Monday, July 31, 2017

Farm Meme Monday #1

Farming Funnies - farming memes, cartoons, photos and images | The Rural, NZ:
We're bringing back the Poultry Show at this year's Heritage Farm Show September 9 & 10, 2017 at Backus-Page House Museum.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Saturday Sightings – Watchout!!!

Saturday Sightings – Watchout!!!
          What’s up Canada!  You know who it is!  It’s me again, Ben the MNR guy at Backus Page House Museum.  I’m here to give you your weekly Saturday Sightings.  This week I’m going to teach you about poison ivy.

          Well everybody should know that there is always the chance of getting poison ivy when going into the woods.  The best advice I can give you is to follow this motto; three leaves, let it bePoison ivy has three leaves on the plant.  If you’re unsure about a plant but it has three leaves then just let it be.

          If you come into contact with poison ivy the first thing to do is to stay calm.  Do not touch anywhere else on your body or anybody else because the oils of the poison ivy can transfer to other parts of your body and on to other people.  The poison ivy oil can get on your clothes as well, so make sure to wash your clothes separate from your other clothes with heavy duty soap.  You will need to head to a sink or shower depending on where the poison ivy oil is on you.  Wash the poison ivy oil off with COLD water and soap.  DO NOT USE WARM WATER.  If that does not work, contact your family doctor ASAP for instructions on how to get rid of poison ivy.

          FUN FACT: Most animals are not affected the same as humans are when they touch poison ivy.  So make sure to wash your dog when you go on trail walks.

The photo below is a photo of poison ivy.

          That is your weekly Saturday Sightings with Ben the MNR guy.  Hope to see you soon and remember to stay cool.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

US Civil War Reenactment JULY 29TH AND 30TH

US Civil War Reenactment


American Civil War Schedule of Activities  
Saturday, July 29th, 2017
10:00 AM                                Camps Open to the Public
10:00 AM – 10:45 AM           Company and Battalion Drill (Main Field)
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM                Cavalry Demonstration, Artillery or Volley Gun Demonstration, Infantry Demonstration
2:00 PM – 2:45 PM                Skirmish
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM                Camp life Displays
5:00 PM                                  Camps closed to public

Sunday, July 30, 2017
10:00 AM                                Camps open to the Public
10:00 AM – 11:00 AM           Company and Battalion Drill (Main Field)
12:30 – 1:30 PM                     Cavalry Demonstration, Artillery or Volley Gun Demonstration, Infantry Demonstration
1:45 PM – 2:30 PM                Skirmish
2:30 PM – 3:30 PM                Camp life Displays                
4:00 PM                                  Camps closed to public

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

World War Wednesdays: Third Battle of Ypres 100th Anniversary

Stretcher-bearers thread through shell holes to carry the wounded to aid posts close behind the front, Canadian War Museum George Metcalf Archival Collection, CWM 19930013-464
     July 31, 2017 is being observed as the beginning of the Third Battle of Ypres centenary, popularly known as the Battle of Passchendaele. This infamous series of events was especially significant for Canadians, and has important connections to the Western Elgin area in particular since many of our local 91st Battalion veterans served there. Read on for an overview of the battles and list of local soldiers who are known to have been present at the 'Battle of Mud.'

Memorial Tablet
Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby's Scheme). I died in hell-
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare;
For, low down upon the list, I'm there;
'In proud and glorious memory'... that's  my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he's never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west...
What greater glory could a man desire?
-Siegfried Sassoon

     By spring 2017, the Western Front was in a dismal state of affairs: British Admiral Jellicoe had warned the War Cabinet in London that shipping losses caused by the German U-Boats were so great that Britain might not be able to continue the fight into 1918; Czarist Russia was on the brink of revolution, and if it fell, one million additional German troops would be freed to fight on the Western Front; the recent French offensive on the Chemin des Dames under General Robert Nivelle had lost 200,000 men, resulting in mutinies that threatened the very existence of a French Army. In short, there was a desperate need for an Allied victory.
Black Powder Games blog
     As Norman S. Leach writes, "British Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig and French General Philippe Pétain both viewed the war in Europe as a succession of battles that had started with the Somme Offensive in 1916. In attempting to keep pressure upon the Imperial German Army under the command of General Erich Ludendorff, Haig planned for a sweeping breakthrough in Flanders that would result in the Germans being driven back, the submarine bases in Belgium being captured, and the French armies being given a chance to recover their morale. Haig's plan pivoted around the Belgian town of Ypres. The only part of Belgium in Allied hands, the Ypres Salient, was open to attack at any time. A ridge, the only high ground in the entire region, ran through Passchendaele, and it was occupied by the German army. With the Germans firmly established upon the high ground, the Allies were vulnerable to constant artillery bombardment. Haig's plan was to make a general breakout along the entire front. If the ridge at Passchendaele could be taken and the town itself liberated, the British could turn north and the Belgian coast would be open to them. However, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Haig were both personal and political enemies. Lloyd George did all he could to oppose Haig's plans in Flanders, suggesting an alternative offensive in Italy. The Prime Minister was convinced that Haig would not be able to break through to Belgium, and Lloyd George would then be left to explain to the citizens of Great Britian why, yet again, their sons were forfeiting their lives to little effect. However, Haig and his supporters eventually won the day, and Lloyd George felt obliged to sanction the plan."
Canadian War Museum
     The German Fourth Army was holding the line at Ypres, and noticed the buildup of Allied troops in the area early on. Leach reflects that "The First Battle of Ypres in 1914 and the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915 had consisted of the Germans attacking the Allies. In 1917, however, it would be the Allies who would be attacking a strongly entrenched enemy- one that was ready and waiting for them." In late May 1917, Allied artillery bombarded the German defenses on Messines Ridge (southeast of Ypres), followed by an abrupt ceasefire. The latter caused the Germans to move their reinforcements into place to prepare for an Allied infantry assault and a counterattack while the British detonated the nineteen enormous mines engineers had dug and placed under the ridge. The Battle of Messines Ridge was a complete Allied success, and considered a good omen of things to come at Passchendaele. It also convinced Lloyd George that Haig's plan for a breakthrough just might work. 

     Other preludes to Passchendaele included Pilckem Ridge, which saw massive Allied casualties for only 2,000 yards of ground gained; Langemarck, which brought about another round of heavy casualties for minimal gain, prompted a change of plan to concentrating on small gains rather than pushing for one large breakthrough; Menin Road and Polygon Wood, which cost an additional 30,000 casualties, and placed the British directly under Passchendaele Ridge- and German artillery fire- making it imperative that the ridge be captured quickly; and Broodseinde, a high point for the Allies in Fladers but followed quickly by total failure at Poelkapelle, which lost all Allied advances to German counterattacks.
Ruins of Langemaarck, World War One Battlefields
     Haig knew that the 100,000 casualties the Allies had suffered in the campaign would be wasted if Passchendaele was not captured, and decided that the British, Australian, and New Zealand troops upon whom he had relied were exhausted. His solution, then, was to turn to the Canadians: "He knew that the troops of the Canadian Corps had well earned their reputation as an elite force ready to take on the toughest jobs. With successes at Vimy Ridge and the Battle of Hill 70 behind them, Haig ordered two divisions of the corps to Passchendaele." However, the Canadian General Sir Arthur Currie (Strathroy, Ontario's own) strongly objected to the idea because he felt the Canadians had not yet recovered for a new, pivotal battle.
Mud at Passchendaele, Australian War Memorial
     The main challenge of the impending battle was mud, but the German-reinforced concrete pillboxes also posed a significant threat. Currie personally inspected the battlefield and predicted that the Canadians would be successful, but that it would cost 16,000 casualties. Ultimately, he ordered his officers to prepare to take Passchendaele. Preparations included rebuilding the transportation system, draining swamps, laying deeper telephone wires, and the Canadians specifically built replica German pillboxes and trenches for practice and provided all soldiers with maps of the area. In the preparatory phase alone, 1,500 Canadians lost their lives. Leach describes Currie's pre-battle arrangements: "Sir Arthur Currie had laid out a simple and straightforward plan to take Passchendaele. The Canadians would attack in a series of coordinated operations, each with a limited objective, until the village itself and a defensible position upon the Passchendaele ridge had been gained. The overall goal was to drive a thin wedge into the German positions."

     During the preparatory bombardment between 21 and 25 October, 587 field guns shelled German positions and placed the element of surprise on the Canadians' side. At 0540 hours on 26 October 1917, Canadian heavy machine guns opened fire. Two minutes later, every gun in the Canadian batteries was simultaneously firing. Seven distinct lines of bombardment were utilized: "In all, 20,000 Canadian foot soldiers crawled out of dugouts and trenches, advancing under a mist that quickly turned to rain. The rolling barrage provided some protection, but it moved so quickly and was so complex that it permitted German gunners to target the advancing Canadians."
General Sir Arthur Currie, GOC Canadian Corps (pointing), and General MacBrien with other officers during a training exercise, September 1917. Photo by William Rider-Rider (Imperial War Museum, CO1970)

     Leach reflects that "Currie's strategy of taking and then holding small gains was working. Together with two British divisions, the Canadians moved toward the village of Passchendaele. Under the cover of a driving rainstorm, they quickly reached the outskirts of the now-ruined municipality. For five days, often immersed up to their waists in mud and under intense German artillery fire, these troops held on, waiting for relief. And by the time the 1st and 2nd Divisions relieved these embattled troops, 80 percent of the 3rd and 4th Divisions had become casualties."

     By November 6 the Canadians were ready to begin the advance toward their third and final objective: to capture the high ground north of the town and to secure positions on the eastern side of Passchendaele ridge. Fortunately, this went the most smoothly of all operations to date. The final Canadian action began at 0605 hours on November 10, when Currie used the opportunity to make adjustments to the line and strengthen his defensive positions.

     "The Canadians had done the impossible. After just 14 days of combat, they had driven the German army out of Passchendaele and off the ridge. There was almost nothing left of the village to hold. Altogether, the Canadian Corps had fired a total of 1,453,056 shells, containing 40,908 tons of high explosive. Aerial photographs verified approximately 36,500 Australians and 3,596 New Zealanders. German casualties totaled 260,000 troops. For the Canadians, Currie's words were prophetic. He had told Haig it would cost Canada 16,000 casualties to take Passchendaele- and in truth, the final total was 15,654, many of whom had been killed. One thousand Canadian bodies were never recovered, trapped forever in the mud of Flanders. Nine Canadians won the Victoria Cross during the battles for Passchendaele.

Local Passchendaele Veterans
William Doolittle, Dutton
William McNernie, Dutton
William Henderson Lodge, Iona
Leonard Archibald Munn, Dutton
Alexander Selkirk Stillwell, Iona
David Gill, Rodney
Frank Winifield Janaway, Rodney
George Henry Sayer, Rodney
John Harold Becker, West Lorne
Reuben Byfield, West Lorne
John Henry Gray, West Lorne
John Gyde, West Lorne
Roy H. Kew, West Lorne

Local Veterans Wounded at Passchendaele
Frederick Edwards, West Lorne
Leon Russell Auckland, Rodney
Walter Goodman, West Lorne
     Thanks so much for taking the time to observe this momentous occasion and reflecting on the immense contributions of our veterans, both local and nationwide. Information is courtesy of "Passchendaele: Canada's Other Vimy Ridge" by Norman Leach for
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Civil War Meme Monday #4

We love our reenactor friends at Backus-Page House Museum.  We go Gone With The Wind for the first ever Civil War Reenactment on July 29 & 30, 2017.

Image result for historic house museum Memes

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Saturday Sightings – Say Hello To Frazie

Saturday Sightings – Say Hello To Frazie
What’s up Canada!  You know who it is!  It’s me again, Ben the MNR guy at Backus Page House Museum.  I’m here to give you your weekly Saturday Sightings.  This week our staff force has grown!

Everybody say hello to our new employee Frazie.  Frazie has taking the position of Chipmunk security for Backus Page House Museum.  She has stated she likes long walks on the beach, enjoys long napping breaks in the sun, and enjoys a Chipmunk, cooked lightly with some catnip on the side.

Frazie is very kind and loves people.  Come say hello to Frazie at Backus Page House Museum, she would love it.  If Frazie has an owner and is looking for her they can contact us at Backus Page House Museum in Wallacetown.

That is your weekly Saturday Sightings with Ben the MNR guy.  Hope to see you soon and remember to stay cool.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Why is there a Civil War Reenactment in Elgin County?

While many people are excited that Backus-Page House Museum is the NEW host of the American Civil War Reenactment that used to take place in Milton, a couple have asked what does this have to do with the Tyrconnell Heritage Society's mission statement?  Our mission is to preserve and promote the history, culture and area surrounding the Backus-Page House Museum within the Talbot Settlement.  Colonel Thomas Talbot was instrumental in settling what became 29 townships along the north shore of Lake Erie, but generally we try to keep our "area" to the municipalities of Dutton Dunwich, West Elgin, and Southwold.  While we also focus on 1850s house interiors and the look of the grounds, it is imperative to our continued success and sustainability that for special events and exhibits we share history outside of that decade while still keeping the ties to our location.    

It is our hope you will join us on July 29 & 30 when we happily go "Gone With The Wind" and find out about the Canadian (British North American) connections to the American Civil War.  Anyone who takes the time to hear about all the connections (number to be determined) gets a free hot dog or water, so its well worth your time.  This is a family friendly event.  Food available for purchase.  Visit our website for the weekend schedule.    

American Civil War & the Talbot Settlement
            More than 50,000 British North Americans (Canadians) served on both sides of the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865, including many with connections to Elgin County.  Their connection may be that they were residents before they enlisted or after they served and some joined as “replacements or substitutes” for conscripted men. 
                  In 1861 the Dunwich Pier Company was organized to build the pier at Tyrconnell.  This was a shareholders company with local farmers  and residents buying shares to fund the build.  This company hoped to take advantage of the economic boom which was occurring during the American Civil War.  Commerce declined during the depression following the war and Canadian Confederation.   
If you have artefacts or information about any of the following Aldborough or Dunwich men who served, please contact our office.  519-762-3072  Thank you to the Elgin Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society for their research. 

Christopher BRADT (or Brott)
Leonard HARDER
Charles O., Howard, Henry, and William JOHNSON
Thomas O’NEIL


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Tourism Thursdays: St.Thomas, Eagle and Dutton

Railway Museum, Anniversary Dinner, and Creative Writing 

       The North American Railway Hall of fame is a non-for-profit charitable organization housed in St.Thomas. St.Thomas is rich with historical significance for both locals as well as the country of Canada. Free tours now available from Sunday-Friday, 10am-4pm.  Come see the beautifully restored 1873 Canada Southern Railway Station. Donations appreciated.   

          On July 22nd , it's the 50th anniversary of incorporation for Eagle Community Centre. 3pm opening ceremonies, dignitaries and cake cutting, beverages and food available for purchase. There will be 50 years of pictures, stories and memorabilia on display. Check out the WESS mural as well, made by Gr. 11 visual art students. Make sure to bring your lawn chairs.

       Be creative, be Canadian!  Write about  how much you love Canada, or how proud you are to be a Canadian. write a simple sentence, poem, story to help raise "150" flags at the Dutton Library. Submit online at or drop off your submission at the Dutton, West Lorne or Rodney Libraries by October 6th 2017. 

Whats happening at the Backus-Page House Museum 

            Backus-Page House goes Gone With the Wind at the first ever American Civil War Re-enactment.  Museum, Barn and Trench (as safety allows) open for tours during the event.  Admission $8/person.  Children 12 and under FREE.  Food and gift shop items available for purchase.     

Thanks for reading
Sabrina Merks 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

World War Wednesdays: He Served his Country: Maj. George Stirrett, M.C. D.C.M. Part Three

     Thanks so much for staying tuned for the third and final edition of Maj. Stirrett's First World War reflections. This will be a marathon wrap-up of his experiences, which are absolutely incredible and touching to be able to read from his own perspective. I've heard it said before that a person is only truly dead when those still living stop speaking their name, so I am doing my best to keep Mr. Stirrett's memory alive!

     "We always figured we were not being used properly but knew our time would come. We were often formed up and waiting to act as cavalry but our time never came. We were a second line of defense. Finally, in March, 1917, we were to be used in an offensive role as cavalry. The Canadian Light Horse was concentrated near Divisional Headquarters, given a couple of weeks refresher training in mounted work, and ordered to recce the Vimy front. This was done in anticipation of a breakthrough planned for sometime early in April.

     During the early part of April, the Canadian Light Horse reconnoitered, established and maintained communications with forward infantry posts. The Regiment was finally doing real cavalry work. One troop advanced six miles in a week and got in behind the Germans. One patrol of 12 men got themselves surrounded but were able to hide in a farmhouse till dark. This patrol, under command of a Sergeant Poynton, were too far into German territory and didn't know much about the area. When night fell, Poynton got his men together and told them that he thought his horse was more sensible than any of them. He said that he would tell his horse to go home and then he would take hold of the horse's tail. If any of the men wanted to go with Poynton and his horse, each could take hold of his hand and they would form a string in the dark. The horse would then take them home. Not another word was spoken. They went through the German lines. When they began to hear English voices, they knew that they were safe and spoke up. They had followed the horse about five miles to get back to their lines.

     The big attack the Canadians made was the 8th of August - everybody who was in the war remembers the 8th of August. It was the first time the Allies surprised the Germans and were successful in an initial assault. We had to move at night and on the road for the cavalry that I was with, I put a man on each corner from start to finish. We covered 12 miles each night and anybody from the 3rd Canadian Division who came along our road was given directions on where to go. It was very dark and nobody could have a light - you couldn't even smoke a cigarette. You couldn't be seen as a unit in daytime, no more than three men together in daylight. On the night of the 8th, everything was ready and, around two o'clock, one big gun a the back fired and that was the signal for everything to open up. Where I was I heard this great big boom and we were all standing to from then on. We looked back and it looked like everything was on fire - every gun we had was firing and then we'd turn and look the other way and see them breaking. It was the most exciting thing that ever was. There were three bridges in front of us over a creek that was no more than 8 feet across and my men had to gallop down to see if they could be crossed or if they'd been blown up. They were all intact so they had to go to each unit in 3 Division and tell them it was OK to go. By late morning our guys were playing baseball and kicking footballs around behind what had been the German's 3rd line of defence. There was no one left to fight. A train load of Germans who were just returning from leave was surrounded by a British Cavalry unit and the entire train load was taken prisoner without a shot being fired.
A patrol of 'C' Squadron crosses Vimy Ridge

     Following the action in the Vimy area, the Regiment was quartered until mid-summer near Corps Headquarters. I came down with a fever of 103 so Major McEwen wouldn't let me go out. He sent me to a nearby field hospital were they said I had typhoid fever and was sent back to England for three months. When I returned fit for duty, I was at the Cavalry Depot in England where I met the RCD who had just been put in charge of the Depot. He wanted to make me the Depot's Sergeant Major, saying I would not have to go back to the lines for the rest of the war. That night I talked it over with other wounded members of the 1st Hussars who were also returning from England. We all decided we'd go back to the Regiment. When I told this to the Depot Commander he said that he had a letter from my Commanding Officer saying that I was to become an Officer. The rest of the Hussars went back to the Regiment but I had to stay behind and take an Officer Training Course. I was promoted to Lieutenant and when I returned to the outfit was given the same Troop I had been in as a Sergeant. Gordon Cockshutt was promoted to Captain. McEwen, who had been so important in recruiting us, became our Major. Billy Patterson, another officer with us, had been wounded trying to find a weak spot in the enemy lines. He came home and later became the premier of Saskatchewan.

     I was sent up to join the 3rd Army Engineers with 30 of our men to assist the Engineers in running a pipeline for water supply from the heights of Vimy Ridge up to the front lines so nobody would have to go back for water. I believe they ran 6 miles of this water line. Each night we would lay about 40 feet of line, each man would have 3 feet to dig, and we had to carry the pipe up with us. Then we would cover it over and it had to be covered over so that the Germans couldn't detect a line being put in. We had to bring the ground back so it looked natural again and had to be very, very careful about that. We would put a small stake or something else to mark the place where we had finished up so we would know where to start the next night. So I would go up there with me men and we were only 3 miles from the Germans so nobody could go in front of the building in daytime because you'd be in view of the Germans, especially their balloons. We had that job for over a month and we stayed in an old mine that had been broken down but it had walls that were six foot thick, a swell place to be. I lost five men, 1 killed and 4 wounded on that job.
Canadian Light Horse at Complain Abbey, the Canadian Corps's HQ near Vimy Ridge
     Soon after being promoted to Lieutenant, I had a very unusual experience. My troop competed in a competition in which we would travel about half a mile, then set up a machine gun and engage a pre-determined target. We had a Trooper named Scott in our Troop who could get a bulls eye no matter where we laid down our machine gun. Scott won the championship as the best shot in the Canadian Corps. Because of Scott's shooting ability, we won the troop competition and were to compete against an English Troop. When we arrived for the competition, an English Officer, a stranger, introduced himself and asked me what was going on. When I told him, he invited me to stay with him and let the men use my tent. I agreed since he was living only a few hundred feet away. He had been all his life connected with the military and the secret service. He gave me a knowledge of what was actually going on. As an example, he took the newspaper and showed me an ad which said a house with so many rooms was able to be rented at a certain time for a certain amount. He said that this was all secret service work, and this ad would be picked up by someone in Holland, Norway, or some other place and decoded. He said there wasn't an issue of the London Times that didn't have at least a dozen coded messages in it. He went on to say that German Secret Service were being touted as superior to the British. However, the policy of the British Secret Service was to underrate themselves and look stupid, while saying how smart everyone else was. He said that in England every square mile in the country and every city block in the city had a secret service man on it. He said that nobody could move anyplace in England without the secret service knowing where and why.

     This Officer came over to my troop and took the Lee-Enfield rifle and gave about an hour's lecture on the rifle. He told whit it could do, the history of its development, and what improvements had been made. He made a most interesting lecture out of nothing. Then he told us all about the German rifles, the French rifles, and improvements they had been making. He had been all his life at this sort of thing and seemed to know about everything and everyplace. He even knew where Sarnia and Petrolia were, that there were refineries, and that there was a tunnel under one of the refineries. He was very helpful and informative about things that counted. I had much more faith in the British system after hearing this Officer tell me about it. Before the competition got started, the Germans started a big offensive and we were called back to our Regiment. The competition never did occur.

     We were told the plans to take Cambrai, a big city that was there. They'd have all the fast moving stuff, the cyclists, the cavalry, and the mortar and machine guns, put under one command into a brigade that was to operate independently. They had a plan to cross this creek and then take this hill that stretched back towards us almost 6 miles. The Germans were defending the ridge of course. We went over the plan to organize this attack for almost two weeks. The first thing that was to go was the tanks to crush the barbed wire and the next to go was my troop of cavalry, followed by the motorcycle gang. We would then all proceed down this road to a town called Ewi. We were called to a meeting with a General and, as I was to lead the attack, he told me to come up and explain the plan. I explained about following the tanks and then going down the road to Ewi but I also pointed out that a little dot on the map of Ewi was really a red brick grocery store which I intended to capture and make into the R. Stirrett Company store. By the time the rest of the guys got to Ewi, I'd be ready to sell stuff to everyone. This brought a good laugh from the group and the General wished me well.

     The infantry got through the lines one night, which wasn't part of the plan, and we got the message about two in the morning to get going. When we got to Cambrai, just at dawn, we proceeded down this street, with firing still going on in the town, and there was perfectly open territory and about a mile ahead was a hill. Major McEwen said to me, "go take that hill - take the highest point". I had the troops get rid of everything except swords, rifles and ammunition and we started out at the trot. As we entered the field we found it full of German infantry who had been in hiding and it startled us somewhat. We managed to handle most of them and even took over a couple of their machine guns. I told my men to wait, there was only about 25 of them now, and I went forward to reconnoitre. I only gone about 50 yards and came to high ground overlooking a road chuck full of Germans getting their fires going to make their breakfast. I got up on my horse to get a better look down and I figured there was a thousand of them, a whole damned battalion at least. Major McEwen had given me to flare pistols, one to shoot a red flare if I need reinforcements and one to shoot a white flare if I succeeded in taking the hill. I didn't know what the hell to do as I only had 25 men but I brought them up on horseback and scattered out. The Germans surrendered as they didn't know there only a few of us. I fired the red flare and about three in the afternoon they sent up about 60 cyclists who took over the prisoners. I took my troop back to pick up our saddlery and stuff we'd dumped before the charge.

     They tried a charge again the next day with 2 of our troops and the Germans, whose machine guns were set up for infantry, killed every horse in both troops. The men hid behind their dead horses, waited for darkness and then made it back to our lines. They never got replacement horses and walked with us for the rest of the war - they walked into Germany. They never used horses in the next war so I guess they didn't think a hell of a lot about what we did as cavalry. During the fall of 1917, the Regiment moved back to the vicinity of Ypres. Mud and bad weather made mounted operations impossible. As a result, all men and officers who were available went forward with the infantry, carrying ammunition to the artillery, and manning observation posts. Casualties were heavy both in the front lines and in the rear since the whole area was subjected to heavy artillery shelling.

     The winter of 1917-1918 was spent near the Corps Headquarters on the Lens front, preparing for an expected German attack in the spring of 1918. During this time, many of us went away on courses which lasted from two weeks to a month. I was sent to one on the French coast at Comte-sur-la-Mer during December, 1917. This school was for riding and horsemanship and included 48 Officers divided into four groups. All but myself were from famous old British Cavalry Regiments. To become an Officer in one of these famous Regiments someone, usually the family, had to guarantee as much as 10,000 pounds against your getting into trouble. Our group of 12 included officers from the Household Cavalry, the Scots Greys, the 17th Lancers, the Bays, and the Royal Horse Artillery. I was the only one who did not fit into this caste system which had been in England for hundreds of years.
The soldier in the center and the officer are 1st Hussars of the Canadian Light Horse

     I started things off wrong the first night by not dressing for dinner. Even though I assured them that the reason was simple - I had no other clothes to dress in - it took some explaining and many laughs. The second big difference was that I had attended a Public School, with girls attending the same classes. Then they discovered that I had worked in a store and stood behind a counter taking money for goods. I was nothing but a common tradesman. Things really got bad when they discovered that the Cavalry Regiment that I belonged to had never been engaged in combat (as the First Hussars) and that I had never been on a fox hunt. The worst thing though was that I had a decoration that showed that I had been in the ranks. They wondered what kind of an army I belonged to. My groom and batman both realized this. They were named Fartar and Bradley. They came up to my room the second night I was there and asked me to bawl them out whenever any of my classmates were around and to do it properly. They said that they would know that I didn't mean it, but would accept it because the other officers would not think that I was a good officer if I didn't bawl them out.

     I had taken a mare with me on this course. She was a good mare physically, but she had a peculiarity in that she wouldn't lead. She would follow or go beside other horses, but she would never lead. Major McEwen suggested that since this was a riding school, I should take this horse, called Daisy, with me. On the first day, I was on Daisy and all the English boys were on their own hunters taking the jumps. When my turn came, Daisy, instead of getting over to the right, pushed the whole line out of control. Here I was, with a big Stetson on, looking like a cowboy, and unable to keep control of my horse. The man in charge, a Major in the Scots Greys, said, "Can't you control that horse, Canada?" I said, "No sir, do you want to try it?" He got on and put the spurs and whip to this horse, but instead of going ahead as he expected her to, Daisy just backed off and acted worse for him that she had for me. Well, here was a Scots Grey major, the pride of his Regiment, in front of officers from all the best cavalry regiments, unable to control a good looking horse. He was humiliated. He got off Daisy and said, "Where in the hell did you get this thing?" When I said that she had come off the Canadian prairies, he said, "Can't you send her back?" From then on, everyone in the class wanted to ride Daisy, and I was called Daisy for the rest of the course.

     I never did get accepted into the class because I was the odd ball. The only thing that redeemed me was on the last day when we had a shooting competition. We took all the empty whiskey bottles, put them about a yard apart on the coast side, and then drew a line about 30 feet away. When the sergeant called your name, you took your revolver and tried to hit as many bottles as you could. I went to the sergeant, who was sympathetic towards me because he knew I had been a sergeant, and asked what we were shooting for. He said that each time you hit a bottle, everyone in the class would have to pay you ten francs, which was bout $2 Canadian. That meant every shot could be worth almost $100.00. I seemed to be the only one who took my time and aimed my revolver. I came out the best shot and was able to clear up all of my mess bills and still come out ahead. I was using my issue weapon, a Smith and Wesson . 45 pistol.

     At the end of July, 1918, in preparation for the Battle of Amiens (August, 1918), the Canadian Light Horse was ordered to move by night to Saleux, south of Amiens. Here we were broken up and a squadron attached to each of the attacking infantry brigades. LCol Leonard took command of the Hotchkiss Gun Detachment (18 guns) which worked along the Amiens-Roye Road and helped to maintain liaison with the French on the right. 

     During the early part of August, I was attached, with my troop, to the Canadian Third Divisional Headquarters. As the attack started on August 8th, the Brigade Major came to me and said that the first thing that they had to do was to get over a small creek about ten feet wide. There were three bridges in Third Division sector. Our job was to determine as soon as possible after the attack started, whether or not these bridges had been destroyed. As soon as this was determined, my troop would have to deliver messages to the advancing elements of Third Division. This was done right at dawn.

     By 9:00 A.M., the Brigade Major came to me and said, "Stirrett, we've got so far that they have passed their objectives. Now we have lost our troops and haven't any communications with them." He said that I was to take all the men I had and send them out. They were to try and contact anyone from the Third Division and bring back a message telling where they were and what they were doing. There were not yet any radios and the signals had not yet had time to get our their signals wire. We spent the rest of the day trying to contact advancing elements. My troop was with Third Division Headquarters for over three months, usually being used to deliver messages. From this time on, it was just one attack after another.
Royal Scots Greys entering a French village

     During this time, we got a report that a German artillery unit had disappeared into a hollow about a mile away. A squadron of the Scots Greys was in this area and was asked if they wanted to go after these Germans, who were to the right, on the French side of the road. The Scots Greys officer said that he could not go. Lieutenant Freddy Taylor, a First Hussars Officer, and a bit tight at the time, commanding the 1st Troop, took five men and headed out towards where the Germans had been seen. They found the Germans about 2000 yards ahead of the advancing French infantry. It was a German artillery ammunition column, hidden in an excavation, and their horses had nose bags on as they were on a rest stop. One man held the horses while Taylor and the others moved forward with their rifles to the edge of the bank. From there, they were able to shoot every horse and a few men so that the German column couldn't move. Then Taylor said every man for himself, and to get back they best way you can. They went back, losing one man while two were wounded. LCol Leonard asked me to determine exactly what had happened and to determine whether or not Taylor should get a decoration. After I turned in the full story, Taylor was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the surviving men were awarded Military Medals (MM). When I had talked to the men involved, each had told a different story, as if they had not all been in the same place at the same time. They all said they had never seen anything so ridiculous or so foolish in the whole war. I concluded that I thought the whole action quite reckless.

     In mid-August the Canadian Light Horse was again broken up and attached to the forward infantry brigades, since the trench systems were too involved to permit any large scale cavalry action. Later, the Canadian Light Horse was again concentrated and formed part of an independent force of Cavalry and motor machine guns whose task was to push out along the Arras-Cambrai Road during the operation against Drocourt Switch (2 September, 1918). Unfortunately, the German defence was too stubborn and the breakthrough never came. 

     From Arras, the Canadian Light Horse moved forward the night of 26 September. About noon the following day, we crossed the Canal du Nord. From here the Regiment stood to each day waiting for the German resistance to weaken sufficiently to permit cavalry action. Each day we conducted hazardous recces in order to keep closely in touch with the front line situation and have lines of advance clear of wire and suitable for forward cavalry action. Casualties were heavy. During this time, in late September, I was awarded a Military Cross (MC). This decoration was given to me as a result of a reconnaissance action carried out by my troop on 26 September, 1918, north of Sailly and again on 01 October, 1918, east of Tilloy. By this time I had been promoted to Captain.

     At last, on 9 October, 1918, the long awaited chance for offensive cavalry action came. Our Squadron, under command of Major McEwen, crossed the only unblown bridge of L'Escaut Canal at Escamdoeuvres just north-east of Cambrai and seized and held a piece of high ground until relieved by the infantry that night. This action greatly assisted the advance of the day but resulted in 2 Officers, 24 men and every horse in one troop being killed. Many of the enemy were taken prisoner.

     It was about this time that we first saw German tanks in action. One of my men, when asked what they were, replied, "Why it's the Irish Navy, can't you tell." The Regiment, now considerably reduced in strength, stood to for the next few days while it was refitted and brought back up to strength. A squadron of Royal Northwest Mounted Police, which had just arrived from England, was added to the Canadian Light Horse as 'D' Squadron. After Cambrai, the Canadian Corps shifted its front north to the Senee Canal and advanced on Douai and Valenciennes. The Canadian Light Horse kept contact in front of the infantry and gained considerable cavalry experience in open warfare. During this advance wherever possible, our patrols entered small villages ahead of our infantry, enabling the infantry to continue their advance without deploying. Our squadron would move with Major McEwen to the north taking a sector about a mile wide and myself to the south taking a similar sector.

     Gordon Cockshutt went to visit some friends of his at 1st Brigade HQ and mentioned to them that they should have a troop of cavalry to do reconnaissance as they needed to find the Germans. They sent for me to come up and McEwen said, "You aren't going without me" so we both went, me first and McEwen followed the next day. My Troop arrived about dawn and the Brigade Major sent us right out saying, "I want you and your troop to ride out there until somebody shoots at you. I've no idea where the damned Germans are." We did this for seven days from Deayi to Valenciennes. We'd pick a place a half a mile to three quarters of a mile away where we thought the Germans might be - a little house or a clump of trees. I'd go straight at it and two troopers would come in from each side, form like that, and when we got about 100 yards from it we'd get up in our saddles, hold the horse up, look over, then turn the horse and go the other way at the gallop. We knew they'd never shoot as us when we were going towards them as they would want to take us prisoner. They would shoot at you with machine guns if they thought they'd been spotted. If we didn't get shot at, we'd go back to that clump of trees or house and rest our horses for a half hour or so and pick out the next objective. As soon as we were fired on, we would retire and the infantry would take charge. The third day at this, on 21 October, 1918, Major McEwen was killed while on personal reconnaissance at Hesnon. On the first day, my diary states "started contact patrols at Montagny. Lost Bliss, Clark, and Thompson, all wounded by machine guns. Not bad as an infantry attack would have lost a hundred.
French civilians with various gas masks at Marbache
     The fourth day, we ran into civilians whom the Germans had not had time to clear out. As we rode into a village, we trotted down the cobblestone streets. All windows for 300 yards to the village square were drawn and covered. As we reached the village square at the Catholic church, we looked to see the road full of women, older men, and children, filling the road with anything they could wave. We dismounted and the old pries took me by the ears and kissed me. This started things. The priest kissed the three men with me. Then they all seemed to go crazy at once. They even kissed our horses. Then the priest called for prayer and the entire village went to their knees at once, including my men and myself. We had a very similar experience in every village from then on. We were first into at least twenty villages with the infantry about a mile behind following us in column of route. 

     Open warfare continued. Valenciennes was captured and the Germans fell back to Mons. The Canadian Light Horse pursued the retreating Germans and was among the first units to enter Mons which had been under German occupation for fifty-two months. Armistice came on 11 November, 1918. The infantry formed a static line and the Canadian Light Horse was reassembled as a Regiment. Following reorganization, the Canadian Corps advanced from the Mons line to the Rhine.The Canadian Light Horse provided the advanced cavalry screens for the Canadian Corps. In the triumphal march over the bridge at Bonn, the Guard of Honour to the Corps Commander was commanded by Lieutenant F. A. Taylor, D.S.O. of the First Hussars.

     I didn't come back with the unit. When we got up into Germany we had Christmas dinners and things like that and everyone started wondering about how and when they were going to get home to Canada. Discipline became a big thing as everything was going haywire - discipline was disappearing so I took my men aside and told them I didn't care what they did as long as they looked after their horses every day, acted like gentlemen and let me know where they were. I woke up one morning with an awful tooth ache so I went to see our dentist and he filled my tooth. That night I could hardly sleep because of the pain in the tooth so I went back the next morning and asked him what he had done to me and told him about the pain. The dentist started laughing and said that was the best story he'd heard for the last month so I was to keep it up and he'd send me home as a stretcher case on the afternoon train. I never saw the Regiment again until much later in my life. I was also told that I should have the tooth re-filled when I arrived in England so I went to London and a dentist there filled it with gold - it didn't hurt anymore. I got home three months ahead of the Regiment.

     Thanks again for following through to the end with this one. I hope you'll agree that it was well worth the wait and extra scrolling! Many thanks again to Petrolia Heritage for the information and images. We'll be changing gears next week with some new material so continue staying tuned!
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Civil War Meme Monday #3

Most Likely to Secede ....hahaha a little history humor:
Did you know the pier at Tyrconnell was built to sell goods to the US during the American Civil War?  Local families, mostly famers, gathered $2000 in capital for the Dunwich Pier Company in 1861, So many men from Elgin County crossed the border to serve.  They deserve to be remembered by us for their sacrifice.  Join us for our first ever Civil War Reenactment July 29-30 at Backus-Page House Museum.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Behind the Scenes with Sabrina


🌸🌸Behind the Scenes with Sabrina 🌸🌸 

       First off HI , I'm Sabrina Merks, resident of Dutton and I'll be attending St. Lawrence College for musical theatre performance in the fall. You may have seen me in the Elgin County area wearing many hats, such as volunteer at The West Elgin Dramatic Society or have seen me as one of the cashiers at Dutton Foodland, or even possibly as current reining Miss Elgin County Globe. I spent my past year at Sheridan College in the performing arts program and I'm excited to be Assistant Museum Manager for the summer.

      My week at the museum was an entertaining one. At the moment we keep a quote book where we fill it with all the hilarious things we've said this summer. Some of the funny things we have said so far are;
when I was writing my blog on breakfast at the lions den I was confused because I typed the word, HASHBROWN, and then all of a sudden a swiggly line pops up underneath and I ask Angela how its spelt and she goes " one word, at least thats how McDonalds spells it" and the whole office just breaks out in laughter, but I couldn't stand that stupid red squiggle  underneath it so I separate it into two words and call it a dun deal.

         Along with quotes about spelling Angela was hilarious on Wednesday we were all talking about how we had the police go to the lookout because we had thought a car had been left there all weekend. The people had actually just parked in the same spot both days we (meaning Ben) checked it out . We also found out they went behind the fence! DON'T GO BEHIND THE FENCE! Angela was getting really upset, when the people from behind the second fence finally showed up, she asked them why they thought it was okay and their response was "We thought the first fence was a warning" ARE YOU KIDDING ME!! So Angela is telling us about how she waned to respond but didn't actually in the moment "So the first fence is a warning the second means were serious this time ". I would like to say on behalf of everyone at the Backus-Page House Museum. DON'T GO BEHIND THE FENCE. The dangers are very, very real. When you step over that fence, where it says do not step over that fence, at any given time, these cliffs could fall away. You may not realize when people need to be rescued that they are endangering the lives of the firefighters who use ropes to lower themselves down, as well as the firefighters who hold those ropes. So do us all a favour, enjoy the park but don't go behind the fence. 

          This week we also had our day camp, this weeks theme was all about food. Children learned about the other uses for herbs and vegetables, planted seeds and made all sorts of crafts. Its always hard to get work done with the kids everywhere so I stayed in the office and worked on scanning gift forms. A process where I look back from 1996 and scan all the gift forms so we have an electronic copy. 

For the most parts thats been our week. 
Thanks for reading
Sabrina Merks