Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Tale of how Captain Oliver Mowat's Body Returned from Russian to Canada

I recently got another unexpected email from a lady in B.C. who wrote to thank me for mentioning her great uncle, Captain Oliver Mowat, whose story of courage in North Russia is described in my book Courage Rewarded. As part of her research into the Mowat family history, Carrie Mowat came across the mention of him in my book. She has now included all the material from many sources that she gathered about Oliver as part of her very comprehensive family web site.

Oliver was awarded the Military Cross for courage in battle in North Russia in December 1918 while acting as Forward Observation Officer with the 68th Battery of the 16th Canadian Field Artillery Brigade. However, one month later he was killed when he was part of the rearguard party that was holding off Bolshevik forces trying to surround Allied forces in the town of Shenkursk. While I included the story of this action in my book, Carrie was helpful in providing me with additional information about how his body was brought back to Canada for final burial. It seems that the men of his unit refused to leave him behind in North Russia with others who had been killed in the fighting, some of whom were buried in unmarked graves. His body was dug up, placed in a coffin “made up from soldered biscuit tins,” and loaded onto the ship returning from Archangel as baggage of the unit. On arrival in London, the body was collected by his brother, Captain Godfrey Alden Mowat, who arranged for it to be properly preserved by an undertaker and shipped back to Canada. On arrival in Canada, the casket was collected by his father, and Oliver was finally laid to rest in Campbelton Rural Cemetery with full military honours.

Carrie also told me that he is still remembered and honoured by the 68th Battery which still exists as part of the 15th Field Artillery Regiment in Vancouver. Carrie has donated Oliver’s medals and documentation to the Regiment’s museum. The regiment has purchased a shell casing from a howitzer with all the names of surviving members of the 68th Battery engraved on it and this will be displayed with a history to be posted on the wall of the armouries.

It was gratifying to me that Oliver Mowat was not left to be forgotten on the far-away shores of the Arctic Ocean, and that the courage of Canadian soldiers in this little-known campaign of the Canadian army is not forgotten.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Remembance Day Compliment from Arthur Rigby's Family regarding his Military Medal

On Remembrance Day 2010, to my surprise, I received an email from a lady I had never met, thanking me for writing about her father who had been awarded the Military Medal in the Second World War. She wrote that she was “absolutely thrilled” to come across her father's award described in my book Valour in the Victory Campaign. Sergeant Arthur Rigby was a crew commander of a Sherman tank of The Sherbrooke Fusiliers in April 1945. During the attack on Deventer Holland, the infantry of The Canadian Scottish Regiment were pinned down by two German self-propelled guns and suffering casualties. Sergeant Rigby managed to bring his tank to a position only a few hundred yards away from the deadly German guns and destroyed them both before they could fire on his tank. For his skill, coolness and courage in carrying out this action, he was awarded the Military Medal.

The email of thanks to me was written by Arthur Rigby’s daughter, who recalled that her father had been very proud of his medal. He had passed away in 1986 and she regretted that, as a young child, she never appreciated the true meaning of the honour awarded him. But now, on reading the passage in my book, she felt that she and her sister could appreciate what her father had done so many years ago. Her note of thanks to me was quite touching and, coming so unexpectedly, gave me – as the author of the book – some great satisfaction.

While thinking about her note of thanks, however, I wondered how she had been able to find her father’s name on the Internet. I therefore went on line and searched for his name on Google. I quickly found the reference to the source: it was a bit of shock to see what it was. I found that she had found the entire page with the full citation text for Arthur Rigby’s medal from Valour in the Victory Campaign on Google Books! But not only could the page be found, but the entire book was there online.

I had read that Goggle Books was putting the entire library of literature on line, with some controversy about copyright, but I had never expected to see my book included. Is that some mark of distinction? Probably not; but in any case, if it brings such satisfaction to families who never otherwise learn of their father’s experiences in the war, such as Arthur Rigby’s family, then that is of some value.