PERCY AR­GYLE

The Globe and Mail Metro (Ontario Edition) - - NEWS -

After em­i­grat­ing to Canada from Eng­land as a teenager in 1906, Percy Ar­gyle tried his hand at farm­ing in Man­i­toba and Saskatchewan be­fore mak­ing his way east­ward, work­ing in lum­ber camps and sawmills. Out of a job at the end of 1915, the 25-year-old was in Rainy River, Ont., when he met a fel­low English im­mi­grant, Kate Con­nor. He fell for her – only to en­list, weeks later. “Al­though Dad would have de­nied it, the Union Jack must have still meant some­thing to him,” says his youngest son, Ray.

But so, ap­par­ently, did Ms. Con­nor. Pri­vate Ar­gyle kept in touch with her, and be­fore long she booked her own pas­sage across the At­lantic, de­spite the threat of Ger­man sub­marines. “She must have been aw­ful badly in love with me,” he would say to their chil­dren, years later.

By De­cem­ber of 1916, Pte. Ar­gyle got leave to marry Ms. Con­nor, after which she moved in with his par­ents while he headed to the front with the 1st Bat­tal­ion, Cana­dian Mounted Ri­fles. In a let­ter he wrote years later to his chil­dren, he re­called that, “It was cold and damp and mud up al­most to your knees, shell holes full of wa­ter, a wounded man if he fell into one al­most al­ways drowned.”

Then, on April 9, 1917, he took part in the as­sault on Vimy Ridge.

Just be­fore head­ing into bat­tle, the sergeants came with a jug and poured each man a shot of rum. When the ar­tillery fired at 5:45 a.m., Pte. Ar­gyle would later re­mem­ber, “It seemed as if the heav­ens opened with one huge crash, it be­came light as day, and after, only one thought, press on, get go­ing.”

The men charged up the slope, fol­low­ing a creep­ing ar­tillery bar­rage. Many Ger­man dugouts had sur­vived the bom­bard­ment, and so the Cana­di­ans inched their way closer, toss­ing in mor­tar bombs. “Lots of Ger­mans were buried alive this way,” re­called Pte. Ar­gyle, who suf­fered wounds to his face and right hand, and was hos­pi­tal­ized.

By the time he re­turned to ac­tion, his unit had been sent to an­other of the mud­di­est, blood­i­est bat­tles of the war: Pass­chen­daele – by now a vast bog of muck, barbed wire and en­emy ma­chine guns. The bat­tal­ion was not ini­tially in­volved in the fight­ing, but Pte. Ar­gyle was none­the­less wounded in the legs by shrap­nel from a can of mus­tard gas fired by the Ger­mans. He spent the rest of the war in Bri­tain train­ing re­cruits in the use of bay­o­nets.

“Dad was never again the man he was when he en­listed,” says his son Ray. “He’d lost his en­trepreneurial edge, was im­pul­sive, quick to tem­per – but never vi­o­lent – and com­pli­ant in ac­cept­ing au­thor­ity.”

For the rest of his life, trick­les of blood and bits of shrap­nel would ooze from his shins.

COUR­TESY OF THE FAM­ILY

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