Three “Boys” from Walkerton Through the War

Three buddies, aged 25, 27, and 31-years old, from Walkerton joined the 18th Battalion on the last two days of October 1914. They were from Walkerton, Ontario, and they would be distinguished as being three of the few “Originals” to serve the entire war with the Battalion.

We have a unique perspective of their war service as the local newspaper, The Walkerton Telescope, dutifully recorded their service with a series of letters from the men and reports of their return from service. From these letters we can get some linearity to the path of their service as each letter steps the reader through time, representing the shared experience of these men during the war and with the Battalion.

The roles of these men in the Battalion may have helped them survive. Private (later Sergeant) Cartwright was a shoemaker, his civilian trade, and was designated in this role during his service. Private Tolton was assigned to the Transport Section[i] as a driver, his experience as a farmer being directly applicable. Private Huck, a reed worker (possibly involving industrial machinery mechanics) was attached to the Battalion’s Signal Section. All these roles involved the support of the sharp end of the Battalion, and while not isolating them from the vagaries of combat, these roles helped increase their chance of survival during their service.

What is fascinating with these news clippings containing the letters of these three men is the interconnected narrative of their service. Their friendship was formed at Walkerton between on Canadian born man and two born in the home country, England. The letters do not convey in what manner their friendship was forged (such as a common interest, such as membership in a club) but the letters do reinforce the fact that they are friends, such as taking a leave together, as the first of the letter relates. As the war progresses their letters share some of their experiences and opinions and there is a wonderful symmetry with the last two news clippings reporting the return of the men to Walkerton, safe and sound. One is even married to the sister of his friend.

These connections would be forever lost, save for the record that the Walkerton Telescope offers us. The reader gets to learn that Holmfirth, the birthplace of Cartwright, is a town with cloth manufactories and a small six-bed hospital that ministered to a thousand soldiers over the course of the war. Private Huck renders an opinion of the importance of volunteering for service for the Empire. That the report of Sergeant Cartwright’s death was happily wrong. And, with the war’s end two of the men return home together and one arrives later with the sister of one of the other.

Below are the transcriptions of the news clippings. There are end-notes for reference and explanation of the contents of the contents of the articles.

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Visited Home in England[ii] [Published July 15, 1915]

Under the caption “Canadian Visitors” the Express, published at Holmfirth, England, describes in the following paragraph the visit of Private Bert Cartwright[iii] accompanied by Pts. Norman Huck[iv] and Alfred Tolton[v] to the former’s home in that town.

“During the week Holmfirth has received other soldier visitors from over the seas. One of them is Private Herbert Cartwright, of C. Co. 18th bat. 2nd Canadian Contingent, of Victoria Square and South Lane. Private Cartwright comes back home in the King’s uniform after a settlement in Canada of five years, during which time he has been working in Walkerton, Ontario as a boot and shoe operative, a trade in which he was brought up by his father here in Holmfirth. He arrived in Holmfirth on Wednesday morning accompanied by two friends, Privates A. Tolton and Private N. Huck of the same regiment and also of Walkerton. They where pals together before the war broke out and enlisting together they where still pals in regimental service.

A representative of the Express had the pleasure of a short chat with them on Wednesday afternoon. The three lads look in perfect health, bronzed in complexion, and they admit that their military training has done them a world of good. They had five months of it in Canada, and for several weeks now they have been in camp south of England. It has not been easy to get a leave of absence[vi] and perhaps the fact that the three of them wanted to come to Holmfirth together has increased the difficulty and they anticipate that when they return on Monday, it will not be long before they are booked to cross the Channel.[vii] They are eager to go, because as they say, that is what they have come for.

Pte. Cartwright had intended coming home this summer and the war expedited his coming. Being a Holmfirth lad, the manufacture of cloth[viii] is a familiar thing to him, but his comrades have had no experience of the industry, and they are particularly keen on seeing how the khaki is made. Consequently they have been able to spend several enjoyable hours at Holmfirth Mills, and among other visits which have been paid has been one to the Military Cottage Hospital.

The Cartwright family is well represented in the army. In addition to Herbert, the eldest son, Ernest[ix], has also enlisted in the Expeditionary force and he will be coming over in the next contingent. He also has been living in Walkerton and engaged in the boot and shoe trade. The youngest boy [Moorehouse][x] is now in the 25th Duke of Wellington’s at Thoresby Park.

“SQUEE” TALKS OUT[xi] [Published February 10, 1916]

Mr. Frank Speiran[xii] received the following letter from his friend, Norman Huck, who is over in Belgium “doing his bit”. “Squee” gives his views on the recruiting question very pointedly.

Belgium, Jan 26, 1916.[xiii]

Dear Friend,

[Pleased] to get your most welcome letter to-night, Jean. I wish to thank Mrs. Speiran and Franklin for their remembrance. As I haven’t yet taken a course on heiro-gylphics the latter’s wee letter was unintelligeble [sic] but I quite understood his thoughts. It is a little keepsake and if spared I hope some day to show you the letter. I shall endeavor to carry it on my travels.

 Give my kindest regards to Mrs. Speiran and tell Franklin, Squee hopes to see him again.

I am in the best of health and taking as much enjoyment out of the live as the circumstances permit. We have some fun and it is not all hardships.

I am glad you show my letters to the Brothers at the Lodge[xiv] as well as my old pals at the shop. I am one of their representatives here and will always try to do as they expect me to do. I have only done my duty. There is no excuse for a young man to hang back. They all have the same excuse. I had none when I enlisted. I could easily get my discharge if I wanted to, but signed and don’s want to go half way. I want to see it to a finish. Like every other lad I had friends I had to leave behind but I signed first, the right way, and did the parting stunt afterwards. Every able bodied single man should be in khaki. Why aren’t they? I guess they know and others surmise the real reason.

Look at the Cartwright family. Three sons all in khaki, and the youngest ran away to join. There isn’t a mother who loves her boys more than Mrs. Cartwright, and, hard as it has been for her to see them go, she says they are only doing their duty.

You know what happened here in Belgium. What do you think if all Britishers were “stay at homes”? Thank God I am in khaki now and not at home [soaking] in “shin heat”. I am not referring to married men. I am referring to those who say “Oh I really can’t leave Miss—“, that all bosh. Many a lad left a nice little girl in Canada, why can’t the rest, I guess they can if they want to, but, well they need more socks. There’s too much “Henry Ford,”[xv] about them. You can tell them in the old town for me, that the 160th B. Batt. is the golden opportunity for them. But will telling do any good? I hope so.

I would love to be back with you again but I will, if possible, stay right here till the final gong. I want to see the finish first and then my old pals and friends afterwards.

I was very pleased to get the Lodge card and emblem, Jean, and will wear the latter. Kindly express my thanks to the Lodge.

I enjoyed Xmas and New Years, everything considered and there are no complaints from me. I am glad you are busy. There is nothing like prosperous prosperity, is there? Please remember me to all.

Bert and I had a funny experience the other day. We were out in a field digging in a shell hole for a shell nose[xvi] and one of our planes was overhead but very low. Fritz got his guns busy sending shrapnel after the plane and the pieces commenced to strike in all directions. We each got a chunk of tile roofing and put it over our heads and Bert held the shovel in front of his face. Some stunt, eh? We weren’t touched and had a good laugh over the incident.

Now Jean, I must close for this time. Hoping to hear from you soon and that all this [ends] well. I remain,

Your Pal,

SERGT. BERT. CARTWRIGHT[xvii] [Published October 26, 1916]

A rumor was circulated around Walkerton a month ago that Sergt. Bert Cartwright was killed in action. Judging from the letter published below, which is old employer, Mr. M.J. Ramsey[xviii] received last week, Bert is still very much alive.

France, Sept. 1xth [xix]

Dear Mr. Ramsey:-

At last I have found time to write you a few lines. We are a long way from where I last wrote you, we have left the muddy trenches of Belgium never to return I hope. I received your nice parcel about two weeks ago, on the way down here, everything was in the best of condition and I thank you very much.

Well, Mr. Ramsey, the Canucks are sure in the thick of it, and I am proud to say they have made a name for themselves as they never did before, a lot of brave boys are down and out, but the work they did was great. I don’t see how Germany can last much longer if we keep it up like the last few days. We have gained a got of ground and taken large numbers of prisoners. I have seen lots of them the last day or two and they were a sorry sight, our big guns shatter their nerve. Last week we were busy fixing shoes one morning when Fritz sent over a few shells we had to run and leave the work, some lads had no shoes on other just one shoe on. He shelled us for about half an hour, then we went back to work.

I am keeping in the best of health, hope all the boys are well. Kind regards to all.

From Bert.

Two Pals Back[xx] [Published May 29, 1919]

Two boys that were warmly welcomed back from the war this week were Bert Cartwright and Norman (Squee) Huck. These two gallant lads were old-time pals in Walkerton. They enlisted together in the 18th Batt’n in October 1914, went to England together, to France together, and have been side by side through the war. Last week when the glorious 18th arrived home as a unit, “David and Jonathan”[xxi] headed for the old town. Although they were over [f]our years in France both Bert and Squee came through without a scratch. Bert, who is a cobbler by trade, went to France as a private, but in June 1916, was promoted to Sergeant Shoemaker. Neither of the boys have definite plans for the future but it would certainly please their many friends to have the locate here again.

Alf Tolton Home[xxii] [July 10, 1919]

A Walkerton soldier who is one of the last to return and at the same time was one of the first to fight for King and Country is Pte. Alfred Tolton, son of Mr. James Tolton, J.P., who arrived on the G.T.R. noon train Saturday. After nearly 5 years service Alf comes home looking fine and fit. He got to France with the 18th. Battalion of Western Ontario and in three solid years in the fighting line he came through without a scratch. His battalion suffered heavily at the Somme, at St. Eloi in 1916, and again at Amiens and before Cambria in the last year of fighting. Only once was he in the hospital, when injury to his back laid him out for a few days in 1917.[xxiii] Alf went through to Germany and enjoyed his sojourn there. Romance figured in his experiences Overseas. While in England he visited the home of his battalion chum, Sergt. Cartwright, in Yorkshire. The sequel to his first visit occurred a couple of years later when he obtained leave while in Germany, and on January 9th, 1919, was wedded at Holmfirth, Yorkshire, to Miss Edith Cartwright, the charming young daughter, of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathon Cartwright of that place. Mrs. Tolton accompanied her husband on the home voyage and expressed herself as highly pleased with her first glimpse of Canada.

So, ends this short timeline of these men, as it is recorded in their local newspaper. They have returned home to explore their future and, perhaps, to continue the bonds of their friendship as time move forward and they age. It would last until 1928, when Norman Huck would pass at the age of 40. The remaining friends would follow each other closely in death with the passing of Herbert Cartwright in 1943 and the last remaining of the trio, Alfred Tolton, in 1945.

Save, perhaps, for three grave stones, no one would know anything of these men. Now there is a small part of their lives shared a witness to a small part of their history and Canada’s past.

[i] Letter from Tolton. Walkerton Telescope. August 3, 1916.

[ii] Walkerton Telescope. July 15, 1915.

[iii] Private Herbert Cartwright, reg. no. 54005.

[iv] Private Norman Huck, reg. no. 54021.

[v] Private Alfred Charles Tolton, reg. no. 54053.

[vi] These men must have received permission to take a leave, as none of their service records show any pay stoppages due to being absent without leave at this time.

[vii] The Battalion embarked for the Continent almost exactly one month from the publication of this article, on September 14/15, 1915.

[viii] The region around Holmfirth abounded with textile manufactories.

[ix] Private Ernest Cartwright, reg. no. 602460. Enlisted with the 34th Battalion, CEF. He served with the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, was wounded, and survived the war. He returned to Walkerton after the war.

[x] Current research indicates this soldier survived the war.

[xi] Walkerton Telescope. February 10, 1916.

[xii] There are several references to the surname Speiran in the Walkerton Telescope.

[xiii] The Battalion was in Divisional Reserve near La Clytte.

[xiv] He may have been a member of the Oddfellows Lodge.

[xv] Henry Ford was a pacifist who initiated a project involving the “Peace Ship”.

[xvi] The “shell nose” was the fuse of the shell and a very popular souvenir.

[xvii] Walkerton Telescope. October 26, 1916.

[xviii] Proprietor of a business called Ramsey the Shoe Man, Walkerton, Ontario. Herbert Cartwright’s brother Ernest, also worked there. Reference per news clipping Walkerton Telescope. April 22, 1915. Page 1.

[xix] The date is obscured. From the context of the letter is appears to be written after the action of September 15, 1916, when the Battalion was engaged at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette at the Somme. Regrettably there details of the Battalion and its action are obscure as no well-written record of the action from the Battalion’s War Diary was made.

[xx] Walkerton Telescope. May 29, 1919.

[xxi] Not sure what this reference refers to.

[xxii] Walkerton Telescope. July 10, 1919.

[xxiii] Ironically, the Walkerton Telescope would report on June 14, 1934 that Alfred Tolton had broken his back from a fall from a ladder.

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