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Thursday, 5 April 2018

Remembering Private William Kenneth Hape—Killed in Action April 5, 1918

William Kenneth “Kenny” Hape was born at Ecum Secum, Guysborough County, on October 18, 1886, the oldest of Sarah Adeline (Pye) and John Henry Hape’s four children. Sometime prior to 1901, the family relocated to Six Mile Road, near Wallace, Cumberland County, where Henry established a farm and worked in the local fishery.

Pte. William Kenneth Hape (85th Battalion portrait)
On October 19, 1915, Kenny enlisted with the 85th Battalion at Halifax, NS. He spent the next 12 months training with the unit, commencing at Halifax Common during the winter of 1915-16. Throughout the late spring and summer of 1916, the unit underwent an intense program of instruction at Camp Aldershot, alongside three new battalions recruited to form the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade. In mid-October 1916, the four units crossed the North Atlantic to England, where their overseas arrival coincided with significant Canadian casualties incurred in fighting at the Somme, France, during the autumn months.

As a result, military authorities authorized a reinforcement draft of 800 soldiers—200 from each Highland Brigade battalion—destined for undermanned units at the front. Kenny was one of the 85th soldiers selected for immediate service in France. Assigned to the 13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada), he crossed the English Channel on December 5, 1916 and joined his new mates near Camblingneul, France, four days later.

The 13th Battalion was one of the Canadian Corps’ most experienced units, recruited by Montreal’s Royal Highlanders of Canada militia regiment, an affiliate of Scotland’s famous “Black Watch,” during the first weeks of the war. The battalion landed in France in early 1915 as part of the 1st Canadian Division, and served in Belgium for more than a year before relocating to the Somme in late summer 1916. Following Kenny’s arrival in early December 1916, the unit served in sectors near Arras throughout the winter of 1916-17, and took part in the Canadian Corps’ historic capture of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917.

Kenny, however, did not see action at Vimy. Admitted to hospital with laryngitis five days prior to the battle, he was evacuated to hospital at Étaples for medical treatment and finally rejoined his comrades near Château de la Haie, France, in mid-May. Kenny received his first major combat experience on the morning of August 15, 1917, when the 13th’s soldiers took part in the Canadian Corps’ successful attack on Hill 70, north of Lens, France. Shortly afterward, in a letter to his father, Kenny recalled the experience: “I never got a scratch on Hill 70…. Fritz tried to take it back, but we [gave] him too much [lead] and cold steel.”

Pte, Kenny Hape & his father Henry
In mid-October, the 13th broke camp and made its way northward, toward the Belgian frontier. Its soldiers arrived at Ypres, Belgium, on October 20 and marched to a nearby camp, where they completed final preparations to enter the line. In the early morning hours of October 26, the 13th’s personnel provided work parties in support of the first stage of the Canadian Corps’ attack on Passchendaele Ridge.

The unit retired from the line two days later, but returned for another brief tour early the following month. For several days, the soldiers assisted with preparations for the assault’s third stage before once again retiring to camp. In the aftermath of the November 6 attack, the 13th returned to the front trenches, where its members bore witness to the battle’s devastating effects:

“The ground was in terribly bad condition, shell holes, smashed up wire, etc., everywhere, and the mud in many cases was waist deep. A great number of dead bodies… were also lying around[,] there having been little chance of burying them on account of the heavy shelling.”

Once again, the battalion retired from the line prior to the launch of the assault’s final stage on November 10. As the 13th made its way back to France, its Passchendaele casualties were minimal, in comparison to the losses suffered by Canadian combat units—five Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) and 23 “other ranks” (OR) were killed and eight OR later died of wounds, while two Officers, three NCOs and 43 OR were wounded during its three Belgian tours.

In mid-November, the 13th returned to sectors near Lens, France, where its soldiers spent the winter of 1917-18 on rotation. On February 28, 1918, Kenny found a few minutes to write another letter to his father Henry:

“I am in a dugout. I couldn’t go to sleep so I will try and drop a few lines…. I have been lucky since I struck France. There have been fellows wounded right along side of me and I never got a scratch. I had a bullet… cut my Puttee in two but it never brought blood—if I had… got it in the leg I would have been in Blighty [England] by this time…. There ain’t many of [my old colleagues] together now[,] they are leaving one by one[,] but I have an idea that I am going to see old Canada again.”

The letter was Henry’s last communication with his eldest son.

Throughout the following month, the 13th served a regular rotation in the line. The launch of a major German spring offensive near St. Quentin, France, on March 21, 1918 prompted military commanders to relocate all available units to the forward area, in anticipation of an attack on the Canadian sector. In the early hours of March 29, the 13th entered Brigade Support near Arras, its soldiers quartered in an extensive network of caves located beneath the town.

Throughout the following week, the soldiers “stood to” each morning in preparation for a German attack, but none materialized. On the morning of April 5, as personnel once again awaited orders to enter the line, “there was considerable shelling during the day around the tunnel entrances. Five casualties were sustained by the Battalion.” Later in the day, the unit received instructions to march out to Brigade Reserve that evening.

As the soldiers prepared to depart, “in the process of relief, while just outside the cave entrance, a large shell landed among a party of ‘C’ Company—killing [an Officer] and nine other ranks—and wounding 21 other ranks.” Private William Kenneth Hape was one of the nine OR killed in the explosion. He was laid to rest in Duisans British Cemetery, Étrun, eight kilometres north of Arras, France.

Pte. Kenny Hape's Memorial Plaque
Kenny’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 .