The Fate of Major Ashplant Former Member of the 18th Battalion

LEFT HERE WITH 33rd BATTALION “D” COMPANY IN 1915.

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Six former officers of “D” Company, of the 33rd Battalion, which left London under command of Lieut.-Col. A. Wilson in November 1915. From left to right they are: Lieut. Harris Mills (Note that Lieutenant Mills is actually on the far right. Per blog comment below.), Lieut. J.A. McCrae [sic], Major W.N. Ashplant, Lieut. Waldron[i], Lieut. James Chenney and Lieut. Kenneth Somerville. Lieut. Mills has been reported missing since October 2, 1916, and a letter to his father, Mr. William Mills, manager of the Mallagh book store, from Pte. G.B. Cumming of “D” Company, says that he saw the officer killed at Regina Trench on October 1, late in the afternoon, when a shell exploded close by Major W.N. Ashplant, who prior to his enlistment was city engineer and who for several months been reported missing and wounded is officially reported killed in action in the casualty list this morning. Lieut. J.A. McCrae was reported wounded. He is a cousin to Mr. Allan McLean, manager of the local branch of the E.B. Eddy Company. Lieut. Waldron [sic] is now serving in France and so is Lieut. Chenney, whose home is in Petrolia. Lieut. Kenneth Somerville, a son of Mr. A.E. Somerville, of this city, is also in France.

 

Six Canadian Army officers stand on the deck of the S.S. Lapland. They are of Company “D” of the 33rd Battalion and they are off to war.

The men are representative of the officer class of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Solid middle-class backgrounds with either a skilled trade, such a watchmaker, or a profession, like barrister or civil-engineer. All, but one, were Canadian born, unlike the rank-and-file or “other ranks” who had a higher proportion of men born in the British Isles.[ii] They all were Imperial subjects and volunteers with various military experience.

The eldest man (with binoculars) has previous military experience in the artillery arm in the Boer War. He also had postings as an engineer in South Africa, the Bahamas, and South Nigeria, before coming to London, Ontario in 1913 and becoming the City Engineer for the city. He was Major William Norman Ashplant. He was one of the officers that helped to form the 18th Battalion when it was formed in Western Ontario. He was taken on strength November 28, 1914 and served with the Battalion until January 20, 1915 when he was transferred to the 33rd Battalion with the rank of lieutenant. Eventually he rose to the rank of major and it was in this capacity that he was serving when he was killed in action at the Somme.

On September 22, 1916 the 1st Battalion was in the front line. At midnight, Major Ashplant reported the relief of the 4th Battalion men in advanced saps and that heavy casualties had be sustained with number 13 and 14 platoons. The Battalion readied itself for the coming attack and Major Ashplant was responsible for the left side of the center of the line. During the attack the war diary records that he was seen leading his men, but presumed missing as the survivors of his unit could not give any definitive recollection of his actions before he went missing.

Lance/Corporal Hynds reported that he saw Major Ashplant in a shell-hole and had sustained wounds from machine-gun fire to his stomach and leg during the taking of the trenches at Courcelette. An attempt was made by the Battalion to retrieve his body on September 23, but to no avail. His body was never found and he is memorialized at the Vimy Memorial.

Two other men in the photograph also perished.

Lieutenant Mills disappeared on a follow up attack on October 1, 1916 serving with the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles in the Regina Trench area. His body was recovered and buried at the Regina Trench Cemetery. Lieutenant Somerville was do die almost two-years later of shell-fire wounds sustained on March 15, 1918. Being initially blinded he caught in German shell-fire and wounded again in the left thigh and though efforts were made to save him he died of those wounds the next day at No. 57 Casualty Clearing Station.

Of the six men in the photograph half of their number perished in action. It is certain that their expectations for action and the result of their military service would have risks, but they may have been hard pressed to predict that half of the men in the photograph would die in battle. Officers comprised 5% of the soldiers that died of all fatal casualties[iii]. Offices made up approximately 4% of the total composition of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces which indicates that they had more exposure to the conditions that would lead to their death.

If they knew of each other’s fate one wonders what their facial expressions would be.

Ashplant BIO: http://www.londonculture.ca/things-we-do/culture-directory/historic-favourites/william-norman-ashplant

[i] This soldier is Lieut. George William Walrond.

[ii] This is especially true of the 1st and 2nd Canadian Contingents.

[iii] It is interesting to note that this table does not include any officers being killed accidently though the 18th Battalion had at least one officer, Lieutenant William Ormiston Brown, who was killed due to a grenade exploding during a training demonstration.

3 thoughts on “The Fate of Major Ashplant Former Member of the 18th Battalion

Add yours

  1. Thank you for posting this! Lt. Harris McClure Mills was the oldest brother of my great-grandfather, stretcher-bearer Dickie I. Mills of London, Ontario. The London Free Press article has the order of names reversed. Harris is at far right.

    1. Mark, I have put a note beside the hyperlinked name in order to preserve the format of the text while acknowledging the updated information you so kindly provided. Do you have the regimental number for Dickie I. Mills?

      1. Thank you, Eric! Private Dickie Mills was also with the 33rd Battalion out of London, Ontario and was later assigned to the C.A.M.C. The family story is that he spent days searching through trenches for his brother Harris and at some point located his brother’s pocket watch that we now have.

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