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Date: 1970

[The following information was provided by the donor regarding the memoir below. The memoir was written by Richard William Mercer “most likely in late October 1970 and at the request of one of his grandsons,” Randall Hansen. Randall was “living in Regina, Saskatchewan and who had undergone several chemotherapy treatments but was now dying of leukemia. At the time Randy wanted to complete a high school history project which was most likely part of the upcoming Remembrance Day. Granddad Mercer broke his silence on his Great War experiences to fulfil a wish of a sick grandson. Randy passed away in February 1971. At this time Granddad Mercer's handwriting was failing; most likely the after effects of the artillery shell concussion at Passchendaele which damaged nerves in his neck and left him with a neck tremor for the remainder of his life. The use of a typewriter was required. However, Granddad's typewriter was ancient and decrepit. It must have been an emotional and physical chore to record some of his thoughts and feelings via this old typewriter.”]

[Note: With the exceptions of footnote #8 and the information added to footnote #7, the transcription and transcription annotations have been provided by the collection donor]

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Pte Richard Wm. Mercer
Regimental Number 911016

I enlisted in April 1916[1] with the University Battalion 196th at Saskatoon and took part of my training there and then we were moved to Camp Hughes and since named Camp Shilo[2], Manitoba.

In October that year the Battalion went overseas to a camp at Seaford, Sussex where we completed our infantry course.

I was picked out to go for training as a Vickers Machine gunner at a camp named Crowbourgh and incidentally near or on the Estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the famous Sherlock Holmes stories.

After the completion of my course we were sent to France and on arrival at Mt. St. Eloi saw our first dog fight between German and British planes.

We were attached to the First Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade which consisted of five batteries; namely Borden to which I was assigned, two Sifton[s], an Eaton and a Yukon. Each battery had an armoured car and several Daimler trucks; some of which were used to transport [us] to different parts of the line. We were at that time the most mobile unit and [were] used as shock troops.

Passchendaele, as has been described many times was the worst and most horrible experience imaginable. I remember very clearly the morning my boyhood friend[3] and I [were] helping each other get our equipment on our backs and wondering if this would be the last time we would be together.

The Germans had held the high ground for three years from which they had made life in the British trenches a nightmare. Our object was to take this higher ground which was so well fortified with concrete "pillboxes" which were invulnerable except under the heaviest shell fire. From these "pillboxes" the Germans kept up a continuous barrage from machine guns in addition to heavy artillery. When you consider the liquid mud and water-filled shell holes which we had to go round or through with our heavy equipment; and sometimes 100 pounds of ammunition on our backs, it is almost indescribable for if one fell down or got mired to the waist it was impossible to get up without help. Tanks were being used for the first time and I remember quite well when we started out to see[ing] two of them completely mired, and which had been shelled badly [and] containing the bodies of the crews.

The engineers tried valiantly to keep the narrow walks, "duck walks" in repair as they were often blown up and it was difficult to carry out the wounded on stretchers without them. Tough, hardy mules were used to bring up supplies as far as they could go but often the poor creatures slipped into shell holes full of water and sank out of sight in the slime.

After many kilometers we finally arrived at a small rise or hill where we dug in the mud for our machine gun emplacements. Most of us were exhausted but being young and in good condition an hour or so of rest with a can of "bully beef" and hard biscuits with a thimble full of rum to warm us; we revived somewhat except our uniforms were filthy and wet.

Some German planes were flying over and located our position so very shortly 5.2 shells started to shell our positions and also some gas filled shells so we had to don our gas masks. I was crouched in the trench firing my machine gun when a shell landed a few feet away and I conked out from concussion for some time and then [was] escorted along the duck walks to a dressing station where they found I had blisters on my face which subsequently spread all over my body. I really consider myself very fortunate at the time as the same shell that fell close to me burst the lungs of a fellow comrade and another boy was completely blown to bits who was standing beside me. I might add that Passchendaele Ridge was taken by the Canadians that same day.

Another experience which stands out in my memory was in March 1918 when the German army was making their final effort to push the Allies back.

At this time our Brigade was on rest at Vimy Ridge building concrete pill boxes. Suddenly [we] were ordered to prepare to move overnight to Villiers-Brettoneaux where we tried to support the British 5th army who were retreating before the tremendous onslaught of the Germans. Our Brigade covered a small front but we stopped them but lost so many men and were surrounded. Orders were to retreat as our gun barrels were red hot and useless[4][5].

Still carrying my machine gun we commenced to retreat along a sunken road with banks on each side about ten feet high. The enemy's guns were concentrated on this road with shells exploding all round us. I am quite sure that one particular shell must have almost grazed my shoulder as it exploded right in front of me shattering the legs of one of our boys. To stay on the road was suicidal so two other boys and I attempted to climb off the road. After one or two attempts with the gun on my back I failed to make it so ditched the gun and got off the road.

The three of us lost no time from then on and walked some twenty kilometres and finally got some rest in an old theatre[6] which was full of men. The noise and confusion was so bad that there was not much rest and no sleep.

Our big problem now was to find our Brigade and particularly our own battery but no one could give us any information. However, later in the day we spotted one of our armoured cars but to our dismay found that our battery was completely wiped out except for the three of us. I found the account of this some years later in a book written about the War.

Our battery was soon reinforced up to strength and were detailed to outpost duty some 100 yards from the German trenches. We were observed by the enemy reconnaissance planes flying over our heads and soon the trench mortars started to whine their way down on our position. We tried to duck each time we heard the whine but once I didn't get down fast enough and two pieces of shrapnel hit me; one on the head and another which I found later in my steel cigarette case[7] in the left hand pocket of my tunic. This shrapnel which I still have had gone through my shell dressing and a number of letters and photos and lodged inside the case. Of course, this saved my life.

Some things I forgot to mention so you can insert somewhere about the big, fat rats always crawling in the slime. Most of the time one was in the water and mud up to our knees.

Also the time I ran out of ammunition [at Passchendaele] and had to go back a little distance for another 1,000 rounds. On the way back I had just passed my school boy chum [Pte. Tom Tracy][8] when some whizbangs landed so close that they knocked me off my feet. I learned later than my chum was killed instantly.

[1] The original transcript mentions 1917 in error. Pte. Richard William Mercer (911016), signed his Attestation Papers in Wawota, Saskatchewan on 26 April 1916 and Taken On Strength on 29 April 1916, B Company, 196th Western Universities Battalion, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon.

[2] Both military camps are actually separate and distinct but are in very close proximity to each other. Camp Shilo is still an active military base, whereas Camp Hughes (formerly Camp Sewell) is largely cattle pasture.

[3] Pte. Tom Tracy (911023) of the Yukon Motor Machine Gun Battery from Theodore, Saskatchewan and the date was Sunday 28 October 1917.

[4] Pte. Mercer was with part of the Borden Motor Machine Gun Battery which was assigned to the Clery-sur-Somme sector near Peronne. It is now assumed he was part of the advance party of two guns which were sent forward to the east side of Clery-sur- Somme and may have been actively engaged with the advancing Germans for up to four hours with two Vickers Machine Guns.

[5] The following is an excerpt from the recently transcribed "History of the Canadian Machine Gun Corps, CEF", pp 243-245. The Borden Battery is also referred to a "C" Battery.

"B" Battery and Borden Battery Report to VII Corps.
At 11.00 P.M., March 23rd, 1918, a few hours after the arrival of the 1st Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade at VILLERS- BRETONNEUX, "B" Battery (Captain HOLLAND, M.C.) and the Borden Battery (Capt. NICHOLSON, M.C.) were despatched to CORBIE to operate with the Left Corps of the FIFTH ARMY. The 2 Batteries reported to VII Corps H.Q. at CORBIE, at Midnight March 23rd/24th. At 2.00 A.M. March 24th, they were instructed to proceed to Maricourt and there come under the Orders of the Twenty-first Division. Owing to the congestion of traffic on the Roads, the Batteries were greatly delayed and did not reach MARICOURT until 6.00 A.M. The Battery Commanders reported to the Twenty-first Division Headquarters and also saw the Officer Commanding the 21st Battalion, Machine Gun Corps. They received Instructions to take their Commands to CLERY-sur- SOMME and on arrival there report to Lieut.-Col. SETTLE. The 8 Guns of "B" Battery like those of "A" battery were mounted on 4 Armoured Cars, each of which carried 2 Guns and their Crews. The 8 Guns and Personnel of the Borden Battery were conveyed in Light Box Cars.
Enemy Advance N. of the Somme.
It was about 8.00 A.M. March 24th, when the Batteries reached the junction of the MARICOURT - CLERY and HEM - CLERY Roads. At that time a heavy smoke cloud was blowing from the German Lines towards our Lines, but there were few other signs of hostile activity. The Armoured Cars and Transport were stopped just below the Crest of the slightly rising ground between BOIS de HEM and CLERY. Capt. HOLLAND and Capt. NICHOLSON went forward to CLERY and reported to Lieut.-Col. SETTLE, who wished to have 2 Machine Guns placed in the Village, 2 Guns, about 500 yds., left of the Village to fire in the direction of ALLAINES, and 2 Guns, on the slight rise, back of the Village to fire up the Valley of the SOMME in the direction of BIACHES. The Borden Battery, which was ready to go into Action dismounted, was ordered forward, and 2 of its Guns, under Lieut. WEST, were placed in CLERY. Enemy Shelling and Machine Gun Fire had now increased, and before the other Guns got into Action our Infantry were seen falling back over a slight Ridge on the Left of CLERY. On Instructions from Lieut.-Col. SETTLE, Capt. HOLLAND and Capt. NICHOLSON tried to rally the Infantry and with them organise for Defence a Trench running half-way up the Ridge back of the Village. The Infantry Commander, however, issued Orders to fall farther back to a Line just in front of the small Wood E. of BOIS de HEM. The hostile Artillery was now heavily shelling CLERY and the MARICOURT Road and masses of the enemy came out of the Smoke Cloud and were following our retreating Infantry. As soon as the German Troops broke through the Left, the enemy Fire on CLERY Ceased and the village was overrun. "B" Battery and Borden Battery Co-Operation
With Twenty-First Division March 24th.
The 2 Guns of the Borden Battery which were in Action on the Eastern outskirts of CLERY inflicted heavy Casualties on the Germans as their advancing Columns emerged from the Smoke Cloud and rushed forward across the Ridge N. of CLERY. A German Shell blew up 1 of these 2 Guns and either killed or wounded all its Crew. The members of the other Crew had also become Casualties but the Gun was kept in Action by Lieut. WEST and Corporal JOHNSON until the enemy Troops had entered the Village from the N. With the Fire of their Revolvers this Officer and N.C.O. kept the Germans at bay until they were able to get their Gun out of the Village. The Gun was then taken with the other 6 Guns of the Borden Battery and 8 Guns of "B" Battery to the top of the Ridge in front of the small Wood, E. of the Bois de HEM. The Machine Guns were placed in Positions on both sides of the CLERY-MARICOURT Road, along an old shallow Trench in front of a strong Belt of Wire. From these Positions the Guns covered by Fire the Valley of the SOMME, CLERY, and the ground to the Left of the Village.
The Motor Machine Gunners, who had an excellent view of all the Ground in front of them poured an intense Fire into the Ranks of the advancing enemy, breaking up their formation and inflicting heavy Casualties. But, as the Germans continued to approach the Positions, the Infantry who were in the shallow trench fell back. Capt. HOLLAND and Capt. NICHOLSON rallied them again and managed to induce a few of them to return to the Trench to co-operate with the Machine Gunners in the Defence of the Ground. There was, in all, a Garrison of about 100 men in the Trench holding a stretch of 500 yds. The determined Resistance offered by the Motor Machine Gun Batteries at this point considerably delayed the advance of the enemy. The Germans made several unsuccessful attempts to debouch from CLERY and to outflank our Gun Positions from the N. During one of these encounters, when the Germans were approaching on the Left Flank, Corporal JOHNSON was wounded by a Sniper while endeavouring to bring into Action the Gun which he had rescued from CLERY. Capt. HOLLAND was seriously wounded while going out, under direct enemy observation and intense Machine gun Fire, to render aid to a wounded Man in a Shell-hole on front of the Trench occupied by our Machine Gunners and the small group of Infantry. It was largely due to the great example of courage and disregard for personal safety set by this Officer, earlier in the day, that our Machine Gun Detachments with a handful of tired Infantrymen were able to frustrate the efforts at advance made by an enemy overwhelmingly superior in numbers.
Hostile Artillery Activity.
In the meantime, the Shelling on the MARICOURT-CLERY Road had become very heavy. The Motor Transport was ordered back to MARICOURT, and 3 Armoured Cars were taken a short distance back to a bend in the Road to avoid the Shelling. The 4th Armoured Car could not be moved back then, owing to its proximity to a Dump of Explosives which had been set of Fire by a German Shell and was still burning. Eventually the Fire was extinguished, and Corporal HICKS and Private RUMFORD ("B" Battery), who had gone back with the other 3 Armoured Cars, returned to start the stranded Car. But, as they approached the Car, a Shell burst beside them instantly killing Private RUMFORD and fatally wounding Corporal HICKS. In spite of the heavy Shelling, Pte. J.A. HENDERSON (Borden Battery) and a "B" Battery Man volunteered to start and drive the Armoured Car away.
Capt. HOLLAND, Corporal JOHNSON, Corporal HICKS, and several other wounded Men were placed in this Car and taken to the nearest Dressing Station. Capt. HOLLAND dies as he was being moved from the Car to a Stretcher.
Casualties Suffered By M.M.G. Batteries; VII Corps Front March 24th.
Owing to the heavy Artillery and Machine Gun Fire and the great activity of enemy Snipers, the Casualties suffered by "B" and "C" Batteries in the Forward Trench were extremely heavy. The Gun Positions were very exposed and the Trench was so wide and shallow that Men observing at the Guns were shot through the head. Lieut. SNYDER of "B" Battery and Lieuts. WEST and WALDRON of the Borden Battery, who had undertaken the arduous task of observing for the Guns of which they were in Command, were all shot through the head and instantly killed. The Fire of enemy Snipers and Machine Guns prevented the 2 Batteries from maintaining at the guns a proper supply of Ammunition, which was beginning to get very low. The Germans had gradually crept up close to our Gun Positions and were throwing Hand-Grenades into the Positions occupied by the Motor Machine Gunners. 3 or 4 of our Machine Guns had either been blown up or put out of Action by enemy Shells or Machine Gun Bullets. A few Infantry Reinforcements also came up and took up Positions in a fairly good trench behind a strong Belt of Wire.
This Trench was about 50 yds. in rear of the Trench occupied by the Motor Machine Gunners. Earlier in the morning, our Machine Guns had been placed in front of the Wire to obtain a better Field of Fire for the guns and enable the Gunners themselves to watch all the movements of the enemy. This bold employment of Machine Guns was entirely responsible for holding up the enemy advance W. of CLERY. During the 4 or 5 hours spent in their Positions in the Shallow Trench in front of the Wire, the Gunners of the 2 Motor Machine Gun batteries were almost constantly firing at groups of Germans and inflicting heavy losses on them.
At 2.00 P.M. March 24th, the enemy was dangerously close to our Gun Positions, the Ammunition supply was very low, and our Gun Crews had been greatly depleted in numbers. Capt. NICHOLSON, who was then the only officer in Command of the 2 Machine Gun Batteries and the Infantry, decided to withdraw to the Trench behind the Wire. A few Casualties were suffered during this withdrawal, which had to be made under enemy observation and through a narrow Gap in the Wire. In their new Positions, the Machine Gun Detachments were more or less screened from direct enemy observation and they could, therefore, manage to maintain a good supply of Ammunition from a Dump, which had been established on the MARICOURT Road, during the morning. The Infantrymen in this Line belonged to the 15th Cheshire Regiment (Thirty-fifth Division) and were commanded by Colonel COCHRANE. The enemy Shelling was still causing us many Casualties in men and Guns. At about 4.00 P.M., Capt.
NICHOLSON had, in all, 4 Guns left; the others had either been blown up or had been put out of Action. With the 4 Guns there were then only 1 Officer. Capt. NICHOLSON had sent a few Messages by Despatch Riders to the Twenty-first Divisional Headquarters and to the 1st C.M.M.G. Brigade Headquarters explaining the Situation and asking for Reinforcements but received no response. At 3.00 P.M., he sent Lieut. INCH back to try and get in touch with Headquarters. In the meantime, Colonel COCHRANE had received Orders to withdraw his Men to a Line running approximately from HEM towards MAUREPAS.
The Motor Machine Gunners were to cover this withdrawal, which was to take place at 8 o'clock in the evening. At 5.00 P.M., there were only 2 Machine Guns in Action, manned by 1 Officer, 2 N.C.O.s and a few Men.

[6] Pte. Mercer was with part of the Borden Motor Machine Gun Battery which was assigned to the Clery-sur-Somme sector near Peronne. It is now assumed he was part of the advance party of two guns which were sent forward to the east side of Clery-sur- Somme and may have been actively engaged with the advancing Germans for up to four hours with two Vickers Machine Guns.

[7] [A photo of the surviving cigarette case referenced here can be found in the “personal items” section of the Mercer collection. The following was originally provided as an appendix to the transcription:] Private Richard Wm. Mercer carried this cigarette case in his left breast pocket of his Borden Motor Machine Gun Battery uniform. In the transcript below, and in the defense of Villers-Bretonneux during the Ludendorff Offensive or Kaiserschlacht, he was wounded by a German trench mortar on 3 April 1918. The shrapnel penetrated the case, a shell dressing, letters and photos, dinted a coin, possibly a small Bible and is still contained within the cigarette case by tape (see red arrow). Pte. Mercer was also wounded in the head, his second wounding, and was evacuated to #11 Stationary Hospital, Rouen with a "G.S.W." to the head. Being an only child, four generations now extend forward from this date.

[8] [A photo Private Tom Tracey, as part of the three “The Theodore Inseparables,” can be found in the photo section of the Mercer collection.]

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