First World War
& St. Andrew's College Part V
By Percy J. Robinson
The events of the first six months of 1918 are still fresh in memory. The Brest-Litovsk treaty on March 3rd freed Germany on the eastern front, and on March 21st a tremendous assault was begun upon the Allies at the point of juncture of the British and French forces. A gap was made but fortunately closed by French cavalry in time to hold the inrush of German cavalry prepared to roll up the retreating armies. By April 1st the Germans were within six miles of the Amiens Paris railroad, and the heavy losses of British forces had to be made good by an army of 400,000 boys, the last available reserve. Shifting their attack to the north, the Germans penetrated south of Ypres to Mount Kemmel, but were strongly checked on April 29th. Again striking farther south between Rheims and Soissons by the 31st of May they reached the Marne with a capture of 45,000 prisoners, and on June 2nd they were within forty miles of Paris which was bombarded by long range guns. On March 28th Marshal Foch had assumed supreme command and was watching carefully an opportunity to strike with his army of manoeuvre.
When school closed in June the war was sinister and threatening with forebodings everywhere that the Americans might be too late with their assistance. In the Easter term there had been a visit from Major W. B. McTaggart, DSO on his way back to France where he was to lose his life a few weeks later, killed by a chance shell in Amiens. There was news of Sergeant M. G. Winter's magnificent gallantry in capturing single handed a village from the enemy. There were the public honours to Lieutenant Brook Bell in Italy, and Mr. Tudball's story of Lieutenant Jack Ramsden's heroism in hospital. [Flying Officer] H. E. Davies who had left us so lately, was already reported prisoner in Germany.
In the summer term the school building was taken over by the Government as a hospital, and St. Andrew's was forced to part with associations now double dear. Yet this last change, vitally as it affected the whole school, was scarcely appreciated, so intently were the thoughts of all centred upon the tremendous events of the war. Ever lengthening was the list of the dead, a list which was to record as many killed in the last six months of the war as in the previous four years. Contrary to opinion the perils and mortality increased on both sides as the war progressed, and had the conflict continued few indeed would have returned. During the operations of the first half of 1918 the Canadian Corps was not engaged, but by July it occupied north of Amiens a position of isolated danger. Among those who fell in the first half of the year were: Lieutenant J. G. Douglas, Captain H. K. Harris, Major H. L. Nichol, Lieutenant W. W. Taylor, R. [PrivateB. Whitaker, Lieutenant R. S. Wood, and Lieutenant W. B. Yuille. In Italy Lieutenant Douglas Wright was killed in Aerial combat with Austrian air men and on May 10th Lieutenant Gordon Ross fell in the splendid naval action at Ostend.
From the first the navy had claimed many Andreans, either as members of the naval branch of the air service or in the motor patrols or as regular officers. Lieutenant Frank Macdonald, who was enrolled on the day when St. Andrew's opened, Lieutenant Duncan, Lieutenant Leckie, Lieutenant Harold Beattie, and Lieutenant Wilfred Beattie are a few only of the many who served in the fleet. St. Andrew's is proud to remember that so many of her old boys played their part in the magnificent work of the British Navy. The world is aware how great that work was and that freedom lives today largely because of the sure shield and silent service of the fleet. On May 11th, 1919, a tablet was dedicated in St. Paul's to the memory of Lieutenant Gordon Ross, who was present at Zeebruge, and who fell so gallantly at Ostend. St. Andrew's is proud to be associated with this, the outstanding naval action of the war, in which the highest traditions of gallantry and enterprise were surpassed.
In the Autumn of 1918 the school reassembled in temporary quarters in Knox College, and amid very martial surroundings, for the University lawn was crowded each morning with hundreds of Flying Corps men in training. During the summer months the great turn in the tide had come. On July 11th the Germans crossed the Marne after an attack on a sixty mile front. On July 18th General Foch at last counter-attacked east of Paris, and on August 8th the great surprise attack of the British east of Amiens dealt the enemy a staggering blow. The story of the war from that date till the capture of Mons on November 11th, is a record of succeeding triumph. At Arras, at the Drocourt Queant Switch, at the Canal du Nord, at Cambrai, at Le Cateau, at Denain, at Valenciennes, and finally at Mons, the Canadian forces enjoyed a succession of triumphs. Canada has every reason to remember with pride that her troops fought in the forefront and were honoured among the best. In the last months of the war fell Lieutenant V. R. A. Crombie, Lieutenant Hanna, Lieutenant J. W. Ings, Captain L. B. H. Loudon, Lieutenant D. W. Morrison, Lieutenant R. M. Porter, Captain Quigley, Lieutenant C.F. Ristern, W. E. Sutherland, Lieutenant Donald P. Gibson, Private H. M. McQueen, Lieutenant C. S. MacPherson, Driver G. N. Ristern, Second Lieutenant H. H. Walker, Lieutenant H. R. L. Wright, Lieutenant W. B. Yuille, and Lieutenant G. W. Travis, whom the school especially remembers as head prefect 1912-1914.
Other events elsewhere preceded the final collapse of Germany. On September 30th, after severe defeat, Bulgaria asked for an armistice. On October 31s the Austrians were routed by the Italians and an armistice was signed November 3rd. On October 31st also an armistice was concluded with Turkey. On November 9th Emperor William of Germany abdicated, and on the 10th fled to Holland, on the 11th after four days of negotiations, the armistice with Germany was concluded. On November 21st the German fleet surrendered.
The first news of the armistice, though premature, evoked spontaneous feelings of gratitude which found appropriate expression in a service of thanksgiving in the chapel. The emotions of that day are not to return, but there have since been many other happy occasions when the school has welcomed returning soldier sons, and when she welcomed back two old masters, Colonel Taylor and Lieutenant Tudball. Especially at the memorial service in February, and at the dinner given to returned veterans in March, the school has expressed something of its regret and its gratitude. More than seven hundred Old Boys served, and at least a hundred gave their lives. The long list of honours won by Andreans is recorded elsewhere. The school rejoices in the splendid distinctions won by her Old Boys, and like a mother of noble children is happy in the affection of so many whose thoughts have turned to the old school in the long months of peril. For those who have fallen there has been from month to month the sharp regret and the silent mourning.
The armistice brought the happy belief that the present generation, and it is hoped many future generations, will be spared the horrors of conflict. The cloud which overhung the lives of so many has been lifted. The results of the great war for St. Andrew's College will be the same as the results for Canada. We have grown to maturity in trial. The noblest memorial to the dead will be a new school where future generations of Andreans will be trained in ideals of high attainment and unselfish service. There is no longer any need to look beyond for records of devotion and heroism.