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Jack Chapman
24th Battalion, C.E.F.
1898-1918

Jack Chapman

Contributor and author: Earl Chapman
Source: All of the information regarding Jack's movements come from the Battalion's War Diary and from the official histories of the 24th and 42nd Battalions published some years after the war.

Jack, the eldest of six children, was born in North West Leicester, England on June 4th, 1897 to Harry Chapman and Florence Cox. This area of Leicester was previously part of the village of Belgrave, since incorporated into the City of Leicester. By 1910, the family had fallen on hard times and were receiving relief from the Leicester St. Margarets Poor Law Union. The Poor Law Union had devised a way to assist certain families in need by helping them emigrate to countries such as Canada. Harry and Florence were selected under this program and the family boarded the steamer S.S. Dominion in Liverpool, leaving the shores of England for the last time on May 20th, 1911. Jack was fourteen years of age and would have been a big help to the family during these trying times. The old steamer had seen better days and it took ten days to finally make its way to Quebec City. The family then boarded a CPR train to Montreal, their final destination. Harry found the family a temporary home in a old shed off Soulanges Street in Point St. Charles, a working class community south of Montreal's downtown core.

Little is known about Jack until he was conscripted under the Military Service Act (MSA) of 1917 into the Canadian Expeditionary Force for service in France and Belgium during World War I. At this time, Jack was employed as a clerk. In spite of his "overlapping small toes and flat feet," Jack was classed "Fit, A-2" during a preliminary medical exam held on October 6th, 1917. Jack was 20 years old, 5'-8" tall, 132 pounds, with fair hair and complexion, blue eyes, and "good physical development."

Following his second medical on January 5th, 1918, he was posted to "G" Company, 1st Depot Battalion, 1st Quebec Regiment [The 1st Quebec Regiment provided reinforcements for the 20th and 23rd Reserve Battalions in England, which in turn provided drafts for the 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada), 14th Battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment), 24th Battalion (Victoria Rifles of Canada), 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada), 87th Battalion (Canadian Grenadier Guards), and the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles (C.M.R.) Battalion, all in France.] in Montreal and assigned the regimental number 3080879, the high service number characteristic of the MSA men. Of the 400,000 men registered as fit for service under the MSA, only 100,000 were actually called to service. Of this number, only 47,000 went overseas but only 24,000 went to France before the Armistice in November 1918. The first conscripts arrived in France in mid-August 1918 and were quickly sent in to reinforce the front line battalions after their severe losses at Amiens and Arras.

Jack signed the required Last Will and Testament on January 15th, 1918 leaving his mother the sole beneficiary of all his worldly possessions. After a little local training in Montreal, Jack boarded the steamer SS Scandinavian on March 24th, 1918, arriving in the United Kingdom on April 3rd. He was posted to the 23rd Reserve Battalion in Bramshott on April 6th. After more intensive training in England, and after some minor shuffling between reserve units, he was finally posted to the 42nd Battalion, Royal Highlanders of Canada, then stationed near Arras, France, on August 30th, 1918. Little did Jack know that he would be dead in less than a month! The Battalion had just seen action on the 28th, having made attacks on Jigsaw Wood and Boiry Trench. During the night of the 28th, the Battalion was relieved and proceeded to billets (rest area) in Arras. Jack (and presumably other reinforcements) must have been a welcome sight to the weary soldiers of the 42nd. On September 1st, the Battalion moved from Arras by route march to billets at Hermaville, a few miles north west of Arras. On September 4th, the Battalion relieved the 58th Canadian Battalion in the Vis-en-Artois area where they served as Brigade support.

On September 7th, Jack was transferred to another well-known Montreal unit, the 24th Battalion, Victoria Rifles of Canada starting the chain of events which would shortly take his life. The 24th Battalion was then occupying old trenches just outside the village of Croisilles, south of the main Arras-Cambrai road. The 24th had been almost totally destroyed during the Second Battle of Arras where it had suffered 666 casualties during the month of August. The 24th were in the Croisilles area from September 7th to the 12th undergoing field training as well as receiving reinforcement drafts. On September 14th, with Jack in tow, the 24th moved a short distance west to Cagnicourt where it relieved the 21st Canadian Battalion and received further reinforcements. On the 15th, the Battalion moved back to Croisilles, then by train to Acq where they detrained and marched to Agnez-les-Duisans. The 24th remained here for two days, enjoying beautiful weather, while getting the chance to clean up and to be inspected by their Commanding Officer, Lieut.- Col. C.F. Ritchie! On the 17th, the Battalion received training in the morning and lectures in the afternoon. The 18th was another beautiful day, and in typical Army fashion, the 24th retraced its route from Agnez-les-Duisans to Acq and then by train to Croisilles, detraining at 5:00 p.m. From here it marched forward taking over trenches and lines occupied by the 29th Canadian Battalion. A draft of 93 men joined the Battalion on the move. At this time, the trench strength of the 24th was 21 Officers and 700 men.

The morning of the 19th saw the Battalion getting ready to move forward, finally marching off at 5:30 p.m. for the line under orders to relieve one Company of the 7th (British) Battalion, Highland Light Infantry and two Companies of the Scottish Rifles in close support positions near Inchy-en-Artois, a small village south of the main Arras-Cambrai road and on the important Canal du Nord, with relief completed at 10:55 p.m.

However, the move to the Inchy sector was limited to 21 Officers and 650 men, and as a result 50 men had to be assigned to other duties, outside of the forward line. It is likely that the less experienced men were kept back, and Jack was likely with this group. The night was very quiet with intermittent showers. September 20th brought fine, warm weather but it also brought heavy German gas shelling for most of the day and into the night. Two work parties totalling 100 men were organized to support the Light and Medium Trench Mortar Batteries. This day also saw exceptional activity in the air between English and German aircraft. German artillery was quite busy during the night, shelling the front and support lines. A draft of 32 men joined the Battalion at the "Rear Details" which were located in trenches outside Bullecourt. While in the Inchy sector (which lasted until September 25th), the Germans had good observation of the 5th Brigade lines from the high ground east of the Canal du Nord, principally from Bourlon Wood, and orders were issued by the Brigade to restrict unnecessary movement during daytime. Jack's life was now measured in days. Good weather continued into Saturday, September 21st, with another aerial show to entertain the soldiers. Once again, two large working parties were organized to support the Trench Mortar Batteries. Heavy shelling on this day resulted in the death of Private Jean Rainville, the first of four 24th Battalion men to die while serving in the Inchy sector. Heavy shelling continued during the night and into the early morning hours of Sunday, September 22nd. Jack's life was now measured in minutes.

Jack must have been assigned to a carrying party because he was not with the main body of the 24th on the evening of September 21st. Carrying parties would have been anywhere between Inchy and Arras, bringing up ammunition, supplies, etc. As a result, Jack found himself in a support trench in the vicinity of Tilloy-lez-Mofflaines, just east of Arras in the early morning hours of September 22nd. Although Tilloy was 6 miles to the rear of Inchy, it was well within the range of German heavy artillery in their gun positions a few thousand yards east of the Canal du Nord. Just after the regulatory pre-daybreak stand to and while cleaning his rifle, an enemy shell exploded nearby, killing him instantly. He was buried in a temporary grave close to the spot where he was killed. Unfortunately, the survivors were not able to properly record the location of Jack's temporary grave using trench map coordinates. As a result, his grave could not be located by the Battalion's Burial Officer at a later date, in any event, the Battalion was on the move a few days later. This day was also unlucky for Private Ruben Walter Kramer, who lost his life in a support trench in the Inchy sector. The Battalion's War Diary entry for September 22nd, 1918 simply reads: "Nothing unusual to report other than heavy enemy shelling during the night. Casualties two killed and 2 wounded (Other Ranks)."

Private Joseph Phillips was the last killed during the Battalion's tour in Inchy, losing his life on September 25th while on picquet duty in the support line at Pronville (a short distance west of Inchy). Of the four killed in the Inchy sector, only Jack's remains were never identified. The remains of Privates Rainville and Kramer were buried in the nearby Queant Communal Cemetery (British Extension) straight from the battlefield, while the remains of Private Phillips were buried in a temporary grave at map references 51b.V.29.b.4.8. and later concentrated in the Queant Road Cemetery during the battlefield clearances after the war. It is possible that Jack's remains were found (but never identified) during the battlefield clearances (1919-1921) and concentrated in a nearby British cemetery. A number of cemetery's close to Tilloy have unidentified Canadian soldiers, including: Tilloy Cemetery (on the SE side of Tilloy-lez- Mofflaines); Feuchy Chapel Cemetery (3 km east of Monchy-le-Preux); London Cemetery (near Neuville-Vitasse); and Wancourt Cemetery (west of Wancourt).

Because he has no known grave, Jack's name, along with those of over 11,000 Canadian soldiers who fell in France and who lie in unknown graves, are inscribed on the Vimy Memorial erected at Vimy Ridge, France. These words are inscribed on the base of Memorial: "To the valour of their countrymen in the Great War and in memory of their sixty thousand dead this monument is raised by the people of Canada."

Jack's two service medals (The Victory Medal and the British War Medal) as well as the Memorial Cross (a special medal given to Mother's of lost sons) are all in the author's possession, as is a 5-inch circular Memorial Plaque cast in Bronze. The plaque was a memento given to the next-of-kin of all soldiers from the British Commonwealth whose deaths were attributable to the Great War and bears the inscription: "He died for Freedom and Honour." The plaque includes Jack's full name, without any indication of rank or honours, "to show equality of sacrifice." A scroll accompanied the plaque and bore the following message:

"He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who, at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that his name is not forgotten."

The plaque and scroll were sent to Jack's parents in 1921. These items, along with the medals and cross, must have caused the family considerable heartbreak, all coming many years after Jack's unfortunate death. Jack's name is also inscribed in the First World War Book of Remembrance which is displayed for public viewing in the Chapel of the Parliament of Canada in Ottawa. Jack's page is displayed every year on August 20th. The book's title page reads:

"Here are recorded the names of the Canadians who, loyal to the Crown and faithful to the traditions of their fathers served in the Canadian and other forces of the British Empire, and gave up their lives in the Great War 1914-1918."

Note from Brian
Jack can be found on Veteran's Affairs Virtual Cemetery

Found on the CEF online database
Front of Attestation Form

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Ancestry.com Databases

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