A Canadian Who Saved Ypres
A Sketch of Major-General Turner
C. LINTERN SIBLEY
EDITOR’S NOTE. — Why have Canada’s business men, serving as officers at the front, done so conspicuously well? Here's the reason —“Business men have to fight all their lives— for business is a fight. They have to match their brains against competitors all the time. They have to handle men—so that their energies will yield a profit instead of a loss. They are constantly being called upon to meet emergencies.”
YOU would never believe that MajorGeneral Richard Ernest William Turner, V.C., D.S.O., had an ounce of military blood in his veins, if you were to meet him in civil life.
You can tell some military men offhand, in particular those of commissioned rank. Apart from the full-chestednes9 of them, they have an impressive, dominating air, and are given to a certain delicacy of waist-line and snappy precision of speech.
These are the professional type.
The war is familiarizing us with another type altogether—the type of the captain of industry become the captain of war, and showing a native genius for his new work which is simply astounding. General Turner is of the latter kind.
If you were to meet him in private life, you would get the impression of a rather studious and not too robust young man, of very quiet and scholarly disposition.
His non-military characteristics are further emphasized by the fact that he wears glasses with lenses of extraordinary thickness.
Under ordinary circumstances, this fact alone would be sufficient to keep him out of the army—and it very nearly did. Had he not been a born fighter he would never have been able to surmount this handicap to military life.
AACHEN the South African War broke ’ * out he offered himself for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Being turned down by the local military authorities, on account of the aforesaid glasses, he went to headquarters at Ottawa, and offered himself there. Again
he was turned down.
Those who know the c i r c u instances say that he simply pestered the life out of the Ott a w a officials, and at last they gave him a
place in the force in order to get rid
He at once went back to Quebec, married the girl of his heart, and was soon sailing away to war in far-off South Africa.
In South Africa he seemed to take to campaigning as a duck takes to water. According to his superior officers young Turner could always be counted upon, as being “Johnny-on-the-spot.” In other words, where they wanted him to be, there he always was—eager, enterprising, and full of dash and go. According to the friends at home to whom he wrote, he regarded the campaign with all its dangers and hardships, as something of a glorified picnic.
THE feat for which he received the Victoria Cross took place in the action at Komati River, on November 7, 1900.
A desperate action was in progress between the Boers and the British forces. The Boers gained a dominating position commanding the British guns. They had
shot down the gun crews and swept all the approaches to the guns with rifle-fire. They were gradually closing in, and the capture of the guns appeared inevitable.
Young Turner, who had come up with his men to the support of the main British forces, met a withering rifle-fire from the Boers. Major MacMillan, who was with him, had his horse shot under him, and was wounded; and all around men were being hit.
Things looked decidedly bad, but Turner was not the man to give up hope.
“We must try to save the guns,” he Said, and called for volunteers to support him. A number immediately responded. Turning to the others, he shook hands with one or two of his nearest friends. He was under no illusion as to the danger of his task. He knew that the chances were 100 to 1 that he would never get back; but he hoped that enough would remain of his little force to hold the Boers off until they could get the guns away.
“Well, good-bye, boys. God bless you!”
he said. And off he and his heroic little band started on their mission.
They dashed across the field of fire. Then dismounting and deploying his men at close quarters, he actually succeeded in beating back the Boers and saving the guns. His little force paid heavily for their bravery, but they turned what had looked like a victory for the Boers into a defeat. The feat wa9 duly recorded in despatches by both Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener.
In this operation young Turner came literally within an ace of losing his life. He was shot in several places, his most severe wounds being in the shoulder and neck. That shot in the neck was a remarkable one. General Turner bears the scars of it now—one scar where the bullet entered the neck in front, and another where it made its exit at the back. Instead of going straight through the neck, the shot seems to have travelled around under the skin, and to have passed out without touching any vital part. Half an inch more one side or the other would have been fatal.
OF course, he was invalided home, and it was a long time before he fully recovered his strength. During his convalescence he paid a prolonged visit to France—never dreaming that he would come back to that country to take part in the greatest war of all time, and to perform there the greatest feats of his whole career.
Between the Boer war and the present one he was singled out for honor on several occasions. At Quebec on December 17,1901, the present King conferred upon him the V.C. and presented him with a sword of honor subscribed for by his fellow citizens. In the following year he received the D.S.O. and was gazetted Lieutenant-Colonel. In the same year he commanded the King’s Royal Escort at the Coronation of King Edward.
Meanwhile his interest in the volunteer militia of the Dominion, with which he had been connected before he went to South Africa, remained as active as ever. He attained the command of the 10th Queen’s Own Hussars in 1905, and two years later was appointed Commander of the 3rd Eastern Townships Cavalry Brigade—a position he retained until the present war broke out.
As Commander of Cavalry, he proved himself a great source of inspiration to the men, and made himself liked by everybody. He was always urging officers and men to make themselves as perfect as possible in both the theoretical and practical parts of military training. He presented a valuable shield for efficiency for competition by the Cavalry Regiments of the Province of Quebec. This shield has been won for three years in succession by the 13th Scottish Dragoons, who were greatly delighted when Col. Turner, as he then was, consented to become their honorary Colonel.
All this shows how deep the interest of General Turner was in military preparedness, and how well he himself was pre-
pared for the heavy responsibilities which were later to come to him.
\\T HEN the war broke out, the military * ’ authorities of the Dominion were only too delighted to make use of him. He was at once appointed a BrigadierGeneral, and was sent to Valcartier Camp to help organize the Expeditionary Force which was to become the greatest Armada that ever crossed the sea.
In France, Brigadier-General Turner was put in command of the 3rd Brigade, and he was stationed in the famous Ypres salient on that historic 22nd of April, when the Germans used their poisonous gas for the first time, and would have smashed through the lines on their road to Calais had it not been for the Canadians—and for General Turner.
The story of that terrible day is now a part of history. We are all familiar with its broad outlines — how the Germans, for the first time, pumped their suffocating gas in enormous clouds into the French trenches, and raked the French lines with a terrible bombardment of high explosives and shrapnel shells; how the French troops, largely made up of Turcos and Zodaves, their faces agonized and distorted with pain from the effects of the fumes, surged back in a wild, disorganized, panic-stricken crowd, leaving the line broken, and the Canadians, whose trenches adjoined theirs, in a position of dire peril, their flank and rear devoid of support, and the Germans pressing forward in wave-like attacks, in attempts to get behind them and cut them off.
It was an ordeal such as would try the most seasoned troops, and the men who had to meet this emergency were men from the factory, the counter and the farm in Canada.
■\Ä7 HAT happened is briefly recorded ** in Sir Max Aitken’s book on “Canada in Flanders.” He tells how it fell to General Turner to save the day. General Turner accepted the situation with the same quiet heroism he had shown when he saved the guns at Komati River. His prompt decision as to the course to adopt, and the undisturbed confidence of his demeanor, inspired his men to do heroic things that day. Swiftly General Turner began to extend his lines and to throw his left flank southward, so as to close up the line and bar the way to the Germans who were trying to force a passage through the gap and attack the lines on either side in the rear.
What he and his men endured during that frightful time of trial no pen can adequately tell. Everything calculated to shock the senses and make the spirit quail seemed to have broken loose at once—the blinding, choking poison clouds, the panicstricken Algerians who thought that the powers of hell itself had burst in fury upon them, the deluge of shells, and then night, with darkness to accentuate all the horrors. Still they fought on, with no thought but to keep the line from being pierced until reinforcements could arrive. General Turner was here, there, everywhere — inspiring his men, keeping up their spirits, and making quick dispositions to meet every move that the Germans made. Says Sir Max Aitken of that terrible test:
“The story of the second battle of Ypres is the story of how the Canadian Division, enormously outnumbered—for they had in front of them at least four Divisions, supported by immensely heavy artillery — with a gap still existing, though reduced, m their lines, and with dispositions made hurriedly under the stimulus of critical danger, fought through the day and through the night, and then through another day and night; fought under their officers until, as happened to so many, these perished gloriously, and then fought from the impulsion of sheer valor because they came from fighting stock.”
IT was during this battle, while readjusting the line, that the enemy took four British 4.7 guns, in a small wood to the west of the village of St. Julien. The General Officer commanding the Canadian Division ordered a counter attack, with the obiect of getting back the guns, to be made by the 3rd Infantry Brigade, under General Turner. This Brigade, with reinforcements, launched the attack at midnight—and thus General Turner found himself in another fierce struggle to save guns from the enemy. And, although the Canadians were sprayed with bullets from machine guns “like a watering pot,” and suffered heavy casualties, they drove the Germans out of the wood, and regained the guns, only to find that the Germans had rendered them useless. Later the wood had to be evacuated by the Canadians because it was raked by the Germans with a terrible artillery fire.
General Turner has done notable work 9ince then. But his greatest achievement will probably remain that successful swinging of his line and the barrage
Continued on page 81
\ Canadian Who Saved Ypres
Continued, from page 25
ch he and his men so successfully ef:ed to the most desperate efforts of the mans to break through the gap in the left by the panic-stricken Turcos, eneral Turner has matched his brains inst the finest German strategists and
ENERAL TURNER is of English and Irish origin, and belongs to a lily that has long been prominent in City of Quebec, where, by the way, vas born on July 25, 1871. His father he Hon. Richard T. Turner, who is a nber of the Legislative Council of the vince and is connected with many iness enterprises, the principal one9 ig the important wholesale grocery % of Whitehead & Turner and the •ner Lumber and Pulpwood Company, i extensive limits around Lake Ed•d, Que.
eneral Turner is the eldest son. He educated in the Quebec High School in England, and acquired his busis experiences under his father. His n business activities have been with wholesale grocery firm in Quebec, ch is an extensive importer of st India, China and Japan products, occupies an important position in provincial trade. In his position as of the heads of this firm, General ner was always known as a quiet and duous worker, very energetic and meiical, but hiding aggressive methods ind a most modest demeanor and ier delicate-looking physique.
iSKED Major Morri9, of the 13th Scottish Dragoons, who knows General ner well, how he explained the fact ; business men like General Turner— Seneral Turner is, after all, essentially isiness man rather than a parade sold-how it was that such men, with a ■t experience in the regular army, could v up so well against officers trained their lives in the science of warfare, 'ajor Morris’s answer is worth giving. This is how I figure it out,” he said, îen a man becomes a professional ier, his career is definitely mapped for him. He knows that if he reaches ;rtain standard and remains in the y a certain number of years, he will iromoted according to precedent. In ■r words, other things being equal,his ier is made for him. But business have to fight all their lives—for busi; is a fight. They have to match their ns against competitors all the time, y have to handle men, and not only He them, but direct those men so that r energies will yield a profit instead a loss. They are constantly leing ;d upon to meet emergencies and to :e decisions of importance. Their le business creed is that what they set nselves to do they must do.
When such men become officers they g to their new task trained intelli:e. splendid experience in handling
men, and an alertness to all emergencies that frequently proves amazing to professional soldiers. Once they have mastered the details of soldiering they bring the brains of trained business fighters into play, and they prove themselves equally as capable in war as in business to handle men under any circumstances and meeting any difficulty.
“Here in Canada business men hold that nothing is impossible. Look at the men who build our railways. Nothing can stop them. Look at the men who develop our natural resources, and build up our industries. No difficulty is too great for them to tackle. And when men, trained in the resourceful, self-reliant business life of Canada, turn their splendid abilities to making war, they show that the qualities which distinguish them in one field of endeavor will distinguish them also in another. That is how I account for General Turner’s success as a soldier. He is a business man of high intelligence, and splendid training, with fighting blood in his veins.”
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