I saw many deeds performed by my own men which in an ordinary campaign would have won the Victoria Cross for them, such as binding up wounded comrades and carrying them to shelter under hot fire. Nobody wavered.
(Maj. Belson’s account of Second Ypres, Toronto Globe, 20 May 1915, 3)
Before the war, Berkeley Henry Belson was a fruit farmer in the Niagara Peninsula outside of St. Catharines. Born on 28 May 1871 in Gloucestershire, England, Belson served for six years as an infantry and artillery volunteer in the British army. His father was a Crimean War veteran and had fought in various colonial campaigns from New Zealand to China. After immigrating to Canada, the younger Belson joined the 19th Lincoln Regiment.
In April 1915, he fought with 4th Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel A. P. Birchall during the second battle of Ypres. Describing his late commander, Belson wrote, “Col. Birchall died as he lived, a gallant English gentleman, after stating that he was proud to lead such men.” Suffering a gunshot wound to the hip during the battle, Major Belson was invalided to Canada. Upon arriving home in July 1915, he was appointed commanding officer of the 81st Battalion. When the unit was absorbed into the reserves in England in July 1916, Belson returned to Canada to take command of the 1st Depot Battalion in Toronto.
Troubled by an infection to his gunshot wound and bronchitis, he temporarily relinquished command of the depot in December 1916. The Toronto Globe stated, “is a keen. efficient soldier. Despite his indisposition he made a determined effort to carry on as they say in the British army.” He soon resumed his post and oversaw court martial trials for deserters and conscientious objectors.
During preparations for the Siberian Expedition in summer 1918, Belson was rumored to receive a command appointment. However, military officials determined that the forty-seven year old war veteran was not physically fit for the “arduous campaign.”
Indeed, a medical board recorded: “Feels at times lack of energy and general physical weakness… Worse in cold damp weather but feels pretty well up to former vigor in summer in day weather.” Quite an unsuitable condition for the frozen Siberia tundra.
He died on 26 September 1946.
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