Posted By pferguson on September 21, 2016
Joshua Rowland Kingham survived a head wound received on the Somme in 1916. During the Second World War, Kingham commanded the 1st Battalion Canadian Scottish Regiment 1940-1942.
“It has not been all milk and honey…”
Originally with the 88th Victoria Fusiliers, Private Kingham served as a sniper with the 16th Battalion C.E.F. (Canadian Scottish). Kingham was with his battalion on the Somme and wrote about this time when half his platoon was killed on their way to the front line. The article entitled, Slaughter on the Somme, features a letter that the young Kingham wrote to his father. The letter mirrors an earlier one written by Piper James Cleland Richardson who wrote about “scientific slaughter” on the battlefield.
Reportedly 18 years of age, Kingham had a brief and close encounter with the Somme. Upon reaching the front line, 4 September 1916, he was hit by a piece of 4″ German shrapnel that created a deep scalp wound and he was also hit in the hand by another piece of flying debris. The 4″ shard buried itself within his head wound and Kingham was removed from the field of battle on a stretcher. While some of his soldier friends thought that his life was lost, to their great surprise, Kingham survived his wounds.
Slaughter on the Somme
“I was hit in the back of the head by a piece of shrapnel from a high explosive shell and have a fractured skull…Please don’t think that because I was hit in the back of the head, that I was retiring for it just happened that this shell burst behind me. We had just moved up into the front line trenches at the Somme when I was hit. We marched down to the Somme from Hill 60 at Ypres, and were eight days on the march, covering a distance of about 100 miles, this, with full equipment, including pack, rifle, 150 rounds of ammunition and all the other details. I can tell you that life on the march day after day, carrying the weight that we carried, is no joke. But I managed to stick it through and never dropped out once.
No Trenches Left
The Somme is an awful place. We thought Ypres was bad enough, but the Somme is far worse, for it is nothing but butchery there, the soldier not having a chance at all, for the tremendous bombardment continues day and night, never ceasing. There are no proper trenches or dug-outs there for protection, for they have all been shelled so much that there is only a wide ditch left, and in place there is not even this slight protection.
Our trip up from the reserve to the front line trenches in the night before I was hit is a nightmare that I pray that I will never have to go through again. We started out just after dusk and it was pouring in torrents to make it more miserable. And the thick sticky mud was in places nearly up to our knees. We were nine hours on that trip, although the distance was only about two miles, as there was not any proper communication trenches. We had to make the trip in short dashes making the best of any slight shelter that we could get from the shells which were bursting around us all the time. At one time we thought that all was up, for the Germans were sending up star shells, one after another and they spotted us. But we retired and managed to get out of sight again.
We lost half our platoon by the time we reached the front line, and I was nearly finished off myself. When we got there the first thing that I did was to dig myself. When we got there the first thing I did was to dig myself in and a big shell landed just behind my dug-out. Of course it all caved in and I was buried alive. But they managed to get me out in time. It was because of this strain that I was unconscious for such a longtime after I was hit.
I was very much amongst friends when in hospital at Boulogne, for the chaplain was the Rev. Mr. Barton, who was at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria, and he wrote a letter for me. The doctor of our ward was a Victorian too, and of the three nurses that had anything to do with me, two came from Vancouver and the third from Victoria.
Adventure – Packed Four Months
It is just four months today since I left Victoria, and I would hardly believe that so much could happen in that space of time. It has not been all milk and honey, although it has its bright spots. But I will appreciate the return journey still more when it comes. We don’t get much money, but we do see life. That is an old soldier’s saying and it certainly is true.
I think that I have sampled every means of travelling possible: Colonist cars, Canada, the ‘Olympic’ across the Atlantic, troop trains through England, and first class from Folkestone to Leagrave. In France most of the travelling is done on foot but I went from the base to the Belgian border in a box car. With the Red Cross I travelled [sic] on a hospital train miles in ambulance and also miles on stretchers. No [sic] I am quite a well-travelled person, so to speak.
Canadians Feat at Moquet Farm
I suppose you have read of the fine piece of work that the 1st Division of the Canadians did when they captured Moquet Farm and Courcelette. Well if I had only managed to survive another few days. I would have been in that. I am very sorry that I was not, for it was a fine piece of work and I don’t thing that they got any too much credit for it. People can’t realize what an undertaking it was. Moquet Farm was the chief object of the Australians before we relieved them and they lost a pile of men there. The Australians captured it no less than five times and even got beyond it, but were driven out every time. They declared it impossible to take, for the Germans were tunnelled [sic] in like rabbits, all cemented in with machine guns at every corner. So when the Australians captured it the Germans turned their machine guns on them and forced them out and the Australians could do nothing.
I am afraid, however, that we lost a lot of men, for I heard today that the 14th Battalion which was on our left lost 700.
I am sitting up now, and am feeling decidedly frisky, but they won’t let me get up for a while yet. I don’t know much about my wound, but it is a gash four inches long and a bit wide at one end. So you see I am going to have a souvenir of the Great War, which is going to last me a lifetime. They removed a small piece of bone at Boulogne, which leaves the brain exposed. I have to wear tight bandages, but it will not be necessary to put a plate in, for I am young and the bone will close together naturally.”
The Daily Colonist, Victoria, B.C., October 15, 1916, page 5
Kingham was discharged medically unfit in February 1917, the authorities citing Kingham as underage for service and also unfit due to his injuries. After the Great War Kingham served for several years with the Canadian Scottish Regiment as a commissioned officer becoming Lieutenant Colonel. Although prior to the Great War, Kingham was a Chemist’s apprentice he later became President of Kingham-Gillespie Coal Co. Kingham died January 5, 1972.
At the time of Kingham’s death his date of birth was officially recorded as 24 March 1899; whereas Kingham’s December 1915 soldier’s attestation papers record his birth as 24, March 1898. Interestingly Kingham’s age was, at the time of his enlistment, noted as 17 years 8 months.