The Brockvillian

Lieutenant Colonel W. S. Buell
3rd and 36th Battalions Buell

This officer was wounded on April 23rd near Ypres as described in A.F.A.45 of the 27th Aug’15. He now has very free movement at the shoulder, and has no pain and has considerable strength in the arm. His nervous condition, however, is not yet normal and this board recommends another month’s leave from this date.

(Proceedings of Medical Board, London, 11 Jan 1916)

Born on 11 October 1868 in Brockville, Ontario, William Senkler Buell descended from one of the oldest Loyalist families in Ontario. His ancestors had fought for the British in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. He followed his grandfather and father in politics and military affairs, becoming mayor of Brockville in 1900, president of the Liberal Association and commanding officer of the 41st Regiment in 1910. In August 1914, he helped to organize the 4th Battalion and was appointed second-in-command.

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The Ypres Three

Lieutenant Colonels
Birchall, Hart-McHarg & BoyleYpres3

The more details I learn of the battle before Ypres, the greater to me does the resourcefulness and bravery of brigadiers, battalion commanders, and individuals become apparent.

(General Horace Smith-Dorrien, Apr 1915)

The Canadians had many casualties, but their gallantry and determination undoubtedly saved the situation.

(Lord Kitchener, April 1915)

This week marks the one hundredth anniversary of the second battle of Ypres, the first major action of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The battle saw 5,000 Canadian soldiers wounded and nearly 1,000 killed including three battalion commanders. On 23 April 1915, Arthur Birchall (4th Battalion) was struck down leading his men armed only with his cane. On 24 April 1915, William Hart-McHarg (7th Battalion) was shot and killed while on a reconnaissance operation. On 25 April, Russell Boyle (10th Battalion) died of severe wounds and loss of blood at a clearing hospital. All three had belonged to the 2nd Brigade under the command of Brigadier General Arthur Currie.

The Military Scientist

Lieutenant Colonel James Ballantine, D.S.O.
76th and 109th BattalionsBallantine

They have got a new Col. in this battalion since we came to it. His name is Ballantine, he has been to France twice, and this is his third battalion to command so he has had a little experience anyway. He seems to take a great interest in the work of the men. He says he don’t care what kind of officers he has as long as he has good N.C.O.’s and men, all that the officers are good for is figure heads in his mind.

(J. H. Bennett, 109th Bn. to Garnet Bennett [brother], 22 Nov 1916)

Born on 3 September 1876 in Georgetown, Ontario, James Ballantine was a member of the 20th Halton Rifles and received military training at Toronto, Hayland Island, Hythe and Aldershot. He fought in the Boer War and was awarded the Queen’s Medal for gallantry.

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The Steeplechaser

Lieutenant Colonel L. H. Nelles, D.S.O.
4th (Central Ontario) BattalionLHNelles

Colonel Nelles never became the popular idol that Thomson had been; but as the months went by and he showed that in addition to this bent for smartness he had tactical ability far beyond the average, a sense of justice, and (more important still) his full share of personal bravery a better feeling grew.

(Lieut. Pedley, Only This, 1999, 18)

Lafayette Henry Nelles was the last commanding officer of the 4th Battalion. He was born on 5 December 1890 in London, Ontario. In November 1914, the twenty-three year old enlisted with 12th Reserve Battalion. When an enemy sniper killed Lieutenant Colonel A. T. Thomson on 20 November 1917, Nelles took charge of the 4th Battalion. Nelles received the Distinguished Service Order in June 1918 and remained in command until demobilization.

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The Unforgotten

Lieutenant Colonel A. T. Thomson, D.S.O., M.C. †
4th (Central Ontario) Battalion Thomson

The fourth will not forget him
Although his stay was short,
For he proved to be a soldier
Far above the average sort.
His ways were very quiet
But in action he was strong;
He was absolutely fearless
And his judgment was seldom wrong.
To the men he was a leader
Whom they were proud to serve,
Never say a word against him
Or you’ll regret that word.
He is gone but not forgotten
By those who knew him best,
For we know that safe in heaven
He has found eternal rest.

(4th Bn. Scout Section, 1917)

Born on 27 February 1888 in Port Credit Ontario, Alexander Thomas Thomson was a member of the 36th Peel Regiment. He was assigned to the 10th Battalion at the rank of lieutenant when the First Contingent assembled at Valcartier in August 1914.

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The Lil’ Colonel

Lieutenant Colonel W. Rae, D.S.O.
4th (Central Ontario) Battalion Rae

A battalion of infantry is a chameleon, ceaselessly changing its colour to suit the changing complexions of its commanding officers. The Fourth Canadian Battalion followed the rule.

But the madness of the Fourth appears to have been an intermittent fever. Birchall engendered it, Colquhoun advertised it, Rae damped down the fire. For with the coming of Rae we first discern another element creeping in, which seems as difficult to mix with the rugged abandon of the early days as oil with water—the element of cold discipline.

(Lieut. Pedley, Only This, 1999, 18)

A native of Scotland, William Rae was born on 15 January 1883 in Aberdeen. He immigrated to Canada in 1907, moved to British Columbia and joined the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders Regiment. At the outbreak of the Great War, the five-foot-six Scotsman enlisted with the 16th Battalion. Rae fought at Second Ypres during the German gas attack and was the only company commander in the 16th to survive the battle. By June 1916, he had transferred to the 4th Battalion in order to take command from Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm Colquhoun.

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The Hometown Hero

Colonel Mac Colquhoun, D.S.O.
4th (Central Ontario) BattalionColquhoun

People here have quite a different opinion of the Canadians now. They want to have the Canadians in the fighting all the time. We are classed now among the very best troops.

(Colquhoun to Wife, Apr 1915, History of Brant County, 1920, 451)

Born in Mulmur, Ontario on 13 April 1869, Malcolm Alexander Colquhoun was a Brantford contractor and captain with the 38th Dufferin Rifles. In August 1914, he enlisted in Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hodgetts Labatt’s 4th Battalion. In command of “B” Company at Second Ypres, he was one of the only officers in the entire battalion to emerge unwounded from the battle. Describing the fighting to his wife, Colquhoun wrote, “To put it plainly, it was a perfect hell.”

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The Fearless

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Birchall †
4th (Central Ontario) Battalion Birchall

A few years ago it was thought that a soldier was a machine, and should never be allowed to think for himself; the South African War altered all that, as far as our Army was concerned; the soldier is now taught to use his brains and to take advantage of ground and cover, with results which have been amply justified during the present war. In other words, our men are regarded as intelligent human beings.

(Birchall, Rapid Training of a Company for War, 1915, 29)

Arthur Percival Dearman Birchall was one of three CEF colonels killed in action during the second battle of Ypres in April 1915. Born on 3 July 1877 in Gloucester, England, Birchall was a professional soldier and fourteen-year veteran with the British Army. Before the World War, he participated in an officer exchange program with the Canadian militia and relocated to western Canada. As a military instructor, he attempted to transform citizen militiamen into effective soldiers prepared for war.

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The Pensioner

Lieutenant Colonel R. H. Labatt
4th (Central Ontario) Battalion
Labatt

He was prominent in all manly sports, and for years a member of the champion Tiger football team. A successful oarsman and canoeist, Chairman of the Hamilton Club, an organization of outstanding ability, both in military life and in sport. His passing will be regretted by a very large circle. Personally he was the soul of honour and loved by all his friends.

(Trinity College School Record, 1919, 33)

Born on 24 Feb 1864 in London, Canada West, Robert Hodgetts Labatt was a member of the famous Canadian brewing family. A long time militiaman, he had volunteered as a private during the 1885 Northwest Rebellion. In August 1914, he was appointed commander of the 4th Battalion when the First Contingent assembled at Valcartier.

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