The 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) Bound for France

Nearing French Coast Feb 15:15

16th Battalion aboard HMT Maidan on February 12th, 1915. Pte’s G McKenzie, N G Wilson & J Kinnear pictured in centre.

This is the nineth in a series of articles highlighting the experiences of Private John Denholm of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) during the First World War. Articles will be published on or near the 100th anniversary of each event and will feature photos and ephemera from an amazing scrapbook that he compiled shortly after the war.

On February 11, 1915 the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) left Lark Hill for Avonmouth Docks and the H.M.T Maidan, a 152-metre cargo steam ship turned troop transport. When they departed in the early morning hours of February 12th they did so under fair skies, however by evening the weather had turned and before long a heavy gale tossed the Maidan and its occupants around on the Bay of Biscay.

In addition to the 16th the ship carried one section each of the 9th and 10th Batteries of the Canadian Field Artillery. The 16th and CFA horses were stabled on top of the deck while the men were packed into open holds in such numbers that it was impossible to lie down. The conditions down below deteriorated rapidly once heavy seas forced the hatches closed but regardless of this the men were routinely drenched by breaking waves. One such wave broke over the ship with such force that it swept away the starboard horse shelter and two horses. A second wave deposited the horses back on deck but they and two others were injured to such an extent that they had to be shot. An officer and four men were also seriously injured while trying to care for the horses during the storm.

By midday on February 14th the storm had passed and later that afternoon the Maidan anchored off St. Nazaire. The History of the 16 Battalion (The Canadian Scottish) describes the scene as follows:

“The evening was still and spring-like; the full Pipe Band assembled on the upper deck and played marches and reels; groups of French people in their Sunday attire could be seen standing beside the white houses and walking along the roads bordering the trim, cultivated fields, gazing curiously seawards, whilst the troops, entirely recovered from their misery of yesterday, crowded every available space on deck and gazed just as intently on the pleasant landscape of the long-looked-for France.”

CSM Henry Vincent Ramsay at St. Nazaire

CSM Henry Vincent Ramsay at St. Nazaire

The Maidan docked early next morning and at 9am the battalion had disembarked. They were greeted by French military officers and a large pile of “hairy, smelly goatskin coats“.

Company Sergeant-Major Henry Vincent Ramsay, pictured on the left, is proudly modelling his new goatskin jacket. Sadly CSM Ramsay was killed in action during the Battle of Kitcheners’ Wood on the night of April 22/23, 1915. The body of the 22 year-old soldier was never recovered and as such he is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres.

The 16th marched through the streets of St. Nazaire and were greeted with great enthusiasm:

“Crowds of civilians, and French soldiers back at the rest camps, lined the streets. They seemed overjoyed to welcome the newcomers and everywhere gave them a great ovation. The French children, in swarms, followed the Battalion clamouring for the water bottles of the men to get them filled with wine.”

In the afternoon they made their way to the railway station where they clambered aboard box cars, each holding 36 to 45 men. At 4:45 the troop train pulled out of the station at St. Nazaire, their ultimate destination still a mystery to most of the men on board. Rumours abounded that they could be headed to Egypt or India but when the train turned northward after a long stop at Nantes the battalion knew they were headed for the Western Front.

Footnote: in June 1923 the Maidan struck a reef in the Red Sea and sank. Fortunately there were no fatalities. Today the ship is a popular diving destination. Check out this amazing colour footage of a diver exploring the wreck of S/S Maidan.

9 replies

  1. Hello Stewart,

    Thanks very much for your kind comments. My understanding is that Richardson’s pipes were on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh for several months last year. Did your friend have a chance to see them?

    Thanks again,
    Steve

  2. Hi I am thoroughly impressed with your articles and especially the photo images. My Grandfather, James Rodgers was a Lieutenant in the 16TH Battalion. I am in the process of researching his service and I am also trying to collect as much of the WW! uniform and ephemeral that I can find to make my own display.

    I can let you both know that the Bag Pipes of Cpl. Richardson are on permanent display in the main floor rotunda of the BC Government Legislature Building in Victoria British Columbia. I saw them for the first time in May 2015. The pipes were repatriated from a High school in Scotland in about 2012. Victoria, BC is the regimental headquarters of the 16th Battalion. They have a fantastic museum onsite. I have photos if you would like to see them.

    I also have photos of a bronze statue made by a famous sculptor of Richardson it is about 3/4 of full scale I’d say. It is located in the downtown of a small city called Chilliwack, BC which is the area Richardson and his family were from. Chilliwack is about 1.5 hours drive east from Vancouver, BC.

    Would love to chat more about the 16th Battalion via email if either of you are interested.

    • Hi John,

      Thanks very much for your kind comments and for providing details on your grandfather Lt. James Rodgers. I notice in the nominal roll that he was initially in “H” Company along with John Denholm and many others from Winnipeg. I can see that his family was from Belfast but was he living in Winnipeg prior to the war and if so was he in the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada? The nominal roll lists his previous Corps as “Nil” but it does the same for John Denholm and John was definitely in the 79th.

      If you have a photo of your grandfather when he was in the 16th it would be very interesting to see. Denholm’s scrapbook contains a lot of photos and there is a small chance he could be in one of the images. He doesn’t name your grandfather in the scrapbook but not every soldier is identified by name. I’ll email you so that you have another means of contacting me.

      I believe Stewart is in the UK but I’m in Victoria. I have seen the pipes at the rotunda but I did not realize they are back on display (they were on loan in Scotland recently). I’ve also been fortunate to visit the Regimental Museum but it’s been a couple of years so I’m overdue for another visit.

      Thanks again for your comments and I will be in touch by email.

      Cheers,
      Steve

  3. Hello,

    I am working in the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres Belgium and doing research on Eynon Martin GARNON who served with the 16th Btn in WW1. We have some lovely items who beloged to him but no photograph. Would there be one in this collection?

    very best wishes
    Annick

    • Hello Annick,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on this post. Eynon Martin GARNON doesn’t appear in my list of names mentioned in John’s scrapbook however someone contacted me yesterday about a different soldier and so I will have another look at the scrapbook this weekend. There is a chance he’s mentioned in one of the news clippings that I haven’t yet indexed. I will drop you an email once I’ve had another look.

      Thanks again,
      Steve

      • Hi my grandfather James Rodgers was with the 7th Cameron’s Militia and went to Valcartier and was assigned to the 16th Battalion in August 1914. Have come across his name in Denholms notes. James Rodgers was a private and once overseas became a Lt.
        Cheers John Graves Kelowna BC

  4. Hi John,

    Nice to hear from you again. I’ll look for James Rodgers in the news clippings contained in the scrapbook and let you know if I find anything.

    Cheers,
    Steve

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