A wonderful and treasured set of photographs of Charles Wesley Boyd have been contributed to the 18th Battalion Facebook Group and they help tell this soldier’s story.
Charles Wesley Boyd was born on October 11, 1896 in Campbellford, Ontario. Campbellford is located on the Trent-Severn Waterway 28 kilometers north of Trenton, Ontario. His parents were Mathew and Rose Boyd.
On September 4, 1915 Charles enlisted with the 59th Battalion at Barriefield, Ontario, which is now where Canadian Forces Base Kingston is located. He was a strapping 6-foot tall man of 18 years, 10 months and he would soon be leading men. A role that, perhaps, his 3 years of military cadets in high school did not prepare him for.
From the date of his enlistment he was shipped to England and struck of strength from the 59th to the 18th Battalion on June 6, 1916. Two days later Private Boyd would arrive in the Dickenbusch Sector, Belgium and would serve with the Battalion. He had missed the action at St. Elios Craters and the Battalion recovered from that battle only to be assigned to the hell of the Somme in September 1916. Private Boyd survived that action and the attack on Vimy Ridge and had distinguished himself with is service that he was appointed a Lance-Corporal on May 20, 1917 as a replacement for Lance-Corporal Colby, who was promoted.
A day after sustaining wounds for a long-range German artillery shell on July 9, 1917, Lance-Corporal Boyd’s service records show he was appointed Corporal due to Corporal A. Smith dying of wounds, possibly by the same shell.
Four months passed and Corporal Boyd was promoted again to Sergeant as Sergeant A.H. Jones was invalided to England for a severe case of trench-feet.
With such a rapid rise from the ranks Sergeant Boyd was slated for officer training and this next step in his service occurred on January 15, 1918 when he was assigned to a Cadets Officers Course at Bramshott. This promotion would lead to a promotion to the rank of Lieutenant and being assigned to the 4th Reserve Battalion, C.E.F. in charge of a Lewis Gun Instruction Unit where his practical experience in combat and leadership skills could be passed on to the men filling the front-line battalions as the war progressed into 1918.
Eventually, Lieutenant Boyd would be re-united with the 18th Battalion after it had been assigned as part of the Occupation Force of Germany as he met up with them as they billeted in Fosse, France awaiting return to Canada and demobilization. He arrived March 15, 1919 with the Battalion fully occupied with keeping the men busy with sports and the Khaki University. Not fifteen days later, the Battalion boarded trains to embark to England and the return to Canada.
“A young man looks seriously at the camera. His 6-foot frame is hidden as there is not perspective or object to which one can compare to towards his height. He is seated and his hands rest on each thigh at the hem of his battledress coat. His battalion collar badge and brass buttons appear freshly polished and the rank of Corporal is designated by the two chevrons on this battledress sleeve. Below it is a vertical brass rod denoting a wound stripe. He has been wounded once. His promotion is new-found and earned through garnering the respect of his officers and his men. The man is young, his eyes belie an seriousness borne from action. Action that has lost friends and made those eyes serious.”
The first photograph of the series portraying the service and experiences of Charles Wesley Boyd. This photograph shows him at almost 21 years old in his uniform. Of note is the collar badge, shoulder flash, the rank stripes, and the single vertical brass stripe on Corporal Boyd’s left arm. The photograph had to be taken between July 9 and November 16, 1917. The collar badge (C/18) indicates that he is a member of the 18th Battalion, Canadians. You can just make out the metal badge on his shoulder epaulettes and they would have said “CANADA”. The shoulder flash would have been a green circle over a blue rectangle. The rectangle is clearly visible and if you look closely the outline of the circle can just be made out. The double-chevrons of Corporal Boyd’s rank are clearly that of a corporal, as the rank of Lance-Corporal is one chevron. The vertical stripe on his lower arm is a Wound Stripe. A soldier would wear one stripe for each wound sustained in combat and this reflects Corporal Boyd’s experience and record up to the date of the photograph. He is also wearing a ring on the third finger, left hand.
The photograph is imprinted with the words: F. Coghlin, Photographer, Londonderry. This presents a mystery for us. Boyd’s service records show no leaves granted and travelling from France or Bexhill to Londonderry was not practical. It could be postulated the F. Goghlin travelled to the front and took pictures for the soldiers and that Corporal Boyd availed himself of this service during a rest period.
The now, Corporal Boyd served with the Battalion and at the Passchendaele Sector was promoted to Sergeant as Sergeant A.H. Jones was invalided to England suffering a severe case of trench feet. The promotion came into effect on November 16, 1917. The Battalion had been through a particularly hard tour at the front line from November 9 to 13 and had lost over 100 men killed and wounded.
From that date, it was only a matter of two months before Sergeant Boyd was to be assigned to a Cadet Course for officer training. He trained at Bexhill and was posted to the 4th Reserve Battalion, obtaining the rank of Lieutenant on April 28, 1918.
“Two young men together. Brothers. The flower of Canadian youth. Born in Canada. Fighting in Europe. One represents the oldest branch of the service. The Army. A soldier. The other represents the newest arm of the service. The Air Force. In fact, it is so new it is not distinguished as an air force until 1918. For now, it is a Corp, the Royal Flying Corp[i]. The man on the left is two years younger than his older brother. He is a young man for a young combat arm.”
The next photograph is of the Boyd brothers. The man sitting in the Royal Flying Corp/Royal Air Force uniform is William Henry Boyd (1898 – 1984). The family resemblance is compelling. The exact date of this photograph is unknow but there is a hint to the approximate date of the image. On Lieutenant Charles Boyd’s uniform are Service Chevrons. They are located on his right sleeve above the rank insignia on the cuff of his uniform jacket. There comprise three chevrons in blue and indicate the number of years of service for Lieutenant Boyd. He enlisted on September 4, 1915 making the date of this photograph some time after that but before September 4, 1919, which would have been his fourth year of service.
Lieutenant Boyd cuts a fine figure in his uniform. He is wearing a watch now, necessary equipment for an officer, and his left hand is adorned with his ring. Both men are striking in the similarity and youth and someone has written the words “Charlie” in the bottom right corner of the photograph.
If the estimate of the date is correct then Lieutenant Boyd was serving with the 4th Reserve Battalion in Bexhill in command of the Lewis Gun Instruction Unit.
“A group of twenty-seven men sit and stand in a photograph. It is September 1918 and the war will end in another two-and-a-half months. Some of men are veterans of combat. Their caps perhaps denoting the combat veterans. Soft caps have a less distinct shape and lack the leather bill of the Service Dress caps that the officers are wearing[ii]. The men are generally serious, with one or two of the men, perhaps distracted by something happening behind the photographer or an errant thought of home or a woman or peace, looking off in the distance or smiling more than their comrades. The tools of their trade lie in front of them. They are the Lewis Gun Instructors of the 4th Reserve Battalion. They appear to stand in front of a hut with a sign on which the word “Lewis” is distinguishable and the beginning of the letters G and U may be forming the word Gun. This is where they work, training the men that will form the battalions of the C.E.F. during the Last 100 Days.”
The photograph is dated September 1918 and comprises the Commanding Officer of the 4th Reserve Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Rodgers [Charles Herman Rogers[v]] sitting with the Lewis Gun Instructors. The next senior officer is Lieutenant Charles Wesley Boyd, earning his commission on April 27, 1918. Five months have passed and his more recent Grade 2 Qualification at the Aldershott Command School of Musketry, coupled with his 1 year, 7 months, and 7 days of combat experience, made Lieutenant Boyd a valuable officer for the 4th Reserve Battalion. The Battalions job was the training and preparation of recruits for battle and as the war moved into its twilight and closer to The Last 100 Days the training from soldiers like Lieutenant Boyd and his men made these recruits effective fighters.
Lieutenant-Colonel Rogers sits relaxes wearing riding boots and holding a cane and Lieutenant Boyd is similarly attired but for him wearing puttees and what appears to be shoes and riding jodhpurs. All the men appear appropriate stern and serious looking into the camera save one soldier seated in the right front row. Some of the men rest their hands on the shoulders of their comrades and look a bit more relaxed. The officers and some of the other ranks caps are sharp and new appearing while some of the men appear to have caps that denote their seniority and experience as soldiers; the caps have a more “used” look.[vi]
The weapons denote the purpose of these men – the instruction of the care, maintenance, and effective tactical use of the Lewis Gun and there are three weapons on display. On the right and left are Lewis Guns with their rear-sight raised. Both Lewis Guns have two different patterns of bipod. The left bipod looks more functional for a Lewis Gun crew on the move during an attack while the right bipod looks like it is designed for a static emplacement, such as covering a defensive trench-works. In the center is a machine gun that is unique. It is a German Maxim MG 08 machine gun and someone has written on the photograph the name “FRITZ” denoting its origin. It is unknown if this German weapon was used for training but it is possible that it was used for familiarization of the operation of this weapon as they could be captured and turned against their former owners.
Lieutenant Boyd’s height is noticeable in this photograph. Lieutenant Boyd has Company Quarter-Master Sergeant George Samuel Smale, reg. no. 6266, sitting to his right. C.Q.M.S. Smale was 5’ 4” tall to Lieutenant Boyd’s 6-foot frame. If the height of their shoulders and uniform caps are compared you can see the difference in height between these two men. C.Q.M.S. Smale was about average height for a Canadian soldier at the time, but his age at enlistment of 35 years and 11 months made him almost twice Lieutenant Boyd’s age in September 1918 (approx. 22 to 38 years of age).
The details of Boyd’s uniform are difficult to distinguish. His ring appears to be on the same finger on his right-hand as it was in the previous photograph.
He is now an officer commanding man. Perhaps he was assigned this role because he was a Lewis Gunner with the 18th Battalion. Most of the men under his command were probably his age or younger and probably all where thankful that they did not have to fight with an active combat unit.
“Approximately 100 men gather for a picture. The trees are bare of leaves as it is early spring in France or Canada of the 100 men, perhaps only two or three are from the original draft of the 18th Battalion when it was formed in Western-Ontario in October 1914 to March 1915. There appear to be six officers seated together in the second row and a now nameless with Terrier sits, perhaps a mascot from Germany, sits in the middle ground. Its white fur standing out from the Canadian khaki.”
The last photograph was probably taken in the Spring of 1919. It is of “D” Company and the exact date and location of the photograph are not known. There is a reference to the photograph being taken in May 1919. This is possible as the 18th Battalion officially disbanded in London, Ontario on May 24, 1919. The only clue to the date of the photograph is the lack of leaves on the trees. Typical tree bloom in the London area is late April – Early May. The trees are completely absent of leaves which may push the date of the photograph in March (perhaps indicating it taken in Fosses, France) or April (doubtful as the Battalion was in transit from France to England to Canada). The troops were processed in England and then shipped to Canada so the possibility does exist that the picture was taken at either location. One possible clue is the number of men in the picture. As one source of the picture has the names of the men in it careful research could reveal when all those men were on one location.
Lieutenant Boyd returned to the 18th Battalion on March 15, 1919 when the Battalion was in Fosses, France in preparation for its return to England and eventual return to Canada and Demobilization. Appendix No. 25 of the March 1919 War Diary dated March 25, 1919 indicates that Lieutenant Boyd was next for duty as Orderly Officer and that he was assigned to “A” Company.
Though he is not in this photograph it is indicative of the type of photograph that would have been taken of “A” Company (if one exists). Did the “A” Company photo include a mascot of some kind or was the white dog the Battalion mascot. As Lieutenant Boyd sat in the photograph how many men did he know of this Company or even of the Battalion. It had been in action for approximately eleven months after his departure to be trained as an officer and many of the soldiers Lieutenant Boyd knew would have rotated out due to illness, wounds, promotion, or death. What were his thoughts at the time of the photograph? Peace was at hand and his military career would end at London, Ontario on May 25, 1919, one day after to official disbandment of the 18th Battalion, Western Ontario Regiment, Canadian Expeditionary Force.
The knowledge of the history of Lieutenant Boyd is imperfect. Yet, the photographs of this tall, handsome young man have impact. The eyes of the Corporal look at you and perhaps the viewer wonders what the eyes are telling us? The uniform tells part of the story. His promotion in the field and his wounding with the collar badge of the 18th Battalion (C/18) burnished bright. With pride? With obligation? He now had to set the example for the men under him.
Now, the young officer with his younger brother. Both proud of each other and of themselves. Serving with two arms of the military. Both necessary but the introduction of air power would be transformative to war and, in many ways, prevent the stalemate of the First World War during the Second. The both look off the left side of the photograph (from the viewer’s perspective) making one wonder what or who are they looking at. Unlike the first photograph, Lieutenant Boyd’s eyes do not engage the viewer.
The last two pictures take us out of the personal to the ethos of the group, the very construct of military life. Military life is predicated on group effort, cooperation, and results. Individual effort is a small part of the experience of a soldier and roles such as sniper, observer, and other singular roles are designed to be “force multipliers” for the larger unit.
Lieutenant Boyd is now actively working toward the training of untested soldiers in command of the Lewis Gun Instruction Group and is responsible for and to men that are older and have more experience than him. Regrettably the war diary of the 4th Reserve Battalion does not detail any of his movements but there is one aspect to Lieutenant Boyd’s service that speaks to his sense of duty to his Battalion.
When the Armistice was put into effect almost immediately the 4th Reserve Battalion began moving soldiers and officers to transit camps in preparation for the return to Canada. This was a major issue to the battalions still serving on the Continent in roles of occupation as the men in England, many who had not served, were being sent home earlier than those who took an active support or combat role in the conflict.
Yet, Lieutenant Boyd, most likely, choose to return to his unit in France. He arrives on March 15, 1919 and the Battalion leaves for England at the end of March. He could have gone home early. Yet he is transferred to his unit and travels with them back the England and stays with the unit until it disbands at the end of May 1919. Lieutenant Boyd was not from Western-Ontario. He lived in Central-Ontario and, baring any familial roots in the London area, had no personal reason to go to the effort of rejoining the Battalion, resulting in a delay of him being demobilized.
The last image of “D” Company does not include Lieutenant Boyd. It represents the bond of people that are involved in the military and the collegial relationship between soldiers at a time before they could experience the efforts they expended towards peace. Many of these men were hard men, fashioned by violence and sacrifice.
They still thought it important to include their mascot in the photograph. An expression of sentiment and a reminder of home.
Through the photographs of Charles Wesley Boyd, we are able to expand our knowledge of his service, and by association, the service of the men and women who served Canada in the First World War.
With special thanks to the Boyd Family for sharing the photographs of C.W. Boyd.
[i] The quality of the image makes it difficult to determine but I believe that William Henry Boyd’s uniform badge is that of the Royal Flying Corp and not of the Royal Air Force (circa post April 1, 1918). As Charles Boyd was promoted lieutenant April 28, 1918 it is possible that some time lag occurred when the RAF badge was fully adopted.
[iii] The June 1918 War Diary Operational Order No. 2 (undated) lists Lieutenant Boyd as a Platoon Officer of No. 3 Composite Company.
[iv] The 4th Reserve Battalion sent drafts of men to the 18th Battalion regularly from April 1918 until September 1918. Sadly, the war diary is extremely brief in detail and not very revealing or compelling. The war diary is located here.
[v] As Lieutenant-Colonel Rogers did not take command of the Battalion until May 17, 1918 we can deduce this photograph occurred after this date.
[vi] With thanks to Ed Wilson of the 18th Battalion Facebook Group for pointing me in the right direction. Resource for Canadian First World War era uniforms can be found here.