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Private Charles Robert Bottomley: Canadian Soldier Who Fought in the First World War
Canada was one of the countries which participated actively in the First World War. The involvement of Canada in the First World War began when Britain joined the war. On the fourteenth of August nineteen fourteen, the British declared war against Germany. At the time, Canada was a British dominion. The entry of Britain into the war therefore meant that Canada was also technically at war with Germany owing to its legal status which meant that its foreign policy was majorly controlled by the British. Even though the Canadian government still had powers to determine the country’s level of involvement in the war, the Canadians followed suit be declaring war against Germany, at the time seen as the greatest threat to the forces allied to Britain in the war (Cassar & George 3). At first, the Canadian soldiers fought alongside the British. They however remained under a British commander who remained in charge for several months. As the war advanced, however, the Canadian soldiers were allowed to fight under a Canadian Commander making the team more independent. The Canadian army mobilized a strong force of about seven hundred thousand personnel complete with artillery and air power. Out of the total number of soldiers sent to fight in the World war one, nearly sixty seven thousand were killed and another two hundred and fifty thousand wounded in a war that saw Canada realize great victories in the hands of the German-led axis of nations. Canadian intrusion into the war was partly contributed by the fact that a vast majority of Canadians were of British descent. This group argued that Canada had a duty to fight for Britain, which they considered their motherland. The entry of Canada into the war was therefore not opposed at home. In fact, it received immense support that saw tens of thousands of Canadians volunteering to fight in the war alongside the British.
Needless to say, this war gave birth to numerous war heroes who fought for their country gallantly and delivered victory back home. Private Charles Richard Bottomley was one such Hero. His exploits in the war were legendary and his immense contribution made him an asset the Canadian army could not do away with.
Family Background and Early Life
Private Charles Robert Bottomley was one of the most decorated Canadian Soldiers who fought in the first Word War. He was born in Philadelphia in 1882. Charles’s mother was called Sarah Ratcliffe. She had been born in 1859 in Opengate Shropshire and was brought up in a middle income family. Richard’s father was called Henry Bottomley. He had been a fairly successful Canadian farmer who owned several acres of land. Richard Bottomley grew up like every other regular child in the neighborhood where he lived. His father took him to school at an early age and he performed quite well, always ranking among the top students in his class.
Enlisting in the Canadian Forces
Before the First World War, Canada has one of the smallest army. It was a permanent standing army majorly meant to neutralize the threat of external aggression which seldom happened in the prewar period. Canada was a relatively peaceful country which had maintained good relations with her neighbors (Granatstein 7). The need for a stronger, more aggressive army had, therefore, not arisen for several years. When the First World War broke out and Canada was sucked into the war, Sam Hughes, the then Canadian minister in charge of defense to proposed a plan to mobilize potential recruits throughout the country so that a larger and stronger force can be established for Canadian military assignments abroad. It was as a result of this military mobilization program that Charles Robert Bottomley enlisted in the Canadian Army. Charles, together with other volunteers, who enlisted underwent military training before they were used to form a new military unit, the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. Upon the completion of their training, Charles and other soldiers who had just qualified to fight for the forces were grouped into battalions. Each battalion was designated a number (Cook & Tim 2).
During the time he was enlisting in the army and for the entire period of the training, Charles had the opportunity to meet people from all parts of Canada. Other than those who had volunteered to serve in the infantry units as well as other combat units, there are those who had enlisted to form support units. Thousands of Canadians enlisted to provide various professional services to the Canadian army. There were nurses, doctors, engineers, nutritionists and even chaplains. It was also at this point that Charles experienced his first encounter with racism. At the time, racial segregation was very common in Canada as it was in other parts of America. Black immigrants, most of whom had crossed over from the neighboring United States (Freeman, Bill and Richard 11). In instances where non-whites were registered in the forces, which were only under such circumstances as could be considered special, they only served in designated battalions which were exclusively for them. However, they served under white commanders as the higher military ranks were at the time dominated by the white populations. Most of Charles’ black companions, who were majorly blacks from Nova Scotia and people of aboriginal descent. Charles realized that almost everyone who was not white in descent was subjected to different standard. At the time, there were several Canadian Aborigines, most of whom were willing to get into the military and fight for their country.
At the time, Charles and some of his close friend had become conscious of the dangers of racial segregation though they dared not raise their voices. This was partly due to the strict discipline code in the military. Junior military officers were expected to obey orders and not question them for whatever reason (Busch & Briton Cooper 2). Most black soldiers were admitted into the construction battalion together with Japanese Canadians and Aboriginal Canadians. Military commanders did not want them to get into direct combat as they thought they would sell them out as they lacked the fighting spirit of the whites. This segregation was sustained even in camps where the soldiers served both at home and abroad. The Chinese Canadians were also subjected to similar conditions as non-white soldiers. They were told openly that they could only be engaged in noncombatant assignments as they could not be allowed to fight. They joined the construction battalion where they took part in construction of camps and digging of trenches. Though they were trained in basic combat, they were not expected to go to the battle front.
Experience in the First World
After his passing out from the military training camp Charles joined the new Canadian Expeditionary Force which was largely an all-white force. Another unit was formed from the Expeditionary called the Canadian Corps. The Canadian Corps was one of the units that were sent to Europe to fight in the First World War. Private Charles was one of the people selected to join other forces in the fight to defeat Germany and its allies. He was included in the 5th Canadian Division which was formed when the world war broke out. It was particularly formed in the year nineteen. Initially, the Corps were under the British Army. Accordingly, British commanders were appointed in charge of the forces. Using this outfit, Charles and is fellow soldiers exploited the battlefields of Europe. After the war began, there was a lot of pressure from Canadian government officials that all the Canadian Units be consolidated under one unit and commandeered by Canadian commanders. At this point, the Western Allies were doing very well in the battle. Germany and her allies were seemingly getting exhausted and running out of firepower.
Private Charles had his baptism of fire during the Battle of Neuvre Chapelle. This was the one of the greatest battles of the First World War Here, the main task of the Canadian forces were to stop the Germans from seeking reinforcement around the sector called Neuve Chapelle. The task was tricky because the German camp had camped there for several weeks and had conquered the ground and cordoned it off. Their main intention was to cut off the supply to British and Canadian army soldiers. The German battalion had heavy power. During one of the raids by the German, Private Charles was ambushed together with his compatriots. The German soldiers who attacked Charles ten other Canadian soldiers opened fire immediately killing three of his colleagues. Charles and the six others who lived to tell the story were captured and spent several days in the hands of enemy soldiers (Brown, Robert and MacKenzie 7). It was only after a raid by Canadian Commando working together with special British forces launched a well calculated rescue operation that he and his colleagues were rescued. That formed a turning point in the military career of Charles Robert Bottomley. His bravery during the rescue operation that saw him kill several armed soldiers who were guarding them that earned him special recognition from his friends. The battle at Neuve Chappelle taught the Canadians a number of lessons. They lost personnel and artillery to the enemy power and suffered several casualties. Private Richard’s unit had to call for reinforcement before they managed to hold their ground before the enemy forces. Major Richard recounts one his military adventure in a diary written in December nineteen eighteen in the land of the Germans. He tells the story of Canadian infantries together with their British companions spending nights in the German villages where they are given warm welcome by the Germans they initially considered enemies.
During the First World War, Private Richard was part of the team that engaged the Germans in the second Battle of Ypres. He was present when the Germans, overpowered by enemy power, released Chorine gas over the allied forces killing them in their hundreds. It was only the Canadians who managed to hold their positions and eventually overpower the Germans. Private Richard Robert Bottomley was part of this victory. His contribution to Canadian military success in the First World War is indeed unparalleled.
Brown, Robert Craig and David Clark MacKenzie , Canada and the First World War, University of Toronto Press, 2005.
Busch, Briton Cooper, Canada and the Great War: Western Front Association papers, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2006.
Cassar, George H., Hell in Flanders Fields: Canadians at the Second Battle of Ypres, Dundurn Press, 2010.
Cook, Tim, No Place to Run: The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the First World War, UBC Press, 1999.
Freeman, Bill and Richard Nielsen, Far from home: Canadians in the First World War, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1998.
Granatstein, J. L., Hell's Corner : an illustrated history of Canada's Great War, 1914-1918, Douglas & McIntyre, 2004.
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