There has been a lot of attention recently to the First World War with the 100th anniversary of the end of that Great War on Nov. 11th.
Several hundred local young men went overseas during that terrible conflict. One of them was John F. Hodgkinson, my grandfather.
John Hodgkinson was born on Jan. 18th, 1898 in Embro, Ontario.
In 1905 he moved with his family to the Red Deer area. The family purchased a farm at Willowdale where there was a good school. John’s father, Samuel, and grandfather, John, also took out homesteads at Pine Lake.
The First World War broke out in August 1914.
On June 20th, 1916, after putting in the crop at the Pine Lake farm, John walked to Red Deer to enlist in the 187 Battalion. The Battalion initially trained at the Red Deer Exhibition grounds with the livestock buildings serving as barracks.
Sanitation was a problem. Before the Battalion left Red Deer, there was an outbreak of typhoid due to contaminated drinking water.
The men of the 187 were transferred to Calgary for further training before departing for overseas on the RMS Olympic, the sister ship to the Titanic.
Unfortunately, ill health continued to dog the Battalion.
Many of the men, including John, came down with the mumps enroute. They were held back in Amherst, Nova Scotia, until they recuperated. John had a strong clear voice and so was temporarily made a corporal to lead the men in their training drills.
John arrived in Bramshott, England, in mid-March 1917.
However, the 187 was broken up and the men used to shore up other battalions which had suffered heavy casualties. Hence John was transferred to the 50 Battalion, a Calgary unit, and was then sent to France.
Because of the time of his actual arrival at the front, John was not part of the successful assaults on Vimy Ridge on April 9th, 1917. Rather he was part of the reinforcements sent in after the capture of the Ridge.
He did, however, see front line action at the Battle of Hill 70 at Lens in August 1917.
The fighting was fierce. The Germans used mustard gas and flame throwers against the attackers. Although the Canadians suffered more than 9,200 casualties in the brutal fighting, John was not one of those wounded.
At one point, John’s Sam Brown belt was shot off and he found four bullet holes in this uniform after the end of the fighting. However, he miraculously avoided being hit.
He was not so lucky at the horrific Battle of Passchendaele.
He was wounded and gassed on Oct. 26th, 1917, the opening day of the assault.
His lungs were damaged and he went temporarily blind. While he was blind, the Germans bombed the place where he was being treated. He later said it was the most terrifying experience of his life because he couldn’t see while the bombs were falling around him.
John was soon sent to military hospitals at Canterbury and then Woodcote Park in England for recuperation. In March 1918, he was deemed fit enough to be sent back to the front. However, he was soon transferred from the 50 Battalion to the 4 Canadian Machine Gun Corps.
John was part of the great Canadian success at Amiens in August 1918 when a large hole was punched in the German lines and helped to turn the tide of war towards victory.
He also took part in the string of victories, generally known as 100 Days, in which the Canadians rapidly advanced across Northern France.
On Nov. 1st, 1918, John was part of the successful assault on Valenciennes, France.
However the next day he was hit by shrapnel from a nearby exploding shell. He was sent to a field hospital at Camiers (Etaples) France. He was later transferred to convalescent hospitals at Chelsea and then Epsom in England.
Hence, when the War ended on Nov. 11th, 1918, John was in hospital recovering from his second set of wounds. In the spring, he was fit enough to be sent home. He came back on the Empress of Britain and arrived back in Alberta on April 5th, 1919.
John took up a farm in northeastern Alberta with his brother, Sam, through the Soldiers Settlement Board. In 1945, he returned to Pine Lake to run the old family farm.
For the rest of his life, John had health problems, principally with his lungs and eyes because he had been gassed. He passed away in Red Deer in May 1975.