HEDLEY, BC, 1915

 
Presentation by: Sandy Wightman
September 3, 2015
 
Is Hedley a Band or a Town??
The Band chose their name when they heard the town was for sale for $346,000!
______________________
The Thursday Aug 26, 1915 Hedley Gazette headline read:
 
“Hedley Again Scores a Record
Sends 17 to Vernon to train for active service
.... Penticton Taken by surprise!”
This is the story of one of them.
                                
Alec W Jack was born in Inverness Scotland Nov 1, 1891. As a young man he trained as a banker in Scotland and served 4 years with the Cameron Highlanders Territorial’s (Reserves). He was hoping to go to India with a bank but also applied for Canada. In February 1913 he was hired by the Bank of British North America to go to British Columbia. In those days you were essentially indentured to your bank employer and they very much controlled your life.
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Is Hedley a Band or a Town??
The Band chose their name when they heard the town was for sale for $346,000!
______________________
 
The Thursday Aug 26, 1915 Hedley Gazette headline read:
 
“Hedley Again Scores a Record
Sends 17 to Vernon to train for active service
.... Penticton Taken by surprise!”
This is the story of one of them.
                                
Alec W Jack was born in Inverness Scotland Nov 1, 1891. As a young man he trained as a banker in Scotland and served 4 years with the Cameron Highlanders Territorial’s (Reserves). He was hoping to go to India with a bank but also applied for Canada. In February 1913 he was hired by the Bank of British North America to go to British Columbia. In those days you were essentially indentured to your bank employer and they very much controlled your life.
 
Is Hedley a Band or a Town??
The Band chose their name when they heard the town was for sale for $346,000!
______________________
 
The Thursday Aug 26, 1915 Hedley Gazette headline read:
 
“Hedley Again Scores a Record
Sends 17 to Vernon to train for active service
.... Penticton Taken by surprise!”
This is the story of one of them.
                                
Alec W Jack was born in Inverness Scotland Nov 1, 1891. As a young man he trained as a banker in Scotland and served 4 years with the Cameron Highlanders Territorial’s (Reserves). He was hoping to go to India with a bank but also applied for Canada. In February 1913 he was hired by the Bank of British North America to go to British Columbia. In those days you were essentially indentured to your bank employer and they very much controlled your life.
 
 
Alec first arrived in the Kootenays and by the Fall of 1913 he was settled into Hedley B.C. with a secure and enviable position as the “teller” at the town’s only bank. He quickly became part of the community. He even played respectable golf there. At one point, according to family legend, he decided he wanted to become Canadian. His method of celebrating his Canadianization was to take off his bowler hat, bow tie, and stogy British clothes and throw them into the Similkameen River! Our citizenship process is somewhat less personalized now.
In 1913 Hedley was a booming gold mining town with 400 inhabitants, hotels, a newspaper, churches, opera house, butcher shop, watch maker, and barber shop! The Nichol Plate gold mine was in full operation 4000 ft above the town. An aerial tram way with several large ore skips brought the ore into the stamping mill located in town. The noise of the stamping mill (a rock crusher), according to one observer, was like Niagara Falls and the noise was 24 hours a day for over 40 years.
 
August 3, 1914 Germany invaded Belgium and France.  Aug 4, 1915 Britain, the Commonwealth Nations and Empire responded by declaring war on Germany.
 
Over the next 12 months Alec’s sense of patriotism grew until he knew he must answer the call of King and Country. He approached his employer, the Bank of British North America, to seek their “permission” for leave so he could join the army but permission was refused. He was concerned that if he simply quit his position at the bank the army would not accept him. Such was the influence of banks over employees in those days. Early Friday morning, Aug 20, 1915, he traveled by train to the Penticton recruitment centre and inquired if they would enlist him if he severed his relationship at the bank. He returned to Hedley on the evening train as a new recruit for the 54th Kootenay Battalion, Canadian Army. He resigned his bank position the next day. Alec was 5 Ft 3 inches tall with a 35 inch expanded chest according to his attestation (signup) papers. 
 
In those days there was no such thing as Canadian citizens. We were all British subjects and “God Save the King” was our national anthem and “the Maple Leaf Forever” our favorite song. Unlike today much of the population were of British ancestry.
 
But signing up was not Alec’s only goal. His patriotism was infectious. His stature in Hedley was significantly larger than his 5ft 3 in frame. He had 5 other friends ready to sign up. The town rallied that following Monday with a “smoker” to send their boys off in style. There was wrestling, boxing, songs, and refreshments. The smoker activities were briefly adjourned for a presentation by the ladies of the community.  After a rousing speech about King, Country, Empire, and the 'big bad Hun' by a local businessman and orator W A McLean, a further 11 stepped on to the stage to volunteer followed by 2 more the next day. The list of men included Alec Jack, E Rotherham, Jack Howe, Frank Dollemore, J Frame, Yorkey Meher, Bert Schubert, Les Robertson, E Vans, T Knowles, Roy Corrington, Tom Corrington, Rod MacDonald, Dan Devine, W Fulmore, Bobby Robertson, Blair Mills, and H Freeman. A convoy of 4 local cars with drivers delivered their boys to Penticton on the Tuesday.
 
Such was the patriotic fever in Hedley during WW1 that 65 men from a population of about 400 eventually joined, 14 of whom died.
 
Alec trained in Vernon with 1000 men of the 54th Kootenay Battalion and went overseas. He fought on many fronts in France and Belgium including Ypres and Passchendaele. He rose through the ranks to his commission as a Lieutenant on Apr 2, 1915. As a brand new officer he was attached to HQ as a reserve officer at the commencement of the Vimy battle.
 
At 8:00 am on the morning of April 7, 2015 the world’s then heaviest artillery barrage began raining down on German lines some 100 yards ahead of Canadian troops. It was designed to creep forward about 100 yards every 5 minutes and Canadian troops were to follow just behind surprising the enemy as they climbed out of bunkers after the creeping barrage passed them. Unfortunately for Alec’s Kootenay battalion the barrage started too far ahead leaving German machine guns operational. The Kootenays and adjoining Nova Scotia Battalions suffered terrible losses including all their officers. Information from these units was sporadic and HQ were very confused as to their status. The weather that day was a wet snowy blizzard. Alec’s own words, as recorded in CBC’s 1965 “VIMY” and “FLANDERS” radio broadcasts, describe what happened:
 
“Some hours after the action started reports were coming in as they normally would but they were all at odds. Reports from our right flank were to the effect that we had got half way across the ridge and had gone through the 102nd battalion and were held up by machine gun and sniper fire from a considerable distance across the ridge. Reports from our left flank, on the other hand, stated they were pinned down very few yards from their starting point by German machine guns that had been missed by our barrage. But that was not known by the commanding officer and he was very confused by these conflicting reports.
 
He detailed me to go up to the front and see what the situation was, carry out any reorganization  of the battalion that seemed necessary and get them somehow over to their objective which was some 500-600 yards further on....as it turned out from where they were.
 
I had no escort except 1 Lewis gunner and half a dozen middle aged batman to carry ammunition. We were guided by two young Kamloops boys, George Ellis and Eric Grisdale. Fine young lads. Both got the Military Medal that day. They eventually landed us in a trench held by the 42nd Battalion, Black Watch, and Canadian Black Watch. We were sniped at fairly badly and the Lewis gunner was hit just as we jumped into the trench. I left him with his attendants to look after him. I moved around the trench and finally came to the left flank where I found that the 54th and 102nd, or remnants of them, were all together. There were about 90 men of the 54th and a few more of the 102nd. The 102nd officers were all casualties and so were the 54th officers.
 
So here, as a young fellow of 25, I found myself in command of the remainder of 2 battalions of several hundred men with the left flank up in the air and Germans all around us at the back. I sent in a report on the situation then sorted out the men getting the 54th on the exposed flank and the 102nd on our right. Then I decided I would go forward myself and see what I could find out about the situation in front. I knew that there must be scores of our men pinned down in shell holes by snipers and the same with the 102nd, probably far more than we had in the body in the trench. I got a volunteer (Bob Hall from Arrow Lakes) to come with me and we crawled and crept down 500 or 600 yards to the far side of the ridge on the east side.
 
There was the Plain of Douai below us with hardly a mark on it. It looked just like a succession of farmers fields. It looked so extraordinary to our eyes after the scenes on the ridge. I observed quite a number of German posts, all manned, and I went along in the opposite direction near La Folie Wood and found the same thing so I realized that the line there was fully manned by German troops. I retreated very quickly without hesitation. We came back the same way we went but part of the way there a sniper sighted us and gave us close attention all the way up. And I got back to our line by another route crawling most of the way."
 
What Alec does not say was that the volunteer that crawled across the battlefield with him was hit and killed by the sniper. Thinking he was only wounded, Alec, at great personal risk, dragged Bob Hall all the way back to the relative safety of their trench.
 
Alec’s scouting led to a successful attack that literally ran right over the present site of Canada’s VIMY memorial monument.
 
Alec’s scouting, reorganization, and bravery rescuing a comrade was recognized with a Military Cross, the Commonwealth’s third highest military medal. His exploits would likely have won him the Victoria Cross but he was the highest ranking and only officer witnessing the event. A VC requires three officers to provide first hand collaboration.
 
Despite being such a small target he was wounded Sept 2, 1918 during the Breaking of the Hindenburg Line.
He wrote several wartime letters to the Hedley newspaper. One of letter thanked local lady knitters for sending socks to the front.
 
He demobilized in Canada as a Captain.
 
Alec returned to Hedley after the war to no job at the bank. He was quickly hired by the Nichol Plate mine as an accountant. They were anxious to ensure their surviving Hedley boys had work.
 
Alec eventually had a successful banking career with BMO.
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And that is Alec’s story. There were 18 other men that Aug 1915 day that have their own stories.
The hamlet of Hedley celebrated and honoured their “Hedley Boys” two weekends ago. This was only one of the stories.
Proud to say, Alec was my grandfather.
 
 
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