Issue # 53, November 2011, ISSN 1913-4134
To many of us in Canada, World War I and the Korean War are distant events. In this issue, Colin MacKinnon brings these historic international conflicts closer to home, both temporally and geographically. Once I read the two stories about Walter and Stanley, I drew close to them and felt that I should address them by their given names for my commentary, as we draw close to Remembrance Day, 2011. I was deeply touched by Stanley's letter to his aunt Helen, transcribed here. I too wondered if she had dug her potatoes. It was that time of year after all . . . I could not imagine her opening that letter, probably knowing full well what it contained. But many good folks over two World Wars, the Korean conflict, wars in Bosnia, Afghanistan and the Middle East, had, and have, to open such letters. "Chaplain Roberts" letters are, to this day, being sent out to parents, spouses, siblings, aunts and uncles. We must never forget.
Walter Knapp was a son, nephew, friend and close acquaintance to many. He used to get seasick, just like I do. His dad had arthritis, as I do. WWI was an event that I, and many of us today, have never
experienced. But I did hold back tears when I read each young man's story, as if I could have easily bumped into them, and members of their families, yesterday. We must never forget.
In Memory of
Private Walter Russell Knapp(13 September 1896 – 8 August 1918)
By Colin M. MacKinnon
Private Knapp (Service No. 832080) is of no relation. His photograph, in the form of a Post Card, is affixed to a page in an old album that I own and that once belonged to the Wry family who used to live on Charlotte Street here in Sackville. The photo was taken at Colin Campbell's studio at 31 Princess Street, Edinburgh, Scotland. Campbell was a professional photographer who operated a business from c.1914-1925. Thank goodness someone had the good sense to write the person's name on the photo! Unfortunately ink is splattered across the picture; but at least we have no doubt as to the identity. In comparing the signature on his papers for overseas duty, it is quite likely that the writing on the photo is by Knapp himself.
Walter was the son of Dr. Titus W. Knapp (Knapp is an old family name on the Chignecto isthmus) and when he signed his attestation papers for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force he gave his occupation as a painter living in Port Elgin. He was described as 5 feet 7½ inches tall with blue eyes, fair complexion and dark hair. Walter was eventually assigned to the 4th Battalion, Canadian Machine Gun Corps that was organized in France on 16 April, 1917, with soldiers assigned to the respective companies on 8 September, 1917. I don't know the details of what happened to Private Knapp; he was reported killed on the first day of the "Battle of Amiens" during the closing months of World War I. On that fateful day, 45 of his fellow soldiers with the Canadian Machine Gun Corps also gave up their lives. Knapp is briefly mentioned in Memories of the Forgotten War - The World War I Diary of Pte. V. E. Goodwin . Goodwin writes about the trip overseas and many men getting very sea-sick. He goes on to say, "One of them, Walter R. Knapp, vowed he would never cross the ocean again. He kept his vow. Once overseas he joined the tank corps and was later killed manning a gun in a tank operation. He had signed up with the 145th Infantry Battalion when I did in December, 1915. Walter Knapp's father, Dr. T. W. Knapp, practiced medicine in Sackville, but arthritis had crippled him. Consequently, Walter stayed with his uncle Walter S. Chapman, a Port Elgin undertaker and carriage builder" (David Beatty, 1986, p. 64).
Private Walter Russell Knapp's name is on the Vimy Memorial and he is also commemorated on page 443 of the First World War Book of Remembrance.
This is all I know about Private Walter Russell Knapp who, at too young an age, gave his life for his country. His photograph has been deposited with The Canadian Virtual War Memorial (CVWM) of Veterans Affairs Canada (web address below).
Stanley Arthur WardRoyal Canadian Regiment
(7 July 1932 – 23 October 1952)
By Colin M. MacKinnon
By all accounts, Stanley was an active boy. He attended the little one room Frosty Hollow School, played with neighboring children and frequented the local "swimming pool" called "the deep hole"; located under the CNR rail-line that crosses the Frosty Hollow Creek. As the Frosty Hollow School only went to grade eight, most young men started work early in life. Stanley took a number of odd jobs. He worked at various places such as a lumber camp that operated in Second Westcock as well as a stint at the Enterprise Foundry. To say that Stanley (known as "Buddy" to his friends) had restless feet might be an understatement. On one occasion, he headed to work only to "disappear" for a few days, showing up shortly after with a job in Oshawa, Ontario. This change of scenery did not suit "Buddy". He probably missed home and his friends as he left Oshawa for Sackville telling his latest employer a false-hood that he had to return home as there had been "a death in the family". I suppose that as a teenager, the repercussions of his prank were not fully anticipated until flowers and cards of condolences started showing up, rather unexpectedly, at his grandparent's home!
Like many young men, looking for adventure, Stanley and some other Sackville boys joined the Canadian Army when there was a call for volunteers for the pending con?ict in Korea. Stanley enlisted in October of 1951 and was assigned to the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). At the same time a close friend of Buddy's, Robert (Bob) Turner (author of Moments That Forever Haunt Me ), joined the RCR. As they enlisted together, I assume they probably received similar military instruction. If so, Stanley would have been sent to Petawawa, Ontario for basic training and then on to a Wainright, Alberta, for more advanced courses. This was followed by even more time in Jasper for "mountain training", likely to experience topographic conditions they would soon encounter in Korea. Bob Turner and Stanley travelled by boat together on their trip overseas.
In August, 1952, three Canadian Regiments; (R22eR, RCR and PPCLI) lay in a battle line between the Korean villages of Paujol-gol and Kojanharisaemal. The R22eR were on the left, PPCLI on the right, while the RCR was positioned on Hill 355 (known as "little Gibraltar") in the centre. Throughout September, enemy action had increased with heavy fighting along the American lines to the east of the Canadian position. Enemy shelling during the first of October had disastrous affects on "A Company" such that "D Company" (of which Stanley Ward was attached) was sent in to relieve them.
As noted above, Robert Turner was a close friend of Buddy's and they witnessed much of the same action. His recollections emphasize the horrors of war that many of the men endured. The following are two excerpts from Turner's book:
"When your name is called for patrol the fear increases; you feel naked and unprotected in the valley away from the trenches." (Robert Turner, 2005)
"Before you’re at the front long, you see buddies getting killed or wounded. The longer you remain in the line the harder it becomes. You carry the fear with you every day as your tour of duty gets longer the fear becomes stronger." (Turner, 2005)
Similar thoughts must have been at the forefront when Stanley sent a letter home to his aunt Helen (MacKinnon) Wheaton dated 2 October, 1952. This was likely written that day and posted before he took his position on Hill 355 on 2/3 October. In the letter, he refers to the heavy losses of “A Company” and a rather chilling analysis of his own situation:
2 October, 1952
I thought I would drop you a few lines to see how you all are, as for us we are still in the world of the living, ha ha! How is Dougie making out? Tell him to be a good boy. I wrote a letter to mum* and Ruthie yesterday, so I thought this would be a good time to write to you. We are leaving for another position tonight; where there has been about a hundred kills in the last week. There was seventeen went out, yesterday, and seven came back so it don’t look very good. The ch . . took the hill again last night, and we are going to take it back tonight if we can.
I didn't tell mum anything about it so don't say anything until you hear from me, or if I do get it you'll get a Telegram. Helen, if anything happens, mum will get my money and gratuity. And, I want you to write to R. Whitters in Sussex and tell her. Well it started to rain but I think it will clear up. Have you got your potatoes dug yet? I got a letter from Janie yesterday . . . . Did you receive Bob's letter and the joke, pretty good A. Bud A is still on the loose and is working in the Motors in Oshawa. I sure wish that I was still there but things do happen. I got a letter from mum yesterday and she sent me the piece where Dick McLeod got married . . . . If you hear anything, write and tell us. I also received a piece in the Tribune where D. C. has returned home from the Far East and he said it wasn't a bad place. Well he must have been so God damn far back in the lines that he was drinking Canadian water! I would like to see him. I'd tell him just what it is like up here in the line. Robert Crossman is in Charlie Comp. now. I hope to see him soon. Bob wrote a letter to mum today and one to his sister. Well Helen the news is pretty scarce over here. So I guess that I'll close for now and will write later.
All my love
Your old Friend, Buddy.
Be sure and take care of yourself.
*He referred to his grandmother, Florence MacKinnon, as mum
However, in early October the enemy increased their focus on the area around Hill 355 and "The Battle of Kowang-San (Little Gibraltar)" was fought on 22-23 October, 1952. Shortly after this action, the family received the following letter:
To Mrs. Florence McKinnon
It is with deepest regret I write to inform you of the passing of your grandson Stanley.
Although Stanley has only been with First Battalion for a short time his quick wit and understanding won him many friends who miss him greatly.
On the 23rd of October B Company was subjected to an enemy attack preceded by a vicious concentration of artillery and mortar fire. The position was overrun and D Company, of which your grandson was a member, counter attacked and recaptured the position. It was during this counter attack that a shell landed near Stanley. He died instantly and did not suffer.
His body was carried by his comrades to the Regimental Aid Post where Major Jaffey, the Medical Officer, examined him. Captain Johnson, the Protestant Padre, conducted a service, which was attended by many of Stanley's friends.
Your grandson was always willing to undertake any task regardless of the difficulties. His perseverance and courage did much to inspire his fellow men. In his passing The Regiment has lost a ?ne soldier.
On the 9th of November The Battalion held a Memorial Service in honor of your Grandson and his many comrades, who have given their lives here in Korea.
On behalf of all ranks of First Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, I offer you at this time of sorrow, our most sincere sympathies.
Lt. Col. P. R. Bingham, 1st Battalion
Only years later did the family discover that Stanley had volunteered for this fateful action. Robert Turner writes: "The night after the position had been secured, a corporal told me my best buddy was killed before the counter attack. Though I was saddened, I didn't mourn. I just kept going. I found out that a man cracked before going on patrol and my friend Stanley volunteered to take his place."
Mrs. Florence MacKinnon
Dear Mrs MacKinnon:
The last act of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment in Korea was to honour the fallen.
A memorial Service was held in the beautiful United Nations Cemetery at Pusan, when the Battalion paid respect by laying a wreath on each grave with the usual ceremony. The Commanding Officer Lt. Col. P. R. Bingham delivered a most fitting tribute.
We remembered your grandson by name and prayed for you that you would be comforted and strengthened in your bereavement. A copy of the service is enclosed.
We believe that these young men who so unsel?shly gave their lives for their loved ones and the defense of the freedom of mankind have gone forward to a life of greater service and joy in the Master's home of many mansions above.
May God bless you and Yours and give His eternal rest and peace to Your grandson Stanley Arthur Ward.
Matthew K. Roberts
The following photographs provide a short vignette of Stanley's life.
At the MacKinnon home in Frosty Hollow. Kneeling (behind): Myrtle (MacKinnon) Brown. Left to right (in front): Helen MacKinnon, Doris MacKinnon, Stella (MacKinnon) Ward
(holding Stanley) and Ruth (Ward) Bulmer, c.1933. Stanley's mother, Stella, died of tuberculosis on 22 December 1936. (© C. MacKinnon collection)
Left to Right: Edward Read, Freddie Read, Stanley (Buddy) Ward (1932-1952) and Jesse MacKinnon (Stanley's uncle) at the "deep hole" under the CNR line in Frosty Hollow c.1942. Stanley's mother died when he was just six years old so he was brought up by his MacKinnon grandparents in Frosty Hollow (Photo by Charles C. E. McKinnon). (© C. MacKinnon collection)
Life of an infantry soldier. Stanley Ward, RCR, digging a trench in Korea. (© C. MacKinnon collection)
Base camp, A Echelon – behind the lines, Korea 1952. (© C. MacKinnon collection)
Korea – “Kowang-San”, Hill 355 (nicknamed “Little Gibraltar” by the Americans) where Private Stanley Ward (RCR) was killed on 23rd October 1952. (© C. MacKinnon collection)