Cumberland, Keith Oswald



Lance Corporal Keith Oswald Cumberland – 7588 – ACTIVE SERVICE (World War I)

On September 22, 1914 Keith Oswald Cumberland completed the Attestation Paper for the Canadian Army, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). He was 19 years, 4 months and 4 days old when, as a single man, he enlisted for the duration of the War. Keith Oswald was born in Québec City, Québec, and gave his birth-date as May 18, 1895. Keith Oswald indicated; he presently belonged to the Active Militia, and that he had served 4 years with the 57th Regiment (Peterborough Rangers). 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 Bank Clerk. Keith Oswald was 5′ 11” tall, with a 35” chest (expanded). There is no indication of his weight. He had a dark complexion, with blue eyes and dark brown hair. His Medical Examination was completed August 26, 1914 in Valcartier, Québec. Other than having two moles on his back 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 brother Mr. E. Cumberland of Peterborough, Ontario. Keith Oswald Cumberland signed the Oath and Certificate of Attestation on September 22, 1914 in Valcartier, Québec. He was taken-on-strength with the 2nd Battalion (Bn) Eastern Ontario Regiment (EOR), CEF, as a Private (Pte) and was assigned Service Number 7588.

Pte Cumberland and the 2nd Bn trained at Valcartier, Québec. Valcartier was erected as a Military Training Base, in August 1914, as part of the mobilization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the outset of World War I. The Base was located approximately 16 miles north of Québec City. In the beginning the facilities and training were pretty rudimentary. Training consisted of marching, rifle and bayonet drills. The Officers, among other things, practiced swordsmanship. The main goal was to form the men in Units and ship them off to England, as quickly as possible, where they would complete their training.

The 2nd Bn was raised from recruits from Military District No 3 (Eastern Ontario). When the 2nd Bn left Canada, it had a strength of 44 Officers and 1,083 other ranks. There are no entries in Pte Cumberland’s Military File from September 22, 1914 to May 11, 1915. The information, covering this time period was found through research on the Internet and from the 2nd Battalion War Diaries. Private Keith Cumberland and the 2nd Battalion embarked October 3rd, 1914 from Québec City, Québec, aboard the SS Cassandra bound for England.

At 4:00 PM, on October 14th the SS Cassandra entered Plymouth Harbour, England. At 8:00 AM, on the 15th it moored in Devonport Harbour alongside the SS Scotian. From October 15th to the 24th the Cassandra remained moored ”in stream”. While in this position the 2nd Battalion engaged in physical fitness training and sports. At 11:30 AM on the 25th the SS Cassandra docked and started to off load. By 9:30 PM on the 25th the 2nd Battalion moved off to Plymouth by Devonport to Friary Station where it entrained for Amesbury. The Battalion detrained in Amesbury at 7:30 AM on the 26th. It then marched to Bustard Camp, Salisbury Plain arriving at 1:30 PM. The rest of the month was spent in daily routines and physical training.

November 1914 was spent in training, comprised of: physical fitness training, route marches, musketry (rifle) practice and drills, Squad and Section drills and Company attack tactics. Entries indicate that it rained for the entire month.

December 1914 was pretty much a repeat of the November routine, except they were now practicing entrenching and Battalion attack tactics. There were also inspections and church parades. The weather wasn’t much better in December, except they had a couple of days of snow mixed in with the rain.

January 1915 training was now expanded to include Brigade attack tactics and practicing night attacks. They continued entrenching practice, rifle drills and were introduced to bayonet fighting. The route marches became more frequent and longer. The weather was greatly improved in January.

February 1915 rifle training increased in frequency, the Battalion was being equipped and training in Company attack tactics intensified. On February the 4th the Battalion was inspected by His Majesty The King and Lord Kitchener, who were satisfied with what they found. On the 7th the Battalion proceeded to Amesbury, in two groups, one at 9:00 PM and the other at 11:00 PM, where they entrained. The 2nd Battalion arrived at Avonmouth at 7:00 and 9:00 AM respectively, on the February 8th. The Battalion embarked aboard the SS Blackwell at midnight. The 9th was spent at sea, where a muster parade was held. On the 10th the coast of France was spotted. The men were very glad as most of them were sea sick. No picture of the SS Blackwell was discovered.
The SS Blackwell anchored at St. Nazaire, France on the 11th at 1:00 AM, with the Battalion disembarking at 11:30 AM. It entrained at 5:00 PM. The 12th was spent on the train passing through many towns arriving at Rouen at 8:00 PM and where it continued onward. The 2nd Battalion detrained at Strazelle, France at 11:30 AM on the 13th, and marched to billets at Merris, France. The 14th, 15th, and 16th were spent going through various inspections and a route marches. On the 17th the Battalion left for Armenteirs at 8:00 AM, arriving at 1:30 PM. Two Companies were attached to North Staffordshires (N Staff), with the other two Companies attached to King’s Royal Rifles (KRR) and billeted there. On the 18th instructions were given to the men in Field engineering and throwing grenades. Two Companies spent the day entrenching under heavy shell fire. The 1st and 3rd Companies proceeded to the trenches at 3:00 PM on the 19th. The balance of the Battalion were under instruction of N Staff and KRR. On the 20th the 2nd and 4th Companies relieved the 1st and 3rd Companies. Now began a series of daily moves by the two Companies relieving each other, while the other two received training, the other two were on the Lines. The 2nd Battalion left Armentiers at 6:35 AM for Merris. It arrived at 12:30 PM. It was reported that the weather was fine. February 24th, 25th and 26th were spent in daily route marches, inspections, washing clothes and physical fitness training. The 27th was spent in a general cleanup and preparing to move. On the 28th the Battalion left Merris at 9:10 AM enroute to Sailly des Iys, arriving at 12:20 PM. The Commanding Officer went forward to the trenches, to make arrangements to take over.

March 1915 the 1st the 2nd Battalion was inspected by General Anderson prior to heading for the trenches at Bois Grenier at 4:30 PM, relieving the Royal Warwick Regiment. From the 2nd to the 5th was spent in general trench duty. It was reported that things were fairly quiet. The 6th to 9th the Battalion was in a Divisional Reserve position at Bac St.-Maur, France. The days were spent in bathing parades, foot inspections, rifle inspections and a route march. The Battalion left for the trenches at 5:00 PM on the 9th. On the 10th a planned operation was carried out by the 2nd Battalion. Allied Artillery shelling commenced at 4:30 AM, Infantry at 8:00 AM and continued all day. The 11th to 13th the men carried out general trench duties. On the 13th the Battalion was relieved by the 4th Battalion. From the 14th to the 17th the 2nd Battalion was in a Brigade Reserve position in La Toulette, where they were back to the usual routine of foot inspections, equipment and rifle inspections and bathing parades. The evening of the 17th they relieved the 4th Battalion in the Front-Line trenches, where they stayed until the 21st when they were relieved by the 4th Battalion. During this time, it was reported that everything was very quiet. From the 22nd to the 25th, the 2nd Battalion were in billets at Fleurbrix, following the usual routine. At 6:00 PM on the 25th they marched to billets at Neuf Berquin, arriving at 10:00 PM. From the 26th to 31st they underwent physical fitness training, rifle and equipment inspections and route marches. In addition, they practiced: digging in with entrenching tools, building new trenches and trench work, assaulting trenches, advancing tactics and were shown, by Engineers, the best way in crossing wire.

Putting the entries for April 1915 of the 2nd Battalion War Diaries in perspective. April 1915 was the beginning of the 2nd Battle of the Ypres. In the first week of April, the Canadian troops were moved from their quiet sector to a bulge, known as the Ypres Salient, in front of the City of Ypres. What was at stake was the Ypres Salient where the British and Allied lines pushed into the German line in a concave bend. The Salient was a very dangerous place for its defenders. The Germans held the high ground on three sides, and were able to fire into the Allied trenches from the north, the south and the east. On the Canadian right were two British Divisions and on the Canadian left was the 45th French (Algerian) Division.

On April 22nd, 1915 the Germans opened a major assault against the Allied Front-Lines. The objective was to remove the Salient by introducing a new weapon, Poison Gas. Following an intensive Artillery bombardment, the Germans released 160 tons of Chlorine Gas from cylinders dug into the forward edge of the trenches into a light north east wind. Thick clouds of yellowish-green Chlorine Gas drifted across no-mans land and over the French defenses. As the gas took effect on the French troops in the trenches, their defenses crumbled and the troops completely terrorized by this terrible weapon, died or broke and fled, leaving a gaping 6.5 kilometre hole in the Allied Line. German troops pushed forward, threatening to sweep behind the Canadian trenches and put 50,000 Canadian and British troops in jeopardy. Fortunately, the Germans had only planned a limited offensive and, without adequate reserves, were unable to exploit the advantage the Gas attack had created. In any case, their own troops without any adequate protection against the Gas, were highly suspicious of the new weapon and advanced only 3.25 kilometres before they stopped and dug in. It was into this gap and environment that the Canadians troops rushed. All through the night, the Canadians fought to close the gap. In addition they mounted a counterattack to drive the enemy out of Kitchener Woods. Little ground was gained, by the Canadians, and the casualties were extremely high, but the attacks bought some precious time for reinforcements to come forward.

The War Diaries indicate April 1915 began with the 2nd Battalion still at Neuf Berquin, where they stayed until the morning of the 6th, when they moved to Winnezeele, which was 15 miles away. On the 9th they were inspected by Lt General Anderson who complimented the 2nd Battalion on their appearance and pointed out No 5 Platoon as the best in the Division. He also praised No 2 Company for its very smart appearance. On the 12th another inspection, this one by General Smith-Dorrien, who was very pleased with the Battalion. There were two more inspections; one by Brig General Mercer and Lt Colonel Watson. The Battalion remained at Winnezeele until the 18th when it marched to an area area between Proven and Poperinche. On the 20th they moved to Vlamertinghe, Belgium. On the 21st a general ”stand to arms” was issued to the Battalion and the men of the 2nd Battalion were ordered to move at 9:00 PM.

On the 22nd the 2nd Battalion was ordered to join the command of Brigadier General Turner (VC – DSO) Commander of the 3rd Canadian Brigade – 1st Division on the Front-Line in support of the 16th Battalion. There is note in the War Diary, that states: ”the French had allowed the Germans to break through the lines on the extreme left of the British lines” (this was the Gas attack). In the early hours of April 23rd the Battalion arrived at 3rd Brigade Headquarters and took up a position with its left flank on right of woods C-14-A and right flank about 400 feet west of St. Julien – Weiltje Road C-14-B, in order to assist in the counterattack previously launched by the 10th and 16th Battalions. On arrival at the Headquarters, Colonel Leckie informed 2nd Battalion Command that it must dislodge the enemy who occupied a trench and were giving his position trouble. After reconnoitering the enemy position, No 1 Company was ordered to attack. The remaining Companies were to dig in. The attack was bravely carried out, but owing to the enemy’s machine guns on the flanks of the advancing Company, which enfiladed (gunfire directed along the length of a column) the whole Company, the attack was not successful. It did however, allow the remaining Companies time to entrench themselves. No 2 Company was firmly established in a position right of the woods, eastward towards St. Julien. Later No 4 Company sent up a Platoon and a machine gun to strengthen the right flank. No 5 Company was entrenched on a line north of a farm. A number of the enemy were discovered in a hedge and at day break a machine gun was brought forward and opened fire on their position. Over 100 of the enemy were killed or wounded. No 4 Company dug a trench line north of the Farm in the rear and right of No 3 Company, in support of the trenches occupied by the 10th and 16th Battalions. During the day of the 23rd the positions were consolidated and strengthened. Companies from the 10th Battalion were withdrawn and No 4 Company was instructed to occupy their trenches. Also two Companies from the 3rd Battalion under the Command of Major Kirkpatrick were brought forward to protect the right flank.

On April 24th the Germans made one final attempt to obliterate the Salient. This time their focus was on the Canadian lines around St. Julien. The attack began at 4:00 AM with an Artillery barrage followed by another Gas attack. Throughout the 24th and 25th, through terrible fighting, the Lines withered with shrapnel and machine gun fire, hampered by the malfunctioning Ross rifles, violently sick and gasping for air through urine soaked and muddy handkerchiefs, the Canadians held on until reinforcements could be brought forward. The main thrust of this attack was to the right of the position held by the 2nd Battalion.

Entries in the 2nd Battalion War Diary indicates: during the morning of the 24th, it was evident that the enemy were preparing to attack. At about noon, the Enemy Infantry attack started from the right in front of 3rd Brigade position and received the following message from Major Kirkpatrick: ”enemy has secured trenches in front of St. Julien on my right, am still holding on, if the worst comes I will retire to Farm and endeavour to hold that position”. The enemy’s attack appeared to be successful on the right as it pressed in the front of 3rd Brigade position towards St. Julien. About a half an hour later No 2 Company of the 2nd Battalion position was attacked, but the enemy attack was repelled with heavy losses. The enemy now attacked the position held by No 4 Company, once again the enemy were beat back. The enemy casualties were substantial. At about 1:00 PM instructions were received but they were canceled, by phone message, prior to receipt of written orders, upon assurance that the position could be held. Shortly after this, owing to the right flank being exposed possibly due to the retirement of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Battalion was once again ordered to retire to the Group Headquarters (GHQ) Line. No 3 Company retired first. Their place being taken by details from the 14th Battalion, who had been sent up in the morning under two of their Officers. No 2 Company retired next followed by the details of 14th Battalion. It was during these maneuvers that the Battalion suffered its heaviest casualties. There is no reference in the War Diaries as to when the 1st and 4th Companies withdrew. April 25th, received orders to take up a position in the First Line trenches to relieve ”D” Company of the ”Buffs” (research indicates the ”Buffs” referred to the 2nd Battalion of the British East Kent Regiment). Based on the fact, there was only enough room in their trenches for one Platoon, the rest of 2nd Battalion went to trenches in the areas of C-23-A and C-22-C. At 11:00 AM received instruction to withdraw. April 26th at 1:10 AM orders were received to retire to billets via La Brigne arriving at Division Headquarters at 4:20 AM, there receiving instructions to ”stand to” pending instructions of developments. The Battalion bivouacked (a temporary camp without tents or cover, used especially by soldiers) in a field for 3 hours and then returned to billets at Vlamertinghe. At 2:15 AM the Battalion received orders to proceed to Brielen, Belgium where they followed guides to a farm B-29-D, where it dug in. At about 9:00 PM, they returned to billets.
During these four days the 2nd Battalion suffered the following casualties: 5 Officers and 68 other ranks killed, 5 Officers and 158 other ranks wounded, 6 Officers and 302 other ranks missing, for a total of 16 Officers and 528 other ranks.

Lance Corporal Keith Oswald Cumberland’s Military File indicates that he was first reported missing on May 11, 1915. On July 10th, 1915 he was listed as missing and unofficially listed as a Prisoner of War. June 6, 1917 states: ”no information having come to hand from any source which would lead to the belief that the undermentioned soldier is a Prisoner of War (P of W), he is again reported as missing since April 22 – 26, 1915”. On June 26th, 1917 the previously reported missing soldier, now for official purposes, is presumed to have died on or since April 26, 1915.

The name of Lance Corporal Keith Oswald Cumberland 7588 appears on a panel at the Menin Gate (Ypres) Memorial in Ypres, Belgium. His name appears on page 11 of the Book of Remembrance in Ottawa. There is no reference in Lance Corporal Keith Oswald Cumberland’s Military File indicating what Military Medals he was awarded but based on his Military Service he should have received:

British War Medal 1914 – 1920; and
Victory Medal.
He also qualified for War Service Badge CEF Class “A”.

His Decorations and Medals were sent to his brother Eldred Cumberland of Toronto. The Memorial Plague was dispatched to his brother on December 15, 1920 and the Memorial Scroll on September 21, 1921.

Based on his Military File, Lance Corporal Keith Oswald Cumberland served a total of 7 months and 3 days with the Canadian Expeditionary Force: 11 days in Canada, 3 months, 26 days in England, and 2 months and 15 days in France.

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 your country. What could be more honourable”?





Keith Oswald Cumberland was born in Québec on May 18, 1895, son of David and Helene Cumberland.

In 1915 Keith worked as a bank clerk in Peterborough. Private Keith Oswald Cumberland enlisted to serve in WWI with the 2nd Battalion, Canadian Infantry and was killed in action on March 26, 1915 and is remembered with honour in the Menin Gate (Ypres) Memorial Cemetery in Belgium.


Keith Oswald’s grandparents are unknown at this time.

Keith Oswald’s parents, David Cumberland was born October 23, 1851 and Helene was born November 2, 1864 Helene Cumberland, both born in Québec. (The 1911 Census had Helene born in PEI) They would have been married about 1892 in Québec. In March 1901 the Cumberland family was living in the Montcalm Ward of Québec City with their four young children: Eldred born June 29, 1893; Keith Oswald, born May 18, 1995; Phyllis Helene born June 12, 1898 and baby David born in October 9, 1901. Sadly, a daughter Helene, born June 30, 1898 must have passed on. David Cumberland’s occupation was listed as servant.

However, by 1911, David Cumberland has passed away and Helene and three of her children: namely Keith, Phyllis and David were living on Smith Street in Lakefield.