canadian Infantry Battalion’s war diary with a description of the start of the attack on September 2, 1918, Page 4 (e001084295)

A black-and-white image of a textual document summarizing the activities of the 7th Canadian Infantry Battalion on September 2, 1918, continued onto a second page.

7th Canadian Infantry Battalion’s war diaries with a description of the conclusion of the attack on September 2, 1918, Page 5 (e001084296)

At 5:00 a.m. on September 2, 1918, Canadian artillery fire rained down in a barrage over enemy positions, enabling the Canadians to advance. Tanks provided supporting offensive fire, and by 7:30 a.m., troops reached the Red Line and the village of Dury. During this advance, Rayfield found himself ahead of his company. He rushed a trench occupied by a party of enemy soldiers, killed two soldiers with his bayonet, and took ten men prisoner.

Later, through heavy and consistent rifle fire, he located and engaged an enemy sniper who had been causing many casualties. As reported in the London Gazette two months later:

He then rushed the section of trench from which the sniper had been operating, and so demoralised the enemy by his coolness and daring that thirty others surrendered to him.

London Gazette, no. 31067, December 14, 1918

A black-and-white photograph of hundreds of guns, rifles, and machine guns of varying sizes laying on the ground. A soldier stands examining the guns, and a second soldier bends over examining the strap of a gun.

Guns captured by Canadians on the Arras front, September 1918. (a003291)

He acted again without regard for his personal safety when he left cover under heavy machine gun fire and carried a badly wounded comrade to safety. Rayfield was lauded for his courage, bravery, and initiative during these assaults. Through gas attacks, rapid machine gun fire, and direct attacks from enemy rifles, Rayfield performed gallantly in battle, and heroically for the benefit his comrades.

Rayfield was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions from September 2 to 4, 1918, in Arras.

He survived the war and was discharged on April 25, 1919.

Rayfield died on February 20, 1949. Today his Victoria Cross is on display at the Canadian War Museum.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Private Walter Leigh Rayfield.


Ashley Dunk is a project assistant in the Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

Hutcheson, Knight, Metcalf, Peck and Young, VCs

By Andrew Horrall

Bellenden Seymour Hutcheson

Bellenden Seymour Hutcheson was born at Mount Carmel, Illinois, on December 16, 1883. He studied medicine at Northwestern University near Chicago and worked as a doctor. Hutcheson was physically striking—he had white hair and piercing blue eyes. Like many Americans, Hutcheson decided to fight for Canada. On November 6, 1915, he joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps at Hamilton, Ontario, and was assigned to the 75th Battalion.

A black-and-white portrait photograph of a soldier with very light hair and looking directly at the viewer.

Captain B.S. Hutcheson, VC, Canadian Army Medical Corps. Source: Directorate of History and Heritage

On September 2, 1918, near Cagnicourt, France, Hutcheson advanced into open ground with his battalion and “without hesitation and with utter disregard of personal safety he remained on the field until every wounded man had been attended to. He dressed the wounds of a seriously wounded officer under terrific machine-gun and shellfire, and, with the assistance of prisoners and of his own men, succeeded in evacuating him to safety, despite the fact that the bearer party suffered heavy casualties. Immediately afterwards he rushed forward, in full view of the enemy, under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, to tend a wounded sergeant, and, having placed him in a shell-hole, dressed his wounds.” (London Gazette, no. 31067, December 14, 1918)

For his bravery in another action, Hutcheson received the Military Cross.

Dr. Hutcheson married a woman from Nova Scotia at the end of the war and returned to his medical practice in Illinois. He visited Canada regularly over the years, and took part in battalion reunions, but he rarely spoke about his wartime experiences. He died in Cairo, Illinois, on April 9, 1954. His Victoria Cross is held by the Toronto Scottish Regiment Museum.

Sources

“VC from Illinois modestly declines to details exploits,” The Globe and Mail, March 6, 1930, p. 13.

“‘Six-bits’ reunion is first since war,” The Globe and Mail, April 13, 1931, p. 14.

 

Arthur George Knight

Arthur George Knight was born at Haywards Heath, England, on June 26, 1886. In 1911, he immigrated to Canada and worked as a carpenter. He joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in December 1914 and served with the 10th Battalion. He was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre in November 1917.

A black-and-white studio photograph of a soldier standing with his hands behind his back.

Sergeant A.G. Knight, VC, undated (a006724)

On September 2, 1918, near Cagnicourt, France, Knight “led a bombing section forward under heavy fire and engaged the enemy at close quarters. Seeing that his party continued to be held up, he dashed forward alone, bayoneting several of the enemy machine-gunners and trench mortar crews, and forcing the remainder to retire in confusion.” As Knight’s platoon chased the retreating Germans, he “saw a party of about thirty of the enemy go into a deep tunnel which led off the trench. He again dashed forward alone, and, having killed one officer and two NCOs, captured twenty other ranks. Subsequently he routed, single-handed, another enemy party which was opposing the advance of his platoon.” (London Gazette, no.31012, November 15, 1918)

Knight was badly wounded in this fighting and died the following day. His Victoria Cross is held by Calgary’s Glenbow Museum.

 

William Henry Metcalf

A black-and-white photograph of a standing soldier wearing a kilt.

Lieutenant-Corporal W. H. Metcalf, VC, undated photograph (a006727)

William Henry Metcalf was born in Waite Township, Maine, on January 29, 1885. He worked as a barber before travelling to Fredericton, New Brunswick, to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force on August 15, 1914. He served as a signaler with the 16th Battalion. Metcalf was awarded the Military Medal for his actions in September 1916 at the Battle of the Somme when he volunteered to provide medical assistance to a severely wounded comrade in no man’s land. Having saved the man’s life, Metcalf then repeatedly exposed himself to heavy shelling in order to repair telephone wires. His medal citation notes that “during twenty months of service in the field his conduct has been one of uniform bravery and cheerful devotion to duty.” (London Gazette, no. 29893, January 6, 1917)

Metcalf was awarded the Military Medal for a second time for his actions on August 8, 1918, during the Battle of Amiens. He laid telephone wire across no man’s land during the initial attacks and remained all day under intense shell fire, ensuring that the wire was not damaged. (London Gazette no. 31142, January 24, 1919)

Metcalf was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on September 2, 1918, near Cagnicourt, France. When his battalion’s advance began to falter, Metcalf “rushed forward under intense machine-gun fire to a passing tank on the left. With his signal flag he walked in front of the tank, directing it along the [German] trench in a perfect hail of bullets and bombs. The machine-gun strong points were overcome, very heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy, and a very critical situation was relieved.” (London Gazette, no. 31012, November 15, 1918)

Metcalf died at Lewiston, Maine, on August 8, 1968. His Victoria Cross is held by the Canadian Scottish Museum, Victoria, BC.

 

Cyrus Wesley Peck

Cyrus Wesley Peck was born at Hopewell Hill, New Brunswick, on April 26, 1871. He trained to be a soldier, but was unsuccessful in taking part in the South African War. At the start of the First World War, Peck was managing a salmon cannery in British Columbia and serving in the militia. He enlisted in the 30th Battalion on November 8, 1914, at the rank of Major. In late 1916, Peck was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and given command of the 16th Battalion, the Canadian Scottish Regiment.

A black-and-white photograph of a mustachioed man wearing tartan pants, a Sam Brown belt and a cap walking with a walking stick through ornate gates. A crowd on the right is looking toward the gates.

Lieutenant-Colonel Cyrus W. Peck, VC, DSO, 16th Battalion, leaving Buckingham Palace (a006720)

Peck received the Distinguished Service Order, was mentioned in dispatches five times, and was wounded twice. He was also elected to the House of Commons for the riding of Skeena, British Columbia, in the federal election of December 1917. This so-called “Khaki Election” was the first one in which soldiers on active service were allowed to vote. Though Peck was now a Member of Parliament, he continued to carry out his military duties in France.

Peck is Canada’s unlikeliest Victoria Cross hero. Though his walrus moustache gave him a military look, he was 47 years old, 5 feet and 9 inches tall, and a portly 250 pounds. Nonetheless, on September 2, 1918, near Cagnicourt, France, Peck saw that his battalion’s advance had stalled. So he “made a personal reconnaissance under heavy machine-gun and sniping fire, across a stretch of ground which was heavily swept by fire. Having reconnoitered the position he returned, reorganised his battalion, and, acting upon the knowledge personally gained, pushed them forward and arranged to protect his flanks. He then went out under the most intense artillery and machine-gun fire, intercepted the tanks, gave them the necessary directions, pointing out where they were to make for, and thus pave[d] the way for a Canadian Infantry battalion to push forward. To this battalion he subsequently gave requisite support. His magnificent display of courage and fine qualities of leadership enabled the advance to be continued, although always under heavy artillery and machine-gun fire, and contributed largely to the success of the brigade attack.” (London Gazette no. 31012, November 15, 1918)

Peck lost his seat in the House of Commons in the 1921 federal election. He sat in British Columbia’s provincial legislature from 1924 to 1933, and died at Sydney, British Columbia, on September 27, 1956. His Victoria Cross is held by the Canadian War Museum.

Sources

“Won VC in 1918 while a member of parliament,” The Globe and Mail, September 28, 1956, p. 7.

 

John Francis Young

John Francis Young was born in Kidderminster, England, on January 14, 1893, and immigrated to Canada sometime before the war. He enlisted in the 87th Battalion at Montreal on October 20, 1915, and served as a stretcher bearer. Young was wounded at the Somme in November 1916.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling soldier standing with his arms behind his back.

Private J. F. Young, VC, undated. Source: Directorate of History and Heritage

Young was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on September 2, 1918, near Dury, France. When German artillery and machine guns cut down Young’s company, he spent over an hour treating wounded comrades in full view of the enemy. He repeatedly travelled back to the Canadian lines for more medical supplies, but always returned to the wounded men. Young then organized the stretcher bearers who carried the wounded men to safety. (London Gazette no. 31067, December 14, 1918)

Young was gassed in a subsequent battle and suffered permanent and debilitating lung damage. He died at Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Quebec, on November 7, 1929. His Victoria Cross is held by the Canadian War Museum.

Sources

“John F. Young, VC, is dead in Quebec,” The Globe and Mail, November 8, 1929, p. 1.

 

Library and Archives Canada holds the service files for Bellenden Seymour Hutcheson, Arthur George Knight, William Henry Metcalf, Cyrus Wesley Peck and John Francis Young.


Andrew Horrall is a senior archivist in the Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Claude Nunney, VC

By Andrew Horrall

When Claude Joseph Patrick Nunney joined the 38th Battalion on March 8, 1915, he stated that he was born in Dublin, Ireland, on December 24, 1892. This appears not to have been strictly true, though it is unclear why Nunney obscured his origins. Archival records point to Nunney having been born on that day in Hastings, England, and given the name Stephen Sargent Claude Nunney. It is certain that he was orphaned as a child and sent across the Atlantic to Ottawa, where he was adopted at first by Mrs. D. J. MacDonald, of North Lancaster, Ontario. By the time he enlisted, he was living with the Calder family of Glengarry County, Ontario, whom he identified as his next of kin and to whom he remitted money each month.

Nunney was an outstanding soldier who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, when “although wounded in two places and his section wiped out he continued to advance carrying his gun and ammunition and alone stopped an attack by over 200 enemy. He continued on duty for three days showing exceptional fearlessness and doing magnificent work.” (London Gazette, no. 30234, 16 August 1917) Soon afterwards, he was awarded the Military Medal for another act of bravery.

A black-and-white portrait photograph of a seated soldier who holds his cap and swagger stick on his lap.

Private Claude Nunney, VC, of the 38th Battalion (a006859)

Nunney’s promotion to sergeant in June 1917 testified to his battlefield leadership and courage. But the following April, he was court-martialed for striking a superior officer. The incident is detailed in the records of Nunney’s court-martial, which are held by LAC. The facts of the case were clear, though two officers testified in Nunney’s defence, with one calling him “one of the best front line fighting men in the Battalion.” Nunney was convicted and demoted back to private, though his sentence of one year’s hard labour was soon commuted “on account of [Nunney’s] previous good service.”

Private Nunney was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for his actions on September 1 and 2, 1918, during the fighting at the Drocourt-Quéant Line in France. During a German attack “Nunney, who was at this time at company headquarters, immediately on his own initiative proceeded through the barrage to the company outpost lines, going from post to post and encouraging the men by his own fearless example. The enemy were repulsed and a critical situation was saved. During the attack on 2nd September his dash continually placed him in advance of his companions, and his fearless example undoubtedly helped greatly to carry the company forward to its objectives.” (London Gazette, no. 31067, December 14, 1918)

Nunney was severely wounded while carrying out these courageous acts and died on September 18, 1918. He left all his effects, including his medals, to the Calders. When Canadian Victoria Cross recipients assembled at Toronto in 1938, the widowed Mrs. Calder was too old to attend. So she asked a female friend in Alexandria, who was an advocate for veterans’ welfare, to wear Nunney’s medals at the gathering. The orphaned Irish boy had been adopted by an entire community. His Victoria Cross is held by the Cornwall Armoury. Library and Archives Canada holds his service file.

Sources

“Spirit of war hero marches on in VC,” The Globe and Mail, August 2, 1938, p. 5.


Andrew Horrall is a senior archivist in the Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

William Hew Clark-Kennedy, VC

By Andrew Horrall

William Hew Clark-Kennedy was born in Dunskey, Scotland, on March 3, 1880, and began working for the Standard Life Assurance Company at age 16. He served with a British cavalry regiment in the South African War before moving to Canada in 1902 to work in Standard Life’s Montreal office. There he met and married Katherine “Kate” Reford.

Clark-Kennedy joined the 13th Battalion, Royal Highlanders of Canada, at Valcartier, Quebec, on September 23, 1914, and arrived in France the following February. On April 24, 1915, an artillery shell landed near where he and two other men were standing. Clark-Kennedy’s companions were killed instantly, while he was buried by earth and mud. Clark-Kennedy’s comrades believed that he also had died and that his body had been either obliterated or buried. They reported that he had been killed in action. But Clark-Kennedy had suffered only minor injuries, and without anyone noticing, he dug himself out and resumed fighting. It took a couple of days to sort out the error and for Clark-Kennedy to cable his family and tell them he was fine.

A black-and-white photograph of an officer standing in front of a building wearing his officer’s cap and carrying a walking stick in his right hand.

Lieutenant-Colonel Clark-Kennedy, VC, OC, 24th Battalion. Photograph taken January 1919 (a003909)

Clark-Kennedy was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions while commanding the 24th Battalion on August 27 and 28, 1918, during the Battle of Arras. An excerpt from the London Gazette shows his exceptional bravery: “from the outset the brigade, of which the 24th Battalion was a central unit, came under very heavy shell and machine-gun fire, suffering many casualties, especially amongst leaders. Units became partially disorganised and the advance was checked. Appreciating the vital importance to the brigade front of a lead by the centre and undismayed by annihilating fire, Lieutenant-Colonel Clark-Kennedy, by sheer personality and initiative, inspired his men and led them forward. On several occasions, he set an outstanding example by leading parties straight at the machine-gun nests which were holding up the advance and overcame these obstacles. By controlling the direction of neighbouring units and collecting men who had lost their leaders, he rendered valuable services in strengthening the line, and enabled the whole brigade front to move forward.”

Clark-Kennedy showed equal courage the following day, despite a very serious gunshot wound to his right knee. The citation for his Victoria Cross ends with the declaration that “it is impossible to overestimate the results achieved by the valour and leadership of this officer.” (London Gazette, no. 31067, December 14, 1918)

In addition to the Victoria Cross, Clark-Kennedy was mentioned in despatches four times, received the Distinguished Service Order twice, was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George, and was awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

A black-and-white photograph of two officers standing in front of a car in which a driver is seated. They both wear officers’ caps and greatcoats.

Lieutenant-Colonel W.H. Clark-Kennedy (right), VC, CMG, DSO and Bar, and Brigadier-General J.H. MacBrien, DSO and Bar, CB (a006743)

After the war, Clark-Kennedy returned to Canada and his job at Standard Life, and eventually became the firm’s director. He died in Montreal on October 25, 1961. Clark-Kennedy’s Victoria Cross is held by his family. Library and Archives Canada holds his service file.

Sources

“Officer, feared dead, continued to fight,” The Globe and Mail, October 27, 1961, p. 31.

“Lt.-Col. Clark-Kennedy VC, dies here in 83rd year,” Montreal Gazette, October 27, 1961, p. 4.


Andrew Horrall is a senior archivist in the Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Charles Smith Rutherford, VC

By Ashley Dunk

Today in Library and Archives Canada’s blog series on Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we remember Charles Smith Rutherford, who earned his Victoria Cross one hundred years ago today for his heroic actions on the battlefield.

A black-and-white photograph of a military officer standing with a cane.

Lieutenant Charles S. Rutherford, VC, ca. 1914–1919 (a006703)

Born on January 9, 1892, in Colborne, Ontario, Rutherford was a farmer before the war. On March 2, 1916, he enlisted in Toronto, Ontario, joining the 83rd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a private. He arrived in France on June 10, 1916. Rutherford was a decorated soldier, earning the Military Medal on February 23, 1918, and the Military Cross on January 11, 1919. He was promoted to Lieutenant on April 28, 1918.

On August 26, 1918, while serving in the 5th Battle of the Scarpe, near Monchy, France, Rutherford was in command of an assault party. Finding himself noticeably ahead of his men, he observed an enemy party standing outside a pillbox. With his revolver, Rutherford beckoned them to come to him. Instead, they waved for him to approach. Through skillful bluffing, he convinced the enemy soldiers that they were surrounded. The party of 45 men, which included two officers and three machine guns, surrendered to him.

A black-and-white photograph of three people standing and posing for a photograph: a woman in a fur coat, a military officer with a cane, and a soldier with a cane and beret.

Lt. C.S. Rutherford, VC (centre), ca. 1914–1919 (a006705)

After capturing the party, he persuaded one of the enemy officers to stop a nearby machine gun from firing, which then allowed Rutherford’s men to advance to his position.

Beyond the pillbox, Rutherford saw that some of his assault party was held up by heavy machine-gun fire from another pillbox. With the support of the rest of his party, he attacked the pillbox with a Lewis gun section, successfully capturing an additional 35 prisoners and their machine guns. His leadership enabled his assault party to continue its advance.

As reported in the London Gazette two months later:

The bold and gallant action of this officer contributed very materially to the capture of the main objective and was a wonderful inspiration to all ranks in pressing home the attack on a very strong position.

London Gazette, No. 31012, November 12, 1918

On March 20, 1919, Rutherford was discharged through general demobilization.

He died in Ottawa, Ontario, on June 11, 1989, at the age of 97.

A black-and-white photograph of a military officer in a ceremonial uniform.

Captain Charles S. Rutherford, VC, Sergeant-at-Arms, Ontario Legislature, 1937 (a053785)

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant Charles Smith Rutherford.


Ashley Dunk is a project assistant in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Rugby now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of two rugby teams in a scrum for the ball. Two referees watch the play unfold.

Second rugby game at Godalming between Seaford and Witley, England [MIKAN 3385967]

British settlers and military personnel most likely introduced rugby to Canada during the early 1800s. Play and competition seemed to be informal until 1864 when F. Barlow Cumberland and Fred A. Bethune at Trinity College, Toronto, codified rules for Canada. The first Canadian match under these rules was held in Montréal between English regimental officers and civilians from McGill University.

A black-and-white photograph of injured rugby players. One player sits on a chair and has a head injury treated. A second player lies on the ground covered by a blanket. Spectators stand close to the players on the sideline.

Spectators and injured players on the sideline at the rugby football match between Canadians of Seaford and Witley, Godalming, England [MIKAN 3385975]

A black-and-white photograph of the McGill University rugby team, 1884-1885. James Naismith sits with his teammates (far-left of the second row of four).

McGill rugby team, 1884-1885 season (seated 2nd row, far left, James Naismith), Montréal, Quebec [MIKAN 3650079]

Provincial rugby clubs formed across the country where interprovincial play occurred and eventually international competition. Naturally, it was Canada (McGill University) versus the United States (Harvard University) in 1874!

A black-and-white photograph of the Senior University Rugby Team, Ontario. The members stand in a row at an angle with their left hands on their hips, and their right hands on the right shoulder of the person in front of them.

Senior university rugby team, Ontario [MIKAN 3715584]

The 20th century saw a continued growth of the sport as international teams visited Canada to play matches. Canada also sent teams to countries overseas such as Japan, England, Ireland, Argentina, and Australia. An important development of the game is the emergence of women participating in the sport. Starting in the early 1980s, clubs formed to play locally and internationally. There are over 30 women’s clubs across the country.

Visit the Flickr album now!

The Canadian Expeditionary Force digitization project is complete!

How does a cultural institution like Library and Archives Canada (LAC) complete a groundbreaking digital imaging project? By bringing together a great set of ingredients, of course! Blend a team of professionals. Add a dose of technological equipment and know-how. Mix dedication and hard work for five years. The satisfying result: a comprehensive research tool for Canadians and people around the world to use.

Before the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) document scanning could begin, over 260 kilograms of brass fasteners had to be carefully removed from the files. Then another team prepared the documents for scanning based on size and condition. This was followed by the actual digital imaging using various types of scanners. The CEF project was LAC’s largest digitization endeavour to date. At its peak, this project brought together more than 50 trained professionals.

With approximately 30 million pages digitized now that the project has come to an end, LAC has provided easy access to the records of 622,290* soldiers who enlisted in the CEF during the First World War. In addition, generating over half a petabyte of high-resolution still-image data enables LAC to better protect the documents themselves for future generations.

 

*Although the number of files was estimated at 640,000, the final file count was 622,290. This is because for the project, LAC digitally linked the documents of soldiers who enlisted multiple times and therefore had more than one file.

Sergeant Robert Spall, VC

In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day that they performed valiant actions for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today we commemorate Sergeant Robert Spall, whose valiant actions and self-sacrifice on August 12 and 13, 1918 earned him the Victoria Cross.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier.

Sergeant Robert Spall, VC, undated. Source: Wikimedia

Born in Ealing, Essex, England on March 5, 1890, Spall immigrated to Canada with his parents and settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was a customs broker before the war and was a member of the Active Militia. On July 28, 1915, Spall enlisted in Winnipeg, joining the 90th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). He arrived in France with the Winnipeg Rifles on February 13, 1916 at age 26. Later, the 90th Battalion would be absorbed by the 11th Reserve Battalion to provide reinforcements to the Canadian Corps. Eventually, Spall ended up in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI).

On August 12, 1918, German shells rained down on the PPCLI, the 116th Canadian Battalion, and the 42nd Canadian Battalion, keeping them in their respective trenches. Their objective was handed down at noon; in conjunction with the 42nd Battalion, PPCLI was to push the Germans out of Parvillers from the south. The plan was to move up to posts south of Parvillers held by the 9th Canadian Infantry and use them as jumping off points, while simultaneously bombing the trenches of the old German front line system and the trenches leading into Parvillers.

However, when the Company arrived at their assigned positions, it was discovered that the 9th Infantry did not control those points, and were still in the hands of the Germans. Despite the setback, the attack was to be carried out. At 8:00 p.m., the Canadians were met with heavy resistance, with little progress being made. Casualties were heavy on the German side as the Company pushed forward, with a bombing section moving down the German trench.

 black-and-white copy of a textual document with torn hole-punches on the left.

War diary from the PPCLI describing the attack when Spall fired at incoming German soldiers, August 1918, page 18, (MIKAN 2005881)

At 6:00 a.m. on August 13, 1918, the Germans counter-attacked heavily from Parvillers and Damery, coming out of the woods in a tight formation and attacking across the open. This sudden and vigorous attack forced the Company to retreat and head for the old German front line. In the mayhem, two platoons were cut off from the Company.

It is likely that Spall participated in this attack, and was instrumental in releasing his platoon from their locked position. Isolated with his platoon from the rest of the Company, Spall mounted the parapet armed with a Lewis automatic machine gun and fired directly at the oncoming German soldiers. He returned to the trench to motion to his platoon to move into a nearby sap 75 yards away from the enemy. He climbed back atop the parapet once more and continued his assault. It was at this time he was shot and killed. His insurmountable bravery and self-sacrifice allowed his men to rejoin the others, and his resourcefulness with the Lewis gun resulted in heavy German casualties.

A beige document with lines separating boxes, a red check mark, and a large purple stamp reading “Vimy Memorial.”

Sergeant Robert Spall’s Commonwealth War Graves Register, Vol. 31830_B034454, Page 845, August 22, 1918.

His citation read:

…during an enemy counter-attack, his platoon was isolated. Thereupon Sjt. Spall took a Lewis gun and standing on the parapet fired upon the advancing enemy, inflicting very severe casualties. He then came down the trench directing the men into a sap seventy-five yards from the enemy. Picking up another Lewis gun, this gallant N.C.O. again climbed the parapet, and by his fire held up the enemy. It was while holding up the enemy at this point that he was killed.

Sjt. Spall deliberately gave his life in order to extricate his platoon from a most difficult situation, and it was owing to his bravery that the platoon was saved.

London Gazette, Supplement 30975, October 25, 1918

Spall’s body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. His name can also be found on the cenotaph in Barrie Military Heritage Park.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Sergeant Robert Spall.

Lieutenant Thomas Dinesen

By Ashley Dunk

In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day they performed heroically in battle, and were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Lieutenant Thomas Dinesen and his bravery during the Battle of Amiens in France on August 12, 1918.

A black-and-white portrait photograph of a soldier.

Lieutenant Thomas Dinesen, undated. Source: Wikimedia

Born on August 9, 1892 to an affluent and aristocratic family in Rungsted, Denmark, Thomas Fasti Dinesen was a civil engineer when he tried on multiple occasions to enlist with armies from various countries. He was unsuccessful in joining the French Army, the British Army, and the American Army. On June 26, 1917, he successfully enlisted with the 2nd Reinforcing Company of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). Dinesen served in the 20th Reserve Battalion before his transfer to the 42nd Battalion Royal Highlanders, known as the Black Watch of Canada.

On the night of August 11 to early August 12, 1918, the 42nd Battalion was sent in as relief to the old British front line, Parvillers sector, France. The Allied advance had been held up at this point due to impenetrable barbed wire separating the old British and German front lines. The objective was to take Parvillers by a bombing attack and capture the well-defended German trench. Around 10 o’clock on the morning of August 12, men were sent over to the jumping-off point along the northern side of the Rouvroy-Fouquescourt road in pairs at varying intervals to go unnoticed by the enemy. Only after the attack was well underway did the Germans try to hinder the approaching Canadians with a barrage. By mid-afternoon, Canadian soldiers simultaneously entered the enemy trenches, and they were met with counter-attacks. The Canadians  inflicted heavy German casualties and captured several machine guns.

A black-and-white copy of a textual record with four paragraphs and a handwritten “2” at the top of the page.

War diary appendix from the 42nd Canadian Infantry Battalion detailing the offensive on August 11–12, 1918, p. 26 (e001110175).

It was during this Allied offensive known as the Battle of Amiens that Dinesen earned his Victoria Cross as a private. On the last day of the battle, he rushed forward and single-handedly through heavy German counter-attacks and put hostile machine guns out of action. Engaging in hand-to-hand combat with his bayonet and bombs, Dinesen killed 12 enemy soldiers. His vigorous efforts over 10 hours resulted in the successful capture of more than 1.5 kilometres of fiercely defended German trenches at Parvillers.

In recognition for his gallantry, the French government awarded Dinesen the Croix de Guerre. Later he was commissioned as an officer in November 1918, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant.

A black-and-white photograph of six soldiers wearing helmets sitting in a large hole in the mud. Some are eating, while others are holding guns and facing away from the camera.

Canadians resting in a shell hole made by their own artillery, August 1918 (a002859).

He died in Leerbaek, Denmark on March 10, 1979. His Victoria Cross is on display in the Ashcroft Gallery of the Imperial War Museum.

After the war, Dinesen wrote and published a number of books in Danish, including a memoir about his experience trying to enlist, as well as the events that earned him the Victoria Cross titled, No Man’s Land: En Dansker Med Canadierne Ved Vestfronten. In 1930, it was translated into English under the title Merry Hell!: A Dane with the Canadians. A copy of the English translation can be consulted on-site at Library and Archives Canada.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant Thomas Dinesen.


Ashley Dunk is a project assistant in the Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch of Library and Archives Canada.