By: Capt M. O'Leary, The RCR
In 2007 I acquired the medals awarded to 214215 Private John Leonard Shook of The RCR. Shook was court martialed for a negligent discharge while cleaning his rifle. The court martial transcript noted that a Private Spencer was wounded by the ricocheting bullet. Unfortunately, Spencer's full name and service number were not included in the file.
When I wrote Shook's story, which was published in the regimental journal (Pro Patria 2007), I noted that one possibility was 477869 Pte D.D. Spencer. Having received this Spencer's file from the Library and Archives Canada I was able to confirm that he was not the Spencer Shook shot.
Later, while transcribing the Regiment's CEF War Diary, I found reference to another Pte Spencer who was accidentally burned in another incident. Receiving this soldier's file from Library and Archives Canada, I discovered that this was the Spencer shot by Shook.
This is Samuel Spencer's story as a soldier of The RCR in the First World War.
"1 O.R. to C.C.S." - The RCR War Diary, 29 Aug 1918
General Order Number 86, dated 1 July 1915, authorized the recruiting of the 45th Canadian Infantry Battalion across a recruiting area spanning the province of Manitoba with a mobilization headquarters at Brandon, Manitoba. The 45th Battalion would serve in Canada during its recruitment and training until sailing on 17 March 1916. Arriving in England on 25 March 1916, it would remain as a unit until being absorbed into the 11th Reserve Battalion in early July 1916. From there, the soldiers of the 45th Battalion would enter the Canadian Expeditionary Force's reinforcement system, and they would end up at the front in a variety of Canadian units.
One of those soldiers, Samuel Spencer, a butcher originally from Derbyshire, attested for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Sewell Camp, Manitoba. Sewell Camp, near Brandon, Manitoba, was established in 1910 as a Militia training camp and later, while employed as a CEF training camp, was renamed Camp Hughes in September 1915. In all, 40,000 men would train at Camp Sewell for service in the First World War.
A single man, Samuel Spencer identified his father his father (Samuel) who lived at 28a Regent St, Loughborough, England, as his next of kin. Spencer was 30 years, 8 months of age when he enlisted in the CEF. Five-feet, seven and one-half inches in height, he had a 40-inch chest and a fair complexion, with blue eyes and brown hair.
Having enlisted for service with the 45th Canadian Infantry Battalion, Spencer was assigned a regimental number out of the number block assigned to the 45th Battalion, which included the range from 424001 to 426000. On 28 August 1915, joining tens of thousands of his fellow Canadian, 425346 Private Samuel Spencer became a soldier of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
This was not Samuel Spencer's first attempt at joining the C.E.F. His service record notes that he was paid as a soldier of the 10th Canadian Mounted Rifles as of 1 Jan 1915. For some reason that has not been recorded, he was discharged from that unit on 12 Jan 1915, presumably returning to his civilian trade until he once again appeared before a recruiting officer in August. Once he was attested for the 45th Battalion, Samuel Spencer joined "B" Company for his training in Canada
As a private soldier in the Expeditionary Force, Spencer's rate of pay was $1.00 per day. Once overseas he would also receive an extra ten cents daily Field Allowance. Out of this wage, Spencer identified and Assigned Pay allotment of $15 per month, half of his wages, to be sent to Mrs. Harry Kindred, Swan River, Manitoba. Although Spencer's relationship with Mrs Kindred is not specified in his service record, she is also named in his Will. The copy of Spencer's service Will in his records, dated 14 June 1917, identifies Mrs Mary Kindred as the beneficiary of all "real estate", his personal estate was to be left to his sister Miss Violet Spencer.
From its formation in 1915 until early 1916, the 45th Canadian Infantry Battalion trained in Canada, preparing its soldiers for service in the trenches of France and Flanders. By early March 1916, the battalion was ready to sail, and on 13 Mar 1916 Samuel Spencer found himself aboard the S.S. Lapland, a Red Star liner turned troop ship, embarked for the trans-Atlantic voyage. Eleven days later, on 24 Mar 1916, Spencer and his fellow soldiers would disembark in England.
Arriving in England, Samuel Spencer awaited his eventual transfer to a battalion in France at Shornecliffe. Unfortunately, before this occurred he had his first visit to the medical system when he was hospitalized with a diagnosis of influenza at Moore Barracks Hospital, Shornecliffe, from 16 to 27 Apr 1916.
Spencer was discharged from Moore Barracks Canadian Hospital on 27 Apr 16 for return to the 45th Battalion. The Discharge from Hospital Document (made out in quadruplicate) ensured that the soldier did not tarry between discharge from hospital and arrival back ay his unit. Spencer's discharge document reads "the above mentioned Canadian soldiers will be discharged from this Hospital on the 27[th] day of April, 1916. He may be expected to arrive at his lines at 11 o'clock a.m. on the 27[th] day of April, 1916." It included a paragraph where the doctor struck out inapplicable sub-paragraphs, leaving "i. I consider him "Fit for duty"."
Finally, five weeks after his discharge from hospital, Spencer would embark for France on 6 Jun 1916. Transiting the Canadian Base Depot as he was immediately assigned to a unit requiring reinforcements, he would be taken on the strength of The Royal Canadian Regiment in the field. With a few strokes of a staff clerk's pen, Samuel Spencer would become a Royal Canadian, effective 8 Jun 1916.
The regimental war diary notes that a total of 280 soldiers joined The RCR in three reinforcement drafts on the consecutive dates 9, 10 and 11 June 1916. The Regiment had moved into rest billets in Steenvorde on the 7th of June, and would remain there until the 21st, taking the opportunity to train and prepare the new drafts for their first tours in the trenches.
Spencer would join the RCR in rest billets behind the lines after the unit has fought in the opening days of the Battle of Mount Sorrel (2-13 June 1916). He would fight with the Regiment throughout the summer being present for actions which saw the Regiment acquire two further battle honours that year: the Battles of the Somme (1 July - 18 November 1916) and Flers-Courcelette (15-22 September 1916).
Before the battle of Ancre Heights that fall, Spencer would find himself back in the medical system. On 18 Sep 16 he would be admitted to Ambulance Train No. 21 with a sprained right ankle. By the next day he was admitted to No. 1 Convalescent Hospital at Boulogne and would not be discharged until 14 Oct 1916, and only then to join the Base Details of the Canadian Base Depot where he was taken on strength on the 17th of October.
Spencer would leave the base Depot on 12 Nov 1916 and rejoin The RCR in the field on 16 Nov 1916 during a quiet period in the trenches. His second tour of the trenches would be a brief one.
On 1 Dec 1916, Spencer found himself at No. 9 Canadian Field Ambulance with extensive burns on his right hand and forearm. On 04 Dec 16, he was evacuated to the Casualty Clearing Station (C.C.S.) and then, on 09 Dec 16, admitted No. 7 Canadian General Hospital. From there he was transferred to the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre (C.C.A.C.) on 12 Dec and finally to the Royal Hospital at Gray's Inn Road on the same date.
Although his injury was initially reported as accidental, there was obviously some doubt concerning how he was injured. The regimental War Diary notes Spencer's injury in the trenches on 2 Dec 1916 with the comment: "425346 Pte Spencer G. [sic] burned on right arm by brazier (accidental)." Spencer's service record adds the information that he was was "believed to [be] suffering from self-inflicted wound and when fit to be brought for trial, not to be sent to England."
A hospital admission card in Spencer's file notes: "With reference to casualty sustained by this soldier's appearing on Casualty List A268. It is now reported as follows: RIGHT ARM BURNED (DOUBTFUL)". A subsequent note, with an air of official finality, reads "First Army W.A.(B)X 824/3: "Believed to be suffering from self inflicted wound when fit to be brought for trial, not to be sent to England".
By 24 Dec 1916, Spencer's paperwork had begun to catch up, and he was taken on the strength of the C.C.A.C. and attached to C.C.D.
Spencer was discharged from the Royal ?? Hospital on 01 Feb 17, his prognosis at the time read "Wound healed and stiffness improved with massage". On that same date he was admitted to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bromley, Kent. On 7 Feb 1917 he would be sent on command to C.C.D., Hastings, for physical training in order to prepare his body for a return to the front.
After three months in hospital and convalescent camps, Spencer would be transferred to the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot on 10 March 1917. On 12 Apr 1917 Spencer was struck off the strength of the C.C.A.C. on transfer to the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot. Shortly afterwards, on 15 Apr 1917, he started back to the front lines, rejoining the Regiment in the field on 27 Apr 1917.
Although Spencer arrived back at the front two weeks after the battle of Vimy Ridge, he would serve with The RCR throughout the reminder of 1917 and most of 1918. Battle Honours of the Regiment during his lengthiest period of service at the front with the Regiment would be:
In January 1918, Samuel Spencer would be granted a period of 14 days leave, which he spent in England. He rejoined the unit at Le Pendu on 30 Jan 18. Later that spring, notes in his service record suggest a change in his personal affairs. On 1 Apr 18, Spencer's assigned pay recipient changed from Mrs. Harry Kindred to Mrs. A. Spencer, 28a Regent's St, Loughborough, Liecestershire (this is his next of kin address as given for his father).
Also notable from his pay records of the period is that while the rates of pay for CEF soldiers were quoted in Canadian dollars, Spencer's pay records note recurring debits in the amounts of $1.78, $3.57, $5.35 and further multiples of 1.78. This shows that the value of the British Pound, the currency of issue for money receives by soldiers overseas, must have been $1.78 at that time.
After serving with the Regiment throughout the summer of 1918, Samuel Spencer would find himself once again at the mercy of the medical system after the Regiment's hard fighting at the battle of Scarpe, 1918. From the 25th to the 18th of August, the Regiment was involved in heavy fighting. The War Diary concludes its narrative of the battle with the "butcher's bill": Total Casualties - 196.
Coming out of the front lines on 28 Aug 1918, the Regiment moved into billets at Arras. The War Diary entry for the 29th reads:
29-8-1918. - ARRAS.
Fine and warm. Day spent in cleaning up. Battalion occupied Billets in cellars etc. band and Drums and remainder of details moved from "E" Camp to ARRAS. Band gave concert in the evening. Enemy Artillery shelled ARRAS with High Velocity Gun throughout the night.
1 O.R. to C.C.S.
Unfortunately, Private Samuel Spencer's part in that brief description of the Regiment's first day back in the rear area includes that cryptic second paragraph: "1 O.R. to C.C.S." - One Other Rank to [the] casualty Clearing Station. A first reading, one might imagine that a soldier injured that day might have been in the danger area of one of the German high velocity gun's shells, but that was not the case. The source of Spencer's wound was much closer in origin.
On 29 Aug 1918, Samuel Spencer was wounded when 214215 Private John Leonard Shook, also of The RCR, negligently discharged his rifle while cleaning it. Spencer was wounded in the left leg by the bullet. The "Report on Accidental Injuries" notes that the Commanding Officer intended that Pte Shook would be remanded for Field General Court Martial. Additionally, in the "Opinion of G.O.C. Brigade. Pte SHOOK [was] to blame." The Report concluded that Spencer's wound to be recorded as "Injured (Accidental)".
With a gun shot wound to his left leg, Spencer was admitted to No. 12 Stationary Hospital at St. Pol, -- "wounded, accidental, left knee" -- on 29 Aug 1918. This would end his war as far as front line service was concerned, on 22 Sep 1918 Spencer was recorded as "Invalided" and subsequently posted to the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot, Bramshott, for administrative purposes while he continued to be treated for his injury.
Samuel Spencer was admitted to the Passmore Edwards Hospital at Willesdew on 22 Sep 1918, his injury being recorded as "G.S.W. left leg, knee joint not involved". A few weeks later, on 10 Oct 1918, he was considered fit for transfer to a Canadian Hospital and was admitted to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bear Wood, on that date.
While his leg healed, Spencer suffered from a recurring medical problem with his right ear. He was sent to No. 4 Canadian General Hospital, Basingstoke on 5 Dec 1918 to have this looked after. His discharge from No. 4 Canadian General Hospital, Basingstoke, dated 13 Feb 1919, would state "Five years ago, had discharge right ear following cold in head, cleared up in one month. Two years ago [at Royal Inn Hosp] had discharging right ear, one week." Discharge recurring, Spencer could identify no cause to the doctors but thought it could be "gunfire", discharge has been "bad and foul smelling", discharge has been lessening with treatment, perforation in eardrum identified. One medical history sheet in his service record notes that Spencer "was always a little deaf in right ear."
Spencer's parent unit for administration changed on 13 Jan 1919 when he was struck off strength of the N.S.R.D. to the 17th Reserve Battalion. Finally, on 05 Feb 1919, Spencer went through a discharge medical examination at Ripon in preparation for repatriation to Canada and the resulting pronouncement by the doctor was "Opinion as to the health and physical condition of the one examined? Fit".
Within a week, Samuel Spencer's journey back to Canada commenced with the necessary administrative measures. On 12 Feb 1919 we struck off the strength of the 17th Reserve Battalion and of M.D. No. 10, C Wing, Rhyl, in preparation for his return to Canada, and he was taken on the strength of C.C.C. Kinmel Park.
Spencer embarked for Canada aboard the H.M.T. Belgic on 22 Feb 1919. In 1919 the Belgic was an unattractive vessel with two funnels, three masts and no superstructure. Laid down before the war as a liner for the Red Star Line, work on the ship was halted by the outbreak of war until she was completed and launched as a freighter in 1917. The Belgic was converted as a troopship capable of carrying 3000 soldiers in 1918.
The Belgic arrived in Halifax on 2 Mar 1919. From there Spencer was shipped westward, and received his discharge medical in Winnipeg on 27 Mar 1919, being pronounced as having "No disability" with a fitness Category "A".
On 8 Apr 1919, Private Samuel Spencer returned to civilian life, being struck off the strength of the Canadian Expeditionary Force by reason of demobilization. He was entitled to 183 days War Service Gratuity and was issued a War Service Badge Class "A" (no. 165897)
The final notes in Samuel Spencer service record file concern his death. On 23 Nov 62, Samuel Spencer died at University Hospital, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. A few months later, on 02 Jan 63, the Public Archives received a copy of the form in which the Department of Veterans Affairs recorded its intention to place a memorial on Private Spencer's grave.
Samuel Spencer's wartime service was a varied experience, ranging from service in the trenches for a number of major battles, to repeated trips through the medical system. Notably, he was never wounded by enemy action, and each of his more serious injuries occurred as a result of accidents. Perhaps he was an unlucky soldier in some respects, but he left the service in good health and went on to live to the age of 77.