This is the first of a series of blog posts investigating the service and experiences of 18th Battalion soldiers from the Maritmes. As the 18th Battalion was a Western Ontario battalion it generally received replacements from battalions raised in the same geographic region.
The author is presently visiting such graves of the men he has found in this region and will write a blog post relating to each soldier.
On 6 April 1915 railway conductor Fred Claude Sherwood enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. Sporting the regimental number of 44589, this 19-year-old filled out at a stout 166 pounds on a 5’ 7.5” frame. Enlisting at Fredericton, New Brunswick this young man of the 55th Battalion listed his father, Andrew B. Sherwood of Norton, New Brunswick as his next-of-kin and assigned $15.00 of his pay to his father starting in November 1916.
Having noted that he had prior military experience with “Camp Training”, Private Sherwood trained diligently with this battalion and earned a promotion to Corporal effective 1 May 1915, but he reverts to the rank of Private on 18 August 1915, probably in expectation of going overseas and with the rank of private he was more likely to be assigned for duty on the Continent (Overseas) and combat.
Leaving Montreal aboard the SS, the 55th Battalion arrived in England on 8 November 1915, and he was assigned to the Field Brigade Signal Base Company attached to the 39th Battalion at West Sanding. While serving with this unit he became ill starting on 22 April 1916 until discharged from care effective 13 July 1917. 3-months later he was taken on strength with the 18th Battalion effective 21 October 1916.
This was probably not expected by Private Sherwood. As a New Brunswicker he would have had the expectation to be a reinforcement for a Maritime battalion, such as the 26th Battalion. But, as the recent fighting at the Somme had put an incredible strain on the manpower needs of the 1st and 2nd Contingents men from geographically dissimilar areas were sent to units form different parts of Canada. There were strong regional differences between the different parts of Canada. Though Canada was a primarily a rural country at this time (1911 approximately 55% of Canadian lived in rural areas)[i] there was differences of regional language and customs that could be quite pronounced.
But on that day in October, Private Sherwood would become a member of the 18th Battalion when he arrived “in the field” with the 18th Battalion while it was in the front line in the Maroc Sector.
He would serve with the 18th Battalion until a fateful day. On 20 April 1917 he was accidentally wounded “in the field” (fracture to his tibia) and transferred from No. 4 Canadian Field Ambulance to No. 58 Casualty Clearing Station the next day. It appears he was held at this unit and on 15 May 1917 was subject to a Field General Court Martial for “When on active service, conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline, (negligently wounding himself in the left leg) 20 April 1917”. He was sentenced to 30-days Field Punishment No. 1 and the sentence was confirmed by the Acting Adjutant General (AAG), 1st Army 2-days later.
As he was wounded, the sentence could not be meted out and on 17 July 1917 a Medical Board was convened to determine if he had recovered enough to bear the stress of Field Punishment No. 1. He was. As he was fit for duty at Base he was, “Found fit to undergo punishment.”
He was sent to England and spend 21-days at Bunbury R.C. Hospital where it was determined that he would not recover enough to fight again and was sent home aboard the SS Araguaya. He boarded this ship on 19 November 1917 and arrived in Canada on 22 November 1917.
It appears he was taken in for further treatment in St. John, New Brunswick for a medical examination on 4 February 1918.
He was discharged at Fredericton, New Brunswick on April 30, 1918. There is no mention of his court martial, and his “Conduct and character” are remarked as “GOOD”.
It is interesting to note that on discharge Private Sherwood wrote “If necessary would like further treatment if wounds require it after discharge.” As we do not have the court-martial documents it may be that he is maintaining his innocence even after his conviction. There are no witness documents in his service file to further elucidate the matter.
His service record has two post-war notations.
On 1 April 1922 there is a note updating his address to 187 High Street, Moncton, New Brunswick.
The last document is a notice of his death. A letter from the Central and Eastern Trust Company informed the Canadian Government that this soldier had died on 4 November 1979.
There is evidence that he required a cane to walk after his wounding and without the court martial documents one cannot make an educated deduction of this man’s guilt or innocence.
He did volunteer and served faithfully until he was “wounded”. Perhaps the hint to the circumstances of his wounding is related to his sentence. No being an expert on military justice I suspect he was given a sentence and punishment that reflected some empathy from the presiding officers. Far be it for this post to attempt to understand the subtleties of military justice, but the AAG endorsed the punishment on the Court’s recommendation. I suspect Private Sherwood’s outcome could have been worse (any Military Justice experts chime in here).
In the end Private Sherwood’s service would be one thread of the thousands of the men of the 18th Battalion.
He is not particularly remarkable. He served. His service record shows that he was human (I leave it to the readers to find out the meaning of this).
He, along with thousands of soldiers, returned from war and began lives. He married and he had a son and a daughter.
A son who died. The end of the line. No more Sherwoods from the male side of the family.
On the 27 of January 1944 Lancaster II sn. LL638 was shot down and crashed at Schmöckwitz a town 22 km SE from the center of Berlin.[ii] Flight Sergeant Clyde Allison Sherwood of 432 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) was onboard and his body was recovered from the wreckage of his aircraft and he was buried at the Berlin 1939-1945 Cemetery. His entire crew perished. Of the crew of seven, three bodies were recovered for burial at the Berlin 1939-1945 Cemetery. The others are remembered at the Runnymede Memorial.
Was this the end of the line of the Sherwoods? Most likely yes. When you look at the father’s war service, assuming he did deliberately wound himself in order to avoid combat service, one wonders what he felt when his son requested an endorsement from a United Church minister from Campbelltown, New Brunswick, Reverend C.N. Brown?
We cannot extrapolate this man’s feelings or thoughts without more information but we do know that the parents of Flight Sergeant Sherwood were in their thoughts.
If you look at the forward side of their gravestone records the parent’s deaths and their daughter’s death.
The reverse side acknowledges and records their son’s death.
Even though their son had a known grave they felt it was important to recognize their loss on their gravestone. Though the years had passed one of these people, if not all felt the need to ensure that this young man who died so far from home was given recognition for his and his family’s sacrifice.
Today the grave has been recognized for the service of this family. Unbeknownst to the author when he set the flags intended to commemorate the service of Private Sherwood he was shocked to see the inscription on the reverse of the stone. A set of flags where placed in recognition of the sacrifice of this Canadian family.
We really know so little about Private Sherwood. Was he guilty of a self-inflicted wound? Was it an accident? We will most probably never know. We do know that he volunteered and served until the incident where he was wounded or injured depending on the circumstances of that event. He was willing to lose all and his family did in the next war Private Sherwood fought to prevent.
[i] 2011. Canada’s rural population since 1851: Population and dwelling counts, 2011 Census. [PDF (Archived)] Statistics Canada, Online.
[ii] RAFCommands. 2022. Lancaster II LL638 [Royal Air Force Aircraft Serial and Image Database]. [online] Available at: <http://www.rafcommands.com/database/serials/details.php?uniq=LL638> [Accessed 12 September 2022].
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