History

Corporal George Henry Fisher

Today (8th August 1918) marks the opening day of the Battle of Amiens – the beginning of the end on the Western Front.

 1426791 Corporal George Henry Fisher, 13th Battalion Canadian Infantry, The Royal Highlanders of Canada, Canadian Expeditionary Force (1889-1918).  (From Wedmore)

A family group (above picture)  – George Fisher is standing back right.

George Henry Fisher, the youngest son of Lot Fisher (1845-1934) and his wife Emily (1849-1929) nee Kitley, was born on 16th May 1889 at Guildhall in Wedmore. He had five brothers – Joseph, Charles, Richard, Ernest and John – and four sisters: Elizabeth, Mary, Eliza and Selina. On 16th June 1886 he was christened at St Mary’s Church. His father Lot worked as a haulier delivering stone for road building in the local area and his mother supplemented their limited income by working as taxi driver with her pony and trap, a part-time midwife and caretaker at the nearby Methodist Chapel on Sand Road. The large Fisher family lived life close to the breadline despite all their best endeavours, perhaps persuading George to seek a better future overseas in the Dominions. On 22nd March 1910 George, his brother Richard and his niece Emily emigrated to Canada, probably having applied for an assisted package from the Canadian government, aboard the SS Grampian (a steamship of the Allan Line). Landing at Halifax in Nova Scotia George and his other family members eventually settled in the province of Saskatchewan.

 

25 year-old George Fisher enlisted into the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Arcola in Saskatchewan on 20th February 1915, describing himself on his attestation papers as a wheelwright by trade. A bachelor Fisher was described by the examining medical officer as being 5 foot 7 inches in height, having a sandy complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. The new recruit joined the 46th Battalion Canadian Infantry (Saskatechewan Regiment). This newly-formed hostilities only unit moved to Camp Sewell in Manitoba on 28th May for further training. On 21st October 1915 Fisher embarked with his unit at Halifax Nova Scotia aboard the SS Lapland – a ship of the Red Star Line – and landed at Devonport on 30th October. While the unit was under intensive training at Bramshott Camp in Hampshire, set up and run by the Canadian military authorities, Fisher was promoted Lance Corporal on 1st November 1915. The 46th Battalion Canadian Infantry was not destined to serve immediately in France, however, with most of its trained officers and men distributed to other units that had already suffered heavy casualties in France. On 16th June 1916 Fisher crossed the English Channel and three days later joined the 13th Battalion Canadian Infantry The Royal Highlanders of Canada, in the field where he reverted to the rank of Private.

 

The 13th Battalion Canadian Infantry, part of the 3rd Brigade in the 1st Canadian Division, saw service with Fisher in its ranks on the Somme during the summer and autumn of 1916 including the intense fighting at Pozieres, Thiepval and on the Ancre Heights, before being redeployed further northwards on the Western Front. On 27th October 1916 Fisher was attached to the 176th Canadian Tunnelling Company, responsible for driving mines deep under the German frontline trenches where explosives would be detonated and countering similar activities by the Imperial German Army. It was hard, highly dangerous work. Following the collapse of a mine tunnel on 28th November, Fisher was briefly buried and suffered injuries to his right shoulder leading to his hospitalisation at No. 2 Canadian Field Ambulance and later No. 3 Canadian Field Ambulance for 10 days. On 20th December 1916 Fisher reported back for duty with the 13th Battalion Canadian Infantry and in late January 1917 was restored to the rank of Lance Corporal.

 

During 1917 the Royal Highlanders of Canada saw further heavy fighting on the Western Front, most notably at Arras, Vimy Ridge and during the ill-starred Passchendaele offensive during the late summer and autumn. On 19th June 1917 Fisher reverted to the rank of Private at his own request. In September 1917 George Fisher spent 10 days leave in England presumably when the photograph of Jack, Wilfred and George Fisher was taken. The Royal Highlanders spent the winter of 1917-1918 in the comparatively quiet Lens – Vimy Ridge sector of the Western Front, resting, training and carrying out periodic tours of duty in the enlivened by frequent trench raids. On 19th January 1918 George Fisher was promoted Acting Lance Corporal with pay while the battalion was resting out of the line. Unfortunately Fisher was wounded in action during a German gas attack on 13th February 1918 and while being treated at hospital was assessed as suffering from chronic fatigue. Despite his condition on 17th February 1918 he was promoted Lance Corporal and a month later was made full Corporal.

 

The Canadian troops defending the heavily fortified Vimy area were spared the full onslaught of the German spring offensives on 31st March 1918 that shattered the British 5th Army, ended the stalemate of trench warfare and drove the British Expeditionary Force reeling back towards the English Channel. Early in May it was withdrawn from holding a long, quiet stretch of the Western Front into GHQ Reserve and for next three months saw no action. With the end of trench warfare in sight, it began intensive training for open warfare practising mobile operations in close cooperation with tanks and aircraft. In July the Canadian Corps was released from reserve and deployed in the frontline near Arras to deliberately draw German attention to the area.

 

The numerically strong, well equipped and fresh Canadian Corps – by early 1918 regarded alongside the Australians as the British Expeditionary Force’s shock troops – was selected late in July as the spearhead of an offensive mounted by 4th Army near Amiens, against the now exhausted and badly over-extended German Army. It quickly redeployed in great secrecy and launched its surprise attack at 4.30am on 8th August 1918, supported by heavy artillery bombardment of the German defences and gun batteries, with infantry and tanks advancing closely behind a rolling barrage. The 13th Battalion Canadian Infantry, still part of the 3rd Brigade in 1st Canadian Division, was deployed to make the initial advance in the centre of the brigade sector through the heavily fortified Hangard Wood, Croates Trench and onwards towards the initial objective – the enemy main line of resistance codenamed the Green Line 6000 yards away on the high ground beyond. A light mist thickened by smoke made visibility extremely poor as the advance began. Some 30 casualties were immediately inflicted by ‘friendly’ artillery as the troops left their jumping-off points whose shells fell short amongst the advancing infantry. As it’s War Diary recorded:

 

Our men got away to a good start with dreadful determination in spite of being worried by our own artillery shorts but owing to the combination of ground mist and smoke shells a dense fog was created through which one could see only a distance of 10 yards… First, HANGARD WOOD had to be cleared and here several Hun machine gun nests were encountered, resulting in many of our gallant boys becoming casualties.

 

Although stiff resistance was encountered at Croates Trench, the Royal Highlanders of Canada reached the Green line by 8.00am and dug-in. The leading infantry of 2nd Brigade quickly passed through this position followed by mounted British cavalry to exploit the early success.

 

The Canadian Corps achieved a decisive victory on 8th August 1918, with its four divisions taking all their objectives, advancing to a depth of 6-7 miles into the German defences – a record to date on the Western Front – and tearing a wide hole in the German front line. Five enemy divisions were shattered and morale plummeted in the German Army. Over 10,000 prisoners of war were taken along with unprecedented quantities of artillery pieces, machine guns and material that the Germans had massed for a planned attack on Amiens. Indeed, 8th August 1918 was dubbed the ‘Black Day of the German Army’ by General Erich von Ludendorff, the German Chief of Staff, who lost all hope of winning a final military victory on the battlefield. Although the offensive at Amiens continued for a few more days, it was broken off when the advancing Allied troops it neared old Somme battlefields. It was the prelude of a further series of successful attacks made by the advancing Allied armies elsewhere, however, that kept the Imperial German Army under constant pressure until it sued for peace in November 1918.

 

19 year-old Corporal George Fisher was amongst the estimated 8800 Canadian troops who did not survive the Battle of Amiens, being killed during the very early stage of the assault. A report on his death simply recorded: ‘Fisher was instantly killed shortly after leaving the ‘jumping off trench’ during an attack on Hangard.’ It is likely he was one of the casualties inflicted by British shellfire that fell short amongst the advancing Canadians or German machine gun fire. News of George Fisher’s death quickly reached Wedmore and was broken to his illiterate parents by Bertha Grimstead, who had been adopted by the Fisher family. Corporal George Fisher was buried in Hangard Wood Cemetery, half a mile south of Corbie. His few personal effects were divided between his sister – Mary Fisher – living at Fairfields, Flax Burton and his mother and father still resident in Guildhall Lane. Lot and Emily later received his named 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal, as well as a Memorial Plaque, Memorial Scroll and a Canadian Memorial Cross that was given to his mother in memory of her dead son.

 

Article provided by Dr. Tim Moreman, Wedmore

© 2018 TIM MOREMAN ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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