Howard Clayton Smith DCM

Both my grandfathers were born and grew up in the transition between the Victorian and Edwardian Eras although there was more than 15 years difference in their ages. This difference in a number meant that one went to war and the other didn’t. But their encounters with war may have had as much to do with intent or inclination as it had to do with age. In 1912 one grandfather crossed the Atlantic to seek a better life unconstrained by the expectations of his past and his class. In 1916, the other grandfather crossed the same ocean in the opposite direction, at least in part to protect and preserve the way of life his ancestors had bequeathed him.

This genealogical narrative is about my maternal grandfather’s military service in World War I. He also served in World War II but that may be the subject of a future post.

Howard Clayton Smith born on 11 April 1897 near Goderich, Ontario. Although he was born in Huron West county he spent most of his life in Argenteuil County, Quebec, in Calumet, Harrington and the Rouge River valley. His parental roots and cultural ties were in Prescott and Glengarry counties in eastern Ontario. Family lore suggests that Howard Clayton’s parents separated and that by about 1910 the Smith family had broken apart. By June,1911 at the Census, and shortly after his fourteenth birthday, Howard Clayton was living as a “domestic” in a household just down the road from his married sister, May Agnes Chester in Calumet, Quebec.

Some time, over the next few years Howard Clayton met my grandmother, Jessie Margaret Dodd. Jessie Margaret was from a large farm family living near Vankleek Hill in Prescott County, Ontario. By 1911, at the age of twelve and at the same time as her future husband was a servant boy across the river in Quebec, she was already looking after her siblings following their mother’s death in late 1908.

On 4 August 1914, Britain and thereby Canada declared war against Germany and recruitment of volunteers for military service began in earnest. On 25 September 1915 Howard Clayton’s older brother, Clarence Campbell Smith enlisted in the Royal Highland Regiment (Black Watch) in Montreal. On his Attestation Declaration (enlistment form) he named his sister , Mrs. Albert E. Chester (May Agnes Smith), living in Calumet, Quebec as his next of kin. He embarked from Halifax for the trenches of France on 9 April 1916.

On 23 January 1916, at Hawkesbury, Ontario, Howard Clayton signed up with the Stormont, Dundas, Glengarry Highlanders, the 154th Overseas Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He was a sturdy, 5’6″, just shy of his 19th birthday when he became Private Smith, #633339. On his Attestation Form, Private Smith named his sister Mrs. Chester of Calumet his next of kin.

There is a gap in the records between enlistment and embarkation so the next part of the narrative is speculative, based on information from a variety of online sources.

Sometime, probably in early summer of 1916, Howard Clayton would have reported for duty at the just-opened Glengarry County Armouries in Alexandria, Ontario to be kitted out and learn to march and salute. He would have been issued a traditional “Glengarry” cap and possibly a kilt. Pipers, wearing the MacDonell Glengarry tartan, would likely have played “Bonnie Dundee”, the regimental march as Howard Clayton and the other boys boarded the train. They were on their way to basic training at Camp Valcartier near Quebec City. I don’t know if Jessie Margaret Dodd was there to see him off but I believe they were “engaged” when he started his journey.

Camp Valcartier was set up at the beginning of the war to train recruits of the Canadian Expeditionary Force before they headed overseas and by the autumn of 1916 when Howard Clayton arrived there tens-of-thousands of young men had already passed through the camp gates. For an idea of what life would have been like during the fourteen or so weeks of basic training following is a link to an archival photo collection from the University of Victoria Library Special Collections

The picture of the Camp pennant is included here because I recall seeing one like it on the wall of my grandparents’ home at Bell Falls, Quebec when I was a boy in the 1950s.

I don’t know if Howard Clayton was granted leave to return home after training at Valcartier or if he went directly by train to Halifax for embarkation. On 11 October 1916, before he left, he signed and dated a simple military Will bequeathing his estate to Jessie Margaret Dodd of Hawkesbury, Ontario. On 26 October 1916 Howard Clayton was one of some 6000 or so soldiers to board the Cunard liner, Mauretania, converted for troop transport. The ship, made two crossings that season bringing Canadian soldiers from Halifax to Liverpool. For an account of a similar embarkation and crossing on a similar ship, follow this link from the Wilfred Laurier University Press Military History Series,

On 17 November Howard Clayton was promoted to Acting Lance Corporal, the highest level of Private, probably as a temporary replacement for another soldier. Two days later, on the 19th, he was admitted to the camp hospital for treatment of V.D.G. and by 5 December he had recovered and was discharged from hospital.

Howard Clayton’s military records resume with his arrival in England on 31 October 1916. The Mauretania was the fastest liner on the water at the time and given the speed of the crossing it seems unlikely she was in convoy. The arrival at Liverpool would have been followed by another long train ride to the Canadian camp at Bramshott in Hampshire, southwest of London. As with all Canadian troops he would have been quarantined for 10 days. On 1 November Howard Clayton signed a form assigning $15 a month of his salary to Jessie Margaret back home. This was half his Private’s pay. His pay would increase by 10¢ a day when he was “in the field”.

A month later, On 5 January, 1917, Howard Clayton was “struck off strength” from the 154th Battalion at Bramshott and on 6th January he was “taken on strength” with the 58th Battalion, the Central Ontario Regiment (COR), in the field. At this point he reverted to his substantive rank, Private. Although he wore a different hat badge and reported to a different commanding officer, Howard Clayton likely went to France with at least some of the boys from Glengarry he had enlisted and trained with.

Within the military hierarchy, Pte. Howard Clayton Smith (HCS) was “Other Ranks” (OR), Canadian Corps, 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Division, 58th Battalion. The Battalion was subdivided into Companies (A,B,C,D), Platoons and Sections (15 men). The available records don’t reveal where he fit at this level of detail and at the front, as soldiers were killed or wounded they were moved around as needed. Official War Diaries rarely mentioned the names of non-officers, so knowing the name or number of the various units is the only way of determining where on the battlefield Howard Clayton and the other ORs might have been on a particular date.

The daily War Diaries of the 58th are available online at Library and Archives Canada at this link

The War Diaries, supplemented with other battalion records and personal letters and diaries of some the soldiers were used as source materials by Kevin R. Shackleton when he published, Second to None: The Fighting 58th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 2002 (The Dundurn Group, Toronto Oxford). I have used this book to list the battles the battalion fought in after January 1917 when Howard Clayton was taken-on-strength and have inserted the few fragments from his records as they fit in the sequence.

>January 1917 to March 1917
In the trenches and behind the lines along the Front from Arras to Marle-les-Mines, northwest of Vimy Ridge. On the 8th January, probably near Bruay-la-Buissière, the War Diary for Howard Clayton’s new battalion reads, “Wind S Mild & bright First real day training 63 O Ranks drafted to us from Training Battalion- a good looking lot Casualities Nil.” Harry A. Genet, Lieut.Col, Commanding Officer

>April 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge

>June 1817 Attack at Avion

>August 1917 Hill 70 and Battle at Lens

>October 1917 Passchendaele: The Third Battle of Ypres

>3 March 1918 HCS Promoted to Corporal

>10 April 1918 HCS Wounded (shell gas, treated until 17 April, no disability). War Diary Entry: Cellar Camp. Casualties 1 OR. wounded. Wind East 7 miles per hour. Enemy shells back area. 10 April 1918 HCS Awarded the Military Medal. The exact date of the award is not clear in HCS’ military records and the reason it was awarded require more research. In general terms the Military Medal is awarded to Warrant Officers, non-commissioned officers and men for individual or associated acts of bravery on the recommendation of a Commander-in-Chief in the field. The medal was instituted on 25 March 1916.

>18 September 1918 HCS Promoted to Sergeant

September-November 1918

27 September-1 October Battle of Canal du Nord at Cambrai, Breaking of the Hindenburgh Line during the Last 100 Days of the War1 October HCS Shrapnel wound to his right arm (treated until 17 October, no disability)11 November 1918 Taking of the Belgian City of Mons at the time of the Armistice.

December 1918-January 1919
Christmas at Brussels.
January 1919 at Templeneuve on the French-Belgian border.

February 1919
7 February at Le Havre, France for embarkation on S.S. Lorina
10 February Proceeded to Weymouth, England
12 February HCS Attached from 58th Bn for completion of documentation, B’shott

March 1919

12 March HCS Awarded Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)

The DCM was awarded to Warrant Officers, non-commissioned officers, and men, serving in any of the sovereign’s military forces, for distinguished conduct in the field. It was thus the second highest award for gallantry in action (after the Victoria Cross) for all army ranks below commissioned officers and was available to navy and air force personnel also for distinguished conduct in the field.

Citation Published in the London Gazette:

Smith H.C. Sjt. 633339 MM 58th Bn.

Near Cambrai, for gallantry and devotion to duty during the night attack on 28th September 1918, on the Marcoing Line and the attack on Pont d’Aire on 1st October 1918. With a mere handful of men, he pushed on and captured the Marcoing support line on 28th September in face of heavy opposition. His courage and example enabled his men to hold on, he himself patrolling alone to connect up his flanks. On 1st October he continued in command after being wounded.

20 March RMS Baltic arrives at Pier 2 in Halifax, possibly having stopped at New York enroute.

22 March, late in the day, the train carrying the troops from Halifax to Toronto (home base of the 58th) waited outside the city until the morning of the 23rd before pulling into the new North Toronto (Summerhill) Station. For one last time, the Battalion formed up into Companies and paraded down Yonge Street, along Queen, to City Hall. A hundred-thousand grateful Canadians cheered them on. (15th Bn Exhibition Camp Toronto 1919 LAC MIKAN 3642880)

Howard Clayton was not quite done yet however. Within the week, he got back on the train and headed east to Ottawa where he was officially demobilized on March 28th. Soon thereafter, in civvies, he took another train, headed home to Calumet, Quebec. I’d like to imagine Jessie Margaret Dodd was at the station to meet him, almost a century ago.

… the story does not end here

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4 Responses to Howard Clayton Smith DCM

  1. Bill smith says:

    Great read!! Spent muh time looking for info on the smith family. Howard Clayton is my grandfather and although I was too young to really know him my mother made sure I knew a little of who he was. This page has given me a look at who he was and what a great man he was. Thanks for the info. Very grateful and very proud
    William Clayton Smith

  2. fancyweaver says:

    Any idea where the Clayton part of his name came from?

    • barrypeers says:

      Hi Joanna,
      Don’t know for sure but the name Clayton might be a clue to the unconfirmed geographical origins of my Smith ancestors. Because of genetic matches and other sparse evidence I speculate that the Smiths may have been mixed Mohawk and German (Hessian) and that they may have come from around Akewesasne in Franklin County in northern New York State, just across the St. Lawrence River from Glengarry County where they moved to in Ontario. Howard Clayton had an uncle named Clinton who may have been named after the county of the same name, adjacent to Franklin County. There is a village named Clayton in Jefferson County, also adjacent to Franklin county in the furthest reaches of upstate New York. It is my intention to write more about these speculations but haven’t done it yet. Perhaps your query will prod me to get to it. Thanks,

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