Grand Manan and the Great War (Part 21)

Part 21- Enlisting in Harm’s Way: the Griffins and Friends Overseas

            When the New Year opened on Grand Manan in January, 1916, the events of the Great War were to have their greatest direct effect on the people of the Island since 1914. Over Christmas a recruiting committee established in Charlotte County had taken direct aim at Grand Manan and the other island communities when George Dalzell, veteran wounded soldier and local hero, agreed to spearhead an effort to enlist new volunteers.

Events on the war front had cost the First Canadian Contingent major casualties in the active battalions from New Brunswick including the Fighting 26th and 55th. Orders had gone out to authorize the formation of a new reserve battalion to be known as the 115th. Charlotte County was singled out to provide a large proportion of the new recruits for this unit. By drawing on Sergeant Dalzell’s reputation and experience in the trenches, he was a natural drawing card at local recruiting meetings across the county and in particular on Grand Manan.

As early as the 1st of January, 1916, the public hall in North Head was the scene of a well attended meeting directed by Dalzell who was joined on the podium by earlier recruits Will Joy, Ronald Carson and John Titus. Following several spirited speeches the call when out for more volunteers. The St. Croix Courier reported that six young men signed up immediately and others showed positive intentions where “the spirit of patriotism on this Island seems to be rising.”

The community responded by hosting a reception and entertainment at the Grand Harbour school with speeches by Rev. Mason, Pastor Gosline and Sergeant George Polkinhorn from Woodwards Cove, veteran of the South African War. “After the speeches refreshments were served, and then all joined in for a sociable time with music and games. The K. P. Band furnished some very excellent selection(s).”

By the newspaper report on the 13th of January the newest recruits had left with Dalzell on the morning ferry for Saint John to begin formal enlistment. Senior recruiting officer Jones happily predicted that at least forty-seven men would likely be recruited from the communities across the island.

George Dalzell, newly promoted to Sergeant Major in the 115th, had certainly had a persuasive impact on the young men not only in North Head but in subsequent meetings in Grand Harbour and Seal Cove. And the recruitment effort was not limited to public forums; it spilled over into social family events. On Thursday, January 13th, George’s cousin, Mrs. Clarence A. (Minnie) Newton, daughter of Samuel Baird and Ella Miles Dalzell, held a reception for a party of young people at her home where Sergeant Dalzell “related many of his experiences at the war front, in his jovial way.” (St. C.C. 15 January 1916)

Arnold and Frederick Griffin

            Of the new recruits who donned the khaki several North Head families were most affected. Several members of the Griffin and Hatt families living near the Pettes Cove area of the village stepped forward as volunteers. Similar to many other small communities in New Brunswick, young men tended to be influenced by other family members and friends to join up. Sense of duty mingled with adventure and peer pressure were significant factors. Certainly when you look at the studio photo of Arnold Griffin and Howard Hatt taken together in uniform, probably about 1916, one gets the impression of two proud comrades in arms that also grew up as close neighbours.

Arnold Garfield Griffin was born 28 August 1896 in North Head to the fishing family of Charles S. and Carrie M. (Stanley) Griffin.  He was the middle child of three boys- the eldest being Fred Lloyd, born 18 May 1894, and, Chester Allan, born 18 Oct. 1902. Until the Spring of 1911 the family resided on the Island but within a year turned up in Lubec, Maine. Two reasons may have combined to compel them to move- the sudden death of thirty-seven year old Carrie in 1910 and the seasonal draw of employment in the sardine canning factories on the American side. Moreover, Charles took a new bride, Alice Morang, on 6 Mar. 1912.

It was from Lubec that Arnold and his brother Fred first heard about the declaration of war against Germany and since the United States remained neutral until April, 1917, the boys made their way to Amherst, N.S. training camp to enlist together on 30 Mar. 1915. The motivation to volunteer was often driven by the practical draw of guaranteed military pay that was more enticing than labouring in the sardine factories and smokehouses of Lubec and Eastport. A family member reports that Arnold’s father, Chester, had to endorse his son’s enlistment with a supporting letter because of his birth in 1897; attestation records however give his birth date as 1896. Both men found themselves in the 6th Canadian Mounted Rifles much like their cousin, Frank Stanley, who also enlisted from Lubec. (See Part 17 in a previous issue of the Times) Along with Frank they were transported to Valcartier, Quebec, absorbed with the 4th and 5th CMRs and then shipped to England by July 26th and on to France on Oct. 24th.

By April, 1916, their unit became part of the major offensive to hold the southern stretches of Ypres Salient which resulted in an “unqualified success” for the Canadian Contingent. However, this was at a massive cost to the 8th Infantry Brigade which was bolstered by units of the Canadian Mounted. Regimental reports contended that the battalion suffered up to 89 percent casualties when the Germans opened with a blithering bombardment on June 2nd. Arnold’s grandson, Robbie Griffin, recounted how Major General Malcolm Mercer and Brigadier General Arthur Williams made a surprise visit to their trench to gain firsthand insight about defences and enemy intentions along the Ypres Salient. This was a very unusual tactic by such senior officers who generally stayed at the rear lines issuing strategic orders. Arnold indicated that he was charged with finding secure cover for General Mercer and other officers in an underground magazine. Unfortunately, the torrent of shells which rained down on Canadian trenches was so destructive it wiped out the whole tunnel system, buried men alive and destroyed all communications.

During this “day of obliteration” Mercer was fatally wounded and Williams taken a prisoner; at that time the highest ranking officer to be captured by the enemy. At Sanctuary Wood the Griffin brothers both suffered setbacks when Fred was hospitalized on June 16 with wounds and the effects of gas attacks and probably invalided to an English hospital. Arnold fell into the hands of the enemy on August 25th and became an official prisoner of war until the duration of the conflict in 1918. Meanwhile his father received a letter indicating that his son was missing in action which often meant that the soldier was killed. Soon after it was confirmed that Arnold was alive but imprisoned in a POW camp.  Not surprisingly both men were plagued by the effects of these battle events for the rest of their days.

Likely Arnold was demobilized with the 4th CMR when they sailed from Liverpool, England, for Halifax in March, 1919. At their discharge Arnold and Fred both returned to New Brunswick. While Arnold settled back in North Head with his great Uncle, James Griffin, Fred must have been sent home earlier after recovering from his wounds. While still a soldier in Saint John he eventually married Annie E. Nickerson, daughter of James and Martha Nickerson from Kings County, on 17 July, 1918. Three years later on Sept. 9th, Arnold, who was then twenty-five years of age became wed to Fay Urquhart, aged eighteen, daughter of Melvin and Emma (Thomas) Urquhart.

Howard Hatt

It may have been completely coincidental that Howard Hatt, close friend of the Griffins, found himself at the close of the war in Saint John and renting an apartment in the South End on Broad St. in the same building as Fred. While the Griffin brothers signed up in Amherst, Howard Bramwell Hatt enlisted in Sussex with the 55th battalion on 26 April, 1915. Son of Joseph W. and Annie (Orff) Hatt, Howard was born in Castalia on 25 August 1892 soon after the family had migrated to Seal Cove from Letang. By 1911 the Hatts returned to Seal Cove where Joseph was a carpenter working with fishing boats, but Howard fished out of North Head where he lodged with Nat and Eliza Beal.

He was joined by other Grand Mananers including Clayton and Harold Small, as well as Ronald and Eugene Flagg who travelled from Sussex to Camp Valcartier, Quebec. After about two months of further training, they embarked from Montreal for England on the S.S. Corsican on October 31, 1915. Elements of the battalion would see action at major engagements in Mount Sorrel, Courcelette, Thiepval, Vimy Ridge and Amiens.

Like Fred Griffin, Howard resided in Saint John after his discharge and initially took up a plumbing job. However, by the time he married Daisy Burgess, daughter of Alfred and Ida Burgess of Yarmouth, on January 24th, 1920, he had joined the Saint John Police Department.

 

Ralph Waldo Griffin

            When Ralph Waldo Griffin, the youngest of eleven children of George A. and Emma Jane (Gray) Griffin, was born on 4 Dec. 1886 in North Head at the height of the Victorian era, it was hard to imagine that he would be the one to represent the family in a worldwide military conflict thirty years later.

Ralph saw the most action in the last 100 days of the war. During the spring and summer of 1918 the German Army had taken the offensive and attacks on British and Canadian lines were anticipated. As a result, elements of the 26th Battalion were ordered into position to support the British southeast of Arras. Starting on April 17, instructions were received to undertake night patrols from dusk until dawn as an offensive against German lines. Fearing a German breakthrough in the Mercatel sector, the Canadians hoped to overrun an enemy post and capture prisoners in an effort to learn more about German intentions.

On the 21st, a fourteen man patrol which included Ralph moved out after dark under a full moon and made their way through a communications trench for about three quarters of a mile to a German post. After dismantling a booby trap they attempted to advance but were obstructed by barbed wire filling the trench. Upon returning to their lines and requesting an artillery bombardment which could cut through the wire; the patrol returned the next night only to find the barbed wire intact because the order never got delivered. After encountering some German sentries they decided on an early daylight raid by 10 of their patrol including Ralph. At 0800 hours the remaining patrol crept along the edge of a trench but when one of them slipped and became entangled in the wire, the patrol Lieutenant called for an all out charge and captured the eight man German post as they ate breakfast. This success earned the men a congratulatory message from their commanding officer.

Later in August, Ralph spent time in hospital when he was wounded on the 8th. Without his service record we do not know the nature and extent of his injury but this or the previous event in April earned him the Military Medal for bravery. The medal was presented before other members of the 26th Battalion at a ceremony on Nov. 19th, 1918, eight days after the armistice was signed.

Upon his return to Grand Manan he occupied himself with fishing and by 1921 had married Eliza Parker, daughter of William and Louise (Stanley) Parker. But fishing was not be his career. During the next decade he seems to have befriended Allan Moses who was a well known naturalist and sportsman. When the Rockefeller family was convinced by Moses to buy Kent Island as a bird sanctuary in 1930, they enlisted him and Griffin to oversee and maintain its security. For the next five years the two of them acted as guardians at the princely salary of $1000. per year; when compared to labourers and bank clerks at one dollar per day and teachers who received approximately $300.-500.per year. This certainly contributed to Ralph’s eventual employment as game warden when the Grand Manan Fish and Game Protective Association successfully lobbied for two positions in 1936; a post he retained until his retirement. He died in North Head on 10 Oct. 1971.

 

Sources:

Interview with Robbie Griffin, grandson of Arnold Griffin.

Bennett, S. G. The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles 1914-1919. Toronto, 1926.

Ingersoll, L.K. Wings Over the Sea: The Story of Allan Moses. Goose Lane Editions, 1991.

Library and Archives Canada

Vital Statistics, Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

St. Croix Courier, St. Stephen

http://www.ancestry.com