Fresh from arriving in England on the next stage of his military journey, having enlisted with the 18th Battalion on October 27, 1914, Corporal Herbert Tripp, reg. no. 53622, a chef, late of Sarnia, Ontario, and a former resident of London, Ontario, writes home to friends in London of his recent experiences in the Canadian Army.
The Second Battle of Ypres had just begun on April 22, 1915, and the Battle of St. Julien, where units of the 1st Canadian Division were gassed by a new weapon introduced by the Germans during that operation filled the newspapers with accounts of the actions of the Canadians and other units engaged in that fight.
FIGHT FOE AND DEATH ALL IN ONE SHORT WEEK
18th Battalion Man Writes of Stream of Wounded Arriving From Battle Front.
How a soldier may leave England at the beginning of the week, burning with an intense desire to meet the enemy and how, within a few days, after serving in the trenches, he may be invalided home across the Channel, wounded and nearly dead, is told in a letter received by friends of this city of Corp. H. Tripp, of “C” Company, 18th Battalion, now at Sandling camp in England with the second Canadian expeditionary forces. Corp. Tripp enlisted here with the 18th, coming to this city from Sarnia, where he resided previous to the war.
Corp. Tripp tells of seeing twenty large trainloads of wounded Britishers arriving directly from the front, and mentions one sergeant who left England on Monday only to be invalided home on the following Thursday, badly wounded.
His letter in part follows:
“Just a line to let you know that I arrived O.K. last night (April 30). We came over on the Grampian, and had a fine trip. There was another boat—the Northland—accompanying us. We had the cruiser Cumberland as far as Queenstown and three destroyers the rest of the ay as escorts. We were ten days at seas, and just two weeks in making the trip.
“We landed at Avonmouth, near Bristol, and went the rest of the way to camp by train. This country can’t be beat for scenery. It certainly is beyond description. Also the railway service has us “skinned” a mile, even if the cars are small.
“Our camp is five miles from Folkestone and one and one-half miles from Hythe. We can see the Channel fine.
“Last night we could hear the boom of the heavy guns all night long. We saw by the paper this morning that the fleet has bombarded Zeebrugge again. They are very strict about showing lights at night on account of the Zeppelins. There are camps all over the country.
“When we got off the train here, I saw twenty large trainloads of wounded soldiers coming up from Shorncliffe. They had just landed from France and had been wounded the day before. There was a sergeant from an English regiment who went over last Monday and he landed back Thursday, wounded, so you can see we are not far, being about fifty miles from the firing line.”
London Advertiser. May 15, 1915. Page 12.
The total casualties for the Imperial forces during all phases of the battle were 59,275. One can well imagine the hospital ships discharging thousands of men a day at the wharfs and docks of Folkestone and the awaiting hospital trains being loaded at the Folkestone Harbour railway station with the wounded and moving off through the tracks that were connected to the line that passed Shorncliffe Camp and the Sandling Camps.
It is likely that Corporal Tripp saw these trains as the disembarked from their train at the station a Westenhanger. The 18th Battalion War Diary records that the Battalion arrived at West Sandling Camp at 3:00 PM on April 29, 1915, approximately 9-hours after they left Avonmouth by train. As the letter was published on May 15, 1915, Corporal Tripp states that he is writing the letter on April 30, 1915. The Battalion had arrived the day prior, so he had to have seen these trains when the Battalion disembarked from the train at the station. Some of the trains would have been in transit and some sitting waiting for clearance to move off when the line became open, allowing him to speak to the British sergeant.
So, a former chef with 2-years of Canadian Militia experience with 5-months unrealistic military training happens upon trains full of the wounded. He does not describe the nature of the wounds or the suffering of the wounded but does share that some soldiers’ service at the front can be brief, depending on the circumstances.
As was to occur to some of the men of the 18th Battalion through it service history, there are many cases of men arriving and within the month coming ill, suffering wounds or being killed in action.
For Corporal Tripp, this characteristic of service is something of such note he includes it in his letter.
Corporal Tripp would not suffer the same experience in war.
He followed the 18th Battalion into combat and missed the engagement at St. Eloi Craters as he was on leave in early April 1916. He returned to service and was promoted Lance-Sergeant in place of Lance-Sergeant G.B. Cruickshank, reg. no. 54014 as he was invalided to England. During the Battalion’s service at the Somme from September to December 1916, Lance-Sergeant earned the Military Medal for bravery in the field. After a short illness and 10-days leave in in the middle of June 1917 he was assigned to the Prisoner of War Company at Etaples, France to recuperate further and was boarded Class A for active service, returning to the Battalion on August 27, 1918.
He was transferred to Canada for Instructional Duties on November 17, 1917, and was sent to Bramshott Camp in preparation for return to Canada with the Western Ontario Regimental Depot.
He was discharged from military service on March 6, 1919, in London, Ontario for medical reasons. He has obtained the rank of Company Sergeant Major and was serving with the 1st Battalion, Canadian Garrison Regiment.
He was now 36-years old, almost 37, and intended to live at 520 London, Road in Sarnia, Ontario.
His service was not without wounds. He suffered psychic wounds as recorded in his medial report from the Canadian Military Hospital at Toronto, Ontario dated February 14, 1919. Going through the indignity of a Wassermann Test, done to eliminate venereal disease as a cause of a soldiers’ physical, but especially psychological complaint, the report relates that CSM Tripp was beginning to suffer from “becoming nervous during Oct. 1916 but carried on until Nov. 25/17 when he was returned to England as an instructor.” Having returned to Canada on February 1, 1918, he reported to be medically boarded on January 9, 1919, and was referred to the Canadian Military Hospital for observation of his shell shock (PTSD).
He is released from service due to medical reasons and the report indicates that the disability should not last more than 3-months and that CSM Tripp should receive $100 for his disability.
It appears that CSM Tripp did not finish living in London as he may have returned there. He did pass, dying at Westminster Hospital, at London, Ontario on December 7, 1965, at the age of 81-years old. He is buried in Section A of the Woodland Cemetery at London, Ontario beside his wife Agnes (d. 1963).
It is not likely that that $100 came anywhere close to compensating CSM Tripp for his pain and suffering. His letter gives us a window into his world as he arrived in England, seeing the results of war in it full, stark reality of the hospital trains. He served with distinction with the Battalion and, perhaps due to his response to combat stress, was assigned to train soldiers in Canada, perhaps giving life saving lessons in how to be effective in the dynamic combat environment of the last part of the war.