Max and I managed to fit in a beautiful morning hike at Frank’s Flats, arriving home as the last post and the Remembrance Day observances at Parliament Hill were just beginning. I always get quite emotional about these rituals as I am very respectful of my family’s military roots and I am flooded with love for all of my family, as well as friends who commemorate the service of their family members at this time of year.
I decided some time yesterday to attend the tour at Burnsland Cemetery this year and to learn a little about the various Regiments that served out of Calgary and the rest of Canada.
From the City of Calgary website, this…
Burnsland cemetery dates back to 1923 and includes many of Calgary’s World War I Veterans. The Calgary Heritage Authority has deemed the cemetery to be a historically significant cultural landscape that played an important part in the settlement and establishment of Calgary as a city.
The Remembrance Day ad…
Take a free guided tour of the 13-hectare Burnsland Cemetery and learn more about some of the heroes that were laid to rest here. There are more than 22,000 buried at this cemetery, including many of Calgary’s veterans from the First World War. This tour is also an opportunity to reflect on the Canadian Military and RCMP traditions.
The tour begins at 2 p.m. and runs until 3:30 p.m.
Initially, there was some confusion for me about where to meet up. I parked within the Burnsland Cemetery, got out of my vehicle and the first person I met was someone I had met years ago, when my son was just a toddler. Brenda Driscoll is an artist who I met when grouped with nine other Canadian artists on a horse trip up the Sheep River. It was quite a journey and I really felt close to Brenda from the onset. She was an experienced horse woman and I had zero experience. There were some very good laughs. I liked her so much that I painted her into one of my monumental canvases titled, So Where Do I Begin?
There she was this afternoon, all these years later, walking quietly between the rows of markers, actually seeking out her own father’s resting place. Together, we found our way to the group. I already knew that it would be an awesome event.
I desperately want to learn the name of the Calgary Parks staff member who led our tour this afternoon. She was brilliant, articulate and did an awesome job personalizing the story of war…dealing honestly with the positive as well as the very dark side of war and the mistakes, as well as successes of Canadians in various periods of our war history.
We began at the Colonel James Walker’s family plot and resting place and were given a brief history of early peace keeping in the west.
James Walker was born near Hamilton, Ontario and became one of the original commissioned officers in the North West Mounted Police in 1873, taking part in the trek West in 1874.
Walker, like all the commissioned officers of the force, faced the same hardships as the enlisted men with the added responsibility of caring for the new recruits, (most of them city boys – some as young as 15 – with little or no experience in the frontier) and assuring their safety and the success of the expedition. Walker and Col. Macleod, at one point, had to leave the expedition and travel on alone to procure extra supplies and horses to replace those which had died along the way.
Walker was promoted to superintendent in 1876 and sent back East to arrange for new recruits. While in Ottawa, he was instructed to take some of the recruits and a troop of more experienced policemen (they were two year veterans but you became “experienced” very quickly under their conditions) to Battleford to establish a Mounted Police fort and provide an escort for the treaty commissioners who were travelling in the same area.
James Walker was pressed into national service during the North West Rebellion of 1885 when he formed the Home Guard. He was a Lt. Col. in the 15th Light Horse and served overseas in WW1 as the commanding officer of the Canadian Forestry Corps.
The next historical resting place was that of Colonel David Ritchie, MC. 1924- 1941
Colonel Ritchie was born in Cumberland, England in 1882 and lived in the United Kingdom until 1911. Having joined the Dumfrieshire County Police at age 17, he followed this career path in Canada by joining the Calgary Police Force (as it was known then), reaching the rank of Detective. He served with the plain clothes squad until enlisting in the CEF in 1915.
He arrived in England as a Lieutenant of the 137th Battalion, and promoted to Captain while in the UK. After transfer to a combat battalion in France, he was wounded at Amiens in August 1918, and was still in hospital with his leg wound when the Armistice was declared in November.
After return to Calgary in 1919, he was presented with his Military Cross by the Prince of Wales who visited the city in September of that year. He rejoined the Calgary Police Force, becoming Chief Constable (the highest rank on the Force) on 15 September 1919. Ritchie’s impact on the Force was notable, for such things as the introduction of parking tickets and the School Safety Patrol in 1921, to the first installation of radios in police cars and motorcycles.
While Chief of Police, he enlisted in The Calgary Highlanders in 1922 as a Captain, with promotion to Major following in short order. In 1924, he was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel and made Commanding Officer of the Regiment. His command lasted from 1924 to 1929, during which time he was promoted to Colonel.
After retirement from the Highlanders, became president of the Alberta Military Institute in 1930 and president of the Alberta Infantry Association the next year. His interest in sports, despite his injured leg, led to presidency of the Alberta Highland Games Association.
Colonel Ritchie died in 1941 aged 39, after having been Chief of the Calgary Police Force for 22 years. sic
While his age is recorded as 39 on the Calgary Highlander’s website, the Lieutenant Colonel would have been 59 when he passed away in 1941.
Next, to the Cowe family plot.
At the Cowe family plot, we learned about the ‘Victorian’ ways of the community at the time, very hierarchical in its ways and temperament. Colonization was just like that, wasn’t it? We learned that a huge segment of the Calgary population was from Scotland. This is exemplified in the Scottish thistle that appears on the decorated stone. We focused on John who was killed in action in Gallipoli in Turkey. Right away I thought about Russell Crowe’s most recent movie, The Water Diviner. We were told, if you went to Gallipoli, you didn’t come home…it was just that horrific. Canadian troops were there to support the British.
Out of the narratives at this stone, I learned a brief history of our ‘Blue Puttees’, our brave soldiers, eventually to be given the title, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
“The losses sustained by the 1st Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1, 1916, were staggering. Of the 801 Newfoundlanders who went into battle that morning, only 68 were able to answer the roll call the next day, with 255 dead, 386 wounded and 91 missing. The dead included 14 sets of brothers, including four lieutenants from the Ayre family of St. John’s.”
The tour group was absolutely silent; some of us, crying.
May they rest in peace.
At the resting place of Catherine de Bellefeville, I learned that those who served as nursing sisters, were immediately given the rank of Lieutenant. During this part of the presentation I learned that just over 50 nursing sisters lost their lives in the Great War, some working in hospitals where injured men were being cared for. It was under this circumstance that my own great grandfather, John Moors, died, along with some of his caregivers on May 19, 1918.
The most painful history that was shared with me about the nursing sisters who served the allies in World War I was the story of the HMHS Llandovery Castle. This is a story I encourage all of my readers to contemplate. Very few people know of this horrific event. This was a ‘floating’ hospital, required to have all lights on…a cross marking…it was required to sail apart from all participating sea vessels. And yet, on a voyage from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Liverpool, England, the ship was torpedoed off southern Ireland on 27 June 1918 by the enemy. Accounts and descriptions of this disaster are heart wrenching.
May they rest in peace.
At the resting place of Major Reverend Canon William H. Morgan, we learned that there was dispute over how many chaplains should be engaged for the purpose of battle. Sir Samuel Hughes, deemed both energetic and controversial, seemed to be the person with the power to decide. There were 527 chaplains recruited in World War I, with a very small number of Catholic chaplains, given his particular bias.
One chaplain was mentioned specifically as we stood at this stone…John Weir Foote, awarded the Victory Cross after the war.
From Wikipedia, a further explanation of the circumstances of his loss, as explained by our tour guide…
On August 19, 1942 at Dieppe, France, Captain Foote coolly and calmly during the eight hours of the battle walked about collecting the wounded. His gallant actions saved many lives and inspired those around him by his example. At the end of this grueling time, he climbed from the landing craft that was to have taken him to safety and deliberately walked into the German position in order to be taken prisoner, so that he could be of help to those men who would be in captivity until May 5, 1945.
May he rest in peace.
Here, at the resting place of Pte. George Stewart, we were given a brief background on the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. We learned that Canadians were viewed as the work horses…the strong arm…by the British. Our soldiers earned the respect of all for their courage and determination. I hope that my readers will follow my link, studying the role that the PPCLI played in world conflict, with some very specific events and citations in the Korean and Afghanistan conflicts.
May they rest in peace.
At the resting place of Pte. William J. Ware, son of black cowboy, John Ware, we learned of some of the disturbing inconsistencies in the day, due to race. If you were black, you had to enlist directly with a battalion. Procedures could not be the same. Once enlisted, a black man was moved into a Construction battalion, assigned to heavy labour and often going ahead of armed battalions with lumber and other burdens. There was even a resistance to taking black soldiers when recruitment offices were in dyer need of numbers. Ware was a member of the No. 2 Construction Battalion (an all Black battalion) serving in France, with the majority of the men being assigned to the No. 5 Canadian Forestry Corps (Jura Group).
Dissimilarly, First Nations men were welcomed with open arms because, again, for stereotypical reasons, they were viewed as hunters, strong men, survivors. The sad part of the story took place when they returned home. Soldiers were promised a land grant when they returned home. It was only our First Nations who were refused these grants upon their return. Sadly, along with this, because they had served their country, their status was taken away. I don’t know if Canadians know these things. I didn’t. A book recommendation on this subject is Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. From the Canadian War Museum, this…
A Record of Accomplishment
First Peoples troops left a remarkable record of wartime accomplishment. Several were commissioned as officers, and many served as battle-hardened platoon leaders and combat instructors. At least 50 were decorated for bravery on the battlefield. Many acquired near-legendary status as scouts and snipers, drawing on pre-war hunting skills and wilderness experience. The most decorated, Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow, an Ojibwa from the Parry Island Band near Parry Sound, Ontario, received the Military Medal and two bars for his bravery and effectiveness as a sniper. Former rodeo performer Henry Norwest, a Metis, was credited with 115 kills before his death. Alexander Smith, Jr. and his brother Charles, the sons of Six Nations Cayuga chief Alexander G. Smith, were both awarded the Military Cross.
May they rest in peace…
I had just recently learned about Mary Dover, and today, I found myself standing before her resting place. Please read about the Women’s Army Corp of Canada.
May they rest in peace…
A tour of Calgary’s Burnsland cemetery would not be complete without thinking about the members of the Lord Strathcona Horse (Royal Canadians). Again, a very amazing history. It is quite an accomplishment when a regiment receives the title Royal. The more personal narrative shared was about Gordon Muriel Flowerdew VC (2 January 1885 – 31 March 1918)
For most conspicuous bravery and dash when in command of a squadron detailed for “special services of a very important nature. On reaching his first objective, Lieutenant Flowerdew saw two lines of enemy, each about sixty strong, with machine guns in the centre and flanks; one line being about two hundred yards behind the other. Realizing the critical nature of the operation and how much depended on it, Lieut. Flowerdew ordered a troop under Lieut. Harvey, VC, to dismount and carry out a special movement, while he led the remaining three troops to the charge. The squadron (less one troop) passed over both lines, killing many of the enemy with the sword; and wheeling about galloping on them again. Although the squadron had then lost about 70 per cent of its members, killed and wounded from rifle and machine gun fire directed on it from the front and both flanks, the enemy broke and retired. The survivors of the squadron then established themselves in a position where they were joined, after much hand-to-hand fighting, by Lieut. Harvey’s part. Lieut. Flowerdew was dangerously wounded through both thighs during the operation, but continued to cheer his men. There can be no doubt that this officer’s great valour was the prime factor in the capture of the position.”
His Victoria Cross was one of twenty awarded during the battles of the German and Allied Offensives in the Amiens Area in 1918.
Today, we remember…
Well…this has been quite the post. Can you tell that I am absolutely amazed by military history?
I missed the last two or three parts of the tour, because the story at the very next sight sent Brenda and I off, in search of her father. At the age of one, her father died in a training accident as he was a pilot in the forces.
Our tour guide explained that typically if a plane went down at one of the many Alberta training centers, two men lost their lives, as confirmed by the matching dates on their stones.
We were also told that it was a very sad thing that soldiers from New Zealand and far parts of Canada came to Alberta for their training. When a soldier died, he was buried in the country where he lost his life. With so many pilots lost in training, this made it tremendously sad for grieving families living so far away, but it has been the way. As the group moved along, Brenda and I remained behind. She knew only that her father had died in October, 1943 and that he was resting in Burnsland Cemetery.
After a very short time, Brenda was reunited with her father. What an amazing experience! May he rest in peace.
We spent some time there…chatting…noticing the flower that was set before his stone. As we left to walk back to our cars…I felt very grateful for the afternoon and for the opportunity to remember.
There, a short distance from my car, was my son-in-law’s friend, Brad. Brenda and I said our good-byes, with promises to connect and I was able to take a photo of Brad along side his great grandfather’s resting place. Such an amazing day!
It turned out to be quite a day for the lady with the camera…a very beautiful day!