BY JEFF BURKE
KAWARTHA LAKES-August 4th, 1914, London, England, 10:50pm (ten minutes to midnight in Berlin, Germany). Inside the British Admiralty a small group of admirals and captains and a cluster of clerks, pencils in hand, sat waiting. Along the Mall from the direction of the Palace the sound of an immense concourse singing ‘God save the King’ flouted in through the open windows. Lined up on the streets were the citizens of the majestic city, many waving the red white and blue Union Jack or the red and white flag of their native island.
11:00pm. As Big Ben struck his first stroke of the hour a rustle of movement swept across the nation. Inside the small Admirals office, orders are being given and written by the clerks. A telegram went out reading “Commence hostilities against Germany”, received by war ships sailing the White Ensign all over the world.
Kaiser Wilhelm II said “With heavy heart I have been compelled to mobilize my army against a neighbour at whose side it has fought on many a battlefield. With genuine sorrow do I witness the end of a friendship, which Germany loyally cherished. We draw the sword with a clean conscience and clean hands.”
Britains Foreign Office released the following statement: “Owing to the summary rejection by the German Government of the request made by His Majesty’s Government for assurances that the neutrality of Belgium would be respected, His Majesty’s Ambassador in Berlin has received his passport, and His Majesty’s Government has declared to the German Government that a state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany as from 11pm on August 4th.” Canada and Newfoundland were at war.
This week leading up to Remembrance Day, the 104th anniversary of the armistice, I have very much on my mind my ancestors who fought in both wars. Their sacrifice was made even more real for me after visiting the European Battlefields with my grandfather in 2018.
I Remember my Great Grandfather Clement Thistle who fought with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Canadian Field Artillery Unit at The Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) where he was injured and sent back to England. After recovering in the hospital for a month he rejoined his unit and fought at The Battle of Mons on the last day of the war. Clement Thistle then remained in Mons for another six months before being sent home and discharged. He then tried to enlist at the outbreak of WW2 but was told he was too old (52).
I remember my Great Uncle Walter Thistle Sr who fought with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Walter was one of the “first 500”, also known as The Blue Puttees. Despite being completely unprepared for military action at the outbreak of the war The Blue Putees were some of the first commonwealth troops to arrive in Great Britain (October 1914). Walter fought in Gallipoli and then The Battle of the Somme where he was injured and taken as a prisoner of war. Walter was eventually promoted to Corporal and didn’t return to Newfoundland until five years later, in 1919.
I remember my Great Uncle Ralph Thistle who fought with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Second Battle of Ypres, where he was victim of the first German gas attack of WW1. Also my Great Aunt Violet Thistle who served as a nurse with The 3rd Women’s Legion in England. Ralph Thistle was also the Harbour Master on the West Coast during WW2 and Violet Thistle was the head of The Canadian Red Cross during WW2.
I remember my Great Great Grandfather David Thistle who served with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Forestry Corps during WW1. David Thistle was sent to Scotland along with the Forestry Corps. In Scotland commanders thought David Thistle was to old for the strenuous forestry work so he was sent back to Newfoundland. Once back in Newfoundland he complained so vehemently about being sent home that they promoted him to Captain and sent him back to Scotland.
I remember my Great Uncle Walter Thistle Jr who fought with the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, landing after D-Day, liberating Northern France and the port towns of Belgium from the Germans. Walter Thistle Jr was killed in action on the 4th day of November, 1944 a few days after liberating the City of Bergen Op Zoom, Netherlands.
I remember my Great Uncle David Thistle who served with the Royal Regiment of Canada and was involved in the Raid of Dieppe where he was badly injured and spent months in a POW hospital in Rouen before being taken to a POW camp in Poland. David Thistle was among a group of soldiers who were the first repatriated back to Canada, having been injured to severely to continue on in the war.
Remembering my Great Uncle Clement Thistle Jr who fought with the 48th Highlanders in the 1st Canadian Army, landing on the continent after the D-Day invasion, liberating the Northern France Port Cities and then moving on to Belgium and the invasion of Germany. While on the front line in Germany in late 1944 Clement Thistle was pulled off the line buy his commander and was told that with one brother KIA and another MIA they were sending Clement home.
We will remember them.
I will remember them.