The Ross Rifleman

Lieutenant Colonel C. H. Ackerman
247th (Victoria & Haliburton) BattalionAckerman

Officer is troubled with insomnia. There is also a history of nervous symptoms following his wounds. This nervous condition is referred to in previous boards. Officer is slight in build but fairly well nourished and up to his normal weight, no organic disease.

(Ackerman, “Medical History of Invalid,” Kingston, 12 Mar 1918)

While fighting with the 2nd Battalion at Festbuert in June 1915, Lieutenant Charles Haydn Ackerman suffered a gunshot wound to the shoulder and shrapnel injuries to the scalp. Born in Port Perry on 28 July 1888, Ackerman was a manufacturer in his father’s firm and member of the 57th Regiment. He was evacuated from the trenches to England, where he was treated for his physical injuries and mental overstrain.

Following the Canadians’ first experience in battle during spring 1915, a number of soldiers and officers complained about the dangerous unreliability of the Ross Rifle. Championed by Militia Minister Sam Hughes, the Ross Rifle was a Canadian-made design that had proven itself as an effective hunting and target rifle but was untested in combat conditions. At Second Ypres, Canadian troops discarded the unreliable Ross in favour of Lee-Enfields taken from their dead British allies.

Despite damaging criticisms and a growing political scandal over war profiteering, Hughes maintained absolute faith in his favourite rifle. In January 1916, Ackerman conveyed his personal opinion of the controversial rifle to Hughes: “I myself, used this rifle in the trenches and I felt I did very much more effective work than I could have done with a Lee-Enfield.”

Ackerman did however note certain deficiencies: “When we were first called upon to put the rifle to a severe active service, we had trouble extracting the shell or pulling the bolt back after a shot was fired.” Ackerman did not fault the rifle; instead he blamed the British made ammunition. He concluded his report: “I feel that personally I would want no better rifle to go into action with again.”

Despite certain redesigns based on the recommendations of Ackerman and others, the problems with the Ross Rifle persisted. Major General E. A. H, Alderson, Commander of the Canadian troops wrote to Major General W. G. Gwatkin, Chief of Staff, “The experience of the battle showed that the Ross jammed so badly that I was obliged to let this order die a natural death.”

As a reward for his strong support of the Militia Minister’s rifle, Ackerman was appointed to replace Lieutenant Colonel W. D. Johnson in command of the 247th Battalion based in Hughes’ home county of Victoria. The 247th was however absorbed into the 235th Battalion before proceeding to England. Still troubled by his war wounds and nervous symptoms, a medical board in Kingston declared Ackerman medically unfit in March 1918.

He became president of the West Peterborough Unionist association after the war and served as president of the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Legion. He unsuccessfully contested West Peterborough during the 1935 federal election as one of H. H. Stevens’ Reconstruction Party candidates.

Digitized Service File (LAC):
http://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.item/?op=pdf&app=CEF&id=V0026-S012

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