St. Matthew’s War Memorial Project – lest we forget

Ligny-St. Flochel British Cemetery

Edward Cuno McGill Richer of Gilmour Street, known to his friends as McGill, died from shrapnel wounds at the age of 26 on September 3, 1918. Photo: War Graves Photographic Project

In this edition of the Glebe Report we present the story of 26-year-old Edward Cuno McGill Richer of Gilmour Street as part of our continuing series of stories about the 16 servicemen from St. Matthew’s Anglican Church who were killed in action in the First World War. Please email editor@glebereport.ca should you wish to add stories of your own of men or women from the Glebe who died in the First World War or add further detail to these stories.

The Story of Edward Cuno McGill Richer

by Kevan Pipe

Edward Cuno McGill Richer, known to most of his friends and colleagues as McGill, was born November 26, 1891 in Hastings, East Sussex, England. He immigrated alone to Ottawa and by age 22 is listed as a 2nd Division Civil Servant residing at 537 Gilmour Street.

Kevan Oct 2017

The tombstone of Lt. McGill Richer

Great Britain, and by extension all of the British Empire, declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914 when the latter refused to withdraw their invading troops from Belgium. Just six weeks later on September 21, 1914 in Val Cartier, Quebec, McGill Richer enlisted (Serial #40249) in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. He listed his next of kin in his attestation papers as William Richer, his father, in England.

He was immediately awarded the rank of Lieutenant and assigned to the Canadian Field Artillery likely due to his three years of earlier service with various military units including the Duke of Cornwall’s Own Rifles and the pressure of getting trained troops over to Europe. He served in various brigades and ended up with the 14th Brigade, 61st Battery of the Canadian Field Artillery. He served with this and other batteries throughout virtually all of the First World War.

Interestingly, he completed his original posting and was returned to Canada in November 1917, only to re-enlist in Kingston and return to France in February 1918.

The Second Battle of Arras took place from August 26 to September 3, 1918 and was a key event in the closing months of the Great War. The allies devised a major strategy called “The Hundred Days Offensive” that began in August 1918 with the intention of bringing the war and its devastation to a close. This strategy led to a number of major conflicts along the Western Front in northwest France, one of these being the Battle of Drocourt-Queant Line on September 2 and 3, which involved elements of the Canadian 4th Division fighting to take the village of Dury.

This “line” was effectively a German defensive formation of troops and armaments stretching between the towns of Drocourt and Queant, consisting of multiple lines of trenches, bunkers, fortifications, machine gun posts and lots of barbed wire. It was the northernmost part of the Hindenburg Line, the most critical defensive position for Germany.

Supported by tanks and aircraft, the battle began at 0500 hours on September 2, 1918 with the Canadian Field Artillery’s 61st Battery ordered into action. It laid down a barrage of shellfire with their heavy guns against German positions along these enemy lines. And while Allied heavy guns and mortars delivered ferocious fire against these targeted and key objectives, they themselves were deemed to be highly valued targets of German artillery.

The Canadians and their British comrades attacked the southern part of the line with the 4th Canadian Division focused on the centre section. Victory was achieved after heavy fighting but at a most heavy and devastating price. In just this battle, in the first four days of September, Canada suffered more than 5,600 casualties. Reflecting the difficulty of the battle, a total of seven Victoria Crosses were awarded to Canadians for “gallantry in the face of the enemy,” the highest honour given to Commonwealth troops in this battle.

A German artillery shell exploded on the late summer morning of September 2 above one of Canadian Field Artillery’s 61st Battery heavy weapons and knocked their gun out of action. This position was led by Lt. McGill Richer who was severely wounded by this barrage of enemy artillery fire, along with 10 other Canadians. Lt. McGill Richer was struck in the face and abdomen by shrapnel and was evacuated to the nearby No. 1 Casualty Clearing Station.

Lt. McGill Richer did not survive long. He passed away the next morning, September 3, 1918, from horrible wounds after having served almost four long years, and just 70 days before the end of the First World War. He was buried that same afternoon at nearby Ligny-St. Flochel British War Cemetery in the Pas de Calais region of France along with 631 other Canadian and Commonwealth as well as 48 German servicemen. He was three months from his 27th birthday.

Although he is remembered at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, McGill Richer of Ottawa rests in France today.

Kevan Pipe is a Glebe resident and member of the St Matthew’s Anglican Church Communications Committee.

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