Lambton at War

Plympton Township

The First World War

Private William Wright

On February 22,1916, seventeen year old, “blue eyed, 5’ 8 ½” tall, fair complexioned” William Wright signed up, in Watford, to join the 149th  Lambton Battalion, of the Canadian   Expeditionary Force, to go to Europe and help defend the motherland (Great Britain) .

William was one of six children of John and Janet Wright who farmed in Plympton Township.

The 149th battalion trained first in London and then at Camp Borden during 1916.  They left for England, from Halifax NS, on March 28, 1917 on board the SS Lapland.  The Lapland actually hit a mine 12 miles from Liverpool, but was able to make port successfully.

The battalion was then broken up to fill other regiments and battalions, already short of soldiers due to the high casualty rate.   William was sent to the 49th battalion of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment.  This regiment was part of the famous Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (one of the remaining three infantry regiments currently in Canada).

This regiment was very active in the later stages of WW1 and participated in the 2nd battle for Cambrai after the September 25th  1918 breakthrough of Canal du Nord.  Cambrai was a strategic area for the German Army and blocked the Allied push into Germany.  This time period in the fall of 1918 was known as “the last 100 days” during WW1 at the Western Front.

William’s battalion attacked during the late night of September 28, and  came under very high machine gun fire near the town of Tilloy, located about 1000 yards north of Cambrai.  William was among 40 soldiers from the 49th battalion, alone; killed on September 29, 1918.

The accompanying map is the battle map for the siege of Cambrai and shows the objectives of all the battalions.  You can see the narrow area assigned to the 49th battalion and the village of Tilloy just on the north side of Cambrai.

See the accompanying 49th Battalion War Diary Poster detailing the events of September 28-29, 1918

Displayed is William’s burial cross, which was returned to his family when the Imperial War Graves Commission started to replace all the original wooden crosses in the 1920s.  What is confusing is that William was killed on September 29 but the cross lists October 5.  We suspect he was buried on October 5, 1918.  Also displayed is William’s picture and his 2 medals.

The Route of the Cross

In the 1920s the Imperial War Graves Commission started removing the WW1 wooden burial crosses from the graves and replacing them with the existing headstones that are present in the WW1 graves.  The wooden crosses were apparently offered to families of the fallen, or burned if they were not wanted.

Williams Wright’s parents must have requested his cross.  When William’s father John died, his mother Janet moved (with the cross, William’s medals, and a large picture of William) to her son Frank and his wife Marion’s house in Plympton Township.  They had 3 children- Murray, Doris and Ruby.  Murray remembers, as a small boy, seeing the cross at his place.

When Frank died, the cross and medals were passed to Doris and the picture stayed with Murray.  Doris (Miller) was interested in history and did talks at Remembrance Day about her uncle William.  At some point in time, the cross and medals were then passed to the Wyoming Legion.

The cross became stored in the Legion’s store room until it was realized the PWHS was doing research on Plympton’s fallen soldiers.  The cross was then offered to the historical society’s museum

~ Story told by Don Poland

Alexander Falconer

Alexander Falconer was born June 1st, 1885 in Plympton Township on Uttoxeter Road.  As a young man he went to the Canadian west and lived in Hanna, Alberta, where he had a livery stable.

At the age of 32, on September 12, 1916, he registered for military service with the army under the 31st Battalion and went overseas.  He was killed in action on July 28, 1917 and was buried in Noeux-Les-Mines Communal Cemetery, Par de Calais, France.

~ Story told by Hazel Higgins of Wyoming, Ontario.  Alexander was Hazel’s grandmother’s brother.

Cecil Russell

Cecil Edward Russell was born in Plympton Township February 14, 1901 to William Russell and Leah Bailey.  When WWI broke out Cecil and his two older brothers (Clarence and Orvil) volunteered for military service.  Cecil volunteered for the U.S. Cavalry.

~Story told by Doris Ellerker-Leland, Kitchener

Orvil Russell

Orvil Russell served throughout WWI, mostly in a hospital in France.   He returned from the war and went on to live well into his nineties.

Orvil, William and Cecil Russell were brothers and each went into a different branch of the services.

~Story told by Doris Ellerker-Leland, Kitchener

William Clarence Russell

Clarence grew up on a farm in Plympton Township, which his grandparents had originally farmed as a homestead.  His family was a large one of five sons and two daughters.  Clarence’s parents died early in life, and after his father’s death he was left in charge of the farm and family. When war broke out the farm was sold, and the family scattered, Clarence & his two oldest brothers volunteered for military service, Clarence & Orvil in the Canadian Army & Cecil in the U.S. Cavalry.  Orvil served in a military hospital in France for the greatest part of his service.  Cecil also survived the war.  Clarence was killed in action in August 1918, and was awarded the Military Medal for “bravery in the field.”  His sister, May (Russell) Ellerker, received the letters that informed the family of the circumstances of his death.  He was dearly loved, and his death brought sadness which has lasted over the years, despite the pride his family felt for his brave deeds.

~ Story told by Doris Ellerker-Leland of Kitchener.