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|Along one branch of my family tree I'm an eighth generation Canadian, leading back to the Palatinate region of Germany via Nova Scotia. Along another branch I'm a sixth generation Canadian leading back to the Alston area of northern England. There are also many Scotish and even a few Irish connections. Researching my family tree has been fun, interesting, educational - both about my family and about various places and times - and at times frustrating in not being able to figure something out or get past a roadblock. There are many tales to tell and many left uncovered.
Harry Ablard - WW1
My mother's grandfather Henry 'Harry' Charles Ablard was born in the Poplar region of east London in 1885. This was an area most associated with shipping, with both the West and East India docks having been built there. So it's not hard to understand how he came to emmigrate to Canada as a young man around or just after the turn of the 20th century, settling in southern Ontario. In 1908 he married my great grandmother Ethel Jane Worsfold and had four children: one who died at 1 month, two great-uncles, and my grandmother Grace. In 1914, at the age of 29, he signed up for the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force to fight the Germans. His Attestation form, taken at Valcartier, Quebec in 1914, records that he was 5' 8 1/2" tall with a chest measurement of 36". Today he would be a relatively small man, but I wonder if this was a normal size a hundred years ago?.
The Second Battle of Ypres was a First World War battle fought for control of the strategic Flemish town of Ypres (now Ieper) in western Belgium in the spring of 1915, following the First Battle of Ypres the previous autumn. It marked the first time that Germany used poison gas on a large scale on the Western Front. Additionally, the battle was the first time that a former colonial force (the 1st Canadian Division) defeated a major European power on European soil, in the Battle of St. Julien-Kitcheners' Wood. The Second Battle of Ypres consisted of Six engagements:
The Second Battle of Ypres is also what inspired Canadian physican and soldier John McCrae to write "In Flanders Feilds" on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer, who died in the battle. The poem refers to the red poppies that grew over the gaves of fallen soldiers, and resulted in remembrance poppies being one of the most recognised memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict.
The details are few, but we know that Sergeant Henry 'Harry' Charles Ablard was killed between April 22 and 26, 1915 in the Second Battle of Ypres. His CEF Burial Register - Circumstances of Death record states: "Killed in action while sniping at the enemy. His body was buried later; the grave was not marked." Further down the card it says: "Engaged in attack and repulsing counter attacks over Area S.W. of St. Julien. C.12.c Sht.28.". Based on this reference it's likely that he was killed in the Battle of Saint Julian. In other words, grandad Harry kicked some German butt!
At around 5:00 pm on 22 April 1915, the German Army released one hundred and sixty-eight tons of chlorine gas over a 6.5 km (4.0 mi) front on the part of the line held by French Territorial and colonial Moroccan and Algerian troops of the French 45th and 78th divisions. While this is often recognized as the first use of chemical warfare, poison gases were used at several earlier battles, including the Battle of Bolimov three months earlier.
The attack involved a massive logistical effort, as German troops hauled 5730 cylinders of chlorine gas, weighing 90 pounds (41 kg) each, to the front by hand. The German soldiers also opened the cylinders by hand, relying on the prevailing winds to carry the gas towards enemy lines. Because of this method of dispersal, a large number of German soldiers were injured or killed in the process of carrying out the attack.
Approximately 6,000 French and colonial troops died within ten minutes at Ypres, primarily from asphyxiation and subsequent tissue damage in the lungs. Many more were blinded. Chlorine gas forms hydrochloric (muriatic) acid when combined with water, destroying moist tissues such as lungs and eyes. The chlorine gas, being denser than air, quickly filled the trenches, forcing the troops to climb out into heavy enemy fire.
With the survivors abandoning their positions en masse, a 4-mile (6.4 km) gap was left in the front line. However, the German High Command had not foreseen the effectiveness of their new weapon, and so had not put any reserves ready in the area. German troops started to enter the gap at 5:00 pm in some numbers, but with the coming of darkness and the lack of follow up troops the German forces did not exploit the gap, and Canadian troops were able to put in a hasty defence by urinating into cloths and putting them to their faces to counter the effects of the gas. Canadians held that part of the line against further attacks until 3 May 1915 at a cost of 6000 wounded or dead.
And from the Veteran Affairs Canada web site:
In the first week of April 1915, Canadian troops were moved to a bulge in the Allied line in front of the City of Ypres. On the Canadian right were two British divisions and on their left a French division, the 45th Algerian.
Here on April 22, the Germans sought to break the stalemate by introducing a new weapon, poison gas. Following an intensive artillery bombardment, they released 135 tonnes of chlorine gas into a light northeast wind. As thick clouds of yellow-green chlorine drifted over their trenches, the French defences crumbled and the troops, unprotected, their lungs seared, died or broke and fled, leaving a gaping six-kilometre hole in the Allied line. German troops pressed forward threatening to sweep behind the Canadian trenches and put 50,000 Canadian and British troops in deadly jeopardy. Fortunately, the Germans had planned only a limited offensive and, without adequate reserves, were unable to exploit the gap the gas created. After advancing only three kilometres they stopped and dug in.
All through the night the Canadian troops manoeuvred to close the gap. In addition, they mounted a counter-attack to drive the enemy out of Kitchener's Wood, an oak plantation near St. Julien. The next day two further counter-attacks were launched against enemy positions. Little ground was gained and casualties were extremely heavy. But, these attacks bought some precious time to close the flank.
The grimmer battle of St. Julien lay ahead. On April 24, the Germans attacked in an attempt to obliterate the salient once and for all. Another violent bombardment was followed by another gas attack in the same pattern as before. This time the target was the Canadian line. Here through terrible fighting, withered with shrapnel and machine-gun fire, hampered by rifles that jammed, violently ill and gasping for air through mud-soaked handkerchiefs, they held on until reinforcements arrived.
Thus, in their first appearance on a European battlefield, the Canadians established a reputation as a formidable fighting force. But the cost was high. In these 48 hours, 6,035 Canadians - one man in every three - was lost from Canada's little force of hastily trained civilians (ed: 2,000 dead, the rest wounded).St. Julien Memorial - The Brooding Soldier (from the Vet Affairs Canada site and Wikipedia)
The village of Saint Julien and a section of forested land called Saint Julien Wood was at a pronounced bend in the north east sector of the Ypres Salient prior to the Second Battle of Ypres. The area was also the junction between the British and French sectors of responsibility. The Canadian First Division was assigned the most northern section of the British line and to their left, the 45th (Algerian) Division held the southernmost end of the French line. The German Army had brought forward 168 tons of chlorine deployed in 5,730 cylinders buried in front of their trenches, opposite Langemark-Poelkapelle, north of Ypres. The Canadians, who had been moved into their positions only a few days earlier, were manning the lines for several hundred metres along a front to the southwest of St. Julien when the German Army unleashed the first poison gas attack on the Western Front on 22 April 1915.
Visible for several miles from its site beside the main road from Ypres to Bruges, the impressive Canadian Memorial at St. Julien stands like a sentinel over those who died during the heroic stand of Canadians during the first gas attacks of the First World War. It is one of the most striking of all the battlefield memorials on the Western Front. Rising almost 11 metres from a stone-flagged court, "The Brooding Soldier" surmounts a single shaft of granite - the bowed head and shoulders of a Canadian soldier with folded hands resting on arms reversed. The expression on the face beneath the steel helmet is resolute yet sympathetic, as though its owner meditates on the battle in which his comrades displayed such great valour. The statue is set in the middle of a garden surrounded by tall cedars, which are kept trimmed to perfect cones to match and complement the towering granite shaft.
The designer of the monument was a Regina architect, Frederick Chapman Clemesha, who was wounded while serving with the Canadian Corps during the war. The stone for the shaft was cut in quarries of the Vosges and the surmounting bust was carved in Brussels.
The St. Julien Memorial was unveiled on July 8, 1923, by HRH the Duke of Connaught. Among the many veterans who were present was the former Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies, Marshal Ferdinand Foch. Speaking in tribute to those whom the Memorial honoured, Marshal Foch said: "The Canadians paid heavily for their sacrifice and the corner of earth on which this Memorial of gratitude and piety rises has been bathed in their blood. They wrote here the first page in that Book of Glory which is the history of their participation in the war."
The inscription on the Memorial recalls the Canadian participation in the Second Battle of Ypres:
THIS COLUMN MARKS THE BATTLEFIELD WHERE 18,000 CANADIANS ON THE BRITISH LEFT WITHSTOOD THE FIRST GERMAN GAS ATTACKS THE 22ND-24TH OF APRIL 1915. 2,000 FELL AND HERE LIE BURIEDSo it seems that poor Harry was amongst the first of the Canadians to perish, and whether he was shot or poisoned will likely never be known. All that remains is his name on a plaque at Menin Gate.
* Note that although the Menin Gate inscription listed him as 'private', in 1929 this was corrected, on paper, to sergeant.
The Menin Gate Memorial is situated at the eastern side of the town of Ypres (now Ieper) in the Province of West Flanders, on the road to Menin and Courtrai. It bears the names of 55,000 men who were lost without trace during the defence of the Ypres Salient in the First World War. Carved in stone above the central arch are the words:
TO THE ARMIES OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE WHO STOOD HERE FROM 1914 TO 1918 AND TO THOSE OF THEIR DEAD WHO HAVE NO KNOWN GRAVE.
Over the two staircases leading from the main Hall is the inscription:
HERE ARE RECORDED NAMES OF OFFICERS AND MEN WHO FELL IN YPRES SALIENT BUT TO WHOM THE FORTUNE OF WAR DENIED THE KNOWN AND HONOURED BURIAL GIVEN TO THEIR COMRADES IN DEATH.
The dead are remembered to this day in a simple ceremony that takes place every evening at 8:00 p.m. All traffic through the gateway in either direction is halted, and two buglers (on special occasions four) move to the centre of the Hall and sound the Last Post. Two silver trumpets for use in the ceremony are a gift to the Ypres Last Post Committee by an officer of the Royal Canadian Artillery, who served with the 10th Battery, of St. Catharines, Ontario, in Ypres in April 1915.
Thanks Belgium. I'm going to visit this place one evening the next time I'm in the neighbourhood.
Waltons emmigrate to the new world
A family of Walton's left the Alston area of the northern Pennines, (in the north of England, between Carlisle in the west and Newcastle in the east, about 20 miles from the Scotish border) and emmigrated to what is now the Toronto area of southern Ontario, but which was then known as the City of York and the Home Counties of Upper Canada. They were part of the second wave of settlers in the township of Scarborough, the first being led by the Thomson family.
Thomas Walton was born 1778 in Alston. He was probably involved in lead mining which was the prevalent source of work in the area.
The Manor of Alston Moor was owned by James Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, but forfeited to the Crown after he was beheaded for his part in the first Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. George 2nd granted the estate to the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich in London in 1735.
In 1736 most of the mining leases on Alston Moor were let by the Greenwich Hospital to Colonel George Liddell, who built the first smelting mill at Nenthead. In 1745, the London Lead Company obtained a transfer of the Liddell leases, and others, to become the major employer. The Company operated at Nenthead until 1882, when the leases were sold to the Nenthead and Tynedale Lead and Zinc Company. They increased silver production and continued smelting until the mill closed in 1896.
Thomas married Jane Wallis (b. 1779 at Alston) in 1798 and they went on to have at least 9 children:
Close by were the farms of other Waltons, presumably close relatives. In 1861, the Wallis Walton farm contained 99.5 acres, of which only eight and a half remained wild. The total cash value of the farm was estimated at $9950, which was quite substantial for the time. Crops grown in that year included wheat, peas, oats, potatoes, turnips, beets, carrots, and hay. Livestock included nine cattle, eight horses, nine sheep, and five pigs. Domestic manufactures included wool, and made its own flannel, butter, beef, and pork. They also owned a pleasure carriage valued at $40. In all the Waltons were relatively prosperous, even in Scarborough, which was a prosperous township. They would have been considered wealthy elsewhere in rural Canada.
Wallis was married twice, fist to Jane Atkinson with whom he had 7 children, and then to Eliza Isner Lovekin with whom he had another 4 children in his 50s. Together with Eliza's two children from her previous marriage to Joseph Lovekin, this meant that Wallis was father to 13 children! Wallis moved from Scarborough to Trafalgar township, where he purchased another farm in the village of Bronte. In 1871,
the farm consisted of four village lots on which stood a house and five barns or stables. The family grew wheat, barley, oats, peas, potatoes, turnips, hay, grapes, apples and other fruit. Their livestock included four cattle, two horses, seven sheep and three pigs. They made their own butter and wool. A further sign of prosperity included the ownership of two carriages or sleighs and two cars, waggons or sleds.
There are many more stories and family histories to tell, and mysteries yet to be uncovered. I'll try to update this page with links to other stories, like my grandmother who was Canadian tennis champion and world badminton champion, or the church built by my great-grandfather's uncles.
Please get in touch if you want to collaborate. Contact me