“He was crucified on the iron cross of Kaiser Wilhelm II. …”: The Funeral of Captain Sale

Captain Frederick George Newton was an original member of the 18th Battalion when it was formed in the fall of 1914. His records indicate he joined the Battalion on December 28, 1914 and served with the Battalion until he was assigned to the 4th Field Company on October 21, 1917. During his service with the 18th he was to witness the burial of a fellow officer, Major Charles Edward Sale. He, too, was an original officer of the 18th and was wounded by a German rifle grenade January 17, 1916 while the Battalion was in the front lines at Vierstraat, having relieved the 19th Battalion on the 15th of that month. The war diary for the date of Major Sale’s death is perfunctory:

“-Do- [Battalion as yesterday] Major Sale was badly hit about 9.30 p.m. by enemy rifle grenade, he died about midnight – 4 O.R. admitted to hospital. Major Milligan and 7 O.R. went on leave.”

It then records on January 19th:

“Battalion as yesterday. Major SALE was buried to-day in BEILLEUL [BAILLEUL]. G.O.C Army Corps and G.O.C. 4th Brigade attended service, plus O.C. 18th Battn and Company officers.”

These brief descriptions do not offer much detail but Captain Newton wrote a letter that was published outlining some of the details of Major Sale’s death and his internment. This letter offers detail that would have been lost to history, if not for the efforts of Operation Picture Me.

The letter describes the wounding of Major Sale, postulates the cause of his death, and shares the details of the funeral service and ends with a poem, most likely, written by Captain Newton, in commemoration of his comrade.

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MAJOR SALE HAD 14 WOUNDS IN RIGHT LEG NEAR KNEE
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Capt. Newton Tells of Impressive Funeral Service for 18th Battalion Hero.
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BURIEND BESIDE CAPTAIN OF ROYAL FLYING CORPS

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Aeroplane Flying Low Over Grave Appears Like Chariot To Convey Soul.
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A most impressive description of the funeral of Major Sale, of the 18th Battalion, who has died as the result of shock and wounds resulting from a German bomb, is told in a letter received by Mrs. Ray Lawson, Grosvenor street, from her brother, Capt. Newton, of Sarnia, who went overseas with the battalion.

Capt. Newton tells of an aeroplane flying low over the grave at the conclusion of the service which appeared like a chariot to carry the beloved hero’s soul to the beyond.

The letter is as follows:

This morning at breakfast Capt. Kenny told me the sad news of Major Sale’s death. He was hit by a sort of a bomb we call a “sausage” above and around the right knee. He was brought back to the brasserie and dressed, after Capt. Hale had run all the way up the trenches to his aid. Our ambulance went for him and he was getting along apparently all right until on the way home he died. He was brought into the morgue and prepared for burial.

January 18, 1916.

ALL JOINED IN PRAYER

In the afternoon I rode to [redacted] and on to [redacted]. The sun was beaming down on the earth with a fine warm splendor, the sky was clear as crystal and a westerly wind brought freshness to everything on earth. Horses and all animals were invigorated with a fresher activity than for a long time, and indeed it was a day good to live. On my arrival at [redacted], I went down to the cemetery[i] and had seen Capt. Hallam’s[ii] grave and was going over to see the newly dug grave from Major Sale’s body when Lieut. Gen. [redacted] and Gen. [redacted] came in.

In a few minutes the funeral procession arrived. Lieut.-Col. Wigle was leading and the bearers where Major Prince, Major Jones, Capt. Shuttleworth and George Kerr. Besides these there were present Ken McCrimmon, Jim Bater [Baxter], Stew. McKeough, Johnnie Clark [Clarke], and Tom Lamb. When the body all neatly bound and sewn in a gray blanket was placed in the grave very tenderly, Capt. Carlisle commenced his most impressive funeral service. At the words, “dust to dust,” Lieut.-Col. Wigle sprinkled earth on the body. We were so deeply moved and broken up that we were a mournful number.

After the final words and after we had all joined in the Lord’s Prayer, each one of us, from Lieut.-Gen. Sir [redacted], who was first, down to myself, who was the last officer, saluted the body, standing at attention and facing the foot of the grave. Then as we were going an aeroplane passed right over the spot, fling only about 70 feet high. For all the world it was as if it were a chariot conveying Charlie’s soul to the Heights. Next to his grave is a captain of the Royal Flying Corps[iii], killed while flying. His grave is quite near the center of the cemetery.

DIED FROM SHOCK

It is now pretty certain that he died more from the shock than the loss of blood. He had 14 small wounds in his right leg near the knee. The loss of blood was small. I have written this with all the particulars I know of Major Charles E. Sale’s death and funeral. He was a galant [sic] fellow, not naturally of strong physique, but possessed a lion heart in forcing his sinew to perform more than it sound of done, which cost him his life and cost many a good honest friend. He was an example of what a weak body can accomplish when blessed with a strong mind. He died for King and country. He was crucified on the iron cross of Kaiser Wilhelm II., and he gave up his life for the greatest principles which the blood of man has bought since Calvary. God bless him and may his soul rest in peace.

We buried him to-day – so young – so brave:
We gently laid him in a hero’s grave,
Nothing he asked as he gave his all,
As nobly as he answered his country’s call.
His life he gave.
January 19, 1916

Source: London Free Press. Circa January 1916. Via submission of by Operation Picture Me to the 18th Battalion Facebook Group.

The letter outlines the wounding of Major Sale. He is transported back to the “brasserie” so first aid can be applied. This reference alludes to a building that once was a restaurant, either pre-dating the war, or created to serve the soldiers near the front by some enterprising Belgian. The building appears to be commandeered by the soldiers occupying that part of the line and may have served as a Regimental Aid Post or as a battalion headquarters. Whatever the case, Major Sale is moved there for tending and the Battalion Medical Officer, Captain Hale, is recorded to have run from some other part of the trenches to the aid of this man. His Circumstances of Death Card gives his date of death as January 18th, 1916 and is death was recorded at No. 5 Canadian Field Ambulance.

The letter than moves to the description of the burial party and gives an uplifting description of the weather. The 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade’s war diary indicated that the weather on the day of the funeral was “fine.” Captain Newton is almost lyrical in his description of the weather, paralleling the nature of the weather with the solemnity of the funeral and his writing appears to be symbolically investing the burial of Major Sale on that day with renewal. The very environment and the animals are “invigorated”, so in contrast with the contrary descriptions of life in the trenches with its mud, rain, and overcast and muted skies, punctuated by the sniping and shelling of front-line service.

Captain Newton then shares the details of the service and who attended. The 18th Battalion War Diary corroborates Newton’s redacted comments. Lieutenant-General Sir E.A.H. Alderson, Canadian Corps commander, and Major-General R.E. Turner attended the funeral, along with a significant proportion of the officers of the 18th Battalion. The 18th Battalion was still on duty in the frontlines so some arrangement to cover the companies and platoons was made so that the officers who wished to attend the service could do so.

Captain Newton describes the cause of death for Major Sale as shock. From the description he had multiple wounds below his knee and Newton indicates that Sale’s physical constitution was not able to handle the shock and it is to this cause he expired, not to the direct physical damage to his body by the rifle grenade. Major Sale’s service record gives no information that would indicate any direct physical deficiency. On his enlistment he was 37-years-old, standing 6-feet tall, and weighing 156 pounds. Captain Hale, the MO, indicated his physical development as “good.” It appears that Captain Newton is privy to information about Sale’s physical constitution from which he makes his conclusions as, “He was an example of what a weak body can accomplish when blessed with a strong mind.”

Captain Newton expresses the common sentiment echoed so often by many others that Major Sale died for King and country and was a victim of the war having been, “…crucified on the iron cross of Kaiser Wilhelm II., and he gave up his life for the greatest principles which the blood of man has bought since Calvary.”

He ends with a short poignant poem that summates his feelings very effectively. In contrast to the letter, it offers an efficient tableau of his feelings regarding his comrade.

The letter and the poem share a certain intimacy that symbolizes the function of comradeship during war. Captain Newton, a bank accountant, was from Sarnia, Ontario and Major Sale, a dentist, was from Goderich, Ontario. Chances are they knew of each other as they both served in the Canadian Militia before the war, and if they did not, their acquaintance was assured when they both joined the 18th Battalion. Newton does not state that he served directly under Major Sale, so he was a brother officer in the Battalion serving with another company. Having shared mutual experiences from December 1914 until January 1916, these officers would have shared many conferences and exercises together as the Battalion trained up to its active service in Belgium in September 1915.

Major Sale, one of the first officers of the Battalion, to die, is buried at plot II.B.70. along with six other men of the 18th Battalion. Knowledge of his funeral was muted by history but comes to light, thanks to the work of Operation Picture Me.

[i] Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord. Bailleul, France.

[ii] Captain Ernest Walter Hallam was the first officer of the 2nd Canadian Contingent to be killed in action. He was an officer of the 18th Battalion.

[iii] Captain James Donald Gerhardt Sanders.

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