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Friday, 7 July 2017

Remembering Private Ralph Leslie Stoutley—KIA July 6/7, 1917

Ralph Leslie Stoutley was born at Guysborough, Guysborough County on March 10, 1894, the fourth of nine children and second son in the family of James Edward Albert “Ned” and Rachel A. (Bacchus) Stoutley. Shortly after Ralph’s birth, the family relocated to Truro, where Ralph spent his childhood.

On June 14, 1916, Ralph enlisted for service with the 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles). Headquartered at Truro, the infantry battalion was one of a handful of CEF units that accepted African Canadians into its ranks, initially hoping to recruit an entire platoon. In the end, approximately 16 to 20 men of African descent joined the battalion.

One month after Ralph’s enlistment, the 106th departed Halifax aboard SS Empress of Britain and landed at Liverpool, England after 10 days at sea. When the unit was dissolved shortly after its overseas arrival, Ralph was part of a draft of 251 soldiers transferred from the 106th to the 26th (New Brunswick) Battalion on September 27. The group crossed the English Channel to France three days later and reported to the 26th’s camp during the second week of October.

Throughout the autumn and winter of 1916-17, Ralph served a regular rotation with the 26th in sectors near Lens, France. With the arrival of spring, the unit prepared for its role in the Canadian Corps’ attack on Vimy Ridge. At 5:20 a.m. April 9, 1917, the 26th and 24th Battalions (Victoria Rifles of Canada)—one of its Brigade mates—spearheaded the 5th Brigade’s attack on the German front line north of the village of Thélus, securing Zwischen Stellung within 30 minutes. The 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia)—a second Brigade mate—subsequently passed through its line and continued to advance up the ridge.

The 26th remained in trenches along the ridge for three days, its personnel assisting with construction of a new “Main Line of Resistance.” On the night of April 12/13, the battalion received instructions to advance almost 3,000 yards into an area of No Man’s Land east of a nearby railway line. At 6:00 a.m. April 13, its soldiers moved forward and established “New Brunswick Trench,” the “farthest advanced trench in the Canadian Corps area” at the time.

Throughout the remainder of the spring, the 26th served in sectors near Vimy. During an early May tour in the line, an artillery shell struck the area where Ralph was located. He was “buried by [the] shell burst, [and remained] unconscious until reaching [an] aid post.” Evacuated to No. 4 Canadian Field Ambulance for treatment, Ralph was subsequently transferred to No. 22 Casualty Clearing Station, where he was diagnosed with “shell shock.”

On May 4, Ralph was admitted to No. a Stationary Hospital, Arques, where he remainded under medical care for the duration of the month. Discharged on June 1, Ralph rejoined the 26th at Estree Cauchie two days later, as personnel trained during a break from trench duty. On July 2, the battalion entered Brigade Reserve at Angres and resumed its tours in the line.

On the night of July 6/7, the 26th relieved the 22nd Battalion in front trenches near Lens. While all personnel were in place by 2:00 a.m. July 7, the unit’s war diary reported “great” German artillery activity “shelling roads in [the] vicinity of Angres and Liévin” during the process. Sometime during the bombardment, Private Ralph Leslie Stoutley was “killed in action by [an] enemy shell.” He was laid to rest in Bully-Grenay Communal Cemetery, British Extension, Pas de Calais, France.

Pte. Ralph Leslie Stoutley's headstone, Bully-Grenay Communal Cemetery

Bantry Publishing's “First World War Honour Roll of Guysborough County, Nova Scotia, Volume I: 1915 - 1917” contains a detailed summary of Ralph’s family background and military service, along with profiles of 71 other Guysborough personnel who died in uniform during the first three years of Canada’s overseas service.

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