Back in January I told the story about Colonel Morgan, born in St Catharines Ontario, the very hero and Medal of Honor recipient who the US government chose to name and army camp after in Bosnia Herzegovina. The Colonel's father was also a fighting man and during the Civil War rose from the ranks of Private to Brig. General. If you look up the usual lists of Canadian generals in that conflict, they list 4 or 5 and miss several... including General Morgan who lived for many years and started his family also at St. Catharines Ontario.
Today I want to tell you about another hero from the same city. His name was Fred (not Frederick as sometimes cited) Fisher. And he would live...become a war hero and die before he got to his 23rd birthday. One might wonder if he even ever got to vote.
Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Morgan died in July 1892. Twenty five months later Fred Fisher was born, perhaps to carry the next hero's torch for St Catharines.
Fred's father was in the banking business and thus the family moved around with bank transfers. He would live in Dunnville, possibly in the Toronto area where he may have spent two years in a school cadet corps, lived at Niagara on the Lake and finally got to settle down in Montreal. There he attended Westmount Academy and then went on to start his study of engineering at McGill University.
His schooling came to an abrupt end when WW1 came along. when he left University to join the 5th Royal Highlanders of Canada. Joining the militia element, just a month later he signed the attestation papers to join its active Battalion, the 13th, which of course would soon be off to war. Fisher was moved to Valcartier where thousands arrived to get some basic training in the fields and tent cities that lacked many of the basics of normal camp life... like buildings.
This liner was requisitioned as a troop carrier and would be the first in the war to carry Canadian soldiers overseas. It would leave Gaspe for England in a convoy of 37 ships, that would sail in 3 columns and would stretch some 21miles carrying over 30,000 troops for the Empire. Little did Fred know that he would never see the shores of Canada again.
The cruise liner luxuries soon ended with the 14 October 1914 landing at Plymouth and a move back into tents at Salisbury where they would remain and get further drilled and trained for 5 months. Early in that training he would be promoted to Lance Corporal and a transfer into a Machine Gun detachment.
In February 1915 Fisher and others sailed from England to France. Conditions being so bad in the Channel, it took three days to make the trip. He would take part in battles leading up to Ypres and it would be there several months later that Fred and thousand s of others would face the first gas every used in a major attack in history. Over 18000 faced the gas, and 2,000 died from it. Back home and even in England they had never heard of gas and of course had no training. When it came most were surprised. One doctor on site told the men to urinate in their hankerchiefs and put it over their noses. Gross, but it save thousands of lives.
It was during the 2nd of at least five battles at Ypres that Fred Fisher would become a hero, and it would be here that he and thousands of others would be killed in battle.
Fisher volunteered to go forth with six men, set up his colt machine gun that could fire off over 400 rounds per minute, and give the Germans something else to think off while the battery tried to save their weapons. He was successful but lost four of his men when they also came under heavy fire. But the artillery guns were saved.
Later he took for more men and they carried the colt machinegun, firing it from their hips as they rushed into the town of Julien were the Germans were in concentrated groups. He turned his weapon on them and killed many but lost all of his men to death or bad wounds.
Yet again in the early hours of 23 April 1915 (the next day) Ken Fisher took his gun out under very heavy fire and set it up for action but was hit in the chest and instantly killed. His Lt. and others buried Fisher almost on the spot in a make shift trench, but soon the trench would be lost to history.
The Medal was forwarded by mail to Fred's parents back in Montreal with a letter dated 5 October 1915. It was from the King of England.
It read... "It is a matter of sincere regret to me that the death of Lance Corporal Frederick (wrong) Fisher deprived me of the pride of personally conferring upon him the Victoria Cross, the greatest of all military decorations."
It was signed... "George RI"
Fisher's VC stayed in the family and at the parents death, his sister obtained it and other medals. Years later she donated them to the Black Watch Museum at Montreal where there are on display today.
The memorial was built and designed to be a commemorative to over 50,000 war dead from Ypres in WW1 that went missing and no location of their individual graves is known.
At 8pm nightly since day one, the entrance to the gate is blocked off to traffic. At that time a ceremony and last post is played EVERY NIGHT since it opened, with exception of during occupation days of WW11. And even then the ceremony continued, but it was held in England, After the Polish soldiers liberated the town of Ypres, that very night the ceremony returned to the Menin Gate Memorial. Inside is the Hall of Memory and here are the engraved names of the missing... including Fred Fisher of St Catherines Ontario, and thousands of other Canadians as well.
There are a number of memorials in Ontario to Fisher, including his name appearing in the Book or Remembrance, at pg 14, contained in the Peace Tower at the Parliament Buildings of Canada. Montreal's Bleury Street Armoury has a plaque displayed in honor of Fisher, and a portrait of Fisher is displayed proudly at his old Academy in Montreal which is now called Westmount High School. And back at St Catharines there is a plaque in his honour at City Hall and a Ontario Government historic plaque near where he was born. They also have a street named after Fred.
Some of the Fisher medals including the VC, as earlier noted at the Black Watch Museum... and it is within the Bleury Street armoury above mentioned.