Cenotaphs dot our country. Many towns across this country, small and large, have one to mark the sacrifices of young men (and occasionally young women) who died in the major wars we fought in after the Boer War. Sometimes, in small towns that have seen much better days, they sit tucked away, rarely getting much of a glance. Sometimes not much of a glance, but they almost always have someone caring for them, mowing the grass, picking up debris, perhaps replacing an old tattered flag.
On my trip back home to Manitoba this past spring I had a goal to visit two of these cenotaphs, two communities that lie off the beaten path, and on the road to disappearing. Two communities that once thrived and, like pretty much every town across the country, gave up some of their sons to the wars. One was once the home to a man who eventually earned the Victoria Cross, for Austalia.
Dropmore, although it has seen a bit of a resurgence for summer homes for the popular Lake of the Prairies, is hardly a spot on a map these days. Tiny as it might be, its cenotaph contains the names of ten men, all of who gave their lives in the Great War. Two of them, brothers, who followed the same path as my grandfather, joining the 107th and then on to the 16th Battalion, and who were friends of his. Both of them lie in France.
Shellmouth is a little larger, and a little more vibrant. It also gave ten of its sons to the Great War, and another in the Second World War, killed at the end of the Normandy campaign, helping to close the Falaise Gap.
It was later, while I was doing some research about the men whose names appear on these monuments, that I noticed something unusual about one of the names on the Shellmouth Cenotaph. Although all of the other names contain details of the soldier's death, the date of death and his age at the time, Private Frank White's entry just says "Killed in Action", with a blank spot for the details to be added later.
More than 90 years later, (well typically these monuments were erected in the late 1920's so it is probably more like 80 years later), this information remains missing. It is time to fill in that blank.
Francis White was born in Stretten Derbyshire, England on August 19th, 1882. A bricklayer by trade he was living in Shellmouth when he attested. Likely single (his attestation papers list his father back in Derbyshire as next of kin), he followed the route of many young men in the area around where I grew up, he joined the 107th Battalion. The 107th, Glen Campbell's Timberwolves, eventually became a Pioneer batallion in France. Meaning they were a work battalion, building roads and trenches and other such things, often at the front or in battle and under fire. But when they were in England they supplied many men for drafts to other Battalions. In Frank White's case he ended up with the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles, likely so he could get to France and join the fight.
Despite their name, the 1st CMR were an infantry battalion, giving up their horses for the mud and trenches of Flanders. They fought with distinction throughout the war, including in the hell that was Passchendaele. And in November of 1917 that hell was exactly where Frank White found himself.
On the night of the 1st of November 1917 the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles went up to the front lines, relieving the 2nd C.M.R., taking over their portion of the line. Just moving up to the line at Passchendaele was filled with danger. It was a hard slug through a muddy dark landscape. Men slipped off the path into water filled shell holes, the area was constantly shelled and because the area was surrounded on three sides by the enemy, rifle and machine gun bullets continually swept through.
It was incredible work just getting up to the front, but for half of the regiment there would be no rest as they set out that night to capture two German pillboxes, known as Vanity House and Vine Cottage. One company captured Vanity House with little problem, but the others were discovered in the dark and set upon by a larger force. They eventually fell back but at the cost of one officer and eleven men wounded, three men missing and one killed in Action.
Frank White may have been one of those missing or killed in that raid, or he may have been one of the four other men killed the night of the 1st/2nd, either on the trip in or as "Trench Wastage". Even at quiet times men were killed, by snipers, shell fire or mortars. His body has no known grave, and he is one of the 55,000 such men with no known grave listed on the Menin Gate memorial.
And on the cenotaph at Shellmouth. Where it should read:
Pte. Frank White, 1st CMR. Killed in Action, Nov 2nd, 1917, Age 35.