The Luff Brothers of Chatham

The Luff Brothers[i] of Chatham, Ontario took the approximate 115-kilometer trip to St. Thomas, Ontario to enlist in the 91st Battalion. They joined on the same day on December 6, 1915 and were give sequential regimental numbers. George was the oldest by one year over Harry and had obtained the age of 20 years and 11 months to Harry’s 19 years and 11 months when they enlisted. Both were farmers with George recording he was living in Mull, Ontario, a former railway hamlet just east of Chatham and north of Leamington, Ontario. Harry lived in Chatham.

1

158 Murray Street, Chatham, Ontario. It is unknown if this is the original Luff residence.

Both brothers were able to serve together being transferred to the 186th Battalion which took them back to their home in Chatham were their parents lived at 158 Murray Street. It was only a 8 minute walk from the Armory[ii] to the Luff home and one can imagine the bothers going home when off duty to relax or help with chores. It would be a wonderful comfort to be so close to home as they prepared to be shipped overseas.

The 186th Battalion shipped over to England in late March 1917 and was used as a reinforcing draft for the Canadian battalions in action on the Continent. George and Harry’s service replicated each others’ with being assigned to the same units on the same dates until their eventual destination of the 18th Battalion.

Canadian Rest Camp at Villers-au-Bois. David B. Milne. June 2, 1919.

Canadian Rest Camp at Villers-au-Bois. David B. Milne. June 2, 1919.

The brothers arrived while the Battalion was in billets behind the lines at Villers Camp, Villers Aus Bois in the Marne area. It was a rest camp and the brothers were to enjoy the benefits of being off the line with a Battalion Sports Day on September 8 with baseball, running and jumping competitions, the winners being able to represent the Battalion at a Divisional Sports Day in the future.

It was not until the early morning of September 14, 1917 that the brothers would have passed over the ridge at Vimy to be placed in their positions at AVION. The Battalion had to march in the dark over the top of the ridge so the Germans would not see them and then attempt to interdict the reinforcements with shell fire.

Sadly, Harry was present in the Battalion on November 11, 1917 when his brother George was killed. We do not know if he was actually present when this happened but the War Diary gives good indication of the severity of the fighting. One long entry was made for the dates November 9 to 12, highly unusual for the War Diary[iii]:

british-troops-attempt-to-rescue-mules-caught-and-trapped-in-a-sea-of-mud-pic-dm-954893028

British troops attempt to rescue mules caught and trapped in a sea of mud. Source: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/untold-story-of-the-million-horses-sent-93663

Owing to the bad weather and the continual shelling of the enemy, the front line and supports[iv] were in poor condition., the mud and water in many places being waist deep.

During the whole of this tour, the Officers and men held this part of the line under the most severe conditions possible. Great difficulty was experienced in the evacuating of casualties from the front line to R.A.P.s [Regimental Aid Posts] and dressing stations. Front line trenches were subjected to frequent barrages and the rear country was also heavily shelled and bombed.

The supports on the front were reached by a series of tracks, being trench mat walks, and rations had to be carried in my mules up these tracks. Each track being subjected to continual shellfire, the transport and ration parties were fortunate in escaping with the loss of 3 men and 1 mule which fell off the duckboard track and owing to the depth of the mud, had to be shot. Splendid work was done by the Battalion Stretcher bearers in tending and evacuating the wounded…

The total casualties for this tour approximately being:
Killed in Actin – 45 other ranks.
Wounded – 6 Officers. 60 other ranks.
Gassed – 1 Officer. 25 other ranks.

One can imagine the thoughts and feelings of the Luff brothers and perhaps they were able to console and comfort each other up until Private Harry Frank Luff was hit in the back by enemy shrapnel and killed in action. The Circumstances of Death register is quite clear on the events involving his death but Private Luff’s body was lost to the morass of war and he is memorialized on the Vimy Memorial.

Private George Luff survived the war, probably reflecting on the anniversary of his brother’s death, the irony that the Great War would end 1 year to the day his brother Harry died. George lived until 1972 and his grave is marked with a military headstone, perhaps indicating how strongly he felt about his service.

Grave stone of Luff, George Walter: Service no. 189561

Grave stone of Luff, George Walter: Service no. 189561. Source unknown.

Service Summary

George Walter Luff Harry Frank Luff
Enlisted December 6, 1915 December 6, 1915
Transferred to 186th Bn. February 28/16 February 28/16
Embarked Halifax via S.S. Lapland March 25/17 March 25/17
Arrived Liverpool April 4/17 April 4/17
T.O.S 4th Reserve Battalion, Bramshott, England April 4/17 April 4/17
2nd Canadian Infantry Base Depot. Etaples France August 25/17 August 25/17
T.O.S. 18th Battalion September 5/17 September 5/17
Discharged December 6/19
Death 1972 11/11/17 Killed in Action

 

Attestation Information

George Walter Luff Harry Frank Luff
Service No. 189561 189560
Unit 91st then 186th  Bn. then transferred to the 18th 91st then 186th  Bn. then transferred to the 18th
D.O.B. January 12, 1895 February 17, 1896
Born Sussex, England Meadhurst, England
Address at Enlistment Mull, Ontario Chatham, Ontario
Name of Next of Kin Mrs. Frank Luff

158 Murray Street

Chatham, Ontario

Mrs. Luff

158 Murray Street

Chatham, Ontario

Relation Mother Mother
Trade Farmer Farmer
Marital Status Single. Single
Military Experience No No
Apparent Age 20 years 11 months 19 years 11 months
Height 5”3.5” 5’8”
Chest Measurement 34” 37”
Chest Expansion 3” 2.5”
Complexion Medium Medium
Eyes Gray Brown
Hair Brown brown
Distinctive Marks Small scar on left knee.
Religious Denom. Church of England Church of England
Sight NA NA
Hearing NA NA
Attested St. Thomas, Ontario St. Thomas, Ontario
Date December 6, 1915 December 6, 1915
Remarks

[i] There is a Luff, Edward Gordon:  Service no. 54140, also of the 18th Battalion but it has yet to be determined if there is any family connection.

[ii] The Armoury is now a catering venue for special events.

[iii] Transcription using paragraphs for clarity. The original text is one paragraph.

[iv] Support lines.

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