Written by: Bill O’Shea, July 24, 2014, revised August 2018
The year, 2014, marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. Between the declaration of war on August 4, 1914, and the cease fire at 11:00 AM Greenwich Time on November 11, 1918, there were 600,000 Canadian military personnel in Europe. Of this number, two thirds were wounded and 60,000 died.
On Wednesday, February 16, 1916, my maternal grandfather, George William “Willie” Montroy (1895-1970) enlisted in the 156th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Kemptville, Ontario. His regimental number was 639623. He served in Canada, England and France. Transferred to the 38th Battalion CEF, he was wounded in the battle of Amiens on August 10, 1918, and discharged, honourably, but as medically unfit, in October 1919. He earned the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He would go on to raise a family and work for the Canadian Pacific Railway until his retirement in 1961. He died in August 1970 and is buried in Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church cemetery in Kemptville, Ontario.
A number of years ago, I wrote to the National Archives in Ottawa asking for information on Grandpa Montroy’s service in the war. Several months later I received a package which included his Attestation Paper, Statement of Service in the Canadian Armed Forces, CEF (Canadian Expeditionary Force) Discharge Certificate, Casualty Form Active Service and a Summary personal form. The Archives also included a report titled, 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade, Report, Llandovery Castle Operation 8th August – 13th August 1918. This report was the preparatory instructions for the attack at Amiens in France. More recently the file was updated with grandpa’s medical records, all of which are available on line from the National Archives
I never talked to Grandpa Montroy about his experiences in the war and, according to his daughter, my mother, Irene O’Shea, he never talked about it with members of the family. One of three instances in which he recalled the war comes from my brother Michael O’Shea who told me, in July 2014, that once, when Grandpa was visiting the old farm on the Cornwall Centre road, he recalled that the men in the trenches liked to have the cavalry nearby because there was always something to eat – the horses. This is probably reflects more the opinion of the foot soldier of the value of the cavalry than an actual practice. A visit to cousins Charles, Gerald and Doug Montroy, in Bedell in July 2014, added to the stories while underlining how little Grandpa Montroy talked of his experience. Charles writes that according to Grandpa the Canadians were thought to be expendable or second class to the British troops. And he spoke of one occasion when “ the big guns of the British had been firing on the German trenches all day. After the shelling had stopped, he and his platoon were sent out to capture alive any remaining German soldiers. All they found were the remains, many had been blown to pieces by the shells. Grandpa indicated he never felt the same about the war after that. That was the only time I recall him talking about World War I. “
Picking up on something his brother Doug said, Charles wrote, “Dad ( Noe Montroy, Grandpa’s son) said that Grandpa Montroy was wounded in the left leg during the war. When he came home and returned to work on the railroad, one of his first jobs was to walk the tracks tightening bolts. He would walk all day and when he came home at night there would be blood in his boots from the leg wound which had opened up. He would wait until Sunday (the railroad worked from Monday until noon hour on Saturday in those days) to go and have the wound re-stitched. The doctor would tell him to stay off his feet until the wound properly healed, but back he would go to work on Monday because he had a family to feed. That is why he walked with a limp in his later years.”
His life-long limp, was a reminder of his wartime contribution and, over the years, he underwent operations in Ottawa, on at least 14 occasions. For all of this, Irene O’Shea told me that he received a small negligible pension. Since he couldn’t read or write, there are no letters or diaries recording his experiences. In that regard he was like thousands upon thousands of his comrades who went to war and left no account of their time overseas. Some came back to Canada wounded in body and spirit – Grandma Montroy recalled her husband having nightmares. Others, like his uncle Oliver Montroy, were killed and are buried in the mud somewhere France – his body never recovered.
What follows is based on the archival documents recording grandpa’s service. Other materials include the War Diaries for the 38th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, found on the Library and Archives Canada website, and Colonel G.W. L. Nicholson’s, Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War, Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919.
Willie Montroy joins the Canadian Expeditionary Force – 1916
I don’t know why Willie – George Willie Montroy is how, in an unpracticed hand, he signed his Attestation Paper- decided to volunteer in 1916. To be sure, it was a period when the Federal Government was making a big drive to attract volunteers. Prime Minister Borden’s New Year’s message for 1916 called for 500,000 Canadians in Europe. It was a milestone of sorts for Canada, since February 11 was the first anniversary of Canadians landing in France in 1915. I suspect that as a Franco-Ontarian his decision to volunteer was based on something more straightforward than a patriotic response to the Prime Minister’s message. Was it the desire to travel? Or was it dreams of adventure? I don’t think it was for a regular pay cheque since he was already working as a section hand for the Canadian Pacific Railroad from 1914, according to a seniority booklet and his military health records. Perhaps it was as simple as encouragement from a buddy, for it is noted in handwriting at the bottom of his Attestation Paper that Willie was enlisted by Private Lawrence A. Levere. Levere, spelled Lever on his own Attestation Paper, lived at Swan Station, Oxford Mills, and had enlisted in December 1915. He was a friend of Willie’s or, as Irene O’Shea put it, “a drinking buddy.”
The Attestation Paper, filled out on enlistment, gives the tombstone data obtained from every Canadian who signed up for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. There is his name, George William Montroy and address – Oxford Mills, Ontario. It notes that he was born in Green Valley, Glengarry County on December 18, 1895. His next of kin is his father, Charles Montroy. He is a Roman Catholic and his occupation is listed as labourer. He is 5 feet 7 inches tall with a fully expanded chest of 37 inches, has a dark complexion, blue grey eyes, black hair and a 2 inch long scar on his right foot, back of the instep. A health record would add that he weighed 150 pounds. His assigned Regimental Number is 639623.
Willie, for that’s what his family and friends called him, indicated that he was not married, was willing to be vaccinated, did not belong to the active militia, had never served in any military forces, understood the nature and terms of the engagement and was willing to serve in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force.
The 156th Leeds and Grenville Battalion, which Willie Montroy joined, recruited men in the Ontario counties of Leeds and Grenville and was headquartered in Brockville. The battalion did not see service as a unit. It was a reserve battalion, stationed in England, which provided men to the front line infantry battalions on the continent to keep them up to strength after loses on the battlefield. The commanding officer of the 156th between 1916 and 1917 was Lt. Colonel T.C.D. Bedell. Dr. Bedell was from Merrickville, and would give his name to Bedell, the small community and railway junction where Willie would live and work after the war.
I don’t know what happened between February 16, 1916 , when he signed up, and Willie’s departure from Halifax in October of that year. He was probably outfitted with a uniform and gear and spent the remaining months learning the basics of soldiering in and around Brockville. Maybe he got home to say goodbye to his parents.
At some point in October, Willie and the 156th got on the train in Brockville, and travelled to Halifax where he and 1,661 other military personnel boarded the troop ship SS Northland bound for England. He departed Halifax on October 18, 1916 and disembarked at Liverpool, England on October 28.
Time in England
The 156th Battalion was posted to Witley Camp, one of a number of Canadian camps and training areas located on the Downs of Surrey in south-east England. It was cold when the 156th arrived at Witley, but the weather soon turned warm and it was a pleasant fall to be in England. But it was far from a pleasant winter for, with the onset of cold and damp weather, a major outbreak of influenza hit the camp. Hundreds of men were disabled, and the hospitals overflowed with the sick. It was a winter long remembered.
As part of his training at Witley Camp, Willie Montroy was expected to become proficient in musketry, hand grenades, rifle grenades, bayonet fighting, anti-gas precautions, entrenching including revetting, draining and construction of dugouts, construction of barbed wire entanglements and operating the Lewis (machine) gun.
Willie Transfers to the 38th Battalion C.E.F. in France
On 23 May 1917, about seven months after arriving in England, Willie Montroy was transferred from the 156th to the 38th Battalion and on June 25, 1917 he joined the 38th in France.
The 38th Infantry Battalion recruitment area was Ottawa and District and it was headquartered in Ottawa. It had served in France from August 14, 1916 and had already taken part in major battles on the Somme, Ancre Heights, Arras, Ypres and Vimy Ridge. It was a well seasoned military unit.
The Canadian Corps as a whole had made a name for itself as a formidable fighting force by the time Willie joined it in France. In April 1915, at Ypres in Belgium, Canadians withstood massive shelling and the first use of poisonous chlorine gas to stand off a German offensive. There were 6,342 men killed, wounded or missing. In the late summer of 1916, the Canadians moved from Flanders to the rolling country of the Somme River. Here, the Battle of the Somme raged for two months. At Courcelette the Canadians established their reputation as shock troops. British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, wrote that “whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst.” This reputation was won over the corpses of thousands of Canadians.
On Easter Monday, April 9, in 1917 the Canadian Corps attacked and captured Vimy Ridge. Colonel Nicholson, in his official history of the war writes that “For Canada the battle had great national significance. It demonstrated how powerful and efficient a weapon the Canadian Corps had become. For the first time the four Canadian divisions had attacked together. Their battalions were manned by soldiers from every part of Canada fighting shoulder to shoulder. No other operation of the First World War was to be remembered by Canadians with such pride-the pride of achievement through united and dedicated effort.”
I have no definite record of battles in which Willie Montroy took part. Still, I assume that from the time of his arrival in France in June 1917 he was involved in all the activities of the 38th Battalion which was part of the 12th brigade, 4th Canadian Division. Where it went, he went.
In the Trenches at Lens, Avion and La Coulotte
From April to the end of the summer of 1917, the 38th was posted east of Vimy Ridge near the villages of La Coulotte, Avion and the coal mining city of Lens, France. There it took turns with other battalions of the Canadian Corps on the front line trenches facing the German lines.
Beginning from the day of his arrival, and for a week or so after, the 38th was occupied with attacks on La Coulotte and Avion, preparatory to a major attack on Lens.
Extracts from The War Diary of the 38th Battalion from June 24 to 30, 1917 provide an idea of what Willie Montroy would have done, seen and heard. I expect it was a particularly traumatic introduction to the reality of the war in France.
The view that spread out in front of Willie was of a ruined landscape – destroyed houses and factories and pitheads of the Lens coal mines; roads and fields pock marked by artillery shell craters; trees blown to matchsticks; and a criss-cross of trenches fronted by tangles of barbed wire. Overhead, planes swooped down observing movements of men and locations of artillery. Snipers, hiding in the ruins, fired on soldiers.
“ June 25: Batt(alion) in front line . . . Advance made in forenoon – no report yet. Aeroplanes and our A A’s active . . . Machine gun and Rifle fire active at intervals from buildings in AVION . . . Our artillery has been continuously active during the past twenty four hours – Brigade machine gun fire was normal but our aircraft very busy. Their (the German) artillery was active during the night but quiet on this front today – They also used some gas shells – their machine gun fire was active during the night – no activity during the day. Their sniping very active and their aircraft busy with observation work . . .”
“June 28: Batt(alion) in front line. Heavy barrage thro preceding night and early morning. Our artillery was active throughout the day, putting on a barrage . . . covering our advance also 100 shells were thrown . . . and AVION bombarded for an hour. Our machine guns were not active except for a covering fire for our advance this morning. Enemy artillery active . . . No machine gun fire except during our advance this A.M. No trench mortars or sniping.”
“June 29: Under cover of an Artillery barrage two advanced posts were established at 7:30 PM last night in AVION. No enemy parties were encountered
The 38th was directly involved in the successful captures of La Coulotte and Avion villages, outside Lens. After that, life alternated between front line service and support in the rear. When in support, the battalion kept in shape by constant physical training, practice bayonet fighting, musketry, “bombing and grenading”, map reading and lectures and the regular route march. There was practical training in “jumping off from trenches” night and day. There was also practice for a ceremonial parade in preparation for an inspection by King George V on July 11.
This routine continued into August when the Canadian Corps was tasked with the capture of Hill 70 which overlooked the city of Lens from its northern side. The 12th brigade, of which the 38th was part, led a diversionary advance to the right of the main attack and, as Nicholson in his official history writes, received more retaliatory fire than the main and successful attack on Hill 70.
The Battle of Passchendaele
In the fall of 1917, in mid October, the Canadian Corps was shifted to Passchendaele, a small village near Ypres. This was part of a new British-directed offensive with the objective of capturing Passchendaele ridge.
The conditions were truly terrible. The destruction of the farm drainage systems, by artillery bombardment and the heavy fall rains, turned the ground into a bog. Colonel Nicholson, the author of the official history of Canada’s military involvement in the Great War, describes Passchendaele as a “porridge of mud”. Guns sank to their axles and horses to their bellies. It was next to impossible for men to walk without wooden duck board sidewalks and even these sometimes sank to knee depth in the mud. A misstep at night could end up in a mucky, water filled shell crater and death.
The battle lasted into November until, in pelting rain, the 2nd Canadian Division stormed the village. The Canadians penetrated 3,000 yards and captured 2 square miles of splintered trees and churned-up mud. There were 16,000 casualties.
Willie Montroy’s 38th Battalion as part of the 12th Brigade of the 4th Division of the Canadian Corps moved into the area in late October and by the October 28 was housed in a tent camp a mile east of Ypres. The 38th was in reserve supporting the 72nd, 78th, and 85th Battalions that would lead the attack.
The 38th’s part in the attack took place at dawn on October 30. The War Diary records, “Our losses in the reserve area were considerable, the position occupied by B Company in part, being heavily shelled immediately after the advance of the brigade commenced. Heavy artillery activity was very intense throughout the entire day. Early in the afternoon our B, C, and D companies were sent forward to reinforce the 85th, 78th and 72nd Battalions respectively and assist in consolidation of the new line.”
By the 31 October, the line held and the 38th was relieved in front line by the 85th .The battle had cost the battalion one officer and 48 other ranks killed, 163 other ranks wounded and 22 missing.
On November 5, the 12th Brigade was inspected by Lt. General Sir Arthur Currie, the commander of the Canadian Corps, “. . . who expressed appreciation of the splendid service rendered by the Battalion in the operations against Passchendale Ridge October 29th to Nov 2nd. General Currie emphasized the difficult task which had been assigned to the Canadian Corps at this time and sincerely thanked this Battalion for the prominent role it had played.”
An observation from H. M. Urquhart’s, The History of the 16th Battalion (the Canadian Scottish) published in 1932, sums up the battle. “ I look back on the Passchendaele show as a nightmare. The ground was strewn with our dead. I have never seen anything to compare with the holocaust. When I think of shell holes filled with water; the road leading up to the ridge heavily shelled day and night; wading through water, mud up to the knees; the stretcher bearers carrying out the wounded, eight men to a stretcher, and sometimes the whole party would be smashed up before they reached the dressing station, it makes me wonder how the troops stood it.”
A victim of the Passchendaele fight was Oliver Montroy, Willie’s uncle – his father’s brother. Oliver was born in 1887 so was just 8 years older than Willie. He joined the 59th battalion in Cornwall, Ontario on June 17, 1915 and when he got to England was transferred to the 26th – the New Brunswick Battalion. On November 6, 1917, Lance Sergeant Oliver Montroy was killed in action. His body was never recovered, but he is remembered in the Books of Remembrance found in the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, and also on panel 26-28 of the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium. Our branch of the family never mentioned Oliver, according to Irene O’Shea, and though I knew there was an Oliver Montroy in the family tree, I only stumbled on his military history when looking for the Attestation Paper of his nephew, Willie.
After Passchendaele, Willie and the 38th returned to the Vimy area and settled down to the routine of trench warfare outside of Lens, where it had been most of the spring and summer. This duty included being constantly vigilant for German forays, night time reconnaissance attacks and keeping your head down because of ever-present snipers. An advantage of “routine warfare,” however, was that while three divisions protected the line, a fourth could be released into reserve for training and rest.
Willie’s first Christmas in action is recorded briefly in the 38th War Diary though he is not mentioned directly. “Dec 23: Church Parade held by the new Padre, Capt Farrell in the Horse Lines at 10:30 AM in a stable proving very appropriate for Xmas. Very cold in the forenoon. Batt(alion) relieved from the front line by the 72nd Batt.”
“Dec 25: All Xmas parcels and letters distributed to men and officers in support line, including Xmas comforts of Cigarettes and other presents sent to the Batt(alion). Fraternizing with the enemy was the last thing the men would have thought of doing and orders forbidding same were superfluous in regard to the 38th. All ranks made the most of the means at their disposal for the enjoyment of the day. Those who felt a bit homesick covering their feelings with a camouflage of laugh and jest.”
Winter to Summer 1918
On January 4, the War Diary records that “ A large number of the officers and men went to the Pantomime put on in the 4th Divis(ion) Theater by the 4th Divisional Concert Party – Ala(d)din in France. It was splendidly put on and created great enthusiasm and deservedly so as there was not one dull moment in the two hours and over that the show lasted. It fulfilled its purpose to the limit and it’s a safe bet that the men present were absolutely without a thought of war or what war meant whilst the show lasted and thus obtained thorough relaxation.”
Then it was back to the routine of war, manning the front line trenches, repairing the trenches and repairing and replacing the barbed wire obstacles, then back in reserve for training followed by more time in the front line fending off raids by small parties of German infantry.
On January 12, Willie’s record indicates he got “14 days leave”. The War Diary mentions that leave for other ranks was granted freely and I don’t expect Willie hung around the rear lines when Paris was waiting. This is speculation, of course, but what else would he do? As evidence of his having gone to Paris, is a white-metal “Souvenir de Paris” ashtray showing a relief of Sacre Coeur de Montmarte which, many years ago, was stored in the closet under the stairs in the dining room in Bedell. Other good news was on March 22, 1918 when Willie received a Good Conduct Badge, awarded for having served two years in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
By April, the war was beginning to heat up with the Germans attempting a massive breakthrough of the Allied lines at three locations. The breakthrough failed, but the result was three large bulges pushing the German front lines farther into France.
Canadian troops, for the most part, sat this one out. But everyone knew that it wouldn’t be long before they were thrown back in the midst of things again. May and June included practice for open warfare – fighting on open terrain – as opposed to trench warfare.
On the relaxation side there were competitions for battalion, brigade and divisional sports including baseball, running broad jump and 115 and 158 pound boxing. Dominion Day, 1918 was a celebration to remember for there was a huge field day of sports and band competitions. The Prime Minister, Robert Borden, was in attendance. The 16th Battalion history notes that, “ On July 1st, Dominion day, the corps held sports at Tinques a village fourteen miles west of Arras on the Arras-St. Pol road. Troops from every unit of the formation were transported in lorries to the sports field. Between forty and fifty thousand of all ranks attended. Glorious weather prevailed . . . bands played, the men cheered aeroplanes circled overhead, the sun blazed down and glistened back from the polished brasses. The Canadian Corps was on holiday at the height of its glory.” At the end of the day the massed pipe bands, 264 pipers and 148 drummers played the ‘Retreat’.
The War Diary for the 38th Battalion records that 250 officers and other ranks or about 25% of the battalion attended the event. Those remaining behind had a day off with no training. I don’t know that Willie Montroy was at the event, watching from the sidelines, smoking cigarettes, telling stories, doing a bit of gambling and listening to the bagpipes or whether he lazed the day away back in camp.
The Canadians Move to Amiens
The Allied response to the German attacks of April 1918 was a counteroffensive that summer. The immediate purpose of the action at Amiens, in which the Canadian Corps played a leading role, was to cut off one of the bulges in the German lines and secure the Amiens to Paris railway line. A larger purpose was to push the German armies back on a long front.
Secrecy was vital and not even senior officers were told about Amiens until the last minute. To that end, a portion of the Canadian Corps was shipped north to Flanders as a diversion and, once their presence was known there by the Germans, they were quickly and quietly moved back south to Amiens. The remainder of the Corps moved south from Arras to Amiens, travelling at night on train, bus and by foot. Here is what the 38th Battalion War Diary says.
“August 2: Batt(alion) marched out at 1 p.m. . . whence the B(attalion)n proceeded by buses to SAVVY arriving about 3:30 p.m. Entrained at 7:30 p.m. with great excitement as destination was unknown – secret orders controlling the move. Query was – are we going north or south. Are we to Attack or merely defend? ”
“August 3: Batt(alion) . . . after extremely light refreshments marched out at 5:15 a.m. to HEUCOURT arriving about 8 a.m. Billets were fairly good for the men but a bit lacking for officers. Eggs, fried chips and beer were readily obtained and the men who had received their pay enjoyed themselves. All ranks were kept under cover as much as possible to lessen chances of enemy obtaining any information about the Canadians being on the War Path – Mystery! And (?) all nature loves mystery . . .”
“August 4: Day spent in rest. Marched . . . to BOUGAINVILLE arriving about 2:00 a.m. Owing to the exigencies of Open Warfare, kits were cut down to a shadow with shaving kit (and) a tooth brush the sine que nons. There were a few exceptions but only in the cases of Field Officers to whom deserved privileges were extended. On arrival at Bougainville it was discovered that “someone had blundered” a most extraordinary occurrence but the net result was that there were no billets and we were politely told by the inhabitants that we “really, were not expected.” The Colonel and the Quartermaster worked hard and as a result good shelter was obtained. The climax to the humorous situation came in the late afternoon when the Colonel was accused by a French lady of “salvaging” the razor of her beloved spouse. Weather improving.”
“August 5/6: Marched out from Bougainville about 9 p.m. and arrived at BOUVELLES about midnight after a fine march. Left Bouvelles at 8:30 p.m. and had good marching until we struck mud going into BOVES WOOD . . .”
“August 7: Arrived at BOVES WOOD about 2 a.m. After orders and instructions had been fully explained to the Officers and men, the Batt(alion) marched out at 9 p.m. for the Assembly Point which was in the vicinity of GENTELLES WOOD. All ranks showed great enthusiasm at the near prospect of having a smack at the Huns and of proving their adaptability for open warfare.”
The Canadian portion of the Battle of Amiens was to be part of an attack on a three-division front on the German lines east of the city of Amiens. The Australian Corps was on the Canadian left and the French First Army on the right. This was a first for the Canadians – open warfare as opposed to static trench fighting and the use of tanks as a major weapon.
The Battle at Amiens, France, Lt-Colonel Edwards’ Report
The night before the battle the sky was starlit and clear but dark enough to cloak movement. About 20 minutes from Zero hour a dense mist from the marshlands covered the battlefront. With daylight the fog thinned, the mists disappeared and the hot summer sun beat down from a cloudless sky. Willie Montroy was there.
What follows is a summary of the 38th Battalion’s involvement written by its Lt. Colonel, C. M. Edwards, as part of the War Diary. I quote it at some length because Colonel G.W. L. Nicholson’s, Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War, Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919, glosses over the 38th involvement for some reason.
“August 8: At Zero hour, 4:20 AM, our barrage opened and the B(attalio)n formed up preparatory to moving off and final instructions were given to Company Commanders. At 5:20 AM, ZERO plus 60 minutes, the Brigade moved from their position of Assembly, the 38th being the left leading Bn. Owing to there being no enemy barrage, Companies moved in files, and advanced in this formation in rear of the 3rd division, crossing the River Luce at (the village of) Demuin and proceeded to the Assembly position for the afternoon advance on the rising ground east of Demuin.
The advance during the morning had been carried out without opposition and the Bn. suffered only a few slight casualties from shells.
Orders were received from Brigade at 11:30 AM that the 2nd phase of the attack would commence at 12:10 PM, and before Zero, large bodies of Cavalry assisted by Whippet Tanks preceded us and practically cleared our area of advance until we arrived in the vicinity of Cayeux Wood where long range machine gun fire was encountered from the right flank and was taken on with Lewis guns and rifles.
As no serious opposition had been encountered at our first objective the leading Companies proceeded to our final objective . . . being about 1000 yards west of the village of CAIX . . . There was still some hostile fire from Machine Guns on our right flank but this was not of a serious nature.”
“August 9: The above positions were held during the night of the 8/9 and the period of daylight of the 9th.
“August 10: At midnight a warning order was received of a probable advance the following day, confirmed by an order at 3 AM stating B(attalio)n would move at 5 AM to the high ground between Caix and Amiens-Nesle RAILWAY north of this Village
The advance through Rosieres-en-Santerre was carried out without incident but on emerging from the east of this Village we came under machine gun fire and light artillery fire. The 85th Bn. suffered considerably from this cause and upon arrival at the Meharicout-Lohons Road has lost both their Acting Bn. Commander and the Acting Second-in-Command of the Battalion.
Owing to this unforeseen circumstance and realizing that in all probability the 85th would not be able to proceed to their objective we decided to push the 38th through at once to the objective of the 85th Bn. And if possible forward to our own objective.
This latter proved impossible, owing to the increased fire being brought in enfilade from the left and great difficulty was experienced … owing to the presence of large quantities of old wire in good condition and a network of trenches which not only retarded progress but made proper control of formations very difficult . . .
. . . at the end of the afternoon . . . we were subjected to enemy fire of Artillery and Machine guns, both from our front and left flank, and in addition two shots by our own light artillery harassed us from the rear . . . Being informed that the two right Battalions had gained their objective and fearing their left flank would be in the air, orders were issued to the various Companies of the 38th to reorganize as quickly as possible and continue to push forward until we could connect up on our right flank with the 78th or 72nd BN . . . Owing to severe Officer casualties this proved difficult indeed. However, during the night of the 10/11 “A” and ‘B” Companies had connected up with the 78th Bn. . .”
Willie Montroy is wounded
It was sometime during the advance of the 38th Battalion on the 10th of August that Willie Montroy was wounded. A bullet did the job as the 38th moved out of Rosieres-en-Santere past the Nova Scotia Highlanders (85th) and into increasingly heavy German fire from the front and left flanks.
Willie saw comrades hit and fall to the ground as he pushed aside tangles of barbed wire and scrabbled his way through the trenches of past battles.
Off to his left the sound of machine gun and artillery fire was growing ominously steady. He probably didn’t even hear the rifle shot that drove the bullet that into his hip. Willie Montroy fell towas on the ground watching through increasingly fogging vision his comrades of the 38th move on towards the German lines. He probably passed out.
There is some speculation here, of course, since other than the day, there is no specific record of what time or at what point in the battle he was wounded. But Willie Montroy’s fall began a predictable chain of events. His archival documents and the War Diary of the Assistant Director of Medical Services for the 4th Division help fill in the blanks. Stretcher bearers ran to him, to examine and dress the wound. He was quickly moved by stretcher over the network of tracks across the fields to the Amiens-Roy Road where he was transferred to an Advance Dressing station, possibly in the most easterly house of the village of Caix. Still on the stretcher, on August 11, he was moved to the 4th Canadian Field Ambulance, a mobile hospital unit close to the front. Here he was evaluated and transferred, according to his medical record, to the 49 Casualty Clearing Station where his wounds were dressed. The next day, August 11, he was placed on the 23 Ambulance Train – especially outfitted vans or an actual train coach – and finally he arrived at the 16 General Hospital ( Le Treport on the French coast ) where he was admitted on August 13. Somewhere along the line he underwent emergency surgery.
On August 15, 1918 he was transported to England to the Eastern Ontario Regiment’s Depot at Seaford. He spent most of the next nine months in various hospitals in England before he was sent home to Canada on June 6, 1919. During this time he underwent 9 different operations.
Private George William “Willie” Montroy was transported home to Canada and discharged in Kingston October 24, 1919. It was a mere two years and eight months from when he enlisted in Kemptville. His CEF Discharge Certificate notes that he served in Canada, England and France and was discharged by reason of being medically unfit with a pensionable disability. His wound is described as “scars in left groin 4 inches long and smaller scar left buttock.” His statement of Service in the Canadian Armed Forces adds that his discharge was honourable and that he received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He lived with the effects of the wound for the rest of his life. In civilian life he underwent fourteen additional operations in Ottawa, his daughter, Irene O’Shea, recalled and he walked with a permanent limp. And, according to his wife, there were nightmares.
But I suppose he was lucky. He not only came back home to work and raise a family but he had his feet, hands, eyes and mental faculties intact. So many others didn’t. He had taken part in magnificent and horrible events. Though he never talked much about his experiences to any of his younger relatives, he retained an attachment to his military past. There was, of course, the gold framed photograph of him that hung on the wall in the living room, his medals and identity tags, a book of postcards, a white metal ashtray, mentioned earlier, and an entrenching shovel and canteen that he brought back. And years ago I found a copy of the 38th Battalion C.E.F. Association newsletter of March 1945 and March 1968, along with a his membership card to the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League stating he was a member in good standing with dues paid to June 30, 1939.
Like thousands of his generation he’d done his bit for King and Country.
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The writer / editor:
William A. O’Shea was a researcher, historian, and manager for Parks Canada / Heritage Canada. His professional life was dedicated to learning more about and teaching Canada about the history of our country. One of his personal passions has always been to learn more about local histories and share them with the broader community. He was a founding member of the Louisbourg Heritage Society, Deputy Mayor of the Town of Louisbourg (Nova Scotia) and wrote many books and articles about the town of Louisbourg and the surrounding area. He called Louisbourg home for more than 30 years. Until his passing on October 14th, 2019, he resided in Cornwall, Ontario near his home town of Long Sault, Ontario.
This site is maintained by Kevin O’Shea (O’Shea Archives founder).
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