|Corporal William Thomas Uloth, MM|
Shortly after the 106th’s overseas arrival, the Canadian Corps made its way to Albert, France, where it participated in the final two months of the Somme offensive. A pressing need for reinforcements soon resulted in the unit’s dissolution. William was part of large group of 106th soldiers transferred to the 26th Battalion on September 21, 1916. The New Brunswick unit had suffered significant casualties at Courcelette in mid-September. Further losses incurred at Regina Trench before month’s end reduced its fighting strength to “about 200.”
In response, military authorities organized a reinforcement draft of 251 soldiers from the 106th. Private William Uloth was part of a group that joined the 26th’s ranks near Bouzincourt, France, on October 9 and immediately commenced service in the forward area. In late October, the 26th made its way northward to sectors near Lens, France, where its personnel served a regular rotation throughout the winter of 1916-17.
On the morning of April 9, 1917, William and his 26th Battalion mates were part of the first wave of Canadian soldiers who attacked a section of the German’s Vimy Ridge defences known as “Zwischen Stellung.” In less than 30 minutes, the unit secured its objective and held its position as the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia)—one of its 5th Brigade mates—passed through its lines and continued the attack.
In the months following the Canadian Corps’ capture of Vimy Ridge, the 26th served a regular rotation in nearby sectors. On August 15, 1917, its personnel participated in the Canadian Corps’ successful attack on Hill 70, near Lens, France. The battalion made its way to Ypres, Belgium, in late October 1917, and took part in the final stage of the capture of Passchendaele Ridge on November 6.
In the aftermath of his Passchendaele service, William was promoted to the rank of Corporal. Upon returning to France in mid-November, the 26th served a regular rotation south of Lens throughout the winter of 1917-18. While Canadian units were unaffected by a series of German spring offensives that commenced on March 21, 1918, their soldiers “stood to” in anticipation of an impending attack and maintained extreme vigilance throughout subsequent tours.
Routine rotations continued until late June, when the 26th and its 5th Brigade comrades retired to General Headquarters Reserve Camp at Grand-Rullecourt for a period of rest and training. For the first time since arriving overseas, health issues interrupted William’s service. Diagnosed with “disordered action of the heart” on July 5, he spent the remainder of the month at several field ambulances and was finally evacuated to hospital at Camiers, France, at month’s end.
William spent three weeks at No. 20 General Hospital before he was discharged to a convalescent depot at Étaples in late August. He was deemed “fit for duty” in mid-September and rejoined the 26th in the forward area on September 20, 1918. During William’s absence, the battalion participated in the opening stage of a major Allied counter-offensive at Amiens in early August, followed by an attack on the German Hindenburg Line east of Arras in early September.
On the evening of September 25, the 26th withdrew from the line after a particularly bloody tour in trenches near Inchy-en-Artois. Following several days’ rest, the unit entered support positions northwest of Cambrai in early October and prepared for its next assignment. On the evening of October 8, William and his mates returned to the forward area. The following morning, 5th Brigade’s 22nd and 25th Battalions launched an attack on the village of Escaudoeuvres, while the 26th followed in support.
Late in the day, the 26th’s soldiers passed through their Brigade comrades’ lines and advanced toward the village of Naves. When enemy machine gun fire halted their progress, the unit consolidated its position and settled in for the night. On the morning of October 10, 4th Brigade units passed through the 26th’s lines and continued the attack. After spending five days in support positions, the battalion retired to an area east of Marquion, where personnel established camp.
While his comrades commenced training, William departed for temporary duty at 5th Brigade Headquarters. Two weeks later, he rejoined the 26th at Aniche, west of Valenciennes, France, as HRH Edward, Prince of Wales, observed its soldiers training. During the first days of November, the battalion marched toward the Belgian frontier in the wake of attacking Canadian units, arriving at Quiévrechain, France, on November 7.
The following morning, the 26th advanced in support as the 22nd and 25th Battalions—two of its 5th Brigade mates—crossed the Belgian border and captured the villages of Élouges and Dour. On November 9, 4th Brigade units passed through the 5th Brigade’s lines and continued the advance toward the city of Mons. Meanwhile, the 26th withdrew to billets at nearby Wasmes, where the remainder of the 5th Brigade later joined them.
On the morning of November 11, 1918, orders to “move forward to a village near Mons” were cancelled, “as an armistice would be signed at 1100 hours. There was great rejoicing in the village…. Lots of wine and cigars for everyone.” Later that day, William received a 14-day leave and immediately departed for England.
In the ensuing weeks, the 26th made its way toward the German border as part of the “Army of Occupation” accepted by Germany under the terms of the Armistice. Two weeks later, William failed to return to duty, an entry on his service record stating: “Not yet rejoined Battalion.” For several weeks, his whereabouts remained a mystery. Finally, on January 17, 1919, military authorities held a Court of Inquiry into his disappearance.
Private John Rafferty, one of William’s 26th comrades, had accompanied him on leave. Following his return to France, a brief illness delayed John’s return to the battalion. When he finally rejoined its ranks, John was able to shed light on William’s possible whereabouts.
The pair had arrived at Arras around mid-day November 12 and “entered an estimanet [a French café that sold alcoholic drinks],” where they remained until the establishment closed. As the soldiers attempted to return to their billets, they became lost and unwittingly encountered a local canal. The soldiers fell into the water, John stated that William called out his name in the darkness as the pair thrashed about.
John had no recollection as to how he managed to get out of the canal, but remembered stumbling into a nearby shack, where two “Military Linesmen” gave him some fuel and led him to a nearby shack. He spent several hours warming himself and resting before finding his way back to his billet. When he awoke the next morning, William’s gear was “where he had left it on the floor.” Assuming that he would return for it later in the day, John departed for the train station and continued his journey to England.
Based on John’s testimony, the Court of Inquiry concluded that “Corps. Uloth W. T. is missing and it is believed that he was drowned at Arras.” William’s service file contains no details as to how or when his remains were located. The information provided by Pte. Rafferty, however, may have helped officials identify a body recovered from the canal. Whatever the details, a headstone in Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery, Arras, bears William’s name and lists his date of death as November 12, 1918.
Subsequent to his passing, Corporal William Thomas Uloth was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field. Unfortunately, neither the April 3, 1919 London Gazette issue in which the award was announced nor William’s service file contain the details of the actions that merited such a distinguished honour.
William’s story is one of 64 profiles contained in Bantry Publishing’s First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume II: 1918 - 1937, available for purchase online at bantrypublishing.ca .