Tag Archives: Kinmel Park

Will Knifton v the Kaiser (Round 1)

I reported a long time ago how I had paid for the official records of my Grandad’s service with the Canadian Army during the First World War. In the early part of his military career, which had begun in July 1916, Will seems to have earned some fifteen Canadian dollars per month. This amount appears to have risen eventually to thirty dollars in 1917 and 1918. After his marriage, Will also received a separation allowance of varying amounts, ranging from six to fourteen English pounds. You never know much about your family’s private affairs but I suspect that it was Will’s money from the Canadian Army that allowed him and his wife to buy their own house during the 1920s. Here are their wedding photographs:

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His army documents recorded his leave from the Front after he was given permission to marry on July 15th 1917. There were two other periods when domestic problems caused his leave to be extended. The first of these was a week from October 21st 1918 to November 4th 1918, which was extended to November 9th for “private family affairs”. His service records say that he returned to the Western Front on November 10th, which means that he was probably present when the guns, his own included, fell finally silent the following day. It was too late for many men, though:

The same pattern occurred again with a leave from March 1st-March 8th 1919, which was extended to March 22nd. He had returned to the Fourth Brigade in the field by April 4th 1919. I suspect that both of Will’s extra leaves may have been because of his wife’s miscarriages, when she needed time to recover both physically and mentally from the ordeal. She lost a number of babies before her only son, Fred, was born, whole and healthy, on November 22nd 1922. Here he is, a few years later:

On one occasion when Will was back home on leave from the trenches of the Western Front, he was given a white feather by a woman who accosted him in the street. This was something that happened in the days before conscription had to be introduced, when women, especially suffragettes, would give any man they saw in the street who was apparently of military age, but not wearing military uniform, a white chicken feather as a sign of their cowardice.  Giving one to Will was made doubly ironic by the fact that at this particular time, he had just been given an extra long period of recuperation, because he was recovering from being wounded. Will didn’t get angry with the misguided, stupid, woman. He just laughed, which I suspect may have made her even angrier.

Here’s the caption:

On April 25th 1919 Will finally came back from France for the last time. He sailed for England from the French port of Le  Havre. Will’s journey home was not a particularly rapid process however. He had lingered in the port of Le Havre on his way back from the Western Front since at least Saturday April 19th 1919 when this postcard was posted, via the Army PO1 :

The message on the back of the card reads:

“Dear Wife Trust you are much better. Affectionate love Will  Sig W Knifton 19TH C F A”

“CFA” by the way. means “Canadian Field Artillery”. The following day, Sunday April 20th,  he sent another card:

On the back, he  labelled the card “on active service”.  The message reads “Thoughts of home and you. Sincere love Will. Sig W H Knifton 19TH C F A”

This next postcard was posted on Tuesday, April 22nd 1919, as Will continued his slow return from the Great War.  Perhaps he had important things to think about. He wanted to go back to Canada, but his wife didn’t want to, presumably wishing to stay with her family. Perhaps he was wondering whether they would ever have a child to love. Or perhaps he had just been allocated to a later sailing:

The faded pencil inscription reads “Monday Dear Wife I hope this finds you much better. I hope you enjoyed easter. We are having very cold weather Give my love to all (illegible) my thoughts are of (you ? ) with fondest love to (illegible) leave here Wednesday Sig W H Knifton  19TH C F A

Will’s military records show that he did not leave on Wednesday, the 23rd as he thought. Indeed, he was still in Le Havre on Friday, April 25th 1919, which may just possibly have been the date that he “proceeded to England”. These kind of delays, of course, were enough to provoke mutinies and other serious disorder, most notably among the Canadians in north Wales.

On March 4th and 5th 1919, at Kinmel Park in Denbighshire, north Wales, Canadian troops rioted against their dreadful living conditions, sick of the constant, apparently pointless delays, and longing to be allowed to go home at last back to their families in Canada. The rioters were fired upon by British troops. Five brave Canadian veterans were killed and 23 were wounded. It was one of 13 mutinous riots by Canadian troops, all for exactly that same reason. Here is a picture of Kinmel after the riot:

Will,  listed as a Signaller, seems to have been finally “struck off service on being discharged in British Isles” on May 23rd 1919. From his medical examination, he had put on some sixteen pounds during his time in the army, and now weighed a hundred and forty pounds, a glowing testimony to the quality of the food in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. He had also apparently grown half an inch taller.

In later life, of course, Will was to become profoundly deaf. It is tempting to think that the very first steps in this unfortunate process began with the enormous volume of noise he must have experienced in the Canadian artillery during the First World War.

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My Grandad in the First World War

My grandfather had a very eventful journey through the First World War. He joined the Canadian Army on June 12th 1916, and fought at Vimy Ridge, Passchaendale and the Somme. The highlight, though, was when he married his childhood sweetheart, on July 15th 1917,  I am writing this account on his 97th wedding anniversary.

Will has left an enormous amount of material behind him, including a piece of German shrapnel, his leather dog tags, and a piece of camouflaged fabric he cut off the wing of a German aircraft which had crashed in front of him in no-man’s-land.

He was, as can be judged from the surviving photographs, a hard man. He was one of what must have been the thousands of impoverished Englishmen who all set off to make their fortune in the distant reaches of the British Empire

A1 hard man

He lived at 266, Symington Avenue, Toronto.

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He was employed as a locomotive fireman on an enormous Canadian Pacific Railways train, number 2528, which ran between Chapleau, Ontario, right across the Great Plains to Winnipeg. In this picture, Will is actually in the cab of the giant locomotive…

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Will was to join the Canadian Army at the Toronto Recruiting Depot on June 12th 1916. He weighed 123½ pounds, and was considered by Captain J.W.Barton to be fit enough to join the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force.

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On July 6th 1916, he made a will, witnessed by the Orderly Room clerks, Messrs Irving and Smith. Judging by the small print, this document was eventually to make Mrs Mary Atkins of 999, High Street, Aldershot, a very rich woman indeed, particularly after the Battle of the Somme.

will

Will sailed from Canada to the Western Front on July 16th 1916 on the “S.S.Empress of Britain”.

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On July 25th, he arrived in England, and was taken on strength at Shorecliffe in Kent. On November 23rd 1916, he arrived in France and went straight into the 69th Overseas Battery of the Canadian Field Artillery, where he was eventually to become a Gunner.

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In the early part of his military career, Will seems to have earned some fifteen Canadian dollars per month, which then appears to have risen eventually to thirty dollars in 1917 and 1918. Perhaps the most significant event in Will’s war service was being given permission to marry, back in the sunny and rather more safe, South Derbyshire. The happy day was July 15th 1917…

marriage 2

 

marriage 1

When I was a boy, my grandfather spoke to me not of wedding dresses, though, but of events in the war. He talked of having fought at Bapaume, at either Pozières Wood or Polygon Wood, and above all, at Vimy Ridge.

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Canadian author Pierre Burton writes wonderfully of

“…soldiers, trapped in the horrors of a silly and senseless war and enduring almost indescribable conditions”.

But at the same time, it was the day when a fledgling nation came of age, when a colony became an independent nation……

“On a chill Easter Monday in 1917, with a blizzard blowing in their faces, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps in France did what neither the British, nor the French armies had been able to do in more than two years of fighting.

They seized and held the best-defended German bastion on the Western Front – a muddy scarp known as the Vimy Ridge. The French, who had lost 150,000 men trying to take the ridge, didn’t believe it could be done. Nor did the Germans; even the British were sceptical. But the Canadians triumphed!

They went over the top at dawn. By lunchtime, most of the ridge was in their hands – at a cost of ten thousand casualties. ”                                                                 (Pierre Burton)

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This is the Canadian Memorial, at the top of the ridge…

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Will was certainly a veteran of Passchendaele in 1917, and in 1918, I believe, fought in the Somme area where blood soaked battles had taken place some two years earlier….

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In later life, of course, Will was to become profoundly deaf. It is tempting to think that the very first steps in this unfortunate process began with the enormous volume of noise he must have experienced in the Canadian artillery during the First World War.

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Will finally left France for the last time, and proceeded to England, via the French port of Le Havre. He was finally discharged from the army on May 23rd 1919.

From his medical examination, he had put on some sixteen pounds during his time in the army, and now weighed a hundred and forty pounds, a glowing testimony to the quality of the food in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force. He had also apparently grown half an inch taller.

medical after war

Still, at least Will did actually come back home safe and sound. It was not a speedy process, however. It was six months before he was no longer a soldier.

On March 4th and 5th 1919, at Kinmel Park in Denbighshire, north Wales, Canadian troops had rioted against their dreadful living conditions, sick of the constant, apparently pointless delays, and longing to be allowed to go home at last back to their families in Canada. The rioters were fired upon by British troops.

Five brave Canadians were killed and 23 were wounded. It was one of 13 mutinous riots by Canadian troops, all for exactly that same reason.

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Records of Canadian soldiers in the First World War can be accessed online at the Library and Archives Canada website.

For my grandfather, two pages are viewable. I know from my own experience, though, that if you pay your money, you will have access to page after page of  extremely interesting material.

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