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Wednesday, February 1, 2023
The Monuments Men: Part 30: Virgil’s Frederick Alexander Leggatt died in West Flanders
In the mud near Ypres, Belgium, it literally takes a small army of men to move an 18 pounder artillery gun. It fired shells that weighed 18 pounds. Library and Archives Canada

It’s been a century since Niagara-on-the-Lake’s iconic clock tower cenotaph was erected. Then, 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.

Ron Dale
Special to The Lake Report

One of the names inscribed on the municipal cenotaph in Queenston presents a bit of a mystery.

Frederick Leggatt’s name is spelled incorrectly on the monument as “Legatt,” although in any surviving documents the name is spelled with two “g’s.”

Born in Lifford, County Donegal in Ireland on Dec. 23, 1893, he was the son of Charles Leggatt and Mary Jane Thorn.

His parents were grocers and wine and spirit merchants in Lifford. His father died in 1910 and Mary continued to run their shop, assisted by their children, including Fred.

In 1913, Fred emigrated to Canada while his mother moved to Belfast. Fred found his way to Virgil, where he was employed as a clerk in a construction firm.

On Feb. 4, 1916, Fred went to St. Catharines and enlisted in the 49th Overseas Battery of the Canadian Field Artillery.

He had no previous military experience but was determined to “do his bit” for king and country.

Like so many other young men, he was rapidly trained as a soldier and soon shipped to England for deployment in Europe. He took the train to Halifax from Toronto where he boarded a steamer, disembarking in Liverpool on Sept. 22, 1916, after an 11-day passage to England.

He was transferred from the 49th Battery to the 16th Brigade at Milford Camp in Witley, England.

A Canadian Field Artillery veteran noted: “Witley is in an ideal situation for the training of artillery. It is surrounded by large areas of rolling common land covered with gorse and heather, giving opportunities for the most extensive manoeuvres. The soil is principally sand, easy to excavate when practising the construction of gun pits and adequate cover is available for the purpose of concealment.”

Unfortunately, when soldiers who trained here went into action in France and Belgium, they did not find the ground so agreeable. They had to dig trenches and gun pits in the water-logged clay and chalk of Flanders or the Somme.

Leggatt and his comrades trained in basic trench warfare and on getting their artillery pieces manoeuvred into position, loaded and fired.

The men practised moving shells to “ready use” pits dug near their guns. They learned the characteristics and use of the various types of artillery projectiles, whether they were high explosive, shrapnel or poison gas shells.

After seven months of preparation, Leggatt was finally sent to join the Canadian Corps units fighting in Belgium and France.

He arrived in France on April 7, 1917, and was assigned as a gunner to the 83rd Battery of the 5th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery.

Artillery was the most lethal weapon of the First World War. Guns were continually fired at enemy trenches and gun positions.

In preparation for attacks, the artillery would pound enemy positions for several days prior to sending the infantry “over the top” of their trenches to cross “no man’s land” in an assault on the enemy trenches.

The artillery fire was used to destroy enemy trenches, clear barbed wire and destroy enemy gun emplacements. Of course, the gun fire was also meant to kill, maim or demoralize enemy soldiers. And while Canadian artillery was raining death on German positions, the enemy was firing back.

Leggatt survived the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the Attack on La Coulotte and the Battle of Arleux in April. He came out unscathed from the Third Battle of the Scarpe in May and the Battle of Hill 70 in August 1917.

But his luck finally ran out in November during the Second Battle of Passchendaele, part of the Third Battle of Ypres.

His gun was dug in just northeast of Zonnebeke in West Flanders, Belgium. On Nov. 3, 1917, while his gun was firing shell after shell at German lines, an enemy shell stuck his gun position.

Frederick Alexander Leggatt became the only Virgil resident killed in the First World War.

He is buried in the Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery in Belgium and is commemorated on the cenotaph in Queenston.

Perhaps at some point in the future, when the Queenston memorial is next refurbished, we can add another “g” to his surname.

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