On Sunday, April 9th, Canadians will be commemorating the centennial of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
It was Canada’s greatest victory during the long and bloody First World War. The capture of the seemingly impregnable Vimy Ridge was such an amazing achievement by the Canadian military that, to many commentators and historians, the modern nation of Canada was born during that battle.
However, while Vimy Ridge was a glorious victory, it also came with an incredible cost.
There were 10,600 casualties in the battle, including 3,600 deaths. Locally, 12 young men from Red Deer and area lost their lives in the successful first day assault on the Ridge. Sixteen more were killed during the rest of the battle.
Two young men from Red Deer who lost their lives in the epic assault on Easter Monday morning, 100 years ago, were Bert Usherwood and Dan Campbell.
Bert Usherwood was born on March 6th, 1896 to James Albert and Mary Campbell Morrison Usherwood. James Usherwood had been a successful farmer in the Newmarket/Aurora area north of Toronto.
However, in 1900, he and Mary decided to move to Red Deer to take advantage of the new prospects in western Canada.
Although James suffered from inflammatory rheumatism, he generally did well. He was soon able to build a substantial two-storey house on McLeod (54) St. east of St. Luke’s Anglican Church.
It was a great home for Bert and his six siblings.
They were energetic and athletic. For example, Bert won ice skating competitions. His sister Helene eventually played hockey with the Edmonton Monarchs women’s hockey team.
In February 1915, Bert decided to answer the call “to serve King and Country.”
He enlisted in the local 12th Canadian Mounted Rifles. Although Canadians were generally not involved in the early stages of the infamous Battle of the Somme in July 1916, Bert wrote home that he was soon fighting on the front lines.
He stated that he was covered up in mud from shell-fire several times, but otherwise was fine. However, his luck turned once the Canadians entered the thick of battle later in the fall. He was reported as being wounded in November 1916.
Fortunately, he was able to recover from his wounds.
Despite his injuries, he maintained a reputation as a brave soldier. He was noted as being able to make jokes even in the midst of combat. His skill and courage soon earned him a promotion to corporal.
On the morning of April 9th, 1917, Bert Usherwood was killed in the assault on Vimy Ridge.
Dan Campbell was born on Feb. 10th, 1893 near Hamilton, Ontario.
In 1911, he moved to Red Deer to work with his sister’s brother-in-law, Walter Chadsey, in the booming real estate and insurance business of Michener, Carscallen and Chadsey.
As Edward Michener’s career as an MLA and leader of the Conservative Party in the Alberta Legislature flourished, Campbell began working as Michener’s personal assistant and secretary.
In January 1915, he enlisted in the 12th Canadian Mounted Rifles and went overseas. He transferred to the machine gun section of the 2nd Mounted Rifles.
He was noted for keeping his cool when under fire. One comrade wrote that even in the heaviest fighting, Campbell kept operating his machine gun with a calmness, “As if he was writing a letter at Mr. Michener’s dictation.”
His courage and skill in battle earned him a promotion to lance corporal.
Campbell lost his life on the morning of April 9th during the assault on Vimy Ridge.
Before he had left Red Deer, he had taken out a claim on a homestead in East Central Alberta. Because of the circumstances of his death, the federal Land Titles office agreed to transfer this land into the name of his sister Susan, whom he had named as his next of kin.
Both Bert Usherwood and Dan Campbell are buried in Canadian military cemeteries near Vimy Ridge.