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.
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.