Private Albert Henry Schnell
Albert "Bertie" Henry Schnell was born in Zurich, Ontario on January 19, 1890. When war broke out in 1914, he was working as a mechanic in Edmonton, Alberta. In January, 1918 he was drafted during the fifth round of conscription and assigned to the 1st Depot Manitoba Battalion. Perhaps realizing the enormity of his situation, he married his girlfriend, Annabel Southworth, in a simple ceremony on January 17, 1918.
On April 10, 1918, Bertie said goodbye to Annabel and boarded a troop train bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia. There he embarked on the S.S. Melita for the week long trip to England. The trip across the North Atlantic was brutal: most of the troops were sea-sick and German U-boats attacked the Melita's convoy twice.
On April 28, 1918, he arrived in England where he was assigned to the 11th Reserve Battalion stationed at Camp Seaford, Sussex. Bertie would spend the next four-and-a-half months here, drilling and training for eventual duty in France. He and his friends would also take several excursions to London, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
In September, Bertie was finally re-assigned to the 43rd Infantry Battalion, the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada. After being issued a khaki kilt with his Enfield rifle and field equipment, he was shipped over to France on September 5, 1918.
On September 9, he was sent to the front, joining the 43rd Battalion at a staging area west of the Canal du Nord on September 12. This unit and the 52nd, 58th and 116th Battalions comprised the 9th Brigade, one of three brigades that made up the 3rd Canadian Division.
At dawn on September 27th, 1918, the first Allied units crossed the Canal du Nord and attacked the German positions along the Marquion line west of Cambrai. Later that evening, Bertie's unit was brought up through the Bourlon Wood. The following morning, the 43rd Battalion led the assault toward Fontaine Notre-Dame. Quickly securing the village, they moved across the Cambrai-Bapaume road and established a position facing the Marcoing line, west of Cambrai.
During this action, Bertie was shot and seriously wounded while running towards cover in a mud-filled crater. Struck in the right hand and chest, the bullet miraculously deflected off the journal and pen that he kept in the left breast pocket of his uniform. After being treated at a French hospital, he was shipped back to England on October 3, 1918.
Bertie's war had lasted four short but intense weeks. Ten of the twenty-four men that he mentions in his war diary were killed in action during that time. He spent the next four months convalescing in England at Woodcote Camp in Epsom before he was deemed "fit for duty." On January 5, 1919 Annabel received a cable from Bertie informing her that he would be returning to Canada in the next few weeks.
On January 18, 1919, he sailed on the HMS Aquatania from Liverpool. He arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia a week later and began the three day train ride back to his home. When he arrived, he was met by a cousin who informed him that his wife, Annabel, had died on January 20, 1919. She was one of several thousand Canadians who would die during the great Spanish flu epidemic that broke out after World War I.
On March 9, 1920, Bertie remarried, wedding the former Maude McBride in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They would eventually have two children, Florence and Lorne and he would become a district manager for Allis-Chalmers. He rarely spoke of his military service prior to his death in 1950.
This account was provided by Albert Henry Schnell's grandson, David A. Schnell. It is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Lorne A. Schnell (father of David, son of Bertie) who passed away on October 12, 2000.