IN MEMORIAM: Private Arthur Forbes Ruddock, 129200 (1896-1917)
W. Michael Patience, Seaforth Highlanders of Canada Regimental Association
Scott also kindly provided a photo of his great uncle, Arthur Forbes Ruddock (the son of Mr. and Mrs. A. E. Ruddock), who was taken on strength as a private with the 72nd Battalion (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada) on September 11th, 1915.
In History of the 72nd Canadian Infantry Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, author Bernard McEvoy, confirms on June 18th, 1916 while the battalion was still undergoing training at Bramshott Military Camp in Hampshire, England that a draft of 150 men from ‘A’ and ‘B’ Coys was transferred as reinforcements to the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish), deployed to the Ypres salient and attached to 3rd Canadian Brigade, 1st Canadian Division.[i] Why this draft of men was transferred from the 72nd Battalion, only arrived in England the previous month, is the subject of this article.
In June 1916, the British Fourth Army, commanded by General Sir Henry Rawlinson, was busy preparing for the impending Somme front offensive, a fact quite well known to the Germans. In order to divert men and resources away from the Somme buildup, the German XIII (Royal Württemberg) Corps made a spectacularly successful diversionary attack in the Ypres sector on June 2nd, 1916 against the Canadian Corps' 3rd Division which was holding the last remaining high ground in the salient still under Allied control, in the vicinity of Mt. Sorrel.
3rd Canadian Division's commanding officer, Major-General Malcolm Mercer, was mortally wounded during the German attack, and the 8th Brigade's commanding officer, Brigadier-General Arthur Victor Seymour Williams, was taken prisoner. The German attack was assisted by the detonation of several mines under the Canadian front lines and a punishing artillery barrage. By the end of June 2nd the Canadians were dislodged from the high ground of Mt. Sorrel, Hill 62 (Tor Top), and Hill 61.
Beginning on June 3rd, General Sir Julian Byng, the newly-appointed commanding officer of the Canadian Corps, ordered the recapture of these local prominences. The initial Canadians attempts to recapture their lost defensive positions were not successful, and losses were particularly heavy in the 1st Canadian Division. It was not until June 13th that the Canadians had regained their former lines held before the German attack.
The casualties incurred by the Canadian Corps at Mt. Sorrel are witness to the severity of the fighting in that sector. In the first half of June 1916, the Corps' losses totaled almost 8,500 casualties: 130 officers and 3,033 other ranks killed or missing, 257 officers and 5,010 other ranks wounded. By the end of the month the losses would climb to 11,500 men. Add to those numbers the losses from May (3,100 casualties) and April (where fighting in the St-Eloi crater area resulted in 2,900 casualties) the total reaches some 17,500 men wounded, captured or killed in three months of fighting. These were grievous losses for the Canadian Corps, which in comparison had only incurred approximately 2,000 casualties during the less active first three months of 1916.
To return to the Canadian Scottish, the 16th Battalion was formed in September 1914 from volunteers drawn from the 50th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders of Canada), the 79th Regiment (Cameron Highlanders of Canada), the 91st Canadian Highlanders (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders), and 72nd Regiment (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada), and assigned to the fledgling 1st Canadian Division.[ii] The battalion arrived in France on February 7th, 1915 and by the middle of April the 1st Canadian Division, attached to Second British Army’s V Corps, was deployed to the Ypres salient, in the vicinity of St. Julien. Here at 5:00 PM on April 22nd the Germans attacked using poison gas for the first time on the Western Front.
Along with the 10th Battalion (Canadians), the 16th Battalion was pulled out of Divisional Reserves and ordered to counterattack to prevent a major German breakthrough at Kitchener’s Wood. In desperate fighting between April 22nd and May 4th (the Battle of Gravenstafel Ridge and the Battle of St. Julien), the Canadian Scottish suffered 439 casualties: ten officers killed or missing, seven wounded; 183 other ranks killed or missing and 239 wounded. Among the officers killed was Captain Cecil Mack Merritt, the father of future Victoria Cross recipient Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt, who was shot by a German sniper on April 23rd.
The 16th Battalion next saw action less than a month later during the confused fighting at Festubert, situated about seven kilometers west of the French town of Béthune. Here on May 18th, 1915 the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade, now assigned to British I Corps’ 7th Division, attacked with the 14th Battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment) over unfamiliar ground with little opportunity for detailed planning or preparation. The results were typical of the early battles of the Great War. Three officers were killed and another three wounded, 203 other ranks wounded or missing, and sixty-eight killed, for a total of 277 casualties. Overall, futile attacks by the 1st Canadian Division at Festubert between May 15th and May 21st resulted in nearly 2,500 casualties.
Efforts to provide reinforcements to 1st Canadian Division in the field, as Mark Zuehlke writes, was complicated by political decisions, and perhaps by the belief that the war against Germany would be concluded in short order:
Rebuilding proved more troublesome for the Canadian division than was true of other Commonwealth counterparts due to manpower supply shortages. Minister of Militia and Defence Sam Hughes had neglected to create an efficient system for raising and training reinforcements to replenish the contingent he had so erratically formed in the fall of 1914. The heavy losses of April and May had completely drained the division's entire reserve pool in England, which had only numbered 2,000 men. This forced the dissolution of entire battalions stationed in England as part of the Canadian buildup there that were then fed piecemeal to the division. Even this measure failed to provide enough troops to bring the line battalions up to strength.[iii]
Even as it fought at Second Ypres, the 16th Battalion began to receive reinforcements to replenish battlefield losses. On April 28th, 1915 a draft of 225 men lead by Major Cyrus Wesley Peck, the future commanding officer of the 16th Battalion and Victoria Cross recipient (at Amiens in 1918), was taken on strength. At about the same time a draft sent from battalion reserves stationed in England included former Seaforth Lieutenant Roderick Ogle Bell-Irving and nine other lieutenants. On May 7th, 1915 – just before the Canadian Scottish jumped the bags at Festubert – another draft of 213 men from the 50th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders of Canada) was taken on strength by the battalion. At the end of July 1915 a draft of men from the 79th Regiment (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) was taken on strength, which finally restored the 16th Battalion back to full strength.
In the following year the 16th Battalion fought twice in two weeks at Mt Sorrel in June. During the initial, hurried counter-attack on June 3rd, the battalion suffered a total of 103 casualties, with ninety-nine other ranks killed, wounded or missing, three officers killed and one wounded. Ten days later the battalion incurred an additional 252 casualties, including twenty-three other ranks killed, 155 wounded and sixty-five missing. Among the officers, four were wounded and five were killed. Combat at Mt. Sorrel in June 1916 was particularly costly amongst the battalions’ officers: between June 3rd and 14th, ten officers were killed in action, and in no other Great War battle would the Canadian Scottish suffer a greater loss of officers.
This then was the historical context which necessitated the transfer of 150 other ranks from the 72nd Battalion to the 16th Battalion in the middle of June 1916. Below is the C.E.F. Record of Service of Private Ruddock showing his transfer to the Canadian Scottish, and note that ‘S.O.S.’ here is an abbreviation for ‘Struck Off Strength’.
There is a kilt apron in the regimental museum’s collection, which reads ‘1st Draft to 16th Battalion’, and surmounted by a very fine drawing of the 72nd Battalion’s regimental crest. What is truly remarkable about this particular kilt apron is that it also bears the signature and regimental number of each of the 150 other ranks who were transferred to the 16th Battalion in June 1916.
And in the centre column, just below a stained area, can be clearly read the signature and regimental number of Private Arthur Forbes Ruddock, 129200 (circled in red).
Tragically, Private Ruddock’s military service with the 16th Battalion lasted less than a year, as he was killed in action on April 9th, 1917 during the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. 1st Canadian Division, commanded by Major-General Arthur W. Currie, was assigned to the right flank of the Canadian Corps’ assault at Vimy, and had as its objectives the capture of the Zwolfer-Stellung (the ‘Black Line’) and Zwischen-Stellung (the ‘Red Line’) trench systems. By April 12th the Canadian divisions had successfully captured all their objectives and finally wrestled the heights of Vimy Ridge from German control. But the first significant Allied victory of the Great War was costly for the Canadian Corps, which suffered 10,602 casualties, 7,004 men wounded and 3,598 killed. Amongst the men of 16th Battalion the losses at Vimy amounted to 341 casualties, twenty officers (seven killed, and thirteen wounded, including its commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Cyrus Peck) and 321 other ranks (222 men wounded and ninety-nine killed). Private Ruddock’s remains were not recovered following the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and today’s visitors to the battlefield may see his name inscribed upon the Vimy Memorial.
McEvoy, Bernard and A.H. Finlay History of the 72nd Canadian Infantry Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders of Canada (Vancouver: Cowan & Brookhouse, 1920)
Nicholson, G.W.L. Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914 – 1919 (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1964)
Rawling, Bill Surviving Trench Warfare: Technology and the Canadian Corps, 1914-1918 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014)
Zuehlke, Mark Brave Battalion: The Remarkable Saga of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) in the First World War (Toronto: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd., 2008)
[i] McEvoy, Bernard and A.H. Finlay History of the 72nd Canadian Infantry Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders of Canada (Vancouver: Cowan & Brookhouse, 1920), 20.
[ii] The draft of men from the 72nd Regiment, Seaforth Highlanders of Canada consisted of twenty-five officers, including Lieutenant-Colonel R. G. Edwards Leckie, and 514 other ranks. McEvoy, History of the 72nd Canadian Infantry Battalion, 12.
[iii] Zuehlke, Mark Brave Battalion: The Remarkable Saga of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) in the First World War (Toronto: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd., 2008), 81.