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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Lance Cpl. Arthur Stanford Horton - A 40th Battalion Soldier's Story

Date of Birth: November 17, 1893

Place of Birth: Canso, NS

Mother's Name: Henrietta 'Hattie' E. Worth

Father's Name: Hiram Charles Horton

Date of Enlistment: August 9, 1915 at Sydney, NS

Regimental Number: 415289

Rank: Private (later promoted to Lance Corporal)

Force: Infantry

Regiments: 40th Battalion; 5th Battalion Canadian Mounted Rifles

Location of service: England, Belgium & France

Occupation at Enlistment: Iron worker

Marital Status at Enlistment: Single

Next of Kin: Hiram Horton (father)

Previous Military Experience: 94th Regiment (militia) - 3 months

*****

While early enlistments in the Canadian Expeditionary Force were not uncommon, the majority of Guysborough veterans volunteered or were drafted for overseas service during the last three years of the war.  This was not the case with Arthur Stanford Horton, who chose to enlist in the CEF during the first twelve months of the war.

Born in Canso on November 17, 1893, Arthur was raised in a busy household of ten children - four boys and six girls.  His father Hiram, a fisherman, was also a Canso native, while his mother, Henrietta 'Hattie' Worth, was born at Salmon River Lake.  An older brother, George, followed Arthur into military service, enlisting with the No. 10 Halifax Siege Battery on October 1, 1917.

Arthur left home sometime after 1911, finding employment in the Sydney area as an ironworker.  Like many other young men, he took an interest in the military activity that swept the county after the outbreak of war, joining the 94th Regiment, a local militia unit.  It likely came as no surprise to his parents when, after three months of militia training, Arthur visited the Sydney recruitment office of the 40th Battalion and enlisted for overseas service on August 9, 1915. 

Arthur's military journey began with a trip to Valcartier, Quebec, where the battalion was training in preparation for deployment at the front.  On October 18, 1915, Arthur followed the members of the 40th Battalion onto the SS Saxonia for their trans-Atlantic voyage, arriving in England ten days later.  The regiment then travelled by train to the newly established military camp at Bramshott, where Arthur spent the next five months.


Perhaps not surprisingly, the attractions of a foreign country were a considerable distraction to a young lad from Guysborough County.  Arthur's service record states that he forfeited one day's pay for being "absent without leave" from midnight November 16 until 8 am November 17, 1915.  His record describes no further misconduct, leaving one to conclude that the young soldier "learned his lesson".  In fact, a later promotion to Lance Corporal suggests that over time he made a positive impression on his commanding officers.

Arthur spent the winter of 1915-16 at Bramshott, training and awaiting orders to depart for the front.  During this time, he suffered from a bout of influenza and was admitted to hospital at Moore Barracks, Shorncliffe on February 24, 1916, spending nine days recuperating before rejoining his unit.

The 40th Battalion suffered the eventual fate of most Nova Scotian regiments when its soldiers were dispersed to existing regiments and the unit was transformed into a "reserve" battalion in the spring of 1916.  As a result, on March 15, 1916 - eleven days after his discharge from hospital - Pte. Arthur Stanford Horton was transferred to the 5th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles, the unit with which he served for the duration of his combat experience.

*****
The 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) Regiment was organized in November 1914.  Under the command of Lt.-Colonel G. H. Baker, it drew its initial recruits from the Eastern Townships and mobilized at Sherbrooke, Quebec.  The regiment departed Quebec City on July 18, 1915, arriving in England nine days later with a complement of 35 officers and 601 "other ranks".  5th CMR was assigned to the 2nd Brigade, Canadian Mounted Rifles, and proceeded overseas to France on October 14, 1915.

5th Canadian Mounted Rifles Cap Badge
Mounted infantry units played a significant role in Canada's late 19th - early 20th century military history.  Two mounted infantry units - the Canadian Mounted Rifle Corps (later absorbed by the Royal Canadian Dragoons) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Rifles (later re-named Lord Stratchcona's Horse) - were part of the country's Permanent Active Militia.  Other units were formed as required in time of war.  Six such battalions travelled to South Africa, where two engaged in combat during the Boer War (1899-1903).  With the outbreak of war in Europe, Canada raised thirteen Mounted Rifle regiments as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. 

As the first year of the war progressed, it became increasingly apparent that mounted units were no longer effective military weapons.  Battlefields crisscrossed by trenches and strewn with barbed wire, combined with modern weapons such as the machine gun, dramatically changed the nature of combat.  Soldiers on horseback may have been effective on flat, open battlefields, but were poorly suited to the conditions that emerged along the Western Front in 1915.  While several Canadian mounted units - most notably Lord Stratchona's Horse - were maintained throughout the war and fought with distinction in key battles, such as the defines of the Somme (March 1917) and Moreuil Wood (March 1918), the emergence of the tank eventually resulted in their transformation into mobile armored regiments after the war.

On January 1, 1916, in acknowledgement of this transformation, British commanders changed the designation of four CMR units - 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th - from regiments to battalions.  Their personnel formed the 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade and were assigned to the newly created 3rd Canadian Division.  The change was not well received by the men, who disparagingly referred to infantry soldiers as "gravel crushers".  In the end, however, it was a soldier's duty to follow orders and the units set about making the necessary adjustments, drawing the necessary manpower to increase their numbers to full battalion strength from existing infantry regiments in England.  As a result, Pte. Arthur Horton officially became a member of the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles on March 15, 1916 and immediately left England to join the unit at the front lines.

Canadian Mounted Rifles recruitment poster
*****

In mid-March 1916, 5th CMR was located at Meteren, France, close to the Belgian border, where the men were enjoying a period of rest and training behind the front lines.  Several days after Arthur's arrival, on the night of March 20-21, the unit moved into reserve positions near Ypres, Belgium.  The battalion's March 24 war diary described the weather conditions: "Heavy snow fall during night.  Weather cold. Northeasterly wind".  Arthur may have awakened to the first impression that he was back home in Nova Scotia, but the reality of his situation quickly became apparent as the unit moved into the front line trenches later that evening.

Arthur's introduction to war at the front came quickly.  "Snipers on both sides [were] very active during [the] morning" of March 25, as was enemy artillery fire, resulting in 6 wounded soldiers by days' end.  Artillery shelling, though intermittent, was a regular occurrence, as were nighttime patrols into "no man's land", probing and assessing German defenses.  On the evening of March 28, the unit was relieved by 4th CMR and moved into support positions behind the front line.  The men rested during the day and participated in working parties carrying out trench repairs during the night.

This was the routine Arthur and 5th CMR followed for the next two months.  While there were no battles during this period, artillery fire was a constant threat, with the additional hazards of snipers, rifle grenades and trench mortars when assigned to the front trenches.  As April passed, temperatures rose but the trenches remained wet and muddy, making life uncomfortable at the best of times.  Each tour of duty at the front lines resulted in casualties.  For example, the May 23 war diary entry took stock of the battalion's losses after 8 days at the front: 2 officers and 3 "other ranks" killed; 2 "other ranks" died of wounds; 3 officers and 36 "other ranks" wounded, for a total of 46 casualties.  While these numbers are disturbing, the worst was yet to come.

On June 1, 1916, the battalion moved through the town of Ypres into support positions behind the front lines at a location called "Maple Copse".  Two of its "sister" battalions - 1st CMR and 4th CMR - occupied the front trenches at Mount Sorrel.  The 8th Brigade had been assigned to hold a 2.2-kilometer section of a sector known as the Ypres Salient, an area of higher ground protruding into German-held territory.  Its elevation made it strategically important, as it protected British lines from enemy fire and provided a vantage point from which German positions could be observed.

The 3rd Division, to which the 8th Brigade belonged, had served in the Belgian front lines since early 1916 but had yet to see major combat, mainly due to winter and spring weather conditions.  Its soldiers would receive their "baptism by fire" in early June, when German forces launched an assault on the strategically valuable high ground held by the 8th Brigade.

5th Canadian Mounted Rifles soldiers at Valcartier, Quebec (1916)
An attack had been carefully planned, fresh German infantry units training intensely for several weeks.  On the same day that the 5th CMR relocated to Maple Copse, 6 fully-manned and well-equipped German infantry battalions, supported by sizeable numbers of reserves, took up their positions along the front lines directly opposite the 1st and 4th CMR, neither of whom were fully manned or prepared for what was about to occur.  The following day, Pte. Arthur Horton would receive his first major combat experience in what became known as the Battle of Mount Sorrel.

The 5th CMR's war diary describes June 2, 1916 as "a red letter day in the history of the Battalion, ever to be remembered by those who lived through it."  In the early morning, German forces detonated a large mine along the front line held by 4th CMR and launched a heavy, day-long bombardment of 8th Brigade's position.  5th CMR moved into positions along the heavily damaged communication trenches leading to the front lines.  Artillery fire cut off telephone lines to 4th CMR's trenches, forcing the brigade to rely on runners to convey messages.

At 8:30 pm, German infantry advanced toward the 8th Brigade's front lines, while supporting "Trench Mortar, Bombs, and guns of all calibres [enfiladed] the [5th CMR's trench from the East with shrapnel".  Additional attacks were launched to the east and southeast of the unit's location, its personnel managing to hold its support position only at considerable cost.  Artillery bombardment and machine gun fire continued until 11 pm as nearby regiments attempted, with limited success, to support the 8th Brigade's position.

5th CMR's war diary describes what unfolded throughout the night and early morning:  "A lively bombardment continued all night and at about 7 am [June 3] the 14th Battalion advanced across the open in a very gallant manner, but their attack being in broad daylight was apparently unavailing, for we saw nothing more of them than a constant stream of wounded returning."  Enemy artillery fire continued throughout the day, the diary noting that "during this time, there were only two of our officers in the line, the balance being killed or wounded".  That evening, 9th Brigade moved into the sector, relieving 5th CMR and the other units of the 8th Brigade.


Battlefield at Mount Sorrel, Belgium (June 1916)
The remnants of the battalion retired to a rest camp and took stock of the situation.  While German infantry seized large sections of the front line, 5th CMR held its ground, preventing the attack from advancing further.  In the ensuing days, the lost ground would be regained, but the 8th Brigade would play no further role in the fighting.  Arthur had received his introduction to combat on the front lines, and the results were shocking to say the least.  The day after the battle, only 325 of the battalion's 650 "rank and file" remained on active duty.  Twelve officers were lost in the fighting - killed, wounded or missing - with an additional 59 "other ranks" killed, 272 wounded and 50 missing. 

Among the regiment's casualties was its OC, Lt. Colonel G. H. Baker, commander since its inception.  He was buried "with full military honors" at Poperinghe Military Cemetery on June 4, 1916.  The two front line 8th Brigade battalions fared even worse.  4th CMR suffered an astounding 89 % casualty rate, while only 135 of 692 members of 1st CMR were available for duty after the attack.  The Brigade's experience at Mount Sorrel was nothing short of catastrophic, to say the least, but Pte. Arthur Horton counted himself among the "lucky" soldiers who emerged from the battle unscathed.

On June 5, the remnants of 5th CMR moved into billets across the Belgian border at Steenvorde, France.  The battalion spent the next six weeks recovering from the impact of battle as 534 "other ranks" and 12 new officers joined its ranks.  It was "back to basics" for the men, following a training regimen focused on preparing the new arrivals for front line combat.  In early July, 11 officers and 489 "other ranks" left for a four-day "instructional tour" of the front line trenches.  The bulk of the men were reinforcements, although the battalion's officers made sure to send along "enough of the old men to give the necessary stiffening". 

On July 10, Canadian Corps Commander, Lt. General Hon. Sir Julian Byng inspected the reconstituted battalion.  The men apparently "passed muster" as a little over one week later - July 19, 1916 - Arthur and 5th CMR returned to the front trenches at Zillebeke, near Ypres.  It did not take long for the realities of war at the front to return - on the battalion's first day back in the trenches, 3 men were killed, 4 wounded and 8 cases of "shell shock" were reported.  The men repaired the trenches and conducted nighttime patrols of "no man's land" for five days, before spending a week in support positions.  Having been "reintroduced" to the front, 5th CMR retired to the rest camp at Steenvorde on August 1, returning "to the line" nine days later.

Map of trenches occupied by 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade (August 28, 1916)
The battalion spent the remainder of the month on rotation in the Ypres Salient.  Arthur's time on the front lines was interrupted on August 27, when he was admitted to 3rd Stationary Hospital, Boulogne with "PUO" - pyrexia (fever) of unknown origin.  One week later, he was transferred to Canadian Base Details (CBD), where he spent two weeks recuperating from a suspected case of food poisoning.  On September 16, he was selected for promotion to Lance Corporal, a reflection no doubt of both his performance and the experience gained serving at the front.  Two days later, he left CBD to rejoin the battalion in field.

During Arthur's absence, 5th CMR had relocated to the Somme River region of France.  No doubt, the men were happy to leave what most Canadian soldiers considered the "death trap" of the Ypres Salient.  As events unfolded, however, their new location would prove to be no less treacherous.
While the 8th Brigade was serving on the Belgian front lines, British forces had launched a major offensive in the Somme River valley on July 1, 1916.  While modestly successful in pushing back the German front lines, the advance came at an alarming cost in terms of casualties.  Fighting continued as Arthur's unit arrived in the area, with British commanders attempted to consolidate and expand upon the summer's gains in the dwindling days of autumn.

At the time of Arthur's return - September 18, 1916 - 5th CMR was stationed in Corps reserve quarters near Bouzincourt, France.  The men spent the next week conducting working parties, unloading supplies and repairing local roads as reinforcements arrived to replace personnel lost in a recent engagement.  On September 27, the battalion moved back into reserve positions near Courcelette, in preparation for a planned attack on German positions at a location called "Regina Trench".  This would be the second major engagement in which Arthur participated during his six months with 5th CMR.  Having experienced so much in such a short period of time, one wonders what his expectations were as the unit once again prepared for battle.

*****

The planned assault on Regina Trench was part of a larger attack, later referred to by historians as the Battle of the Ancre Heights.  As with most conflicts along the Western Front, it was a struggle to occupy a strategically advantageous section of high ground, in this case a trench stretching for 3 kilometers across the entire length of the front opposite Canadian lines.  As described by Canadian historian Tim Cook, the German position was "built over the crest of a spur on Thiepval Ridge", a location that was virtually impossible to hit with artillery fire.  The attack, planned for October 1, was being launched on "one of the most fortified positions on the Western Front".

Aerial photograph of Regina Trench battlefield
On the evening of September 30, Arthur followed the members of 5th CMR into the front lines in preparation for the attack.  The battalion consisted of 524 men "all ranks" as it moved into positions opposite the German trenches.  On the eve of battle, commanding officer Lt. Colonel D. C. Draper summarized the situation in these words: "We are to attack, capture, and consolidate a line of German trench known as REGINA TRENCH.  All ranks keyed up and in fine spirits, very eager to attack."
The following morning, the "weather [was] dull and cool" as the men awaited the order to attack.  At zero hour - 3:15 pm - a supporting artillery barrage commenced on schedule, followed one minute later by an infantry advance.  The men were met with "intense" machine gun and rifle fire, "causing many casualties" as they came to within 100 yards of German positions.  The battalion nevertheless captured its objective by 3:23 pm, but "strenuous fighting" continued in the captured trench section as the advance on each side of the 5th CMR's position had not kept pace with its progress.

4th CMR to the left and the 24th Battalion to the right of 5th CMR suffered significant casualties crossing "no man's land" and failed to capture their assigned objectives.  5th CMR thus found itself occupying approximately 100 yards of German trench, with "enemy… on both sides".  By 6:30 pm, the men had placed "blocks" at either end of their location, and succeeded in capturing an additional 500 yards of trench in close combat throughout the night.  Their position, however, was precarious as German forces launched repeated counter-attacks throughout the night and into the following day.  The unit's war diary describes the situation and final outcome in these words:

"Our men held on with great gallantry until two of our machine guns had been put out of action and the supply of bombs exhausted.  At 7 am [October 2] the position became untenable and our men retired in good order[,] bringing the majority of wounded out."

Later that evening, the Royal Canadian regiment relieved 5th CMR in the line.  The battalion's war diary reflected on the unit's performance: 

"All ranks displayed the greatest gallantry and devotion to duty.  They were severely tried, fighting continuously, often practically hand to hand for 34 hours against superior numbers." 

Three officers and 45 "other ranks" were killed in action.  One officer and one "other ranks" subsequently died of wounds, while 6 officers and 168 "other ranks" were wounded.  The war diary makes no mention of "missing" soldiers.  However, at least one member of the battalion was unaccounted for in the battle's aftermath.  According to his regimental record, Lance Corporal Arthur Stanford Horton was officially listed as "missing in action".

*****

After two more unsuccessful attempts, soldiers of the 4th Canadian Division finally captured Regina Trench on November 11, 1916.  By the time of its surrender, continual shelling had reduced the once formidable position to little more than a shallow ditch in the chalky soil of northern France.  The vast majority of Canadian casualties suffered during the 1916 Somme offensive - almost 24,000 in total - occurred during the two months the Canadian Corps spent capturing the German stronghold.  The success helped establish its reputation as an effective force on the battlefield, leading to an even more challenging assignment the following spring at Vimy Ridge.

The 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles recuperated from its losses at Regina Trench and continued to serve as part of the Canadian Corps for the duration of the war.  Its sacrifices in service of their country were far from over.  Returning to the battlefields of the Ypres Salient in the autumn of 1917, the regiment suffered 60 % casualties in the Battle of Passchendaele.

Lance Corporal Arthur Horton's record contains two entries after his disappearance during the fighting at Regina Trench.  On May 11, 1917, he was "now for official purposes presumed to have died on or between October 1 and 2 [1916]".  A final entry on September 6, 1917 officially listed Arthur as "killed in action" on October 2, 1916.  A commemorative gravesite is located in Regina Trench Cemetery, Grandcourt, France, in remembrance of Arthur Horton's sacrifice in the service of his country.  His remains were never recovered, lying somewhere beneath the battlefield were he so gallantly fought and died.

Regina Trench Cemetery, Grandcourt, France

*****

Sources:

5th CMR.  Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group.  Available online.

Canadian Mounted Rifles.  Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.  Available online.

Canadian War Diaries: Canadian Mounted Rifles.  Canadian Great War Project.  Available online.

Cook, Tim.  At The Sharp End: Canadians Fighting in the Great War, 1914-1916, Volume I.  Toronto: Penguin Canada (2007).

Photos: Eastern Townships Resource Centre.  Available online.

Regimental Record of Lance Corporal Arthur Stanford Horton, No. 415289.  Library and Archives Canada.  RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 4511 - 59.  Available online.

War Diaries: 5th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles.  War Diaries of the First World War.    Library and Archives Canada.  RG9 , Militia and Defence , Series III-D-3, Volume 4949, Reel T-10759-10760.  File" 4t3.  Available online.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Halifax Rifles & 40th Battalion

Several of the regiments recruited in Nova Scotia during the First World War were built upon existing militia or military units.  One such example is the 40th Battalion, which grew out of the Halifax Rifles, a militia unit in existence at the time of the war's outbreak.  Created on May 14, 1860 in the aftermath of the Crimean War, the "Halifax Volunteer Battalion" was renamed the Halifax Battalion of Rifles in 1869 before being formally designated the 63rd Regiment (Halifax Rifles) on May 8, 1900.

Halifax Volunteer Battalion soldier, c. 1860
Members of the militia unit participated in several 19th century military campaigns.  A number volunteered for service with the military contingent sent to the Canadian West in response to the Northwest Rebellion of 1885.  During the South African (Boer) War (1899-1903), members of the Rifles voluntarily enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, which was actively involved in the conflict.

When Britain declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary in the summer of 1914, the Halifax Rifles responded by sending a draft of volunteers to the 14th Battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment), one of the units that sailed to England in October 1914 as part of the first Canadian contingent.  The regiment's officers, however, were not satisfied with simply providing personnel for other units.  On January 1, 1915, the Canadian government authorized the creation of the 40th Battalion, under the command of Lt. Col. W. H. Gilborne (R. C. R.).  Built around military personnel enlisted in the Halifax Rifles, the newly created regiment immediately set out to raise a Nova Scotian battalion for overseas combat.

A member of the 63rd Halifax Rifles at McNab's Island camp, September 1914
 The 40th established detachments across the province - at Sydney, Glace Bay, North Sydney, Truro, Amherst, New Glasgow, Yarmouth, Lunenburg, Kentville and Digby - in addition to Halifax and McNab's Island.  After four months of recruiting, the battalion mobilized at Aldershot on May 11, 1915, where military training continued.  On June 21, the 40th relocated to Camp Valcartier, Quebec.  Prior to its departure for Europe, two "drafts" for overseas service were drawn from its ranks - 25 men to the 25th Battalion, and an additional 250 men and 5 officers to England as reinforcements.  While training at Valcartier, a third draft of 5 officers and 250 "other ranks" were sent to England.

Having spent the summer in training at Valcartier, the 40th Battalion boarded the SS Saxonia and departed Canada on October 18,1915.  Eleven days later, its 1143 personnel landed at Plymouth, England and proceeded to Bramshott Military Camp, becoming the first Canadian infantry battalion to be stationed there.  The 40th was assigned to the 9th Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division and continued its training in anticipation of deployment in France.
C. R. Fulton, Upper Stewiacke, NS (center) & J. Miller, Fogo, Nfld. (right) of the 63rd Halifax Rifles in CEF uniform
Unfortunately, the 40th Battalion suffered the same fate as most other Nova Scotian battalions.  The heavy demand for reinforcements due to significant casualties in the Third Battle of Ypres (June 2, 1916) led to the unit's relocation to East Sandling, England, where it was re-designated the 40th Reserve Battalion.  The regiment dispatched drafts of infantry personnel to virtually every component of the Canadian Corps as demand for reinforcements continued throughout the Battle of Somme (July - November 1916).

Eventually, the 40th Battalion absorbed the remaining personnel of the 64th, 104th, 106th (Nova Scotia Rifles) and 172nd Battalions.  The unit later returned to Bramshott, where it was re-designated the 216th Reserve Battalion.  When its manpower dwindled, the 216th was absorbed by the 17th Reserve Battalion.

40th Battalion Cap Badge
Over the course of the war, virtually all of the 40th Battalion's original recruits served on the front lines in France or Belgium.  Ten of its officers were killed in action, while nineteen were wounded.  Twelve officers received the Military Cross, while one was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross "for an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty performed whilst flying in active operations against the enemy".

After the end of the war, the Halifax Rifles continued to operate as a militia unit.  As time passed, its active membership dwindled, particularly in the years after the Second World War.  In 1965, the regiment was placed on the "Supplementary Order of Battle", its strength having been reduced to "nil".  The unit was reactivated as a reserve force on May 10, 2009, its personnel training to perform armoured reconnaissance.  Its resurrection is a fitting tribute to the men whose military exploits in defence of their country began with a small militia unit created in Halifax, Nova Scotia over 150 years ago. 

*****

Sources:

The Halifax Rifles (RCAC).  Wikipedia.  Available online.

Hunt, M. S.. Nova Scotia's Part in the Great War - 1920.  Archives CD Books Canada Inc., Manotick, Ontario: 2007.

Orders and Decorations - Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).  Veterans Affairs Canada.  Available online.