Lest We For­get

On Nov. 11, 1918, the bells at Galt’s city hall be­gan to ring in the pre-dawn dark­ness, sig­nalling the end to fight­ing on the West­ern Front

Waterloo Region Record - - Front Page - JEFF OUT­HIT Water­loo Re­gion Record

WATER­LOO RE­GION — The First World War ended 100 years ago. It is still with us ev­ery day.

Kitch­ener fa­mously changed its name from Ber­lin dur­ing the war to fend off anti-Ger­man sen­ti­ment and show loy­alty to the British cause.

Say the city’s name and you’re con­nect­ing to a war that killed 62,000 Cana­di­ans, in­clud­ing about 500 from this re­gion.

But shed­ding the Ber­lin name is just part of the Great War story.

Bri­tain and its Cana­dian Do­min­ion de­clared war on Ger­many in Au­gust 1914 af­ter Ger­many in­vaded neu­tral Bel­gium, on its way to in­vad­ing France.

The war im­me­di­ately put this re­gion in the spot­light. Peo­ple had deep Ger­man roots in Ber­lin and Water­loo. Peo­ple had strong British ties in Galt. Within the for­mer Water­loo County, north and south were far apart in at­ti­tude, sac­ri­fice and pol­i­tics.

The na­tion fret­ted about sup­port for the war among Berlin­ers. Sus­pi­cions dark­ened as Berlin­ers showed them­selves re­luc­tant to fight Ger­mans.

Be­tween 1914 and 1918, Galt, Pre­ston and He­speler ral­lied to the Al­lied cause far more en­thu­si­as­ti­cally than Kitch­ener and Water­loo. The three cities that later be­came Cam­bridge fully shoul­dered the bur­den of blood, and all the

an­guish that fol­lowed. Their ef­fort and the cost they paid leaps from the num­bers.

• Cam­bridge put 1,548 res­i­dents or na­tive sons into uni­form and 332 of them died, an anal­y­sis of li­brary and ca­su­alty records re­veals. En­list­ments rep­re­sent al­most 10 per cent of its pre-war pop­u­la­tion.

• Kitch­ener and Water­loo put 595 res­i­dents or na­tive sons into uni­form and 100 of them died. En­list­ments rep­re­sent three per cent of the pre-war pop­u­la­tion.


The first lo­cal re­cruits to die re­veal much about the war’s con­duct at home and over­seas. Ross Briscoe per­ished first. He was 22, from Galt, an ed­u­cated man work­ing as a bank clerk who had trained for seven years in the lo­cal cadet corps and mili­tia. He was killed Jan. 6, 1915, ac­ci­den­tally shot while train­ing at a ri­fle range in Eng­land. If his death seems waste­ful, the sec­ond lo­cal war death drives home the point.

John Thomas McMaster, 33, en­listed as soon as Canada went to war. The He­speler-born weaver had 15 years of mili­tia train­ing to test in bat­tle.

He’s now a foot­note in his­tory — the first sol­dier to die in France with the Cana­dian Divi­sion.

On Feb. 11, 1915, McMaster stum­bled and fell be­neath a troop train in Nantes as troops dis­em­barked from Eng­land,

where they had trained. His arm and leg were sev­ered.

Com­bat soon claimed its first lo­cal sol­dier.

Ed­ward Cal­lan, 26, left his car­pen­try job in Pre­ston to en­list. He em­i­grated from Eng­land in 1913 to fol­low his broth­ers. He had served in the British Royal Marines.

Cal­lan reached Ar­men­tières, near the Bel­gian bor­der, as the war was set­tling into its stale­mate. Mas­sive armies were dig­ging into trenches, sep­a­rated by a thin stretch of no man’s land.

Af­ter reach­ing a trench, Cal­lan was shot within 12 hours, killed Feb. 20, 1915. He was the first lo­cal sol­dier killed in ac­tion.

Com­rades buried Cal­lan near the trench. The army lost his grave, as it later did with 130 other lo­cal men, their re­mains lost in bat­tle or their burial sites for­got­ten.

Tellingly, the first three re­cruits to die came from Galt, Pre­ston and He­speler. They died hon­ourably but also lamentably, fore­shad­ow­ing the slaugh­ter to come.

By the war’s end on Nov. 11, 1918, nine mil­lion in uni­form were dead, among more than 60 mil­lion who fought.


Sus­pi­cion about Ber­lin’s en­thu­si­asm for the war erupted bit­terly in 1916.

By Jan­uary of that year, Ber­lin and Water­loo had sac­ri­ficed just four war dead. This com­pares with 39 dead from Galt, Pre­ston and He­speler, which com­bined had a smaller pop­u­la­tion.

The Strat­ford Her­ald put it this way: “The sons of Ber­lin are re­luc­tant to do their part for the land and the flag un­der which they have pros­pered and got­ten rich war con­tracts.”

Wor­ried about lost sales, Ber­lin busi­ness lead­ers led the charge to change the city’s name. A res­o­lu­tion sent from a pub­lic meet­ing to Ber­lin coun­cil on Feb. 11, 1916, said:

“Whereas it would ap­pear that a strong prej­u­dice has been cre­ated through­out the British Em­pire against the name ‘Ber­lin’ and all that the name im­plies,

“And whereas, the cit­i­zens of this City fully ap­pre­ci­ate that this prej­u­dice is but nat­u­ral, it be­ing ab­so­lutely im­pos­si­ble for any loyal ci­ti­zen to con­sider it com­pli­men­tary to be longer called af­ter the Cap­i­tal of Prus­sia,

“Be it there­fore re­solved that the City Coun­cil be pe­ti­tioned to take the nec­es­sary steps to have the name ‘Ber­lin’ changed to some other name more in keep­ing with our Na­tional sen­ti­ment.”

Two pub­lic ref­er­en­dums fol­lowed and Ber­lin be­came Kitch­ener on Sept. 1, 1916.

By then, Ber­lin and neigh­bour­ing Water­loo had sac­ri­ficed 11 sol­diers to the war. Towns that make up Cam­bridge had sac­ri­ficed 70.

Ber­lin al­most melted down while stum­bling to­ward its new name.

Des­per­ate for vol­un­teers, an army bat­tal­ion sent gangs of sol­diers into the streets of Ber­lin and Water­loo, hunt­ing for men to put in uni­form. Com­plaints poured into civic lead­ers about bully gangs and strong-arm tac­tics.

A coun­cil of trades­men urged the gov­ern­ment to send the bat­tal­ion away over its “dis­grace­ful con­duct.” The bat­tal­ion com­man­der re­sponded by la­belling the coun­cil cow­ardly, shame­less and un­pa­tri­otic.

Plagued by de­ser­tions, low ap­peal and un­healthy re­cruits, the lo­cal bat­tal­ion ul­ti­mately sent fewer than 300 men over­seas. It had been aim­ing for 1,000.

Ber­lin coun­cil asked a com­mit­tee of 99 men to pro­pose a new city name. They came up with six choices promptly ridiculed across the na­tion: Huronto. Ber­cana. Du­nard. Hy­dro City. Renoma. Ag­noleo.

Ag­noleo is an ob­scure Ital­ian boy’s name mean­ing an­gel or heav­enly mes­sen­ger. Renoma means fa­mous in Esperanto, an ar­ti­fi­cial lan­guage no coun­try speaks. Ber­cana mixes Ber­lin and Canada.

Em­bar­rassed, Ber­lin coun­cil rejected the choices and took over the search for a new name. Then fate in­ter­vened.

On June 5, 1916, British war leader Lord Ho­ra­tio Herbert Kitch­ener was killed when a Ger­man mine sank his bat­tle­ship off Scot­land. His death stunned the Em­pire.

Elsie Mas­ter wrote a let­ter pub­lished June 7 in the Ber­lin News Record.

“The name of Kitch­ener would be a her­itage to the cit­i­zens of Ber­lin in the gen­er­a­tions to come, and will al­ways be typ­i­cal of splen­did pa­tri­o­tism, tremen­dous en­ergy, great at­tain­ments, and a sense of unswerv­ing hon­our and rec­ti­tude,” she wrote.

“The name would be one no ci­ti­zen need blush for, and one our coun­try and Em­pire would rec­og­nize as stand­ing out in bold con­trast to all that is im­plied in our present name of Ber­lin.”

The idea caught on. Mas­ter helped make his­tory when a pub­lic ref­er­en­dum en­dorsed the new name.


Among the ear­li­est bat­tles in the war was a failed at­tack on three Ger­man trenches at Givenchy in France, June 15, 1915.

Though a small bat­tle by Great War stan­dards, it ranks among the blood­i­est for this re­gion, killing 11 sol­diers from Galt, Pre­ston and He­speler.

The dead in­cluded labour­ers, me­chan­ics, a moul­der, a printer, a shoe-cut­ter, and a busi­ness­man. All vol­un­teered in 1914 with the first wave of re­cruits. Eight were British im­mi­grants.

None were from Ber­lin. This did not go un­no­ticed by three Ber­lin sol­diers who felt heat af­ter sur­viv­ing the bat­tle.

“We hear a lot about Ber­lin not send­ing re­cruits and we get chided over it on ac­count of com­ing from there,” they wrote to a Ber­lin news­pa­per.

Ber­lin’s Givenchy sur­vivors pleaded with their home­town to send more re­cruits. “The more men we get the sooner the war will be over.”

Their ap­peal made lit­tle dif­fer­ence. Ten lo­cal sol­diers died more than a year later, cap­tur­ing the ru­ined vil­lage of Courcelette on the Somme bat­tle­field in France. It was Sept. 15, 1916, two weeks af­ter Ber­lin re­named it­self Kitch­ener.

Galt, He­speler and Pre­ston sac­ri­ficed eight sol­diers. Kitch­ener and Water­loo sac­ri­ficed two.

Sus­pi­cion about Kitch­ener’s war ef­fort per­sisted. Re­cruit Ivan Bow­man, 20, joked about it in his di­ary while train­ing in Eng­land in April 1917. He was from Kitch­ener.

“I vis­ited the Ger­man Spy camp as the Gun Duty Bat­tal­ion is called by many of the boys for its mem­bers are mostly men of Ger­man ex­trac­tion,” he wrote. Sent to the front, Bow­man sur­vived the war, play­ing with the bat­tal­ion band.

Galt sup­plied the re­gion’s two great­est war he­roes and the only lo­cal woman to die.

Ge­orge Kerr, 23, rushed for­ward to sin­gle-hand­edly cap­ture four ma­chine guns and 31 pris­on­ers on Sept. 27, 1918. This earned the Galt Col­le­giate grad­u­ate a Vic­to­ria Cross, the Com­mon­wealth’s high­est hon­our for brav­ery. He sur­vived the war.

Store­keeper Fred­er­ick Hob­son, 43, rushed the en­emy to hold them off with bay­o­net and ri­fle, pre-

I vis­ited the Ger­man Spy camp as the Gun Duty Bat­tal­ion is called by many of the boys for its mem­bers are mostly men of Ger­man ex­trac­tion. IVAN BOW­MAN sol­dier from Kitch­ener

serv­ing a ma­chine gun that was tem­po­rar­ily si­lenced by a shell that killed most of its crew.

The en­emy shot him dead but reinforcements reached the ma­chine gun. His brav­ery Aug. 17, 1917, earned him a Vic­to­ria Cross.

De­ter­mined to do her part, nurse Eve­lyn McKay reached France in 1917. Be­hind the front lines, the for­mer Galt Col­le­giate stu­dent wore a blue dress and a white veil while car­ing for wounded sol­diers. Sol­diers called her a blue­bird.

She died of in­fluenza Nov. 4, 1918, one week be­fore peace was de­clared. She was 25.

He­speler sup­plied an es­ti­mated 127 re­cruits con­nected to the Coombe Home, on Guelph Av­enue. It was a tem­po­rary res­i­dence for or­phaned or des­ti­tute Ir­ish boys, sent to On­tario as mi­grant labour­ers.

Ca­su­alty records show at least 27 for­mer Coombe Home boys died for Canada.

Robert Ing­ham, 21, was the first. The sales­man was killed by a Ger­man shell April 24, 1915, in a dugout in a front-line trench in Bel­gium.

Farmer Neville Old­field, 22, was the last. On Oct. 11, 1918, he was help­ing com­rades lay tele­phone lines when an en­emy shell killed him in­stantly.

Their deaths helped ce­ment He­speler’s stand­ing among the na­tion’s most pa­tri­otic towns.

He­speler lost 65 war dead. By pop­u­la­tion it sac­ri­ficed more heav­ily than Galt and Pre­ston, and five times more heav­ily than Kitch­ener and Water­loo.

Water­loo County’s north and south fur­ther split in the con­scrip­tion elec­tion of Dec. 17, 1917, re­garded as the na­tion’s ugli­est fed­eral cam­paign.

Canada was des­per­ate for sol­diers. Prime min­is­ter Robert Bor­den cam­paigned for pub­lic sup­port to break his pledge not to send men to war against their will.

On Nov. 24, 1917, Bor­den came to Kitch­ener to cam­paign on a Satur­day night. About 300 op­po­nents at­tended at the Queen Street au­di­to­rium where he was to speak.

Crit­ics un­furled ban­ners, rained down boos, hooted and hollered. Bor­den tried to speak. Heck­lers drowned him out. In­dig­nant news­pa­pers across the coun­try re­ported the si­lenc­ing of the prime min­is­ter as an in­sult, in­flam­ing ten­sions.

Af­ter a fu­ri­ous cam­paign, Kitch­ener and Water­loo landed un­sur­pris­ingly among a hand­ful of On­tario com­mu­ni­ties to elect an anti-con­scrip­tion leg­is­la­tor. Cam­bridge en­dorsed a con­scrip­tion can­di­date.

Canada backed con­scrip­tion and it be­gan order­ing men to fight, in­clud­ing lo­cal men of Ger­man de­scent.

The war claimed 22 lo­cal con­scripts in­clud­ing Clay­ton Un­der­wood, 23.

Like many Ger­man speak­ers, the Bloom­ing­dale-born shoe­maker did not choose to fight. He played cham­pi­onship base­ball for the Kauf­man Rub­ber Com­pany where he worked.

Com­pelled to fight, Un­der­wood helped spear­head the last 100 days of the war that put Ger­many on the run. Af­ter shrap­nel tore into his stom­ach, he died of his wounds on the fi­nal day of the war, Nov. 11, 1918.


In the dark at 4:40 a.m. on Nov. 11, Galt res­i­dents first learned the Great War was over. The bells at city hall be­gan to ring, sig­nalling an end to fight­ing on the West­ern Front at 11 a.m.

Ju­bi­la­tion fol­lowed. Peo­ple re­joiced and pa­raded. They showed no fa­tigue de­spite spon­ta­neously cel­e­brat­ing four days ear­lier when pre­ma­ture re­port­ing said the war was over.

It was a “car­ni­val of fun-mak­ing” the Galt Daily Re­porter said. The Kitch­ener News Record called it “the great­est day in the his­tory of the world.”

Peo­ple made noise with what­ever they could: bells, sirens, whis­tles, horns. Fire­works fol­lowed at night. In Kitch­ener, dis­cord was not quickly for­got­ten. A city coun­cil­lor was com­pelled to kiss the Union Jack.

But soon, his­to­ri­ans and com­mu­nity lead­ers sought to move past hard feel­ings, gloss­ing over the lesser sac­ri­fices made by Kitch­ener and Water­loo.

To sub­due anti-Ger­man sen­ti­ment, they sought to re­frame the re­gion’s her­itage as Men­non­ite. Steps in­clude the open­ing in 1926 of the Pi­o­neer Me­mo­rial Tower, a cel­e­bra­tion of Men­non­ite roots over­look­ing the Grand River.

In 1939 Canada was at war again. In the Sec­ond World War last­ing un­til 1945, three towns that are part of Cam­bridge again re­cruited sol­diers more heav­ily than Kitch­ener and Water­loo.

But the num­bers sent to fight Nazi Ger­many were not nearly so far apart. Un­like two decades ear­lier, it was every­body’s war.

Go on­line to there­cord.com to re­mem­ber 486 lo­cal dead from the Great War.


Sun­day will mark the 100th an­niver­sary of the armistice that ended the First World War. Lo­cal towns gave up their sons to fight in the war, none more so than Galt, Pre­ston and He­speler. This is the ceno­taph in Galt. It was erected in 1930.


Vic­tory Pa­rade C. 1918 from the City of Cam­bridge Ar­chives.


A peace cel­e­bra­tion in Water­loo on Nov. 11, 1918.

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