originally published November 11, 2012
In honor of this day, one of the most unexploited and truly genuine days of note on our calendar, I would like to take a few words (let’s say, a thousand or so) to reflect on some of the most ass-kickish Canadians in our military’s history. No one’s making movies about these guys, and apart from history books that few people read, nobody is telling their stories.
And these are some wild stories.
This formidable moustache belongs to Colonel Cyrus Wesley Peck. Back 1918, Peck was the commanding officer of the 16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion, leading his men into battle at Cagnicourt, France. His crew was held up by heavy machine gun fire on the right flank. Someone had to do some recon to see what they were up against.
Peck wasn’t the type of CO to delegate; he went ahead alone. This is the type of huge-balled bravado that requires specially-tailored underwear. Returning under heavy fire, he organized his battalion so they could move forward strategically. They reached the point where the Canadian tanks were pinned down, and proceeded to instruct them on how to move through the intense gunfire to thwart the enemy.
Because of Peck’s actions, the brigade attack was successful, and Peck emerged without so much as a scratch on his moustache. When there were no more asses to kick in Europe, Peck returned home and went into politics. Because ‘professional fearless son-of-a-bitch’ wasn’t a viable career during peace-time, I guess.
All any army in the world would need to conquer the entire planet is a single squadron of Arthur George Knights. This guy’s story could never be made into a movie because it would seem laughably unrealistic.
Knight was a sergeant, leading a section into Villers-les-Cagnicourt, when they were shut down by heavy fire. Once again we have a story of a single soldier going ahead alone. Except Knight wasn’t doing recon scouting, dodging enemy fire and establishing their position. No, Knight was leaping into trenches and bayonetting the shit out of the bad guys. Then he grabbed one of these:
All apologies to Stallone, but Rambo was a pussy. Knight and his Lewis gun mowed down the enemy, his squadron showing up behind him to… I don’t know, record his action-movie dialog for posterity?
At one point, Knight noticed about 30 enemy soldiers running into a tunnel leading off the trench. Rather than direct a few of his troops to give chase, Knight just ran in alone, guns a-blazin’. He killed a few officers and captured 20 enemy soldiers by himself.
Tragically, Knight was killed in combat the next day. I assume it took at least two, maybe three hundred bullets to stop him.
Over to Vimy Ridge, where Lance-Sergeant Ellis Wellwood Sifton’s company was held up by a trio of large machine guns in concrete shelters, manned by desperate German forces. Sifton and his fellow Canucks weren’t going to overpower the Germans by shooting at them. So Sifton did what Arthur George Knight or Cyrus Wesley Peck would have done: he jumped solo into a trench and surprised the German asses with his kicking skills.
Sifton made it to the first gun crew. He ran in, knocked over the gun, then got all stab-happy with this bayonet, killing everyone around him. The Canadian troops were on their way to lend support, but there was a flock of Germans who would get there first. Either out of bullets or feeling that using a gun just wouldn’t be bad-ass enough, Sifton fought the Germans off with his bayonet and by using his rifle like a club.
The Canadians made it to Sifton, unfortunately a little too late. He didn’t make it out alive, but he secured that first machine gun nest, which made beating the other two a lot easier.
Hey, did I tell you about this wicked paper cut I got last week? Yep, right on the webby part between my thumb and forefinger. Couldn’t eat hot wings for a few days. Alright, that story doesn’t quite put me in the same class as these guys; I’ll just move on.
This guy was so awesome, he literally had ‘kill’ in his name. Okill Massey Learmonth was an acting Major in the 2nd (Eastern Ontario) Battalion. One day in 1918, he was trying to hold off a counter-attack against a recently-acquired position near Loos in France. A surprise attack showed up, and while his men fired back, Learmonth charged and personally disposed of the enemy, probably by ripping their heads off with his bare hands and eating their souls.
Then the real shit went down. The Germans launched a massive attack, and it didn’t take long before Learmonth was badly wounded. As other soldiers fought to hold their tenuous position while the wounded were carted off to safety, Learmonth climbed up to the parapet of the trench and lobbed grenades at the enemy. Grenades were being flung at him too – Learmonth was catching them and throwing them back.
Eventually, he was knocked back and unable to continue his badassery. Still, he refused to be evacuated, calling out orders and advice to his men. He made it out of the trench, but his wounds got the best of him in his hospital bed. The rest of his battalion claim they wouldn’t have won the fight without him.
Charles Smith Rutherford heroically fought, not just by physical means but through his fantastic sense of schmoozery. Finding himself well ahead of his men, he observed that he was dangerously close to a heavily fortified pillbox full of German troops. He didn’t charge forward, bayonet at the ready. Instead, Rutherford simply strolled up to the enemy, and informed them they were surrounded and had best surrender.
They weren’t, of course. Rutherford’s battalion was a ways back, and only in one direction. Still, his smooth talk convinced all 45 German soldiers to surrender and hand over control of their three machine guns. Rutherford signaled his men to head over. Then, noticing another pillbox was firing upon his troops, holding them up, Rutherford coolly grabbed control of one of his sparkly new machine guns and fired at the enemy. Presumably the 45 Germans were busying themselves behind him, binding each other’s wrists together and placing all their guns in a neat pile for the surrender.
The other pillbox gave up, and 35 more Germans handed themselves over because of Rutherford’s actions.
Charles Smith Rutherford, like everyone I cited in this article, received the Victoria Cross – our highest military honor. He was also the last recipient of this award during WWI to pass away, making it all the way to June 11, 1989.
It’s comforting to know that we live in a world where people this fantastically ballsy not only exist, but are willing to fight and die for the good guys. A huge thanks from the guy with the paper cut (which doesn’t hurt anymore, but thanks for the concern) to everyone in uniform, then and now.