Place of Birth: Canso, NS
Mother's Name: Annie Rebecca McLellan
Father's Name: James Robert Lumsden
Date of Enlistment: March 1, 1915 at Victoria, BC
Regimental Number: 430043
Rank: Lance Corporal
Force: Canadian Expeditionary Force
Regiments: 48th Battalion; 3rd Canadian Pioneers
Location of service: Canada, England, France & Belgium
Occupation at Enlistment: Salesman
Marital Status at Enlistment: Single
Next of Kin: James R. Lumsden (father)
|Percy John Lumsden in his youth.|
Like other young men of his day, Percy was soon enticed by the world beyond his humble beginnings. After nine years working in Canso, he decided to relocate to Canada's west coast. A. N. Whitman's and the local Oddfellows' Lodge, of which he was 'a prominent member', presented him with a gold watch chain in recognition of his service to both employer and community. By early 1914, Percy was settled in Prince Rupert, BC, where he found employment at a local warehouse. He described his circumstances in a May 25, 1914 letter to his older brother Homer's wife, Gertie:
"Here I am on the other side of the continent seeking fame and fortune and mayhap a wife. Well such is life. We're here today and gone tomorrow. But I can't complain [as] I am enjoying it to the full. I have been working just a fortnight and hope I'll be able to hold the job down as long as I want it. I had the offer of a job in the commissary department of the Canadian Cold Storage a fortnight ago at $ 80 a month but I turned it down as I would have had to work Sunday and they expected me to stay at the plant all the time[,] which is about two miles out of town. However[,] I got a job the same afternoon in the Piercy Morris Co.'s warehouse at $ 21 a week and hours from 8 to 6 and close[d] on Saturdays. It is a wholesale firm and I like the work first rate."
|A. N. Whitman's General Store, Canso (date unknown).|
The 48th Canadian Infantry Battalion was organized at Victoria, BC in February 1915 under the command of Lt.-Col. W. J. H. Holmes. The unit drew the nucleus of its initial enlistments from the 50th Gordon Highlanders and 88th Victoria Fuseliers, two local militia regiments. To bring its ranks to full strength, organizers launched a province-wide recruitment campaign, to which young Percy Lumsden and dozens of other young men responded.
After a period of training, Percy and the 48th travelled by train to Montreal, boarding the SS Grampian for their trans-Atlantic voyage on July 1, 1915. Upon its arrival in England nine days later, the battalion consisted of 38 officers, 1010 'other ranks' and their mascot, a bear affectionately named 'Bruno'. The men immediately resumed training at West Sandling, in preparation for the call to the front.
The unit's plans for service as an infantry unit changed significantly on January 25, 1916. In response to a pressing need for skilled labor at the front, military authorities re-designated the 48th as the 3rd Canadian Pioneer Battalion and assigned the unit to the 3rd Canadian Division. Sources cite the men's excellent physical condition as the reason for the decision. Whatever the cause, Percy's experience at the front lines would prove no less perilous than the infantrymen for whom he and his fellow 'pioneers' constructed fortifications, trenches and other vital facilities.
|3rd Canadian Pioneers/48th Battalion pin.|
"I've been having a pretty good time over here. I've had quite a bit of leave of absence and needless to say made the most of my opportunities. I visited the family of the chap I was backing [sic] with in [Prince] Rupert. They live in Trowbridge and I have been down there twice.... I have been to the Big Smoke [London] quite a lot and feel very much at home there.... She's a great old town and I'd like to see it when she's lit up. The streets are all darkened now of course as they are afraid of Zeppelins. I have seen a number of the places that were wrecked by the bombs but really the damage done hasn't been very great.... A week ago a German aeroplane dropped a bomb not far from Folkestone. They tried to hit the Naval Aerodrome but missed it."
Percy also described recent activities as the 3rd Pioneers prepared for deployment at the front:
"We have been quarantined for measles for over a week now and are not allowed out of camp except for drill. I think it has been done more to keep the boys together than to prevent the spread of measles. We expect to leave for France on the 10th of this month and they don't want any of the chaps to be away when the time comes to leave.... We have about a hundred horses and mules and as soon as they are equipped we'll be ready to move off. We have been down to Hythe these last two days building bridges across the canal. Yesterday we built a float out of a couple of casks lashed together and when two of the boys got on it to put it into place it upset. The water was quite shallow so they didn't get very wet, but it was fun for us while it lasted."
The Folkestone area was 'crawling' with CEF battalions, providing the occasional opportunity to connect with Canso acquaintances. Percy relates one such instance:
"On Tuesday the 40th Bn. moved from Bramshott to East Sandling. I saw three of the boys from home as they marched past our camp. I didn't see Jud Swaine [Percy's first cousin - their mothers were sisters]. Guess he was in the first half of the battalion which went by when I was on guard. I can't get out to see them so am hoping that they will come over here before we pull out."
Percy closed with the observation that "I haven't been using my camera much lately. I won't be able to take it with me so I am going to send it to my friends in Trowbridge till I come back for it."
|Percy John Lumsden shortly before the war.|
Entraining at Boulogne at 1:30 pm March 11, the 3rd Pioneers made a six-hour train journey to Goedewaersvelde, France, adjacent to the Belgian border, where they rested in billets for two days. On March 14, their final preparation for front line duty commenced when the battalion was attached to the 1st Canadian Division "for practical training in the trenches". Two of the battalion's four companies proceed to the front lines later that evening.
The following day, Percy and the 3rd Pioneers were introduced to the realities of front line combat. The battalion's war diary records that "[the] enemy put a little shrapnel over in the morning. In [the] afternoon [German forces were] active with rifle grenades and minenwerfers [mortars]. Two men [were] wounded while on working parties - one slightly and one severely in [the] chest with [a] rifle bullet."
|S. S. Grampian (1907)|
Percy and his comrades spent the first two days heightening the parapets around their camp before commencing work on front line defences. On March 25 and 26, several companies worked on trench construction near Ypres in co-operation with the Royal Canadian Engineers. The following day, British artillery launched a heavy artillery bombardment and detonated a mine underneath nearby German positions at St. Eloi.
On March 28, the battalion suffered its first officer fatality at Ypres when Captain A. F. Whiteside was "killed instantly" by enemy shellfire. Their tasks often required pioneers to work in the open, exposed to enemy fire. On March 31, for example, one officer and two 'OR' were wounded by shrapnel while carrying out survey work. Two days later, three Sergeants and two Privates were similarly injured while on a working party. Working in such a perilous environment was no doubt a highly stressful experience.
|Portrait of Percy John Lumsden.|
The daily exchange of gun, mortar and artillery fire produced a steady stream of injuries and fatalities. On April 13 and 15, the unit's war diary reported one casualty each day. April 16, 1916, however, proved to be particularly tragic as one pioneer was killed and three others wounded. Amongst the three soldiers rushed to No. 10 Casualty Clearing Station for treatment was Lance Corporal Percy John Lumsden. Severely wounded in the head, he never regained consciousness. Despite the valiant efforts of CAMC personnel to save his life, Percy died of his wounds before day's end.
After contributing to fortifications in the Ypres Salient, 3rd Pioneer Battalion relocated to the Somme region of France, where the men participated in the major British offensive launched in July 1916. The following spring, the unit labored in support of the successful Canadian assault at Vimy Ridge in April 1917.
By this point in the war, increasing demand for infantry recruits forced military commanders to reconsider existing personnel assignments. After more than two years of recruitment efforts, British Columbia was struggling to maintain separate units in the field "due to the fact that the majority of [those eligible] had enlisted during the early part of the war". In fact, only 40 percent of 3rd Pioneers' 1917 personnel were from its home province.
As a result, in May 1917, officials decided to dissolve the 3rd Pioneer Battalion, rejecting a last minute suggestion from its officers that the battalion be re-designated as a Canadian Railway Troops unit. The battalion war diary lamented the decision to dissolve a unit "of trained miners and technical men with 14 months' experience in France", but its fate was sealed. By month's end, 3rd Canadian Pioneers' remaining personnel were dispersed amongst four Canadian infantry battalions desperate for reinforcements.
|#rd Canadian Pioneers pin with mascot 'Bruno'.|
Rev. Charles R. Freeman conducted the memorial service, expressing the community's sentiments on the tragedy that had befallen two of its families:
"In the passing of these two young men not only the immediate families but the church and town have suffered a great loss…. The young men have done their bit for King and Country and in the great cause of humanity have laid down their lives. Brave heroes they were that needed no urging to the call to duty and never refused the task because it was hard. With the King of Kings they have entered into their reward."
Percy's 3rd Pioneer Battalion mates also remembered their fallen comrade. Several weeks after his death, Percy's mother Annie received a letter from Cpl.Ron McIntosh (regimental number 430083) dated May 6, 1916. Its content described the recent arrival of a box of fudge addressed to Percy. Cpl. McIntosh shared the parcel with the boys from Percy's section and concluded with these personal sentiments:
" We all miss him terrible. The boys of his section send their heart felt sympathy to you as I do, Percy was my constant chum for the past eighteen months and we had many happy times together. I cannot begin to describe to you how much I miss him."
|Belgian grave of Lance Corporal Percy John Lumsden|
Broznitsky, Peter. 3rd Pioneer Battalion. Russians in the CEF. Available online.
Regimental Record of Lance Corporal Percy John Lumsden, no. 430043. Library and Archives Canada: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 5790 - 3. Attestation papers available online.
War Diaries - 3rd Pioneer Battalion. War Diaries of the First World War. Library and Archives Canada: RG9 , Militia and Defence , Series II, D-3, Volume 5010, Reel T-10858-10895. File: 723. Available online.
Personal letters, newspaper article and family pictures courtesy of Patsy Lumsden. Available online at The Lumsden Family website.