Remembering our war dead

We wrap up this series of stories in the Glebe Report in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice this weekend, with the final three of the 16 servicemen from St. Matthew’s, The Anglican Church in the Glebe, who were killed in action in the First World War. In this edition we present the histories of the youngest of the soldiers, 18-year-old Horace Hunt from Flora Street; Raymond Nichols from Patterson Avenue, the “chemist” at the Central Experimental Farm; and Robert Ralph, also of Patterson Avenue, the last of the soldiers from St. Matthew’s to die in the war. 

Horace Hunt

by Kevan Pipe

Horace-Hunt

Horace Hunt, at 18, was the youngest of the 48 men of the St Matthew’s congregation to die in the two world wars.

Horace Hunt was born on March 10, 1897, the son of Charles and Martha Anne Hunt. The family, with six children in total, lived at 326 Flora Street. Young Horace was active at St. Matthew’s and, on June 28, 1909, he won prizes for both the 600-yard and one-mile races at the church spring picnic at Britannia.

At 15 years of age, Horace Hunt joined a local militia unit and was a member (#7831) from 1912 onwards. By 1914, he was living with his brother in Woodroffe and working as a plasterer when war broke out. Like many of his friends, he enlisted on September 22, 1914 at age 17, just weeks after war was declared. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, C Company, Eastern Ontario Regiment, Governor General’s Foot Guards, Canadian Infantry as a bugler, and was shipped to England just 11 days later on October 3 as a member of one of the very first Canadian units to go overseas. Horace seemed happy and wrote to his mother in early April 1915, cheerfully stating that he “had been complimented by his officer for winning distinction in company regimental sports.”

That same month, the First Canadian Division and his unit were deployed on the Western Front in Northwestern France and became embroiled in the Battle of St. Julien, part of the Second Battle of Ypres on April 24, 1915. It was on that day that German forces attacked the Canadians in an attempt to obliterate once and for all the salient, which was stubbornly occupied by the Canadians. Violent artillery bombardments were followed by one of the first documented uses of deadly mustard gas, targeting the Canadian line. Intense combat followed this barrage, with the Canadians holding their positions until reinforcements finally arrived.

Canadian troops had established a reputation as a formidable fighting force in their first appearance on a European battlefield, but at a most terrible price. In just two horrific days of battle, 6,035 Canadians – one in every three soldiers – were lost from Canada’s force of hastily trained civilians who had arrived just months earlier on the Western Front. One of these casualties was young Horace Hunt.

In a letter to Horace’s mother, his fellow bugler G. Cassidy wrote, “The Germans had been shelling us all day. Bugler Hunt had been missing…they found him with a bullet through his forehead and one through his chest… they found six or seven dead Germans around him. We don’t know if he killed them, but if he did, he sold his life dearly. We buried him and Serge Aballard of Brockville in the same grave.” Later, when the Canadians returned to recover their bodies, their corpses were never found, as was increasingly common throughout the war, possibly due to subsequent artillery fire.

The Battle of Ypres is permanently marked by the people of Belgium at the memorial at the Menin Gate in Ypres. At the upper arch of the memorial built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission are engraved the words, “To the armies of the British Empire who stood here from 1914 to 1918 and to those of their dead who have no known grave.” Below that: “Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death.” On the walls of this unique memorial are inscribed the names of 54,839 allied servicemen who were killed in this deadly Battle of Ypres and whose bodies were never found. The name of Bugler Horace Hunt, 2nd Battalion, is posted on these marble walls in perpetuity. Since 1928 and to this day, every evening at 8 p.m., the citizens of Ypres remember these souls and perform The Last Post ceremony with Canadian supplied silver bugles.

Less than a year after his death, his father Charles, age 48, enlisted and served in the 77th and 224 Forestry Battalions. Following the war, he became the drum major for the Governor General’s Foot Guards in honour of his 18-year-old son Horace.

Bugler Horace Hunt turned out to be not only one of the first from St. Matthew’s to be killed in action in the First World War, but also the youngest of all 48 men from the congregation killed in both wars. Private Horace Hunt is remembered in Ypres and at St. Matthew’s.

Ralph-(2)Robert Henry Ralph

by Kevan Pipe

Robert Henry Ralph was born in Ottawa on March 6, 1888, son of flour merchant Joseph and his wife Isabella Ralph. He was the second youngest of six children and the family lived at 235 Holmwood Avenue facing the western end of Brown’s Inlet.

Robert initially served for a year in 1913 − 1914 in the 43rd Regiment, Duke of Cornwall’s Own Rifles out of the Cartier drill hall on Elgin Street. By 1915, he was a bookbinder by trade, living at 201 Rideau Street and dating Annie Gillam. Robert and Annie were married the following year on May 24, 1916 at St. Matthew’s Church and set up their home at 223 Paterson Avenue, a mere 200 meters away.

With the First World War well underway and allied casualties mounting, Robert enlisted in the Canadian Field Artillery on June 5, 1916, just 12 days after their wedding. He was assigned to the Canadian Garrison Artillery, 1st Siege Battery. Gunner Robert Ralph (#343827) was one of 216 soldiers of the newly renamed No. 1 Canadian Siege Artillery. Following seven months of training, his unit departed for England in January 1917.

No. 1 Canadian Siege Artillery was soon deployed to the Western Front and took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 in support of the troops of the 1st Canadian Division. His unit fired 300-pound shells from their 9.2-inch heavy British howitzer guns. Artillery was a vital element of all battle planning of the war and quickly became the most feared aspect of life in the trenches on both sides of the wire. At the same time, serving in any artillery unit was a most difficult and dangerous assignment as they were highly valued targets of enemy shelling. It is estimated that nearly three quarters of all casualties in the First World War were caused by artillery fire. And yet, despite all this, Gunner Robert Ralph survived the next 20 months to see out the end of the war and the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 that brought all hostilities to a close.

Unfortunately, it was also at this time, in the second half of 1918 that the influenza pandemic was spreading like wildfire through allied troops on the Western Front, as well as in populations the world over. This most terrible disease resulted in a minimum of 50 million deaths worldwide. Pneumonia affected more than 4,700 Canadian soldiers, resulting in 1,261 deaths.

In December 1918, Gunner Robert Ralph was still in Belgium awaiting his unit returning to Canada. He was infected by this influenza and was taken to the nearby No. 51 Casualty Clearing Station at Tournai Hainaut, a town that had remained under German occupation for the entire war and had been liberated on November 8 just three days before the Armistice. Antibiotics had yet to be developed, meaning an infection of this nature was always a significant danger to health.

On December 13, 1918, 32 days after the end of the war, Gunner Robert Ralph, # 343827, having survived all of the major battles of 1917 and 1918, succumbed to a deadly combination of influenza and broncho-pneumonia. Fifteen other Canadian soldiers also died the same day from either pneumonia or wounds suffered earlier in the war. This daily rate of death amongst Canadian troops continued for many weeks after the war.

Gunner Robert Ralph of 1st Siege Battery, Canadian Garrison Artillery, died just 30 years young and was buried at Tournay Communal Cemetery, Allied Extension, in Belgium, along with 688 other Commonwealth soldiers and is remembered at St. Matthew’s.

Robert Ralph was the last of the 16 soldiers from St. Matthew’s to perish in the First World War, never again to see his wife Annie. Of interest, his older sister Florence, born in 1884, lived until 1995, passing away at the age of 111.

Menin-Gate-memorial

Menin Gate memorial at Ypres lists the 54,839 allied servicemen killed in the Battle
of Ypres who have no known grave. Photo: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Ralph

Tournay Communal Cemetery, Allied Extension, Belgium. Photos: the war graves photographic project.

Raymond William Nichols

by Kevan Pipe

Raymond Nichols was born January 16, 1885 in Wantage, England, the youngest son of Henry and Mary Nichols. A scholar by nature, he completed a seven-year science program at City of Dublin Technical School, whereupon on February 2, 1901 at age 16, he was hired as a lab research assistant at the famed St. James Gate Guinness Brewery, focusing on the study of barley and cereals.

He was promoted to the Scientific Department where he stayed with Guinness until 1911 when he joining the Irish Department of Agriculture to work on related research in cereals. Searching for a new life, he immigrated to Canada in 1912, and after taking specialized courses in Chicago, joined the Government of Canada at Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm. He lived on campus and furthered his research in flour and cereals, and pursued his passion for chemistry on this side of the Atlantic by working directly with the head of the research program, known as the Dominion Cerealist.

Possibly due to the heavy casualties mounting on the Western Front as a result of the Second Battle of Ypres, Raymond enlisted on April 28, 1915 with the 10th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, just seven months after the outbreak of war in Europe. He earned the rank of Captain and was shipped overseas in May 1916, now with the 80th Battalion that was absorbed into the 51st Battalion. In June 2016, now an officer with the famed Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry that had formed in Ottawa at Lansdowne Park in August 1914, he was assigned to the front in northern France as part of the Canadian Fourth Division.

By the beginning of October 1916, the “Patricias” were heavily involved in the notorious five-month-long Battle of the Somme, with Captain Nichols’ unit fighting as part of this at the Battle of Ancre Heights. On October 20, Captain Nichols and his battalion successfully captured the Regina Trench. Raymond was the most senior officer to survive this battle. The Canadians had earned a reputation as a fierce fighting force. British Prime Minister Lloyd George stated, “Canadians played a part of such distinction that thenceforward they were marked out as ‘shock troops,’” a term still in use today.

As was the custom with troops being relieved after approximately a week of heavy fighting, they were about to be relieved from duty at the Battle of Ancre Heights. Captain Nichols and a fellow officer were walking down a communications trench when an anti-personnel artillery shell exploded above them, spraying deadly shrapnel in all directions. Captain Raymond Nichols, 31 years young, was killed instantly. His body was never found. And in the mysteries of war, his fellow officer walking alongside him was unhurt.

Along with 11,284 other Canadians, Captain Raymond William Nichols’ name is inscribed on the walls of Canada’s Vimy War Memorial (entry #7630), which is dedicated to the memory of those soldiers killed in the Great War but whose bodies were never found. As his mother had already passed away, the medals of Captain Nichols were sent to his nephew Henry Nichols in Oxford, England.

But Captain Raymond Nichols was not yet finished. The research in wheat flour that he had undertaken at the Central Experimental Farm proved valuable and continued long after the conclusion of the First World War. His colleagues, under the direction of the Dominion Cerealist, continued his investigations. In 1921, five years after his passing, the Government of Canada published the scientific paper, “Researches in Wheat Flour and Bread.” One of the contributing authors of this paper was Raymond William Nichols of Ottawa.

Raymond William Nichols is remembered on both sides of the Atlantic by memorial plaques at St. Matthias Church in Dublin as well as at the Royal Society of Chemistry in London. In Ottawa, he is remembered at Doric Lodge 58 and at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church. His name is permanently engraved on the walls of Canada’s national war memorial at Vimy Ridge.

Vimy-Memorial

Canada’s national war memorial at Vimy Ridge.

Poppy‘The 48 of St. Matthew’s’

by Kevan Pipe

I was an Anglican who had drifted away from the church during those busy years of building a career and family. With the impending arrival of our daughter in 1996, I joined St. Matthew’s Anglican Church. It was years later when I noticed two beautiful bronze plaques affixed to the northeast corner wall of the main hall, listing 48 names. Over time, I discovered more: a plaque dedicated to the memory of Sergeant Glen Wilson, killed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, as well as a stained-glass window dedicated to the memory of Second World War soldier Lieutenant Harold Fisher, lost in 1944. A roster of the nearly 400 congregation members who served in the Second World War is also hung on a nearby wall.

Matthew's-Church-1898-1930

Photo: courtesy of St. Matthew’s

Those 48 names and what had happened to these brave young men from our neighbourhood stuck with me. In 2013, there was much media commentary about the impending 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. With that came the idea of documenting and revealing the stories of these servicemen so that their memories and sacrifices would be preserved for the benefit of our congregation.

Once the project was approved internally, five years of research ensued, snooping around the web. The timing was fortunate in that the service files of all those killed during both wars have been digitized and uploaded to the web over the past three years by the Government of Canada. This proved to be a primary source about their stories.

The journey proved fascinating. It was both rewarding and heart-wrenching to find in an Edmonton store in 2015 the original book published by Arthur Wilkinson’s mother on Valentine’s Day, 1947, Ottawa to Caen: Letters from Arthur Campbell Wilkinson, a compendium of all 109 letters he wrote home. I was touched when I discovered the history of Major Gordon Sim of Bronson Avenue by reading a 1961 story in Weekend Magazine – “The Canadian who Liberated a Village.” He had a love of life that came through so clearly. I learned about Flight Sub-Lieutenant Albert Cuzner of First Avenue, a Lisgar Collegiate and University of Toronto graduate who was shot down over Vimy Ridge by the Red Baron in April 1917. I realized that there was a strong link to Kingston, with four students from Queen’s and two graduates from the Royal Military College. I was saddened learning that Sergeant and medic John Maynard was lost at sea in 1941 when his troop ship was torpedoed; he left behind his five-week-old daughter Carolyn.

So many unique stories, now revealed so that we can say to them, thank you. We remember you. We honour you.

This project has been a privilege to complete. Last year saw the debut of the website www.the48ofstmatthews.ca that has been viewed by thousands. With these stories now told, we are reminded, when we see these names on the Vimy War Memorial or other memorials that for each one there is indeed a story to be revealed, a family who lost a loved one.

I want to note my appreciation for the work done by the students and staff at Lisgar Collegiate for research on Harold Burgess in 2014, to all at St. Matthew’s for their support and interest, and to Victoria Edwards at National Defence. Special thanks to the Glebe Report for publishing these 16 stories of our men from the First World War. Finally, thank you to the students and staff at Glebe Collegiate Institute for past research they completed in a similar project and particularly for their achievement in the design and creation of the The 48 Memorial print, to be unveiled for permanent display on November 11, 2018 during our special service (see box).

WW1-PLAQUEKevan Pipe is a member of the St Matthew’s Anglican Church Communications Committee. He initiated, lead and carried out the research and writing for this project honouring the war dead of the St. Matthew’s congregation. 

WW2-PLAQUE

Two plaques displayed in St Matthew’s Anglican Church in the Glebe honour the 48 war dead of the congregation. Photos: Kevan Pipe

Remembering The Armistice 100 Years Later Sunday, November 11 at 4 p.m.

A special service at St Matthew’s Church will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Armistice, Canada’s contribution to the war effort during those four long and dreadful years. Most importantly, we will acknowledge and remember the 48 St. Matthew’s parishioners who gave their lives during the First and Second World Wars. The service will feature the St. Matthew’s choir, selected hymns for this solemn occasion, a bagpiper and bugler, members of Canada’s Armed Forces and family members of the 48 men from St. Matthew’s parish who were killed in the world wars.

The service will be 75 minutes in length, followed by a reception at the back of the church. The public is invited to join us on this special occasion when a commemorative print will be unveiled for permanent placement in the church. Students of Glebe Collegiate Institute created the print to honour the memory of these 48 brave young men who will never be forgotten. For further information: www.stmatthewsottawa.ca.

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