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.

1 comment:

  1. A touching story. I admire the loyalty and creativity of Mowat's unit.