World War I
The early years of the 20th century were marked by many international incidents that by 1913 full-scale war seemed inevitable. On June 28th, 1914, the Austrian Archduke and his wife Sophia were riding through the streets of Sarejavo, a town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in a province called Bosnia. A Serbian assassin shot them to death. This event became the catalyst for many alliances and the final declaration of War by Great Britain against Germany and her allies on August 4th, 1914.
It is ironic that at the beginning of the 21st century that yet again Westies are volunteering to be “in harms way.” Again the focus is in the province and now a country called Bosnia – Herzegovina. Upon the declaration of War being given, all members of the British Empire rallied to fight side by side. That same year the 104th Westminster Fusiliers of Canada became a training unit for battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and a home defense unit.
More than 6,500 men from New Westminster and the Fraser Valley received their initial training in the 104th Westminster Fusiliers of Canada. On August 22nd, 1914, six officers and 140 men from the regiment left for Valcartier, Qubec to join the 7th Battalion CEF. Then in November of that year seven officers and 238 men left to join the 29th Battalion CEF. 12 officers and 608 men formed the 47th (British Columbia) Battalion CEF, in February 1915. The 104th Westminster Fusiliers of Canada gathered 1,200, all ranks, to form the 131st (Westminster) Battalion CEF.
These were not the only Battalions who received troops trained by the Depot, in New Westminster. The following Battalions also received troops: 48th Battalion CEF became 3rd Pioneers, 3rd Canadian Division, 54th (Kootenay) Battalion CEF, 67th (Western Scots) Battalion CEF became 4th Pioneer Battalion, 4th Canadian Division, 62nd (Vancouver) Battalion CEF, 72nd (Seaforth) Battalion CEF, 88th (Victoria Fusiliers) Battalion CEF, 102nd (Northern British Columbia) CEF, 103rd (Victoria Timber Wolves) Battalion CEF, 121st (Western Irish) Battalion CEF, 143rd (British Columbia Bantams) Battalion CEF became part of the Canadian Railway Troops, 158th (Duke of Connaughts Own) Battalion CEF, 172nd (Rocky Mountain Rangers) Battalion CEF, 211th (American Battalion) Battalion CEF became part of the Canadian Railway Troops, 231st (Seaforth) Battalion CEF, 238th (Ottawa/Western Canada) Battalion CEF became part of the Canadian Forestry Corps, the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles, 1st Pioneer Battalion, 1st Canadian Division, and finally Number 1 and Number 4 Tunneling Companies. The 104th Westminster Fusiliers of Canada continued in this capacity until 1919.
Two CEF Battalion Infantry units, the 47th and the 131st battalions were native to New Westminster. The 131st Battalion CEF was eventually broken up to supply reinforcements to other units in France.
The “Fighting 47th” were part of the Tenth Brigade, Forth Division, Canadian Corps and established a fine record of service. The 47th CEF Battalion was always in the thick of the fighting. A chronological list of battle locations and the italicized names of the unit battle honours gives and indication of the trench warfare struggle and location of this unit during the conflict: France and Flanders 1916, Mount Sorrel, Somme 1916, Ancre, Ancre Heights, Thiepval Ridge, Sugar Trench, Courcelette, Fabeck Graben, Zollern Graben and redoubt, Hessian and Kenora Trench, Regina Trench, Vimy Ridge (the pimple), Hill 70, Green Cassier, Aconite Trench, Lens, La Coulotte, Ypres II, Haalen Copse-Decline Copse, Passchendale, Graf House, Ypres III, Moreuil Wood, Rifle Wood, Arras, Scarpe, Fouquescourt, Chally, Hindenburg Line, Drocourt-Quant Line, Canel du Nord, Bourlon Wood, Marconing Line, Arras, Cambrai, Canel de la Sensee, Denain, Mont Houy, Valenciennes.
Because of their fighting spirit and dogged courage, casualties were particularly heavy; 899 lost their lives (these soldiers’ names are displayed in the Book of Sacrifice in the Regimental Museum), and 1718 were wounded. More than 5,300 men passed through its ranks, which had a full strength of 1,000 men.
The 47th Battalion CEF British Commonwealth awards included the following: the Victoria Cross – 1; the Distinguished Service Order – 7; the Military Cross – 51, Bar – 11, and 2nd Bar -1; the Order of the British Empire – 1; the Distinguished Conduct Medal – 9; the Military Medal – 197, and Bar – 14; the Meritorious Service Medal – 6 and 22 Mentioned In Dispatches. They were also awarded medals from the French, Belgian and Russian Governments to recognize their courage.
Honor roll of those awarded the above medals as an appendix.
The Victoria Cross was awarded to A/Cpl. Filip Konowal during the heavy fighting around Lens on August 22nd-23rd, 1917. He is known to have killed, by rifle or bayonet in hand to hand combat, at least 16 Germans soldiers and was eventually wounded. It is interesting to note that during A/Cpl. Konowal’s de-brief he received a serious wound to the head which removed him from the fighting.
16th Infantry Brigade CSEF
The Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force members were attested and some of the units were housed in the Armoury and at Queens Park, New Westminster between in 1918-19.
The bravery and sacrifice of the men who were responsible for the Army’s accomplishments nurtured a sense of national pride that Canadians ever after would acknowledge. But the cost was very high. Of the 619,636 men and women whom served in the Army there were 233,494 casualties – 59,544 of who died for their country. 18,185 of the Killed In Action have no known grave and their names are carved in stone on the Vimy Memorial (France) and the Menin Gate Memorial (Belgium).
Vimy Memorial (France)
Menin Gate Memorial (Belgium)