‘Your king and country need you’: World War I British and Canadian recruiting mission in Nevada County | TheUnion.com

‘Your king and country need you’: World War I British and Canadian recruiting mission in Nevada County

Linda Jack
Special to The Union
Although the British government had implemented a conscription program in March 1916, Britain’s expatriates were also seen as a source of new volunteers.
Submitted photo


1. Grass Valley Morning Union, August 23, 1914, 5; San Francisco Chronicle, August 22, 1914, 2.

2. International Encyclopedia of the First World War: 1814-1918 Online. https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/somme_battles_of. Accessed August 1, 2018.

3. Grass Valley Morning Union, July 2, 1916, p. 1. Oakland Tribune, August 29, 1914, 3.

4. Woodrow Wilson, Message to Congress, 63rd Cong., 2d Sess., Senate Doc. No. 566 (Washington, 1914), 3-4.

5. Riverside Daily Press, June 24, 1915, 1; Santa Ana Register, December 3, 1915, 1; Sacramento Union, October 28, 1915, 1.

6. San Francisco Chronicle, November 22, 1917, 4.

7. Ancestry.com. New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (database on-line (Provo, UT), 2010. Accessed July 31, 2018.

8. Sacramento Union, September 9, 1917, 1.

9. “Trench Warfare,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trench_warfare. Accessed July 30, 2018.

10. Roy MacGregor, “Princess Pats: ‘First in the Field’ for 100 Years,” The Globe and Mail, August 3, 2014, article 19904968. Accessed August 4, 2018; Grass Valley Morning Union, October 3, 1917, 8; Sacramento Union, October 31, 1918, 2.

11. San Francisco Chronicle, February 26, 1918, 6; February 3, 1918, 10.

12. Grass Valley Morning Union, October 2, 1917.

13. The sixteen were: J.R. (John Raptlote) Boutin, Richard Cocking, William Dunn, William J. Eathorne, William C. Eva, Wallace Goldsworthy, Ernest Grigg, William Grigg, John H. Hill, William Hocking, F. (Frederick) Humphrey, William Lucmoor, James W. Merrifield, Thomas J. Pearce, Richard Toye, and John White. Grass Valley Morning Union, January 31, 1918, 2.

14. Sacramento Union, February 14, 1918, 10.

15. The eleven were: William Finnamore, William Glaister, Richard Hine, Frederick Hooper, Richard Cocking (not listed in the first news article), Stuart Hosking, Martin Stevens, William Thomas, Ernest Uren, Thomas West, and Albert Willey. Sacramento Union, February 25, 1918, 6; Grass Valley Morning Union, February 3, 1918, 3.

16. Sacramento Union, February 18, 1918, 5.

17. The rejected men were W. (William) G. Eathorne, William Hocking, Stuart Hosking, Richard Toye, and Thomas West. Grass Valley Morning Union, February 3, 1918, 3; Sacramento Union, February 28, 1918, 5.

On Aug. 23, 1914, the No. 10 eastbound train from Oakland passed through Colfax carrying a spirited group of seventy-two Frenchmen heading home to the war. The Union reporter noted that in a separate Pullman car on the same train four Germans were headed home as well.

Some of No. 10’s passengers likely included men who had arrived in San Francisco the day before on the Pacific Mail steamer, Korea, out of Yokohama. The ship had carried French, German and Austrian reservists and soldiers who were anxious to catch the first available train to New York. (1)

In the early weeks and months of the war similar journeys were taking place all across America as foreign-born residents returned home to join the mobilizing armies of Europe. For patriotic young men there was no time to waste, for it was common knowledge that the war would be over by the time the leaves fell, or if not then, surely by Christmas.

It soon became evident that those projections had been folly. As the war dragged on casualty rates were staggering. For example, on July 16, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the British Army suffered 60,000 casualties. By the time that campaign ground to an end on November 1st the number of British casualties had risen to 420,000: the French lost 202,000, the Germans lost 500,000. (2) As the death toll mounted the Allied and Central Powers hunkered down into an ever-evolving network of defensive trenches that extended from the North Sea through Belgium and France to the Swiss border, but which rarely advanced the front line by more than a few yards at a time.

Although the British government had implemented a conscription program in March 1916, Britain’s expatriates were also seen as a source of new volunteers. Advertisements proclaiming “Your King and Country Need You” began appearing in papers across America, including in the Bay Area. When Charles E. Clinch was returning home from Chicago via Canada in July 1916 he encountered one such volunteer, J.E. Newby. Newby was a former Grass Valley miner and Concert Band member who had left California to enlist in the Canadian army: he would be leaving for the Western Front on September 1. Newby told Clinch that many of the miners who left Grass Valley, ostensibly for the purpose of going to other camps, had crossed the border into Canada and joined the army without revealing their intent to their former employers. (3)

When President Woodrow Wilson declared the United States to be a neutral country on August 4, 1914 the laws created a barrier to foreign countries recruiting their citizens that lived in America. (4) But not all British recruiters were deterred. In the summer of 1915 five enterprising Englishmen, purportedly representing the British Consul, rented an entire boarding house in San Francisco. Their undisclosed purpose was to be able to interview privately potential military recruits for England and Canada. The suspicious landlady reported them to the authorities. In October 1915 a San Francisco court found two of the recruiters guilty and fined each $1,000. Canadian recruiters in the state of Washington were accused of posting recruiting flyers in bars near the U.S. Army’s Vancouver Barracks to encourage American soldiers to desert their posts and sign up with the Canadian forces. (5)

Take Your Place

Once America entered the war, President Wilson pardoned the two Englishmen who had been convicted in San Francisco. (6) Representatives from the British and Canadian Recruiting Mission soon began arriving. One of those recruiters was Corporal Albert W. Goad, a member of the Seaforth Highlanders, who sailed into New York Harbor on July 17, 1917. (7) He had spent two years in the trenches on the Western Front where he was wounded three times, most recently at the Second Battle of Ypres, and so severely that he could no longer serve on the battlefield. The sleeve of his regimental jacket bore three small bars to mark his wounds. Goad’s new mission was clear and vital: to recruit British subjects to replace the fallen soldiers of England and Canada. (8)

Corporal Goad and his fellow recruiters were based at the British Consulate at 268 Market St. in San Francisco, six blocks from the U.S. Army’s Recruiting Office at 660 Market St. Goad and other British recruiters made frequent visits to Nevada County beginning in the summer of 1917, and continuing into late October 1918. The recruiters were all battle-tested veterans with stories to tell. Indeed one of Goad’s stories made a lasting influence on America’s view of the war when he related a personal experience to San Francisco artist, M. Hoyle. Goad told Hoyle that while serving in Belgium, he happened upon a shell-shattered cottage in which he found the dead bodies of a Belgian family. The wife had been brutalized, her hands bound and nailed to the wall above her head: her husband and bayoneted child lay at her feet. We can’t know what Goad actually saw, but his story reinforced the popular Allied propaganda theme, the Rape of Belgium, e.g., that the Germans were merciless brutes: the war nothing less than a battle between civilization and barbarism. Hoyle illustrated Goad’s shocking tale on a poster produced by the U.S. Army’s San Francisco Recruiting Office with the tag line They Crucify: American Manhood Enlist.

Throughout the summer and fall of 1917, often traveling together, American, British and Canadian recruiters crisscrossed the west coast from Coronado, California to Grant’s Pass, Oregon. Nevada County was an especially attractive target for British recruiters. In the 1900 Census twenty-four percent of the population was foreign born. Within that group over half were from British Commonwealth countries. That group included many miners from Cornwall who had skills the recruiters knew could be well utilized at the battlefront.

Allied soldiers on the Western Front were dependent on elaborate systems of defensive trenches and dugouts to provide protection from the shelling by the German artillery. Trench building and maintenance was a labor-intensive business, and ideally done under the cover of darkness. The guideline for British trench construction was that it took 450 men six hours at night to complete 270 yards of trench, a distance of just under three football fields in length. Thereafter the trench required constant maintenance to prevent deterioration from weather and shelling. (9) Trenches could also be used offensively. Tunnels were built under the enemy’s trenches, both to listen to their activities, and to plant explosives that could destroy the trench. The men who undertook this dangerous work were called sappers, a word that was derived from the French word saper, which means to undermine, to dig under a wall or building to cause its collapse. The miners and engineers of Nevada County possessed skills that were especially needed in that environment: tunneling, blasting, managing flooding, and building.

On October 17, 1917 Sergeant G.L. Fraser arrived in Nevada County for a weeklong stay. Fraser was a member of the Ottawa-based regiment Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, known as the Pats. He too had fought in some of the fiercest battles of the war where he had been wounded twice, and was unable to return to duty with his regiment. The Sergeant knew from firsthand experience what battlefield attrition could mean. During the course of the war the Pats had to replace its numbers four times over. At a recruiting meeting in Grass Valley he told his audience that their absence from the war had consequences for those at home. Fraser challenged his listeners “to take their places in the fight for humanity rather than having the mere youths and old men of England and Canada to fight to keep them in security and comfort in indifference to the struggle that civilization and democracy is up against.” Fred Adamson immediately signed up with the Royal Engineers. (10)

United We Stand
American and British recruiters often worked together under the banner United We Stand. In late February the U.S. Army’s San Francisco Recruiting Office held an elaborate event in the lobby of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The British supplied many of the props: a miniature airplane suspended from the ceiling, war “relics” such as German helmets, machine guns, bombshells and maps of the battlefront. (11) The recruiters also traveled together in an attention grabbing automobile painted olive drab and decorated with huge recruiting posters and flags of both nations. The recruiting party’s travels were widely covered in the press. Whenever Corporal Goad joined the party in his Seaforth Highlanders kilt and regimental regalia, as he did when he visited Grass Valley on October 2, 1917, he was sure to draw attention. (12)

Although Corporal Goad and his kilt might have gotten the most attention, Sergeant Fred J. Greene’s recruiting record was formidable. A member of the Canadian Royal Engineers, Greene had been a motorcycle dispatch rider who delivered urgent messages at the front when other forms of communication were limited and uncertain. Although we do not have comparative numbers for the various recruiters, there is no doubt Greene’s prowess was newsworthy. By January 31, 1918 he had recruited sixteen men. (13) February 1918 turned out to be a productive month as well. On the 12th Greene signed up two Grass Valley recruits, an Irishman, John McLaughlin of Marshall St. who worked at the North Star Mine, and an Englishman, Harry Cordell of Bennett St. who worked at the Empire Mine. (14) On the 24th eleven of his new recruits marched in procession to the train station on their way to San Francisco. The procession was headed by color bearers carrying the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack, and was accompanied by the Grass Valley Concert Band. Two of the men carried a banner that read “We are on our way from Grass Valley, Cal. to France to fight for humanity.” Several of the recruits were employed at the Empire, North Star and Champion mines. (15) On the 27th Greene added Wilfred Rowett and John Thomas to his roster. The Sergeant also took advantage of an unexpected opportunity when an eighteen year-old Chicago lad named Harry Kapsut came through town looking for a job. Kapsut fell into conversation with Greene, and within an hour was signed up as a Canadian solider. (16)

But reversals were also to be expected. In February five of Greene’s recruits failed their physicals in San Francisco and returned to Grass Valley. (17) Unwilling to let the rejected recruits off the hook Greene suggested the men instead go England to work in a munitions factory or shipyard. By March 1918 Sergeant Greene was credited with having recruited forty-nine men for the British and Canadian forces in Nevada County. Most were Grass Valley miners: many were reputed to be among the best in the district.

Many of the men who were recruited in 1917 and early 1918 seen combat with the Canadian Engineers in France. Among those who served in France was William Henry Hiscox who was wounded at the Battle of Canal-du-Nord and Cambrai in October 1918. Most of the Nevada County recruits who joined in the late summer and fall of 1918 arrived in Europe too late to serve at the front. After they were discharged in 1918-19 many of the recruits such as Wilfred Rowett returned to Grass Valley where they lived out their lives. Others returned to their home countries. Canadian recruit, Frederick Humphrey, for example, returned to Toronto. His tombstone there proudly bears his rank, Sapper, and his unit, Canadian Engineers.

Within weeks of the Armistice on November 11th the United State’s government declared December 7, 1918 as Britain’s Day, a festive day of celebration to recognize the victorious alliance between Britain and the United States. Prominent American artist and illustrator, James Montgomery Flagg, was selected to create a poster to celebrate the day. Flagg chose to show a solemn Lady Britannia wearing her traditional centurion’s helmet, draped in Roman toga and carrying her shield and trident. Sporting a more jovial expression, Uncle Sam wears his traditional red, white and blue, and carries his sword. At their feet are the iconic symbols of each nation, the American eagle and the British lion. The war at last behind them, Lady Britannia and Uncle Sam stride arm in arm up a hill together, presumably into a brighter future, and an ongoing alliance between the nations.

Linda Jack is a member of the Nevada County Historical Society. See more on the historical society’s special project “Over Here: Nevada County’s Experience of World War” at http://www.nevadacountyhistory.org.

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