Private Francis Edward Armstrong – 437762 — ACTIVE SERVICE (World War I)
On September 7, 1915 Francis Edward Armstrong completed the Attestation Paper for the Canadian Army, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Calgary, Alberta. He was 33 years, 1 month and 19 days old when, as a single man, he enlisted for the duration of the War. Francis Edward indicated that he was born in Dummer Township, Peterborough County, Ontario and gave his birth-date as July 18, 1882. Francis Edward indicated that he did not presently belong to a Militia Force, nor had any previous Military experience. There is nothing on his File to indicate where he was educated or to what level. As far as his Trade or Calling is concerned he lists Farmer. Francis Edward Armstrong was 5′ 7½” tall, with a 37” chest (expanded) and weighed 156 pounds. He had a dark complexion with blue eyes and dark hair. His Medical Examination was completed September 7, 1915 in Calgary, Alberta at Sarcee Camp. He had no medical issues or physical limitations and as such he was deemed fit for Overseas duty with the CEF. His next-of-kin was listed as his father, Mr. Edwin Armstrong of Lakefield, Ontario. Francis Edward Armstrong signed the Oath and Certificate of Attestation on September 7, 1915 in Calgary, Alberta at Sarcee Camp. He was taken-on-strength with the 51st Battalion (Bn) [Edmonton] as a Private (Pte) and was assigned Service Number 437762.
There is no reference in his File as to where Pte Armstrong and the 51st Bn trained but based on research the 51st Battalion trained at Sarcee Camp. The area for Sarcee Camp was leased, by the Canadian Government from the Sarcee Indian Reservation in 1914 for the purpose of establishing a training site for Military personnel.
A typical training day consisted of; a half hour of exercise on the parade square at 4:30 AM followed by a breakfast of oatmeal, bacon, potatoes, and coffee. Recruits then went to classes in physical fitness training, bayonet fighting or rifle practice. Training in machine gun practice and signaling were also taught. At some point in their training recruits were assigned to fatigue duties which could cover everything from cleaning the Camp to performing any activity that was of a particular interest to the Commanding Officer. After a noon-break activities continued until supper time after which they could play ball, write letters home, or simply rest until lights out at 9:30 PM.
On January 22, 1916 Pte Armstrong was hospitalized in Edmonton for ”the Grippe”, he was released on January 28, 1916. Sometime later Pte Armstrong was transferred to Halifax, Nova Scotia and on April 18, 1916 he and the 51st Bn embarked for England aboard the SS Missanabie from there.
On April 28, 1916 the 51st Bn disembarked at Liverpool, England. There is no indication as to where the 51st Bn was stationed upon disembarkation.
On June 6, 1916 Pte Armstrong filled out his Military Will leaving all his possessions to his sister Mrs. George W. White of 2211 Center Street North, Calgary, Alberta. On June 21, 1916 Pte Armstrong was transferred to the 46th Battalion (South Saskatchewan). He was taken-on-strength with the 46th Bn on June 22, 1916 and was stationed at Camp Bramshott, at Bramshott Common, Hampshire, England. Camp Bramshott was one of three facilities in the Aldershot Command area.
On August 10, 1916 Pte Armstrong proceeded to France disembarking at 7:00 AM at La Havre, France on August 11, 1916. There are no entries in his Military File from August 11, 1916 until December 23, 1916. For the purposes of tracking his movement and that of the 46th Bn the War Diaries of the 46th Bn were used. The 46th Bn fought as part of the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade, 4th Canadian Division.
On August 11th, the 46th Battalion entrained, in La Havre, at 2:59 PM. At 4:40 AM the Battalion detrained at Godewaersveldt, Belgium and marched to Steenvoorde and into billets. August 14th the 46th Battalion marched to Reninghelst and went into reserve trenches, where they received instructions in trench warfare. Over the next several days the Battalion made a number of moves to the trenches on the Front-Line, support and reserve trenches, resulting in a few casualties. On August 22nd Pte Armstrong and the 46th were in the Front-Line trenches near Vierstraat. August 24th the Unit was subjected to an enemy artillery barrage, when ”some 70 rum-jars*, sausages, and grenades were thrown into the Lines”, causing only light casualties. On August 29th the Battalion was relieved from the Front-Line trenches, with part moving to billets in the Laclytte area, and the rest going to Dickiebusch to construct a new support trench.
*Note: Rum-jars referred to a type of shell fired from a homemade German Mortar that looked like a piece of pipe on a wooden base. The rum-jar was filled with whatever bits of metal they found laying about the trench and was fitted with a timed fuse. The sausage was an 8” long mortar shell. It was also referred to as a fishtail due to the its stabilizing fins. These terms are found under WW I Trench Slang.
September 1916 began with the 46th Battalion relieving the 44th Battalion in Front-Line trenches. The relief was carried out between 7:00 and 9:30 PM. While some of the Battalion was employed in work parties improving the condition of the trenches, others were sent out on patrols into no-man’s-land. For the next several days, artillery on both sides were fairly active but few Battalion casualties occurred. At night, patrols continued to be sent out to examine enemy wire and look for gaps. Another objective, on these patrols, was to capture enemy prisoners, if possible. On September 21st the Battalion was relieved. It marched to La Clytte, then to Hazenbrouk, and on to St. Omer, finally ending up at a training area near Bayengham Les Eperleques, France. The rest of the month was spent resting, cleaning up and training; bayonet and rifle drills and learning the methods of attack used at the Battle of the Somme.
October 1916 an order was received for the 46th Bn to move to the area of the Somme. The Battalion first marched to St. Omer and then entrained for Doullens South arriving at 3:00 AM. Detraining was completed by 6:00 AM, after which the 46th Bn marched to billets at Amplier. Now began a series of daily marches from Amplier to Herissart to Warloy and then to Albert, where they bivouacked (a temporary camp without tents or cover, used especially by soldiers) at the Brickfields. October 10th orders were received to move to an encampment on Tara Hill. On October 11th the Battalion moved to the Chalk Pits and Sugar trench. During the next several days, a number of large work parties were sent out to improve trenches, resulting in a number of casualties. October 16th the 46th Bn moved to a Brigade Support position, but on the 17th were in the Front-Line trenches near Courcelette. October 21st the Unit was relieved and moved back to the encampment at Tara Hill. On October 24th Pte Armstrong and ”D” Company moved into B trench in support on an attack on the enemy in Regina trench. There was considerable confusion, prior to the attack, as to where the Units were to go, but the attack went ahead and numerous casualties occurred. October 26th the 46th Bn was back at Tara Hill, but as a result of miserable conditions (cold and wet), they moved on to empty billets at Albert. October 30th orders were received to move the Battalion to billets at Bouzincourt, in northern France.
November 1916 orders were received for the Battalion to move from Bouzincourt to Tara Hill. The move was completed without incident. On November 3rd the 46th Bn advanced to a Brigade Reserve position at XIIa. After getting into position a large work party of 450 men was sent forward to work on a jumping off trench in front of the Front-Line trench. On the 4th the Battalion was ordered to relieve the 38th Battalion in the Front-Line trench. The relief was carried out successfully without incident or casualties. During the day, enemy artillery was very active. The trenches were in very poor shape due to the heavy rain that had occurred over the past number of days. November 5th the 46th Bn was relieved and withdrew to billets in Albert. November 8th it was back to the Front, with a number of casualties suffered going to the trenches. The Battalion was split in half, with half going to trenches at Colt Avenue and C trench. The other half went to Sugar and Candy trenches. Enemy in Regina trench were heavily shelled through the night and day in preparation for an assault. November 10th the Unit withdrew and bivouacked in the area of XIIa. Following the assault on Regina trench, on the 11th the 46th Bn moved to the Front to consolidate newly captured enemy trenches. A large number of casualties occurred during this consolidation. November 12th the Unit was withdrawn to billets at Albert, where it would remain until the 17th.
According to the 46th Bn War Diaries, now begins a series of almost daily moves to and from the Front-Line.
On the November 17th the 46th Bn received orders to move back to XIIa. On the 18th they were ordered to move to Sugar trench. This move was made to place the Battalion in an immediate support position to the Front-Line, where things were in an unsettled state owing to an incomplete success of a previous attack. November 19th they were back in billets at Albert. November 20th they moved forward to the XIIa area. Many of the men were suffering from swollen feet and legs due to deep mud and wet encountered in the trenches. On the 22nd they moved to area K9C, where conditions were much better than at XIIa. November 23rd they were ordered back to the Front to relieve the 73rd Canadian Infantry (CI). There was some question about this move as the 73rd CI was in far better condition and numerically stronger than the 46th Bn, but they went anyway. Every available man went forward to the Front. On the 24th they took up positions in the trenches, but were spread dangerously thin due the low manpower. On the 25th they were relieved and moved to billets at Tara Hill Camp. On November 26th the Unit marched to Varennes, where it was billeted in canvas huts. On the 27th they marched to the Village of Herrisart, where it was billeted. Finally on the 30th the 46th Bn marched to billets in the Village of Terramesnil, France.
December 1916 began with a march to Frohen le Grand, but because there were insufficient billets available, they marched on to Villiers d’Hopital, France. The morning of December 2nd they marched to Blangerval, followed by a march to Valhuon on the 3rd and Bruay on the 4th where they settled in. The next 13 days were spent resting, cleaning up, re-equipping, training, and absorbing reinforcements. December 17th the 46th Bn received an order to march to Camblain L’Abbe to relieve the 5th Battalion in a reserve position. The march commenced at 7:00 AM on the 18th. It was completed by 1:30 PM without incident. In the afternoon, they received an order to be prepared to move to the Front-Line on the 19th. The 46th Bn set out in the morning of the 19th with the move being completed by early afternoon, without incident. During the afternoon, the enemy shelled their position with 5.9″ and 4.1″ shells, whiz-bangs, and minerwerfers, causing no causalities. Whiz-bangs were high velocity shells that made a whizzing sound followed by a bang when they hit. Minerwerfers were small mortars mounted on wheels for easy movement. Later in the afternoon, a light snowfall occurred. The 20th was spent improving the conditions in the trenches and laying Gooseberry (barb wire) wire coils in front of the weak spots of the Front-Line. Work continued through the 21st. There is a note in the War Diary which states: during the day, the following casualty occurred – 437762 Pte. Armstrong F. ”D” Co. shrapnel wound to head. During the night of the 21st/22nd an attempt was made by the enemy to breach the line, but it was repulsed. During the 22nd continuous enemy shelling caused significant damage to the support trenches and resulted in retaliation shelling of enemy positions. Considerable rain during the day, made life in the trenches miserable.
Following treatment at a Field Ambulance and Casualty Clearing Station, on December 23rd, 1916 Pte. F. Armstrong was admitted to No 8 Red Cross Hospital at Le Touquet, France. He was transferred to No 6 Convalescent Depot January 8, 1917 at Étaples, France. On the 18th he was discharged to Base Details. On February 9th, 1917 Pte Armstrong rejoined the 46th Battalion.
There are no entries in the File from February 9th to April 5th, 1917. The 46th War Diaries indicate the following for this period.
February 1917 when Pte Armstrong rejoined the 46th Bn on the 9th they were back in the Front-Line trenches. On February 10th 50 men from each Company were withdrawn from the Front-Line and sent to Chateau de la Haie for the purpose of receiving training for a proposed raid by the 10th Brigade. The night of the 11th passed in comparative quietness. During the day the Stokes (a 3.2″ Mortar) fired a considerable amount of ammunition on enemy wire. Reports received indicated that the enemy wire was shattered in numerous places and large gaps made. On the 12th the 46th Battalion was billeted in a Brigade support position at Carency. In the early morning of February 13th, following an intense artillery barrage, a coordinated assault by 4 Battalions attacked enemy positions. Although numerous casualties resulted, the attack was considered a success with all Battalions reaching their objectives. Valuable information was obtained, such as learning the 11th Bavarian Regiment was facing the Canadian trenches, also significant damage was done to enemy positions and mine fields. On the 14th the Unit was back in a Brigade reserve position at Chateau de la Haie, where decorations for bravery and devotion to duty were awarded. The Battalion was also inspected by Field Marshal Sir General Douglas Haig. The 15th to the 17th passed with the Battalion cleaning up and training. On the 17th the Battalion relieved the 50th Battalion on the Front-Line. The 18th passed very quietly with only a few rum-jars being fired by the enemy. The 19th was also quiet. In the evening a very effective raid was carried out against enemy trenches. February 20th was spent by the men improving the trenches and making them tenable. The 21st was once again quiet and the day was spent cleaning out and repairing trenches, as well as carrying ammunition. During the morning and evening of the 22nd, in response to an artillery bombardment of enemy positions, they retaliated with high explosives, minnies, shrapnel, whiz-bangs, and fish-tails. The 23rd passed in relative quietness and the 46th Battalion was withdrawn to a Brigade support position at Chateau de la Haie, where it stayed until the end of the month. The days were spent: bathing, being issued clean underwear, resting, and a bit of training.
March 1917 began with the 46th Bn back on the Front-Line in the Carency Section. The position was relatively quiet for a number of days with only a few enemy fish-tails fired into the area. On March 3rd the Battalion extended its frontage. The extension was carried out without incident. Work parties spent most of the day improving the conditions in the trenches. On the 5th there was considerable artillery activity on both sides, but not in the area of the 46th. On the 8th the Battalion was relieved and took up billets in the Arras Valley – Daly’s Hospital Corner area. The next few days were spent cleaning up, resting and training. On March 13th it was back to the Front-Line in the Carency Section, where it remained quiet. On the 20th it was withdrawn to billets at Vancouver Camp – Chateau de la Haie. The next five days were spent in the usual routine; with bayonet and rifle drills, physical fitness conditioning, and cleaning up. March 25th the Unit was back to the Front-Line where it remained to the end of the month. Other than an increase in enemy artillery activity in the area, March 28th and 29th were comparatively quiet in the area of the 46th Bn.
Pte Armstrong’s Military File indicates that in the first week of April 1917 he was attached to the Royal Canadian Engineers. No explanation for this move is given. April 1917 was a very active month for the 46th Battalion with the Arras offensive, which included the Canadian assault on Vimy Ridge. Pte Armstrong remained with the Royal Canadian Engineers until May 2nd, 1917 at which point he rejoined the 46th Battalion. According to the War Diaries, when Pte Armstrong rejoined his Unit they were on the Front-Line of Vimy Ridge having just relieved the 50th Battalion. During the next few days a number of patrols were sent out, both in the early morning hours and during the day, with success. On the 4th the 47th Battalion took over part of the 46th frontage. During these days the enemy laid down harassing machine gun and artillery fire, but to little effect as minimal casualties occurred. On May 8th the 46th was relieved and held in Reserve in the Souave Valley. After taking up this position, almost the entire Battalion was utilized cleaning up the area. On the 10th the Unit was withdrawn from Reserve and took up billets in Canada Camp, Chateau de la Haie. During the next ten days, the Battalion was inspected by the Battalion Commanding Officer, were on Parade, and went through various training routines, which included; close order drills by Squad and Platoons, rifle exercises and assault tactics. Special classes were held in bombing, rifle grenade work, machine gun work, and signaling. On the 20th the Unit left to relieve the 78th in a support position in the Zouave Valley. The next four days were spent in work parties. On the 24th the 46th was relieved and took up billets (under canvas) at Berthonval Wood. On the 28th it relieved the 85th on the Front-Line, where it would stay until the end of the month.
June 1917 at midnight May 31st and June 1st, gas was projected into the enemy’s line with good effect. Some of the gas shells fell short and as a result a number of the men of the 46th were treated at the Field Ambulance Station. The Front-Line and support trenches of the 46th were shelled intermittently, by the enemy, during the day. June 2nd enemy artillery and trench mortars actively engaged during the day shelling the Battalion Front and Support Lines. Allied artillery shelled the Enemy Lines with good effect. Aircraft on both sides – very active. The Military File of Pte F. Armstrong indicates that he was killed-in-action on June 3rd, 1917.
The War Diaries of the 46th indicates the following for June 3rd, 1917.
At midnight of June 2nd and 3rd, the 10th Canadian Infantry Division launched a broad offensive on German positions. The 46th Battalion was part of the offensive. One Platoon of ”D” Company of the 46th was assigned the task of seizing an enemy cement machine gun emplacement. The objective was to seize the emplacement at a railway subway and block enemy trenches running north from this point and place a block in Callous Trench. The Artillery barrage opened sharp at 12 midnight, accompanied by two discharges of gas directed at Éleu-dit-Leauwette. At zero plus four minutes the barrage lifted and the raiding party advanced from a railway cutting. The raiding party was divided into bombers, riflemen, rifle grenadiers, and a L.A.R. Section. The route followed was along a railway embankment and north of a gasworks. A few enemy machine guns and a trench mortar quickly opened up from the objective, but the quiet advance of the party enabled it to reach its objective with only two casualties (killed). Pte F. Armstrong was one of the casualties.
Pte Francis Edward Armstrong’s name appears on page 192 of the Book of Remembrance in Ottawa. He is buried in Villers Station Cemetery which is 2 kilometres northwest of the Village of Villers-au-Bois, in the District of Pas-de-Calais.
The 46th Battalion would become known as the ”Suicide Battalion”. During its 27 months of duty, the Battalion lost 1,433 killed and 3,484 wounded. A casualty rate of 91.5 percent.
There is no reference in Private Francis Edward Armstrong’s Military File indicating what Military Medals he was awarded but based on his Military Service he should have received the:
British War Medal 1914 – 1920; and
He also qualified for War Service Badge CEF Class “A”.
His medals were sent to his sister; Mrs. George W. White in Seattle, Washington USA. The Memorial Plaque and Memorial Scroll were dispatched to his father Edward Armstrong of Lakefield, Ontario.
Based on his Military File, Private Armstrong served a total of 1 year, 8 months, and 26 days with the Canadian Expeditionary Force: 7 months and 10 days in Canada, 3 months and 13 days in England, and 9 months and 23 days in France plus 9 days travel time.
An excerpt from an article in Maclean’s Magazine by Barbara Ameil, September 1996:
”The Military is the single calling in the world with job specifications that include a commitment to die for. What could be more honourable”?
FRANCIS EDWARD ARMSTRONG
Francis Edward Armstrong was born to Edward Armstrong and Margaret Jane Forbes in Dummer Township, Peterborough County on July 19, 1882. When Francis’ birth was registered his Aunt Catherine E. Darling was the Informant. According the 1891 Census Francis Edward and his family were living in Dummer Township.
THE FRANCIS EDWARD ARMSTRONG FAMILY OF LAKEFIELD
Francis Edward’s grandparents are unknown at this time.
Francis Edward’s parents, Edward, born about 1852 in Ontario and Margaret Jane Forbes, born about 1857 were married in Lakefield, Ontario on May 10, 1876 by Rev. N. Clark. Witness at their wedding was John Darling of Dummer Township. According to the 1891 census; Edward and Margaret Jane had the following children: Francis; Charles, George and Mary.