Private George Henry McBride
Private George Henry McBride was born on December 3, 1892 in Zurich, Ontario. When the Great War broke out in 1914, he was 21 years old and ran a feed store. Heeding his nation's call to arms, he reported to the registration station in Hensall, Ontario on March 20, 1916. He quickly filled out his attestation form, passed his military physical and was enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
His initial taste of military service was rather tedious. He was assigned to the 161st Huron Battalion where he participated in drills and exercises. In June, 1916, he contracted measles and was admitted to the District 1 military hospital in London, Ontario. Once he was fit again, he resumed his military drills with the 161st.
In October, 1916, he was notified that he was being shipped overseas. He got his affairs in order and quickly penned his will, designating his parents, Samuel and Annie, as his beneficiaries. On October 12, 1916, George said goodbye to his family and boarded a troop train bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia. He assured them that he would be fine and told them that he would send his pay ($17 per month) back home to them (he did).
On November 1, 1916 he embarked on the S.S. Lapland in Halifax, Nova Scotia for the ten day trip to England. The ship arrived on November 11, 1916, whereupon he boarded a train bound for the Shorncliffe camp on the coast of Kent. When he arrived in Shorncliffe, he was assigned to the 8th Reserve Battalion awaiting further transfer.
That transfer would come sooner than George expected. As the war ground on into its fourth year, casualties began to mount and it became necessary to replace losses in the field with fresh troops. There would be no weekend trips to London or Edinburgh for Private McBride: barely a month after arriving in England, he was notified that he was being reassigned to the 9th Infantry Brigade, one of three brigades that made up the 3rd Canadian Division in France.
Since its arrival in England in November, 1915, the 9th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General F.W. Hill, had seen somewhat limited action. That had changed at the First Battle of the Somme in October, 1916. During that engagement, the brigade had suffered almost 1,000 casualties at the Battle of Ancre Heights and the capture of the Regina Trench. This was a line of German defenses beyond Courcelette and it had taken the Allies a full month to seize it. Brigadier General Hill was in urgent need of replacement troops.
On December 19, 1916, after being issued a new uniform, rucksack and rifle, George boarded a ship in Dover for the short passage to France. He celebrated Christmas of 1916 at the Canadian Base Depot and then joined his unit near Mont St. Eloi on December 29, 1916. There, he was assigned to the 58th Infantry Battalion (Central Ontario Regiment), one of four battalions that made up the 9th Brigade. The other battalions were the 43rd (Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada), 52nd (New Ontario) and 116th (Ontario County) infantry battalions.
The winter of 1916-17 was the coldest winter of the war. It was also a period of relative calm following the First Battle of the Somme. The Canadian Corps used the lull in fighting to reconstitute, train and strengthen its defenses. This calm was interrupted by increasingly frequent raids against the German positions in preparation for the massive Allied offensive that would take place in April, 1917 around Vimy Ridge.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge began with a massive artillery barrage which began on March 20, 1917. The barrage was stepped up on April 2nd and at 5:30am on Easter Monday, April 9th, the creeping artillery barrage began to move steadily towards the Germans. George and his unit advanced behind it in the midst of a driving, late season snow storm.
Despite being decimated by the three week long artillery barrage, the German defenders still mounted a fierce resistance. However, they were no match for the Allies and by midday the Canadians had captured a large part of Vimy Ridge. Over the next three days, the remaining objectives at Vimy Ridge would be captured and the Germans would have retreated two miles.
The victory at Vimy Ridge was Canada's greatest accomplishment during the War. The Canadian Corps had demonstrated once and for all that they were one of the British empire's most formidable fighting forces. However, this reputation had come at a cost: the Canadian Corps suffered 10,602 casualties at Vimy Ridge including 3,598 killed in action.
Among those who died that April was Private George H. McBride. After advancing nearly a mile in the four days of fighting, the 58th Battalion was now engaged with the retreating Germans on the east side of La Folie Wood just outside of Vimy. At day's end, Private McBride was reported as missing. Two weeks later, his body was found and buried where it lay. Eighteen months later, on August 9, 1919, his body was exhumed and re-buried at La Chaudiere military cemetery near Vimy.
Private George McBride was only 24 years old when he gave his life for his country. His parents received notification of his death later that May. Shortly thereafter, his sister Maude would receive a letter of sympathy from a soldier who had known George in Canada and served with him in France. The link to Private J. Alvin Surerus' letter and moving poem can be found below.
Maude's father would die later that year and her favorite cousin, Private D.J. McClinchey, would be killed at the Battle of Canal du Nord in September, 1918. After the war, she would marry a widower who had also served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Private Albert Henry Schnell's story can also be found in The Archive.
This account was provided by George Henry McBride's great-nephew, David A. Schnell. It is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Lorne A. Schnell (father of David, nephew of George) who passed away on October 12, 2000.
A Soldier's Tribute