On arrival in England the 67th Battalion (The Western Scots) were stationed at Camp Borden in Hampshire where on May 15th they learned that “because of its unusually diversified training and adaptability” they had been re-designated the 67th Canadian (Pioneer) Battalion. As a Pioneer battalion in the 4th Canadian Division the 67th would soon find itself in the front lines, consolidating positions, digging trenches, laying wire, and building light railways. It was from nearby Bramshott Camp that the 67th departed on August 13th for France, disembarking in Havre the following day.
Within a week of arriving in France the 67th found themselves in the trenches near Busseboom (Google Maps), just east of Poperinge in Belgium. According to the War Diary (14mb PDF) “Active M.G. fire greeted first appearance of the “Western Scots’. No casualties”. Their clean sheet lasted only one day as two men were reported wounded on August 21st. This “wastage” continued for the next five weeks while the Battalion repaired trenches, filled sandbags and installed duckboards in the Flanders mud. In September the 67th Battalion was officially redesignated the 4th Canadian Pioneer Battalion although in the War Diary, and in the hearts of the men, they remained the 67th Battalion. When they marched back to St. Omer near the end of September they had lost 44 men (9 killed, 35 wounded) and 3 officers (2 killed, 1 wounded). Word of the fatal wounding of Lieut. Peter MacKintosh during a heavy bombardment near Voormezele on Sept. 9th was reported in the Sept. 12th edition of the Daily Colonist (note: although the article claims he was the first officer to die but he was in fact the second).
In early October the Battalion marched to Aveluy (Google Maps) near Albert where they spent the next two months working in the Somme, specifically in Kenora, Vancouver and Sudbury trenches and along stretches of the Albert-Bapaume Road. An excellent account of their 3-day march written by Captain George Nicholson appeared in the December 3, 1916 Daily Colonist.
In early December the 67th marched north to Chelers for two weeks training before marching east to Villers-au-Bois where they would spend the next four months preparing for the Arras offensive. The battalion toiled endlessly constructing and maintaining trenches, dugouts and the Kings Cross Light Railway. On February 13th one officer and 33 men participated in a trench raid with the 10th Brigade against the 5th Bavarian Reserve Division in which “a number of enemy entanglements, emplacements, strongpoints and dugouts were destroyed” and more than 50 prisoners were captured.
Preparation continued throughout March and early April for the assault on Vimy Ridge. On the evening of April 8 four officers and 111 men from the 67th gathered inside the Gobron tunnel along with the 72nd Battalion, The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. On the morning of the attack one officer and 30 men spent the morning clearing wounded from the battlefield “throughout an intense retaliatory bombardment” before being relieved by another party from the 67th Battalion. While Pte Valentine Hitchcock is not mentioned in the war diary it is safe to assume he played his part in one of Canada’s most famous battles of the First World War.
On May 1st 1917, after having spent the remainder of April rebuilding roads and constructing railways, the 67th Battalion was disbanded and the men reallocated to the 54th and 102nd Battalions, both from British Columbia. This was disappointing news for Valentine and in a letter to his mother on May 4th he wrote:
“The 67 Batt is no more. It was broken up on the first of this month and divided between two other Western Batt, the 54th & the 102 Batt. My Co was first in the 54, a Kootenay Batt, the reason it was broken up is that their was not enough recruits coming from the West to keep them up to strength. Both are infantry Batt and both have done all what was expected of them, and I hope the 67 will keep the name of them up. The only part I don’t like is the walking their is so much of it, but it can’t be helped. We are present at a rest camp learning the drill which is different from Pioneers. The last few days several thousands of Germans have been taken they are a mixed crowd both old and young but look as if they are not starved. There has just been finished a 24 hours bombardment then the Inf must have gone over and taken them easy although we had a number of casualties it was very light for what was taken. The weather here is very hot at present. I will send you my old badges. V Hitchcock, 102047 C Co. 54 Batt, CEF France”
Valentine attached his 67th Battalion collar and cap badges to his 3-page letter and sent it home by Registered Letter to Victoria. Note: although the letter was dated 4/4/17 this was a simple mistake. The date on the registered letter cover confirms it was sent in May and Valentine’s description of his location, the weather and the disbanding of the Battalion also fit with a letter written on May 5, 1917.
Now a member of the 54th “Kootenay” Battalion he spent the remainder of May in reserve but in early June the battalion relieved parts of the 47th and 44th Battalions in the front line trenches. Their 72 hour stay was described as “quiet” although they still reported “1 killed, 5 wounded and 28 gassed”. On June 14 Valentine began a two-week Trench Mortar Battery course, training which would greatly influence his experience for the remainder of the war. After an eventful week spent “pushing out” battalion outposts in the front line trenches the 54th were relieved at the end of July and moved to the Brigade Support area.
In Part 5: Bruised by Shell Fire and Valentine’s Military Medal.