A Croydonian on the Western Front

By - Friday 9th October, 2015

The story of a Croydonian’s experiences in the ‘war to end all wars’, told by his grandson

Photo author’s own.

My grandfather, Leonard Fuller, was born in Croydon in 1896. He lived at 109 Queens Road, until the family emigrated in 1910 to Winnipeg. On 30th August 1915, at the age of 19, he volunteered to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Winnipeg. He was recruited as a gunner with the 37th Battery of the 10th Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery.

After training in Winnipeg, the journey to France began on 17th February 1916. It was punctuated by prolonged stays of rest and training between each leg of the journey. Following a stay at Witley, the 37th Battery, as part of the 10th Brigade, finally arrived in Le Havre, France on 14th July 1916.

In the Canadian archives are the war diaries for their armed forces which record in detail, on a daily basis, the activities of the brigade in the field. In addition, the 37th Battery’s lieutenant, E. B. Pitblado, kept a private diary of his war experiences which is now stored at the University of Manitoba. From these documents, I have pieced together a picture of Leonard’s life as a gunner.

The war diaries record both action and the dull monotony of war

On their arrival in France, the brigade consisted of 31 officers, 609 other ranks and 597 horses. They went by train from Le Havre and were finally billeted at Steenvoorde near Ypres to relieve another brigade. The first recorded casualty was a member of the HQ staff being kicked by a horse at Le Havre, and the first fatality was a horse on the train journey across Northern France. The brigade trained, marched, rested and fought in various locations across the Western Front from Ypres to the Somme.

The war diaries recorded everything from the action against the Germans to the dull monotony of war. Many entries are limited to comments on the weather and “all quiet on the front”, “church parade”, “training”. However, as one would expect, the toll of the wounded and fallen was recorded. The death of an officer was often documented in detail with their name and details of the burial service and/or location, whilst the other ranks were just noted as numbers with a map reference of their grave.

On the lighter side, ‘normal life’ continued and was recorded from time to time. Christmas Day 1916 was documented as follows:

“Christmas Day was very quiet. HQ and the batteries celebrated in the usual way. Officers had a turkey dinner whilst the other ranks had geese, although they arrived too late at the 37th Battery to be any good. Nevertheless, the other ranks did have a good spread and celebrated until midnight despite a few shells sent to the Germans lines to quell their occasional pot shots”.

In February 1917, the brigade won second prize after entering six horses and a wagon in the ‘Divisional Horse Show’. According to Lieutenant Pitblado’s diary, the preparations for the show occupied the battery for the preceding week, with references to cleaning the harnesses and grooming the horses on a daily basis.

Over the intervening months, there are references to replacement men, horses and equipment joining the brigade to make up the losses and men moved between the batteries, presumably to spread the experienced men amongst the new arrivals. Leonard Fuller was promoted to Corporal in October 1916 with the note on his records “to complete establishment”.

After the war, Leonard used a gratuity for his war service to return to Croydon

In August 1917, Leonard Fuller was granted three weeks’ leave. On his return, the brigade was in action at Vimy and then made its way back to Ypres and took part in the latter stages of the Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as Passchendaele. However, Leonard Fuller’s war ended on 31st October 1917 when he was taken to the field hospital with ‘PUO’ recorded against his records. ‘PUO’ meant ‘ Pyrexia, Unknown Origin’. In other words, a fever, probably trench fever. He was transferred to Rouen, and finally spent about a month in the Southern General Hospital in Portsmouth.

Prior to going back to the regiment, he spent a week at Woodcote Park in Epsom (now the RAC club) for convalescence. In December 1917, he joined the Canadian Artillery Reserve Regiment in Witley, and spent the remainder of the war in the UK. Leonard Fuller returned to Canada, sailing from Liverpool in December 1918 and was finally demobilised in Winnipeg on 24th January 1919.

Following demobilisation, Leonard applied for and was granted a gratuity for his war service. With this gratuity, $420, Leonard left his family in Winnipeg and came home to Croydon in 1920. During the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, he lived in 96 Churchill Road, Croydon prior to retiring to Hythe in Kent. The reason for his return from Canada is lost in time. However, I have heard numerous and diverse reasons from various sources. My mother did tell me that he returned to marry the daughter of the vicar from Croydon. This never occurred – the reason why is also is lost to history.

Papa Delta

Papa Delta

A born and bred Croydonian who now visits Croydon on a weekly basis as a tourist from nearby Wallington. My musical interests are somewhat eclectic with my tastes being honed at the Sunday night gigs at the Greyhound and the local folk clubs in the mid seventies. As I am now on the silver scrap heap and the family have flown the nest I do my best to get out and about in Croydon and the environs to see bands that are familiar in name and/or style or to blind taste news acts be they folk, rock or even a bit of roll!

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  • Stephen Giles

    Fascinating article, many thanks and keep on rockin’!

  • Anne Giles

    I am 74 and am definitely not on the silver scrap heap. There is no such thing!

  • Sean Creighton

    Thanks for writing this. My father was born in Winnipeg in 1913. My grandfather and grand uncle were both in the CEF both wounded twice, and both treated in Britain. The CEF took a punishing toll of dead and wounded. In Britain we pay very little attention to Canadian history and its connections with Britain except for our victory over the French at Quebec.This is a great pity. I drew attention to aspects of that interconnection in my talk at the Canadian Black Studies Conference in May in Halifax, Nova Scotia.