Wetherby War Memorial - The Great War 1914 - 1918

Private John William Swann

Gunter, R B N
Durrant, C M
Weston, C G
Kelly, K G
Armitage, G J
Durrant, H M L
Hargreaves, J P
March, G
Dukes, W
Fowler, R
Westerman, H
Kirk, J C
Wiggins, T A
Telford, G
Harper, J W
Alexander, H W
Mason, T F
Wilkinson, W
Brown, C
Adkin, J
Barton, F
Hobman, A
Webster, A E
March, E A
Miller, G
Hannan, E
Utley, G
Walker, F
Bygrave, E W
Chapman, E
Varley, N W
Bowen, F J
Byrom, F
Backhouse, S
Dalby, M
Crossland, A
Crossley, J S
Dean, R
Frost, A E
Hodgson, F H
Holt, J
Hood, W H
Hill, W
Kitchen, T
Linfoot, E
Metcalfe, J C
Marsden, J
Pawson, W
Precious, G
Scutt, T G
Wiggins, J
Walker, E
Wood, A
Young, T
Pratt, W
Taylor, H
Dawson, G W
Lister, J
Binge, T
Atack, G
Durham, E F
Precious, G R
Wheelhouse Smith, W
Backhouse, H
Swann, J W
Burnsides, G A
Coles, W
Kelly, H W
Miles, J G
Tapsell, K

3rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry (Toronto Regiment)
Died, 31st August 1918

Cemetery : Valley Cemetery, Vis-en-Artois, Pas de Calais, France
Grave Reference or Panel Number : A.10

Son of George and Frances Swann of West End, Wetherby.

John was born on the 28th of June 1896 at Linton, near Wetherby to parents George, described as a Farmer (Own Account) and Frances Kate Swann. The 1901 Census records the family as residing in premises adjacent to 'Linton Old Manor,' this equating to a cottage located off Northgate Lane, the family at this juncture comprising of John, his parents, a sister, Frances Ethel born in 1894 and George Henry born in 1899. The family had also taken in a Boarder, one Matthew Thorburn aged 22 years, a Domestic Groom and a native of Barnsley.

On the baptism records of the aforementioned children, George Swann's occupation is described more accurately as that of a Gardener or Market Gardener. With a growing family, Sarah Eleanor (Helena as she is recorded in the Birth Index) being born in mid 1901, by the year of 1907, the family had relocated to Wetherby residing at first in premises located at Sandringham Terrace and then at Number 9, West End in the Westgate area of the town. In September 1908, the birth of another child took place, namely Christopher Neville, the 1911 Census recording that George was carrying on his profession as that of a Market Gardener (Worker) whilst John, now aged 14 years had found employment as an Apprentice Painter.

Although the Yorkshire Market Town of Wetherby was flourishing during this period, one may surmise that John was restless in spirit. To this end, with or without his parents consent it is unknown, John made a decision to take a great leap of faith and emigrate to Canada. It is now that we will take up his story as he crossed the Atlantic to commence a new life in what was perceived by many to be a golden land of opportunity.

Canada: A Journey Into The Unknown

In May 1913, John journeyed south, no doubt by railway to the Port of Southampton. Embarking on the S.S. "Ascania," a ship owned and operated by the Cunard Line on the 8th of May 1913, he stated that his intention to emigrate to Canada was to pursue an occupation of that of a Farm Labourer. Arriving at Quebec on the 19th of May, the nature of his life and exact whereabouts until 1915 are unknown, that is until he attested for service with the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on the 14th of August 1915 at Moosomin, Saskatchewan.

Attestation, Enlistment & Posting Overseas

A Following description of John appears on his Attestation Papers, the Approving Officer being one Major Thomas Edwin Perret, a native of Regina, Saskatchewan.

"Apparent age, 19 years. Height, 5 feet 7 and a half inches. Chest measurement, Girth when fully expanded, 33 and a half inches, Range of expansion, 3 and a half inches. Complexion, fair, eyes, blue, hair, brown. Religion stated as Church of England."

Initially joining the ranks of the 68th Battalion (Regina), C.E.F., this battalion's formation had been authorised in April 1915 and recruited men from Regina and the Moose Jaw Districts of Saskatchewan amongst others. Transferred to the 46th Battalion (South Skatchewan) in October 1915 by Army Authority, John numbered 427883 and the battalion, Officer Commanding Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Snell, embarked at Halifax, Nova Scotia for England on the 23rd of October 1915 onboard the S.S. "Lapland," a passenger ship formerly owned by the Red Star Line and commandeered as Troop Ship. Disembarking at Devonport, England, on the 30th of October, the battalion, strength recorded as 36 officers and 1,115 Other Ranks then proceeded to Bramshott Camp, Hampshire.

Bramshott Camp, England: Origins, Command & Confusion

Established early in the war, the camp was located on a common between the villages of Bramshott and Liphook. Before the provision of suitable accommodation however, the camp was primitive to say the least with the men being housed in tents with little or no facilities for recreation until the construction of wooden huts began late in the winter of 1914. As recreational facilities such as a number of Y.M.C.A. huts was added, one of these alone circa December 1914 was capable of holding 800 men standing for the provision of a Church Service. A large hospital was added capable of treating over 600 men, this being expanded further in 1916 to a capacity of 1,200 beds.

In late 1915, reinforcements arriving from Canada were duly sent to Bramshott as the established facility at Shorncliffe, Kent, home to the Canadian Training Division, had reached full capacity. Placed under the command of Brigadier-General Lord Brooke, late G.O.C. 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade in November 1915, the whole training of Canadian forces in Great Britain would and had proved to be a complex issue. Two commands were now operating before and during this period at both Aldershot and Shorncliffe and attempts were made to bring the former under the regulation of that of the Shorncliffe Command under Major-General Samuel Steele. In effect, there were now two men who believed that they were in ultimate command of Canadian Forces in Britain, Steele at Shorncliffe, and Brigadier-General James Charles MacDougall under the auspices of the Aldershot Command. As confusion reigned still further, in early 1916 and after another visit to the War Office, Major-General John Wallace Carson attempted to clarify the structure of the command of Canadian forces in England in a letter to Steele. The letter simply stated that MacDougall was to remain the G.O.C. Canadians in England, a position that he had been appointed to by the Canadian Government and approved by the British. Lord Brooke would remain in command of Bramshott subject to MacDougall's orders and that he would administer the same training programme as that being conducted at Shornecliffe. As regards Steele himself, Carson stated that he (Steele), would remain as G.O.C. of Shornecliffe and in addition to his duties in that command, he would also have authority in the supervision of the men stationed at Bramshott.

It is quite apparent although the above is just a fraction of the difficulties perpetuated by both politicians and those in the Canadian military, that the structure and command in place to train Canadian troops arriving in England was far from satisfactory from the outset. As a consequence, it was not until October 1916 and the formation of the Ministry of Overseas Military Forces that the difficulties experienced over two years was finally addressed. For a more indepth reading of the subject, the reader may wish to refer to the excellent Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914 - 1919, Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War by G.W.L. Nicholson, McGill-Queen's Press, 2015.

The Camp: 'Mud-larking' 

Even the location of the camp it would seem was unsuitable. Drainage of the common land on which the camp was sited proved to be most problematic as Bramshott developed, the camp itself turning into a veritable quagmire.' Mud-larking' would appear to be the pre-occupation of most of the camps inhabitants but to break the monotony of life in the most determinable of conditions, concerts were performed nearly every night from volunteers from the local populace. Such was the condition of the camp, a parody on the refrain of the popular song "A Little Bit of Heaven" was composed by a Private of the Royal Army Medical Corps:-

"Sure, a little drop of water fell from the sky one day,

And rested on the surface of a lump of mud and clay.

When the Government found it, it looked so wet and rare,

They said, "Suppose we leave it and put a Camp right there."

So they dotted it with "Canuks," just to make the mud-pies grow,

It's the only place you'll find them, no matter where you go.

Then they sprinkled it with rain-drops, just to make it nice and damp,

And when they had it finished, sure, they called it Bramshott Camp."    

Just as the 46th Battalion were settling into camp, a tragic accident involving one man from the 40th Canadian Infantry Battalion occured on the 30th of October. Private James Joseph Smith, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was part of a party of about twenty men who were returning from Liphook to camp. Smith himself, apparently the worse for wear through drink, attempted to board a passing lorry operated by the Army Service Corps but unfortunately missed the vehicle and fell under the rear wheel. Initially admitted to Bramshott Camp Hospital, he was then transferred to Frensham Hill Hospital but died from "shock" due to injuries received shortly after midnight on the 31st. Aged only 19 years and being in England just over little than a week, James now lies in Bordon Military Cemetery.

A more sinister death occured during the month of December when one Canteen Sergeant of the 9th Canadian Mounted Rifles was murdered in horrific circumstances at Grayshott by an officer of the 41st Battalion C.E.F. Sentenced to death at the Hampshire Assizes, after an appeal the capital sentence was commuted to one of penal servitude for life however the officer, despite overwhelming evidence, still maintained his innocence.

In 1916, instances of drunkeness were rife. One man committed suicide albeit the man in question was certified insane, another man, also under the influence of drink after a heavy session, suffocated due to a tight coat collar. The local populace by this stage it appears, had basically had enough. It was rumoured that the town of Guildford had been placed "out of bounds" to some Canadian regiments quartered in the locality and it was suggested in some quarters that this was instigated by the Mayor of the Borough himself. Harmful for trade however, the moral high ground had been taken!

Although there is virtually no information as regards the training of the battalion during their stay at Bramshott, one may surmise that this consisted of various drills in musketry, bayonet and bomb as well as the conducting of route marches across the Hampshire countryside. On the 19th of April 1916, John wrote a Will bequeathing all his personal estate to his mother. This Will was witnessed by Private Edgar Hulme Henley, a former Bank Clerk of Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan, and Pay Sergeant Kenneth Sterling Russell, a native of Osgoode Station, Ontario and a former Accountant. It is therefore possible that on this date, John was aware or made aware of an imminent departure for service overseas.

On the 16th of June 1916, Private John William Swann proceeded overseas. Although the ports of embarkation and diembarkation are not recorded in his service documents, he was taken on the strength of the 3rd Battalion, C.E.F. on the following day. An annotation is then recorded as "O.C.C.B.D," this acronym referring to the Officer Commanding Canadian Base Depot. At this juncture, the Depot administering reinforcements for all arms of the Canadian forces was located at Le Havre until a move was made to Etaples the following year. Suffice to say, John's port of disembarkation was Le Havre and it was from this place that he journeyed north by train to join his battalion, in the field, as part of a draft of 125 Other Ranks on the 19th of June.

The 3rd Battalion, Officer Commanding, Lieutenant-Colonel William Donald Allan D.S.O. had just witnessed a heavy engagement in the Ypres Salient at Mount Sorrell. Suffering 5 officers, killed, died of wounds or missing, in Other Ranks the battalion had suffered 339 casualties. Withdrawn from the line on the 14th, it was on the 19th when John and his associated draft arrived, that the battalion was located in the Patricia Lines in Corps Reserve to the south of Poperinghe (Poperinge).

On the following day, John and his accompanying draft were inoculated, a further draft numbering 224 men also being received by the battalion on the 21st. It was on the 24th at 7 p.m. that the battalion moved into Brigade Reserve completing a relief of the 10th Canadian Infantry Battalion, 2nd Canadian Brigade, 1st Canadian Division in the 2nd G.H.Q. Line at 12.15 a.m. on the 25th of June.

The G.H.Q. Line, originally constructed by the French, was a defensive line sited behind the front line positions. The term, the 2nd G.H.Q. Line was in fact a misnomer as there did not exist a 1st Line. In this sector, that occupied by the 3rd Battalion and in turn by the constituent units of the 1st Canadian Brigade, this defensive line roughly ran along the road from Kruisstraahoek to the south-west, and then in a north-easterly direction towards Shrapnel Corner. The position itself consisted of what one would describe as a series of redoubts, constructed in or in the vicinity of farms or nearby chateaus such as the Chateau Segard to the south, Bellegoed Farm in the centre and Swan Chateau to the north. It is in this sector that John, and his fellow drafts, had their first experience of life in the trenches on the Western Front. It is at this juncture that we will now look at the formation and posting overseas of the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry. 


Extract Of Trench Map, Ypres, Edition 3, 28 N.W. 4

3rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry: Arrival In The U.K.  

The battalion was formed on the 2nd of September 1914 at Valcartier near Quebec with recruits being drawn from the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada in addition to men from the ranks of the 10th Royal Grenadiers and the Governor General's Body Guard. Commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Rennie M.V.O., a native of Toronto and formerly a member of the 2nd Battalion, Volunteer Militia Rifles, after a short period of training the 3rd Battalion were assigned to the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade, under the command of Temporary Brigadier-General (Lieutenant-Colonel) Malcolm Smith Mercer.

Embarking at Quebec City on the 25th of September 1914, the passage across the Atlantic was to be made onboard the S.S. "Tunisian," a Passenger Liner built in 1900 for service with the Allan Line. Arriving in Plymouth Sound, England, on the 14th of October, disembarkation commenced on the 19th at Devonport whereupon the battalion, strength 42 officers and 1123 Other Ranks, proceeded by route of march to Friary Station, operated by the London and South Western Railway. Entraining in two allocated trains, their destination was to be Amesbury, Wiltshire, which was reached early on the morning of the 20th. Upon detrainment, the battalion then marched a distance of six and a half miles and after passing the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge, Bustard Camp on Salisbury Plain was reached in the mid morning.

The Canadian Contingent now began a long association with the various camps located in this part of rural England. With the 1st Infantry Brigade receiving many distinguished visitors during their time at Bustard Camp, the weather for the remainder of the year hampered training in many respects but in between spells of heavy rainfall, the brigade were engaged in route marches, musketry and day and night advances. On the 16th of December, news of the German naval bombardment of the coast of the north-east of England reached the lines and orders were received for all the constituent units of the brigade to remain in communication with Brigade Headquarters for the duration of the night. It was also on this date that the 3rd Battalion were granted permission by the G.O.C. of the Canadian Division, to adopt the title of the 3rd Canadian Battalion, Toronto Regiment.

In January, the battalion suffered its first loss when the Reverend George Leycester Ingles, Chaplain to the Battalion, died after contracting cerebro-spinal-meningitis whilst visiting the sick at Number One General Hospital at Bulford aged just 28 years. On Sunday the 3rd of January, Reverend Ingles was buried with full military honours in Bulford Church Cemetery, the Commanding Officer and all available officers attending along with a firing party and escort under the command of Captain William Donald Allan of Number One Company.

Western Front

It was on the 7th of February 1915 that the battalion, now contained in what was designated the 1st Canadian Division, made final preparations for posting overseas. Upon forming into two parties, the first departed Bustard Camp  at 12.30 a.m. followed by the second at 1.30 a.m. With both parties under the commands of Colonel Rennie and Major George Mowat Higinbotham M.V.O. respectively, the battalion embarked at Avonmouth on the S.S. "City of Edinburgh," a steam ship formerly owned by Ellerman's City Line and requisitioned as a troopship by the Admiralty in 1914. Departing the port at 3 a.m. early on the morning of the 9th, the "Edinburgh" rendezvoused with the British battleship "Lord Nelson" which would escort them across the English Channel and into the Bay of Biscay. Arriving off Saint Nazaire, disembarkation commenced at 1.30 p.m. on the afternoon of the 11th however during the unloading process, two wagons fell from the hoist, one landing on the deck whilst the other plummeted into the ships hold. The demise of the vehicle proved to be most problematic as this wagon contained the mountings for the battalion's M1895/14 Colt-Browning machine guns but despite this accident, the battalion entrained at Number 5 Voie, less two platoons under the command of Lieutenant James Kerr Cronyn.

As the train headed northwards to a destination unbeknown to the rank and file, various stops were made on the way so as officers and men alike could partake of some refreshment. Finally, Strazeele, west of Bailleul in northern France was reached at 6 p.m. in the early evening of the 13th of February whereupon the battalion proceeded by route of march into billets located in farms in the vicinity of Merris.

After a period of trench familiarisation in the Armentieres Sector, the 1st Canadian Division were now placed under the orders of the Second Army, G.O.C. General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, and contained in 3rd Corps, G.O.C. Lieutenant-General Pulteney respectively.    

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