“Scouts should be picked men…”

On August 4, 1915, the London Advertiser published a picture on page 3. In this picture was the image of seventeen young men who were scouts for the 18th Battalion. The photograph appears to be taken in England as the Battalion was in training at West Sandling, near Hythe, Kent. In this picturesque and bucolic landscape these men honed their craft as scouts. The youngest amongst these men was 18-years old and the oldest was double that age. The average of these men was 20-years old. From the sixteen men identified all, but one, survived the war. Of those, one died due to causes from his war experience 9-months after his discharge in May 1919.

Altererd 2 Scouts of the 18th Battalion London Advertiser August 4 1915 Page 3

These men volunteered for military service and then volunteered into a specialist role that would insure they were at the sharp end of the fighting. Scouting was important to a battalion as this unit extended the eyes and ears of the command elements of the battalion. Scouts were designated to search out enemy positions and activity to understand the intent and strength of the opposing forces. Scouts specialized in observing and recording the information they collected and the Canadian experience in the Boer War shaped the application of these skills, albeit in an infantry role, not the cavalry role utilized int the Canadian Corp of Guides prior to the Great War.

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Canadian Scout, Boer War, Horse Army. Wollen, 1902.

The idea of scouting, or gaining local and accurate intelligence, was instigated by the Canadian experience in the Boer war and the establishment of the Canadian Corps of Guides was in reaction and recognition of the value of scouting during active military operations. As the Corps of Guides was primarily a cavalry component of the Canadian Militia, its value as a mounted unit was negated by the battlefield environment that was to become Flanders and France:

“The British Army, to which the Canadian Contingent conformed, did not have on establishment a Guide organization. As a result, the men of the Canadian Corps of Guides were distributed throughout the Contingent in various staff and specialist functions, some as Intelligence Officers. However rudimentary their Guide training may have been before the war, it was still more than the prewar British Army offered its troops. The regular British Army was largely without any trained field Intelligence Officers in August 1914, and sent untrained men to meet the Germans. Although the men of the Corps of Guides had, in some ways, trained for the wrong war, many of the intelligence skills they possessed were transferable to the mud of Flanders, and proved a valuable contribution to the Canadian Corps. The very existence of the Corps of Guides kept the importance of battlefield intelligence before the eyes of Canadian soldiers in the years prior to the war, and probably goes a fair way in explaining why Canadian formations tended to employ more Staff Officers on Intelligence duties than did their British equivalents.”[i]

As the 18th Battalion and those units were training from the lessons learned from the British and Canadian Expeditionary Forces from the beginning of hostilities and the participation of the Canadian 1st Contingent in early 1915, the scouts of the 18th Battalion would have some idea that the nature of their missions would be shaped from the battle-space that characterized the Western Front with its defined lines of trenches with barrier defences on either side of No Man’s Land.

As the roll of the scout evolved its importance to the tactical understanding of the battle-space increased and the Canadian forces expanded its roll:

“The battalions’ main concern, however, was in learning about no-man’s-land and the German front line trench system. To do this all battalions, by May 1916, had formed specialist scouting units, under a scout officer, that were responsible for battalion-level intelligence gathering. By 1918 the scout section, also known as the battalion scouts, proved so valuable that the Canadians added a second officer to its strength. This meant the typical scout section employed about 28 men: eight snipers, eight observers, eight scouts, one scout corporal, one photographic clerk and draughtsman, and two officers.”[ii]

This importance is evidenced by the communications during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on September 15, 1916. The communication records have several message chits referencing the work of scouts working to discern and report the situation during the battle.

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This is a message chit recorded during the attack at Flers-Coucellete. “England” is the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade. “York” is the 18th Battalion. From 4th C.I.B. War Diary, Appendix 87. Dougall, Thomas: Service no. 53560 (Military Cross, Medaille Militaire (France)) was to later earn a commision but died of wounds on August 17, 1917 at Lens.

In response to this need, this photograph of the 18th Battalion scouts offers direct evidence to the importance placed on scouting in the 18th Battalion. The scouting section is well staffed with personnel and, as these soldiers’ service records would later bear out, were capable and adapted to the conditions of battle. Only one of these men was killed as a result of enemy action and several of these men were decorated and/or became officers, promoted from the ranks.

The photograph’s quality is poor and the detail of the soldiers’ faces and expressions is difficult to make out, but one can imagine their pride and excitement of they knew this photograph was to be published at home for their loved ones to see.

Altererd 1 Scouts of the 18th Battalion London Advertiser August 4 1915 Page 3

These are the scouts of the 18th Battalion, now in England. They area a body of highly-trained men, selected in the first place for their showing of intellect, initiative, resourcefulness, and honesty. They have been quietly trained since the battalion was mobilized. Their accomplishments are proved by a recent examination, are all first-class, excepting two scouts who were only very recently appointed for training.
Reading from left to right, their names are:
Back Row, Standing. Scout-Corp. C.F. Hallman, Scout J. Hicking, Corp. J. Irons, Scouts C.C. McMahon, G. Thomas, R.S. Allan, and W.F. Mabb.
Centre, Kneeling – Scout-Corp. D. Dunnette [sic], Scouts J. Klein, R. Sarvis, A. Such, J. Dauber [sic], J. Pearson.
Bottom, Standing [sic] – Scouts A.G. Davis[1], W.G. Lowe,[2] H. Ross[3] and J. Smith[4].
[1] Most likely this soldier from available research, at this time.
[2] Most likely this soldier from available research, at this time.
[3] Most likely this soldier from available research, at this time.
[4] There are three possible soldier from the nominal roll. J. Smith reg. nos. 53284, 54170, 53850, and 54352.

The description of the attributes of a good scout from the text of the photograph have need of explaining. From the literature, the ethos of a military scout appears to be very close to that of the scout movement instituted by Robert Baden-Powell, not a decade old. A colonel of a scouting school addressing a group of new students would ask:

“’Now, boys, what is it most important that a scout should have?’ The replies were many and varied, but seldom correct. ‘Good eyesight’; ‘good hearing’; ‘good physique’; ‘be a good shot’; ‘a knowledge of map reading’; were some of the many replies.

‘No, you are all wrong’ the colonel would reply; ‘a scout’s honour is the most important thing of all. If a scout isn’t to be trusted then he’s no good to me, and he will be no good to his commanding officer’”[iii]

This statement directly ties the ethos of a military scout to the scouting movement and its values. This ethos was identified by the author of the passage from Scouting Thrills in the introduction which includes the text above. The author prefaces this example by explaining,

“It was the pure joy of adventure that attracted me to scouting, a love which, if not exactly born of me, was at least developed in me , through my association with the Boy Scout movement; and it was the principles of this organization which, more than anything else [emphasis, mine], underlay all our training.”[iv]

The author was Captain G.B. McKean, V.C., M.C., M.M. who served with distinction as a scout and, later, scouting officer with the 14 Battalion, CEF.

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Captain G.B. McKean, V.C., M.C., M.M.

Scouting had a distinct and important role on the operation of a battalion in the line. The manual “Scouting and Patrolling – 1918” outlines in some detail the value placed on scouts in the battalion order of battle:

“Scouts should be picked men, selected for their character, physique, intelligence, and education. They should have good sight and hearing, and be expert shots.

Scouts should be men who volunteer for the work, which is often hard and dangerous. They should, therefore, receive encouragement, being excused from other duties when possible, and helped in the matter of changing clothes, and obtaining hot coffee or rum or something extra on return from a hard night’s work. The fact of a man being a Scout should never stand in the way of his promotion; rather it should help him towards promotion.”[v]

It is interesting to note the fate of each 18th Battalion scout. As they all are originals, their service history as scouts, is interesting as they would be in a more active roll compared to a standard infantry soldier in the Battalion. Their chances of engaging in action that was going to increase the chance of wounding and death making that chance be higher than the average soldier. Yet, all but one soldier survived the war, and all had “clean” records and several had records of some distinction, as evidenced by the earned medals and promotions as non-commissioned officers and some to direct field commissions as commissioned officers.

These outcomes reflect men of “character, physique, intelligence, and education”. Perhaps some of these men were induced by a keener sense of duty or the ability to avoid some of the more boring and arduous details of soldiers’ work such as filling sandbags, digging trenches, and other menial manual labour. Some may have been scouts in England or Canada and looked to the chance to put those abilities and field-craft to work in combat conditions.

This one photograph can seem to be a simple tableau of a group of men standing together in one moment of shared time and experience captured for posterity. The faded detail of the photograph does not lessen the risk these men put themselves in front of to serve their unit. The photograph examined on its own tells part of the story. Digging deeper allows us to understand the context of their service as scouts and imagine, to some degree, the motivation for their interest in this challenging assignment given the increased risk to their lives scouting offered.

Name Status
R.S. Allan Survived; Enlisted Oct. 26/14 Windsor, Ontario; Promoted corporal May 13/17 in the field; Military Medal gazetted London Gazette August 30/17; Discharged May 24/19 at London, Ont.; Proposed residence after discharge 563 Hubbard Avenue, Detroit, Mich.
J. Dauber (Dawber) Survived to die of war related illness shortly after return from war; Enlisted St. Thomas, Ontario November 2/14; Suffers neurasthenia (irritable heart) February 1916 and is posted as a carpenter with the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade H.Q.; Discharged May 24/19 at London, Ont.; Died of nephrites at his home, 57 Arthur Street, St. Thomas, On January 26/20.
A.G. Davis Survived; Enlisted October 27/14 at London; March 19/17 to field ambulance with acute colitis and trench fever; Granted permission to marry January 12/18; Discharged March 26/19 at St. John, New Brunswick; Proposed residence Woodstock, Ontario.
Scout-Corp. D. Dunnette Survived; Enlisted October 22/14 at St. Thomas, Ontario; Field commission to lieutenant June 19,/16; Discharged as captain in London, Ontario on December 9/18. Died June 22/56.
Scout-Corp. C.F. Hallman Survived; Enlisted January 20/15 at London, Ontario; May 12/16 accepted admission into cadet (officer) school; Discharged from CEF on November 23/16 to enter Imperial Army; Marries in England, 1916; Returns to Canada, 1928; November 8/74 applies for pension relief for a “nervous condition” related to his war service.
Scout J. Hicking Survived; Enlisted November 3/14 at Stratford, Ontario; Wounded GSW to nose September 17/15 and admitted 22nd General Hospital, Etaples, December 20/15; Served in England balance of war; Discharged London, Ontario February 8/19.
Corp. J. Irons Survived; Enlisted October 31/14 at London, Ontario; Promoted sergeant from acting sergeant August 18/16; Proceeded to England for officer training March 13/17; Returned to 18th September /17 and was transferred to 2nd Divisional Headquarters for balance of active service; Discharged September 5/19; Died October 3/41.
J. Klein Survived; Enlisted November 3/14 at Clinton, Ontario; Wounded April 6/16 with GSW left arm, amputated; Discharged Bath, England August 5/16. Dies White Rock, British Columbia, October 11/67.
W.G. Lowe Died of Wounds; Enlisted November 3/14 at Strathroy, Ontario; Appointed lance-corporal in the field, January 16/16; Died of GSW to thigh at 4:40 AM, March 27/16 at No. 8 Casualty Clearing Station. Interned at Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension.
J. Pearson Survived; Enlisted October 23/14 at Stratford, Ontario; Appointed shoemaker April 10/15 before Battalion’s disembarkation to England; Returns to duty at Shornecliffe, England April 16/14; Sent to England due to medical issues and discharged at Bath, England, August 23/16; Returns to Canada and re-enlists; Discharged January 6/19 at London, Ontario. See his profile for interesting document regarding his enlistment in the Canadian Army in World War 2.
W.F. Mabb Survived; Enlisted October 24/14 at London, Ontario; Wounded March 11/17, GSW to chest; Returns to 18th Battalion April 9/18; Discharged May 24/19 at London, Ontario, proposed residence, Mitchell, Ontario.
C.C. McMahon Survived; Enlisted October 24/19, London, Ontario; GSW to chest November 3/17; Rejoined 18th Battalion November 16/18; Discharged May 29/19 at Ottawa, Ontario. Indicates he will reside at Finch, Ontario; Dies February 27/71 at Sunnybrook Hospital, Toronto, Ontario.
R. Sarvis Survived; Enlisted October 31/14 at Stratford, Ontario; October 8/15 wounded GSW to legs and right hand; Discharged November 11/18 at London, Ontario; Intended place of residence 159 Ontario Street, Stratford. Died December 1985.
J. Smith This soldier’s identity is undetermined. There are four soldiers on the 1915 Nominal Roll with this forename initial and surname.
A. Such Survived; Enlisted November 2/14 at St. Thomas, Ontario; Promoted corporal March 1/19; Earns Military Medal July 3/19; Serves his entire service without illness or wounds in the 18th Battalion; Discharged May 24/19 at London, Ontario; Dies August 21/64 at Strathroy Middlesex Hospital, Strathroy, Ontario.
G. Thomas Survived; Enlisted October 28/14 at London, Ontario; Prompted Corporal June 20/16; Gazetted Military Medal December 9/16; Posted to England for Officers’ Training Course January 15/17; Temporary lieutenant posted 4th Reserve Battalion March 10/17; Qualified “Distinguished” at the 85th Rifle Course; Proceeded to 18th Battalion June 21/18; ; Gazetted Military Cross March 8/19’; Discharged May 24/19; Served as a major in World War 2.

 

[i] Jenkins, Dan (1996) “The Corps of Guides, 1903–1914,” Canadian Military History: Vol. 5: Iss. 2, Article 11. Available at: http://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol5/iss2/11

[ii] Jenkins, Dan (2001) “The Other Side of the Hill: Combat Intelligence in the Canadian Corps, 1914–1918,” Canadian Military History: Vol. 10 : Iss. 2 , Article 2. Available at: https://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol10/iss2/2

[iii] McKean, G. (1919). Scouting Thrills (pp. 3-4). New York: The MacMillan Company.

[iv] Ibid. (pp. 3).

[v] US Army War College. (1918). Scouting and Patrolling: A reprint of and Official British Document (p. 7). Washington, D.C.

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