The 9th April 1917 – Battalion commanders killed or died of wounds

At the time of writing “Visiting the Fallen” I didn’t comment on the number of battalion commanders killed on the opening day of the Battle of Arras, though the ones buried within the area covered by the books are featured. I knew the number was far fewer than on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme when twenty-two fell – actually twenty-four if we include acting battalion commanders.1 The CWGC register shows four killed on the 9th April 1917: BURKE (Point du Jour Military Cemetery); HERMON (Roclincourt Military Cemetery); THORNE2 (Saint-Nicholas British Cemetery), and one other who is buried outside the area covered in ‘Arras North’.

Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Woodman LEONARD DSO, 3rd Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, who fell on the opening day of the Battle of Arras, is buried at Lapugnoy Military Cemetery (Plot II.D.14). He was wounded, but succumbed to his injuries later that day at No. 18 Casualty Clearing Station.  The unit’s war diary notes he left brigade HQ at 07.10 in order to inspect progress on the designated route forward and to assess the possibility of moving his guns over it. Somewhere close to our own front line trenches he was hit by a piece of shell fragment in the left shoulder. A fellow officer with him at the time, Lieutenant De Gruchy, gave him first aid, and with the help of some infantrymen, took him to the dressing station at Ariane Dump. From there he was evacuated by ambulance. At first glance, his wounds appeared not to be serious, but he died later on that evening. The diary pays tribute to him as ‘a very gallant soldier’.

The previous evening another Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Isaac Vernon EATON, was wounded by shell fire while visiting his batteries near Berthonval Farm. He was evacuated to casualty clearing facilities near Barlin where he died in the afternoon of the 11th April from abdominal wounds. As with Lapugnoy, Barlin was one of those locations that lay outside the geographical scope of ‘Arras North’. According to his entry in the “Dictionary of Canadian Biography”, he was born in Nova Scotia and had been a civil engineer before the war working with the Geological Survey of Canada and the Newfoundland Railway. He resigned his position in 1896 in order to turn his attention towards a military career. He was gazetted as a lieutenant that same year, though he had previously served as a captain, then as a major, having joined the militia back in 1887. In 1900 he went to South Africa with the Royal Canadian Artillery where he was briefly seconded to Major General Baden-Powell at Mafeking. The following year he spent some time back home in Canada, but decided to return to South Africa once the war had ended. By this time his potential had already been spotted, and in 1902 he was selected to attend the Staff College at Camberley, becoming the first colonial officer to attend that establishment. On his return to Canada he became Director of Military Training. When war broke out he became part of the original Canadian Expeditionary Force and by July 1915 he was commanding a battery in France. In March the following year he was given command of the 8th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, before taking temporary charge of the 3rd Canadian divisional artillery. Although his record of service was never recognized by any formal decoration, he was twice mentioned in despatches for gallant and distinguished conduct in the field. He is buried at Barlin Communal Cemetery Extension and was 46 years old when he died (Plot I.H.70). He had two daughters, the younger of whom, Evelyn Sybil Eaton, went on to become a respected writer, novelist and poet. His other daughter married Sir John Lindsay Dashwood, who had served with the 10th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders in 1915, then later with the Machine Gun Corps (Heavy Branch). Dashwood had succeeded his father as 10th Baronet at the tender age of twelve.

Among the officer casualties from the 56th (London) Division on the opening day of the Battle of Arras was Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Vaughan SMITH DSO. The CWGC register shows his unit as the 1st Royal Fusiliers, but he was wounded leading the 1/1st (City of London) Battalion, London Regiment, (Royal Fusiliers) against the second trench of the Hindenburg Line during the attack on the village of Neuville-Vitasse. His DSO was gazetted on the 14th January 1916 as part of the New Year’s Honours List. He had been educated at Uppingham School, but also in France. In 1900 he was commissioned in the London Regiment and became a captain the following year. In March 1915 he went to the front, and was then gazetted as major, later taking part in the fighting at Festubert, Loos and the Somme. In June 1916 he became a temporary lieutenant colonel and was confirmed in the rank in December the same year. He was wounded in October 1916, but returned to the front the following February to take up command of his battalion. Several of his officers were also wounded in the attack on the opening day at Arras, two of whom subsequently died. He died from his wounds on the 13th April. He is buried at Saint-Sever Cemetery, Rouen, in the officers’ plot (B.5.26). In that respect, the CWGC cemetery at Saint-Sever is similar to Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension where Plots V and VI consist entirely of officer burials.

Lieutenant Colonel Singleton BONNER, 1st South Staffordshire Regiment, also died of wounds at hospital facilities near the coast and is buried at Etaples Military Cemetery (Plot XVII.C.12). He died on the 1st May 1917, aged 37. He had entered army life in 1900 and saw immediate service in the South African War. His DSO, gazetted on the 3rd July 1915, was awarded for particularly good and gallant service at Festubert between the 16th and the 18th May that year when he showed a fine example of coolness, bravery and power of command.

Lieutenant Colonel Walter Wilson STEWART, 1st Canadian Machine Gun Company, was 45 years old when he was killed by a shell on the 11th April 1917. As a young boy he had moved to Toronto with his family, but was originally from Kentucky. He later went on to work with his father who was an architect. Sometime afterwards he returned to the United States, to Cleveland, Ohio, but by 1904 he found himself back in Canada and living in Hamilton, Ontario. It was around this time that he joined the 91st Highlanders, later spending a brief period in Scotland on secondment to the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders to which the 91st was affiliated. Given his previous service with the militia, it is perhaps surprising to learn that he only arrived in France in March 1917. He therefore served at the front for just a matter of weeks before his death. He is buried at Ecoivres Military Cemetery (Plot VI.E.26) and is not included in ‘Arras North’, though his omission was not deliberate.

Another lieutenant colonel not included in ‘Arras North’ is Albert George DAWSON, 4th Middlesex Regiment, who was killed in action on the 23rd April 1917, aged 37. He is buried in Brown’s Copse Cemetery, Roeux (Plot VI.A.3). His battalion was part of the 37th Division whose memorial now stands in the centre of Monchy-le-Preux. Again, his exclusion from ‘Arras North’ was simply an omission on my part, not deliberate.

1 A further five died of wounds received on the opening day along with one other acting battalion commander. (Martin Middlebrook – “The First Day on the Somme”)

2 THORNE, who is shown in the CWGC register serving with the 4th Royal Berkshire Regiment, lost his brother a few weeks before the start of the Battle of Arras. Captain Guy Stafford Thorne died of wounds on the 18th March 1917 flying with 13th Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. He and his observer, 2nd Lieutenant Philip Edward Hislop van Baerle, were reportedly attacked by five enemy aircraft, one of which was piloted by German ace Werner Voss, who claimed them as his nineteenth victory. Thorne, though wounded, managed to land his aircraft, but unfortunately behind enemy lines. Thorne was ideally suited to the Royal Flying Corps coming, as he did, from an engineering background. Before the war he had worked for a number of years with the Kuang Tung Electrical Company in China. The boys came from Wolverhampton. Lieutenant Colonel Harold Underhill Hatton THORNE (Arras South – Pages 27 and 28) had gone to the front in 1915, but subsequently returned home for medical reasons. When he went back to France he served with the 6th King’s Own Scottish Borderers before taking command of the 12th Royal Scots. Guy Stafford Thorne is commemorated on the Arras Flying Services Memorial. Van Baerle survived as a prisoner of war.