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A Duty Nobly Done — Anselm and Margriet in Flanders and Picardy

A Duty Nobly Done — Anselm and Margriet in Flanders and Picardy

Old Jan 5th, 2009, 06:43 AM
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AnselmAdorne, thank you this captivating report. I absolutely love reading the letters from Uncle Harry. His expressive way of writing is powerful.

In the last few years, my husband and I have focused most of our travel on WWI and WWII. I am embarrassed to say that much of the history was lost on me during my education. But now it seems to occupy most of my travel planning, a thirst that seems unquenchable.

When we visited northern France and Germany this past summer, we were overwhelmed by the graciousness and gratitude of the people. Very humbling and moving.

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Old Jan 5th, 2009, 07:16 AM
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What a treat -- two vivid writers for the price of one.


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Old Jan 5th, 2009, 08:00 AM
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Ah, curry powder. My mother always rather bridled at the fact that the most heartfelt message in my father's very first letter home from a prisoner of war camp in WW2 seemed to be "Please send curry powder", but food had to be the first priority, I suspect.
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Old Jan 5th, 2009, 08:59 AM
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Most fascinating, yet unsettling, post. "Enjoying" it immensely.

I recently unearthed a cache of letters I wrote my parents from Korea. The difference between what I told them, and what was actually happening, make me wonder at the things Harry is glossing over.

More, please!

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Old Jan 5th, 2009, 10:32 AM
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Thank you so much for starting this. We've been waiting ever since our dinner together with you in Paris.

On another note, I hope you've made some plans for these wonderful letters and any other memorabilia you might have. If your children don't have much interest , You might consider donating them to your relative's regimental museum. We did that with all our WWI family memorabilia. Some to the Princess Patricia's CLI and some to the Surrey and Queen's regiment . We still have some of David's father's things and we need to finally dontae those, I have to find out what regiment he was in in the Canadian Army
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Old Jan 5th, 2009, 11:57 AM
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Not to steal your thread, Ernie but does anyone know what regiment or outfit this would be? One of his medals has his #36068 S Sjt LAD, GAPC on it.
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Old Jan 5th, 2009, 02:47 PM
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avalon

This is a strange inscription. I'm assuming that this is a First World War medal. Service medals, such as the 1914-15 Star, and the War and Victory Medals are engraved with the recipient's number, rank, initials and surname, either on the back (for stars) or the rim (medals).

Orders and decorations such as the Distinguished Conduct, the Distinguished Service, and the Military Medal add the recipient's unit.

Clearly the number and rank are there (Staff-Sergeant--at that time often abbreviated S Sjt), but the letters following don't make any sense, either as a name or a unit.
Is LAD the initials? Is there a surname? I'm not aware of any unit with the abbreviation "GAPC"

If you can tell what the medals are, that might help.

This site will help you to identify them:

http://tinyurl.com/79jqxj

I'm sure that Anselm will forgive us this small deviation from his fine report.
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Old Jan 5th, 2009, 05:03 PM
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avalon, I rather thought that if anyone might know the answer to your question it would be laverendrye. I hope you can find out a bit more about David's father's record.

nukesafe, Harry was a master of understatement. I suspect that part of it was simply to keep a stiff upper lip, and part was to avoid distressing his family. We have transcripts of some of his nephew John's letters from the front. His descriptions were far more graphic than Harry's.

On a related note, Harry censored his own letters and always took care not to mention the names or numbers of battalions, brigades and divisions, nor where he was. (Well, almost always careful; writing home about his horse named Givenchy was a pretty big clue about where he was at the time.)
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Old Jan 5th, 2009, 05:06 PM
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<b>Back to Ypres</b>

In November 1915 Harry’s mother fell ill—a stroke, perhaps—and he started to send his letters to his sister Leonora, whom he addressed as Nora or Nonny. There was co-incidentally, a change in his war: the Indian Corps was withdrawn from Europe and sent to Mesopotamia. But the Army kept the Lahore Divisional Artillery on the Western Front, so Harry and his 5th Brigade were moved north to support the Canadians in the Ypres Salient.

I was struck once again by how topography, history, and weather blend to affect my mood. That southern arc of the Ypres Salient—from the Menin Road south through St. Eloi and on down to Wijstschate—felt dark and malevolent. The thick fog persisted, the soil was wet, and the hills, as modest as they are, reminded me of the intense fighting for the high ground overlooking Ypres. As I had discovered in Verdun in 2007, there are times when an active imagination can be disturbing.

Harry fought in this sector for seven months. The war diaries take on a numbing rhythm: they shelled German front-line trenches, communication trenches, and assembly points. They fired at enemy batteries, observation points, sniper’s posts, and machine gun positions. (Harry: “I just fired a couple of rounds at a Hun working party time 9:30 pm observed by the infantry. I’m sorry to say in my anxiety not to hit our own lines I went over the German ones both shots. Lines mighty close about 35 yards in one place only a little left of where I was shooting. I allowed too much margin …”) Observers counted all of the shells fired by the Germans and attempted to pinpoint the location of their guns. (The Lahore Divisional Artillery intelligence summary noted that the officer commanding the 64th Battery [that was Harry] reported the flash of a German 5.9-inch howitzer firing at 7:20 pm, visible from N.33.b.4.1. Harry was at “Daylight Corner” when he sent in that report, about 1200 metres southeast of where we slept at the Hostellerie Kemmelberg.)

He was fortunate to miss the debacle of the St. Eloi craters, but did take part in the Battle of Mount Sorrel. (I read somewhere, and now can’t find, a comment that the artillery bombardment before the Canadian attack to reclaim Observatory Ridge was the heaviest and most concentrated British gunnery to that point in the war.)

Somewhere around this time Harry was wounded for the second time. There is no detail, simply a reference in early July to having his dressing changed every day. And immediately after Mount Sorrel, his mother died, and he later wrote to say how glad he was to have been able to get home.

<b>Where Canada mourns</b>

Pushing south towards Picardy, now in our fourth day of fog, we left the Harry trail for a few hours. Below Lens we climbed up onto Vimy Ridge, parked, and followed the directions of a security guard, who pointed us toward a path under maples. We saw nothing until a party of French school children emerged from the mist, and we realized that the Vimy Monument was towering over our heads, grey against grey.

This was the site of a success: four Canadian divisions took the ridge in a meticulously planned and well-executed attack at Easter 1917. Vimy is mythically significant for us, in part because it was a watershed event in our nationhood, but more profoundly because it has come to symbolize our mourning. The design of the monument, bold in the 1930s, is unlike any other memorial on the Western Front. We cannot be the only Canadians who have stood there in pride, humility, and sorrow.

We drove a couple of kilometres further south to Nine Elms Cemetery, where we looked for the grave of Fred McAvay, an uncle of SallyCanuck, who posts here on Fodor’s. He died in the assault on Vimy, April 9 1917. We had brought maple leaves down from the ridge (it just seemed like a very Canadian thing to do); we left some at the grave marker, took a few photos, and drove straight down the A1 to Bapaume.
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Old Jan 5th, 2009, 05:31 PM
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Bookmarking. We were in Belgium in October, had a guide for two days to see the Battle of the Bulge area. Next trip will include Flanders.
Those letters are better than any history book! Please consider donating them, or selling them, at some time, to a military museum or something so that so many others can read them and begin to appreciate what that war was like.
I'm going to follow along with this and thank you so much for sharing. As history lovers we are on a quest to visit the sites my dad lived through during WWII, and many others that particularly appeal to us. Both world wars have thousands of places worth visiting.
Thank you!!!!
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Old Jan 5th, 2009, 11:27 PM
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My roots are in northeast France, and all of these cemeteries are part of the landscape. The only other country that I have visited that seems to have as many military cemeteries is Vietnam.
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Old Jan 6th, 2009, 03:57 AM
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<b>“Where were you during the great offensive?”</b>

The big push on the Somme—four months of intense fighting in the summer and fall of 1916—moved the line a few kilometres back towards Germany. It came at an appalling cost. A year after the battle, John Masefield described what still lay on the battlefield: “Corpses, rats, old tins, old weapons, rifles, bombs, legs, boots, skulls, cartridges, bits of wood &amp; tin &amp; iron &amp; stone, parts of rotting bodies &amp; festering heads lie scattered about. A more filthy hole you cannot imagine.” Place names like Beaumont-Hamel, Thiepval, Mouquet Farm, Pozi&egrave;res, Delville Wood, and Mametz still evoke a sense of horror.

We found gently rolling hills and shallow valleys. Many of the fields were still green, those that were plowed showed a light, dry earth. There was no mud, no melancholy, no malevolence, just a remarkable sense of peacefulness. But it hasn’t fully healed. While the inhabitants go about their normal lives, the reminders are everywhere: the distinctive green Commonwealth War Graves signs at every intersection, the tour buses from Reading, the school parties standing on the lip of the Lochnagar Crater, the memorials, the monuments, the scars.

We visited Beaumont-Hamel, site of the Newfoundland Regiment’s attack on the opening day of the Somme. Of the 801 in the contingent, only 68 answered roll call the next day. Rex Murphy, that wry journalist and quintessential Newfoundlander, has observed that his compatriots “are not unacquainted with grief.” But this was the worst day in their history: “Not an outport nor a town but sent someone, not a family hardly but was to bear the terrible cross of a favourite they were never to see again.”

As at Vimy Ridge, we watched Canadian university students—buoyant and confident—giving tours of Beaumont-Hamel to French school children. Ninety-three years ago these young men could have been subalterns facing a very short life; these young women could have been nursing sisters dealing with unspeakable injuries.

We looked at the Lochnagar Crater at La Boiselle, stopped at the memorial plaque at Mouquet Farm, and visited Thiepval, with its memorial to the missing of the Somme. We drove down to P&eacute;ronne and toured the war museum; rather a good one, we thought. We visited the German cemetery in Fricourt on our way back.

In early July 1916 the Lahore Divisional Artillery moved from the Ypres Salient down to the Somme. They came south by train and went into rest in the village of Fieffes, 35 kilometres from the front. There was a different pace when at rest:

<i>July 6, 1916</i>

<i>My dearest Nonny,</i>

<i>It is delightful to get your letters so regularly. They come in with the communiqu&eacute;s &amp; contain far more matter of interest … I seem to have quite enough to do these days. At 9 o’c (8 o’c according to Gregorian reckoning) we have been having some director work (that is an instrument for taking angles) for officers. We get in at 11 or so &amp; stables carries us on to lunch time. In the afternoon I have been riding off some 3 or 4 miles to get [my wound] dressed. By the way, the thing ought to be healed over in 3 or 4 days time. I shall be glad. In the evening I have been taking an hour’s lesson on the Morse buzzer. The above with the interstices filled in with a few official papers — reading newspaper and so on pretty well fill up the day.</i>

<i>On Saturday, we have got a concert. I am supplying beer. The funds are supplying cigarettes. On Monday we are having a little dinner party at a place called the Officer’s Chit — a small affair …</i>

<i>Now my very best love</i>

<i>fr HBC Arthur</i>

On Sunday, he reported that the concert had been a success: “Last night we had a concert which went off very well. Roseveare sang something about the village pump of which the chorus was the pump the pump the pump pump pump pump pump. It went down very well.”

But he chaffed at missing the action:

<i>July 17, 1916</i>

<i>My dearest Nonny, </i>
<i>A line before I go to bed. – We are in a new billet a farm in a village street. It is comfortable &amp; the lady is friendly … My dear I hear tales of a fresh British capture of villages near the Somme. I hope it may be substantiated. I have it on the authority of our field cashier. I have not seen even yesterday’s paper. You have the advantage of me already. We are still at rest. I wonder how long we will remain so. “Where were you during the great offensive?” Well I was in our wagon line …</i>
<i>And now to bed </i>
<i>HBC Arthur</i>

And had to face an ordeal:

<i>July 28, 1916</i>

<i>My dearest Nora, </i>

<i>Today I have survived an ordeal. I was asked last night to lecture to officers of a battalion on matters of artillery. Today I did so &amp; am sorry to say took two hours over it. I should add that they survived too. When I had finished the major said quite gravely – Well, we shall understand that if you shell our own trenches it will be because it was a warm day or for some reason like that. I haven’t any idea why he said it. It was a cruel thing to say! …</i>

<i>My best love I will stop now</i>

<i>HBC Arthur</i>
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Old Jan 6th, 2009, 04:21 AM
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Beautifully written and inspiring - thanks for the story of your journey - looking forward to more.
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Old Jan 6th, 2009, 07:54 AM
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Thank you, thank you - Anselm! How lovely to take the maple leaves to Fred's grave...makes me teary reading it.
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Old Jan 6th, 2009, 08:17 AM
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Sally Canuck, I'll mail the photos (and your book) tomorrow morning.
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Old Jan 6th, 2009, 08:18 AM
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<b>Sausage Valley</b>

The Lahore Divisional Artillery stayed at rest until August 2 and then marched over several days to the Brickfield at Albert. On August 8, they were ready to relieve the Australian Field Artillery, who had been supporting the Australian infantry’s attack on Pozi&egrave;res.

Just east of Albert there is a long shallow valley running southwest to northeast from the tiny village of B&eacute;court up towards La Boisselle. The British called this Sausage Valley. (There was, of course, a Mash Valley; it was on the other side of the Albert-Bapaume road.) On August 9 Harry and his battery set up at the upper end of the valley, shelling German positions just east of Pozi&egrave;res. The next day, the 10th, the weather, which had been bright and hot, turned to mist and drizzling rain.

The 5th Brigade’s war diary entry for August 10th: “Battery commanders checked registration and established communications with O.P.s [Observation Posts]. During the afternoon, enemy heavily shelled Sausage Valley.”

And the Lahore Divisional Artillery war diary, August 10th: “Normal day and night barrages carried out … Registrations were continued. Casualties: Major H.B.C. Arthur, 2/Lt. J. McIvor, 2/Lt. E.F.L MacPherson 64th Battery, 5th Bde. RFA KILLED Capt J.V.O’Brien R.A.M.C attached 5th Bde RFA KILLED …”

Just like that.

On September 28th the War Office wrote to Harry’s mother, unaware that she had passed away: “The Military Secretary presents his compliments to the Honourable Mrs Arthur, and begs to inform her that a report has just been received from Army Headquarters in the Field which states that the place of burial of the late Major H.B.C. Arthur, Royal Field Artillery, is as follows:- ‘Sausage Valley, La Boiselle, Sheet 57.d. Square X.15.c.4.7’ The Military Secretary ventures to send this information now, as the Honourable Mrs Arthur may not have previously received it.”

Harry was buried a few hundred yards from his battery, in what was later called Gordon Dump Cemetery. It is on the north slope of Sausage Valley, at the end of a wide grassy path leading away from a country road. Everything around it is farmland now, just as it was in July 1914. We walked down—predictably, in mist that turned to drizzling rain—and found his grave. McIvor and MacPherson, his two subalterns, lie alongside, as does Captain O’Brien of the Royal Army Medical Corps. It is a tranquil place, but ineffably lonely. We stood there for a while, then signed the visitor’s book, took pictures, and left a poppy.

“I have implicit confidence in you, my soldiers,” wrote King George in a message to the British Expeditionary Force at the outbreak of the war. “Duty is your watchword, and I know your duty will be nobly done.” Harry, a soldier of the King, fought in the battles of Givenchy, Neuve Chapelle, Second Ypres, Aubers Ridge, Festubert, Loos, Mount Sorrel, and the Somme. He was twice wounded, mentioned in despatches, and killed in action; it was indeed a duty nobly done.
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Old Jan 6th, 2009, 09:45 AM
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Geez, now I'm teary again.

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Old Jan 6th, 2009, 10:13 AM
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A wonderfully written, moving and well composed report, Anselm (E). But then, I've come to expect nothing less from you. Thanks very much for your good work and I'm looking forward to more.

M.
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Old Jan 6th, 2009, 03:56 PM
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AA, I don't think I've ever used the word &quot;enthralled&quot; to describe a trip report but you and Great Uncle Harry have certainly captured my interest.

Deborah
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Old Jan 6th, 2009, 05:07 PM
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Your reports are tops in my book. Will savor in-depth when I have time this weekend. Looking forward to it!

Best to you and Margriet. I cook that Paris-apartment chicken at least twice a month. Then I make chicken tacos in adobo sauce with the leftovers.
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