Remembering Captain John Geddes, 16th Battalion CEF

Captain John Geddes

Captain John Geddes

Captain John Geddes died on April 22, 1915 leading his men in the midnight attack on Kitchener’s Wood. His final moments were captured in Mark Zuehlke’s fine book ‘Brave Battalion‘:

“Captain Geddes had been knocked to his knees with a mortal wound, but still urging No. 4 Company on he crawled forward a short distance before collapsing.”

The 36-year old Geddes was born in Chicago in 1876 to Scottish parents and educated in England. He emigrated to Canada in 1903 and joined the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada at its inception in 1910. He was promoted to Captain two years later and was given command of No. 4 Company in the newly formed 16th Battalion. Geddes led his Camerons from the day they left Winnipeg in August 1914 to their bayonet charge on the first day of Second Ypres.

Winnipeg Free Press, April 26 1915

Winnipeg Free Press
April 26 1915

One of Geddes’ Lieutenants was Hugh Macintyre Urquhart who later wrote The History of the 16th Battalion (The Canadian Scottish) in the Great War. In his book he mentioned that on the voyage to England  Geddes commented:

“the real test of the nations ‘will to war’ would come when the casualty lists of the volunteer armies were posted”.

He was proven correct but little did he know that his own obituary would be one of the first to appear in the Winnipeg Free Press on April 26, 1915.

Geddes looked after his men and his loss was deeply felt by those who survived Second Ypres. So much so that after his death they commissioned The Geddes Brooch and presented it to his widow Helen. One of those survivors was Private John Denholm who later received the postcard that features in this article. On the back of the postcard Denholm wrote:

“Captain Geddes of the Camerons who was my commander when we came to France and who was in the charge at Ypres. Mrs. Geddes sent a photo to each of the men who are still here in the battn.”

The body of John Geddes was never recovered and so he is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres. Captain Geddes left behind a wife and three children in Winnipeg. A BBC news article reported last year that among his descendants is a great-great nephew who is both a Cameron and the British Prime Minister.

This is the twelfth in a series of articles highlighting photos and ephemera from a scrapbook compiled by Private John Denholm of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) during the First World War.


Clipping from a Winnipeg newspaper


1 reply

  1. Hi a good site and a resource

    I am also researching the 16th Canadian Scottish in particular Pte Gerald Howard Holbrooke who is depicted on two war memorials in Hampshire. He had a varied military history. 1st in the 12th Middx then Natal Police South Africa, then NWMP Canada by the time he enlisted in the 16th CEF he had nearly 16years military service 8 of it on active service in South Africa.The Canadian memorial mistakenly records his death as 18th April 15 whereas his death took place a month later (Kitchener Wood) between 18/22 May and further he was buried in front of a farmhouse near to the wood. That from the papers that I have received from Canada Archives. His body was never recovered. He came from a long line of military men with his 3 of brothers already serving before the www1 started. As to the time on Salisbury plain it is more than likely he went home several times as his mother and several sisters lived nearby in St Mary Bourne Anything in relation to him would be welcomed

    As to Capt Geddes you do know he is was the great uncle of our current prime minister David Cameron

    I look forward to hearing from you

    Tony Havlin

Tell Me What You Think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.