WAR AND THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
An exhibit on World War 1 and World War 2 I saw recently at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Alberta, Canada, had a banner reflecting a view I had already formed: “In Canada, no city, no town and no village, and no family was left unaffected by the First and Second World Wars. Even the peace of the mountain wilderness was disturbed. To this place once so separate from the world’s conflicts came internees and POW’s, local boys enlisted, some were lost or captured. Those who returned were marked for life.”
There are 52 names on the War Memorial in Banff, and despite the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Banff Springs Hotel, Banff in 1914 would have been a small town. Two of the men on the memorial are featured in the Whyte Museum.
Sidney Joseph Unwin left England for Canada in 1901. He had lived and worked in London and had also fought in the Boer War. He became one of the legendary mountain guides in the Banff area but also accompanied the famous explorer Mary Schaffer on her quest to Malign Lake in 1907/1908. Malign Lake near Jasper is stunning, but is still not accessible by road between late September and May.
Unwin, who was 34, enlisted in Calgary on 28th November 1914 and was posted to the Canadian Field Artillery. He was a Sergeant with the 6th Howitzer Brigade during the action at Vimy Ridge in April 1917 when he was severely wounded but continued to man his artillery battery for which he was awarded the Military Medal. His last letter home was written with his left hand, his right arm having apparently been severely damaged. He also had a number of shell fragments in his head but added ”I’m fine and dandy”. He died of his wounds on 28th June 1917 in a hospital in London and is buried in Southgate Cemetery, Middlesex. Sergeant Unwin’s grave is one of 92 War Graves in that cemetery. This was the area where he had lived before he went to Canada.
The other man remembered in the Whyte Museum is Private Harold Malloch Luxton, 31st Canadian Infantry Battalion. He was killed in action on 18th December 1915 aged 31. He is buried at Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery. The museum displays his memorial plaque.
While in Jasper in September this year temperatures dropped below freezing and we had a few inches of snow. Jasper was one of the sites where in 1914 the Canadian Government set up an Internment Camp for enemy aliens, people who had settled in Canada from Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Canada had a total of 24 such camps and interred 8,579 men identified as enemy aliens.
‘THE WIPERS TIMES’
This is not a theatre review, but it was good to be part of a packed theatre enjoying a production of ‘The Wipers Times’ last week. It was a theatre production enjoyed by all ages who were introduced to just one of the remarkable stories that emerged from the ruins of Ypres. Perhaps like me they might have been tempted to find out a little more about the men involved and the background to the story.
The editor of the paper was Captain John Frederick Roberts. Born in London in 1882 he attended the Grocers Company School in Hackney, a school for the sons of the middle class with a strong Army connection. On leaving school he went off to South Africa to seek his fortune in the diamond mines. He went on to manage a power station in Malaya and was one of the first to trek across North Borneo. With the outbreak of war in 1914 he returned to England and was commissioned as Acting Second Lieutenant in the 12th (Pioneering Battalion) Notts. and Derby Regiment ( Sherwood Foresters). With his Schools Cadet and Mining experience he was ideally suited. The Pioneers although trained as infantry were employed in semi- skilled engineering work, such as building saps and trenches.
After being in action at the Battle of Loos they were transferred to Ypres where during a search for timber or anything else that could be used to repair trenches the men came across a printing press in the ruins of a convent. Sergeant Tyler had been a printer in civilian life and brought the printer to Captain Roberts and his second in command Lieutenant Jack Pearson and the plan to print a paper was born. It was to be a satirical trench newspaper with black humour, jokes, poetry and mock adverts.
Twenty three editions of the paper were produced in one of the Ypres Ramparts Casements, often while under fire. The first edition was printed on 12th February 1916, the print runs were for 100 copies on A5 size paper. When they were moved to other fronts they changed the name accordingly.
Second Lieutenant Jack Pearson was born in Ombersley in Worcestershire, went to Bedford School and qualified as a Civil Engineer. In 1909 he was fortunate to escape a manslaughter charge when he killed an 80 year old pedestrian while overtaking a stationary horse drawn omnibus in London. He was driving a 42 h.p. Daimler Tourer.
Jack Pearson was not only the second in command but also the Sub Editor on the Wipers Times. Both men were involved in the Somme Offensive and both were awarded the Military Cross ‘for gallantry and devotion to duty’. Both were promoted to Acting Lt. Colonel by the end of hostilities, and Pearson had also set up a pub called The Foresters Arms which provided refreshments for wounded soldiers waiting for ambulances. There was much opposition to the provision of alcohol but the pub was saved thanks to the support of the Army Chaplains.
The Wipers Times also had its opponents but the support of General Sir Herbert Plumer was significant. He believed that the paper was invaluable to sustaining morale.
In the absence of Fred Roberts who was suffering from Influenza, Acting Lt. Colonel Jack Pearson was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during an enemy attack. At a critical period he led a successful counter attack driving back the enemy and capturing four machine guns and some prisoners. By his prompt action and gallant leadership he restored the situation.’
Their last editorial from late 1918 stated ‘We had intended to carry on till we had all received the order of the bowler hat, but as most of the printing staff are miners, and consequently going almost at once it will be impossible to do any further numbers’.
It is sad that men of such talent did not stay in Britain after the war. Fred Roberts did try to get a job as a journalist on the Daily Mail, but the best they could offer him was an assistant compiling the Crossword. It is ironic that the Mail’s Chief Reporter was the man they had ridiculed in The Wipers Times as Mr Teech Bomas for his exaggerated reports of British success. Fred Robert left to work as a mining engineer in the USA and Canada. Described as a brave, funny and generous man, he died in Toronto in September 1964 and his ashes were scattered at Brockwood Cemetery in Surrey.
Jack Pearson also left the UK with his wife. He worked as an engineer on the railways in Argentina. His wife died in 1923, and he remarried in 1926. From 1929 he took over the running of a hotel at Cruz Chica which was owned by his wife’s family. He served as Honorary British Consul until his death in 1966.
IWM Lives of the First World War.
Personnel Records of Wld War 1-Library and Archives Canada.