Military Service

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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This page last updated on February 01, 2013

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Militia Experience
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Chris Baker Report

 

MILITARY SERVICE

This is the path of that was taken to track the military service of George Van Wyck Laughton, M.C. as he passed through the CEF and the BEF during the Great War.  In addition to being the story of my grandfather, it is also an explanation of the process to search for information about a relative during that period.

Following the Path:

Tracking the military service of Grandfather Laughton has not been an easy task, even after 10 years of following the path (actually it was 20 years but I disappeared for 10 years to raise a family and run the business), research of every available record and even with the expert review of his file by Chris Baker of the Great War Forum and the Long, Long Trail.  It was a result of this long trek that I ended up back searching Canadian records to find the root of his military service after I had clearly established his service in the British Imperial Army.  From there I diverted to the development of the Matrix Project with the Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group (CEFSG).  The CEFSG Forum has become a wealth of information for Canadians researching their relatives in the Great War.  Great grandchildren as well as grandchildren and even children are now avid users of the site. The CESG is now also available in Wiki Format.

The Early Beginnings:

George Van Wyck Laughton's military service record started with the Militia in June 1911 when he joined the 26th Middlesex Regiment, where he reached the rank of Sergeant, prior to his departure in June 1914.  The background on the Militia Units is provided in the link to this page for Grandfather Laughton's Militia Experience.

In December 1915, George joined the 7th Regiment Fusiliers in London, Ontario, where he advanced to the rank of Lieutenant.  The records show that the 7th Fusiliers was attached to the 142nd Overseas Battalion, where he was a Lieutenant (Supernumerary).  His medical records from the UK (see Chris Baker Report) indicated his service with the 142nd Battalion was from August 15, 1915 to November 15,1915.  The same record lists his time with the University of Toronto C.O.T.C. as November 15, 1915 to August 15, 1916, at which time it says his service with the 26th Northumberland Fusiliers commenced. Obviously we have some issues with all the dates.

Time with the 142nd Battalion is recorded from February 1916 to March 1916, after which he was attached to the 32nd Battalion (redesignated a Reserve Battalion), for what appears to be no more than 10 days, as that was then absorbed by the 15th Reserve Battalion.  His application to enter the Officer Cadet program is dated May 19, 1916 - apparently an Imperial application but completed and filed in Canada.  This would agree with the "Recommendation for Admission to an Officer Cadet Program" that is signed and dated in Toronto on May 18, 1916.  Clearly all of these plans were in place prior to his attestation at Shorncliffe in July 1916. Perhaps it was protocol that he had to attest in the CEF, prior to being transferred to the Imperial Army officer cadet training program.

The Attestation Paper Puzzle:

Update January 2013: The complete service record of Grandfather Laughton is now available in digital format from the site of Library and Archives Canada. You can retrieve that from this link: G. V. Laughton #82130

We have now also added a direct link from this page (see left side panel) to the complete report prepared by Chris Baker. The report was always here, just without this link.

Grandfather Laughton does not have a record of his Attestation Papers on the site of Library and Archives Canada, but he does exist there under his name "Laughton, George Van Wyck".  You will also note that his Regimental Number 82130 does not exist in that record, although the link does show that there are records in the archives.  We have since retrieved all those records and reviewed them to try and fill in all the details.  Every few months some new bit of information arises that leads me back to search again for the missing link or links.  For example, why does Grandfather Laughton have a service number for the 32nd Battalion when in fact he was first with the 142nd Overseas Battalion?   I suspect it was because Grandfather Laughton was always and officer with the 142nd Battalion and therefore was not assigned a regimental number and did not attest at the time of the war.  It was different with the 32nd Battalion, as he had already been struck-off-strength from the 142nd and was now  joining the 32nd as a Private -they already had all their Officers - perhaps even too many.

Part of the solution lays in the fact that he attested into the 32nd Battalion at Shorncliffe and not in Canada.  I suspect, but have not yet proven, that he may in fact have an earlier set of attestation papers with a different regimental or service number.  George clearly was attested at Shorncliffe on July 7, 1916.  We know that in 1915 he was already in the 7th Regiment Fusiliers, attached to the 142nd Overseas Battalion, and then in the University of Toronto OTC.  It is possible, that during this time he was never assigned a service number as he was only "attached to the 142nd" through the Militia and never actually in (attested to) the 142nd Battalion.  Grandfather Laughton was listed as a "Supernumerary Lieutenant" (an extra) for 5 months, due I presume to the reorganization of the CEF and the reduction of Junior Officers from 8 to 4 2nd Lieutenants.  It is at this time that the family records says George got "fed up" and found his own way to England, at which time he may have then signed on with the 32nd Battalion as "they were hiring".  The 32nd Battalion was from Calgary and had no geographic link to Grandfather Laughton.

 

Later in this study, information was uncovered that related to Grandfather Laughton and the large pack of COTC Students from the University of Toronto that attested to the 32nd Battalion at Shorncliffe in the summer of 1917. That has been assembled and recorded on this web site here:  COTC University of Toronto.

This analysis helped me to make sense of one of the Discharge Certificates that I had in the file that I had not yet used on the web site or in his history.  Due to the old 1960's Xerox copy, which deteriorated over time, it is barely legible unless held to a backlight and read with a magnifying glass.  But it did reveal the information that he was in fact discharged from the 32nd Battalion at Shorncliffe on 7th day of July 1916, that he had served the CEF in Canada and England, and that he was being discharged to accept a commission in the Imperial Army.  The discharge is recorded as December (I think the 8th) in 1916 in London England, however the document is actually dated in February (3rd ?) 1920.

Officer Training in England:

Once attested into the CEF at Shorncliffe it appears that Grandfather Laughton moved quickly to complete his application for Officer Training in the Imperial Army.  The records show that his application was accepted and he was admitted to the No. 6 Officer Cadet Battalion at Bailliol, Oxford.  Chris Baker's report indicates that he was scheduled to start this four and one-half month training program on September 5, 1916. 

After a short bout with influenza, he graduated the course and was posted as a 2nd Lieutenant with the Imperial Army.  At that same time he was discharged from the 32nd Battalion CEF to accept his new commission. He was attached to the British 3rd Army, 134th Division, 26th Northumberland Fusiliers as a 2nd Lieutenant.  Grandfather Laughton was granted a temporary commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Northumberland Fusiliers on December 19, 1916.  On his medical records it is shown that he joined the 26th Northumberland Fusiliers on August 15, 1916, perhaps an indication that he was being "sponsored" by the 26th N.F. thus he knew where he was going when he graduated.

Service in France:

Grandfather Laughton reportedly joined his regiment (26th Northumberland Fusiliers) in the field during the first week of March 1917.  George was active in the Battle of Arras in the Roclincourt area south of Vimy, in particular in the great battle to capture Vimy Ridge on April 9,1917.  He was, as such one of the "other Canadians" involved in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, although he himself did not storm the ridge.  During the period of April 9th and April 14th 1917, the details of which are still unclear, Grandfather Laughton was awarded the Military Cross for his valour in battle.  There are two conflicting reports, including even the War Diary of the 26th N.F. of April 9, 1917 which lists him as being awarded the D.S.O.

On or about April 27, 1917, Grandfather Laughton was on patrol with his Sergeant when an artillery shell landed.  His Sergeant was killed instantly and Grandfather Laughton was buried alive for 5 days, without food or water.  He survived the battle but left the war, the details of which are provided in his medical records.  He left Calais on May 1, 1917 and disembarked in Dover.  He was declared medically unfit for further service and after 4 weeks in hospital in England (4th London General Hospital) he was sent to Canada for rehabilitation (Category E).  The records show that he was a patient at the Officer's Convalescent Hospital in Toronto from September 8, 1917 to January 22, 1918, at which time he was recommended for discharge.  He relinquished his commission from the Northumberland Fusiliers on April 25, 1918

Records of the Imperial Army in February 1918 show that he was at that time still listed as in a Reserve Unit, the 3rd Northumberland Fusiliers.

After the War:

As time goes by the records start to make more sense, particularly as one learns more-and-more about the structure and operation of the CEF.  Now knowing how the system worked, I see that Grandfather Laughton has a Discharge Certificate from the 15th Reserve Battalion, that being the battalion that initially absorbed the 32nd Battalion.  So in fact when he left the Imperial Army, by resigning his commission with the 26th Northumberland Fusiliers, he immediately went back to being with the CEF 15th reserve Battalion, as a Private and with no record of his awards.  This document as shown below is dated the 3rd day of February 1920.  (Note: the original copy was made by my father, George's son, on a 1960's era Xerox copier with a paper that lost quality over time - the wording is barely readable).

Subsequent Service in WWI:

This is all that I have at the present.  While apparently working with the C.O.T.C. at the University of Toronto he was now a Captain in the Canadian Army (no longer the militia).  Family history says that when he went for his medical the same doctor saw him that discharged him after WWI and his comments were of the nature "Laughton, what are you doing here - you should be dead by now".

This may not be the end of the analysis, for every once in a while - sometimes years apart - a new piece of information surfaces!

 

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