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Refeeding the Netherlands

Posted By on May 5, 2020

Netherlands, VE Day, Tulips, Liberation

This day…nearby tulips remind me of the Netherlands.
This day…the ceasefire 75 years ago.
(P. Ferguson image, May 2020)

The serious lack of food…

In a few days time, 8 May 2020, the 75th anniversary of VE Day will be recognized.

Prior to the declaration of peace, a ceasefire was established at 0800 HRS 5 May 1945. The people of the Netherlands were so very grateful to their Canadian liberators. The occupation of the Netherlands had brought considerable hardship. Having been invaded 10 May 1940, nearly five years had passed under the Nazis. Food was in short supply and many Dutch citizens were in danger of starvation. But in April 1945, prior to liberation the Allies had plans…

On 29 April 1945 more than 300 Royal Air Force Lancaster bombers flew at low level dropping the first food supplies to the Dutch populous. It was the first sortie of 3,100 such flights during Operation MANNA. The R.A.F. were soon joined by bombers of the United States Army Air Force in Operation CHOWHOUND, whose personnel made over 2,000 flights. Aircraft from the Royal Canadian Air Force also participated in the humanitarian effort.

From the first drop to the end of Operation MANNA, 8 May 1945 more than 11,000 tons of food was released over Dutch territory. Sadly, several Dutch citizens, estimated at 20,000 perished before food reached them. It was soon determined that the food drops would need to be supplemented by troops on the ground.

Refeeding Syndrome was also a cause for concern as the food drops, though intended for redistribution, were in some cases quickly consumed. Some of the starving souls became profoundly ill and some died from the rapid ingestion of the food. On 2 May 1945 the first food trucks arrived in German-occupied territory to assist in the distribution of food. Several Canadian soldiers were employed in the refeeding of the Netherlands. Some of those who participated in these events were recognized with awards recognizing their service to the people of the Netherlands.

—————0—————

Acting Major William Charles Conoche
Officer Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords (Netherlands)
Royal Canadian Army Service Corps
1 Canadian Army Catering Pool Group “A”

This officer as catering advisor to 1 Canadian Infantry Division during the complete campaign in Italy was greatly responsible by his energy, skill and administrative ability for the excellent feeding of the troops under many varied operational conditions. A few days before 1 Canadian Corps moved from Italy to Northwest Europe he was appointed Corps Catering Advisor and found himself faced immediately with the many catering problems peculiar to such a move, particularly in the transit camps where thousands of troops were fed away from their units. There was not a hitch in the catering arrangements during the move.

When 1 Canadian Corps entered western Holland, this officer reorganized the system of supply of food at civilian issue points and was personally responsible for a definite rise in the morale of the Dutch citizens as a result of improvement both in the quality of the food and in the speed and methods of distribution.

—————0—————

Sergeant Rex Cowan
Cross of Merit (Netherlands)
Royal Canadian Army Service Corps
3rd Canadian Armoured Brigade, 83 Company

While stationed in the Arnhem area during April and May 1945, 1 Canadian Armoured Brigade Company (83 Company) was chosen, along with other Army Service Corps companies, to supply personnel and vehicles to transport urgently required foodstuffs through the German lines to the Netherlands people.

Sergeant Cowan was second in command of the transport platoon of 30 vehicles which were detailed for this task, and as such most of the administrative detail fell upon him. Supplies were drawn from Nijmegen during the day, brought back to the unit location and held over night, and then were delivered early in the morning through enemy territory to Dutch authorities at Wageninigen. Later, commencing 8 May 1945, supplies were delivered through to Utrecht.

During this period, Sergeant Cowan worked tirelessly, liaising with the depot at Nijmegen and with the authorities at the off-loading point. He worked long hours organizing the convoys, ensuring loads were drawn and properly stowed, and later checking vehicles and loads during the lay-up in the unit location. Sergeant Cowan personally accompanied each convoy through to the off-loading point, and supervised the dumping of over one thousand tons of food for the near-starving Dutch people.

Although Sergeant Cowan could have placed other Non-Commissioned Officers in charge of certain details, he did not, as he felt the responsibility was his to see to it that these most important supplies were delivered as scheduled. Despite the long hours on the road and the tedious hours of checking and re-checking, Sergeant Cowan never once complained, nor did he slacken in his resolve to do the job well.

Because of his tireless energy, organizing ability and sustained cheerfulness, Sergeant Cowan was an example to all ranks engaged in this work, and it was due in great part to him that the detail was so successfully completed.

—————0—————

Captain John Eric Forbes
Knight Officer Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords (Netherlands)
Royal Canadian Army Service Corps

As supply officer in Headquarters Army Troops Area First Canadian Army, Captain Forbes was entrusted with and responsible for the task of distribution of food and supplies to all Netherlands forces under command and cooperating with First Canadian Army. In this capacity he has done outstanding work. The problems of liaison and the great responsibility involved made his task a difficult one. It is only due to his untiring efforts that many problems were settled. His ever-willingness to cooperate under the most difficult circumstances together with an absolute disregard for his own time and comfort was an inspiration to all officers and men within the formation.

—————0—————

Acting Lieutenant-General Charles Foulkes CB CBE DSO
Grand Officer Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords (Netherlands)
Officer Commanding-in-Chief, First Canadian Army

This officer commanded 2 Canadian Infantry Division with distinction from the time it was first committed in the Northwest European theatre of operations until 9 November 1944 when he proceeded to Italy to command 1 Canadian Corps. Under his skilful leadership this Corps added to the laurels it had already won in the Italian theatre.

1 Canadian Corps was transferred to the Northwest European theatre in March 1945. Here it was given an important role designed to destroy the enemy in West Holland. Lieutenant-General Foulkes applied himself to this problem with the utmost ability and resource. The troops under his command speedily carried out an assault crossing of the Ijssel, captured Arnhem and advanced to the Ijssel Meer. Shortly after the 25th German Army surrendered to his troops.

Lieutenant-General Foulkes, both prior to and particularly after this capitulation also addressed himself to the pressing and essential task of bringing immediate relief to the Dutch people. He did everything possible to ensure that the utmost military assistance was given to the distribution of food and other essential supplies and the restoration of public utilities. He and the forces under his command not only contributed very materially to the liberation of the Netherlands but also greatly assisted in the preliminary stages of the rehabilitation of the Dutch economy.

—————0—————

Brigadier William Preston Gilbride CBE DSO
Commander Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords (Netherlands)
Royal Canadian Army Service Corps

Just prior to the capitulation of the 25th German Army in Northwest Holland, 1st Canadian Corps assumed the difficult and pressing task of supplying food to the Dutch civilians, many of whom were suffering from advanced stages of starvation. Brigadier William Preston Gilbride, Deputy Adjutant and Quartermaster General, 1st Canadian Corps, was instrumental in organizing the highly efficient machinery for the speedy distribution of food and other necessities. Untiringly, this officer devoted his energy and time to solving the many problems which threatened the smooth distribution of supplies to the Dutch populace.

By numerous discussions with Dutch officials, both military and civilian, Brigadier Gilbride was able to get a very clear perspective of what was required to relieve the suffering of the civilians, and he was thus able to employ, with the least possible delay, the resource under the command of the Corps, so that they produced the required results in the least possible time.

Brigadier Gilbride was also responsible for ensuring that tools, stores, clothing and equipment of Dutch origin which had been requisitioned by the Germans were returned to the Dutch. He firmly insisted that all German troops be subjected to a strict search to locate and remove any loot, prior to their departure from Holland.

Always cheerful, cooperative and courteous in his dealings with Dutch officials, and by his ceaseless endeavours to find new ways in which he could further the rehabilitation of Holland, Brigadier Gilbride was largely responsible for the success of 1st Canadian Corps in aiding the Netherlands, after five years of Nazi oppression, to rise again towards a great and free nationhood.

—————0—————

Sergeant Leonard Hood
British Empire Medal (Military Division)
Corps of Military Staff Clerks

Since early 1943, Sergeant Hood, Corps of Military Staff Clerks, has been employed as Confidential Clerk to the Deputy Adjutant and Quartermaster General of 1 Canadian Corps. His work has always consisted of high level policy, involving much highly secret and confidential matter. The volume of work increased greatly from the time just preceding the move of the Corps from Italy to the North-West Europe theatre. The subsequent swift advance from the Ijssel to the Zuider Zee, the introduction of food supplies into still-occupied Holland, the evacuation of the Germans and the organization and building-up of the Canadian Occupation Force have all added to this Non-Commissioned Officer’s responsibilities. It has, on numerous occasions, been necessary to entrust to his Non-Commissioned Officer work which would normally be performed by an officer. During this period, Sergeant Hood has shown rare initiative, conscientiousness, sound judgement and common sense in the carrying out of all tasks and has proven himself to be absolutely reliable. His duties have all been performed in a very cheerful and pleasing manner, and he has the happy faculty of never getting flustered nor dismayed no matter how difficult the situation. The discretion exercised by this Non-Commissioned Officer in all matters, the diligent manner in which he has applied himself and his devotion to duty are deserving of the highest praise.

—————0—————

Lieutenant Colonel William Scott Murdoch MBE
Officer Order of Orange-Nassau with Swords (Netherlands)
Canadian Infantry Corps

When 1 Canadian Infantry Division assaulted westward across the Ijssel River on 11 April 1945, the object of the attack was to drive the enemy from Holland and thus enable food supplies to be shipped to the hunger stricken people in western Holland. Lieutenant-Colonel Murdoch, as General Staff Officer I of 1 Canadian Infantry Division, was called upon to work for very long periods without sleep and under the most trying conditions, coordinating the operational plans. During these periods Lieutenant-Colonel Murdoch’s expert organizing ability and the fact that he at all times correctly interpreted his Commander’s intentions were instrumental in the rapid collection and disarming of the enemy.

Throughout the operations in northwest Holland Lieutenant-Colonel Murdoch’s thorough grasp of situations at all times relieved his Commander of all detail and allowed him to devote his whole time to planning, knowing that his orders were always being carried out correctly. Lieutenant-Colonel Murdoch’s task was made unusually difficult during this period by the fact that the prime consideration at all times was to spare the Netherlands’s civilian life and property.

—————0—————

Lieutenant Colonel Philip Henry Tedman
Knight Officer Orange-Nassau with Swords (Netherlands)
Royal Canadian Artillery

When 1 Canadian Corps was first detailed to be responsible for the capture, relief and rehabilitation of North West Holland, Lieutenant-Colonel Tedman, Assistant Quartermaster-General, 1 Canadian Corps, was assigned the task of coordinating the planning for the introduction of food, medical relief units, transport and other similar problems. This experienced staff officer immediately grasped the basic essentials of the previous planning and quickly adjusted them to meet the needs of the new operational plan for the capture of this area, and assessed the units and transport required for completion of the undertaking. Lieutenant-Colonel Tedman sat in on the original food talks at Achterveld and was the officer who went behind the enemy lines to arrange suitable off-loading points for the essential food convoys and arranged the details for the actual delivery and handover of these vital commodities to the Dutch organization.

Lieutenant-Colonel Tedman subsequently was responsible for all the detailed maintenance arrangements for the evacuation of 25 German Army from Holland, and the return of captured German stores to the Dutch officials, and for making available the necessary transport for the distribution of food and other commodities.

The bright cheerfulness of Lieutenant-Colonel Tedman, his imagination, initiative, willingness to accept responsibility and the esteem in which he is held by all officers he comes in contact with is worthy of distinguished recognition.

—————0—————

Lance Corporal Francis Roy Weatherdon
Bronze Cross (Netherlands)
Royal Canadian Engineers
14 Canadian Field Company

This Lance-Corporal did very good work keeping roads open and supporting the infantry in the push across Nijmegen Island, west of Elst in March-April 1945. During the crossing of the Ijssel River (Map Reference E7878) on the attack on Arnhem, 12 April 1945, in the absence of his Section Corporal, he took over the section and cleared mines from the approaches and built bank seats for ferries, enabling the tanks and equipment to be ferried across the river.

After cessation of hostilities he was put in charge of German engineers lifting mines and clearing booby traps to make the country safe for civilians to return to their normal way of living.

After the war when ordinarily the feeling is that facing danger is over, this Non-Commissioned Officer continued doing a very hazardous job and did it efficiently and well. He knew that the job must be done in order that the people of Holland could have homes and a place to grow food.

—————0—————

Brigadier William Smith Ziegler CBE DSO ED
Commander Order of the Orange-Nassau with Swords (Netherlands)
Royal Canadian Artillery
Headquarters

At 1400 hours, 11 April 1945, 1 Canadian Infantry Division attacked westward across the River Ijssel, the object of the operation being to force the enemy to leave the Netherlands, otherwise to destroy him in order to stop the flooding of the countryside and to remedy as quickly as possible the serious lack of food in western Holland. Brigadier Ziegler commanded the artillery in support of this operation.

In the initial stage, to ensure the effectiveness and accuracy of the great amount of artillery under his command, Brigadier Ziegler personally formulated the fire plans and fire support that so successfully assisted 1 Canadian Infantry Division in its final sweep westward, a task made unusually difficult by the fact that the prime consideration at all times was to spare the Netherlands’ civilian life and property. Making extreme use of intelligence information, obtained through civilian and army channels, Brigadier Ziegler personally directed the fire of the artillery with such outstanding skill that destruction to civilian personnel and property was held to an absolute minimum while effective artillery support was afforded the division in its drive through western Holland.

After the unconditional surrender of the enemy, a speedy occupation of the country and quick evacuation of the Germans became essential. The artillery group under Brigadier Ziegler’s command was given the responsibility for the largest area in western Holland. Again displaying unlimited energy and expert organizing ability, Brigadier Ziegler completed arrangements to effect rapidly the collection and disarmament of the enemy.

Throughout the entire operation in Holland, the formation policy of consideration first to civilians and civilian property, rigidly adhered to by Brigadier Ziegler, was largely responsible for the comparative immunity to Allied shell fire experienced by the civilians in western Holland.

—————0—————

The Best of Times

Posted By on May 3, 2020

Rain, January 2018

Near by in the rain…tears upon the pine…one day for all time…
The best of times remembered.
(P. Ferguson image, January 2018)

Remembered

A solitary grass and flower muncher ambles across the road from one yard to the next. Unperturbed by the white painted fence it approaches and without the leaping gait of a high jumper, this fleet of foot one, simply springs from a standing position across the obstacle. Then turning its head, to look at this solitary walker, the deer smilingly,…“I bet you can’t do that.”

This path is the same approach I took earlier in the day, up a side-road where I encounter fathers and sons engaged in road hockey. It’s wonderful to see, during these days of peculiarity…family together. I enjoy these small walks always ensuring for breadth of space. How often on my wanderings have I seen family together on bicycles with little ones trying to keep up? Their legs rotating as fast as they can…to mom, dad, sister or brother. With excitement they exclaim, “Mom…Dad..look, look what I can do.” They will be tired later…bicycles put away…carried up the stairs…nodding heads collapsed upon parent’s shoulders…family together…these are the best of times.

Within my own walls I continue with my projects….this is what I can do…though I have found, rest for myself can be the day’s best reward – well equal to jotting a few words. Yet with this day May 3, I cannot help but think of my own family…Grannie who lost her father this anniversary day 1917. So too my own mother and father…how long has it been(?)…since parents let me pedal my tractor until tired? And with tractor in hand and junior in supporting arms I am taken home…these are the best of times remembered.

Private Ole Berget, 31st Canadian Infantry Battalion, Fresnoy-en-Gohelle

Tracing family letters at the Vimy Memorial, France.
Memories taken home…these are the best of times remembered.
(P. Ferguson image, August 2018)

Nova Scotia Strong

Posted By on April 25, 2020

Herbie MacLeod
3 RCMP Pipes and Drums
Ottawa, 2012

The Drums Do Beat

Sitting here I think of my old Nova Scotia home. Watching the news, hearing their names and of their lives…not known to me, but now known to Canada. With a deep sigh I close my eyes and breathe…voices I once knew, their faces, their towns, familiar in my contemplation.

As I watch fiddler, Emily Tuck, Herbie MacLeod is brought from her bow. It reminds me of a time when friends once met overseas…a fiddle played at a ridge called Vimy. Home – the sound heard on a distant ridge and now too from Portapique.

For all whose spirit is with Nova Scotia, for all family, friends, maritimers, and Canadians I cannot say farewell but hello once again…for Nova Scotia I will wish.

For all time we can remember them
Natalie MacMaster Fiddle Tribute

Willing Hands

Posted By on April 24, 2020

Mucklow Family, 82nd Canadian Infantry Battalion, Rose Mucklow, Roy Mucklow, James Mucklow, John Mucklow

The James and Rose Mucklow family, Calgary, Alberta.
Boys left to right: Roy, James and John.
(Image courtesy of the Mucklow Family, Canada)

All the Following Days

The tale of two soldiers…both runners (messengers) with the 72nd Canadian Infantry Battalion (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada).

Some days prior to the famed attack, whilst in the line near Vimy Ridge, Privates Alexander Broadfoot (130245) and James Mucklow (160827) stood near. Private Mucklow was on duty this day, 1 April 1917, as messenger when an intense enemy bombardment occurred…

Private Alexander Broadfoot
72nd Canadian Infantry Battalion
Awarded the Military Medal

For most conspicuous gallantry during the Operations against the enemy’s trenches SOUTH EAST of SOUCHEZ, from the 9th to 13th April 1917.

This man was a Battalion Runner. Within an hour after ZERO hour he proceeded, under a terrific fire, to the captured position. He accompanied LIEUT. J. ACHESON on a tour of the captured positions and returned to Battalion Headquarters with information of an invaluable nature.

He continued to perform his duties as a Runner throughout the day of the Operations and all the following days, until relieved on the 13th inst. During the advance, on the 13th April 1917, his work was again of a most conspicuous nature. He was also very conspicuous in an action against the enemy S.E. of SOUCHEZ in which this Battalion took part, on March 1st, 1917.

It is worthy of mention that on the night of the 1st April 1917 during an intense bombardment by the enemy of our front and support lines, and when an attack by him was expected, this runner snatched a message from the hands of 160827 PRIVATE J. MUCKLOW, another runner who had been detailed to deliver it to the Company Commanders, and said “You are a married man MUCKLOW, I’ll take it”. Without waiting for orders he dashed off with it and succeeded in delivering it. Too much cannot be said for the conspicuous devotion to duty shown by this man since his arrival in France.

It is considered that he is fully deserving of an Immediate Reward.

———–0———-

The work of a Battalion Runner (Messenger)
From Peter Weir’s Gallipoli (1981)

The words of a citation, discovered the other evening whilst engaged in the usual patrol of searching historical records, has led me once again upon a path of investigation. These two battalion runners, their time – a story re-found (not forgotten) – near a ridge known as Vimy is so inter-connected…A Highland unit too with some appeal to a website writing about Scottish pipes of war…and, as well, Vancouver’s Seaforths, the first unit of service for Piper James Cleland Richardson V.C., 16th Canadian Infantry Battalion, late of the 72nd Regiment (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada).

Private Broadfoot was an original member of the 72nd and a grocer in civil life, living at the Hotel Lotus, 445 Abbott Street, Vancouver. Joining in February 1916 this native of Norwich, England would soon encounter disease suffering from measles in March whilst in training at Hastings Park, Vancouver. Serving in France and Flanders with the Fourth Canadian Division Broadfoot (and Private Mucklow) would see their first actions on the Somme in September 1916 and soldiered together through Vimy Ridge. On 5 November 1917 Private Broadfoot was wounded during the Battle for Passchendaele when he received a gunshot wound to his right leg and was sent to No. 56 General Hospital at Etaples, France.

Hotel Lotus where Alexander Broadfoot lived.

The Hotel Lotus, home to Alexander Broadfoot.
Corner of Abbott and Pender Streets, Vancouver, B.C.
The hotel has recently been upgraded and newly renovated.
(City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 789-40)

———–0———-

James Mucklow, a labourer, and his wife Rose were both born in Blackheath, England and made their home in Calgary where they were raising their three children. In October 1915 James joined the 82nd Canadian Infantry Battalion in Calgary, Alberta that was eventually disbanded to provide reinforcements for Canadian units serving on the Western Front. Soon to serve with the 72nd Canadian Infantry Battalion, Private Mucklow’s Great War knew much of the virulence of disease and human suffering. In May 1917 he was admitted to the Stationary Hospital, Arques, St. Omer, France suffering from P.U.O. (Pyrexia of Unknown Origin) or Trench Fever.

The fever was determined to be caused by the accidental rubbing of louse droppings into abraded skin. The problem was extreme amongst all soldiers who suffered from the wrath of virulent lice. Great War pictures of soldiers killing lice with their fingernails, lit cigarettes, heated bayonet or with candle flame are known and some artists such as Eric Kennington created a pastel entitled Chat Hunting, now housed in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, London.

László Mednyánszky, Painting, Lice, Soldiers, 1915

Soldiers Hunting for Lice, 1915.
Hungarian artist László Mednyánszky.
(Wiki Image)

Since the Napoleonic Wars, lice have been called chats. As soldiers gathered to kill lice and tell stories their exterminator’s work became known as chatting. To this day having a chat and other derivations of the word remain with us as short terms for conversation. Chats (Lice) had other names, Cooties, Gray Backs, Seam Squirrels, and several unpolite terms. Informational posters attempted to inform soldiers, familiar with itch, about these six-legged vampires, who thrived in blankets and clothing. Cures or remedies for the constant condition included bathing, sterilizing the uniform and kit, obtaining a new cord for identity tags, the dusting of sensitive areas with prophylactic-salve and seeking the location of bathing and delousing stations.

However, Private Mucklow’s suffering did not end with the activity of these scurrying monsters. In June 1917 he endured a bought of bronchitis and then became ill from an asthmatic condition. “He says he has had it all is days” (Medical Case Sheet, 13 February 1918). Private Mucklow’s struggles with the condition continued to reoccur appearing in September, November 1917, and January 1918. After briefly being re-employed as a cook, his war soon ended in October 1918 when he was returned to Canada. Upon arrival in Calgary his medical history sheet was further annotated “Disturbance of Respiratory Tract” (26 November 1918, Captain J.A. Birch). Still, Private Mucklow’s war with disease was not over.

Near to the end of the Great War, and afterwards, a contemptuous pandemic was taking over the engineering of human cells across the globe, 500,000,000 people were infected. Private Mucklow was one of many soldiers and civilians who were to endure the influenza pandemic. His influenza, further exacerbated by asthma, led to another hospital stay shortly after Christmas on 28 December 1918 being fortunately discharged 11 January 1919. In all it is estimated between 17,000,000 – 50,000,000 lives were claimed by the microscopic pest. On 5 April 1919 Private Mucklow, having served faithfully with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, was discharged medically unfit

1918 Influenza Pandemic, Camp Fusnton, U.S. Army

American soldiers, many of them ill from influenza.
Soldier’s Ward, Camp Funston, Kansas, U.S.A., 1918.
(U.S. Army Photograph via WIki)

———-0———-

I always hope that these stories, of all the following days, have a happy end with a return to friends and family at home. However, I have become too aware, from study and experience, that this is not so often as true as our desires. Sadly, both soldier’s lives ended too soon. Private Alexander Broadfoot M.M. died of wounds 8 November 1917 and is buried at Etaples Military Cemetery, France…another part of this story for me to visit sometime in the future.

Though Private Mucklow returned home to his Rose and children James, John and Roy he was not with his loved ones too long, passing away 20 March 1925. James Mucklow is buried at Burnsland Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta and like Private Broadfoot, it seems appropriate to stop by one day. His wife Rose left this plain in 1963, sons James in 1986 and John in 1992. Roy, the youngest, was killed 27 April 1943 as a Bomb Aimer with 420 (Snowy Owl) Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force and is buried at Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands. His headstone includes the inscription, perhaps also appropriate, for two runners of the Great War…

Sleep On, My Son Your Work Is O’er
Your Willing Hands Will Toil No More

A return to Bergen-op-Zoom is in order and…with that thought…the 7PM tribute has begun…the orchestra seems louder this day.

Selected from the Rescuers

Posted By on April 21, 2020

Yorhshire Trench, Boezinge, Boesinghe

Dugout entrance at the excavated and preserved Yorkshire Trench site near Boezinge, Belgium. Entrances are often flooded and are covered with wire.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2004)

Camouflet

  1. a mine so charged and placed that its detonation will destroy enemy mining tunnels.
  2. 2a. an underground or subsurface explosion of a bomb or shell that leaves a sealed pocket of smoke and gas. 2b. a pocket formed in this way.
    (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

I return this evening to a favoured online resource. As I move through the digitized images one by one, I am careful not to let the similar looking pages drift one into another. At times I catch myself veering slightly off-course…steady…steady…refocus…letting go of any thoughts that perhaps there is a better way. Each group of records numbers somewhere between 1,750 – 1,850 names and takes two hours to view. It is a wonderful resource, but as researchers know, not all the pages are relevant. This night I start where I left off from a previous evening…Name Range: Bradley, A.E. – Brown, J. page 750. It is the 8th section I have worked through..there are several others to follow.

The work is a welcome diversion from the daily news I watch and I choose this night to remain indoors rather than seek the fresh air of an early evening. Our encounters with any other persons, these days, are so importantly reduced by physical distancing with a polite wave or hello from afar. I appreciate this bobbing and weaving especially when there is breadth of road along the path, and at all times I avoid the popular thoroughfares and places that attract the most people. Watching ahead and looking behind…Where are they headed…They have committed left I go right…wave and carry on.

Choosing the trail.

Stay active but physically distanced.
A COVID-19 signed narrow path…a bit narrow for me these days.
I will find another way.
(P. Ferguson image, April 2020)

Returning to my Great War online resource I am pleased that shortly into my search I find one name, Briscoe – page 863, that includes, within its record of life-saving, the names of three other soldiers caught in the same onslaught. It is unusual that all four men share the same words of a citation. So too the circumstances of the event are somewhat unusual compared to the many others I have read.

From the time of discovery to placing these words online can take an additional two or more hours. What is the story…or for that matter, a better question – where is the story beyond the obvious? How do I want to present it? Is this a Dragnet night, just the facts please, or one for all musing? What lurks within my memory – can I access its place for here? Does it fit? Then there are the images…much is dependent on images…what do I have…where is it…what else can I use?

Though I tend to write as I speak, I do prefer to read my words at a considered pace. I effect a cadence rather than a “speed read” in search of the end. One gains more in the considered rather than in the fleeting. Tempo defines character. Probably Adagio before Allegro…breathing – the space (not the kerning) between words…Foote and McCullough…so many ways to say the same line…which cadence do we keep? Which line do we use and so it goes until the publish button is pushed.

Once again, the 7PM clamor has started. A reminder to self to recognize the deeds of others and, for the preservation of self, to enjoy this day we’ve been given…no matter what it brings…we at least have this day. Stay safe everyone.

Dugout Dixmude

A dugout at Dixmude, Belgium.
Bunks can be seen just beyond the three horizontal strips of wood.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2004)

Corporal Richard Rainford
Sergeant Thomas Clifford Briscoe
Private Harold Leslie Edwards
Private Albert Ernest Carey
38th Canadian Infantry Battalion
Each soldier awarded the Military Medal

For conspicuous gallantry on early morning of 26th March 1917 near SOUCHEZ.

The enemy blew a camouflet at 5:20 a.m. and broke into one of our Mining Shafts. The force of the explosion burst in the sides of a dug-out near one of the Mine galleries. Twenty men were in the dug-out when the explosion occurred. Three of these managed to make their way out but the remainder were unable to gain the surface.

About a dozen men were standing in the trench near the dug-out entrance, amongst whom were CPL. RAINFORD, SGT. BRISCOE, PTES. EDWARDS and CAREY. These men, without consideration of their own safety, and also having seen the gas flame rush from the mouth of the dug-out, singeing the hair and burning the faces of some, entered the dug-out and succeeded in bringing 10 men to the surface. The remaining seven men were found to be killed. These men assisted in the work of resuscitation of those overcome by gas.

The men rescued were badly burned and gassed and must have been overcome by fumes but for the prompt and gallant action of these men. Some of the rescuers themselves were badly affected by the gas.

These four men have been selected from the rescuers as being those who rendered the best services.

Their prompt and gallant action undoubtedly saved the loss of 10 of their comrades and it is considered that they are fully deserving of an Immediate Award.

Soldiers of the 38th Battalion
Killed in the Camouflet Incident
Souchez, France
Buried at Villers Station Cemetery, Villers-au-Bois, France
VII F 21 – VII F 27
…They are together…

410670 Private Ernest David Ruffles
775656 Private George Nicholls
261714 Private Gus Sheff
261714 Private William Valentine
775645 Private Charles Gordon Matthewson
775323 Private George William Ewart Jemmett
669154 Private George Frederick Giddins