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  • Writer's pictureArt Duval

Chapter 11 The Men of Penetang:The Final days

Fall 1918

The 116th was off the line for a couple of weeks. They were in new territory in Belgium. For most of the two years previous they had been back and forth over ground they fought for, and won, only to be pushed back again by the Germans. Now they had the enemy on the run.

Wilfred Morin also served with the 9th Battalion, Canadian Engineer. He was the son of Alfred and Mary Morin, of Penetanguishene, Ontario, and was born on September 17, 1890. He was raised Roman Catholic, unmarried, worked as a labourer, and was 5’3” tall with a dark complexion, dark hair and blue eyes. He volunteered in Midland on June 22, 1916. Sapper Morin was killed three days before his 28th birthday, during the “last one hundred days” allied assaults, on September 14, 1918. “Killed in Action. Was proceeding from the cookhouse to his billet at Vis-En-Artois when a shell detonated beside him causing instantaneous death.” Thirty three Canadians died that day. He is among the buried at Vis-En-Artois British Cemetery, 8 miles southeast of Arras.

Vis-en-artois in relation to Arras

Wilfred must have felt safe, but there was no safe place in war. At least it was quick for Mr Morin.

On the 17th of September, while standing around the field kitchen in what they believed was somewhat safety a German 5.9 found their location and opened fire. Some men of the 116th were killed and the war was once again at their forefront. This also left the Battalion without a Colonel, as Colonel Pearkes was injured. As well as the second in command, Major Sutherland, Adjutant Captain Ott, intelligence officer Captain Broad and scout officer, Lt Proctor all killed or injured in the barrage.

The 116th were pulled back farther to Arras shortly afterwards under new command. They then moved back even farther, close to a casualty clearing station which was treating their Colonel Pearkes who was dangerously ill. They had gone as far as Ypres, but were now back to Arras.

Colonel Pearkes had been a private in 1915 he advanced as far as second in command of the battalion and his health was important to the moral of the Battalion.

On the 26th of September they were once again headed for the front lines. In the pouring rain in the middle of the night and under a new commander, Major Carmichael, the men reached their new area close to Canal du Nord. Bivouacking in shell holes with nothing but waterproof sheets for cover the men settled in for the night. The next morning they moved forward, toward Bourlon woods and within site of Cambrai. Although the end was near, the men did not know it, nor did the suffering stop. Had they known would they rejoice or be Leary?

Arras to Cambrai

That day the men watched tanks coming out of action. That night they would advance on St Olle a suburb of Cambrai. In an action with the 58th they would pass through the area captured by the 58th and push on to St Olle.

At night and with very little intelligence they pressed into St Olle. Not long afterwards Lieutenant Smith rolled over the trench parapet and reported that the attacked had been annihilated. Among the many casualties he reported was that of Lieutenant Cory Arthur Norton.

Cory Arthur Norton, born in Penetang in August (31st) of 1891, he enlisted on the Fourth of February. His listed occupation as making furniture and was also undertaker, occupations that went together in the early part of the 20th century.

HE was 24 years old when he enlisted and was 5’10” tall, with a ruddy complexion, brown hair and brown eyes. Cory Norton proved to be an ambitious soldier as he advanced all the way to being granted a field commision of Lieutenant before being killed at St Olle. That night while advancing on St. Olle he received a shrapnel wound to the abdomen and was killed almost instantly.


Additional details from the official 116th War Diary state: 29th. “Weather fine. In accordance with Brigade operations order, the Battalion moved

up, following closely behind the 7th Brigade, through Bourlon and assembled in the Railway Embankment in F.2.1 at 6:30 p.m. Orders were received that the 58th Battalion would attack the Marcoing Line in front of St. Olle, and that the 116th Battalion passing through would attack and capture St. Olle. Zero hour 7:00 p.m. At Zero hour the Battalion moved off from the railway embankment and made their way over in artillery formation to F.11.a. The 58th Battalion was found to be established in the Marcoing Line. And we moved through them “A”. “B”, “C” Companies making up positioning the sunken road running through F.5.d. and F.11.b. “D” Company took up their positions in F.12.a. and A.7.b. Sending patrols from here to go in touch with the enemy. The village seemed to be very strongly held by machine guns. No reconnaissance of ground having been made, we decided that our attack on the village would be delayed while the following morning. Weather fine. Zero hour 6:00 a.m. “B” and “A” Companies attacked and were caught under heavy Machine gun fire, coming from the enemy trenches in front of St Olle and Petit Fontain. These two Companies were practically wiped out. News to this effect being brought by Lieut. Smith to Battalion H.Q. Established at F.11.b.90.90. Artillery fire was then brought to bear on these positions, and superiority of fire gained by our Lewis Guns situated along the road at F.11.b. As soon as this was

accomplished, two Platoons of “C” and “D” Companies were dispatched to make a flanking movement to the northwest of the village, the remainder of “C” Company being sent over to help out the 58th Battalion who were having heavy fighting in the Marcoing Line near its junction with the Bapaune-Guibrai Road. Lieut. Bonner, who was in charge of the flanking operations northwest of St Olle, succeeded in entering the trench, and by

great leadership, overcame all resistance, capturing the entire system. About 100 prisoners and 15 machine guns were captured. The rest of the day was spent in organizing our new positions. “D” Company holding posts around Petit Fontain, two Platoons of “C” Company in St Olle, Two Platoons of “C” Company on the right of the 58th, and the remnants of “B” and “A” Companies back at headquarters. Our casualties for the day were about 260 killed and wounded. Capt. Preston was taken prisoner, Capt. Williams, Lieut. Robson and Lieut. Brandon, wounded. Lieut. Norton killed, and Lieut. Palmer, missing, believed prisoner. Sill holding positions in and about St Olle.”

The next day the 30th of September 1918 Robert Roy Rumble would also lose his life on an attack between Saincourt and Cambrai. Very little information is available but he is buried in a Canadian Cemetery. He was with the 75th Battalion and was killed in an attack on Sancourt.

Robert Roy Rumble was married to Mary-Ann(Bonnin) Rumble of Penetanguishene when he enlisted aboard H.M.T (His Majesty’s Troop Ship ?) 2810 on June 5, 1917, age 28. He was born in Penetanguishene on February 19, 1889 to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Rumble, who brought him up Methodist. The Attestation Papers described him as being a married labourer, 5’5” tall, with a 38” chest size, a medium complexion, brown hair and eyes and had a scar under his left eye. He had 13 months prior militia experience as a private with the Queen’s Own Rifles. There is also a handwritten note on his Attestation Papers that states: “Reattested pending receipt of original documents”. He served with the 75th Battalion, Mississauga, Ontario. Three hundred and eighty eight Canadians died on September 30, 1918, the same day as Private Rumble. Official death records state: “Killed in Action. Attack South East of Sancourt.” He is buried in Cantimpre Canadian Cemetery, France 1.5 miles west of Cambrai.

The 116th and the Canadian Forces had captured their positions and were shoring up the defenses of those position in the following days. On the first of October the Canadians moved back to the sunken road. Close enough to the lines they could observe the lorries and horses being shelled as they tried to advance.

On the 8th of October they moved farther back to the Bourlon woods, where they were far enough away to clean their guns and get some rest. On the ninth they were inspected and the mood was amicable among the troops.

On the tenth they marched to Qeant, where they were inspected and given shelter. Training would continue despite the battalion being an experience crew at this point. This training continued on for a few days.

On the 14th the men received a concert from the army band. On the 16th the Prince of Wales stopped by and the men attended the funeral of General Lipsett.

Training continued until the 20th when the men were on the move again. On to Buissy, where the troops were being amassed to return to war. They would be in a support position behind the lines for the next few days.

In early November they were on parade grounds, the war had taken on a different nature, as officers and gentlemen came to inspect the troops. On the 7th they moved from Arenburg to Denain Anzin area and would relieve the Princess Patricia’s later on.

The 116th would be held in reserve and would be on duty repairing roads and burying horses. On the move to Quievrain and from there to Onnaing, they would find themselves

billeted once again.

The End of the War

Winter 1918Through Cambrai and on to Quevrain

On the 11th the 116th were to man the front lines. On this day, the 11th of November, 1918, hostilities were to cease. The war was over. I cannot imagine the emotions that must have been going through those young men on that day.

The 116th was in Nimy shortly after when explosions worried the men into thinking the war had restarted. Alas it was only a German ammunition truck that had caught on fire.

And it would all end in Nimy.

On the 25th the Commanding Officer returned after being wounded and made a speech which resounded with the men. Training had continued, but I wonder if the men's hearts were in it.

The hard-fought victories at Arras and the Canal du Nord remain among the most costly but impressive engagements fought by the Canadian Corps during the First World War.

Canadians Spearhead the Attack

After the victory at Amiens, Allied commanders agreed on a multi-army offensive along the Western Front against German forces that, for the first time in the war, appeared vulnerable. The ensuing campaign, known as the Hundred Days (August – November 1918), ended in the defeat of German forces in the West.

In the first of these attacks, the Canadians spearheaded the British First Army’s attack on the Arras front, through the Drocourt-Quéant Line (D-Q Line) and across the Canal du Nord to capture the town of Cambrai. A successful operation would outflank the Germans’ vaunted Hindenburg Line of prepared defenses, forcing them to retreat. But the enemy positions at the D-Q Line and along the Canal du Nord were strong and deep, bristling with machine-guns, and forcing them would not be easy.

Costly Victories

The Canadians opened their attack on 26 August. The initial artillery bombardment blasted the Germans’ positions, but an intense, week-long battle followed, resulting in more than 11,000 Canadian casualties. Canadian troops finally crashed through the heavily fortified Drocourt-Quéant Line on 2 September.

After almost a month of planning and preparation, the Canadian Corps attacked across the Canal du Nord in another high-risk operation on 27 September. Behind a complicated fire plan and the work of engineers, the Corps crossed the canal and pushed through the enemy defenses, eventually capturing strong points like Bourlon Wood and Cambrai on 9 October.

The German Army Retreats

The Arras and Canal du Nord battles cost over 30,000 Canadian casualties but helped break the German army’s final defensive positions. After Canadian and other Allied troops crossed the Canal du Nord, the German forces were in full retreat. The end of the war was near. Canadian War Museum

The first world war would end in November of that year, the 11th minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh month. Or at least it was supposed to. It was still a dangerous place until all were informed it was over and they would soon be coming home.

Art Duval Pipesmoke of the Past

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Georges Desroches
Georges Desroches
May 06, 2023

Very educational for future generations!


Georges Desroches
Georges Desroches
May 06, 2023

Great information on the first world war, to pass on to future generations. My grand children are asking about Herman Desroches who died at the Vimy Ridge battle in 1917. Herman was the brother of my grand father, James and his father was Alibé (Alibi) Desroches from Penetanguishene.

It would be great to obtain information on private Herman Desroches, 116 battalion, service number 644576.

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