Is this Corporal Kelley of the 18th?

Tracking down information relating to the 18th Battalion can be challenging. There are some consistent sources of information, but when you are dealing with the service of up to 5,000 men who served in the Battalion during its existence from October 1914 to May 1919 that has no official war history and has all the documents relating to its post-war existence, such as the 18th Battalion Association, one needs to take what they find with the resources at hand.

Sometimes a bit of luck presents itself.

On Facebook a post was made with the following photograph and caption:

Figure 1: Library and Archives Canada. 1918. Corpl. Kelly who carried out a raid single-handed capturing a prisoner and shooting three others. [online] Available at: <https://recherche-collection-search.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/home/record?app=fonandcol&IdNumber=3217323

“HELP.

Looking for help in identifying this man and his Battalion. In the NAC, the photo caption reads

” Corpl. Kelly who carried out a raid single-handed capturing a prisoner and shooting three others”

I would like to find out which Cpl Kelly he might be. The Service files show twenty seven possible Corporal Kelly. He might be anyone of them.  The Photo is dated June 1918. Some details which are hard to make out is the battalion patch, the tunic cloth  on his shoulder is twisted and has folds so it’s hard to make out.  I can deduce that the shape is neither a semi circle or Triangle, so would be a square or circle.  It is difficult to see but the battalion emblem is painted on the helmet, and seems to be a circle above rectangle, but I can’t be sure.  He is wearing a single ribbon bar?? , the collars could be General service? and there is a cloth badge above his right Sgt rank.  Any idea’s ?”

As the photograph stands there are some enticing but incomplete hints.

We can see a portion of the shoulder flash on the soldier’s left (our right) should. It is a Canadian divisional patch. It has a square bottom and shape above it is indeterminant. The next clue are the collar badges. They are earlier maple leaf badges with the battalion’s number impressed on them in the center. Sadly, they too are indistinct. Next, the helmet appears to have the battalion marking on the forehead or front portion of the helmet, again, indistinct. Last, there soldier has his rank insignia on his right arm with a trade symbol above it. The trade symbol is important as it would define exactly what role this soldier would have within his battalion.

The soldier’s surname and the time of the photograph are also a help but if I am correct the photograph’s caption is misleading as they have spelled this soldier’s surname incorrectly[i].

The caption offers a tantalizing summary of the act of heroism and if it is correct, it further limits our ability to confirm this man’s identity. It states, “Corpl. Kelly who carried out a raid single-handed capturing a prisoner and shooting three others.”

Such an act was carried out by a corporal of the 18th Battalion and offers a tantalizing connection save for some issues that are brought up by the lack of detail in the above photograph and the difference between the photograph’s caption from that of the records of the 18th Battalion, the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade, and the subsequent DCM citation.

The 18th Battalion War Diary[ii] records the event as follows:

“A courageous act was done this morning by #212203 Arm. Cpl. D. A. KELLEY. At 8.15 Cpl. Kelley with a wiring party left our trench at N.19.a70.89 and proceeded up an old communication trench towards enemy lines to definitively locate positions and defences of enemy post located in this trench. Cpl. Kelley was able to get close to this post and found 3 Germans on sentry duty. He rushed the barrier in front of this post and shot 2 of the occupants and dragged the third across the barrier. Several of the enemy were seen to run back along the trench. An enemy machine gun opened up and bombs where thrown but Cpl. Kelley returned safely to our line with his prisoner. Shortly after Cpl Kelley had returned [to] our line, a party of the enemy was seen to come into and down the trench toward raided post. Party estimated at 15 to 18. Several of them appeared on sides of the trench looking around apparently trying to locate the prisoner we had taken. Capt. Dougall and sentries in A Coy line immediately opened fire and six of the enemy were seen to fall and the remainder disappeared.”[iii]

The action was so noteworthy that, not only was it recorded in the 18th Battalion War Diary, but it was also recorded in the Brigade’s War Diary. The 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade war diary relates on 26, May 1918, “He [Kelly] rushed the post killing two Germans and seeing five other reach for their rifles he grabbed the sentry on duty and made for our lines,” and an excerpt of the Distinguished Conduct Medal relates “…he shot two men and seized another, firing his revolver into a party of six as he emerged with his prisoner.” Both sources only mention one man as prisoner and two men killed in the action.

In trying to determine what the identity of the soldier is in the photograph (figure 1) is problematic It is a jpg scan of the original. Thus, it is of low quality and subject to distortion and loss of detailed and when an unaltered version is zoomed in to view details the distortion (pixelation) become evident with a resulting deterioration of detail.

By saving a copy of the photograph and doing some basic photo manipulation to bring out details the following results for the first photograph were obtained.

Figure 2: Altered cropped image of detail of battalion symbol on helmet.

The simple act of lightening the photograph and increasing the clarity brings out the symbol on the helmet. It is a dark square with a circle on top. This could be, as contrasting colours are being represented in this photograph (not a red square to a red circle) the following battalions could be represented by this symbol[iv]:

1st Division: 1st and 13th Battalions.

2nd Division: 18th and 22nd Battalions.

3rd Division: Royal Canadian Regiment, 1st Canadian Mountain Rifles, and 43rd Battalion.

4th Division: 54th and 38th Battalion.

The 5th Division is not included as it was broken up in February 1918 to reinforce the Canadian Corps.

Enhancing the section of the photograph of the soldier’s collar badges, with the limited resources and skill sets of the author, provides no useful information.

Figure 3: Crop of collar badges. Numbers are indistinct.

The collar badge is indistinct but appears to only have two numerals. It offers another clue as it is not the newer style and simplified collar badge used later in the war as in the sample below.

Figure 4: Note the later style collar badge denoting this, as yet, unidentified member of the 18th Battalion in comparison to the photograph in the previous figure.

The differences of the collar badge design has some utility in determining who this soldier is that earned the DCM. It denotes he joined his battalion before the newer and simpler style of collar badge was issued.

Another clue is the service ribbon on his tunic. Its colour cannot be determined and appears not to be the pattern used to denote a recipient of DCM. The soldier he may be wearing a locally produced ribbon representing that his superiors have applied for this award and the surety of this application being accepted someone presented a ribbon to the soldier in expectation of the award being authorized. The photograph was taken in June and if it can be determined who the soldier is this could be part of the explanation. It all comes down to timing or this ribbon denotes something else yet to be determined.

A picture containing text, watch, chain, locket

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Figure 5: Crop of service ribbon.

Note that the pattern is not that of a DCM.

Next, the soldier has a symbol above his rank insignia. As the photograph is full on front the details of the insignia are indistinct and impossible to determine. There were a range of trade badges that denoted the skills of the soldier and if it could be determined which badge this soldier is wearing it would go towards the list of evidence that would eliminate many possible soldiers (at least 1,000) that had the surname “Kelly”.

Figure 6: Sample of army badges. Note no. 35.

Last, and the most obvious is the soldier’s rank. He is a corporal denoted by the dual “V” shaped chevrons on his tunic and this is helpful but not definitive. Ranks achieved during service where not permanent. Soldiers rose and fell in rank and this soldier might have been a corporal at the time of the photograph it did not mean that he was discharged with this rank. Even if this rank was relevant at this soldier’s discharge that leaves 27 soldiers at the Library and Archives as possible candidates for this photograph.

Luckily, we have more evidence.

A second photograph exists of the same man and was taken in a different physical aspect to the camera and context that adds more information to help determine who this man is.

This photograph gives us some definitive clues.

Figure 8: Crop and altered contrast to enhance photograph of right shoulder.

From this aspect we can see the trade badge. It appears to be a pair of pliers and a hammer crossed similar to No. 35 in the army badge diagram above. Couple with the shape of the battalion shoulder flash, almost certainly a dark square below a round circle one can more easily determine who the soldier is. It would be even better if we could determine who the officer is but his rank insignia is obscured. He is possibly a general officer or a colonel.

From the information derived from the images from the two photographs one possible conclusion is that this soldier is Corporal (Armourer) David Alexander Kelly (AKA Kelley)[v].

This evidence is circumstantial and subject to verification, but it is compelling enough to draw the conclusion from the evidence of:

  1. The war diaries,
  2. That this soldier arrived with the 18th Battalion on September 5, 1917, perhaps being issued with a maple leaf pattern collar badge. Though this cannot be determined absolutely the pattern of badge changed over time and the maple leaf badge was authorized for issue on October 27, 1917, and then changed back to the “C” over the battalion number style badge in August of 1918.[vi]
  3. The rank and insignia of the trade badge.
  4. The date of the photograph.
  5. The description of the photograph. Though not exact in comparison to the citation associated with Corporal Kelly’s DCM citation it is unique enough to be that of the same action. The discrepancy could be attributed to an error in the original text of the photograph or subsequent transcriptions of the photograph as it was managed by Library and Archives Canada.

Further research could confirm this attribution by the author of this soldier to this photograph. With time this may be happen and bring to light this moment in the history of this soldier portrayed in a photograph from over 100 years ago.

What is certain is he was a Canadian soldier serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces and the photograph attributes his identity as a Corporal Kelly who earned a DCM from action with the enemy.

Perhaps other photographs, letters, news clippings, and other sources exist to help solve this mystery conclusively.

For now, we may have found our man.


[i] Many examples of attestation papers and service records recording incorrect surnames exist. Most often the discrepancy is found by this author when research the death and burial of a soldier. In this case, this soldier’s surname was listed as “Kelly” but he was buried under the surname of “Kelley”. There is no record of this name in his service records and even his Veteran’s Death Card reflects the spelling at enlistment. His gravestone is spelled “Kelley”. Note that there are records of 121 people at the LAC WW1 database with the latter spelling.

[ii] Edwards, E., 2022. War Diary of the 18th Battalion: May 1918. [online] War Diary of the 18th Battalion CEF. Available at: <https://18thbattalioncef.blog/2018/04/30/war-diary-of-the-18th-battalion-may-1918/&gt; [Accessed 4 June 2022].20others> [Accessed 4 June 2022].

[iii] For articles about this action see the following: Link 1 and Link 2.

[iv] See http://www.canadiansoldiers.com/insignia/formations/cefform.htm

[v] Per this man’s grave.

[vi] Brooker, C., 2020. WW1 CANADIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE BADGES. 2nd ed. https://www.mccofc.ca/WWI-CEF-Badges/P1-Intro-generic-maple-leaf-badges.pdf, p.8

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