107th (Timber Wolf) Pioneer Battalion

 

 

107th (Timber Wolf) Pioneer Battalion Badge

The 107th (Winnipeg) Battalion, CEF was authorized on 4 November 1915 as an infantry battalion. Recruiting by the 32nd Manitoba Horse started in Winnipeg starting that same month. How it was recruited and manned is unique in Canadian Military history and is centred on the life and times of a notable Canadian, Glenlyon Archibald Campbell.

Lieutenant-Colonel Glen Campbell

Lt-Col Glen Campbell, DSOGlen, as he was known, was born in Fort Pelly, Saskatchewan, in 1863, the son of a Hudson’s Bay Company chief trader. Campbell was educated at Glasgow Academy and the Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh and worked as a farmer and rancher upon returning to Canada. He helped to establish the community of Gilbert Plains in 1884, after purchasing the first house constructed in the community from Gilbert Ross, for whom the community is named. Two years later, he married Harriet Burns, the daughter of Ojibwe Chief Keeseekoowenin and Ross’ cousin.

Campbell served with Boulton’s Scouts, an irregular mounted unit raised in Manitoba, during the North-West Resistance of 1885 and was promoted to captain at the Battle of Batoche in May 1885. He spoke Ojibwe and Cree fluently. Needless to say, Glen Campbell developed strong ties to Manitoba First Nation communities before the war. Campbell also served in the Manitoba Legislature and in the Canadian House of Commons as the Member for Dauphin, Manitoba. He was defeated in 1911, but the ruling Conservative Party under Robert Borden awarded him a position as Chief Inspector of Indian Affairs in western Canada with an office in Winnipeg and a salary of $3,000.

When the Great War began in 1914, Campbell approached the prime minister, Sir Robert Laird Borden, and the minister of militia, Samuel Hughes, to be allowed to raise a “hard-riding battalion of natives and cowpunchers”. Despite his age and limited military experience, Hughes made him a major and assigned him to raise a company for the 79th Infantry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) based in Brandon, Manitoba. Once he had completed that task, he asked to raise his own battalion. Hughes granted permission on 4 November 1915.

107th Infantry Battalion, CEF

Camp Hughes, 10 miles west of Carberry, MB
Camp Hughes, 10 miles west of
Carberry, MB

The 107th Infantry Battalion had no links to any existing Militia unit. With his own reputation, the motto “Follow me” and a Pipes and Drum Band playing the regimental march, “The Campbells are coming,” he recruited in Western Canada in November 1915 and within three months, he had more than 1,700 applicants from which to select approximately 1,000 officers and men required for an infantry battalion. More than half the applicants were Indigenous Canadians from the Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Haudenosaunee, Dakota, Delaware and Mi’kmaq nations. He even recruited boys from Indian Industrial Schools in Manitoba, saying “Were those lads with me, would be under closer and more kindly supervision than in any other Battalion in the west…even if they were not quite eighteen years of age.” The inspector-general reported that the “NCOs and men are very good, of good physique and above average intelligence, though few hold certificates.”

In June 1916 the 107th moved to the new Camp Hughes, just west of Carberry, Manitoba for serious training. Language instruction was provided for troops who did not speak English and Campbell often conducted training and daily administrative matters in Cree and Ojibwe. Unfortunately, Campbell’s own senior officer’s course was interrupted by extended stays in the hospital, during which he battled a serious kidney infection. Despite that, now Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell was appointed as Commanding Officer on 18 September 1916. At the age of 52, he was one of the oldest COs in the CEF.

On 25 October 1916, the 997-strong battalion arrived in Liverpool, England aboard the steamship, Olympic. By this time, the moniker, 107th (Timber Wolf) Battalion had been adopted and was displayed on their badges. The Timber Wolf may have been selected because it was a common totem to many of the native soldiers or because the battalion used a wolf cub as a mascot at Camp Hughes. In Britain, the 107 th Battalion was one of many units scheduled to be broken up for reinforcements, but Campbell fought to keep Indigenous soldiers together, believing they would be treated poorly and subjected to racism in other units. Campbell won the fight and the Battalion was kept together and was redesignated as the 107th Pioneer Battalion on 27 January 1917. Lt-Col Campbell noted their “ability to adapt themselves without complaint to awkward circumstances and bad weather, which rendered their efficiency as a pioneer battalion far above the average.” He also shared the belief with many senior officers of the day, that Indigenous troops would serve better under Indigenous leadership. Efforts were made to post as many Indigenous officers and non-commissioned officers as could be found to the 107th Battalion.

The 107th (Timber Wolf) Pioneer Battalion

Wolf cub mascot of the 107th (Timber Wolf) Battalion
Wolf cub mascot of the
107th (Timber Wolf) Battalion

The new pioneer battalion had less than a month of training in Witley Camp in Surrey to learn the sapper skills they would need at the front. Early on the morning of 25 February 1917, they left Witley and embarked at Folkstone, arriving in Boulogne later that afternoon with a strength of 45 officers and 861 other ranks. Although many of the pioneers had civilian skills that would stand the Battalion in good stead, most came from farming, ranching, trapping and hunting backgrounds. When they replaced the deleted and worn-out 1st Pioneer Battalion in the 1st Division on 1 March 1917, they would have to learn fast. They were the last battalion from Western Canada to join the Canadian Corps.

Pioneers in Action

When the Battalion arrived at the front, the Canadian Corps had been in the Vimy Ridge Sector since the previous October. No major operations had occurred over the long winter and action was focused on trench raiding using small-scale surprise attacks on enemy positions, often at night. Both sides used trench raiding as a tactic to harass and gain intelligence, and the Canadian Corps saw trench raiding as a way to develop small-unit leadership. Raiding parties varied in size from a few men to an entire company. In the month before the attack Vimy Ridge planned for April, the Canadian Corps executed more than 55 trench raids. Raiding parties were typically made up of infantry soldiers, but on many occasions, they were accompanied by Canadian Engineer sappers.

In the first week of March, the Canadian Corps had just received orders outlining Vimy Ridge as the Canadian Corps objective for the Arras Offensive planned for April. The Canadians had been preparing since February, building underground subways with light rail lines, hospitals, command posts, water reservoirs, ammunition stores, mortar and machine gun posts and communication centres. Campbell’s men were soon engaged in an endless series of exhausting and often dangerous tasks behind the lines. Typical activities included moving ammunition into forward storage areas, digging and repairing trenches, constructing dugouts and shelters, hauling ammunition, burying telephone cables, erecting and repairing barbed wire fences, building roads, laying tracks for light railroads from rear area supply depots to the front and building plank roads so artillery could be pulled forward through the mud. During the battle of Vimy Ridge, they were kept busy repairing roads, tunnels and light rail lines to keep the troops moving and supplied.

From late June until mid-July 1917, the Battalion held a section of the frontline along with other infantry battalions of the 1st Division. At the same time as they kept to the same routines, fighting and maintaining their trenches as infantry, they provided significant work parties to conduct engineering battlefield preparation works. Among all the other repair, maintenance and construction tasks they had, repairing and maintaining the VIMY-LENS and the GIVENCHY Roads were a main focus for the Battalion over the next few months.

In August, the Allies continued their offensive. The Canadian Corps had been assigned the capture the city of Lens by frontal assault. General Currie, the Canadian Commander judged that to be a pointless task and asked instead to assault Hill 70, a major feature dominating the city. He was granted permission and after weeks of preparation, the Canadians advanced up the slope, countered German attempts to push them back, and captured the hill after four days of hard fighting on 18 August 1917. The role of the 107th Battalion was to follow the assault troops across no-man's-land and dig, while under fire, communication trenches from the Canadian lines to the newly captured enemy front lines. The zig-zag trenches provided safe movement for follow-on troops and supplies and fend off German counter-attacks. On the first day, the three companies of about 200 men each, lost 21 dead and 130 badly wounded. Private Anderson, a Cree from Saskatchewan, won the Military Medal for his bravery.

The battle continued for three more days with shelling and gas hindering, but not stopping the work of the Pioneers. On the night of 17/18, they were ordered to the rear for rest - the last 1st Division unit to leave the hill. Remarkably, one company asked to stay behind to rescue wounded troops, primarily of the 10th Battalion. During the operation, the Germans attacked with blister gas, positioning 88 members of the Battalion. In the end, the battalion was praised by both General Currie and the Commanding Officer of the 10th Battalion. The underlying message of courage though is hidden in this praise. It takes more than good planning and equipment to dig a 600-yard zig-zag trench under heavy artillery fire. It takes more than good ideas to cause an exhausted Company to volunteer to stay behind under fire to look for casualties and bury the dead. Such were the officers and men of the 107 th Pioneer Company.

Notable Indigenous Soldiers

Many soldiers in the 107th Battalion stood out against all others. Canadian Army records do not differentiate by race, so it is not easy to separate Indigenous soldiers from others. A few have been identified in other ways and are mentioned here. More will be added as they are found.

Joseph Benjamin Keeper
Joseph Benjamin Keeper

As was common in those days, frontline units used dispatch runners to carry handwritten messages at the Western Front. Among the soldiers employed as runners were Tom Longboat, an Onondaga soldier from the Six Nations of the Grand River, Joseph Keeper from the Norway House Cree Nation, and A. Jamieson. Longboat won the 1907 Boston Marathon and participated in the 1908 Olympics. Corporal Keeper was an Olympic long-distance runner who was awarded a Military Medal for bravery during the Battle of Cambrai.

Colonel Campbell Dies in Hospital

Lt-Colonel Glen Campbell earned two Mentions in Dispatches and the Distinguished Service Order during hios time in Command. His success in raising the 107th Pioneer Battalion and holding it together in exhausting and dangerous work was evidence of his strong character. But, his own health suffered greatly. On 13 October 1917, as the Battalion readied for the attack on Passchendaele, he was admitted to a British general hospital at Camiers with a renewed bout of his kidney trouble. Eight days later he was dead. He was buried in the nearly Etaples Military Cemetery, France.

Afternote

The 107th Pioneer Battalion served until the reorganization of the Canadian Engineers took effect in March 1918.

The 107th Battalion was awarded the following battle honours:

  • ARRAS, 1917+
  • Vimy, 1917, 9–14 April 1917+
  • Arleux
  • Scarpe, 1917,3–4 May 1917
  • HILL 70, 15–25 August 1917+
  • YPRES 1917, 31 July–10 November 1917
  • Passchendaele, 12 October 1917 or 26 October–10 November 1917+
  • SOMME 1918
  • FRANCE AND FLANDERS, 1917-18

The 107th Battalion is not perpetuated by the Canadian Army.

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