Victoria During the Great War

By Ted Ross

 Part Six - August 4, 1918 - May 5, 1919

The first three pages of the August 4 issue of the Daily Colonist were devoted entirely to war stories. On this fourth anniversary of the outbreak of war headlines such as, "Retreating Enemy Given No Rest," indicated the tenor of the items, eventual victory in Europe.

As we thumb through the paper an advertisement for the People's Groceteria, 749-751 Yates, displayed the following:

            Marigold Oleomargarine                      special at 35c.

            Rogers' Golden Syrup                          10lb. tin $1.00.

            Clark's Soup                                        all kinds 12c.

            Golden Rule Soap                                5 bar cartons 22c.

            Grape-Nuts                                          per packet 14c.            Robin Hood Rolled Oats                  3 lb. 24c.

            Brunswick Sardines                             per tin 8c.

            Camosun Brand Marmalade                per jar 24c.

            Lowney's Sweet Chocolate                  1/2 lb. bars 19c.

Inflation has surely been at work over the past ninety-nine years!

On page seven a headline brings local effects of the war to mind: "Returning To Duty With Overseas Forces; Lieu. Burges J.Gadsden Is Leaving Tomorrow for England - Was in France." The article disclosed that Lieu. Gadsden had been home on leave since March 4 but would leave tomorrow for England to report for active service. A farewell gathering had taken place at the Great War Veterans Rooms on Friday night, twenty-five members giving him a send-off. Lieu. Gadsden had first gone to France in the summer of 1915. He was commissioned to the Artillery in 1916 and served in France and Flanders with sixty-pounders (heavy field guns). He was wounded in Passchendale on October 13, 1917, coming home on leave in March 1918 to finish his recuperation. Now he was returning to duty.

And the war continued. On August 8 the Battle of Amiens marked the first phase of the Hundred Days Offensive, the concluding offensive of the war. Another phase of the onslaught from August 21 to September 23 was the Third Battle of The Somme.

The banner headline in the Daily Colonist, August 23, 1918, declared, "Town Of Albert Is Retaken," with the sub-head, "British Launch Attack On Line From Somme River To Ancre And Make Substantial Gains." The entire page carried stories of the battle.

On October 31 the Colonist told us that the people of Victoria had purchased $1,601,000 in War Bonds in 1917 and 1918. On a population base of 32,000, this was impressive.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive from September 26 to November 11 was the final phase of the war. On the first page of the Colonist, November 2, one headline was, "Canadian Troops Share In Attack At Valenciennes; Great Successes Are Gained In Renewed Battle In Belgium." According to the article, the Canadian troops captured between two and three thousand prisoners and inflicted extremely heavy losses on the enemy.

Thirty-nine Canadians were killed and wounded. Pte. J.W. Eadie of Victoria was killed, Pte. J. Goffney of Ladysmith was wounded, Dvr. G.T. Yorke of Victoria was wounded while Pte. G.M. Scott of Coombs was gassed. The rest of the casualties were from mainland British Columbia, except for one from Toronto and one from England. In the war's last two weeks, the carnage continued.

The banner headline, in six-inch type, on November 11 was, "PEACE," with the sub-head, "Armistice Signed; Fighting Ceased 3 A.M. Today." The first two pages of the paper contained stories of the war's conclusion, and other international news. On p.3 there was a photo-tribute to, "Military Leaders Who Have Won Fame In Great World War," which showed all the military leaders for the Allied side in the conflict. Page four contained advertising for Gordon's Limited, 739 Yates, Phone 5510, and that was the paper. The Great War had ended.

Canadian casualties for November 11 were reported in the November 12 Colonist. Two Canadians were killed and six wounded, including Pte. D.H. Brotherton of Victoria. This was the end of casualties from war action.

Another article on page eight portended problems to come in Victoria and throughout the world: "Urges Men To Serve In Fighting Flu," appeared over a story which included," far 105 cases of Spanish influenza have been treated at the Isolation Hospital in the past month, and that forty have been dealt with at the Fort Street institution, which opened two weeks ago." The infamous 'Spanish Flu' had arrived in Victoria.

The first cases were reported on October 2, 1918. The Daily Colonist, October 18, contained on page four the headline, "City Will Act To Check Epidemic; All Churches, Schools and Meeting Places to Be Affected by Closing Order." The disease was spreading.

The influenza had first appeared in Europe, although some said it had first shown up in a military camp in the United States in March 1918, where troops were being assembled to serve in Europe. Others said it had come from China. Whatever the case, the flu did appear amongst the troops and civilians in Europe in 1918. The Allies and Germans made no report of the epidemic in their news, not wishing the enemy to know of the rampant disease they were facing. Spain, not a belligerent in the Great War, freely reported the epidemic which was sweeping their country. This gave the outbreak the name by which it is remembered.

The Spanish influenza epidemic, uniquely lethal in attacking young, healthy bodies, killed at least twenty million people worldwide including 50,000 Canadians. The flu presented itself through fatigue and cough, but quickly attacked the body, creating a mucous build-up in the lungs that could not be expelled. Victims could be dead within a day of contracting the illness.

The conditions on the war front, with the troops living close together, were ideal for spread of the disease. When hostilities ended in Europe, troops were repatriated by the boatload to Canada and then by train to their homes across the country. With them they brought the Spanish flu. Thousands of family members who had welcomed them home perished soon after their arrival.

The Spanish flu had a profound social and economic impact on a country that had already suffered 60,000 war dead. The workforce was significantly reduced. Thousands of families lost their primary wage earner. Thousands of children were orphaned. The epidemic led directly to the formation of the Federal Department of Health in 1919.

In the November 12 issue of the Colonist, we read that a nurse from Victoria was taken by the flu. Charlie Swain, well-known lacrosse player, had succumbed. A man from Vancouver was dead and several deaths were reported in Nanaimo. War deaths in Europe had been replaced with influenza deaths everywhere in the world, including Vancouver Island.

A report on January 1, 1919 noted that 1918 burials in Victoria were noticeably greater than the previous year. The largest number was in October 1918, when influenza was at its height.

A first page headline of the January 25. 1919 Colonist read, "Historic Voyage Ends Midst Cheers; Empress of Asia, Bringing Soldiers Home From War Zone, Met by Thousands at Outer Docks." The article included, "There were 242 Victoria soldiers on the big transport when she arrived yesterday after the 8000 mile voyage [via Panama]...The majority of the men are fit but there are a few who will remain in khaki...on accout of physical disability."

The Colonist February 5, 1919 carried the headline, "More Soldiers On Early Sunday Boat," followed by a story about 30 veterans being welcomed at the Outer Wharf. On May 5, 1919 the S.S. Monteagle brought 1026 men and 56 officers to Victoria.

The Great War was over. The flu epidemic which followed took five per cent of the world's population. Soldiers, if they weren't blown to bits on the battlefield, might well return home with broken bodies, faces burned off, alcohol habits or drug addictions from the painkillers used. For those who had left Victoria for war in the autumn of 1914 to have a visit to Europe, planning to be, "...Home by Christmas...," it had been anything but such a pleasure trip. It had been a four year descent into hell.


World War I - A Victoria Chronology, City of Victoria Archives; Wikipedia, Timeline of World War I, 2017, Daily Colonist, August 5, 26, 28, September 4, 1914, August 5, 1915, January 1, March 4,12,24, April 2, 6, May 23,24, July 15, August 5, November 21, December 24, 1916, February 15, March 16, April 6, 11, June 14, July 7, August 4, 5, October 28, November 13, December 7, 18, 30, 1917, January 1,31, March 9, April 27, June 13, July 17, August 4, 8, 21, 23, October 2, 18, 31, November 2, 11, 12, 1918, January 1, 25, February 2, 1919; Times-Colonist, May 10, 2015; Victoria News, November 27, 2014; From Classroom to Battlefield; Victoria High School and the First World War, Barry Gough, Heritage House Publishing, November 2014; Scottish News, "The Small Men of the Bantam Battalions," December 14, 2013;, Introduction - 143rd Battalion, 2009; Daily Colonist, November 26, 1961,."The Canadians Held the Shattered Line," E.W.D. Wilson; Daily Colonist, December 27, 1964, "Victorians Danced and Sang To Welcome New Year, Although the World Was At War," James K. Nesbitt; Daily Colonist, March 19, 1967, "Victoria Braced For Attack," C. Norman Senior; Daily Colonist, January 23, 1968, "Victoria Gave 30th Battalion Big Sendoff," Cuthbert M. Brown; Daily Colonist, April 9, 1978, "Vivid Recollections of Vimy Ridge," Andrew McCrindle, MBE; Times-Colonist, May 22, 1991, "Last Nurse Recalls Horrors of Vimy Ridge," Judith Lavole; Times-Colonist, May 10, 2015, "The Night Victoria Rioted," David Obee;, "Spanish Influenza in Victoria - Timeline," Initiative of the University of Victoria, 2016;, "Health Care in 1918, 2016;, "Conscription, 1917," 2016;, "Influenza, 1918-1919," 2016;, "Repatriation and Demobilization," 2016;, "143rd Battalion, C.E.F. (B.C. Bantams), 2009; Beacon Hill Park History, Chapter Nine: 1910-1919, Janis Ringuette, 2004; Times-Colonist, March 29, 1982, "Five Remember Glory Days Leaving for First World War," John McKay; Victoria News, November 7, 2014, "Fairgrounds turn training grounds for First World War," Christine van Reeuwyk.

In doing this work the online morgue for the Daily Colonist, available through the Times-Colonist, was invaluable in looking at Victoria in the days of WWI. I owe a huge debt to the Times-Colonist and UVIC, who have put this great asset together. T.R.

James Bay Neighbourhood Association: July & August Meeting Reports

Another step towards Ogden Point redevelopment

Another step towards Ogden Point redevelopment