Carr MM in Canadian army uniform 1915
of my maternal great-grandfathers (my grandfather’s father) was a
soldier in the Canadian army during the Great War of 1914 – 1918, like
so many other young men of his generation from the allied nations. He joined the Canadian
Expeditionary Force (CEF) as a volunteer on the 21st
September 1915 and served with the 1st Canadian Division. Canada did not introduce conscription until 1918 and
very few conscripts reached the Western Front before hostilities ended
on the 11th November 1918.
70% of the CEF consisted of British born men when it began to recruit
and even by 1918, 50% of its ranks were still British by birth. It had
proved particularly difficult to recruit French-speaking Canadians into
the CEF, which is surprising to many given the fact that France had been
invaded by Germany. Maybe they did not feel that same pull to the ‘old
country’ as English-speaking Canadians did? The only French-speaking
battalion was the 22nd, who were known by English speakers as
the ‘Van Doos’, a corruption of the French pronunciation of Vingt
great-grandfather was raised in Woodstock, Ontario and fought at the
Somme in 1916 and at the famous battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. This
battle formed part of the great battle of Arras in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais
region of France.
Shortly after the battle he was awarded the Military Medal (MM) for
Shortly after the battle he was awarded the Military Medal (MM) for outstanding bravery.
He was severly wounded at the later Battle of Cambrai and was sent back to the UK to recover. A bullet ripped into his elbow and travelled up his arm before exiting out of his shoulder. The effects of that wound remained with him for the rest of his life but thankfully he survived the horrors of that conflict, one of the lucky few. He returned to Canada after the war with my great-grandmother and my grandfather.
will know just how significant the battle of Vimy Ridge was and how
great was the loss of life within the CEF generally. In April 1917, my
great-grandfather along with the other Canadian troops took the ridge at
the cost of 10,602 casualties, 3,598 of who were killed in action. My
great-grandfather was also at the Somme the previous year, when the
Canadians suffered 24,000 casualties, both killed and wounded. The
battle of the Somme is infamous for its high attrition rate and brought
home the horrors of mechanised warfare.
great-grandfather wrote an account of his arrival at Vimy Ridge on Christmas day 1916 some
months after the actual event, and also drew a map indicating the
positions of the Canadian and German forces at the time referred to in
the narrative. Many veterans of the Great War found it difficult to talk
about their experiences, especially to those who were not in the war and
many would commit their thoughts to paper as a form of release and as a
way of coming to terms with the grotesqueness of life in the trenches.
Ridge was a Canadian victory that was bought at great cost in Canadian
lives. It has often been said that the battle was the beginning of a
real sense of distinct Canadian nationhood. Brigadier-General Alexander
Ross DSO, who was in command of the 28th North West Canadian
Battalion at Vimy, had this to say in respect of his command.
was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then
that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation’.
battle of Vimy Ridge was the first time that all four divisions of the
Canadian Expeditionary Force had fought together for one objective and
the battle became a national symbol of sacrifice for that reason.
Altogether, 60,661 Canadians lost their lives during the course of World
War One, well over 9% of those who enlisted during the course of the
war. Some units were almost wiped out to a man.
Canadians had played a major role in pioneering the new territory that
became Canada and now they played a major role in fighting for the newly
emerging nation. After the Great War, Canada gained a true sense of self
as it began to move out of the shadow of Empire and follow its own
great-grandfather came back to England in 1932 to live in Walton, Suffolk,
where he had been born. He, my great-grandmother and my grandfather
sailed from the city of Montreal, Quebec and arrived in London on the
7th August aboard the Cunard White Star ship, 'Aurania'. The Carr’s have been backwards and forwards to
Canada since the 19th century and the extended family is now equally spread between both
countries. My great-grandfather died at his home in Walton, Felixstowe in 1964 at the age of 74, having
eventful and active life.
Below is a family picture of my great-grandfather, John Carr MM, my great grandmother, my grandfather and his account of that Christmas on Vimy Ridge, in his own words.
Carr MM, Agnes Carr (nee Knights) and Donald Carr
Night on Vimy Ridge
was Christmas day in 1916 when our battalion received orders to relieve
another unit of Canadians on Vimy Ridge. We had just come from the Somme
front after some hard fighting and were in dugouts about two miles
behind the front lines, at a spot named Hospital Corner.
remember waking up with the rain dripping through onto us as we lay
under our blanket and greatcoats. Our sergeant came in about then with
the news that we were to precede up to the front line right away. Nice
cheerful news for Christmas day.
were battalion scouts and it was our custom to go in ahead of the
battalion so we could locate the different company headquarters, bombing
posts, machine gun posts etc and get acquainted with the line so that
when it was dark, we could send back scouts and guide the various
companies to their posts etc.
had a hasty breakfast we started off, about twenty of us scouts going
through the communication trenches. About two hours later we arrived at
the dugouts that were to be used as battalion headquarters. From there
two scouts went back to guide in the battalion to this point.
was getting along toward midday, when we realised that we had no rations
and could not get any till the rest of the scout section arrived with
the battalion. We searched around the dugouts but all we found was one
small tin of ‘bully beef’ which four or five of the boys divided up
as far as it would go. Well, we had had similar experiences before but I
guess we noticed it more as it was Christmas day.
we had about another half mile to go to reach the front line so we set
off. We started in the rain and ankle deep in mud. We soon came to a
valley, which was more or less exposed to the German machine gun fire
and had to cross this on duck boards in the open for about 150 yards. We
crossed safely, a rather dangerous undertaking in daylight, going over
two or three at a time and reached the cover of the trenches on the
was very quiet and we were hoping that we would have a more or less
peaceful trip. We were now nearing the front line and found the scouts
of the battalion we were relieving, in a sand bag dugout on the side of
the ridge. We learned from them that they had had a quiet trip as wars
go. We got out our French maps and they pointed out the places of
interest to us, such as observation posts and places in the trenches to
beware of snipers etc.
was getting dark by this time so a party of half a dozen of us went for
a tour of the front line, to get the lay of the land with the view of
later in the night, making a patrol into no-mans-land.
found the trenches were knee deep in thick mud and slosh, slosh, slosh
we went. In some places it was just water. We found that the Germans
were entrenched from about 90 to 140 yards from our front line, divided
in places by huge bomb craters where mines had been blown. These were
some 50 to 100 feet deep and his troops were holding one side of the
shell holes and ours the other.
our front line was four or five small trenches running straight out and
at right angles, called saps, in which we placed machine gun crews. We
visited all these in turn and had made up our minds to crawl out from
one and have a look around no-mans-land after the relief was complete.
the time it had been fairly quiet, a few shells sailing over to our back
areas and occasionally a burst of machine gun fire from some nervous
German gunner. About this time our own battalion men began to arrive,
slosh, sloshing along the front line and taking up their positions and
posting sentry on the fire steps, the men of the unit we were relieving
stepping down and getting ready to trudge out to a well earned rest and
a possible dry place to sleep.
was unusually quiet and we didn’t think it a good omen. It seemed too
much like the lull before a storm. All of a sudden we heard a swish,
swish through the air, the tell-tale sparks of a launch of
‘minewafers’ which crashed with a deafening noise on our front line
about 100 yards to our left, followed shortly after by a terrific
bombardment of ‘whiz-bangs’ and machine guns, the sky being alight
with vary lights and star shells. The ridge looked like it was afire. An
S.O.S was sent up for our artillery, which promptly responded adding to
the already deafening noise.
scouts went to the end of one of the small trenches nearest the German
lines as we knew he would not fire so short, being afraid he would hit
his own front line, thereby probably saving our lives as we soon heard
cries for stretcher bearers from our front line. The bombardment lasted
about an hour and a half then gradually died down till about midnight,
when it became quiet again.
afterwards we were relieved by another patrol of scouts and we went
slosh, slosh back to our dugout, where we found that the rations had
arrived and you can bet we were ready for them, not to mention the shot
of rum that was passed around.
heard the next day we had somewhere between thirty and forty casualties
during the strafe, more than we lost when we took the ridge a few months
later and our battalion went over the highest part.
Probably the official report would read something like this, ‘troops spent quiet Christmas, no change in the line, all quiet on the Western Front’ – but the Germans sure gave us a warm Christmas greeting at Vimy'.
John Carr MM - Seen here in later life at home in 91 Queen Street, Walton, Suffolk
©Copyright - James of Glencarr