The war is over.
Not long over but the reverberations and attitudes to people considered “others” by Canadian society appears to still be prevalent and on the minds of the general public even at wars end. At least it was important enough to make a page three story in the Border Cities Star published in Windsor, Ontario on April 10, 1919, a full five months since the implementation of the Armistice and a full eight and half months since the incident described in the article.
The article reports that there was a traitor in the ranks of the 18th Battalion by the name Miller or Muller who “surrendered” to the Germans in July, 1918.
The problem is that this is most unlikely to have happened.
The taking of prisoners of war during the First World War was a rare experience. Due to the static nature of trench warfare there ware not many instances of Canadian soldiers being taken prisoner with obvious exceptions at several battles. But, as a whole, the expectation of being taken prisoner for a Canadian infantry soldier was the exception to the rule. In total, approximately 3,800 Canadians became prisoners of war with 36% of those being captured at the 2nd Battle of Ypres in April, 1915.
It was one such occasion, during a German raid on the 18th Battalion trenches on the morning of July 20, 1918 in the Arras Sector that one such occasion did occur. The oft quote Lieutenant-Colonel Wigle appears to have been very wrong or was subject to information that the Battalion and Brigade records are not privy to.
The 18th Battalion was active in the front lines from July 14 to 20, 1918, in a normal six day rotation in the front line. During that time the Germans engaged in a trench raid, characterized in the War Diary as a “stealth raid” on the “A” Company position. Given that the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade’s War Diary classifies the weather as “Find and warm,” it appears that the 18th was caught off-guard. The raid occurred at 8:50 a.m. With the Battalion at stand-to around sunrise (approximately 6:00 a.m.) the Battalion would have been at a lower state of readiness and there had been very little hostile shelling so no major alert was generated and not major attack was anticipated.
During the raid the 18th Battalion reported that one soldier was killed in action, one was wounded, and two soldiers taken prisoner from “A” Company. Privates Fishel and Jackson were made prisoner.
Private Henry Jack, reg. no. 651736 was only a prisoner temporarily. It is alleged that during an attempt to escape he was killed.
Traitor In Ranks Of 18th Battalion[ii]
GERMAN SPY SLIPPED INTO UNIT WITH REINFORCNMENT IN FRANCE; DID NOT ENLIST HERE, SAYS COL. WIGLE
Miller, the traitor, who surrendered to the Germans in front of Arras, in July, 1918, was not an original of the famous 18th Battalion, according to Col. E.S. Wigle, of Windsor, who, as officer commanding, took the unit overseas and into the fighting lines in September, 1915.
The colonel is of the opinion that Miller or Muller, as he is reported to have informed the Germans is his right name, undoubtedly slipped into the unit with a reinforcing draft.
Prior to leaving England for France, on September 14, 1915, Col. Wigle personally carefully scrutinized every man in the battalion. He probed into each man’s history and past associations until he was absolutely assured he was loyal to the core.
Dropped Three Suspects
“Before leaving Canada we dropped three men from the unit upon strong suspicions they were enemy spies,” said the colonel, “but I would personally vouch for the loyalty of every one of the 1,100 men that crossed the Channel to France.”
Gen. Curry is reported to have stated at a Naval and Military Club luncheon in London, England, on Saturday that a copy of the spy’s revelations to the Germans have been captured in the last big drive of the allies. They contained three large pages of complete information about the Canadian trenches, lines of communication, billets, ammunition stores and battery locations.
The probabilities are that Miller’s activities resulted in many splendid Canadian boys finding a last resting place somewhere in France.
The British secret service is no endeavoring to get the traitrous [sic] form 18th Battalion member.
The news story, by contrast, expresses a continued xenophobic attitude towards the enemy.
Lieutenant-Colonel Wigle is portrayed as being hyper-vigilant with time and energy to interview and “carefully” scrutinize the biographical details of 1,100 men. He not only “scrutinized” these men but “probed into each man’s history and past associates until he was absolutely assured he was loyal to the core.” [emphasis mine] The article further expresses through Wigle his belief in the loyalty of his men, the original 18th Battalion men, of their loyalty that he can, and does, “personally vouch for the loyalty of the 1,100 men that crossed the Channel to France.”
As the 2nd Contingent of the CEF was primarily of soldiers born in the United Kingdom, its colonies, and Dominions the likelihood of spies in the midst of the soldiers in the rank and file was low but this attitude and vigilance existed and was expressed during the war in several different ways throughout the war.
It is interesting to note the bias against the reinforcing drafts shown in the article and, ironically, an article on the same page relates that out of the 1,100 original men of the 18th Battalion twenty men represented them as “originals” and were expected to return with the Battalion upon its return to London, Ontario after its service in Germany. 2% of the men that started out with the Battalion served from the Battalion’s inception to its demobilization. Thus, the greater part of the soldiers that served with the 18th Battalion had to be from reinforcing battalions and is representative of the wastage of war.
The outcome of the British secret service investigation is unknown. The story serves as a reminder of the attitudes of that time and the tone of nationalism and patriotism. Lieutenant-Colonel Wigle was justly proud of the “famous” 18th Battalion but the news article appears to show him in a self-serving light.
[i] Private Fishel is reported to have been born in York, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. He attested to the 133rd Battalion in Windsor, Ontario and was a resident of Detroit, Michigan.
[ii] Special thanks to Dawn Hueston for posting this at the 18th Battalion Facebook Group.