On this day, one hundred years ago, the Battle of Vimy Ridge began which was part of the larger Battle of Arras during World War One. German Forces had occupied the strategically important ridge since 1914 and the French had lost over 150,000 soldiers in previous attempts to take the German fortifications. The Battle of Arras was an assault of four Canadian divisions, their first major engagement of the war, and one British division against 45,000 German defenders. Among the company of the Canadian Corps mounted rifles was my great-grandfather, my mother's-mother's-father, Private William Leroy Hodgins from Regina, Saskatchewan. I recall hearing from my grandmother that the weather was cold and with some snow and that it was the day after Easter.
Before the battle had ended on the 12th, my grandfather was wounded having received shrapnel wounds to the face and chest. He also suffered lung injuries from a gas attack. It was likely chlorine, phosgene or a combination of the two agents as mustard gas was not used by the Germans until July of that year.
Shortly after the attack, my great-grandmother, Minnie, received condolences from King George expressing his regret that her husband had been killed. I unfortunately do not have access to this letter or a copy of it.
Fortunately, this was only a clerical error of some sort. Within a few grievious weeks, my great-grandmother received the following telegraph,
Mrs Minnie Hodgins
Regina Jct PO Regina Sas
AC 85 sincerely Regret inform you 72813 private William Leroy Hodgins mounted rifles officially reported admitted thirteen stationary hospital Boulogne april sixteenth nineteen seventeen wounded slightly face chest
will send further particulars when received,
Officer in charge Records
While convalescing, my great grandfather received a brief hand written letter from King George V of England,
The Queen and I wish you God speed, a safe return to the happiness and joy of home life with an early restoration to health.
A grateful Mother Country thanks you for faithful service.
George R V
Included in the letter was an invitation to Windsor Castle on August 17th, 1917 between the hours of 11am and 4pm. My mother has this original letter and invitation, framed and hanging in her study.
I do not know if my great-grandfather made the trip to see the royal family. I understand that his convalescence in France was lengthy. He recovered from his shrapnel wounds but the injury to his lungs was irreversible. To escape the cold of Canada which troubled his breathing, he moved his family to South Bend, Indiana, which by the time of his death included my grandmother and her three sisters.
here is a poor picture of the original letters.