The Greatcoat of Josiah Dawes
PTE. JOSIAH O. DAWES
1ST DEPOT BATT/ 5TH BATTALION
3RD CANADIAN DIVISION
Josiah Dawes was born in Derbyshire England in 1889. He moved with his family to Averhill Park, New York some time in his childhood. He married Florence Dawes and began a career as a chauffer, a new profession at the time.
In 1918, he was drafted into the Canadian Army with the 1st Depot Battalion, 1st Quebec Regiment in April 1918. After an extremely short training period he shipped out from Montreal on board the S.S. City of Mareilles on May 15, 1918 for war. Arriving in England 20 days later, he was posted to the 23rd Reserve Battalion at Bramshott for final posting to a combat unit.
On October 26th he was transferred to the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles. He arrived in the trenches on November 4, 1918 and would serve only 7 days in combat before the Armistice took place. This would be during the famous “hundred days” offensive when the Canadian Corps pushed the Germans back in a relentless drive to Mons. The 5th CMR found themselves in bitter and desperate fighting across flooded canals and ruined towns until the 9th of November when orders were received to move into reserve.
By March, he would find himself sailing home from Liverpool. He was formally discharged in Montreal on March 19, 1919 having served just shy of a year in the Army, his great adventure coming to an end.
The 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles at War
The following is the account of the 5th CMR for the period that Pte. Dawes was with the unit. They launched an attack on November 2nd that would prove to be their last before then end of the war. Its unclear what if any role he played in these events but imagine if you will being that young scared kid, finally on the front lines admidst the explosions and death, one of thousands.
November 4th, 1918
At 0100hrs on the 4th day of the attack, the 5th CMR recieved orders to secure the railway line at X.1 with their secondary objective being the town of Viqc. This attack would take place with the 4th CMR supporting on the left flank and 72nd Battalion on the right flank.
By 0400hrs they had taken their primary objectives and met little to no resistance. The advance continued until about 0820hrs when A Company reached X.9 and was met by enemy troops holding a large slag pile.
The Germans put up stiff resistance here, with machine guns, trench mortars, and snipers being particularly deadly. Almost immediately artillery support was requested to assist the attack at the slag pile.
By 1030 that morning, C Company had obtained a footing on the slag pile, but withdrew in the face of overwhelming machine gun and artillery fire. After this the days advance came to a halt, throughout the night the battalion maintained harassing fire on enemy strong points. The advance was also slowed by resistance around the western outskirts of Viqc. During the days events the battalion suffered numerous casualties.
Nov 5th, 1918
At 0210 B Company was ordered to advance to secure the line along the Mons-Valenciennes road and relieve the 72nd Battalion troops stationed there.
The advance continued throughout the day and by 0630 B Company had secured the northern outskirts of Quarouble and taken 4 prisoners.
By 0900 A and B companies had secured forward posts and C company had finally taken the Slag Pile.
Artillery continued to fire on Viqc until 1030 when C Company pushed into the town securing it by 1100 and establishing posts at the railway. At 1300 a Patrol under Lt. J.J. Harold encountered considerable enemy sniper fire. During the night arrangements were made for the attack scheduled for the following morning.
Contact with B company was lost through most of the night until their runners found the Battalion HQ. As a result there was no artillery cover provided along the Battalions frontage.
November 6th, 1918
At 0530 A and C Companies advanced to attack this town of Crispin, with B Company is support and D Company in reserve. The 2nd and 4th CMR battalions would support the attack on the flanks.
There was considerable flooding across the battlefield and very heavy machine gun and rifle fire coming from the western outskirts of the town.
The advance became bogged down as men were pinned by heavy enemy fire and flooded impassible areas. Finally at around 1600 an artillery barrage was unleashed and crept forward with A and C Companies following quick behind it. By 1630 Crispin was secure, during the night posts were pushed out along the river bank.
The Germans had blown up all the bridges over the Honneau river, one of them exploded just as a patrol reached it causing many casualties. D company would move up and relieve the 4th CMR units on the flank.
November 7th, 1918
At 0130 orders were recieved to attack due east through 2nd CMR's positions, supported by the 4th CMR swinging around and attacking north.
The battalion would work to establish bridgeheads over the Honneau river to accomplish this. During the day the Advanced Battalion HQ was set up in Crispin.
Throughout the night of the 7th foot bridges were built across the river in multiple spots.
November 8th, 1918
By day break on the 8th following a full night of bridge building, the battalion secured bridgeheads in multiple spots and reconnoitered the surrounding area encountering no resistance.
D Company advanced on Hensies with B Company swinging north towards St. Aybert, by 1015 Hensies was secured, the 2nd CMR however encountered stiff resistance and machine gun fire around Montreuil and Noyelle, but successfully managed to establish posts around Noyelle.
B Company sent out a Patrol under Lieut. W.G. Barnstead to recon the outskirts of St. Aybert. They surprised an enemy outpost and took 4 prisoners, but when elements of B company advanced approx 300 yards south of the village they came under heavy machine gun and rifle fire forcing men to seek cover in ditches until night fell so they could escape and rejoin the Company.
B Companies Captain Lewis found a mined bridge and managed to cut the wires, saving the bridge and securing posts on the other side. Several battalion elements were actively patrolling throughout the day, D company under Lieut. C.G. Dunham successfully built a footbridge over the Conde Canal while under German machine gun fire. They then secured the northern bank of the canal and advanced towards the east but came under heavy artillery and machine gun fire.
Throughout the night of the 8th, elements of the Battalion advanced into Villers-Pommeroeul and secured the town after encountering only light resistance.
November 9th, 1918
Early in the morning a Division of the British Army including elements of the 6th Highland Light Infantry occupied Conde and were reported as proceeding eastward.
At 1300 orders were received to reform the battalion in Crispin in order to move into reserve.
The advance which began a week earlier had seen the 5th CMR advance 16 kilometers across marshy flooded ground. There was almost no cover afforded to the men, making a perfect killing field for the enemy machine guns.
Throughout all of it though the men were reported to be cheerful and showed unparalleled vigour and endurance in their advance. The battalion would suffer 83 casualties during the attack, they also captured 8 prisoners and 1 77mm field gun.
November 10th, 1918
The Battalion left Crispin and spent most of the day marching south to Boussu and into reserve. Nothing of note recorded.
November 11th, 1918
The 11th found the men relatively out of harm's way, resting, playing cards and cleaning kit. Early in the morning the most anticipated telegram of The Great War arrived at Battalion HQ, I have included it as written in the war diaries.
"Telegram received from Brigade stating that Armistice had been signed, and would take effect at 1100.
At 1100 hostilities ceased. Information received from Brigade that the 3rd Cdn Division captured MONS at 0600 this morning. In the afternoon the commanding officer and all available officers proceeded to MONS to witness the official entry of the Corps Commander.
It proved to be a most impressive sight"
For these men and so many others the Great War was finally over, for Josiah Dawes it had only just begun when it ended. Thankfully for him he was one of the lucky ones and managed to return home to his family and friends.