A Mi’kmaq Tunneller's Story - Sgt Sam Glode, DSM

Badge of the Canadian Engineers worn in the Great War
Sappers at Work: A Canadian Tunnelling Company, Hill 60, St Eloi by David Bomberg, which bears a reference to 1st Canadian Tunnelling Company
Mr. Glode with his medals (Distinguished Conduct Medal, British War Medal, Victory Medal) taken by Clara Dennis
Publication Date: 
06 Apr 2017

This following story has been extracted from a longer article, Sam Glode: Travels of a Micmac, originally written by Ronald Caplan and published in the Cape Breton's Magazine in 1983.  The article relates the stories told by Sam Glode, a Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq, from the time of his birth until 1944.  The author based the article on interviews with Sam Glode by Thomas H. Randall.  The whole story is well worth reading.  Only Sam's war experience is printed here and starts after Sam has spent a rather tough winter and spring as a lumberjack, trapper and guide, 

I lived like that, guiding sports in the spring. Summer, and fall, trapping in the winters, till the fall of 1915. That fall I was working with a small gang at Five Mile on the road from Milton to Annapolis. We were felling hemlocks for a Milton lum? berman named Lloyd. The trees were big and we worked in pairs. I worked with another Indian from Milton, named John Francis. The weather was hot and it was hard work. One day, after John and me had felled a big hemlock, we stuck our axes in the stump and sat down for a rest. We were tired of the whole job, really. We knew about the war overseas, and we knew the Canadian army was paying $1.10 a day, besides your clothes and grub. So John said to me, "Sam, let's go to the war. It can't be no worse than this."

So we got our pay from Lloyd and quit the job. We walked down to Liverpool. A doctor named Trites examined us and sent us on to Halifax, where the Army signed us on. We were sent by train to join a new regiment, the 64th Battalion, at Sussex Camp, New Brunswick. Some time that winter, after Christmas, I think, we sailed to England with the Battalion. We landed at Liverpool and got off the train at Liphook Station and marched to Bramshott Camp. We were there a few weeks, and then went to a camp at West Sandling, near the town of Hythe in Kent. We were there quite a long while, drilling every day, and shooting on the rifle ranges at Hythe.

They were taking drafts from our battalion for the regiments on the Western Front, and my friend John Francis had gone across to France in a draft to the 25th Nova Scotia Regiment. I was chummy with a fellow named Steve Battersby who had been a coal miner in Cape Breton. We were in the same tent. One day I was in the tent and Steve stuck his head in the door and yelled, "Come on, Sam. Quick! Get out on this parade with me." So I went out on the parade with him and quite a few others that had been miners before the war. The army in France had sent a call for volunteers for a fining company of the Canadian Engineers. I told Steve, "I'm not a miner," and he said, "Shut up. You want to see France, don't you? First thing we know, the war will be over, and the 64th is never going to get there." So I shut up, and we were all sent to a camp at Shorncliff.

Then we went by train to Southampton and crossed over the Channel to Le Havre. From there we went by train to a place called Poperinghe in Belgium. It was near a place called Wipers (Ypres) where there had been a lot of fighting, and the Germans were dug in on the high ground. At Poperinghe, I and some others were picked out of the draft and sent to No. 1 Canadian Tunnel? ling Company. Royal Canadian Engineers [sic]. They were at a place called La Clyte. We could see the German lines along Messines Ridge, and I'll never forget the first night. I stayed out most of the night, watching the flares go up over no man's  land, like fireworks, and hearing the cannons and bursts of rifle and machine-gun fire. It was like a big show, and kind of pretty in the night. This was in the summer of 1916.

The next night we went up to the front line trenches, which were on a rise facing over a long stretch of low ground towards Messines Ridge. The idea was to give us the lay of the land before we started to dig the tunnel towards the ridge. When daylight came it was fairly quiet till a German airplane came over, sailing slow and high. The infantry soldiers in the trench didn't do anything about it, so I did. I put up my rifle and shot at the airplane till it was away out of range. Late that afternoon the German artillery on Messines Ridge began to shell our trench and kept it up a long time. They scared us bad, I tell you. We were all green hands, and we would leave our rifles and run along the trench away from every shell burst. Then another shell would burst near us and we would run down the trench again. Some fellows got hit and they hollered and there was a lot of blood. Everybody said it was my fault for shooting at the plane. But I said I didn't hit it. Anyhow, I didn't shoot at planes after that.

The next day our bunch was sent along a communication trench to a place behind the rise where the front line trenches were. This was the place where the engineer officers had decided to begin a tunnel to the German lines. From the Canadian front line the ground sloped down to nno man's land, so we had to go down 80 feet straight before we could start the drift- tunnel towards the ridge. It was all pick and shovel work, mostly in hard blue clay. At night we took the clay out of the shaft in sacks and dumped it in a ravine back of the reserve trench, and there was net camouflage over the ravine to keep the German airplanes from seeing what we were doing. But the Germans knew just the same.

There was another bunch of Canadian tunnel- lers on our right, digging a shaft at a place called The Bluff. The Germans dug a tunnel of their own to it, and blew it in with dynamite. It blew up about 300 feet of the Canadian front line trench as well, and left a big crater.

By this time, I was a corporal, and one morning the sergeant left me in charge of the section working in the tunnel. We had got the tunnel dug pretty well under no-man's land. Two or three men worked with picks and shovels at the "face," and the rest worked at timbering the sides and roof. About 20 men in all. An iron pipe brought fresh air to us, driven by a fan in the vertical shaft behind the Canadian front line.

We knew the Germans were tunnelling. We had a man with a listening outfit. On this particular day, all of a sudden he said, "Say, the Germans have stopped working," We stopped for awhile ourselves, wondering what that meant. Nothing happened. Finally we went on with the work. I was sitting on a ledge in the tunnel, watching the men timbering up behind the diggers at the "face," All of a sudden everything went black. I felt like somebody had hit me on the head with a big club. I don't know how long I sat there like that. When I came to my senses I was wet with sweat and my ears were singing like a steam whistle was inside them. Our candles had gone out. I could hear some men stirring, but nobody spoke till I did. I called out the names of the ones that had been nearest to me, and they answered me, but their voices sounded queer. I went over all the names in the section, and they all answered, one by one. We couldn't figure what had happened. We were too dazed to figure anything, I guess. I noticed the air was very bad and when I tried to light a candle it wouldn't light. The officer had left an electric torch in the tunnel, and I fumbled around and found it. When I switched it on, I could see that the tunnel had collapsed behind us and in front of us. We were in a kind of cave. Some of the men said, "What are we going to do?" I said, "Get out of this as quick as we can."

I figured the only chance was to dig up to the surface. It couldn't be far. So I took a pick and began to tear a hole in the roof of our cave. The others didn't offer to help, they just watched me, dull-like. They had all been coal miners, and they couldn't think of anything but that 80-foot shaft straight down before the tunnel began. It's something to be an Indian, af? ter all. You look at a piece of country and it's like a picture in your mind. I remembered the long dip of the ground between our front line trench and the Germans.

I kept picking away. The air got worse and worse. I had to force myself to work, but I was desperate and I was strong. I don't know how long it took. Hours and hours. And I can't remember how far up I had to dig. That blue clay wasn't so hard up there towards the surface, and after a time I could dig through it better. At last. I struck with a shovel and went through turf, and there was daylight and a rush of cold air. You could breathe good then. I called out to the men below to light a candle, and they lit one and it burned all right. I widened the hole in the surface a bit, and scrambled down to the others. I said, "That hole is in no man's land, where the Germans can shoot any head that shows. We will have to wait till dark, and then slip out one by one, and make our way back to our own lines."

It was about sundown then, so we didn't have long to wait. Still, it was risky for twenty men in the open, what with the German flares dnd the way they could shoot from the high ground. Just as I was going to lead off, out of that hole, a fellow who had been lying with his head against the air-pipe called out, "Hey, listen here." I went down and put my ear to the pipe. There was no air coming through it, but I could hear a faint click-click-click. The fellow said, "The other boys are try? ing to dig through the tmnel to us." I was still for trying it in the open air in the dark, but the others thought it was too risky, and they wanted to wait for a rescue through the tunnel. They still seemed dazed-like. Nobody was doing anything. So I said, "Look, if the other boys are trying to dig through to us, we've got to work from our end," And I started with a shovel, digging away along the pipeline and throwing the dirt behind me. After awhile, two or three of them began to dig the same, and I kept talking to them, to courage them up, and after awhile they were all taking turns with the shovels.

After a long time we heard a loud clink. One of the rescue party had struck the pipe with a shovel and it sounded pretty close. We tore away at the fallen clay and timbers from our side, and all of a sudden a shovel came right through in front of my face, and I saw a light. Someone behind the light said, "Are you all right, boys?" I said, "Yes." He said, "All of you?" And I said, "Yes, all of us. We got shook up bad, but nobody's hurt bad."

The other boys helped us to walk out of the tunnel and up the shaft. When we got up there, in the open air, one of my section said, "Sam, see if you can get us a rum ration. We got to have it." By this time it was near the end of the night. We still had our army water-bottles, which we slung on every day when we went to work in the tunnel, because it was thirsty work. They were empty now, of course, so I took a couple of them and went to the dugout of our C/0, Major McCormick. It was a big dugout with blankets across the doorway and a table and chairs inside. I brushed the blankets aside and went in, but I didn't salute, I forgot, and for a minute I couldn't talk.

He was studying a map of the tunnel, and he looked up and stared at me. He said, "My God, is it you, Glode?" I said, "Yes, sir. I come for the rum ration. We got to have it." So he called an orderly and got one of those army rum jars that were marked S.R.D., and he poured into the water-bottles enough for a double ration for the twenty of us. Then he took a mug and poured a stiff swig for me, extra. I could talk better, then. I said, "By God, that's good." The Major said, "Can the boys walk?" I said, "Yes, I think so, when they've had a drink." So he said, "Well, give them a drink all round and then take them back to camp. You've all had enough of this game for awhile." We weren't long getting that rum inside us and walking back to the camp, I tell you. We had a long rest before we were put to work again.

The old tunnel was abandoned, and we were shifted to a new place well to the right. This time we dug a shaft 180 feet straight down before we began the tunnel towards the German lines. It was a careful job, so the Germans didn't catch on. There were other tunnelling companies doing the same, boring deep towards the Messines Ridge. We used to work 6 days in the tunnel and 4 days out at La Clyte for a rest. The whole job took about a year.

We finished that tunnel sometime in the early summer of 1917. We then worked for 20 days, carrying explosives in metal boxes that must have weighed about 50 pounds each. When that job was done we all got a short leave out to Saint Omer. We knew when the tunnels were to be blown. When the time came, we were all watching from the top of a little hill near La Clyte. At 2.30 in the morning, there was a kind of thud. Then the ground shook to and fro like it was shivering. Then we saw flames shoot up high in the dark over the ridge. Then the guns opened up. Hundreds of guns. That was some noise, I tell you. Along towards daylight, the infantry went o- ver no-man's-land and up the ridge. I guess they didn't find many Germans in any shape to fight because they took the ridge easy.

Later on that fall, we were sent into the Wipers (Ypres) salient for a job in the battle towards Passchendaele. We started to dig a sap. I don't know what kind of job it was supposed to be, but you couldn't dig anything deep around there because the ground was all mud and water. I never saw such a mess. Before long we got orders to quit, and we were shifted back out of the salient.

After that our company moved down to Vimy Ridge. We dug a lot of dugouts and such? like for the defence system on the ridge. This was during the winter and early spring of 1917-1918. I had been made a sergeant after that tunnel job at Messines. One day, in a village back of Vimy where we were billeted, the Major called me out in front of the morning parade and pinned on my tunic the ribbon of the Distinguished Conduct Medal. I didn't get the medal itself till quite a long time afterwards. Here it is--look at it. There's my name cut in the bottom edge, "Sergt. S. Glode, Canadian Engineers." They only give it to NCOs.

In the summer of 1918, our company moved down to Amiens with the rest of the Canadian troops, for the big push there. No tunnelling. Just ordinary army engineer work, patching up roads and that kind of thing behind the battle. The army kept pushing the Germans back all that summer and fall, and in November it was all over. I got back to Nova Scotia in the spring of 1919. I was 41.

My son Louis had enlisted in another Nova Scotia regiment when he was about sixteen. He got wounded in the rump by a piece of shell, but it wasn't bad and he came home all right. He married an Indian girl in Milton and built a little house there. He worked in the Milton pulp mill.

I never liked to work indoors, so I went on living like before, living alone in my shack in the woods outside the Potanoc settlement, guiding sports in the fishing and hunting seasons, cutting some pulpwood on my own land in the winters. I joined the Canadian Legion at Liverpool, and used to go down there a lot, talking to the other veterans over a few drinks of beer or rum.

The DCM Citation reads" On 19th/20th November 1918, he was in charge of a party searching for mines and demolition charges in the vicinity of St-Pierre. He showed great devotion to duty and an utter disregard of personal danger, and successfully removed 450 charges."

Recorded in London Gazette on 3 Aug 1919 and 11 Mar 1920

Thomas H. Raddall prepared this article from notes made during interviews at his home in Liverpool and at Sam Glode's shack near Milton, in 1944. It is edited from the manuscript in Dalhousie University Archives, published here with permission of Charles Armour, Archivist. Our thanks to Ruth Whitehead, Historian at the Nova Scotia Museum, who first told us about Sam Glode, and who lent us photographs she had located. Photo of Mr. Glode with his medals (Distinguished Conduct Medal, British War Medal, Victory Medal) taken by Clara Dennis courtesy of the Nova Scotia Museum. 

Read the entire article at http://capebretonsmagazine.com/modules/publisher/item.php?itemid=1606

(Note by Thomas H. Randall): Sam Glode died in Camp Hill Hospital, Halifax, Oct. 25, 1957, after an illness of some months. He was 79. I was present with a Legion party at his burial in the R. C. cemetery on College Hill, Liverpool.)