HE GAVE HIS LIFE FOR HIS COUNTRY

So states the epitaph on a gravestone at plot IV. F. 14. at the Wancourt British Cemetery south-east of Arras.

The death of Private Heny “Harry” Jack was unusual as he became a prisoner and from that moment his fate would be unknown until later and his family, especially his parents, Alex and Gertrude of Paisely, Ontario, would be given hope beyond expectation.

Picture of Private Harry Jack 651736

Henry “Harry” Jack was a salesman living in Paisley, Ontario, the Village of Bridges, in the beautiful Bruce County in the province of Ontario. He was not young, at least, not young in terms of the other recruits of the 160th Bruce Battalion when he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in mid-February of 1916 at the age of twenty-seven years and seven months. From this date he transitioned into military life as he had no prior military experience and two-years later after his enlistment, almost to the day, would transpire he was on the Continent having arrived and the 2nd Canadian Infantry Base Depot at Etaples, France. Six days later he arrived at the front with the 18th Battalion on April 16, 1918.

He served dutifully, his military record is clean of any demerits or other infractions until his death on July 18, 1918. The circumstances of his death are of note and unusual as he was one of the rare cases where a member of the 18th Battalion became a prisoner of war. His passing is also of note as the printed record shows how hope for good news about a soldier is often contradictory to facts discovered later and that the hope that the community of Paisely wished for a better outcome could not be sustained as those facts were revealed. The newspaper of record for Paisley, the Paisley Advocate, projects a level of interpersonal intimacy to the actors of this tragedy that would be missing from a newspaper from a city, like Toronto.

It is very likely the editor and the writer knew Private Jacks. The town population was small enough that the staff of the newspaper would be aware of Private Jacks and his prior position as a staff member at  the Ballachey, Laidlaw & Co. store probably insured that he was known to many people of the community. The paper relates the he “…was one of the best known and most popular men of our town,” and it is in this vein that the newspaper takes a particular interest in Jacks.

The 18th Battalion was stationed in the Telegraph Hill sector of Arras when, on the morning of July 18, 1918 at 6:50 AM a “…party of enemy made a stealth raid on an “A” Coy. Post, situated 200 yds in advance of front line, coming along old C.T. [communication trench] to block in trench where post is situated, at N.7.d.45.16, killing one, wounding two & taking 2 O.Rs prisoners.[i]

July 1918 Map Telegraph Hill re Private Jack Death
This is the situation map for the 18th Battalion positions established July 14, 1918. The yellow circle indicates the outpost and you can seel that it meeds a dotted like to the north, which is a communication trench. Behind “A” Company is Telegraph Hill and the support trenchs in this sector.

The Paisley Advocate related this incident on August 7, 1918:

Paisely Soldier a Prisoner of War

A message received by Mr. and Mrs. Alex Jack on July 27th brought the news that their son, Pte. Harry Jack is officially reported missing and believed to be a prisoner of war. Pte. Jack enlisted as a bandsman with the 160th Bruce Battalion, but after this battalion was broken up he went to France as an infantryman and had been in the trenches for a few months before meeting the fate of a captive combatant. Harry was one of the best known and most popular men of our town. He had been employed since boyhood in Ballachey, Laidlaw & Co’s store[ii] with the exception of the year or two he was travelling with a city firm. We all trust that when hostilities are over Pte. Jack may be among those who will figure in the exchange of prisoners.

Source: The Paisley Advocate. August 7, 1918. Page 4.

At this time this was the official word as the official entry in Private Jack’s service record dated July 19, 1918 indicated “Missing, believed Prisoner of War” and the community, through the news to Harry’s parents, was hopeful of his safe return.

A week later interest in this situation was peaked by the hope that Private Jacks had escaped captivity with his German captors and the Advocate related:

Escaped from Heine [Germans]

Pte. Harry Jack of Paisely, who officiated as a bandsman in the 160th in Walkerton, and who we mentioned last week had been taken prisoner by the Germans, has, according to a letter from Gunner Norman Hibbert[iii] in France, escaped from [the] Henie, after putting up a desperate fight, and had got back to the Canadian lines again, where his wounds were dressed and he has been put for a time in “Blighty.” The forgoing from the Walkerton Herald and Times was the first news received here of Pte. Jack’s escape. Mr. Alex Jack telephoned Mr. Hibbert of Walkerton and found that the story of Harry’s escape had been told to Gnr. Hibbert by a Wiarton man of the 160th. We are all aware that the militant hospitality of his Hun captors would not be any more agreeable to Harry that the company of a pack of wolves, and are not surprised to hear that he made a successful break away. Everyone here is hoping that the good news may shortly be confirmed. In a letter received Monday by Mr. and Mrs. Putnam from their son, Pte. L.R. Putman, dated July 21st, the latter tells how Pte. Jack became a captive. The Germans, he says, rushed the post in which there were six men. Two were killed, and two were wounded, while Harry and another were taken prisoners.

Source: The Paisley Advocate. August 14, 1918. Page 4.

The Paisley Advocate literally advocates for Private Jacks bravery and dash: “We are all aware that the militant hospitality of his Hun captors would not be any more agreeable to Harry that the company of a pack of wolves, and are not surprised to hear that he made a successful break away.” A resounding endorsement towards their fellow citizen.

This news from former resident of Paisley is interesting. The, then, Private Lawrence Rowe Putnam[iv] had enlisted with the 95th Overseas Battalion in Toronto and now was serving in the line with a sister battalion of the 18th’s, the 20th Battalion. Both units were part of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade. This news gives insight into the ability of news and rumours to pass between units. Obviously Private Putnam was aware of the incident involving Private Jack and related what “news” he had to his parents. Even within a brigade, approximately 5,000 men, the ability for the soldiers’ telegraph to impart news and information between sister battalions is illustrated here.

Tragically, Private Jack’s service record notes that cable no. H274.10.3. dated August 28, 1918 that he had been, “[Previously reported missing, believed Prisoner of War. Now killed in Action July 18th, 1918.]”

Thus, Private Harry Jack’s loss would be honoured at a memorial service, reported in the Paisley Advocate on September 1, 1918. The first page 2-column article related the deaths of Private Jacks and two other Paisley boys and how all three of them where members of the Boy Scouts and all three of them, Privates Jack McLeod[v], Harry Jack, and Gladstone MacGregor, were employees of Ballachey, Laidlaw & Company. “The large church edifice was crowded, the seats being occupied more fully than at any service for many years past,” indicated the high level of community support and sympathy for the fallen in this small rural town.

There now could be no doubt to the final fate of Private Harry Jack and a follow up article relates as such:

BODY OF PTE. HARRY JACK WAS FOUND

All doubt as to the fate of Pte. Harry Jack has been settled by a letter received last week by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Alex Jack, from their other son, Bandmaster Wm. Jack[vi] written from France on August 29th, which tells that “the 13th Batt”.[vii] Found his body when they went in the line, and brought back his pay book and discs. I have been enquiring everywhere, but as I am in a different division, it was hard to found out anything different. He had been on outpost duty, and a Heine patrol had surprised them. Harry and one of the [old] 160th sergeant[s][viii] were together, and put up a hard fight, but were all killed or badly wounded. Harry must have been badly hit, and must have crawled away somewhere, as his own battalion search party could not find him. I will find out where he was buried, if I can. I expect it will be in what was “no man’s land,” but which, of course, is now far back of our line.

Source: Paisley Advocate. September 25, 1918. Page 1.

But after the initial hope of Private Jack’s capture, survival, then apparent escape and determination he was dead bearing down on the family at least the family could take some comfort in the fact his body was recovered and laid to rest. Perhaps they took even greater comfort by the letter[ix] they received by the 18th Battalion’s Chaplain:

“Dear Mrs. Jack – Please forgive me for having so long delayed writing to you again. The life out here has been so strenuous lately and we have all been so busy that it has been very difficult to make time to do so. You doubtless have long ago heard from the war office that you boy you had been reported “missing” was soon afterwards found dead. It is evident that the Germans carried him only a short distance before he died….

Your son was a man very much liked by his companions and depended upon by his officers. He was very anxious to do his full share of the work out here, and felt that in the band alone he was not doing all that he might, and so it was that he went up to the trenches with the rest. Here again he was cheery and a great help to his comrades, and very general regret is felt in the company[x] at the news of his death. Please write to me if there is anything at all I can do. I know that it will always be a matter of pride to you that your son’s record was a good one, and that he was one who did his duty very thoroughly. I pray that He who also gave us His only Son will comfort you in your great sorrow and affliction, and that you may receive strength from Him.

Please believe me, yours very sincerely,

C.H. Boulden, Chaplain.

Both Chaplain Boulden and Private Jacks had joined the Battalion in April 1918 with Boulden arriving on the 12th and Jacks on the 16th, respectively. They share a similar experience and perhaps it was this timing that helped create a connection between the chaplain and a foot-soldier. One can conclude that the family was on contact with Captain Boulden as he refers to writing to the family “again”. The connection of the family and their need for information, especially after such hope of being informed through rumours that their son had returned, to assuage their grief and to understand the circumstances of his death. Perhaps some additional comfort was felt by the fact he was with a comrade of his previous battalion.

The reporting by the Paisley Advocate shows how a local paper can be deeply connected with community. That these media outlets felt what its readers felt and lived what they experiences, especially during the tragedy of war. Private Harry Jack obviously made his mark on his home town and we remember him for it as HE GAVE HIS LIFE FOR HIS COUNTRY.

[i] The action on this date resulted in the only three casualties that resulted in deaths during the month of July. Privates Collie, Grant, and Jack died as a result of this action.

[ii] For an article about the store please see this link. The article is on the last page of the PDF file.

[iii] Driver Norman Cecil Hibbert, reg. no. 324932 is most likely the man referred to in the article. He was from Walkerton, Ontario, which is only 25 kilometers from Paisley. The other soldier by the forename Norman enlisted in Brandon, Manitoba and was rejected from the CEF for being under-age.

[iv] Private Lawrence Rowe Putnam, reg. no. 201887, was to earn the Military Medal and achieve the rank of sergeant during his service. He survived the war.

[v] Reference to this soldier not found.

[vi] Private William Jack, reg. no. 651214, enlisted with his brother, Harry Jack, in the 160th (Bruce) Battalion and went on later to serve with the 47th Battalion on the Continent. He survived the war and died on November 7, 1950.

[vii] 13th Battalion, better known as the Royal Highlanders of Canada.

[viii] This is Private James Albert Grant, reg. no. 651989, a sergeant, late of the 160th Battalion, who was reverted to the ranks to serve on the Continent. He was wounded on July 18, 1918 and succumbed to his wounds later, due to shock, at No. 57 Casualty Clearing Station. He was originally from Chesley, Bruce County, moved to Toronto and then returned to Chesley to enlist.

[ix] Reprinted in the Paisley Advocate, November 20, 1918. Page 4.

[x] Private Jack was assigned to “A” Company when this action occurred.

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