Alexander Bawden

Alexander Bawden.jpg

Alexander Bawden attested on 23 September 1914. His regimental number was #1, indicating he was the first to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He won a battlefield commission in June 1915 for heroic actions at Festubert. Bawden continued to move up the ranks and was an Acting Major when he was killed at Hill 70, located on the north side of Lens, France.


Letter to Lillian Bawden from Chaplain James Whillans

8th Battn. Canadians

B.E.F

Sept. 8th, 1917

Dear Mrs. Bawden

As you are aware, your husband Major Bawden was killed in action in the battle on August 15th. I knew him very well and, after a church parade before, we were riding along the road together. I had been speaking that morning of a man not going before his time was up. The Major said, “That is what I believe, the war had given me that belief.” 

He drew the location of the position of his company on a map and told me to come up after the attack, marking the way for me. He was shot by a sniper in the shoulder when well up on the ground that had been captured from the enemy early in the morning. From what one man told me he beckoned on his men after he had been hit.

 I was at a camp kitchen when he was brought in by the stretcher bearers, after having been dressed at a dressing station a little way up. I spoke to him, but he had the appearance of being dead and did not move. A moment later a doctor pronounced him dead…

[He was] a friend of mine and I am sorry to have to write this letter. He did his duty in a highly skilled manner and played his part in this Great War for human freedom. May God bless you very abundantly in your loss.

In deepest sympathy,

Yours with every sincerity,

James Whillans

Captain Chaplain

Whillans’s letter found in the Canadian War Museum


This is an excerpt from Holding Their Bit - Remembering the 8th Canadian Battalion (90th Winnipeg Rifles) 1914-1918 The Little Black Devils, a book edited by Ian Stewart and published by The Royal Winnipeg Rifles Museum & Archives in 2018.


John Hay DCM

John Hay.jpg

John Hay DCM

Winnipeg Tribune April 8, 1916

Note: The Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) was awarded to enlisted men and NCOs for “Distinguished Conduct in the Field”.

John Hay was born in Scotland and had served with the Gordon Highlanders during the Boer War. He was 33-years-old when he enlisted as an original member of the 8th Battalion. On 23 May 1915, he won the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for conspicuous gallantry. In 1916, he severely fractured an ankle was sent back to Canada and later received a commission. Hay’s medals are on display in The Royal Winnipeg Rifles Museum. 


Memoir of Major John Hay DCM

[We] went into billets at Ypres for some days and went into the line again at St. Julian, relieving the 7th Batt CEF. This was about the 20th April 1915. The trenches at St. Julien were in fair shape for French trenches and, after we had been there for a day or two, we saw, during the afternoon, a green cloud going over the trenches of the French Colonial troops to our left but got no explanation of same. 

Next morning at “stand to arms,” whilst I was serving out the rum ration to the troops, one of the men called my attention to the enemy lines. From points about 20 yards apart and apparently some yards in front of same a thick yellowish white cloud was issuing as if from pipes. This cloud merged together as it came towards us and changed to a green color as it thinned out. There was a slight breeze and when the cloud got to our lines the first breath of it choked me and burned my eyes and nose. The stuff burned my lungs as if it was boiling water and the whole trench was full of the green cloud so that I could not see five yards. The men had opened fire on the enemy, expecting an attack under cover of the cloud, but they now began to fall back from the parapet from the effect of the gas. 

The C.C. Company Major H. Matthews now came along and asked me what we should do. I could not see that there was anything useful to be done as the gas would soon finish us all but suggested the issue of rum, which we had for issue that evening. He told me to carry on with it and I got a dixie (camp kettle) and poured the rum into it and served it out neat. 

The men all vomited when they drank it and it seemed to help them. I had not gone far when my knees gave out and I had to quit turning the job over to Cpl Bradley. The gas was thinning out by this time and the Germans started shelling heavily. The men of the company were in bad shape and some were dead. All brass and steel work was corroded a green color and the matter coughed up from the lungs was a bright green and all the eyes were blood shot and running water.


For conspicuous gallantry on 23rd May 1915, at Festubert. After all the company officers had been killed or wounded, Colour-Serjeant Hay took command of the Company, which was occupying a trench separate from the Battalion, and his coolness and gallant behaviour under fire set a fine example to all ranks and greatly assisted to keep them steady throughout the day.
— Hay, J. 8th Bn. 09/06/15, P975 London Gazette

This is an excerpt from Holding Their Bit - Remembering the 8th Canadian Battalion (90th Winnipeg Rifles) 1914-1918 The Little Black Devils, a book edited by Ian Stewart and published by The Royal Winnipeg Rifles Museum & Archives in 2018.


Frederick Hawkes

Frederick Hawkes.jpg

Longest-lived member of the

8th Battalion and one of the longest-lived Canadian combat infantryman of the First World War.

Frederick Hawkes, born in England on 15 April 1892, was admitted to Canada in 1901, along with his sister, as one of the British Home Children. He was sent to Portage la Prairie, Manitoba where he lived with local farm families.

Private Hawkes served in France with the 8th Battalion in the First World War, and was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Following demobilization, Frederick received a soldier’s land grant and farmed near Portage la Prairie. He then went on to serve in the Second World War.

Frederick Hawkes never married. He died, aged 106 years and 136 days, on 18 August 1998 in Portage la Prairie and was interred in Hillside Cemetery. 

Frederick Hawkes is the longest-lived member of the 8th Battalion and one of the longest-lived Canadian combat infantryman of the First World War. 


The above information was derived from Holding Their Bit - Remembering the 8th Canadian Battalion (90th Winnipeg Rifles) 1914-1918 The Little Black Devils, a book edited by Ian Stewart and published by The Royal Winnipeg Rifles Museum & Archives in 2018.


How the uniform changed: puttees

During the First World War, soldiers of the Regiment wore puttees as part of their uniform. Puttees were narrow strips of khaki-colour fabric wrapped in an over-lapping spiral pattern around the lower leg, above the ankle boots up to below the knee. 

“The puttee was almost like a bandage made of [knitted] wool, and it was wrapped around the leg,” explained Douglas Cordeaux, from Fox Brothers & Co Ltd, from Wellington, in Somerset.

”The beauty of it was that it didn’t need sizes - it would also stop your boot being sucked off in mud,” Mr Cordeaux added.

The firm made an estimated 12m pairs of putties, which unwrapped would have stretched for 41,000 miles (66,000 km) - enough to go around the coastline of the UK twice.
— Excerpt from the BBC (https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-25879184)

They were good in some ways

Puttees provided the soldier’s leg support, prevented dirt and insects entering both boots and trousers and provided a measure of protection against the weather and abrasions. When wrapped properly, puttees helped to insulate the leg from cold weather and to reduce injury without restricting movement. In hot weather, the material breathed and could be removed and washed. Importantly, puttees could be used as a dressing or splint, or to provide support to a part of the body.

… and not so good in others

While puttees helped to prevent or at least reduce damage to soldiers’ legs, they could also cause harm. Once they became wet and if worn in cold weather, the puttees could cause frostbite and extreme pain. Also, “tightly wrapped puttees might have encouraged or aggravated trench foot by restricting blood flow to the feet. Trench foot was prevented by keeping boots well-oiled and generously sized, loosening the puttees, rubbing oil into feet and lower legs and wearing clean, dry socks”. (Canadian War Museum Artifact Backgrounder on Puttees)

but they’re Still relevant today

In the Second World War the Regiment’s puttees were replaced largely with canvas web anklets. Puttees are, however, still used today in sport such as hiking, climbing, cross-country skiing and backpacking. Their lightweight, breathable and multi-purpose nature make them practical gear to have to get by with less but still stay safe, healthy and comfortable on the trail.