A Very Wonderful Man: Memories from 50 years after the war connect two Privates

After years of reading numerous books and hundreds of scholarly articles finding snippets and treasures in these sources about the 18th Battalion can be hit and miss. Sometimes they can only mystify. Sometimes, like this find, it can illuminate the lives of the soldiers involved and add an intimacy that can often be unexpected and, even, surprising.

News clipping reporting the death of Major Sale.

Captain (later Major) Charles Edward Sale was one of the original officers of the 18th Battalion upon its formation in October 1914. The man was influential and not only well respected, but even revered for his consideration and humanity towards his men. His loss on January 17, 1916, was keenly felt by the men of his Company, the Battalion, and those members of his community in Goderich, Ontario, outside of his immediate circle of family and friends. His impact lives on in the Battalion memory through remembrances of his fellow officers and men of the other ranks.

One memory by Captain Edgar Howell Shuttleworth[i] brings that humanity and the type of action that would endear Captain Sale to his men.

In a CBC interview for the radio documentary Flanders’ Fields, Shuttleworth related this:

“I was very fortunate in having Major C.E. Sale of Goderich as my company commander. Major Sale was a very wonderful man. He was a very human man. The men loved him. I remember back at rest camp finding one of our men [by the name of Taylor] in the corner of a field crying his eyes out. Apparently he had a row with his wife before leaving home and this woman had sent him a letter enclosing a snapshot of one of his children in his coffin, a dreadful thing to do. The poor fellow was broken-hearted. I came and reported to Major Sale. Major Sale said, “Go and get Shepherd, the cook.” I wondered what Shepherd had to do with it and in comes Shepherd and he said, “Shepherd, here’s a hundred francs. Take Taylor and get him stupid drunk and bring him back.” Now, Taylor was going to go on a binge anyway and the battalion could have been called out on a moments notice. He’d have been picked up by the police and would have had a very serious charge against him, absent without leave with his battalion in the line. So with [a] three days pass and with trusty Shepherd, he got back in good shape. Now these things percolated down to the men and they loved Major Sale and so did I. The major didn’t come back.”[ii]

This short summary of one incident involving the then Captain Sale speaks volumes to the care and interest in the well-being of his men. It also poses a mystery worth solving. Who was Taylor and Shepherd?

By a process of elimination and searching soldiers of the original nominal roll for April 1915 two soldiers are likely candidates. The criteria is relatively simple. First, they must have been serving during the time the 18th Battalion was in Belgium from September 20, 1915, until Sale’s death on January 18, 1916; second, they would both have to be married; third, they would need to have other information corroborate their trades or other information in this paragraph; last, any other supplemental research that helps to confirm this story and the men involved in it.

As it stands, there are four (4) Shepherds and seven (7) Taylors that meet the criteria. Eliminating the men who were not married at enlistment whittled this down to one Shepherd and two Taylors. From these men a review of their service records showed that of the Taylors one suffered “nervous debility” and was discharged due to this condition later in the war. In the case of the “cook” Private Harry James Shepherd, reg. no. 53729 is recorded to have been appointed a 2nd Class Cook and to receive the pay as such effective April 29, 1915, the day the Battalion arrived in England. The other circumstantial evidence that connects the men is the closeness of their age (Shepherd was almost 42 when he enlisted while Taylor was just shy of 40 when he enlisted). As the other Taylor was at least 10-years younger another factor connected the older Taylor with Shepherd. They both enlisted in Clinton, Ontario and former was from Clinton, while the latter was living in Wingham, Ontario, 36 kilometers away.

Service record excerpt showing that Private Shepherd served as a cook.

From this information the other soldier may have been Private Alfred James Taylor, reg. no. 54355. His service record mentions issues regarding his mental health. His medical history during his overseas service makes no mention of this, but, on his discharge the following note is on file from his medical discharge dated June 10, 1918:

“Complains-: that he is nervous. A dorr [sic] banging or any sudden noise causes him to start. Worries considerably if there is anything wrong at home, as one of the children being sick. Was never this way before.”

Document showing Taylor’s complaint regarding his nervousness.

It is of interest that this soldier specifically initiates a complaint about his nervousness. His other medical issues, pyrexia of unknown origin -most commonly influenza, and myalgia show not signs or issues for this man and  he “complains of nothing.”

At the time of writing this article the author could not determine if any of Private Taylor’s children died during the First World War between September 1915 and January 1916. One source gives his children as:

Screenshot from Family Search showing Taylor’s children. Only one, Arthur, has a year of death attributed.

The circumstantial evidence from the service records points to a strong connection between these men. With more research it may be determined that the connection posited in the post is correct.

Regardless, this memory brought to life from Shuttleworth gives a portrait of a concerned officer for one of his men. His methods may be dated by current standards, but he knew that his unit would be distressed by the behaviour of this soldier, and it was an investment in unit cohesion and the reclamation of a trained soldier that was one of the motivating factors behind his decision. He may have chosen Shepherd for his similar age, that he was a father too, and that he lived near the town that Taylor enlisted in. This act was impressed upon Shuttleworth that he felt it important enough to mention almost 50-years later. Through the interest in the welfare of one soldier, he gains a stronger bond with his men and he retains a trained man who otherwise may have been loss to his emotional distress from the cruelty of his wife.

As for Shepherd, he served the entire war with the 18th Battalion and emerged physically unscathed. But Canada was not to be his destiny as he was discharged in England May 19, 1919, and from this point he disappears into the mists of time, probably living the rest of his life in England.

The man Shepherd helped, Taylor, returns to Canada and is discharged from the CEF on July 2, 1918. He served dutifully in the trenches until April 18, 1917, when he was taken sick and was shipped to England for recovery. Due to his age, and possibly a recognition of his “nervousness” he was invalided to Canada on May 2, 1918.  Thirty years would pass before his death on May 11, 1948. His death was reported by his wife, Alice, living at 44 Hume Street, London, Ontario.

The now Major Sale, as recounted by Shuttleworth, did not make it. He was wounded by a rifle grenade near Vierstraat, Belgium at around 9:30 PM on January 17, 1916, and died around midnight from his wounds. He was well remembered by the men of the 18th Battalion, and he rests with six of this comrades at the Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord.

[i] Captain Shuttleworth was a very well-respected officer of the 18th Battalion in his own right and very active in the 18th Battalion Association and business in London, Ontario. For more about this soldier see this link.

[ii] Mantle, C. (2007). The Apathetic and the Defiant: Case Studies of Canadian Mutiny and Disobedience, 1812-1919 (pp. 313-314). Kingston, Ont.: Canadian Defence Academy Press. Taken from LAC, RG 41, B-III, Volume 10, In Flanders Fields, 18th Battalion, Transcript with interview with Shuttleworth, Tape 1, 11.

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