Like so many other boys, George got some of his initial upbringing not only by the family and relatives but also the boy scouts, were the youth were taught very early of their duties to God, others and self. There he would also learn that the scout mission was to develop well grounded youth, and thus enabling them to prepare very early in life for personal success and worldly contributions. And George learned these principals well.
For over 100 years they have been drilled into the hearts and minds of well over 17 million Canadians.These youth would grow into teens and young men and close to 100,000 would one day serve their country in war. At least 18 would be awarded the Victoria Cross in WW1 alone. In the same conflict these trained former scouts would also earn almost 300 Military Crosses and over 600 Military Medals. And that was just in the Great War. In all conflicts, the scouts would be awarded a Victoria Cross at least 37 times. (The boy scout movement in England was advised yesterday by this blog about two of these recipients it did not previously have listed.)
Seven Victoria Cross recipients, starting out as scouts, came from Canada. Google the names of RE Cruikshank, GB McKean, JW Foote, C Hoey, WG Barker, C Merritt and JC Richardson, to learn more about these heroes. Some of these men had their stories told in earlier blogs.
George was born in a log cabin, the first of nine siblings, in area that was so small it did not even become a village till eight years after he was born. It's population at the time was about 1,000, now about 8,000 and known as Dauphin and near the SW corner of the province of Manitoba.
The family moved about 150 Km SW to Russell Manitoba in about 1902 and operated a farm and a sawmill till about 1913 when they returned to Dauphin. George would often be pulled from school for weeks on end as a teen to help cut the logs. If not at school or working on the farm or at the mill, George was out riding his horses and shooting his lever action rifle. He got so good at shooting, especially while on horseback that just about anytime he entered the local turkey shoots he'd win the prize. Often beating out the adults competing. He'd as often be spending his allowance on ammunition and at one point even designed his own peep sight for the rifle. His very sharpshooting skills were also put to good use as the hunter for much of the food the workers at the family sawmill ate each day. Years later a biographer would state that his shooting skills were so good that he could have been a trick shooter at a circus. It was here that George also participated in the scout movement.
In 1914 George signed up with the local militia by joining with the Cavalry unit called the 32nd Manitoba Horse. By late December he decided to leave his grade 11 class at high school and signed up with the regular army by joining the First Mounted Rifles as a Trooper. Both cap badges are shown above.
In June of 1915 George went with his unit to England and soon qualified as a Machine Gunner on the Lewis MG's. By September he was in France and spent the next 8 months fighting in the trenches with his machinegun. George soon came to realize that in trench warfare, there was not a lot of use for the customary cavalryman's horse. And the trench was wet, full of mud and the odd rat. In fact many odd rats! Apparently some were the size of cats! The going was slow and very dangerous having to deal with very heavy enemy fire, barbed wire, artillery shells, the gas attacks and fear of either freezing or drowning in those very pits.
Looking up into the sky George tended to wander off in thoughts of being in one of those planes involved in the dogfights. He could even recall seeing the stunt flyers back in Manitoba at many of the county fairs he attended during his turkey shooting days. And the prevailing thoughts were how to get out of the trenches and into those dogfights.
His chance came when he heard that Britain's Royal Flying Corps were always looking for good men. Men who were good shots and men who had abilities on a horse... and thus an excellent sense of balance ..be they upright or not. He obviously fit all the bills and applied and was as quickly rejected. But he remembered his boy scout training about pushing for success and tried again and this time got accepted... and given the rank of a corporal to boot... but not as a flyer but as a mechanic... It was a start!
George was assigned as an observer and machine gunner on a Royal Aircraft Factory built light biplane bomber known as the BE 2c, a model is shown on the left. By mid July of 1916 he would be in the 2nd cockpit from the front and his sharpshooting skills from back home were put to the test. A test he passed with the driving down of an enemy LFG Roland.(model shown on right and above) The following month George's accuracy sent another Roland earthbound in flames.
For these actions he was awarded an MID, a Mentions in Dispatch, which is in itself a bravery award. He would get two more of these before the war was out. And George would get many more bravery awards before war's end. In fact so many that he would become Canada's most highly decorated soldier, sailor or airman in our History. So too for the entire British Empire and also the Commonwealth of Nations.
But more on this on Monday. Much more!
Join me and hear all about the Camel.