Be­ing laid to rest a cen­tury af­ter bat­tle

Re­mains of three mem­bers of the Cana­dian Scot­tish were dis­cov­ered near the site of the Bat­tle of Hill 70

Times Colonist - - Islander - RICHARD WATTS

The Cana­dian Scot­tish Reg­i­ment is form­ing a fu­neral party to fly to France and lay to rest three soldiers who died at the Bat­tle of Hill 70, one of the Cana­dian Army’s for­ma­tive en­gage­ments of the First World War.

The 31 mem­bers of the cas­ket party, mostly from Vic­to­ria, are re­hears­ing at the Bay Street Ar­moury in time for the Aug. 23 cer­e­mony. They will bury the re­cently dis­cov­ered re­mains of three men: Pte. Wil­liam Done­gan, Pte. Henry Prid­dle and Sgt. Archibald Wil­son at the Loos British Ceme­tery.

All three men died at the Bat­tle of Hill 70, Aug. 15 to 25, 1917. All three were among the re­mains of 31 Cana­dian soldiers re­cov­ered dur­ing an ex­ca­va­tion near Lens, France.

Cana­dian Scot­tish Sgt. Glen Ereaut, drum ma­jor with the reg­i­men­tal band, will be a mem­ber of the cas­ket party and will bring back for the reg­i­men­tal mu­seum items of the wartime kits car­ried by the three.

Ereaut called it an hon­our to be in­cluded in the cas­ket party.

“We are go­ing to be putting three cas­kets in the ground,” he said. “But there is a very thick man­ual for funer­als in the mil­i­tary, and that’s what is giv­ing us direc­tion.”

All three First World War soldiers were iden­ti­fied through anal­y­sis of DNA ex­tracted from the re­mains. It’s an on­go­ing anal­y­sis un­der­taken by the his­tory and her­itage branch of the De­part­ment of Na­tional De­fence, which re­quests and col­lects sam­ples from liv­ing rel­a­tives to com­pare and pos­i­tively make the ID.

Jim Kem­pling, a Vic­to­ria his­to­rian spe­cial­iz­ing in the First World War, said the Bat­tle of Hill 70 can be re­garded as the most im­por­tant fight of the First World War to be un­der­taken by the Cana­dian Corps.

Kem­pling said Vimy Ridge, in April 1917, gets the most recog­ni­tion as Canada’s first real mil­i­tary vic­tory. The four di­vi­sions of the Cana­dian Corps fought to­gether for the first time at Vimy. But in over­all com­mand was Lt. Gen. Sir Ju­lian Byng, a British of­fi­cer.

Hill 70, how­ever, was the first time Cana­di­ans fought to­gether as Cana­di­ans, com­manded by Cana­dian of­fi­cers in a bat­tle plan drawn up by a Cana­dian gen­eral, Lt. Gen. Arthur Cur­rie, who en­listed in Vic­to­ria.

Kem­pling said from early on, Cur­rie dis­tin­guished him­self by stand­ing up to the British high com­mand. Or­dered to have the Cana­dian Corps take the French city of Lens, Cur­rie ob­jected to the no­tion of at­tack­ing a city.

At­tack­ing a city “is al­ways a nasty busi­ness,” he said. “There’s lots of places to set up de­fen­sive po­si­tions be­hind brick walls, in cel­lars, there’s lots of places for booby traps and you are con­fined to nar­row streets and al­leys with build­ings look­ing down on you.”

So Cur­rie looked at topo­graph­i­cal maps and noted a high point north of Lens. If Cana­di­ans took it, the Ger­mans, still lodged in Lens, would be at the mercy of Cana­dian big guns. The Ger­mans would have two choices: Leave Lens or coun­ter­at­tack and re­take the hill.

That piece of ground, ac­cord­ing to the topo­graph­i­cal maps, was 70 me­tres above sea level, earn­ing it the name Hill 70

Kem­pling said it all went as Cur­rie fore­saw and com­manded. The Cana­dian Corps took Hill 70. Cana­dian en­gi­neers quickly over­saw its trans­for­ma­tion into a de­fen­sive re­doubt. Ger­man troops at­tacked many times and were beaten back each time.

“Cur­rie and the Cana­dian Corps re­ally dis­tin­guished them­selves there,” said Kem­pling.

Be­yond the sci­en­tific anal­y­sis and the un­der­stand­ing of the Bat­tle of Hill 70, find­ing the per­sonal paths walked by the three men took some sleuthing by his­to­ri­ans and mu­seum spe­cial­ists. Trac­ing their con­nec­tion to the Cana­dian Scot­tish Reg­i­ment, now based in Vic­to­ria, meant fol­low­ing pa­per trails laid down by Cana­dian army bu­reau­cracy.

Jack Drys­dale, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian Scot­tish Reg­i­men­tal Mu­seum, ex­plained that the early Cana­dian en­lis­tees in the First World War signed up for lo­cal reg­i­ments that were later or­ga­nized into num­bered groups.

The Gor­don High­landers, raised in Vic­to­ria, were amal­ga­mated with the Van­cou­ver-raised Seaforth High­landers, the Cameron High­landers of Win­nipeg and the Ar­gyll and Suther­land High­landers of Hamil­ton, Ont. To­gether they be­came the 16th Bat­tal­ion of the 1st Cana­dian Di­vi­sion.

But peo­ple, in­clud­ing the men of the 16th Bat­tal­ion, sim­ply start­ing call­ing them­selves “The Cana­dian Scot­tish,” a name that wasn’t made of­fi­cial un­til af­ter the war.

Drys­dale said that by 1917, most of the re­in­force­ments for the Cana­dian Scot­tish were from the Prairies.

Done­gan and Wil­son were both Cameron High­landers out of Win­nipeg. Prid­dle also signed up in Win­nipeg, with the 183rd (Manitoba Beavers) Bat­tal­ion and was later en­rolled in the 16th Bat­tal­ion. It was all done whether the men liked it or not.

“They were al­most guar­an­teed they could en­list and travel over­seas and fight be­side their pals,” said Drys­dale. “When they got there, they were told: ‘We’re break­ing up the unit be­cause this bat­tal­ion or that bat­tal­ion needs re­in­force­ments.’ ”

He said his­tor­i­cal records re­veal the bat­tle plans and lines of at­tack laid out for the var­i­ous army groups, in­clud­ing the 16th Bat­tal­ion, which of­fered an­other clue to help in the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the dead soldiers.

None of the bod­ies were re­cov­ered at the time, and their re­mains were cov­ered by the ex­plo­sions and mud of bat­tle, prob­a­bly close to where they died fol­low­ing the paths laid down by their su­pe­ri­ors.

For Drys­dale, for­tu­nate dis­cov­er­ies from the ex­ca­va­tions in France are the per­sonal items: Done­gan’s wrist­watch, a shovel car­ried by Wil­son and a bot­tle of io­dine, still full, be­long­ing to Prid­dle.

“It’s neat to ac­tu­ally see things like that,” he said. “Items like these are per­sonal and give you a con­nec­tion to an ac­tual per­son.”

A man­nequin at the Bay Street Ar­moury wears the gear of an in­fantry­man in full march­ing or­der of the 16th Bat­tal­ion. Most of the re­cov­ered ar­ti­facts were the me­tal­lic parts of the uni­form.

A bat­tal­ion of Cana­dian soldiers leaves Vic­to­ria for Europe on May 28, 1916.

Shreds of fab­ric are all that re­mains of the soldiers’ uni­forms.

A pic­ture of gas mask parts found at Hill 70 near Lens, France, matches sim­i­lar parts in the Bay Street Ar­moury col­lec­tion.

The shovel car­ried by Sgt. Archibald Wil­son.

An in­tact bot­tle of io­dine car­ried by Pte. Henry Prid­dle.

A pocket knife car­ried by Pte. Wil­liam Done­gan.

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