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Killed in the Trenches of World War I
The battles of the western front are the stories of trench warfare and over the past 100 years much has been written about those trenches, the combatants, the weaponry, the strategy, and the battles. For the student of wartime history one way to truly understand what happened between 1914 and 1918 in trench warfare can be found not in the history books, the regimental records, and diaries but rather in the letters written from the heart by young men to their mothers, fathers, wives and sweethearts and the letters written to families at the time of the soldier’s death. Many young men from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada fought in the trenches of World War I. These are but a few letters that tell their story. Killed in the Trenches of World War I, presents descriptions of the daily life, feelings, and the tragedy of death. The letters and the pictures are randomly selected to portray the vivid story of life and death in the trenches of World War I
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada (Canadian Troops returning from the trenches; wet and covered with mud, November, 1916.)
Lieutenant Frank Cann 85th Battalion Aged 23 South Ohio, Yarmouth Co. Nova Scotia. Died January 1918 ... On his return to France as an officer he was even a greater help to the battalion, first as Lewis gun officer and then when the position of intelligence and scout officer became vacant he expressed a desire for this position which, you will understand, is a very important one in the battalion and could only be given to an officer of exceptional courage ... We went into the line and the first night we went out in No Man's Land with a patrol. He received a very serious wound by rifle or machine gun bullets in the vicinity of stomach. A stretcher party at once went out and brought him in and he was rushed out of the line as quickly as possible. Our medical officer, whom I consulted at the time, said the wound was very serious but that he was putting up such a game struggle, was so strong physically and had lived such a clean life that possibly he had a slight chance ...” Lieutenant Colonel A.H. Bordon Commanding 85th Canadian Infantry Battalion “It was nearly midnight on the 14th - 15th when word came to the dressing station that Lieutenant Cann had been wounded while out on a patrol and the stretcher bearers could not get him through the trenches on account of the narrowness. So Captain Brown and I immediately went out with our dressings accompanied by two runners. When we reached the dugout to which place they had taken Frank he was comfortable on a stretcher. We immediately dressed the wound and placed a clean dry blanket under and over him. The medical officer gave him a hypodermic injection to relieve his pain. He was quite cheerful and spoke to us and was resting nicely. However, the stretcher bearers were right there and we placed an emergency ticket on him and he was rushed right out. On account of the snow on the ground many of the officers and men were dressed in all white and I must tell you that Frank looked awfully pale. I readily noticed that he always had such a high colour. We held very little hope for his recovery as the wound was severe, two machine gun bullets having gone right through the abdomen. Indeed, we all felt badly to hear that Lieutenant Cann had passed away at No 57 Casualty Station (C C S) on the 15th.” Sergeant S.F. Williams Medical Orderly
Corporal Charles C Stingel 3rd Battalion Aged 28 Carleton, Yarmouth Co., Nova Scotia Died April 9. 1917 “... Your son was killed instantly by a shell while we were engaged in the last offensive on April 9at 5:30 pm. He came forward to help us after having been affected by gas from a German gas shell which had caused him to drop out for a time although I had advised him to go back. ... He had always expressed the wish that if he had to give his life for his country he would not have to suffer, and I can assure you he was granted his wish. ...” Lieutenant, Chaplain, Signallers The Trenches Feb 3, 1916 “We have just got back to the trenches after a three weeks’ rest. As far as the rest went it did not amount to much as they kept us going pretty steadily but one was not dodging shells and rifle grenades all the time. The trenches have dried up wonderfully since we went out and the brigade that relieved us did a lot of work and fixed up the trenches in pretty fair shape. It was a brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division and their first time in the line. Their battalions were all up to strength and they had lots of men for working parties. Don’t worry about that shooting on Christmas Day; they have the range of our trenches all right, and we have of theirs, too. There is shooting going on all the time. From where I am now we can look down on the German front line about 65 yards away. The bullets are clipping the sand bags on the roof of our dugout. About every 30 seconds a sniper seems to have a line on this corner but one is perfectly safe as long as he keeps his head below the parapet. It is high enough so that a man has to get up on the firing steps to look over. ....” Charlie
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada (Resting in Reserve Trenches, 2nd Canadian Field Ambulance. June, 1916.)
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada (Officer giving his men advice in trenches. August, 1917.)
Private Vernon Spates 85th Battalion Aged 19 Pleasant Lake, Yarmouth Co., Nova Scotia  Died April 9, 1917  “... In the action of Easter Monday, April 9, - a day on which many a Canadian hero made the supreme sacrifice - he was wounded in the foot and thigh just as he reached the German front line.  Our boys were having a mix-up with the Germans and one of their hand bombs burst quite near your son inflicting the fatal wounds.  One of the company stretcher bearers immediately dressed his wounds and shortly after he was carried to the rear.  Even then they hoped for the best, but in vain, for on returning from the trenches two days later it was to learn he had died from his wounds ...”  R. Willcock, Lieutenant O.C. “C” Company 42nd Battalion
James Wilbur Dexter 85th Battalion Aged 23 East Benton, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia Died June 15, 1917 “... I must say that I was Jim’s comrade and chum in France. We were both scouts and were always together. We fought together, we rested together, we ate together and we slept together. Needless to say under the trying circumstances we were the lost intimate of friends and the truest of pals. Even yet I long for the companionship of one so true who lived so nobly and died so gloriously. ... I as gassed by the same shell that Jim was, only not nearly so badly and I was with him until almost the last. When the stretcher bearers took him out of the trenches for the trip to the hospital he was unconscious. He was brave to the last and died with the spirit of fight until the wrongs done to Christianity and humanity were redressed. ...” Hartley E. Scott
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/ (Grave of a Canadian in what was No Man's Land; August, 1917)
Gunner Ernest J. Amirault 1st Canadian Light Trench Mortar Battery Aged 25 Middle East Pubnico, Yarmouth Co., Nova Scotia  Died October 8, 1918  ... At the time Gunner Amirault was killed he was standing in the gun-pit firing his gun when an enemy shell landed on the edge of the pit and exploded before he could take cover.  A piece of the shell struck him. He was instantly killed and did not suffer in the least.  In fact he was not aware what struck him ...  Captain William H. Leishman
Credit: W.I. Castle / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-000786 (1st Battle of the Somme, France, 1916. "No Man's Land" in front of Canadian lines.)
James Freeman Doane 85th Battalion Aged 21 Yarmouth North, Nova Scotia Died September 2, 1918 During the operation at Passchendaele on the 30th October he was wounded in action and consequently invalided to England for a period of convalescence and rest. He rejoined the battalion from Blighty on the 31st August this year. As an original member of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade he carried on at all times in true Nova Scotia fashion with the welfare of his battalion and the successful prosecution of our big task always at heart. He could be depended upon to conduct himself, whether in or out of the line, in a manner reflecting credit upon himself and his associates. The circumstances surrounding his death have, no doubt, been written you by his Company or his Platoon Commander. Briefly, they are as follows: at about 5:10 am on the 2nd September while advancing with his company, “D” company towards enemy positions during the recent successful operations by the Canadian Corps, he was hit in the breast by a machine gun bullet causing his death instantly. J. L. Ralston. Lieut. Colonel Commanding 85th Canadian Infantry
Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001086 (29th Infantry Battalion advancing over "No Man's Land" through the German barbed wire and heavy fire during the battle of Vimy Ridge.)
Private Keith Crosby 24th Battalion Victoria Rifles Aged 17 Carleton, Yarmouth Co., Nova Scotia Died April 11, 1916 Bramshott Camp Diphook, Hants, England Dec 1915 Dear Dad I received your letter last night. I just returned from a pass to London and found five letters waiting for me. I had been on pass for four days. I saw all the interesting things there were to see including Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Cathedral, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Whitehall, Zoological Gardens, St. James Palace, the Tower. The last day I was there I hired a guide and saw the guards change at Buckingham Palace. The guards there consist of the Royal Horse Guard, Life Guards, Grenadier Guards. They change to the tune played by the bands of the Irish and Scots Guards. We have to salute the colours as they are carried by. There were six of us Yarmouth boys of the 40th stayed together: Lance Corporal Cliff King, Lance Corporal Adelbert Taylor, Lance Corporal Harry Smith, Lance Corp. Emerson Porter, Harry Porter and myself. London is packed full of troops - English, French, Canadian, Belgian, Australian, New Zealand and Indian; everywhere you go there you see soldiers. The place is also full of fellows back from the trenches on furlough. They come in from the trenches right here, clothes all muddy and torn, rifle and kit on their back. I have seen a good many of the First Contingent boys back, among them quite a few of the Princess Pats. I was with a English fellow the other night who is out of the King’s Own. He had been there fifteen months and was back home for nine days. What a good time we had together. Keith
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada (Canadian troops returning from the trenches. November, 1916. 1st Battle of the Somme.)
Private James A. Ricker B Company, Royal Canadian Regiment Aged 21 Yarmouth North, Nova Scotia Died August 27, 1918 Somewhere in France April 20, 1918 Dear Mother, Your letter of March came last night and I will try to answer your questions as to what we do in the trenches. In the front line of all there is nothing to do but watch the “wily Hun” especially at night. He may be a quarter of a mile away, more or less. We stand two or three together with a box of bombs close at hand, keeping a sharp lookout along our wire in front to see that he does not sneak over and surprise us. We get most of our sleep during the day, the two or three our dates. The front line is generally the quietest place in the trenches because Fritz does not often come near us and his shells go further back. When in the trenches to the rear of the front line we have work to do at night - digging trenches, building wire entanglements, carrying up materials from the rear, carrying rations or any other work that has to be done. You can imagine what it is like on a dark night, especially the barbed wire. During the day we keep out of sight as much as possible because he has his balloons and planes in the sky looking for targets for his gun. When out on the rest we have it easy and can have a very good time have drill and training the same as in England but shorter hours. I expect the news of the present operation makes you worry for us. We know very little of what is going on and can't tell when we may be in the thick of it, but I am not worrying for myself. I can see nothing very alarming in the news we get and I believe the Germans are nearer their finish than is apparent. You asked if the noise of guns affected my hearing. The noise is not as bad as you might think. When a way back of the line you hear a great volume of noise during a bombardment like steady thunder, but when in the line you hear only the guns that are near. It is the gunners that have their hearing hurt. Somewhere in France May 19, 1918 Dear Sister, You asked if I had ever been "over-the-top." I have not, nor have I ever been through a real heavy bombardment nor been in the line when it was attacked. I have not seen a man killed sense when I was hit a year ago. But I have crawled all over no man's land on patrol, looking for trouble near the enemy lines: have stood on listening post away in front of the front lines; have been in the line on the longest trip ever made by the Canadians and some say the British; and I have seen Germans in the “wild state" when I was not permitted to fire at them for fear of giving our own position away. I have had some experience with German gas and have quite recently had my first experience with aerial bombs though not very near. 733236 Private James A. Ricker B Company Royal Canadian Regiment BEF France
Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada (Canadians resting in captured trenches in front of Arras. Advance East of Arras. August, 1918.)
Private Eugene Murray Lewis 25th Battalion Aged 21 Yarmouth North, Nova Scotia Died April 29, 1917 Front Lines April 29, 1917 ...one of my corporals found Eugene Lewis’s body a few nights before we came out of the trenches and also that of another Yarmouth boy, A. Muise. They were both killed instantly and within a few yards of each other. We had them buried that night in the usual manner. Some day I hope to be able to tell his people exactly where he is. ... Lieutenant Trask