SECOND PERIOD – ENGLAND.
THE Battalion now settled down to a long, weary wait in England; the first few months being very uneventful. Strenuous training was the order of the day and all responded well to the efforts. Courses for officers and N.C.O.’s were freely partaken of and much benefit received there from.
During this period we had the pleasure of welcoming other units to Bramshott, such as the 51st and 63rd and the 72nd and 75th Battalions.
A large crop of rumours kept floating around, but the only thing German encountered was German measles. There were several efforts made to break up the Battalion, and it was mainly through the hard work of the commanding officer that this did not happen. However, the fate of the Battalion was in the balance for a long time. Heavy drafts were taken out and sent to reinforce other British Columbia battalions in the Canadian Corps, and we received drafts from battalions of other provinces which had been broken up, amongst others being the 53rd, 65th, 62nd, and 71st Battalions.
Finally definite instructions were received that we were to form part of the 11th Brigade under Brigadier-General V.W. Odlum, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., a brigade of the 4th Canadian Division, the divisional commander being Major-General Sir David Watson, K.C.B., C.M.G.
The 4th Division was reviewed twice in July on Hankey Common, once by His Majesty the King and once by the Rt. Hon. Mr. Lloyd George and General Sir Sam Hughes.
Marching orders were received and on the 13th of August, l916, we entrained at Liphook for Southampton, the Battalion being under the command of Lieut.-Col. Kemball, with Major Davies as Second in Command and Lieut. Holmes a Court as adjutant. Company commanders were: “A” Company, Major G. Anderson; “B” Company, Capt. G. G. Moffat; “C” Company, Major F. T. Lucas, and “D” Company, Major Turner Lee.
FRANCE AND BELGIUM
The Battalion having successfully negotiated the perils of the deep in their journey from Southampton to Havre, landed in the latter port at about 6 a.m. on the 14th of August, 1916. This landing in France was surely a new chapter opened in every man’s life. We were stepping into a new country to face an entirely new set of circumstances, and what experiences we were to have before we again left those shores!
As soon as all was complete in the way of disembarkation we were marched up to the top of a huge hill, carrying packs, etc., to a camp which had been prepared, and there had to wait for three days. While here a route march, to keep everybody in shape, was indulged in. This march, if it kept nothing else in shape, certainly kept tempers at a supreme pitch, as the day was very hot and dusty, the country hilly, and full packs and rifles were carried.
After staying at Havre for two or three days the Battalion left by train for the forward area, detraining at a small station called Hopoutre, three miles from Poperinghe, in the Ypres salient, where the officers, ever with the welfare of the men in mind, eagerly produced their field glasses in order to settle the identity of several sausage balloons seen in the distance for the first time. From here we marched to the “Princess Pats”‘ lines, in which place the persistency of Flemish rain and the adhesive qualities of Flanders much-talked-of mud was noticed. No time was lost in outfitting and sending us up the line. Gas masks (which consisted of the old P. H. helmet) and steel helmets were dished out and on the night of the 21st of August we embarked on busses en route for the trenches. The busses were real busses taken from the streets of London and were in good condition.
We went through Dickiebusch as far as the Cafe Belge, where we left the vehicles and commenced our first walk into the trenches, arriving up in the front line about midnight. This tour was an instructional one and only lasted for two days. We were attached to a battalion of the 2nd Division, who showed us around and tried to teach us the difference between the whine of a 5.9 and a “Whizbang.” They were very patient considering the amount of worry and anxiety we must have caused them. After this was over we moved back to support and on the 26th again went up into the front line, taking over our small portion of the British front for the first time and relieving the 25th Battalion.
This was quite an interesting piece of line in which to become initiated, as No Man’s Land was very narrow, and the Bosche was active, principally with “rum jars” and sniping. Such places as “Shelly Lane” and “Convent Lane” were not good to linger in, although one felt somewhat safer at getting back as far as “Voomerzeele Switch.” Our scouts and bombers, under Lieuts. McQuarrie and Smith respectively, commenced to give evidence of their hard training at Bramshott and made nightly patrols between our trenches and those of the enemy. The next few weeks alternated between tours in the front line and tours in support, the support billets being partly at Dickiebusch and partly at Micmac Camp. Nights spent in Scottish Wood should not be forgotten.
On the night of the 15th of September we, in company with other battalions of the division, put on our first raid, the raiding parties passing through the l02nd Battalion, who were holding the line. This was very successful and gave us our first taste of fighting. Our captures included a machine gun and some prisoners. In this raid we suffered some casualties, the officers being Lieut. A.E. Reid killed and Lieuts. Ramsay, Kerry, Thomas and J. Forbes wounded. Our total casualties while in the salient were:
At this time Capt T.E.L Taylor took over the duties of adjutant Lieut. Holmes a Court going as Second in Command of “B” Company.
On the 15th the whole Division was relieved by the Australians preparatory to going down to take their part in the fighting on the Somme.
The Battalion moved away by road, having as its destination Nobecourt, near St. Omer, which was reached by the 22nd of September. This march will always be remembered by those who took part in it as one of great difficulty. It was our first taste of the French “pav ” and the feet suffered accordingly, especially as the previous few weeks had been spent in the trenches. However, the Battalion made the best showing in the Brigade, both as regards good marching and general turnout.
The day after arriving at Nobecourt training was commenced with the object of preparing everyone for the fighting on the Somme, for which we were destined. This training was carried on daily and did not consist of one hour’s P.T. and B.F., but of a full day’s hard work, including Sunday’s.
Here demonstrations of the use of the tump line, so well known to our Canadian loggers, were first made by the 11th Brigade, and the Brigade Tump Line section was formed. Men in the line have often had to rely on these tump – liners for rations, etc., and scarcely ever during the following two years was their reliance misplaced.
On the 3rd of October the Battalion entrained at Audruicq en route to the Somme, detrained at Doullens next day, and from their moving up by short stages to Albert, which was reached on the 10th of October. We were all very interested to see the figure of the Madonna and Child leaning at right angles from the spire across the street.
Arrived at Albert, we were shown an open space known as the “Brickworks,” in which spot were to spend the night, managing to secure a few “bivvies” to protect us from the weather. As these “bivvies” held about twelve men and were open at both ends, and as the weather at this time was very wet and cold, it can be imagined that not much sleep was obtained. Albert was full of troops and a walk down the main street enabled one to meet a representative from every unit in the British army. The following day we moved forward and took up our residence in the Chalk Pits (of evil memory), staying there for three days and going into the line in front of Courcelette on the 14th of October, relieving the 75th Battalion. Our work in the line consisted chiefly of cleaning up after the recent fighting and making new preparations for the attack on Regina Trench. Numerous operation orders were received and it required some breadth of mind to grasp all the details set forth. Although warned to make the attack, this Battalion was not employed in the taking of Regina Trench on the 21st of October, the 102nd and 87th Battalions coming in and taking over the line on the 18th.
Our movements now alternated between the front line, Chaulk Pits and Albert, until the 13th of November, when we took over the line and made preparations for our attack on Desire trench, and these days were among the most gruelling and exhausting in the experience of the Battalion. This was to be part of a big trench-to-trench attack, object was to capture Desire Trench. This was put off from day to day until the morning of the 18th of November. At daybreak on the 18th we advanced under a barrage with a heavy snow storm raging. The enemy was evidently expecting this attack and put up a stiff resistance, but after hard fighting we succeeded in capturing Desire Trench and support trench and held on to it until relieved the following night by the 72nd Battalion. In this attack our Battalion gained high praise for the manner in which they kept direction when advancing under very trying circumstances, reaching their objective on “the exact front” laid down. This was largely due to the untiring efforts of Major Gilbert Anderson who held the right and guiding flank of the Battalion.
We suffered a number of casualties in this attack, among the officers being Captain King and Lieut. Dodworth killed and Major Anderson, Captains Smith and Holmes a Court and Lieuts. Ashley, Bentley, Lukey, Rashleigh, Tunnard and Young wounded. Our total casualties were:
On relief we moved back to Albert, staying on the way at “X 11 a.” This was our “Good-bye” to the Somme for that year and it was with no feelings of regret that we marched out of Albert.
Map of the attack area discussed above – left one is the 1916 map and right is the 2016 map
The conditions on the Somme were truly awful. Mud in the trenches was often up to the hips and it was no uncommon sight to find men stuck in the mud and having to be dug out; the weather was very bad. There were hard, long tramps from the Chalk Pits or “X 11 a” up to the trenches and back again, and men were often so tired on coming out that they lay down in a shell hole and slept until morning. In addition to this the billets on coming back were most uncomfortable, places like “X 11 a,” Tara Hill and the Chalk Pits providing the maximum of hardship and discomfort. The only decent spot to live in was the shelled town of Albert, where the ruined houses and cellars did keep the rain out, but our residence there was limited to five days during our seven weeks’ stay on the Somme.
This period of seven weeks in the Somme area will never be forgotten by members of the Battalion who were present. The long, dreary stretch of the Albert-Bapaume road seemed like a nightmare, and the little Y. M. C. A. coffee stalls were veritable oases in the desert.
Humorous touches were not lacking, such as the scene in the hutments near Pozieres on the morning of November both, after the battle of the 18th, when officers and men woke up to find themselves lying in layers, irrespective of rank, in true Canadian democratic fashion, Col. Kemball being one of the unfortunate “lower strata.”
The return from the trenches on the morning of the both sticks in our memory. The transport limbers met us at Martinpuich corner – a welcome sight – and the musical (?) voices of our quartermaster-sergeants intoning the familiar cry of “54th, this way,” were like angelic voices in the heavenly choir.
Our march up north was uneventful and we arrived at our destination Burton, near Bruay, a place we were to know well in the future, about the 1st of December. We were given to understand that our stay here was to be of about one month’s duration. This was spent partly in endeavoring to get rid of the Somme mud, partly in training and partly in absorbing reinforcements. During this period the Canadian Corps commander, General Sir Julian Byng, inspected the Battalion. This took place soon after we arrived and is a day likely to be remembered by all. The 4th Division had now become a part of the Canadian Corps. While at Ourton we received a large draft of officers and men from the 172nd British Columbia Battalion.
Warning was received that we were to go into the line again and on the 19th of December the Battalion left Burton and proceeded to Gouy Servins, staying there the night and going into the line the next night on Vimy Ridge, relieving the 16th Battalion, on a frontage between La Salle Avenue and Vincent Avenue, including the well-known trenches Cavalier C. T., Tottenham C. T. and Snargate, old Boot Sap and Central Sap.
All reinforcements received while at Burton were left at Gouy Servins where a Brigade School had been started with Capt. F. M. Raphael responsible for the training of the 54th. This left the companies very weak, i.e., 3O men per company, but nevertheless the full frontage of a battalion was held and consequently we were called upon-to undergo much greater hardship than otherwise would have been the ease.
Our first acquaintance was thus made with Zouave Valley and the surrounding neighborhood. This front was a very quiet one after our strenuous experiences in the salient and on the Somme, and there is very little to record worthy of note during the ensuing few weeks. Our time was spent between the front line, Coupigny Huts, Music Hall Line and Berthonval Wood. A great deal of work was done in the forward area and much active patrolling in No Man’s Land. The transport lines were first at Gouy Servins and later at Hersin. This latter meant a very long daily haul for the transport section to convey rations to Bray Sidings, whence they were taken by rail up to Zouave Valley.
Taken on the whole, the billets, as billets go, were not too bad, and when out of the line we all managed to make the best of things and enjoy life to a small extent. Christmas Day was spent in the line and was made somewhat memorable for us, as towards midnight the Bosche put down a very heavy strafe on our front and support trenches because of our having fired on him when he attempted to fraternize earlier in the day.
On 27 March 2000 Iain Morrison wrote from Scotland:
I have just visited your excellent site and was amazed to see a photo of my father’s uncle, Donald John Morrison. He is sitting in row 2 of the machine gunners photo and is named in the list of names as 442437 Morrison, Donald John or 443396 John Howard. I can confirm to you that it is indeed Donald John Morrison. He was originally from the small village of Kyles Scalpay (No. 22) in the isle of Harris in the Western Isles of Scotland and he and one of his other brothers John emigrated to Canada (Vancouver) in the early part of the century. A third brother, Kenneth, emigrated to Patagonia in 1912 and my grandfather, Finlay Morrison, stayed at home to work the family croft in Harris.
I have received Donald John’s attestation papers and I along with 2 of my uncles (one of whom is named after Donald John) and a cousin are planning a visit to the Somme either later this year or early next to visit his grave – he is buried in the Adanac cemetery near Courcelette having been killed on the 19th of November 1916. I have only one photo of him in his uniform taken in a photographers studio ( a lo-res scan of which I have attached to this email) and so I was pleased to see him with his unit.
With grateful thanks
Iain R Morrison, Western Isles, Scotland
Click each image to expand
Ernest Ede, is listed as in the back row, fifth from the left. We now believe he is the fifth uniformed man from the left in the top row. There appears to be an individual (a cook, perhaps) not in uniform also in the back row. Al Todd’s grandfather is the second person to the right of the man in the white tunic. He bases this identification on comparison with a photo of his Grandfather taken in British Columbia, prior to his enlistment. Thanks to Al Todd – Grandson of Ernest Ede.