Piper James Cleland Richardson, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson

Today’s blog post for the series First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross Recipients tells the story of Piper James Cleland Richardson, awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for gallantry during the Battle of the Ancre Heights on October 8, 1916 at Regina Trench, Somme, France.

A black-and-white photograph of a young man wearing a kilt and sporran, holding a baton in his left hand and leaning on a sculptural shelf.

Piper James Cleland Richardson, VC, 16th Battalion, CEF. (MIKAN 3192331)

Born in Bellshill, Scotland, on November 25, 1895, Richardson immigrated to British Columbia where he served as a piper in the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. In September 1914, he enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and went overseas as part of a large Seaforth contingent of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish).

On October 8, 1916, Richardson’s company was held up by uncut barbed wire and intense fire as they attacked German positions at Regina Trench. Richardson’s commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Cyrus Peck, later wrote of Richardson’s extraordinary courage. As the unit lay trapped in the shell holes of “no man’s land,” Richardson, a teenager who had played the company “over the top,” sought the commander’s permission to play his pipes again. In full view of the Germans, he marched up and down the wire entanglements playing his pipes where his fellow soldiers lay. His citation for the Victoria Cross states, “The effect was instantaneous. Inspired by his splendid example, the company rushed the wire with such fury and determination that the obstacle was overcome and the position captured” (London Gazette, no. 30967, October 22, 1918).

Amazingly, Richardson survived the attack and was detailed to take a wounded comrade and several prisoners of war to the rear. Realizing that he had left his bagpipes behind, he returned to recover them. Richardson was never again seen alive.

A black-and-white handwritten page describing the daily events leading up to the day of the action for which Piper James Cleland Richardson received the Victoria Cross.

War diary of the 16th Battalion for October 1–8, which describes the days leading up to the attack on Regina Ridge. (MIKAN 2034171)

The remains of James Cleland Richardson were located in 1920 and he is now buried in Adanac Military Cemetery near Albert, France. His bagpipes, long believed lost to the Somme mud, were identified in 2002 as being in the possession of Ardvreck Preparatory School in Scotland, part of a 1917 donation by British Army Chaplain Major Edward Yeld Bate. They are now on display at the British Columbia Legislature.

Black-and-white photograph of a young man in military uniform holding his bagpipes.

Piper James Cleland Richardson, VC, and bagpipes, 16th Canadian Infantry Battalion, CEF. (MIKAN 4922009)

Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file for Piper James Cleland Richardson. The James Richardson fonds contains his Victoria Cross certificate as well as an exercise book from his early schooling.


Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

Canadians at the Naval Battle of Jutland, May 31–June 1, 1916

By Alex Comber

A century ago, the largest naval battle of the First World War took place off the coast of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula. More than 250 warships of the Royal Navy and the Imperial German Navy manoeuvred to get ready for action.  The first salvoes of long-range cannon fire were discharged at 14:30 on May 31, 1916, and the ensuing clash lasted into the morning of June 1. With three British battle cruisers and 11 other ships destroyed, and more than twice as many sailors killed and injured, British naval power seemed to have suffered a setback. However, in a strategic sense, the smaller German fleet could not afford its more modest losses, and Kaiser Wilhelm II’s military commanders avoided a similar fleet battle for the duration of the War, focusing instead on submarine attacks.

A black-and-white photograph showing three large warships.

HMAS AUSTRALIA, HMS NEW ZEALAND, HMS INDOMITABLE, Second Battle cruiser Squadron ca. 1917–1919. This unit was at Jutland, where one of its ships, HMS INDEFATIGABLE, was destroyed (MIKAN 3400004)

In many regions of Canada, there were very strong pro-imperial sentiments and cultural ties to Britain. Many had recently emigrated, and still had family back in the “old country.” Though there was a small Canadian Navy (created in 1910), many residents of Canada and of the Dominion of Newfoundland volunteered to serve with the Royal Navy in a variety of roles. With ports across the British Empire and the prospect of an alternative to a soldier’s life in the trenches of the Western Front, there was much to appeal to recruits.

A black-and-white recruitment poster showing the silhouette of a sailor with ship’s guns and the following words: Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve – Overseas Division wants men ages 18 to 38, seamen & stokers. Join today. No previous experience necessary. Apply at nearest recruiting office.

Recruitment poster for the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve Overseas Division, appealing to Canadians to serve in British ships overseas (MIKAN 3635562)

Careful searching of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s online casualty database reveals that at least a dozen of the approximately six thousand sailors killed serving in the British Fleet at Jutland came from Canada or Newfoundland. Stanley de Quetteville, a member of the Royal Canadian Navy, was attached to the Royal Navy and served in the massive battle cruiser HMS INDEFATIGABLE. He was originally from the English Channel island of Jersey and had emigrated to Canada in the years before the First World War in search of opportunities. A qualified engineer, he enlisted in 1910 and had served on the cruiser HMCS NIOBE, one of Canada’s first ships. He married Phyllis Fisher of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1915.

A black-and-white photograph showing a group of men sitting or standing on the deck of a ship. The photo is mounted on a black background with the words “Gun Room” written at the top and a list of names at the bottom.

Members of the Gunroom, HMCS NIOBE, Halifax, N.S. Taken 1910–1911. Several of these young men went on to become important figures in the Royal Canadian Navy. Stanley Nelson De Quetteville is shown standing, the third officer from the right (MIKAN 3398852)

De Quetteville died at 16:03 on May 31, when HMS INDEFATIGABLE exploded after being hit by accurate shellfire from the German Dreadnought VON DER TANN. Of the crew of 1,019 men, there were only two survivors. The Minister of the Naval Service, J. D. Hazen, sent his widow a letter of condolence, which reads: “I wish to express to you not only my personal sympathy, but that of the whole Canadian Naval Service, which, in his death, has lost an Officer of undoubted ability and great promise. That he died a sailor’s death, in action against the King’s enemies, and in defence of the Empire, must be to you some consolation in your great sorrow.” Today, Mount Indefatigable in the Canadian Rockies stands as a tribute to de Quetteville and his fellow crew members.


Alex Comber is a Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division.

Jeremiah “Jerry” Jones

This Black History Month, Library and Archives Canada highlights the service of black Canadians during the First World War. While all Canadians were equally caught up in the patriotism of the early part of the war and the opportunities offered by military service, black Canadians had difficulty enlisting due to the racism of the era. Although there was no official or explicitly stated policy of exclusion, the Canadian military left recruitment decisions to the discretion of individual commanding officers. Black Canadian volunteers along with those from other minority groups were left to enlist in whichever regiments would accept them. A special unit, the No. 2 Construction Battalion, was formed by members of the black community in Nova Scotia. The battalion, whose members weren’t allowed to fight, dug trenches, repaired roads, and attracted hundreds of recruits from across Canada and even the United States.

A sepia-coloured photograph of a man in uniform wearing an officer’s belt and cap holding a baton in both hands across his upper thighs.

Jeremiah “Jerry” Jones, First World War private taken by an unknown photographer, from the personal collection of the Jones family (Wikipedia)

Among those black Canadians who volunteered and served was Jeremiah “Jerry” Jones, a Nova Scotian soldier who enlisted with the 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) in June 1916. Born in East Mountain, Nova Scotia on March 30, 1858, Jones was over 50 years old when he enlisted and lied about his age in order to join the army. Jones was sent overseas, where he transferred to the Royal Canadian Regiment and saw combat on the front lines in France, including the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. During the battle, with his unit pinned down by machine gun fire, Jones moved forward alone to attack the German gun emplacement. He reached the machine gun nest and threw a grenade that killed several German soldiers. The survivors surrendered to Jones, who had them carry the machine gun back to the Canadian lines and present it to his commanding officer. It is reported that Jones was recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions, though no record exists to show that he ever received the medal. In the decades following the war, the Truro Daily News and Senator Calvin Ruck highlighted Jones’ bravery and lobbied to have the Canadian government formally recognize his actions. Ruck in particular argued that the racist sentiment of the time had prevented Jones and other black soldiers from being properly recognized for their heroism.

A nominal list showing the regimental number, rank, name, former corps, name of next of kin, address of next of kin, country of birth, and the place and date on which they were taken on strength.

Entry for Jeremiah Jones in the “Nominal Roll of Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men” of the 106th Battalion (MIKAN 2006098)

Jones was injured at the Battle of Vimy Ridge and again at the Battle of Passchendaele. He was formally discharged in Halifax in early 1918 after being found medically unfit. He died in November 1950. Jeremiah Jones was posthumously awarded the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service on February 22, 2010.

The Carignan-Salières Regiment

The colony of New France was in a precarious situation when France’s King Louis XIV acceded to the throne in 1661. The population and safety of the colony were a priority for him. In order to increase the population, the first contingent of the Filles du roi (“King’s daughters”) was sent there in 1663. Two years later, in 1665, the Carignan-Salières Regiment disembarked in New France to ensure the safety of the colony and, more specifically, to deal with the Iroquois threat.

A pen and watercolour sketch depicting an officer in the Carignan-Salières Regiment in profile. He is holding a lance in his right hand and wearing a sheathed sword on his left hip.

Officer of the Carignan-Salières Regiment, 1666 (MIKAN 2896020)

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Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of November 2015

As of today, 217,062 of 640,000 files are available online via our Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918 database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box #3121 and surname Fitzpatrick.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Born to Serve: Georges P. Vanier

Born in Montréal on April 23, 1888, Georges Vanier would feel the influence of his bilingual parents throughout his life. After graduating from high school, he attended Loyola College and then the Université Laval where he received a law degree in 1911. He started practicing law thereafter, although priesthood was also on his mind. It was the outbreak of the First World War however, that eventually grabbed his attention and he enlisted in the Canadian Army. He was a strong recruiter and played an important role in the creation of the French-Canadian 22nd Battalion. It was also during the war that he was injured and had to have his right leg amputated.

A black-and-white photograph showing a man smiling broadly in an officer’s uniform with cap.

Major Georges P. Vanier of the 22nd Battalion, June 1918 (MIKAN 3192070)

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Nursing Sisters

The incredible contribution of Canadian nursing sisters in the First World War can be best appreciated by examining their experiences during service. Women left their families and homes to answer the call to duty and serve their country. Their dedication to their work, to Canada and, most importantly, to their patients, serves to measure the profound effect they had on the Canadian war effort.

A black-and-white photograph showing a woman in a nursing sister uniform sitting on the edge of a table. She is looking directly at the photographer and has a slight smile.

An unidentified nursing sister (MIKAN 3523169)

Library and Archives Canada holds a variety of materials on the history of military nurses, both published and archival. Below you will find a few examples:

A closer look at their daily lives

There are several recent publications that shed light on the varied experiences of nursing sisters during the Great War. Some focus on the individual accounts of nurses:

Pat Staton’s It Was Their War Too: Canadian Women and World War I offers a more general perspective of their contribution to the war effort.

A black-and-white photograph showing two nursing sisters standing by the bedsides of two wounded men.

Two nursing sisters with wounded soldiers in a ward room at the Queen’s Canadian Military Hospital in Shorncliffe, Kent, England, ca. 1916 (MIKAN 3604423)

In the archival collection, we are lucky to have the complete fonds for six of these nursing sisters, which allows us to delve deeper into what it was like for these women in the field. Learn more about Sophie Hoerner and Alice Isaacson who both served in France, or Dorothy Cotton who served in Russia. If that is not enough, you can learn about Anne E. Ross, Laura Gamble and Ruby Peterkin who all served in Greece.

Looking for a specific nursing sister?

If you are looking for information about a nursing sister who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, you will likely find it in the database Soldiers of the First World War. Generally, nursing sisters can easily be identified by their rank, usually indicated by “NS”. It is also important to note that that many women served with the British Forces through the Victorian Order of Nurses or St. John Ambulance.

Other resources:

Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients: Captain Francis Alexander Caron Scrimger, VC

Today, our series First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients remembers the fourth Canadian Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War –Captain Francis Alexander Caron Scrimger, VC.

One hundred years ago, on April 25, 1915, Captain Francis Alexander Caron Scrimger was the doctor overseeing treatment at No. 2 Field Ambulance in a farmhouse near Wiltje, Belgium, on the St. Julien-Ypres road. It had been three days since the German army forced a major gap in the Allied lines. The German artillery had the area under intense bombardment and the enemy infantry were within sight of the dressing station. Scrimger, who earned a Victoria Cross for his actions on that day, remained through heavy fire to direct the evacuation of the wounded from the dressing station. As the last person to leave, he carried a badly wounded man, Captain Macdonald, out of the farmhouse and onto the road where the bombardment forced him to stop and protect Macdonald with his own body until a lull in the gunfire.

black-and-white photograph showing a young man, in military uniform, with a moustache and glasses looking directly at the photographer.

Capt. F.A.C. Scrimger, V.C. (C.A.M.C.) (MIKAN 3220991)

Captain Scrimger’s citation in the London Gazette tells the rest of the story:

When [Scrimger] was unable alone to carry [Captain Macdonald] further, he remained with him under fire till help could be obtained. During the very heavy fighting between 22nd and 25th April, Captain Scrimger displayed continuously day and night the greatest devotion to his duty among the wounded at the front (London Gazette, no. 29202, June 23 1915).

Captain Francis Alexander Caron Scrimger was born in Montreal, Quebec, on February 10, 1881 and earned his medical degree from McGill University in 1905. He served in the First World War as a Surgeon Captain with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, 14th Battalion, Royal Montreal Regiment. Scrimger survived the war and later worked as an assistant surgeon, then surgeon-in-chief, at Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital. He died in Montreal on February 13, 1937.

Black-and-white photograph showing four men standing outside the entrance to a building.  In the background, there’s a nurse and a man looking on the scene.

Group of delegates attending the Clinical Congress of Surgeons of America (including Colonel Scrimger, VC, second from the left in the foreground), 1920 (MIKAN 3260187)

Library and Archives Canada holds the Canadian Expeditionary Force service file for Captain Francis Alexander Caron Scrimger.

Other Resources

Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients – Lieutenant Edward Donald Bellew and Company Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall

The second installment of our First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients series remembers the actions of Lieutenant Edward Donald Bellew and Company Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall.

Lieutenant Edward Donald Bellew, VC

On April 24, 1915, Lieutenant Edward Donald Bellew, a 32-year-old officer with the 7th (1st British Columbia) Battalion, was fighting near Keerselaere, Belgium in the Ypres Salient to repel the German assaults on the Allied line following the first successful use of poison gas by the German army.

As those around him fell, either killed or wounded, and without hope of reinforcements, Lieutenant Bellew manned one of the battalion’s two machine guns. He and Sargent Hugh Pearless stayed with their machine guns, positioned on high ground overlooking the advancing German troops, despite being nearly surrounded by the enemy.

Bellew’s Victoria Cross citation in the London Gazette describes that even as Sargent Pearless was killed and Lieutenant Bellew wounded, Bellew “maintained his fire till ammunition failed and the enemy rushed the position. Lieutenant Bellew then seized a rifle, smashed his machine gun, and fighting to the last, was taken prisoner” (London Gazette, no. 31340, May 15, 1919). For his actions, Sargent Pearless posthumously received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

 

Black-and-white reproduction of a typed account of the 7th Canadian Infantry Battalion during the period when Lieutenant Bellew performed the actions for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Extract from the War diaries – 7th Canadian Infantry Battalion (MIKAN 1883213)

Lieutenant Bellew remained a prisoner of war in Germany until December 1917, when, due to the ongoing effects of being gassed at Ypres, he was transferred to Switzerland. Shortly after the end of the War, in December 1918, he was repatriated to England, where he spent another two months in hospital before returning to Canada. He returned to British Columbia, where he worked as a civil engineer. He died in Kamloops on February 1, 1961.

Company Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall, VC

On the night of April 23, in the midst of fierce fighting in the Ypres Salient, Company Sergeant-Major Hall of the 8th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, realized that several of the men of his company were missing. Twice during the night, alerted by the moans of the wounded, he ventured out into no man’s land to retrieve the injured. Early in the morning of the 24th, as a wounded soldier called for help 15 yards from his trench, Hall and two others, Lance Corporal John Arthur Kenneth Payne and Private John Rogerson, crawled out to reach him. When both Payne and Rogerson were wounded, Company Sergeant-Major Hall persisted in his effort to save the wounded.

Black-and-white photograph of a young soldier, in military uniform, with a moustache sitting in a chair.

Sergeant-Major Frederick W. Hall, VC (MIKAN 3216472)

Company Sergeant-Major Hall’s citation in the London Gazette recounts that after his first attempt failed, “Company Sergeant-Major Hall then made a second most gallant attempt, and was in the act of lifting up the wounded man to bring him in when he fell mortally wounded in the head.” The soldier that Hall was attempting to rescue was also killed.

Sketch of a map of the trenches where the 8th Canadian Infantry Battalion was engaged in the first battle of Ypres.

Map extracted from the war diaries of the 8th Canadian Infantry Battalion. (MIKAN 1883215)

Frederick William Hall, and two other Victoria Cross recipients, Leo Clarke and Robert Shankland, lived on Pine Street in Winnipeg, Manitoba before the war. Pine Street was renamed Valour Road in 1925 to honour the three men.

Library and Archives Canada holds the Canadian Expeditionary Force service file for Lieutenant Edward Donald Bellew and Company Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall.

First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross Recipients – Battle of Second Ypres

In the first week of April 1915, members of the 1st Canadian Division, including many of the earliest volunteers of the war, were moved north from Bethune, France to the active section of the line near Ypres, Belgium. A medieval Belgian city, Ypres was the scene of one of the war’s earliest and bloodiest battles in 1914 and had assumed great strategic importance. When the front stabilized in November 1914, the Allied lines bulged out around the city into the German line, forming a salient, surrounded on three sides by higher ground.

On April 22, 1915, in an effort to eliminate the salient, Germany became the first nation to use chemical weapons, releasing over 160 tons of chlorine gas across the Allied front. Members of the 1st Canadian Division, who had been in their trenches barely a week, found themselves desperately trying to defend a 6.5-kilometre gap in the Allied lines as the French division to their left crumbled in the face of Germany’s new weapon. The chlorine gas clung to the ground and filled the trenches, forcing the troops to climb out and into the path of heavy machine-gun and artillery fire.

A black-and-white photograph showing a city completely destroyed by war. A column of troops, most on horseback, are travelling through it.

A scene of the destroyed city of Ypres, showing the Cathedral, Cloth Hall, and Canadian troops passing through, November 1917 (MIKAN 3194491)

A black-and-white photograph of an ornate gothic building and other adjacent buildings.

The Cathedral and Cloth Hall in Ypres, before the Great War (MIKAN 3329077)

German troops moved forward but, having planned only a limited offensive and lacking adequate protection against their own chemical weapons, they were unable to exploit the break in the line. Throughout the night and the subsequent days, Canadian and British troops struggled to maintain the line. Canadians mounted a counterattack at Kitchener’s Wood (derived from Bois-de-Cuisinères) and endured the terrible fighting at St. Julian: their Canadian-made rifles jamming in the mud, and soldiers violently sick and gasping for air. Somehow, they managed to hold the line until reinforcements arrived on April 28. The losses were tremendous: 6,035 Canadians (or one in three soldiers) became casualties by the time the 1st Canadian Division was relieved. This toll among an army whose members had almost all been civilians just months prior.

At Second Ypres, the Canadians were initiated into the horrors of modern warfare, and from this moment on they would continue to develop into a highly respected formation in the Allied forces.

From April 23 to 25, as part of our series, First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross Recipients, we will tell the stories of Lance-Corporal Frederick Fisher, Lieutenant Edward Donald Bellew, Company Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall, and Captain Francis Alexander Caron Scrimger.

View the Flickr album – Canada at Ypres