On April 9 this year, Canadians from coast to coast will pause to commemorate the now famous capture of Vimy Ridge by Canadian troops one hundred years ago. In Coldwater, as in so many other towns and villages, the memory of local heroes will be rightfully honoured. But a full century after the event, it may be somewhat challenging to tell which ones, among the dozens of First World War volunteers from one's village, actually fought in the historic battle. Surviving records held at Library and Archives Canada will confirm that this or that individual was part of a certain unit at a certain time, and whether the unit in question did or did not take part in the battle. Generally speaking, that's about all the official records will confirm.
But there are some cases where a direct link to the battle can easily be made, for example when a gallantry decoration with citation was awarded, when the soldier was mentioned by name in the unit's War Diary, or when he was wounded or killed in action at the time of the battle. Sadly, two of Coldwater's volunteer soldiers fell in the latter group. Private Andrew Durnford was killed in action on the first day of the assault on Vimy Ridge, April 9, 1917, and Private George Hill fell a few days later on April 12. They had enlisted together in Coldwater a year earlier along with four other "chums" (as described in a 1917 newspaper article), and were serving together in France with the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion (Western Ontario Regiment) at the time of their death.
Durnford and Hill enlisted in Coldwater in February 1916, along with George Woods, Alexander Dunkin, Samuel Eplett, and Bruce Griffin, all born and raised in Coldwater, or residing there at the time. Once in France, all six were assigned to the 1st Battalion. Since their unit was on the front line of the assault on Vimy Ridge, it can be assumed that all did, indeed, fight at Vimy Ridge. Not long after Durnford and Hill were killed, it was Private Woods' turn to fall on the battlefield on May 3. Then came Dunkin on November 6 at the battle of Passchendaele. Of the six, only Sam Eplett and Bruce Griffin survived the year 1917 at the front, although both suffered gunshot wounds at the time of the battle for Vimy Ridge. Bruce Griffin was later awarded the Military Medal for bravery in battle.
A century after they gave their lives for their country, we certainly can take a moment to remember who these men "killed in action" were. As was announced in October last year, the Coldwater Legion will continue to recognize each local soldier killed in action in the First World War by flying flags half-staff on the day of the 100th anniversary of their passing. We will also post biographical notes about each individual on our website and Facebook pages. This month we recognize Private Andrew Durnford on April 9, and Private George Hill on April 12.
We Will Remember Them.