|Pte. Wilfred Joseph Whitman's headstone, Villers-Brettoneux Military Cemetery|
On July 4—one week after his attestation—Wilfred married Philomena “Phyllis” Ghilo, in a ceremony held at Fredericton. While Wilfred departed for Camp Valcartier, QC, for basic training, Phyllis returned to Boston, where she gave birth to a son, Wilfred George, on December 8, 1917. By that time, Wilfred Sr. was stationed at Camp Bramshott, England, awaiting orders to proceed to France.
Following the 236th’s dissolution in March 1918, Wilfred was transferred to the 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) and joined the unit in the forward area on April 22. A Montreal-based Highland battalion, the 13th was among the Canadian Corps’ most experienced units, having landed on the continent with the 1st Canadian Division in early 1915.
Wilfred served in sectors near Arras, France, throughout the remainder of the month and retired to Divisional Reserve with the 13th in early May. For two and a half months, personnel trained and participated in a variety of recreational activities before returning to trenches near Beaurains in late July. Within days, the unit was on the move, relocating to Épaumesnil, west of Amiens, in early August.
Having withstood a major German spring offensive in late March and April 1918, Allied commanders set about planning a response. The counter-offensive commenced in the French sector in mid-July, moving northward to British sectors early the following month. The Canadian Corps was part of the plan, its well-rested and fully reinforced units relocating to the Amiens area in early August, in preparation for the attack.
In the early morning hours of August 8, Canadian, Australian and British units launched a carefully planned assault on German positions east of Amiens. The 13th Battalion’s soldiers participated in the action as Wilfred received his first exposure to major combat on the Western Front. Before day’s end, the unit succeeded in capturing its objective, a location known as Hangard Wood. Its soldiers remained in the line until the afternoon of August 9, at which time they withdrew to support positions.
The 13th spent the next six days in support and reserve positions as units in the front line consolidated the significant progress made east of Amiens. On the evening of August 15, its personnel returned to the line near Parvillers-le-Quesnoy in relief of the 42nd Battalion, a fellow “Royal Highlanders of Canada” unit.
Early the following morning, two battle patrols of 30 soldiers advanced toward the village of La Chavatte, When German soldiers holding the position rebuffed the attack, supporting artillery shelled the village, in an attempt to “soften up” resistance. In the early hours of August 17, two Companies advanced toward the objective. While German machine guns once again offered strong resistance, the second attack proved successful as the 13th’s soldiers cleared enemy troops from the village.
The 13th held its position until relieved on the night of August 21/22. While its war diary provided no casualty statistics following the capture of La Chavatte, a report appended to the month’s entries listed one “other rank” (OR) killed, one Officer and 28 OR wounded during the La Chavatte tour.
Private Wilfred Joseph Whitman was among the week’s casualties. Most likely wounded during the advance on La Chavatte, he was evacuated to No. 48 Casualty Clearing Station, where he died of wounds on August 17, 1918. Wilfred was laid to rest in Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, Somme, France. His widow, Phyllis, subsequently re-married and raised a second family. The couple’s son, Wilfred George Whitman Jr., later served with the United States Navy during the Second World War.