St. Matthew’s War Memorial Project – lest we forget
In our continuing series of stories about the 16 servicemen from St. Matthew’s Anglican Church who were killed in action in World War I, in this edition of the Glebe Report we present the story of 22-year-old Glenholm Wilson of First Avenue. Should you wish to add stories of your own of men or women from the Glebe who died in World War I, or add further detail to these stories, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The story of Glenholm Wilson
by Kevan Pipe
Glenholm Wilson was born on January 18, 1894 to Arthur and Eliza Wilson. The family lived but 100 metres from St. Matthew’s at 164 First Avenue, just east of Bank Street in the Glebe. He joined the 43rd Regiment, Duke of Cornwall’s Own Rifles, in 1910 as a 16-year-old and served with this unit for five years while also working as a printer on Sparks Street with Mortimer’s Printing.
Glen Wilson, 21 years old and single, enlisted on Feb. 22, 1915 in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force (#410230), less than seven months after the start of the First World War, and was assigned to the 38th Battalion, known as the Ottawa Overseas Battalion, part of the Eastern Ontario Regiment, 4th Division. Following six months of training, his thousand-man-strong battalion was shipped to Bermuda for island protection. Finally, on June 9, 1916, the 38th arrived in England and was deployed to the Western Front in northwest France on August 13 to join those in the trenches in Ypres, Belgium as part of the Battle of the Somme.
Their battalion defended the allied line near Kemmel Hill at the southern point of the Ypres salient until September 23 when the 38th was ordered to join other units of the Canadian Corps to prepare for what became known as the Battle of Ancre Heights, near Beaumont Hamel, where the Newfoundland Regiment had earlier suffered gravely on July 1, 1916 with 670 casualties out of a total force of 780 men.
The 38th Battalion was ordered on November 17 following two months of action to join the fighting taking place in the Battle of Ancre, part of the attack on the Regina Trench, the longest single German line in all of the First World War. The 38th Battalion “went over the top” as part of the Canadian 4th Division the next day on what is regarded officially as the last day of this excruciating four-and-a-half-month long Battle of the Somme. The battle was a success for our Canadian troops with all military objectives gained including the capture of the Regina Trench north of Courcelette as well as the Desire Support Trench.
But what a cost was paid for this victory in terms of human life. The Battalion suffered five hundred casualties. And one of those was Sergeant Glenholm Wilson, who on November 18, 2016 was killed in action “while leading his platoon on to victory when his superior officer had fallen.” He was two months short of his 23rd birthday.
This Battle of Ancre, on November 18, brought the Battle of the Somme to a close. Three million soldiers on both sides were involved, with a total of one million casualties suffered by both German and Allied forces. Sergeant Wilson was one of 700 men killed. As well, 2,000 members of the 38th Battalion were wounded, from a total unit force of 4,500 soldiers who served with the battalion during all of the First World War, a casualty rate of 60 per cent.
A commemorative bronze plaque was unveiled to a crowded St. Matthew’s church congregation led by Ottawa Anglican Archbishop Charles Hamilton on Sunday evening, June 17, 1917, almost seven months to the day after he was killed. Prime Minister Arthur Meighen was in attendance that early summer evening and, according to the Ottawa Journal (June 18), read extracts of Glen’s letters home to his family and in his comments, “encouraged other young men to follow in the footsteps of this young man who was ready to give all for his ideals.”
In his final letter home, Glen wrote to his parents: “If I fall, with God’s help, I shall have died doing my duty.” This message is commemorated on the memorial plaque, commissioned by his family, with the 38th Battalion badge. The plaque is located on the southwest wall of St. Matthew’s.
Sergeant Glenholm Wilson, 22 years young, of 164 First Avenue, is buried in the Regina Trench Cemetery in the Somme Valley near Courcelette, France.
Kevan Pipe is a Glebe resident and member of the St Matthew’s Anglican Church Communications Committee. On Sunday, November 12, he will be presenting the stories of two WW1 soldiers – Maurice Samwell and William Saunders. The public is welcome to attend St. Matthew’s regular church service at 10 a.m. and/or for coffee at 11:15 with the presentations starting 15 minutes later.
The Spitfire Luck of Skeets Ogilvie
by Jean Ogilvie
A new book on a Glebe war hero, “Skeets” Ogilvie, by his son Keith Ogilvie, is just out in time for Remembrance Day.
Skeets was born in 1915 and grew up in a house built by his uncle Clarence Ogilvie on Patterson Avenue, with his parents, Charlie and Edith, and two brothers, Jim and Emerson. From there he joined the British Royal Air Force, who recruited before the Canadian Air Force did, and was picked to live his life-long dream of becoming a pilot. He came to be a Spitfire fighter pilot through a series of unlikely circumstances and participating in the Battle of Britain. He was personally thanked in a letter from Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands who witnessed him shooting down a Luftwaffe plane over Buckingham Palace.
He was later shot down and injured but alive. He eventually became a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft III PoW (Prisoner of War) Camp, located in present-day western Poland, famous from the film The Great Escape. Skeets was the last of 76 men out of the tunnel only to be captured later by the Germans. Somehow he became one of the lucky 23 who were not killed on Hitler’s orders for the daring escape effort.
Keith returned safely to Canada in 1945 and married his wartime sweetheart, Irene Lockwood, who also was a Canadian soldier in London. They returned to live and raise a family from their Patterson Avenue home.
Hence the “luck” in the book title. These amazing stories are carefully documented in this book written by his son Keith who is also a pilot, engineer and writer who also began life in the Patterson home. Recent history comes alive, backed up by many details obtained from war records in museums across Europe and Canada as well as extensive personal records, journals and flight logs. Heritage Press just published this amazing tale in soft cover in Canada.
Jean Ogilvie is the granddaughter of Charles and Edith Ogilvie of Patterson Avenue, daughter of Skeets and Irene Ogilvie and sister of Keith Ogilvie. She is dedicated to the work of honouring our ancestry and is the founder of The Aeshna Project, a company devoted to the development of leaders, teams and organizations.
When the youth of Adelaide Street went off to war
by Peter Rudin-Brown
Conversations are unpredictable; the thread of an idea or premise of a joke can veer off and take us somewhere unexpected. A silly story at our dinner table a few months ago ended up being a more vivid history lesson for me and my family than any lecture, TV show or museum could offer.
As usual, I was teasing my daughters, saying that the old house we live in is haunted. Every bang, draft and missing sock had its cause in our resident ghost, I explained, to my kids’ rolled eyes. The thought of it piqued my interest though and I decided to look into the past residents of our home. I had no idea then that by simply looking for a good premise for a ghost story, my family and I would end up getting to know Flying Officer James Bennett Wilson who grew up in the same house my kids are now growing up in and who went missing in action in November of 1942.
My research began well, with some potential ghost-story fodder about an elderly resident passing away in our front room in 1924. I also came across a very complimentary 1941 obituary of a Mr. John Maider Wilson. He sounded like a highly admired man in the community and I decided to search variations of his name combined with our street or neighbourhood to see if I could learn more about him. Almost immediately I came across a January 1943 Ottawa Journal article about his son Jim Wilson:
“Flight Officer Jim Wilson Reported Missing
Pilot of a Beaufighter during many channel skirmishes with the enemy, while attached to RAF Coastal Command, Flight Officer James (Jim) Bennet Wilson… of 9 Adelaide Street has been reported missing following air operations according to an RCAF casualty list… FO Wilson saw much action with Coastal Command. He was reported missing on November 26.”
The article stopped me in my tracks. I read and reread it, thinking about what it had meant to the Wilson family unexpectedly losing not just their husband and father but their son and brother, all within one awful year. I tried to imagine James as a boy walking to school from our house, playing on the street, going to church – and then? It’s hard to describe the feelings this old news clipping evoked in me; sadness and admiration, most clearly, but I also felt as if I’d been given a responsibility to learn what I could about the lost young pilot who grew up on Adelaide Street and to pass his story along.
A 19-year-old Jim Wilson walked into the Rideau Street enlistment office on 16 October 1940 and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. From that Rideau Street office, things moved quickly as airmen were desperately needed. Jim had earned his wings by August and was on a convoy bound for Britain where he would fly the formidable Bristol Beaufighter. His instructors noted that he was an above average pilot and how well liked he was, having a cheerful, “happy-go-lucky” manner. On 22 May 1942, 18 months after walking into the Ottawa recruiting office, 21-year-old RCAF Pilot Officer James Bennett Wilson was posted to 235 Squadron, RAF Coastal Command. His squadron was given the tasks of destroying enemy shipping, allied convoy protection, and raid/reconnaissance missions over Nazi-occupied coasts. Reading the squadron operations records from the UK National Archives, one has the immediate sense of how dangerous these missions were:
“10.11.42 Ship Strike F/O Wilson, Sgt. Cooke in H.…10/10 cloud rain vis 400 yds…Formation spotted 3 enemy ships escorted by two E-boats heading 225 degrees. H made two runs over target but broke away owing to intense flak and bad visibility.”
And then, less than two weeks before his 22nd birthday, on what seemed like a routine mission:
“27.11.42 Fishery Patrol F/O Wilson and Sgt Cooke in a/c E, F/Lt. Casparius and F/Sgt. Davies in a/c O. A/C in formation on patrol. Both a/c failed to return.”
Who knows what happened that day? Were they shot down? Did they collide? Even without the added dangers of war, formation flying at low-level in poor weather is a risky task. Whatever the reason, Jim had become one of the three young men who wouldn’t be walking back down Adelaide Street after the war.
And that’s the thing – as brave and sad as it seems to us today, Jim Wilson’s story is not exceptional. Jim, for all sorts of reasons, e.g. youthful excitement, patriotism, a test of his mettle, a sense of duty, went and did what needed to be done. He did it almost anonymously, with no fanfare and very little personal reward for the great risks he took. His mother and sister simply went on, saddened, but also knowing that they weren’t the only families to be grieving and that they had to do their bit too.
In researching Jim’s story, I learned that, on my one-block-long street alone, at least 10 young people served during that war. There were sailors, riflemen, airmen and the leader of the Ottawa RCAF women’s auxiliary. It is humbling to realize how many young people from streets and farms all over Canada stepped up like that when it was so needed.
James Wilson is officially commemorated today, along with 20,000 other missing airmen of the British Commonwealth, at the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, England. His name is also on page 125 of the Canadian Book of Remembrance in the Memorial chamber of Parliament’s Peace Tower.
Peter Rudin-Brown is a long-time resident of Adelaide Street in the Glebe.
Adelaide Street youth who answered the call, 1939-1945:
Women’s Division RCAF, district B
Flying Officer James (Jim) Bennett Wilson
235 Squadron, Coastal Command, RAF
Missing in air operation over the English Channel
Lieutenant Commander Joseph Mclean
Royal Canadian Navy
Warrent Officer Second Class
Harold Arthur Healy
207 Squadron, RAF
Missing in air operations
9 April 1943
23 ½ Adelaide
Wireless Operator RCAF
Captain Eddie Friel
Paratroop commander at D-Day
Kenneth Lyle Dale
249 Squadron, RAF
Missing in air operations,
Warrent Officer First Class
Air gunner, RCAF
Pvt. D.C. Troke