Friday, April 23, 1915

In billets, St. Jean

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “Particulars of operations attached.” [1]

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: The Battalion War Diary as typed up for the period April 23rd to May 3rd inclusive contains no further details beyond the above noted comments. However, attached to it is a hand-written report dated May 6, ’15. This is the first of several such ‘post-ops’ reports appended to the War Diary over the following months. They were usually written up on the quad-ruled pages of field service notebooks. The detail covering April 23rd from this report reads as follows:-

“At 9:00 a.m. Friday, April 23rd Nos. 3 & 4 Companies were ordered to move up to reinforce the 16th Battn. in front of the wood in C17A.* These Companies took with them attached 3 Machine Guns and crews belonging to the 3rd Bn. which were at the disposal of the O.C. 16th Battn. which Battalion were then consolidating their position. When this consolidation was completed, these two Co.’s of the 14th Bn. which were in charge of Lieut.-Col. Burland were ordered to move at dusk on Friday, April 23/15 up to St. Julien where they joined No. 2 as reinforcements for the 13th Bn. No. 1 Coy remaining at G.H.Q. lines, the command of these lines being handed over by the G.O.C. 3rd Bde. to Lt.-Col. Meighen, O.C. 14th Battn., who remained in charge of G.H.Q. lines throughout the action. These lines were improved, especially on the left where No. 1 Coy of the 14th Bn. were entrenched by strengthening parapets and digging communication trenches.

About midnight on Friday April 23rd the 13th Bn. having refused the left flank of their original alignment on the Poelcappelle Road. The three companies of the 14th Bn. joined them in the new alignment & dug themselves in with the 13th Bn.” [1]

* Note: These numerous alpha numeric references appearing in this and succeeding reports are the reference coordinates for positions on the Battalion’s operations maps.

23 April 15_A

The Battalion history adds this comment: “On April 23rd Lieut. G.W. Stairs, who had behaved most gallantly, was killed, together with many of the rank and file. All that day and all that night Capt. Brotherhood commanded the remnant of the company, encouraging the men by force of personal example to bear with courage the shelling and machine gun fire which harassed them sorely, the more so as, owing to shortage of ammunition, supporting fire was conspicuous chiefly by its absence.” [3]

[Col.] “Loomis* detailed a party of 60 men, [led by Lieut. G.W. Stairs of the 14th Bn.] which included a machine gun crew headed by 19 year old Fred Fisher, to assist King.** Fisher needed help with the machine gun. Private F. Palin (14th Battalion),*** whose company formed part of the St. Julien garrison, remarked in hindsight: ‘We were out in the sun doing a bit of cleaning up, and the first thing we knew we got a ‘Stand-to’ and I remember one Lance-Corporal Fred Fisher of the 13th Battalion, he came down looking for eight volunteers to carry up a machine gun, so eight of us stepped out.’ Just barely out of a public school in Toronto, but showing the skill of a veteran, Fisher led his crew forward under heavy fire and set up his Colt gun in an isolated building, which enjoyed a commanding view of the enemy. In the fading light, the Germans attacked again and again, only to be driven back each time. Members of his crew went down, but Fisher kept working the gun, ripping and spraying the enemy’s ranks. He contributed in no small measure to checking the German advance and providing cover for King to withdraw his guns. Attached to teams of horses, King instructed his drivers to forge ‘ahead any way you can get out.’ The guns made it back to St. Julien. For his skill and daring, Fisher was awarded the Victoria Cross, the first Canadian soldier in the Great War to receive the honour. He was given the medal posthumously for, regrettably, he was killed in action the next day.” [4]

* Lt.-Col. Frederick Loomis, Commanding Officer, 13th Battalion
** Major William B. M. King, 10th Field Battery, C.F.A.
*** Pte. Francis J. Palin, #25754 of the 14th Battalion.

[1]   Operation-Report  of May 6th, 1915;  War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089723.jpg
[2]  Col. G.W.L. Nicholson, CD., Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919, Duhamel, Queens Printer, Ottawa, 1962, pg. 65.
[3]   R.C. Featherstonhaugh, The Royal Montreal Regiment 14th Battalion C.E.F. 1914-1925, Montreal, The Gazette, Printing Co., Ltd., 1927, pg. 39.
[4]   George H. Cassar, “Hell in Flanders – Canadians at the Second Battle of Ypres,” Toronto, Dundurn Press, 2010, pp. 117-118. http://books.google.ca/books?id=m7p4L0fVRBAC&q=
[5]   Col. G.W.L. Nicholson, CD., Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919, Duhamel, Queens Printer, Ottawa, 1962, pg. 69.

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