Private Ernest Podmore was killed in action at Beaucourt En Santerre, near Amiens, France, on August 8th 1918, serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force – 54th Infantry Battalion. He is buried in Beaucourt British Cemetery. This is his story.
Ernest was born and brought up in The Potteries, Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, in a working class neighbourhood close to the old Stoke City football ground. Ernest’s sister Edith ran a grocery. Ernie was very close to Edith’s daughter Jessie, even though this niece was twelve years younger.
In 1913 Ernie made a difficult decision. Two older brothers had already emigrated from Stoke to Canada. No doubt they wrote letters home about the opportunities there. Ernie left Stoke to follow them. It must have been a painful time for Jessie.
In Canada Ernie travelled to meet his brothers at Collingwood on Georgian Bay, Ontario. He got work with the Collingwood Shipbuilding Company. After just three years in Ontario he volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, an army being assembled to come to Europe and fight in the Great War. Was he fired by love of his native country? Did he find life in Canada more difficult than he expected? Was he missing home or family and eager for a passage back to Stoke on Trent? We don’t know. In October 1916 Ernest sailed from Canada back to Britain.
Now Private Ernest Podmore embarked on a long period of training, of waiting, and of a few disciplinary issues, as evidenced by the deductions and ‘field punishments’ recorded in his military wage records.
Eighteen days ‘Absent Without Leave’, ending with an overnight stay in Stoke police station during the autumn 1917 was of particular interest to our family. Ernie was home from training but his beloved niece Jessie lay seriously ill in an isolation hospital. According to Jessie, Ernie refused to leave her side and go back to the army until she recovered. In the event a policeman came and arrested him.
Jessie never saw him again. She was traumatised by news of his death in France the following year. Throughout her life Jessie blamed herself, believing that Ernie had been sent into greater hazard by his decision to remain with her beyond the permitted leave.
At the end of February 1918 Private Podmore was sent to France and ‘taken on strength’ by the 54th Infantry Battalion – Canadian Expeditionary Force. The 54th was a fighting battalion that had gained battle honours since 1916 – the Somme, Passenchendale, Ypres, Vimy Ridge and other engagements. After life in the training battalions the progress to France and service with combat exposed men must have been a huge change for Ernest and many like him.
During the summer of 1918 it is likely that Private Podmore had spells at the front line in the Arras area with the 54th. It was a interlude of relatively low intensity warfare, dangerous stalemate, compared with the great battle to come. Ernie’s service accounts shows uninterrupted earning, his wages steadily accumulating.
On a misty morning, 8th August 1918, the 54th Infantry Battalion crossed the River Luce, south-east of Amiens. It was the first day of a massive attack, intended to break through German defences on a wide front, make decisive advances and bring the Great War to an end. To begin the 54th followed behind the front line of Canadian attackers, away from Amiens and into newly captured territory. This was dynamic conflict, with ghastly mass casualties to shell, bomb, bullet and bayonet, on both sides, everywhere around Ernest Podmore as he moved up. We can only imagine the feelings Ernie, and his comrades, were dealing with at this time. They came up from the river to the edge of a plateau where a road marked the objective of the first Canadian wave. This was the point where the second line, including Ernest and the 54th, would pass through and take up the fighting. The battle plan that day required speed and success going forward. In this sector cavalry units of horse and small Whippet tanks made good ground across flat country. Infantry soldiers rode in tanks as long as they could endure the fumes and stifling heat they found inside.
By early afternoon men of the 54th Battalion reached the protection of the village of Beaucourt en Santerre. So far enemy resistance and casualties had been limited but their designated objective lay still further ahead across more clear, flat ground to the south east. Unfortunately now they faced the threat from German machine gunners in a wood on the left flank of their continued advance.
A small hollow called Vallee Floquet beyond the village gave cover from the menacing machine guns. A number of cavalry hid there, their officer no doubt fearing carnage if his men and animals moved out into the range of those weapons. Now Lt Colonel AB Carey DSO, the brave, aggressive commander of the 54th Battalion, arrived. He demanded that the cavalry take the wood, eliminate the machine guns and maintain the momentum of the advance. The cavalry officer wanted this order in writing but as Carey was putting pen to paper he changed his mind. Carey told the cavalry he would do “the job” himself, leading men from the 54th Battalion reserve company that had just arrived in the village.
They ran across open fields devoid of cover and without any type of covering fire except the smoke from a burning tank. “At least” 18 men of the 54th were killed. Nevertheless they took the wood. By late afternoon the German machine guns were silent and the general Canadian advance in this sector continued forward to reach their planned objective. We now know that the ‘Battle of Amiens’ from August 8th onward was indeed the beginning of the end of the Great War. Lt Colonel Carey gained a Bar on his Distinguished Service Order for his leadership and courage in the attack this day.
Beaucort en Santerre Gravesite
If you visit Beaucourt now the landscape is in many respects exactly as it was on August 8th 1918. You can find Vallee Floquet below the village, and a remnant of the wood held by German machine gunners across fields to the East. By the hollow, is the British military cemetery. Eighty seven graves.
We cannot say that Private Ernest Podmore was killed in the assault to take Beaucourt Wood. If “at least” 18 men of the 54th died in that specific action they represent half the men of the 54th who lie in Beaucourt cemetery. There were other machine guns in front of them in that sector, other dangerous efforts were required that day.
What we can say is that Jessie Gray was very much mistaken in her belief that her illness resulted in Ernie’s death. Private Ernest Podmore’s military misdemeanours were relatively trivial. He was not dragged from the police cell in Stoke directly to the most exposed position on the front line in France as Jessie somehow feared. He went back to his training battalion, faced some limited sanctions and was transferred to a fighting unit in France to serve in the same way as hundreds of thousands of other young soldiers. Jessie died in 1979, long before we got chance to research this story and tell her the truth.
Also we would like to tell Jessie that Ernest Podmore was killed in action on a day when, arguably, his sacrifice resulted in something achieved, on a day when the horror endured by all brought peace tangibly closer. We are not sure how she would have received this idea. She hated war.
Very few of us can imagine or understand what the experience of that battle was really like. Ernest stood with his comrades, obeyed orders and moved forward into obvious, immediate peril. On Ernie’s grave the inscription, paid for and dictated by the family who loved him, says “he proved himself a man”.
David Turner (Great great newphew of Private Ernest Podmore & Grandson of Jessie Gray)
Further study images x 3
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On October the 14th 1916 Private (Pte.) Frederick Charles Day of Crawford Bay B.C. was killed in action while serving with the 54th Battalion (Kootenay), Canadian Expeditionary Force during the Battle of the Somme near Courcelette France. The book Cinquante-Quatre: Being a Short History of the 54th Canadian Infantry Battalion relates that on October 14th the 54th was moving from an area called the Chalk Pits, “of evil memory,” to the line in front of Courcelette to relieve the 75th Battalion in preparation for a new attack on Regina Trench. The page from the battalion’s war diary for the 14th indicates “Situation quiet in the morning. In afternoon enemy opened up heavy bombardment to our right and left to which our artillery retaliated.” The entry goes on to indicated that casualties sustained were 4 killed and 15 wounded.
Cpl H.W. Herridge, who was from Nakusp, was with Pte. Day at the time of his death and recounted the events in a January 24th 1968 article that was published in the Nelson Daily News: “I had just been promoted to the exalted rank of corporal, Mr. Herridge recalled. Freddie Day, in the midst of an artillery barrage, dedicated a song to me and was signing the song, “My Hero,” from an opera of that time, when a shell went through his body and killed him. I was knocked down, but after the initial shock was able to get the remnants of his body up over the rear parapet of the trench. Later, when the shelling ceased, I got the stretcher bearers to carry out his body for burial.” Pte Day was taken to 9 Casualty Clearing Station and then laid to rest in Contay British Cemetery in Picardie (Hauts-de-France).
(VERNON ARMY CAMP AT LEFT)
Frederick Day came to Canada on the Canadian Pacific Line Steamship Lake Champlain which sailed from Liverpool England on the 30th of March 1911 and arrived in St John New Brunswick on the 11th of April. His name is on the passenger list immediately below my Grandmother’s name as he immigrated to Canada and settled in Crawford Bay BC with my Great Grandfather William Freeman, his wife Florence, and their daughters Constance, who was 4 years old, and my Grandmother Gwendoline who was 5 months old. My Great Grandfather was a gardener foreman at a number of estates in Reigate, Surrey and Frederick Day’s occupation was listed as a labourer so I suspect he possibly had worked with my Great Grandfather or perhaps they may have become acquainted at St, Mary’s Church in Reigate. After arriving in St John, they boarded a train which arrived in Nelson BC on the 17th of April 1911. They travelled from Nelson to Crawford Bay on either the paddle-wheeler S.S. Kokanee or S.S. Nelson where they settled and established their property which was called Hill View Ranch.
While my Grandmother was in hospital prior to her passing in 1985, she wrote about some of the memories that were most important to her in a notebook which included some details of my Great Grandparents and their time in England prior to coming to Canada. Her writings also included quite a few details of when they first moved to Crawford Bay. She wrote that “Fred Day had a gramophone and used to bring it up to our house to play it to us. And on account of one record he had, we (Connie and I) used to call him Uncle Bubbly. Sorry to say he enlisted in the First World War and was killed in action in late 1916 or 1917.” Amongst her writings she included a picture of Fred Day that was taken at Camp Bramshott, England where the 54th joined the 11th Brigade as part of 4th Canadian Division. Along with the picture, there was also a postcard that was sent to my Great Grandfather when Pte. Day was in Camp Vernon where he was taken on strength with the 54th following his enlistment at Nelson B.C. In the postcard he said to my Great Grandfather “Well Will how’s everything in the ranching business. Hope the garden is flourishing, also the stock. We are getting nearer Berlin every day. Very hot Country here. Don’t catch all the fish. Remember me is all.”
Pte F.C. Day is commemorated on page 76 of the First World War Book of Remembrance where he is listed amongst those who gave their lives during the Battle of the Somme. His name is also listed on the Cenotaph in Nelson BC and on a plaque in Harrison Memorial Church in Crawford Bay BC which was built by Commander Matthew Harrison in 1920 who my Great Grandfather worked for as a gardener. I consider it a significant honour that the pictures and details regarding Pte. Day were passed on to me and that I had the opportunity to piece this story together and ensure that he is remembered as he clearly held a special place amongst our family. I would like to thank Judy Deon from Nelson Museum and Art Gallery for the work she did to provide me with the 1968 Nelson Daily News article about Pte. Day.
My Grandfather was born in the Marylebone area of London in 1877, one of eleven children – his father a fireman died in a fire in 1888. Only the youngest children stayed with the mother some going to the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. My Grandfather came to Eastern Ontario to work on farms at the age of eleven through the Bernardo Foundation.
When of age he returned to England and joined the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, a mounted regiment, where his Attestation Papers stated the occupation of a farrier which is a blacksmith who shoes horses. He saw lots of action in South Africa and was seriously wounded, when shot between the heart and the lungs, so he had no misconceptions about what lay ahead. After the Boer War he stayed in South Africa for a few years before returning to Canada to marry an army buddy’s sister.
His service with the 54th Battalion follows.
Prior to the war he was employed at Roberts and Godson in Vancouver as an iron pipe moulder living with his wife Louisa and their three children Alfred, Edith and Thomas at 2263 – 46th Avenue East, South Vancouver, BC.
On June 30, 1915 Henry Woodnutt enlisted and on August 7, 1915 signed up for overseas service with the 62nd (Vancouver) Battalion CEF. His Attestation Papers indicate he had 8 years of prior military service in the British Army with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.
His Attestation Papers include Distinctive Marks for future identification. Other than a scar on the left thumb there is a detailed though difficult to read list of multiple tattoos on both arms. After preliminary training in Canada he embarked at Halifax on April 1, 1916 on H.M.T. Baltic and arrived April 9 at Liverpool. The Battalion was stationed at Bramshott Military Camp in Surrey where further training took place.
On May 12, 1916 he was transferred to the 54th (Kootenay) Battalion Company D along with others from the 53rd, 65th, and 71st Battalions in order to bring the Battalion up to battle strength. The 54th were to form part of the 11th Brigade of the 4th Canadian Division. Part of his time at Bramshott with the 54th was an assignment to the Brigade Military Police. The Battalion received marching orders on August 13, 1916 and by the next day they had landed at Le Havre. After a few days in Le Havre they travelled by train and bus to the Ypres Salient and made it to the trenches by midnight on August 21. During the next few weeks they alternated between tours of the front line and tours in support. On the 15th of September the 54th and other battalions of the division made a successful raid on the German trenches with one officer killed, 5 wounded and 18 other ranks killed, 38 wounded as well as 7 missing. This raid coincided with the Haig’s two army assault on the Somme on September 15 with the start of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette which included the other three divisions of the Canadian Corps. Over the next month the Battalion regrouped and received additional training in preparation for a move to The Somme. On the 14th of October the Battalion moved into the line in front of Courcelette and relieved the 75th Battalion (Great Uncle Richard Pether’s Battalion – he did not go to France until February 16, 1918 – killed in action midway between Arras and Cambrai Sept. 2, 1918). Again they alternated between the front and in support but on the 13th of November they took over the line and made preparations for an attack on the Desire Trench.
On the morning of the 18th of November the Battalion advanced under a creeping barrage and a severe snow storm but after heavy fighting the trench was taken with two officers killed and 10 wounded and 69 other ranks killed and 124 wounded as well as 8 missing. The 75th suffered 99 killed and 142 wounded. The 54th and the 75th held on until they were relieved on the 20th by the 72nd and 102nd Battalions respectively. Henry Woodnutt’s Casualty Form indicates that he received shrapnel (other forms show gunshot) wounds in the back on the 18th of November though it is not clear how serious these were other than he remained in hospital at Le Treport and in recovery until he left to re-join the Battalion on the 15th of December catching up to them on the 23rd. By this time, the Battalion who had been regrouping at Burton near Bruay had joined the Canadian Corps. at Vimy Ridge on the 20th . The Battalion was in a very weakened state as all new reinforcements received at Burton stayed at Gouy Servins where a Brigade School had been established. Here he received additional training including the NCO course. During the ensuing months at Vimy they rotated on and off the line and were involved in a lot of heavy work building and repairing trenches, and in much active patrolling in no man’s land. Towards the end of February 1917 preparations were commenced for a gas attack and raid on Hill 145 ( this is the site of the Vimy Memorial which is the highest point on the 14 mile long Vimy Ridge) by 1700 troops of the 54th, 72nd, 73rd and 75th Battalions.
At 3am on March 1, 1917 the first cloud of gas was sent over the German lines with little effect. The second cloud which was to be released at 4:45am did not go due to unfavourable wind conditions. No artillery support was planned. In spite of this the assault by the 54th and the 75th Battalions began at 5:40am under heavy rifle, machine gun fire as well as artillery. Taking part in the assault for the 54th were 15 officers and 390 other ranks; they made it across no man’s land but were unable to get past the barbed wire entanglement in front of the German trenches. Eight officers including their Lieut. Colonel were killed as a result of the raid and 5 other officers were wounded. Ninety three other ranks were killed and 89 wounded as well as 7 missing. The 75th with 481 all ranks did receive some artillery support and had some limited success but they too suffered heavily; 3 officers including their Lieut. Colonel were killed and 8 wounded. Sixty-eight other ranks were killed and 31 wounded as well as 112 missing. Henry Woodnutt was one of those wounded. His discharge papers indicated he had been struck by shrapnel from a high explosive shell but his casualty form indicated the injury was from a gunshot wound. Either way he suffered a compound fracture of the femur penetrating the right knee with further complications due to infection. He spent the next 20 days at Bruay in the #22 Canadian Clearing Station where shrapnel and bone fragments were removed from his leg and he was placed in an extension spling. From there he was moved to the Red Cross Hospital at Etaples and eventually to England on March 31, 1917. On arrival at Fulford Road Hospital, York his condition is noted as being “seriously ill”. He spent seven months here at which time his leg was re-set and he had two operations for drainage. The leg was kept in extension for four months. The wound had healed then broken down again on two occasions before it finally healed in September 1917. From there he was moved to the #4 Canadian General Hospital at Basingstoke for six weeks then on to the #5 Canadian General Hospital at Liverpool for a month before being invalided back to Canada on November 19, 1917 aboard the Hospital Ship Araguaya. He arrived at a convalescent home in Esquimalt, BC on December 12, 1917.
At the time of his discharge on May 29, 1918, it states that his knee movement is limited to 10 degrees and that his femur is now 3 inches shorter. No weight can be placed on his right leg and he requires crutches to move but he slowly does one mile each day. In the present condition the leg is worse than an artificial limb. Character awarded in accordance with King’s Regulations – VERY GOOD Sources: 1/ Service Records – H. Woodnutt – Provided by National Archives of Canada 2/ War Diaries of the 54th and 75th Battalions 3/ www.54thbattalioncef.ca
My Grandfather did recover for the most part and led and active life until his death due to stroke in 1954. He did walk a mile each day with the aid of a cane and a specially built boot that compensated for the loss of length in his one leg.
The 1 March 1917 Raid continues to attract attention.
The map shows you the Cavalier (54th Battalion) and Tottenham (75th Battalion) tunnels which sheltered the raiding force until they assembled for battle. The four battalions went from S.9.c.2.5 to S.21.d.7.9. about 2 km.
The Bickersteth Diaries, 1914 – 1918. John Bickersteth, Pen and Sword, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, 1995: pp 165-167.
For the last few days we were in the trenches as we were forever waiting for favourable conditions for the gas attack. It is an important affair since the gas was of a new and particularly deadly kind, guaranteed after a few minutes to penetrate the German respirators. The first discharge was to be let off at Zero hour, then there was to be a wait of about two hours, then another discharge of the ordinary poisonous gas followed by an attack by two battalions. It was therefore almost more than a raid it was a small attack, though the features of the operations were really those of a raid, as no ground was to be held. The two battalions were to be ‘over’ for an hour and a half, do as much damage as possible and then return.
Everything depended on the wind; and Eaton and I, who were living at Villers-au-Bois in reserve, daily examined it; indeed a score of times we went out into the open fields with compass and handkerchief or cigarette smoke or wetted finger and tried to gauge the wind’s exact quarter. We were to go up directly it was certain whether it would come off, but from the nature of the case we could not be certain till about two hours before. Zero was at 3 am. Every night we sat up till 12.30 waiting for a message from the Brigade. DOG was the code word meaning the show was off, and CAT meant it was on. The evening of Feb.28, or more accurately, at 12.30 am on Thursday morning March 1st, we were waiting for our message as usual. For three nights DOG had come regularly. But today the wind had seemed favourable. At about a quarter to one the orderly came. I glanced at the message and saw CAT. In twenty minutes we were off.
From the first I think some of us had harboured a few doubts about the success of the scheme. The gas had been in the front line a whole week. It was there blocking the narrow trench when I went up to view ‘the Pimple’, and considering how information gets about, this fact could hardly have been unknown to the Germans. Add to this two things:
(1) a raid had been made by the Ist Canadian Division on our left on the night before, and they had found the Germans ‘standing to’ in their gas helmets, though no gas had been used;
(2) an officer and a sergeant of the Gas Company had been going round our line the night before, had mistaken their way (a very easy thing to do, though of course they should have had guides), had walked into the German trench, had met six Huns, and had put up a good ‘scrap’, the officer getting away but the sergeant being captured. Members of the Gas Company are not allowed in the front line unless gas is about. However, we hoped for the best and waited.
At 3 am the first discharge of gas took place. We saw it rolling in a thick bilious-looking cloud towards the German line. Almost at once a fusillade of rifle fire began. Owing to the nature of the ground you will understand how this came straight across the valley at us. A good deal of it passed overhead, but a good deal also spattered up the ground all round and pinged against our very low parapet. At 3.15 am we began a moderate bombardment for twenty-five minutes, the artillery and ourselves. At 3.25 every one shut off, and we went to our dug-outs.
You must understand that this whole affair was an experiment of our new gas – it was a bigger raid than had ever taken place before, and that interest in the business was widespread. Had it been a success there would have been much writing up in the papers by war correspondents and so forth. The English official statement said, `We discharged gas this morning east of Souchez. Our men subsequently raided the enemy trenches and took some prisoners`. The German official statement ran thus: ‘East of Souchez a strong attack was repulsed’. Of the two the German gives far the truer statement.
The whole thing was unfortunate, and in my humble opinion (and it is shared by many) gas as an effective fighting ally is played out. The average private soldier hates gas. He would far rather go ‘over’ without it. The Canadians had never failed to make good in a raid before, and their failure on this occasion was entirely due to the gas being totally ineffective.
Canada is now in their second war in 21 years. Note the wreath devoted to the 54th Battalion. some of the buildings in this picture still exist. See below the postcard after the modern picture of Victory Square in present day East Vancouver. Note the dignitaries on the left. Are there gaps of missing men just behind the monument to the right? A very big thankyou to Fred Young for the images.
William Tamboline originally joined the 62nd Battalion and was transferred to the 54th once in England. So he never lived in the Kootenay area nor served with the local boys from home. Being the son of a farmer he was well acquainted with horses so was eventually assigned to driving the supply wagons to the front. He spoke very little of his time in the war so our knowledge of his experiences is extremely limited. William (Will) Ernest Tamboline was born on Westham Island in 1893. He married Margaret Frew in 1915, daughter of James Frew who had bought land on Westham Island in 1888. William served overseas in the 54th Battalion Canadian Army in WWI. After returning home he purchased his father-in-law’s farm and remained there until retirement. He was active in the community, on lacrosse and rugby teams both as a player and a coach, a member of Canadian Order of Foresters, Delta Branch No.61 Canadian Legion, Delta School Board, and a charter member of the Westham Island Gun Club. He and Margaret were active in the United Church and members of the True Blue Lodge. They were the donors of the Tamboline trophy given to the Ladner High School. Margaret was involved with the Delta Parent Teachers Association and a member of the I.O.D.E. In 1960, they were awarded the Delta Good Citizen Award. William and Margaret had 3 sons (Ernest, Albert, Lloyd) and 2 daughters (Betty and Margaret). William Earnest Tamboline My Grandfather became good friends with Cecil Tyreman (pictured with Will in winter uniforms) while serving overseas. Both managed to survive the war but sadly Cecil died of wounds at Etaples in France. He left his young bride at home, as did my Grandfather. His widow never remarried and would often make trips to Westham Island to visit with my grandparents for a time.
NDN was a daily from it’s founding in 1902 until it’s closing, it is now in the process of digitizing their content through UBC. They are now at 1918 and will go to 1920 under the present funding. The link is below;-