Private Thomas Ricketts, VC

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, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Newfoundland’s Private Thomas Ricketts and his selfless bravery demonstrated at Ledeghem, Belgium.

A black-and-white copy of a newspaper clipping. “Proclamation!” is written in large, capital letters at the top of the clipping.

Seeking recruits to the 1st Newfoundland Regiment, The Daily News, August 22, 1914 (Source: The Rooms)

At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Newfoundland was a dominion of the British Empire. In order to support the British Army and war effort, Newfoundland recruited a volunteer army, garnering enough men to outfit and sustain a battalion throughout the entirety of the war. Two additional battalions were later added: the 2nd Reserve Battalion, mostly stationed at Ayr, Scotland, and the 3rd Battalion, responsible for recruiting and training in St. John’s. In 1917, in recognition of their courageous actions and heroic participation during the battles of Ypres and Cambrai in France, King George V bestowed the regiment with the prefix “Royal”.

A sepia photograph of a soldier in uniform with a Victoria Cross and a Croix de Guerre pinned to his chest.

Private Thomas Ricketts, VC, undated (Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

 

Born in Middle Arm, White Bay, Newfoundland, on April 15, 1901, to John and Amelia (Cassels) Ricketts, Thomas Ricketts enlisted with the 1st Battalion, Newfoundland Regiment, on September 2, 1916. He was underage—only 15 years old—when he volunteered, but claimed to be 18 on his attestation papers. His deception went unnoticed and he was accepted. He embarked for England with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and during his service was shot in the leg in November 1917. Ricketts returned to his regiment in the spring of 1918, after recovering.

On October 14, 1918, the 1st Battalion was participating in the advance from Ledeghem, east of Ypres, in Belgium. The regiment had been fighting through rolling smoke and mist to push back the Germans and capture enemy pillboxes and weapons. By mid-morning, the mist had burned off, revealing a stream, the Wulfdambeek. Forced to cross it, the regiment was exposed to enemy fire. They suffered heavy casualties and soon after were pinned down by enemy shelling. Unable to call on their own artillery fire to combat the German shelling, the only solution was to disable the enemy battery and weapons and to kill the enemy soldiers.

Ricketts volunteered to run forward with his section commander, toting a Lewis machine gun in an effort to outflank the battery. They rushed forward in short advances under heavy machine gun fire, and soon ran out of ammunition, still 300 yards away from the battery. The Germans saw an opportunity to move up their gun teams to take out the advancing pair while they were vulnerable. Ricketts realized the situation and retreated 100 yards under debilitating machine gun fire to retrieve more ammunition. Upon his return with additional resources, he adeptly handled the Lewis gun, driving the enemy and gun teams back to a nearby farm. With the threats removed, the platoon advanced without casualties and captured four field guns, four machine guns, and eight prisoners. Later, a fifth gun was intercepted and captured.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in uniform, angled away from the camera.

Private Thomas Ricketts, undated (Source: National Defence)

As recounted in the London Gazette:

By his presence of mind in anticipating the enemy intention and his utter disregard for personal safety, Pte. Ricketts secured the further supply of ammunition which directly resulted in these important captures and undoubtedly saved many lives.

London Gazette, no. 31108, p. 309, January 6, 1919

Ricketts survived the remainder of the war and was discharged on June 17, 1919, for demobilization. He was invested with the Victoria Cross by King George V on January 19, 1919, at Sandringham, England, when he was only 17 years old, the youngest Victoria Cross army combatant recipient. He returned to Newfoundland a war hero. Upon his return home, he returned to school and later became a pharmacist. In addition to his Victoria Cross, Ricketts was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Golden Star for his gallantry.

He died in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on March 21, 1967.

Rickett’s Victoria Cross and Croix de Guerre is on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file for Private Thomas Ricketts.

Tag pictures and give history a hand

You can tag the images in this blog! Immerse yourself in the CEF digitized files and transcribe, tag, translate and describe their content. Every addition to a record becomes new metadata, searchable within 24 hours, helping LAC’s records become more “discoverable” day after day. Visit the blog article explaining how you can give a hand to history!


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

Lieutenant Wallace Lloyd Algie, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson

On this day in 1918, Lieutenant Wallace Lloyd Algie was killed in action northeast of Cambrai, France. His actions on that day would lead to his posthumous award of the Victoria Cross.

Wallace Lloyd Algie was born on June 10, 1891, in Alton, Ontario, the son of James and Rachel Algie of Toronto. He graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada and volunteered in the active militia with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and the 40th Regiment, serving as a lieutenant.

A black-and-white photograph of an officer wearing a peak cap.

Lieutenant Wallace Lloyd Algie, undated. Source: Directorate of History and Heritage (National Defence and the Canadian Forces)

Algie was a bank clerk in Toronto before enlisting as an officer in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) on April 19, 1916. He sailed on the SS Laconia on September 25, 1916, and was attached to the 95th Battalion upon arrival at Seaford, England. He proceeded to the European theatre with the 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion on May 26, 1917. He completed various officer training courses, including one on the Lewis Gun.

On October 11, 1918, the 27-year-old lieutenant was leading his troops in the 20th Battalion of the CEF near the village of Cambrai, France, when they came under intense machine-gun fire from a nearby village. His citation in the London Gazette, January 28, 1919, tells the story of the actions that led to his death and the awarding of the Victoria Cross:

“For most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice on the 11th October, 1918, north-east of Cambrai, when the attaching troops which came under heavy enfilade machine-gun fire from a neighbouring village. Rushing forward with nine volunteers, he shot the crew of an enemy machine gun, and, turning it on the enemy, enabled his party to reach the village. He then rushed another machine gun, killed the crew, captured an officer and 10 enemy, and thereby cleared the end of the village. Lt. Algie, having established his party, went back for reinforcements, but was killed when leading them forward. His valour and personal initiative in the face of intense fire saved many lives and enabled the position to be held.”

Lieutenant Wallace Lloyd Algie is buried in Niagara Cemetery, Iwuy, France.

A typed page detailing the events of October 10 to 11, 1918.

War diary page of the 20th Canadian Infantry Battalion explaining Lieutenant Algie’s actions for the day (e000960948)

Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file for Lieutenant Wallace Lloyd Algie.


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

Captain Coulson Norman Mitchell, VC

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, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Captain Coulson Norman Mitchell and his courageous acts at the Canal de l’Escaut, France, from October 8 to 9, 1918.

A black-and-white photograph of an officer in uniform.

Captain Coulson Norman Mitchell, VC, ca. 1918 (c001595)

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on December 11, 1889, Mitchell was a civil engineer before enlisting as a private with the Canadian Railway Construction Corps on January 21, 1915. In 1916, he became a lieutenant and joined the 1st Tunneling Company, Canadian Engineers. Mitchell was promoted to captain in 1917 after receiving the Military Cross for his gallantry. In 1918, Mitchell was posted to the 4th Battalion, Canadian Engineers. During his time with the 4th Battalion, he performed a heroic feat that helped to ensure Allied success at the Canal de l’Escaut, northeast of Cambrai, France.

A black-and-white photograph of a dried-out canal with a crooked bridge in the background. A bridge in the middle distance has a horse-drawn carriage crossing it with supplies. Throughout the photo, soldiers are moving about, and some are carrying supplies.

Canadians constructing a bridge to move supports and supplies, Canal du Nord, France, September 1918 (a003285)

After the end of the Battle of Canal du Nord on October 1, 1918, Allied soldiers were intent on entering and clearing the town of Cambrai. Previous offensives had opened some roads into the town, and now a further manoeuvre was needed to bring in the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. German resistance was strong to the northeast of Cambrai, and the Canadians aimed to capture and move beyond the town. The following days would see a Canadian offensive, with Canadian forces liberating French villages against stubborn German resistance.

On the night of October 8 to 9, 1918, Mitchell led a party of sappers (soldiers responsible for building and repairing roads and bridges, and clearing mines) on a reconnaissance mission near Cambrai. Their task was to go beyond the security of the Canadian front lines to inspect bridges over which the Canadian 5th Infantry Brigade planned to advance. The goal was to prevent these bridges from being demolished. After coming across one bridge that had been destroyed, Mitchell and his team moved on to the next bridge, which stretched across the Canal de l’Escaut.

A black-and-white photograph of a town with damaged buildings, with stone and rubble heaped in the middle. One soldier is bent to the ground beside a large pile of debris. A nearby soldier standing to the left is watching him.

Canadian Engineers looking for mines in Cambria, France, October 1918 (a003271)

Under heavy barrage and in total darkness, Mitchell ran across the bridge, unaware of the enemy’s positions or strength. He discovered that the Germans had prepared it for demolition. With the assistance of a non-commissioned officer, he cut the detonation wires and removed the explosive charge. When the Germans realized that their explosives were being removed, they moved toward the bridge to set off the detonations. Seeing that his sentry was wounded, Mitchell rushed forward to assist. He killed three German soldiers and took 12 prisoners. Saving the bridge helped to assure the later success of the 5th Infantry Brigade’s operations.

As recounted in the London Gazette:

Then under heavy fire he continued his task of cutting wires and removing charges, which he well knew might at any moment have been fired by the enemy. It was entirely due to his valour and decisive action that this important bridge across the canal was saved from destruction.

London Gazette, no. 31155, January 31, 1919, pp. 1503.

A black-and-white photograph of an officer in uniform.

Captain Coulson Norman Mitchell, VC, ca. 1918 (c001594)

Mitchell served in the Canadian Engineers until April 28, 1919, when he left during general demobilization. He returned to Canada after the war and resumed his career as a civil engineer. During the Second World War, he commanded engineering units in Britain. In 1943, he returned to Canada as a lieutenant-colonel in charge of an engineering training centre. After the war, he returned to his civilian career once again.

Mitchell’s service in both world wars has been commemorated in a variety of locations. In Manitoba, Coulson Mitchell Lake was named in his honour. In Montréal, a street and a branch of the Royal Canadian Legion bear his name. The main building of the Canadian Forces School of Military Engineering at the Canadian Army Base in Gagetown, New Brunswick, also carries his name.

Mitchell passed away at his home in Montréal on November 17, 1978.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Captain Coulson Norman Mitchell.

Transcribe war diaries or tag pictures, and give history a hand!

The War Diaries of the Canadian Engineers are open for you to transcribe, tag, translate and describe their contents. Every addition to a record becomes new metadata, searchable within 24 hours, helping Library and Archives Canada’s records become more “discoverable” day after day. Visit the blog article explaining how you can give a hand to history!


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

Sergeant William Merrifield, VC

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, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Sergeant William Merrifield and his gallant actions near Abancourt, France, on October 1, 1918.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in uniform.

Sergeant William Merrifield, VC, undated. Source: National Defence and the Canadian Forces

Born in Brentwood, Essex, England, on October 9, 1890, Merrifield was a firefighter before the outbreak of the First World War. He enlisted on September 23, 1914, at Valcartier, Quebec, joining the 2nd Battalion (Canadian Mounted Rifles) of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In 1917, he joined the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion. For his bravery in November 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele, Merrifield received the Military Medal.

As September 1918 drew to a close, the Battle of Canal du Nord in France was also near its end. The Canadians stationed around the battlefield were engaged in regular patrols and reconnaissance missions. Allied artillery, including 6-inch guns and 60-pounders, fired continually, but the shells often fell short of their targets in the German trenches. In one instance, the Allies accidentally shelled and destroyed one of their own Lewis guns and caused casualties among their own soldiers. The Germans stubbornly defended their trenches, making the Canadians’ objective of breaking through the lines very difficult.

On October 1, 1918, near Abancourt, Merrifield and his men were under fire from two enemy machine-gun posts. Unable to advance further because of the German guns, Merrifield decided to attack both posts single-handedly to eliminate them. Dashing from shell hole to shell hole, he killed the enemy soldiers in the first post and sustained wounds during the assault. In spite of his injuries, he pressed on to the second post, killing its occupants with a hand grenade. He remained in battle and continued to lead his platoon until he was severely wounded.

A black-and-white copy of a typed textual record, with handwritten signatures down the right side of the page.

War Diaries, 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion, describing some events from October 1, 1918, page 4 (e001078521)

Merrifield survived the remainder of the war and was discharged on April 24, 1919, in general demobilization. He moved to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He died in Toronto on August 8, 1943.

A public elementary school in Sault Ste. Marie was named after Merrifield; William Merrifield V.C. Public School in the Algoma District School Board was open from 1946 until June 2015. And Merrifield Outdoor Rink is located at the corner of Henrietta Avenue and Patrick Street in Sault Ste. Marie.

As well, the 56th Field Artillery Regiment in Brantford, Ontario, dedicated its armoury (Sergeant William Merrifield VC Armoury) to his memory.

Merrifield’s Victoria Cross was donated to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Sergeant William Merrifield.

Want to experience life during a time of war?

The War Diaries of the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion are open for you to transcribe, tag, translate and describe their contents. Every addition to a record becomes new metadata, searchable within 24 hours, helping Library and Archives Canada’s records become more “discoverable” day after day. Visit the blog article explaining how you can give a hand to history!

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

Captain John MacGregor, VC

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, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Captain John MacGregor and his bravery during the Battle of Canal du Nord near Cambrai, France, between September 29 and October 3, 1918.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling soldier in his service dress uniform.

Captain John MacGregor, VC, April 1919 (a004598-v8)

Born near Nairn, Scotland, on February 11, 1888, John MacGregor moved to Canada in 1909. He was a carpenter before he enlisted with the 11th Canadian Mounted Rifles of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) on March 26, 1915. MacGregor had served for three years with the Garrison Artillery in Nairn. During the First World War, he was a decorated soldier, earning several military awards including the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the Military Cross and the Bar to Military Cross.

MacGregor rose quickly through the ranks in the CEF, starting with a promotion to sergeant in 1916, then to lieutenant in 1917, and finally to captain in 1918. He was wounded twice in the line of duty and invalided for a period with influenza; his resilience helped him through the war and served him well in combat. By September 1918, he was assigned to the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion in France, fighting as part of Canadian Corps operations to break across the Canal du Nord and capture the roads leading into Cambrai.

A black-and-white photograph of four people standing and looking toward the camera.

Captain John MacGregor, VC, between two unidentified women, with Lieutenant R. Darcus, MC (a006914-v8)

During the Battle of Canal du Nord, MacGregor led the battalion’s “C” Company under intense pressure from the German defences. With the company’s advance hampered by debilitating machine-gun fire, he pushed on and located the enemy guns, despite being wounded during the fight. In broad daylight, he ran forward, armed with a rifle and bayonet, coming under heavy fire from all directions, and single-handedly put the enemy crew out of action. His bravery resulted in the deaths of four German soldiers and eight taken prisoner. MacGregor’s quick thinking and initiative saved his men from danger and allowed the advance to continue.

Afterward, he reorganized his command while facing continued heavy fire, and he offered support to neighbouring troops. As the German lines continued to resist, he defiantly moved along the front lines. Many other officers were wounded or killed in action, so MacGregor took command of platoons, organized waves of soldiers and pushed the advance forward.

During daytime reconnaissance under suppressive fire, MacGregor established his company in Neuville-St.-Remy, which greatly assisted the advance into Tilloy. Throughout the operation across the Canal du Nord and leading toward Cambrai, MacGregor showed strong leadership and bravery in the face of danger.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in service dress uniform, squinting in the sun and turned slightly away from the camera.

Captain John MacGregor, VC, date unknown (a007507-v8)

MacGregor survived the remainder of the war and was “struck off strength,” or released from service, in general demobilization on April 9, 1919. He went on to serve in the Second World War, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel; he commanded the Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s), a reservist infantry regiment based on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He died on June 9, 1952, and was buried at Cranberry Lake cemetery in Powell River, British Columbia.

A black-and-white copy of a typed textual record with titles underlined and some text organized into columns.

War Diaries from the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion, with McGregor’s name under “C” Company, September 1918, p. 26 (e001126713)

MacGregor’s Victoria Cross and other medals are on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Captain John MacGregor.

Do you want to experience military life during the First World War?

The War Diaries of the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion are open for you to transcribe, tag, translate and describe their contents. Every addition to a record becomes new metadata, searchable within 24 hours, helping Library and Archives Canada’s records become more “discoverable” day after day. Visit the blog article explaining how you can give a hand to history!


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

Samuel Lewis Honey, VC

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, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Lieutenant Samuel Lewis Honey and his bravery during the Bourlon Wood operations between September 27 and September 30, 1918.

A colour poster with “Fall in the Grenadiers” in large red text, with varying other black and red text. On the right, a uniformed soldier with a tall black hat, a red coat and a rifle slung over his shoulder stands at attention.

Recruitment campaign poster for the 78th Battalion, undated (e010697069)

Born in Conn, Ontario, on February 9, 1894, Samuel Lewis Honey was a schoolteacher when he enlisted as a private on January 22, 1915, joining the 34th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was a decorated and accomplished soldier, receiving the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal, and was later commissioned as an officer on July 2, 1917. In autumn 1918, he was serving in France as a lieutenant in the 78th Infantry Battalion.

On September 27, 1918, Honey was fighting alongside thousands of Canadian soldiers under heavy machine-gun fire from the German lines at Bourlon Wood. The operation to reach across the Canal du Nord with the ultimate objective of capturing Bourlon Wood and Village was vital for opening the road leading to Cambrai. When the commander and officers in his company became casualties to the unrelenting German attacks, Honey took charge. He commanded and reorganized the company and continued with the advance.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier wearing a cap and a Sam Brown belt, part of an officer’s uniform.

Lieutenant Samuel Lewis Honey, undated. Source: National Defence and the Canadian Forces.

Under his leadership, the objective of capturing Bourlon Wood was achieved; however, it came at the expense of severe casualties. Machine-gun fire was causing significant damage and loss to his company. Honey located the machine-gun nest and rushed it alone, single-handedly capturing the guns and taking 10 prisoners.

Following this feat, Honey successfully resisted four enemy counterattacks. He later went out alone in the dark and located an enemy post. Honey and a party of soldiers captured the post and an additional three guns.

As recounted in the London Gazette:

On the 29th September he led his company against a strong enemy position with great skill and daring and continued in the succeeding days of the battle to display the same high example of valour and self-sacrifice.

London Gazette, no. 31108, January 6, 1919

A black-and-white photograph of three soldiers bent at the waist, searching around trees and through bushes for blackberries.

Canadian soldiers picking blackberries in Bourlon Wood after capturing it, France, October 1918 (a003275)

During this attack, Honey received fatal wounds and died at No. 12 Canadian Field Ambulance on September 30, 1918. Buried at the Queant Communal Cemetery in Pas de Calais, France, he was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.

His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. A plaque is dedicated to Honey in Mount Forest, Ontario.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant Samuel Lewis Honey.

Tag pictures and give a hand to history!

The images in this blog post are open for tagging! Immerse yourself in the Canadian Expeditionary Force digitized files and transcribe, tag, translate and describe their contents. Every addition to a record becomes new metadata, searchable within 24 hours, helping Library and Archives Canada’s records become more “discoverable” day after day. Read the blog article explaining how you can give a hand to history!


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

Lieutenant Milton Fowler Gregg, VC

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, for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Lieutenant Milton Fowler Gregg and his courageous actions during the Battle of Canal du Nord on September 28, 1918.

Born on April 10, 1892, in Mountain Dale, Kings County, New Brunswick, Milton Fowler Gregg was a student before enlisting with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on November 5, 1914. Gregg earned the Military Cross in 1917 and was awarded a bar for the Cross for gallant actions in 1918. A decorated soldier, Gregg was serving as a Lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) in September 1918.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier.

Lieutenant Milton Fowler Gregg, VC, undated (a006811)

From September 28 to September 30, 1918, the RCR was moving with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division on operations to cross the Canal du Nord, capture Bourlon Wood and Village, and advance to Cambrai, France. With the ultimate objective of opening the road to Cambrai, it was essential for the RCR to advance and gain a foothold. The RCR assault began at 5:40 a.m. and faced little opposition until it was met with heavy machine-gun fire from enemy soldiers positioned in nearby buildings. Three tanks were brought up as reinforcements; however, the persistent machine guns and anti-tank guns put them out of action.

During the Battle of Canal du Nord, Gregg performed heroically, as in previous operations. On September 28, 1918, both flanks of the brigade were held up by heavy enemy fire, pinned down by rapid machine-gun bursts, and trapped by twisted, uncut barbed wire. Crawling forward alone, Gregg eventually found a small gap in the wire. He led his men through the hole and forced his way into the enemy trench.

A black-and-white photograph of large mortars pointing upward, as a soldier leans over one to look down its barrel.

Trench mortar referred to as “minenwerfers” were used by the German armies in the Canal du Nord during the Canadian advance east of Arras, September 1918 (a003200)

A heavy counterattack from German soldiers saw increasing RCR casualties, and dwindling bomb supplies, leaving the brigade vulnerable. Gregg, who had been wounded during his forward push, retreated in order to retrieve additional grenades. He rejoined his party with much-needed supplies but suffered a second wound in the effort. Despite his injuries, he reorganized the men and led them against the enemy trenches. Under his leadership, they cleared the enemy trench and gained a footing in the Marcoing Line.

A black-and-white copy of a page with paragraphs of texts typed in black ink.

War Diaries, Royal Canadian Regiment, describing operations, September 1918, page 28 (e001072260)

As detailed in the London Gazette:

He personally killed or wounded 11 of the enemy and took 25 prisoners, in addition to 12 machine guns captured in this trench. Remaining with his company in spite of wounds, he again on the 30th September led his men in attack until severely wounded. The outstanding valour of this officer saved many casualties and enabled the advance to continue.

London Gazette, no. 31108, January 6, 1919

Gregg survived the remainder of the war, held a variety of political positions, and served overseas during the Second World War. He passed away on March 13, 1978, at the age of 85. His Victoria Cross is on display at the Royal Canadian Regiment Museum in London, Ontario.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant Milton Fowler Gregg.

Want to experience life during a time of war?

The War Diaries of the Royal Canadian Regiment are open for you to transcribe, tag, translate and describe their contents. Every addition to a record becomes new metadata, searchable within 24 hours, helping Library and Archives Canada’s records become more “discoverable” day after day. Read the blog article explaining how you can give a hand to history!


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

Lieutenant George Fraser Kerr and Lieutenant Graham Thomson Lyall, VCs

By Ashley Dunk

In Library and Archives Canada’s blog series on Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day that the actions took place for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today we commemorate two Canadian soldiers awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions on September 27, 1918, during the campaign for the Canal du Nord and Bourlon Wood, France.

The Canadians Corps opened their initial attacks during the Battle of Scarpe on August 26, 1918, to ultimately crash through the heavily fortified Drocourt-Quéant Line on September 2nd. The over eight kilometres gained by the Corps resulted in high casualties amongst officers and soldiers alike. Following this offensive, it was strategized for the Canadians, with assistance of other battalions from the Allied forces, to capture the Canal du Nord and open the roads to Cambrai. The retreating Germans destroyed several bridges along the canal, leaving a few well defended for their own use, and no possibility for the Canadian arm to establish outposts on the other side of the canal.

After a month of planning and rebuilding bridges, the Canadian Corps were ready to conquer their next objective: Canal du Nord and Bourlon Wood.

It is during the Battle of Canal du Nord that two Canadian soldiers would perform heroic feats and earn one of the highest military commendations.

A black-and-white map showing boundaries and outlines of buildings and structures.

War diary of the 102nd Canadian Infantry Battalion showing Operations 1st and 2nd, September 1918, p. 48 (e001123533)

Lieutenant George Fraser Kerr

Born on June 8, 1894, in Deseronto, Ontario, George Fraser Kerr was a chemist before the outbreak of war. On September 22, 1914, at 20 years of age, he enlisted at Valcartier, Quebec, joining the 3rd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) as a private. After proving himself repeatedly in battle, he was commissioned as an officer on July 1, 1917, eventually rising to the rank of captain.

An unidentified newspaper clipping of a portrait of a soldier.

Lt. George Fraser Kerr, VC, undated (a007193)

He was a decorated soldier, earning a number of commendations: the Military Medal on August 23, 1916, for his courageous actions on Mount Sorrel; the Military Cross on December 2, 1918; and a bar for the Military Cross on January 2, 1919, for his gallantry and initiative during the Drocourt-Quéant attack from September 2 to 3, 1918.

On September 27, 1918, at 5:20 a.m., Canadian artillery pounded German positions in preparation for attack on Canal du Nord, with an objective to push through the German line. At 6:00 a.m., Kerr, serving with the 3rd Battalion, was in command of the left support company. While on the campaign to take Bourlon Wood and under heavy machine-gun fire, he showed great skill by outflanking a machine gun that was hindering the advance.

After advancing past Canal du Nord and pushing ahead, the advance was held up by a strong point near the Arras-Cambrai road. Kerr was ahead of his company and rushed to the German strong point. He single-handedly captured four machine guns and thirty-one prisoners, allowing the advance to continue until the company was held up just beyond Bourlon Wood.

After being wounded twice in action, as well as in an incident in which he fell from his horse after the Armistice, Kerr was discharged as medically unfit on July 16, 1919.

Kerr died on December 8, 1929. Today his Victoria Cross is on display at the Canadian War Museum.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant George Fraser Kerr.

 

Lieutenant Graham Thomson Lyall

Born in Manchester, England on March 8, 1892, Lyall immigrated to Canada and settled in the Niagara Region where he worked as a mechanical engineer. He joined the 19th Regiment of the British militia before enlisting on September 24, 1915, at St. Catharines, Ontario with the 81st Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). Later, he would transfer to the 102nd Battalion, Canadian Infantry.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier standing with his right hand in his trouser pocket.

Lt. Graham Thomson Lyall, VC, leaving Buckingham Palace, March 15, 1919 (a006698)

On the same day that George Fraser Kerr was leading his company toward Bourlon Wood, Lyall was serving in the 102nd Battalion, leading his platoon. The leading company was held up at a strong point, battling rapid machine-gun fire from the German position. With the support of Kerr and his platoon, Lyall and his company captured the point with a flank movement, staying back to weaken the enemy forces at the point with less offensive power. Because of this maneuver, he detained thirteen prisoners, one field gun, and four machine guns.

Later, his platoon, weakened by casualties, was held up by machine guns at the southern end of Bourlon Wood. With the available men, Lyall moved toward the strong point. Rushing the position single-handedly ahead of his platoon, Lyall killed the officer in charge. His bravery awarded them forty-five prisoners and five machine guns.

A black-and-white photograph of four women and four men wearing heavy coats and hats in front of Buckingham Palace. The man in the middle is wearing a military uniform and leaning on a cane.

Lt. Graham Thomson Lyall, VC, and family in front of Buckingham Palace, March 15, 1919 (a006708)

Lyall, achieving his objective and capturing an additional forty-seven prisoners, re-established his position, protecting the remainder of the company. Later, on October 1, 1918, in the neighbourhood of Belcourt and commanding a diminished company, he captured a strongly defended position, producing eighty prisoners and seventeen machine guns.

As summarized in the London Gazette two months later:

During two days of operations Lieutenant Lyall captured in all 3 officers, 182 other ranks, 26 machine guns, and one field gun, exclusive of heavy casualties inflicted. He showed throughout, the utmost valour and high powers of command.

London Gazette, no. 31067, December 13, 1918

The Canadian Corps achieved and exceeded their objectives on September 2, 1918, advancing further than expected under heavy machine-gun fire and terrible casualties. By the end of the day, they took Bourlon Wood, capturing the Red, Blue, and Green Lines.

After the Armistice, Lyall sailed for England in 1919, where he would enlist in the British Army.

He died on November 28, 1941, during the Second World War on a campaign in Egypt.

A plaque commemorates his acts of valour in the Lincoln and Welland Regiment memorial garden in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant Graham Thomson Lyall.


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