The Men of Penetang Chapter 5(Spring 1917)
Updated: Mar 18, 2020
As I write this I wonder if the deep cold of winter would be worse than the wet cold fall? As the winter turned to spring would the morale reflect the warming weather, or did the dreariness of it all dampen all the men's spirits?
In the trenches for the first time in nineteen seventeen, the men were convinced by the experienced men already there to cut the bottom of their greatcoat. This was so that the mud and kneedeep water did not stick and get the men's underclothes wet.
This was acceptable to the experienced men in the trenches and their officers, but the eager newcomers didn't see it that way and fined their charges who cut their coats. They also had to pay for a tailor to appropriately repair the greatcoat.
Another addition to the cause was the Penetang shoe pack, many from Ontario were writing home to have loved ones send over this special trench shoe pack from Penetang.
Houdain France April 1917
In their time in the trenches, the men had encountered mud up to their knees. This mud caught in their greatcoats and made the men wet and cold. The experienced men on the line told the younger men to cut their coats off at the waist which some of the men did. On April 5, Wesley Amoe, Noble John Braden, Herman Desroches, Napoleon Picotte, Wilfred MacMillan, George McKeown, Frederick Morin, William Nesbitt all received fines for cutting their greatcoats. The company tailor would be employed for a while repairing the damage. They made up a fair percentage of the 200 or so who cut up their coats.
Charles Hurst would be promoted to Lance Corporal but he did not find it suited him and he would later relinquish the title. This was not an unusual practice. The higher the rank in the trenches the more precarious the assignments. Leading men to their deaths were not something everyone ascribed to. Haillicourt to Mont St Eloi On the 7th of April, it was learned that the men would be part of an action that would retake Vimy Ridge. The plan would be to advance three miles, uphill over mud and shell holes, to extricate the Germans from their trenches. For this assignment, they would be moved away from the front lines. But not so far as to no longer hear the guns. They were to move to Mont St Eloi, Near Bois des Alleux, from there they could see the battlefield of Vimy Ridge, where they would soon be. Close enough that the Germans would send shells their way but the 116th was lucky and was seldom hit. On the ninth, the 116th was in reserve position supplying the front lines with ammunition and supplies. Being new to the war they did not know the dangers involved in this task.
They would soon find how difficult it was to run into the fighting and return to the reserve position. At Dawn, the artillery opens up on the German trenches, something that happened every morning for the past two weeks, only this time it carried on and was a precursor to the attack. Prayers were said and the first orders were received for B company, under Major Moody. They were employed with a detachment of engineers building strong points to hold the advances they made. These strong points were to counterman the counter-attacks that the Germans would launch to regain lost ground. This work was done under artillery fire as the Germans tried to stop the building of the strongholds. Company A, C, D would join B later that day. The strongholds were in place and the chance of a successful counter-attack was much lessened.
At some time during the action, Karl Dusome was killed. Karl had been investigated in December as it was learned of the possibility of Karl being underage. Karl was 5 foot 6 inches tall with a dark complexion, brown eyes and black hair. He was found to be well developed and so continued to serve his country. Local rumour has it that he was in fact underage when enlisted and his name was Peter Carroll Emery. He is remembered under the name Karl Dusome at the Vimy Ridge Memorial and in Penetang. His remains were never found. He lies somewhere on Vimy Ridge...
Frederick Richardson would also lose his life on the battlefield around Vimy Ridge. Frederick was with the 1st Battalion and had only just returned to active service after spending time in hospital due to illness. He returned on the 10th and by the twelfth was reported Killed in Action north of Presnoy... He was a butcher in Muskoka mills when he joined the forces.
On the tenth, the 116th was still employed consolidating the front when they were asked at 5 pm to man the front lines. The men were excited to perhaps see fighting for the very first time. Previous time on the front lines had been simply to man them. Ever-present were German snipers and artillery, but the men patrolled the lines waiting for an offensive, They marched through territory very well known Berthon Val Farm, La Targette Corners, Goodman Tunnel, Chassery Crater. The men would not relieve the front lines as the order was cancelled, which was a good thing as that evening it snowed. The front lines were also under German shell fire and some casualties were the result, but for the 116th they were removed and did not lose a man. Between the 10 and 20th of April, the 116th Battalion was tasked with rebuilding the road between Thelus and Vimy. John Macdonald would only spend very little time in Europe before coming down with pulmonary illness. He would be returned to Canada and hospitalized in a convalescent home. Further details are not available.
George Beaden Simmons was the adopted son of Mrs Alice King of Penetanguishene. He was born in Toronto on July 27, 1895, and was brought up in Penetang as a Roman Catholic. Somehow he found his way to Calgary, Alberta and was employed as an office clerk when he enlisted (3 weeks after his 19th birthday) on August 18, 1915. He served with the Princess Patricia's Light Infantry, Eastern Ontario. His papers on sign-up recorded him as being unmarried, 5’51/2” tall, an impressive 391/2” chest, medium complexion, blue eyes and dark brown hair. Private Simmons died on the second day of the Vimy Ridge assault, April 10, 1917; five hundred and five Canadians died that day. “Died of Wounds at No. 6 Casualty Clearing Station.” He was only 21 and is buried in Barlin Communal Cemetery, near Arras, France.
The early part of 1917 the 1st division had similar experiences. In January and February, the men of the 1st Battalion moved in and out of the front lines. By March they were removed and were receiving training. Soon they would be on the attack. On the fifth of April, they raided a german trench. Scouts had been sent out and gaps in the barbed wire were found. At 430 am the raid was carried out. The Germans had abandoned the trenches while under attack and the first had gained their objective. Still, 100 men were lost and another 140 wounded. The 1st Battalion was removed and housed in tents close to Maison Blanche, St Eloi. On the 15th of April, less than 6 months after the men had sailed on her the HMS Cameronia was sunk in the Mediterranean sea. IT was bringing troops to Alexandria when torpedoed by a submarine. The men from Penetang would have to find another boat to take them home. The victory at Vimy was a defining event for Canada, considered by many contemporaries and later scholars to be a significant event in Canada’s progress to full independence from Britain.
The Strategic Importance of Vimy Ridge
The seven-kilometre long Vimy Ridge in northern France, near Arras, held a commanding view over the surrounding countryside. Previous unsuccessful French and British attacks had suffered over 150,000 casualties. In early 1917, British High Command ordered the Canadian Corps to capture the position as part of a larger spring offensive in the Arras area. In the coming campaign, British forces to the south would have limited success, and the French would fail badly, with many of their units reduced to mutiny. The Canadian attack against Vimy Ridge would be spectacular by comparison.
A Planned Battle
Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, the Canadian Corps commander, ordered new tactics for the coming assault. Having learned from the Battle of the Somme, intense training better-prepared soldiers for what they might find on the battlefield, and helped them to make quick decisions on their own that were still in keeping with the overall plan. Small units and individual soldiers were given much more information about the battle and were expected to exercise initiative in keeping the advance moving, even if their officers were killed or wounded. A tremendous artillery barrage, which included improved techniques for counter-battery fire against enemy guns, would smash German positions and isolate enemy troops in their dugouts. At 5:30 a.m. on 9 April 1917, Easter Monday, nearly 1,000 guns opened fire on the German positions. An estimated 15,000 Canadians rose from the trenches and advanced towards the ridge in the first wave, with thousands more behind them. Despite hard fighting all across the front, the Canadians captured most of the ridge on the 9th, and the remaining portions of it by the 12th.
Vimy Ridge as Symbol
Over four days of bloody fighting, the Canadians had overrun Vimy Ridge at the cost of more than 10,600 killed and wounded. The battle has since become an important symbol for Canada, the place where Canadians from across the country delivered an unprecedented victory, all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fighting together for the first time in the war. Canadian War Museum
You can find Karl Dusome's service records at http://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.item/?op=pdf&app=CEF&id=B2779-S031
Frederick Richardson service records at http://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.item/?op=pdf&app=CEF&id=B8245-S014
George Beadan Simmons service records at http://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.item/?op=pdf&app=CEF&id=B8912-S042