Fallen but not forgotten
Burial planned in March for recently identified Manitoba soldiers
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/11/2014 (3054 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Battle of Amiens began on Aug. 8, 1918. Led by Canadian and Australian forces, it is considered the last great battle of the Western Front, taking place in the final 100 days of the First World War.
The 78th Battalion (Winnipeg Grenadiers) made up part of the Canadian Corps. Created in July 1915, it was initially commanded by Maj. James Kirkaldy, who for 13 years had served as police chief for the City of Brandon. In charge of recruiting was J.B. Mitchell, who was a North West Mounted Police officer before becoming a prominent local architect, designing dozens of Winnipeg schools.
On Aug. 10, the Grenadiers were instructed to take the village of Hallu, France. They did, but at great cost. By the time the battle ended the next day they had suffered 46 fatalities, with another 54 men missing in action.
Many of the casualties came on Aug. 11, as the Grenadiers struggled to hold the town. Pte. Howard Esli Slater of Neepawa, who was on duty that morning with the Battalion’s C Company, described it this way: “The enemy had been shelling the village from about 8 a.m., and there was a heavy barrage from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., when we were told the enemy were coming over.” He and two other soldiers were briefly taken captive and placed in a crater by German soldiers. A half hour later, a Canadian barrage opened up and, in the confusion, they were able to escape back to the Canadian lines. Slater and his comrades survived.
One soldier killed that morning was Capt. James Edward Tait of Burnell Street. He had already been wounded in action three times, receiving the Military Cross for bravery at the battle of Vimy Ridge.
Outside Hallu, he rushed a German machine gun perch that had been picking off soldiers, killing the gunner. On Aug. 11, Tait was severely wounded by a shell, but continued to direct his men until he died on the field. His actions earned him the Victoria Cross, one of four Canadians to receive the honour in a period of three days.
Tait was initially buried on the battlefield and is believed to have been reburied in Fouquescourt British Cemetery, France. For 35 of his comrades, there was no burial, as their remains were never recovered.
That changed in 2006, when teenager Fabien Demeusere discovered the remains of a Canadian soldier while digging in his backyard in Hallu. The remains of seven other Canadian soldiers were eventually recovered. Five of the eight soldiers were recently identified by the Department of National Defence’s historic-casualty-identification unit. All five were members of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, and it’s believed the remaining three were, too.
Sadly, these men did not have time to set deep roots in Manitoba. Some were newcomers, and all were too young to have had a chance to establish themselves in careers. Only one was married, and none had children. Their footprint is very light.
Lt. Clifford Neelands was born and raised in Barrie, Ont., and first appears in Winnipeg’s 1913 Henderson directory on Bell Street, then in a room at 1023 Dorchester Ave. He was employed as a clerk, working his way up to an agent, at real estate firm C. H. Enderton and Company. Located on Portage Avenue where the Radisson hotel now stands, Enderton owned and managed the brand-new Winnipeg subdivision of Crescentwood.
Neelands served for seven months with the 144th Battalion, but did not leave Winnipeg. Instead, he was selected to attend the Provisional School of Instruction in the fall of 1915. These military schools offered intensive-training sessions aimed at making promising young privates into officers in a matter of weeks. On Nov. 26, he graduated and was awarded the rank of lieutenant. The following May, he enlisted with the Grenadiers.
On the morning of Aug. 11, Neelands noticed the enemy advancing. Wanting to get a better look so he could instruct his platoon where to fire, he left his trench and was immediately killed by an enemy shell.
Circumstances of Death documents for Lance Sgt. John Oscar Lindell, Pte. Lachlan McKinnon, Pte. William Simms and Pte. Sidney Halliday are all dated Aug. 11 and include identical descriptions. “During an enemy counterattack on our lines in front of Hallu, he was instantly killed by the explosion of an enemy shell that landed in the trenches close by him. Owing to a temporary withdrawal from the position, his body could not be recovered for burial.”
Lindell was born in Kronobergm, Sweden in 1884 and came to Canada with his parents around 1905. By 1908, they had settled in at 249 Chalmers Ave. in Elmwood. His father worked as a trackman with the Winnipeg Electric Railway Company, the city’s streetcar system, and Lindell worked for the CPR.
He served with the 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers militia and enlisted with the 78th Battalion on July 1, 1915, making him one of their first recruits of the Great War. Lindell was made a medic, which put him in harm’s way on the front lines. He was wounded at least three times, by shrapnel from a bomb, a gunshot wound to the thigh and by gas.
McKinnon was born in Campbeltown, Scotland in 1888, arriving in Canada in 1913. He had worked as a butcher, though no record of his address or place of work can be found in the Henderson directories of the time. He served with the 100th Grenadiers militia before enlisting with the 78th Battalion on Aug. 6, 1915.
McKinnon was single when he enlisted, but while waiting in England to be sent to mainland Europe, he was given leave to marry a woman from Glasgow. He was shot in the leg at the Somme in 1916 but recovered.
Simms was born in Russell, Man., in 1894, the second-youngest of 13 children of farmers Matthew and Catherine Simms. In January 1916, he came to Winnipeg to enlist. Another brother, Andrew, served with the 8th Battalion and was killed in June 1916.
Halliday came from Gloucestershire, England in 1913 to join his brother William, who was working on a farm in Minto. On Dec. 14, 1915, he enlisted with the 78th Battalion.
Present-day family near the community were able to fill in some of the details of his life that would have been lost to history. One of the few mementos they have of Halliday is an old bible with a love note from his sweetheart tucked inside, given to him by his fiancée, Elisabeth “Lizzie” Walmsley, an Eaton’s employee from Winnipeg who worked at Minto during the summers.
“Wishing you many very happy returns and one million kisses,” the note states.
When the Department of National Defence was trying to identify the remains of the soldiers found in 2006, one of the items that helped identify Halliday was a locket found at the scene. It contained a lock of hair and the inscription “L. Walmsley.”
Halliday was wounded in 1917 but returned to duty.
The five identified soldiers will be buried in March. By then, it is hoped, the identities of the other three soldiers will also be known.
Diane Burton, a great-niece of Sidney Halliday, seemed to speak for all of the soldiers’ relatives when she told the Brandon Sun earlier this month, “He gave a lot, like all the soldiers did at that time. So they deserve this military funeral and recognition that they’re going to get in 2015, because who knows how the world would have been if it wasn’t for their sacrifice.”
Christian Cassidy writes about local history on his blog, West End Dumplings, at westenddumplings.blogspot.com.
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