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Thursday, December 8, 2022
The Monuments Men: Part 25: James Hatt was first casualty from St. Davids
James Hatt of St. Davids survived several major First World War battles, which included German gas attacks on Allied soldiers. Imperial War Museum/Canadian War Museum

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s iconic clock tower cenotaph. Two years later, in 1926, the Township of Niagara unveiled its own memorial in Queenston. In recognition of those who fought and died in two world wars and beyond, NOTL historian Ron Dale has been researching the stories of the people – all men – whose names are engraved on the two cenotaphs. This is one in a series of stories documenting and remembering the sacrifices of those commemorated on the municipal memorial in Queenston.

 

When Britain declared war on Germany on Aug. 4, 1914, Canada was automatically at war.

Canada’s minister of defence, Sir Sam Hughes, put out a call for volunteers, planning to send the first contingent of 30,000 men to England within two months.

By Nov. 11, 1918, more than 650,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders had served. More than 66,000 made the supreme sacrifice while another 172,000 were wounded.

The initial rush to the recruiting stations after the outbreak of war included an overwhelming number of men who were born in the British Isles and were relatively recent immigrants to Canada. Among them was James Hatt.

Hatt was born in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England, on June 10, 1894. His father, James Hatt Sr., sailed to Canada in 1905 to find a job and a new home in St. Davids.

He was joined a year later by his wife Eliza Harwood and their four children, including 11-year-old James and nine-year-old Charles.

The brothers attended school in St. Davids and when James completed his education, he found a job as a labourer. When he was 16, he joined the 2nd Dragoons, a part-time militia regiment.

When word of the declaration of war arrived in St. Davids, James and Charles immediately decided to volunteer for overseas service, joining the 44th Lincoln and Welland Regiment overseas contingent on Aug. 11, 1914.

They were immediately sent by train with other recruits to the huge military camp that Hughes was having built at Valcartier, Que. Finally, on Sept. 23, after being declared fit by a camp doctor, the boys were sworn in as members of the First Canadian Contingent.

Two weeks later, after a rudimentary course of military instruction, primarily marching and foot drill, the Hatts were shipped to England aboard the S.S. Tripolia.

In England, the brothers were separated, with James assigned as an infantryman in the 4th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force while Charles was sent as a gunner to the Canadian Field Artillery. Charles survived the war, eventually promoted to sergeant. James would not be so lucky.

After several months of training in all aspects of an infantryman’s duties on the muddy, sodden plains of Aldershot Camp in England, the 4th Battalion was shipped to France to fight in France and Belgium on the Western Front.

The 4th Battalion, along with other Canadian battalions of the 1st Division, were sent to the bloody Ypres salient to fight alongside their British and colonial comrades against strongly entrenched German forces.

Hatt survived attacks and counterattacks at the Second Battle of Ypres, which raged from April 22 to May 25, 1915.

This included the first major German gas attacks of the war at the Battles of Gravenstaffel and St. Julien during which the Canadians distinguished themselves by holding the line while their Allies fled from the chlorine gas that killed hundreds.

Canadians suffered more than 6,500 casualties at the Second Battle of Ypres, but Hatt survived.

When attacking, the men climbed out of their trenches and advanced over the muddy, shell-cratered “no man’s land” and were mowed down in their hundreds by enemy rifle and machine gun fire and by German artillery.

Each attack was followed by a strong German counterattack. During lulls in the action, the artillery of both sides would pound enemy entrenchments while snipers lay concealed to pick off anyone careless enough to show their heads above the parapets.

After surviving the horror and terror of the Second Battle of Ypres, James Hatt fell prey to German artillery fire. On May 30, a shrapnel shell exploded over Hatt’s trench. He suffered a serious head wound.

He was rushed to the regimental aid post just behind the front line and taken from there to a casualty clearing station where his bandages were changed.

He then was shipped by ambulance to Number 16 General Hospital at La Treport on the coast of France, some distance from the front line. There, James died of his wounds on June 4, 1915, the first of the men of St. Davids to make the supreme sacrifice.

James Hatt lies in the Treport Military Cemetery in France and is commemorated on the Niagara municipal monument at Queenston.