November 11, 2018, marks the 100th Anniversary of Armistice of the First World War. On November 11, 1918, all fighting on land, sea, and air came to an end between the Allied forces and their last opponent, Germany. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 100 years, with all the information available detailing the lives lost and catastrophic damage done.
As this anniversary date approaches, we thought it would be important to acknowledge and honour some of the World War I history based in, and surrounding our area here in Dufferin, Wellington, and Peel counties.
November 11, 1918
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the Great War, the ‘war to end all wars’, came to an end. Fighting as two separate Dominions of the British Empire, soldiers from Canada and Newfoundland had distinguished themselves in the air, at sea, and on the battlefields of Belgium and France, and specifically for the Newfoundlanders, Gallipoli, Turkey.
During the war’s final hours, with the enemy forces defeated along the Western Front as a result of the Hundred Days Offensive, 25-year-old Nova Scotia native Private George Lawrence Price fell victim to a German sniper just outside the city of Mons, Belgium, minutes before the 11am Armistice was to take effect. Sadly, Private Price is believed to bear the distinction of being the last Allied soldier killed in the war.
Private Price, along with more than 66,000 Canadians and another 1,300 Newfoundland troops never made it home, with many more soldiers succumbing to their wounds long after the fighting ended. Countless more men and women would return bearing the physical and mental scars from the war’s unimaginable brutality.
Guelph, Ontario was typical of small Canadian cities during the time of the First World War. Of its total population of about 16,000 people, 5,610 (more than a third), volunteered for military service. Of this group, 3,328 were accepted. Today, the 216 who paid the ultimate price have their names engraved and honoured on the city’s cenotaph. While Guelphites served overseas, the war has had a profound and lasting effect on their hometown, a snapshot that provides an insight into wartime Canada.
William Baxter, a guard at the Ontario Reformatory, was one of several British immigrants in Guelph who returned to England to join the British Army. Months before the CEF reached France; Baxter was killed in the First Battle of Flanders. Records would show that Lance Corporal Baxter was the first Guelphite to die in the war.
Several reminders of the Great War can be seen in Guelph today. The city’s cenotaph in Trafalgar Park was designed by Alfred Howell and erected in 1927. Honour Rolls bearing the names of fallen soldiers can be viewed at places like the Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute and at St. James the Apostle Anglican Church. The University of Guelph’s War Memorial Hall was constructed in 1924 to honour students of the Ontario Agricultural College who lost their lives in the war.
McCrae House, the birthplace of John McCrae, author of “In Flanders Fields,” arguably one of the most iconic and historical poems memorializing the First World War, is a popular local museum. On June 25, 2015, a statue of McCrae was unveiled in front of the Guelph Civic Museum, to mark the 100th anniversary of the poem’s first publication.
The 164th Battalion (Halton and Dufferin), was a unit in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War. Based in Orangeville, Ontario, the unit began recruiting in late 1915 in Halton and Dufferin Counties.
Prior to sailing for England in April 1917, the battalion was reinforced by a draft from the 205th (Tiger) battalion from Hamilton, Ontario. In June 1917, the battalion was further reinforced by drafts from the 2nd, 5th, and 12th Reserve Battalions, and now totaled over 400 men. The 164th (Halton and Dufferin) Battalion was assigned to the 5th Canadian Division, and were based at Witley Camp in Surrey, England.
On February 12, 1918, it was learned that the 5th Canadian Division would cease to exist. Over the course of the next two months, the entire battalion was slowly broken up through a series of drafts for the frontline units, in particular the 102nd and 116th Battalions. Sizeable drafts were also sent to the 21st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), and the Canadian Machine Gun Depot in Seaford, England. On April 16, 1918, the remaining members of the battalion, six officers and 92 other ranks, were absorbed into the 8th Reserve Battalion.
The 164th Battalion had two Commanding Officers: Lieutenant Colonel Percy Domville (April 22, 1917 – June 19, 1917) and Lieutenant Colonel B. M. Green (June 19, 1917 – April 16, 1918).
A complete listing of 164th soldiers from Dufferin County can be found in the Dufferin County Museum and Archives. It includes where they enlisted, enlisted number, next of kin, date of birth, medals and commendations earned, and if they were wounded or killed in battle. Copies of the enlistment papers are also included in binders titled “The 164th Battalion Project”. These binders are available for the public to view in the archives.
The 164 Battalion (Halton and Dufferin) is perpetuated today by The Lorne Scots, Peel, Dufferin, and Halton Regiments.
The village of Arthur, ON is famously recognized as “Canada’s Most Patriotic Village”. During World War II, 126 Arthur residents enlisted, at a time when Arthur’s population was only 890. That represented the highest ratio of enlistment than any other village or town in Canada. The sacrifice of these soldiers is honoured by the Cenotaph of Arthur, located in the heart of the village. On the cenotaph are engraved the names of the 193 men who enlisted in World War I (including the 40 who were killed in action). Some of the men that enlisted from the Arthur area were British Home Children who were sent from orphanages in the UK. Between 1869 and 1948, over 118,000 orphaned and abandoned children up to the age of 16 were sent to Canada to work as farm hands and domestic servants.
The monument was unveiled on August 6, 1923 by Mrs. David Brocklebank, whose son was killed at the end of World War I. Stanley Howson Brocklebank had earned his Bachelor of Arts at McMaster University in 1914 and was admitted into law school at the University of Toronto. He interrupted his education to open an armed forces recruiting office in Arthur in 1915, and three weeks later he was called to active duty. Ranked Lieutenant with the 71st Battalion, he shipped across the Atlantic in March of 1916 and reached the shores of France in August. He was quickly promoted to Captain and Acting Major serving with Canadian Infantry (Saskatchewan Regiment) 46th Battalion, through the Battles of Somme, Vimy, Hull 70, and Passchendaele. He was wounded four times, and a knee injury he received during the Battle of Amiens proved fatal and he died in France on September 20, 1918. He was awarded the Military Cross for courage and skill in directing the attack of his company as he led the assaulting platoon until he was wounded.
The cenotaph has been described as “a war memorial whose design and beauty cannot be equaled as yet in the Province.” One unique feature of the cenotaph was that when it was being designed, a decision was made to build the monument with stones gathered from local farms. It was later discovered that the memorial was the first fieldstone Cenotaph Memorial built in the province.
This November as we remember the great Armistice, let’s make time to pay a visit to our local museums and archives, to take in the proud and somber history of the men and women whose sacrifices have allowed us to live the peaceful lives we live today.