The Missing of the Great War

April 10, 2017
Menin Gate Memorial-Names

Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium showing interior wall with names of missing.

As I watched the 100th anniversary ceremonies at the Vimy Memorial in France and listened to news reports I noticed there was some confusion when discussing “missing” soldiers. I hope to clarify that in this article, another in my series on the Great War 1914-1918.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is charged with ensuring that the final resting places of the dead from both World Wars are preserved forever. After the November 11, 1918 Armistice the Commission’s work began. They began by recording the details of the dead from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and other countries of the British Commonwealth. Some 587,000 graves were identified and a further 559,000 casualties registered as having no known grave. Once land had been acquired they began constructing cemeteries. They consolidated smaller cemeteries into the larger ones and located as many battlefield burials as they could and interred them in the larger cemeteries.

The principles of the Commission mandated an identical headstone for every soldier regardless of rank, religion or race. Basic information where known was inscribed. Christian soldiers stones have a cross and Jewish soldiers have the Star of David. All cemeteries are well maintained. The Commission replaces about 20,000 stones every year due to weathering or damage or information correction. They also did not allow the reparation of any of the dead they were all to be buried where they died.

These cemeteries contain two types of burials, those containing identified soldiers and those graves containing remains of unidentified soldiers. The latter are the “Unknowns”. Finally all those killed, but where remains have never been located are the “Missing”. As can be seen from the previous paragraph this is a staggering number. In the war years of 1914 to 1918 soldiers were blown to bits in battle, sank into the deep mud and just disappeared. Over the years as bodies are found through various activities on the battlefields identification is attempted. If a name can be associated with the remains they are buried with that on the headstone, otherwise they are buried as unknown. They are removed from the missing list.

The War Graves Cemeteries commemorate the dead whose remains were located. The Commission also wanted to commemorated the “missing” in some permanent way so they decided to engrave the names on memorials. The Vimy Memorial walls contain the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France during World War I, but who do not have a known resting place. It should be noted there are no cemeteries at the Vimy Ridge Memorial, but there are a short distance away.

For those who died in Belgium (or Flanders) the Menin Gate Memorial was constructed in Ypres, Belgium. This memorial contains the names of over 54,000 soldiers from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand who do not have a known resting place, the “missing”. Those Canadians who went missing presumed killed at Passchendaele for example are included at this memorial.

In my case I had a great-uncle, Herbert T. Waite, who was killed at Vimy but never found. His name is engraved into the Vimy Memorial Wall. I located him by searching the Commission’s database for all the surnames in my family I was researching. For common surnames you may need additional information to narrow the search results to the correct individual. You can also search for cemeteries. The search is free and easy to use.

So next time you hear about the “Missing” remember they have no known resting place, but their names are etched into the walls of Menin Gate and the Vimy Memorial and others so we can remember them always.

Should you wish to located the grave of a relative killed in the Great War or the Second World War here is the link to search. The results will tell you the exact location if it is a burial. If the person is one of the “missing” is will have under Burial “N/A” but will tell you where the name is engraved.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Advertisements

Vimy Ridge: Canada’s Defining Moment

April 8, 2017
can_vimysouv-300x196

Canadian stamps issued to commemorate Vimy Ridge. They show the Vimy Memorial and preserved trenches nearby. The memorial was completed in 1936. 

This post is one in my continuing series related to World War I or The Great War as it is also called. It has been 100 years since these events took place that still impact us today.

One hundred years ago on the morning of April 9, 1917 the Canadian Corps consisting of four divisions commenced the attack on a key high point in the Arras sector of the Western Front. This was Vimy Ridge a strategic point held by the Germans since the early days of the war. Numerous attempts had been made to capture it before without success now it was Canada’s turn.

Within the first two days it was captured and in the hands of the Allies thanks to the detailed planning and execution of the Canadian Corps. The cost was high, 10,600 casualties including 3,598 killed.

Canada’s victory gained us much respect and admiration from the world. There is no doubt in this writer’s mind it was a pivotal point in the history of our nation. We became more than just one of the colonies. We became proud to be Canadians.

Today we do not celebrate a victory so much as we remember the sacrifice of the men who gave their all serving Canada. We remember and mourn those who paid the ultimate price on the battlefield of Vimy. May we never forget these men.

My thoughts are with them today. I am proud to be Canadian.


Vimy Ridge: Personal connections.

March 21, 2017
Waiter-Herbert Tracy-WWI-Death-Newspaper Clipping

My Great Uncle – article in Toronto paper in 1917.

One hundred years ago on April 9, 1917 the Canadian Corps fought a battle that told the world we were no longer a colony, but a true nation. This was the first time during the Great War all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together in a single operation. Some 97,184 soldiers of the Canadian Corps participated in the battle

Vimy Ridge located in France was a strategic high point the Allies wanted to capture to gain an advantage over the Germans. Attempts to capture it had been made on several occasions before without success. The Canadians had gained a name for themselves as tough, never say die soldiers, so they were called in to attempt to capture the objective.

Canadian commanders did the following key things to prepare for the battle,

  • built tram-ways and plank roads to enable the movement of over 800 tons of ammunition, rations and equipment per day leading up to the battle.
  • had 72 kilometres of pipe laid to supply 600,000 gallons of water per day for the horses.
  • amassed 50,000 horses to move artillery pieces and shift supplies.
  • constructed a full-scale mock-up of the ridge behind the lines so troops could rehearse movements. This the first time this was done.
  • a series of underground caves and tunnels were constructed close to and under the ridge.

The attack was planned for 5:30 am on the morning of April 9th. Several hours before all the men were given a hot meal and a tot of rum.

The attack began on schedule at 5:30 am behind a creeping artillery barrage. The artillery barrage moved several yards each time and the infantry followed behind. This was a tactic that gave the soldiers some protection as it forced the Germans to keep their heads down and caused confusion in their ranks. The first wave went forward through the underground tunnels to catch the Germans by surprise. Some of these caves and tunnels were large enough to hold an entire battalion. Artillery bombardments had been on-going for several days ahead of the attack, this was to confuse the enemy and keep them guessing as to when the actual attack was coming.

Within the first hour the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Divisions reached the first objective and by 8 am the final objective. The battle continued for two days with another two for mopping up. Victory was declared April 10th. The Canadians accomplished what no other troops had been able to. The cost was high with Canadians suffering 10,600 casualties including 3,598 killed. Over 4,000 Germans were captured during the battle.

This battle is personal for me because members of my family took part. As a genealogical researcher I spent a lot of time looking into our military history. I discovered connections to Vimy Ridge and other battles of World War I.

Cuthbert “Bert” Sendell:
My grandfather on mother’s side served in the Canadian Army Service Corps (CASC) and was at Vimy Ridge. He survived and came home. Interestingly he enlisted as Herbert Strain, his biological father’s first name and his stepfather’s last name.

Herbert Tracy Waite:
Grandmother’s big brother who unfortunately was killed at Vimy. He was only 20 years of age and left behind a wife and children back home. The newspaper article at top is a document I found during my research. Date of his death was actually April 13, 1917, but reporter didn’t have a lot of information at that time. Very sad reading and this is just one example of thousands. He is commemorated at the Vimy Memorial in France, but is one of thousands whose body was never found.

Vimy Ridge was just an entry in the history books to me, but that history came alive when I discovered my ancestors contributed to Canada’s war effort. This coming April 9th I will be proudly thinking about their sacrifice one hundred years ago.

Suggested Reading:
Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War 1917-1918, Cook, Tim, Penguin Canada 2008
Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919: Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War, Nicholson, G.W.L., McGill-Queen’s University Press 2015
(First published in 1962)
Vimy, Berton, Pierre, McClelland and Stewart 1986
The Vimy Ridge Foundation website


Poppies: Symbols of remembrance

November 3, 2016
Canada's National War Memorial, Ottawa commemorated by stamp.

Canada’s National War Memorial, Ottawa commemorated by stamp.

“In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

Lieutenant John McCrae, 1915

When Canadian John McCrae wrote these lines over 100 years ago he wasn’t doing it to glorify war or battles, but to remember the sacrifice of his comrades who had been killed in the service of their country. These men who now lay dead and buried in Flanders Fields of Belgium. He himself would not survive the war.

I’ve actually heard people saying that poppies and Remembrance Day itself on November 11th are meant to glorify war. There couldn’t be anything farther from the truth. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many veterans including my grandfather and my father. Not one of them has ever glorified war, but they’ve always spoken highly of their fellow veterans and especially of those who served with them.

Remembrance is critical. If we don’t remember those who served and sacrificed in some way, many with their lives, we as a society will make the same mistakes. We remember war not to glorify it, but to remember its horrors so that we make peace wherever possible, and only enter war as a last resort. Unfortunately sometimes it takes our military to fight for and defend our freedoms and values. Evil is alive in the world

We owe a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid to all those who stepped up to defend freedom and especially those who lie still in Flanders Fields where the poppies grow.

Bless them and remember them always.


Golf at the Olympics: One fan’s view

October 20, 2016

This past summer at the Olympics in Rio golf was a recognized medal sport for the first time since 1904. As a die-hard golfer and golf fan I’d like to give some of the history behind this and my thoughts on golf as an Olympic sport.

The last and only time golf was an Olympic sport was during the 1900 Olympics in Paris, France and the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

First let’s look at Paris in 1900. Men’s and women’s events were held. The men competed in a 36 hole stroke-play tournament and the women in a 9 hole stroke-play tournament. Charles Sanders of the USA won the men’s Gold Medal and Margaret Abbot of the USA the women’s Gold Medal. A total of twenty-two golfers competed from 4 nations.

At St. Louis in 1904 only men competed. No women’s golf events were held. Seventy-seven golfers from just two nations completed, Canada and the United States. Men’s individual events were match play. Team events were held. Three teams of 10 golfers each competed in stroke play. The individual results of each team were totalled to determine the team standings. USA won Gold and Canada Silver. In the individual event the Gold Medal winner was George Lyon, a Canadian. This was the last time the sport of golf was an Olympic event.

At the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009 a vote was held and golf accepted for the Olympics in 2016 in Rio and for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. After that an evaluation will be done by the IOC and golf’s governing bodies to see if it should continue.

The format for the golf events was also determined and will be,

  • 120 golfers, 60 men and 60 women.
  • 72 hole (4 rounds of 18 holes) stroke play tournaments for the men and the women.
  • Official Rules of Golf to be used as on the PGA, European, Asian tours and the LPGA tour.
  • In case of a tie a three-hole play-off will be held to determine the Gold Medal winner. Ties for Silver or Bronze are permitted and medals awarded appropriately.
  • Qualifiers are to be based on World Rankings prior to the Olympics.
  • Top 15 players of each gender automatically qualify, but a limit of 4 golfers per country. Remaining spots to highest ranked players from countries not having two golfers qualified.
  • Guaranteed at least one golfer from the host nation and each geographic region.
  • No cuts in the tournaments after two days as is usual practice. All golfers play all four rounds.

Unfortunately at Rio many of the world’s top golfers both men and women withdrew because of the Zika virus, their schedule or personal reasons. In the end the competition featured 34 nations. In both the men’s and women’s tournaments play-offs weren’t required.

Men’s winners:
Gold – Justin Rose, Great Britain
Silver – Henrik Stensen, Sweden
Bronze – Matt Kucher, USA

Women’s winners:
Inbee Park – Gold, South Korea
Lydia Ko – Silver, New Zealand
ShanShan Feng – Bronze, China

As a fan I managed to watch most of the rounds and the finals in both men’s and women’s. The competition was fierce and close in both cases. Very entertaining. I am biased but I vote a resounding Yes for golf in the Olympics.


Golf season ends, writing begins

October 15, 2016

carstairs-slide2I admit it. I haven’t been posting a lot lately. Too busy outside hitting the links. Golf is another of my passions. What do I like about chasing that little white ball?

What does the game of golf do for me? This the most often asked question from non-golfers. Well thinking about it I came up with the following,

  • It’s a great excuse to get outside for fresh air and nature.
  • The walking part is fantastic exercise. I always walk never ride the power cart.
  • Challenges my physical and mental skills. Not only is golf a physical game but it requires thinking and concentrating.
  • Golf is a social game. Great way to develop and maintain friendships.
  • Most of all it’s just plain fun.

Now having said this I stress that I am an average player, but one who plays well enough to find it enjoyable. I make an effort to emphasis fun and not get frustrated. When I was younger I took it far too seriously. I’m enjoying the game more than I ever have since I retired.

If you’d like to try this great game here are a couple of suggestions, 1) take basic lessons from a reputable pro and practice what you learn, and 2)rent or borrow clubs the first few times.

Finally just enjoy being alive and outside playing an interesting game.


Fort McMurray Wildfire-Special Posting

May 5, 2016

**Donate to Canadian Red Cross  The Alberta and Canadian governments are matching dollar for dollar all donations.

A city of almost 100,000 is evacuated. Over 1600 residences and many businesses have been destroyed and the wildfire is still burning. The evacuees have lost everything, not only possessions but personal mementos and treasures. Fortunately no one has been injured or killed by the fires. This is thanks to the brave fire fighters, police and other emergency works who are risking life and limb to ensure the safety of the men, women and children of the city.

McMurray is more than and oil and gas city, it is home to many other businesses associated with the industry and not associated with the industry. This is a tragedy beyond measure. The citizens of McMurray come from all provinces of Canada and there are also many Americans living and working there.

Northern Alberta where this city is located is a forested area. In fact Northern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia are in the same category. Forest fires have been a fact of life in the West and elsewhere for recorded history and before. Some are large and some are small, all are dangerous and damaging.

Climate change is not the reason for these fires, careless smoking is the biggest cause. Dryness yes but it’s dry every year. Wildfires have raged throughout the Western USA and Canada every year since recorded history.

The oil and gas being produced from the massive oil sands deposits in this area supports the lifestyle of Americans and Canadians and others around the world. It is mined under the strictest regulatory and environment requirements in the world bar none. Reclamation of the mine sites is a  requirement and is carried on as the mining progresses.

I have been viewing “Aerial American” on the Smithsonian Channel for some time now and have seen shocking environmental damage caused by open pit mining in Kentucky, West Virginian and Nevada just to name a few American States. Little or no reclamation work is required in these cases. Yet here’s the puzzler I never hear protests against these developments. Why is that I wonder? Seems like another agenda at work.

Canadians take the protection of the environment seriously does your jurisdiction? 

Finally our thoughts should be for the families of Fort McMurray. Albertans and Canadians are with you. We will rebuild. Stay strong.

Further reading,
Canada’s Energy Citizens
http://www.energycitizens.ca/learn_more

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
http://www.capp.ca

Alberta Government Department of Energy
http://www.energy.gov.ab.ca
http://www.energy.gov.ab.ca/OilSands/oilsands.asp (site specific to Oil Sands)

Alberta Energy Regulator (regulates all energy development in the Province of Alberta)
http://www.aer.gov
http://www.aer.ca/about-aer/spotlight-on/oil-sands (site specific to Oil Sands)

 

 

 


%d bloggers like this: