Chris Baker Report

The Great War: Vimy Ridge
George Van Wyck Laughton, M.C.

Canadian - Serving in the British 3rd Army, 34th Division,  
26th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers (Tyneside Irish)

                               


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CHRIS BAKER REPORT

We have included a complete copy of the report that we received from Chris Baker, the British War Historian and author of the internationally recognized "Long, Long Trail" web site.  In addition to that resource, Chris also has the "Great War Family Research", which through which we contracted with Chris to undertake our research.  In addition, Chris operates the "Great War Forum", our initial link to hundreds of world wide researchers who enabled our early success in tracking his records.

The report that Chris Baker prepared has been uploaded to this web site:

"The 1914-1918 Military Service History of George Van Wyck Laughton, M.C."

Here is the textual summary of the report as it specifically relates to the service of Grandfather Laughton, following which are the specific links to the actual records that really tell the story:

 

In May 1916, George Van Wyck Laughton completed an application for a commission as an officer. Born on 10 May 1897 in Park Hill , Ontario , he gave his occupation as student of Harbord Collegiate Institute at the University of Toronto . George already had some military experience: he had joined the 26th Middlesex Regiment in June 1911 and served for three years, attaining the rank of Sergeant, and then in August 1915 he began service with the 7th Regiment (Fusiliers), attached to 142” Overseas Service Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, as a supernumerary Lieutenant.1 On 15 November 1915 he moved into the University of Toronto Overseas Training Company. At some point he qualified as an instructor in musketry, after taking the basic infantry training course between December and February 1916.2 Interestingly, a 1918 letter from the Canadian Record Office to the War Office is the only document that gives his original regimental number of 82130.

The Principal of his college acted as a referee for his application, saying that he had known George for two years from 1914.

It is not clear but likely that he was still in Toronto when he completed the application

— but he soon moved to England , for on 7 July 1916 , George signed an attestation form enlisting him into the army, at Shornciffe in Kent . On his papers he gives his father Louis V. Laughton (RVL note: that is actually his sister), identified on his application for a commission as a Canadian-born commercial traveller, as next of kin. George also said that he had spent a year in the Officer Training Corps of the University.

Aged 19 years and 2 months, George underwent a medical examination that revealed him to stand 5 feet 10 inches tall, to weigh 150 pounds and to have a 37 inch chest. He was found fit for general service and was accepted into the 32nd Battalion of the CEF.

George’s application for a commission was accepted and he was admitted to No. 6 Officer Cadet Battalion, which was based at Bailliol College , Oxford . He was posted to begin the course on 5 September l9l6.~

During the latter stage of the course George was taken ill with influenza, which took him to the 3”’ Southern General Hospital in Oxford for six days commencing 5 December 1916 . George passed the course and was duly commissioned as a Second Lieutenant with the Northumberland Fusiliers. He was discharged from the ranks of the CEF on 18 December 1916 . His commission was gazetted on 30 January 1917.

He arrived to join the 26th Battalion of his regiment in the field during the first week of March 1917. At this time, the battalion was nominally at rest in “X Huts” at Ecoivres, although large numbers of men were out on working parties. George arrived at the same time as two other officers — Second Lieutenants Price and Mallory.

A history of the battalion is given later in the report, including coverage of the advance and patrol activity on 14 April 1917 , for which George was awarded the Military Cross.

On 27 or 28 April 1917 [although 27 April is much more likely given the circumstances described in the diary], George was buried during heavy enemy shellfire: he was severely traumatised and may also have suffered a wound to his right calf. The effects were sufficient for him to be considered wounded and in fact he left his unit and did not return to active service. The effects of the shock of his burial were certainly still being physically felt in early 1918.

After being evacuated down the lines of communication, he crossed the English Channel from Calais to Dover aboard the steamer “Newhaven” on 1 May 1917. George was certainly at the 4th London General Hospital at Denmark Hill when he underwent a Medical Board on 9 May, and it is probably reasonable to suppose that he went directly there on arrival in England.

The Medical Board report recommended a lengthy period of convalescence and light duty afterwards. It appears that George made a reasonable appeal that he be returned to Canada for this period. He had a second Board on 22 May 1917 and was discharged to travel to Canada .

On 8 September 1917, George was admitted to the Officers Convalescent Hospital in Toronto: the gap between 22 May and 8 September is not explained by any reference in his file.

On 22 January 1918, a Medical Board recommended that he be discharged from the service on the grounds of physical unfitness. He received the Silver War Badge soon after being discharged.

George relinquished his commission by resignation on 25 April 1918 .

George made an enquiry on 17 September 1918 about his entitlement to a wound gratuity. He eventually received the considerable sum of 97 Pounds and 13 Shillings.

George was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal for his part in the war. The British War Medal was awarded to those who left their native shore for war service and the Victory Medal to those who had served in a theatre of war.

Officers had to claim their medals, and George’s British War Medal and the Victory Medal were issued on 21 December 1921.

Attachments:

 

  1. Application for Admission as an Officer Cadet, May 1916
    This was the first document that showed the details of his prior Militia experience in Canada and it was not in the file that came from Library and Archives Canada, yet it was in the UK National Archives - interesting. This document also a previously unknown address of "130 Lake Shore Avenue, Centre Island, Toronto".  This is an actual island, off the shores of Toronto (very close, a short ferry boat ride) but I never knew that he lived there - apparently during his time as a University of Toronto student.

  2. University of Toronto Contingent C.O.T.C., May 3, 1916 
    (Canadian Officers Training Corps) - This shows Grandfather Laughton  as a COTC candidate that is recommended for Commission to the British Army (Infantry).  It is stamped for the date as "Dept. Militia & Defence Canada".  The 2nd page shows he was accepted for admission to "No. 6 Officer Cadet Battalion" to join at Oxford on September 9, 1916.  On the bottom of that 2nd sheet is also typed that he was posted to the 26th Northumberland Fusiliers on January 20, 1917.

    A notice appeared in the London Gazette on January 30, 1917 that "the undermentioned cadets to temp. 2nd Lts. - George Van Wyck Laughton".

  3. Attestation Papers, 32nd Battalion, Shorncliffe Kent UK, July 7 1916
    Included here as this is a "hand written" copy of the Attestation Papers of George Van Wyck Laughton from the UK National Archives, whereas the copy from Library and Archives Canada is type written.  The witnesses are different, and his chest grew by an amazing 4 inches! The third sheet in this package (medical) shows that he was attesting to the 32nd Reserve Battalion.  This offers some confirmation that although he was in the 142nd Overseas Battalion in Canada, he left there and attested in the UK for the 32nd Reserve Battalion.

    We have investigated the 32nd Battalion C.O.T.C. link further and have found there were a number of students and others that came from the Toronto area and signed up with the 32nd Battalion on July 7, 1916.  Of the 17 that signed up that day, 11 have direct links to the University of Toronto and/or the UofT COTC program.  The details of this are now posted under a new page for "University of Toronto C.O.T.C."

  4. Medical Records of George Van Wyck Laughton
    There are a large number of medical records for Grandfather Laughton over the term of his military service.  As such, I have assembled them all into one PDF file, where you will find:

    Influenza, December 1916

    Transferred to England after leaving his unit on April 27, 1917 due to his wounds.  He left Calais (France) on May 1, 1917 aboard the channel steamer "Newhaven" and landed in Dover.

    On May 9th, 1917 George was examined by the Medical Board in the UK and as a result he wrote a letter (Very clear handwriting) and asked that he be given the opportunity to spend his convalescent time at his home in Toronto Canada (349 Markham St, Toronto).

    On June 14, 1917 George typed a letter from his home in Toronto to the Secretary of the War Office in the UK (received June 30, 1917) noting that he had been granted leave up until August 7, 1917.  He was seeking confirmation that he had permission to stay in Canada until that date.  Note that at this date he signed his letter "George V. Laughton, M.C., 2nd Lt.".

    On January 22, 1918 we have a "Medical History of Invalid" from the Base Hospital in Toronto.  His disease is listed as "Shell Shock Neurasthenia" as a result of being buried by a shell (for 5 days the records later show) on April 28, 1917 in France.  The report is quite detailed as to his physical and emotional condition, indicating that any excitement causes vomiting and tremors.  The report called for 4 to 6 months rest.  (Note that there is no reference to the server physical disability that was "more or less the story" passed down through the family - it seems the intestinal ailments were neurological, not physical).  On the next page, Captain G. V. Livingstone declares him "Unfit for further military service".  On the next page the "Opinion of the Medical Board" on January 22, 1918 classed him as "Category E", and recommended that the officer be discharged due to physical unfitness and not able to travel.  That was approved February 5th and 12th 1918.  On February 13, 1918 communication was received from the Brigadier General Tyne Garrison (Tyneside Irish) inquiring as to the location of 2nd. Lieutenant Laughton.

    On March 17, 1918 the Surgeon General Deputy Minister of the Department of Militia and Defence in Ottawa wired the Secretary War Office in London England with the findings of the Medical Board as noted above.  On that same day, George wrote the the Secretary War Office as well and applied for his "wound gratuity.  This document fills in the blank period showing that he was in the "Officer's Convalescent Hospital" in Toronto from September 8, 1917 to January 22, 1918.   On April 16th, 1918 the Colonel for Military Service, Deputy Minister, Department of Militia & Defence, Ottawa filed notification as to the resignation of 2nd Lieutenant Laughton, notice of which was to appear in the London Gazette.

    On April 24, 1918 a notice appears in the London Gazette (4959) that states that "Temp. 2nd Lt. G. V. W. Laughton, M.C. relinquishes his commission on account of ill-health, contracted on active service, and is granted the hon. rank of 2nd Lt."

    On April 22, 1918 there is a "Notification to War Office for Report". 

    On February 27, 1919 there is a letter to 2nd Lieutenant Laughton from Major A. P. Churchill on behalf of the Military Secretary, confirming that his commission was relinquished due to ill-health and that he has already been issued a "Silver War Badge" (actual item shown here).

    On February 27, 1920 this is a letter to "Overseas Military Forces of Canada" Senior Paymaster indicating that G. V. Laughton had been issued a gratuity of £90:13:0 "in respect of this service".

  5. Service with the 26th Northumberland Fusiliers

    The events that surround the service and wounding of Grandfather Laughton in the 26th Northumberland Fusiliers is documented in the War Diaries of that unit.  Chris Baker has provided copies from March 1, 1917 to April 30, 1917.  Unfortunately, the period of April 9th 1917 (the day of the attack on Vimy Ridge) is ineligible.  Attempts are being made to located another version of the war diary that has these pages - it is believed they exist in the Newcastle Public Library.  As you will see from the following paragraph it is indeed unfortunate that April 9th is ineligible.

    NOTE WAR DIARY LOCATED!  Thanks to Kate from the Great War Forum, the missing pages were retrieved from the Newcastle Library.  Copies were sent to me, I have cleaned them up, and now the April diaries are posted here on the site: 

         April 1st to 10th, 1917

         April 11th to 23rd, 1917

         April 24th to 29th, 1917

         April 30th, 1917

    It is interesting that the final page of this attachment, dated May 31, 1917, contains a list of "Honours and Awards" and there is lists "2nd Lt/ G. V. W. Laughton" for a D.S.O. (Distinguished Service Order) for operations on April 9th, 1917 (the day of the attack on Vimy Ridge).  I have never seen any mention of this elsewhere, however this does match what we know regarding the M.C. (Military Cross) for which we have not been able to make a match in the UK records.  From Chris Baker's web site we find the following to describe the D.S.O.: 

    A high award for meritorious or distinguished service rather than an act of gallantry, although in many cases during 1914-1918 it is not easy to discriminate between these two reasons for granting an award; in fact in some cases it appears that a DSO was awarded when perhaps a full recommendation for a VC could not be justified or corroborated.

    In existence since 1886, for officers who were not eligible for an award of the CB (Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath): however, after the establishment of the award of the Military Cross, it was unusual for a DSO to be awarded to an officer with a rank below Major.

    All awards of the DSO were announced in the London Gazette, usually with a citation, although awards made as part of the King's Birthday or New Year's honours were made for reasons of meritorious service and do not usually have a citation.

    A very detailed reference book, detailing each award, is "The Distinguished Service Order" by General Sir O'Moore Creagh.

    Perhaps Grandfather Laughton was noted for the award of the D.S.O. and that was changed as a result of the introduction of the M.C., perhaps at or about that time or perhaps unknown to the Lieutenant Colonel who commanded the 26th Northumberland Fusiliers at that time?

    Note that this mention differs from the Chris Baker report for the M.C. on April 14, 1917.  The confusion and unknown continues!

  6. Honours, Medals and Decorations

    Included with the package from Chris Baker was a copy of Grandfather Laughton's MIC (Medal Index Card) which we had already retrieved from the UK National Archives (see this part of the site).  This shows his entitlement to the Victory Medal and the British War Medal (each of which I must presume were lost in the 1967 house fire - I have some remnants recovered but not identifiable to these).

    The next page is a record of he MILITARY CROSS, which is shows was "sent to Colonial Office".  This, as noted, was Gazetted (published in the London Gazette) on July 18, 1917 and he was decorated on November 29, 1917.  This last piece of information is noteworthy as we know that Grandfather Laughton was in Canada at that time (see medical records above) and we have the picture and newspaper account of his decoration at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto, Ontario.  We did not have an exact date for that before.  The 1918 date reported in the Ontario Legislature may have been a "ceremonial decoration".

    We have included in the attachments on this topic the actual posting in the London Gazette of July 18, 1917 followed by a second version of that page, also in the same package from Chris Baker, that has handwritten notations.  On the side it says "0237/3860" and underneath the typed text it is marked "N. (or W.) Arras 9-14 April 1917".  The text of the report from Chris Baker states that it was April 14, 1917 that George earned his M.C., whereas other reports say it was April 9th.  Since we have still not resolved why there are two differing reports, this remains a mystery.

    Chris Baker included a copy of the text from John Sheen's book "Tyneside Irish" which we have referenced in detail elsewhere on this site.  We have discussed this reporting "first hand" with John Sheen and he reported that he took his information from the London Gazette, so if it is wrong the error just carried on into his text.

    The last two pages in this collection are the dates the honours were collected, which appears to be December 21, 1921 for the Victory Medal and British War Medal.   The last page dated December 10, 1918 matches the number on George's Silver Star.

  7. A Reporting Error, March 13, 1919

    Out of interest, the last page shows that errors are made - one which was almost made a few years ago when we first started to check the records of the Tyneside Irish, not knowing there were two "G. Laughton's".  Geoffrey is listed on page 209 of Sheen's book and George is the next listing on page 210.  The details of this are shown on our page for the Tyneside Irish.  
 

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