Commemorative Banner Program: Herbert Nicolas Leeder

In January of 1918, Herbert Leeder, reported to the Western Ontario

Regiment Armoury in London to enlist in the 4th Canadian Army Reserve Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force that was in its 4th year of fighting the Great War in Europe.

Edward and Elizabeth Leeder farmed in Saugeen Township with their seven children. There were 6 sons; John, Walter, Herbert, Iden, Carl and Jacob and the lone daughter Mary.

Herbert was the third oldest and was born in 1897.  He was 20 years old when he enlisted.  He stood 5’ 8” and weighed 140 pounds.  His medical exam also showed he had blue eyes, brown hair, normal hearing and 20/20 vision, a slim build and medically “fit”.

Training in London lasted less than 6 weeks before the group was off to Halifax for the trip to England. They boarded the S. S. Cretic on February 21st to sail to Liverpool.  The ship was an ocean liner built in 1902 that had been sailing the Boston – Liverpool route before being taken over by the British Government in 1917 under the Liner Requisition Scheme to serve as a troop ship.   The ship could accommodate up to 1,500 passengers.

On March 5, 1918, Herbert and his fellow reserves arrived at the Canadian Training camp at Bramshott in South Central England.  It was here and at the nearby Whitley camp that they spent the next 5 months training for the inevitable trip to mainland Europe.   The call came in August that they would be heading to the “front”.

Upon his arrival in France, Herbert joined the 31st Alberta Battalion.  The 31st had arrived in England in early 1915 and had joined the fight in September of that year. Prior to 1918, they had received Battle Honours in some of the major battles including the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Ypres, Passchendaele, Hill 70 and others.  The 100 Days Offensive had   started in early August and the 31st was part of the Canadian Division that played a major role in pushing the Germans back to their homeland.

It was on September 6th that Herbert joined the 31st Battalion.  Shortly after arriving, he was involved in two of the major battles that resulted in allied victories.  The first was the Battle of Canal-du-Nord that started on September 27th.  This battle was a massive struggle due to the canal being a natural obstacle that the Germans had heavily fortified along its Eastern side.  Losses on both sides exceeded more than 30,000 killed or wounded before the Canadians had crossed the canal and secured the eastern side on October 1st.

Once the Canadians had crossed the Canal-du-Nord they continued to push the German Army east, to the city of Cambrai. Here the battle incorporated many of the newer tactics, namely tanks and aircraft. For the allies it was an overwhelming success in a very short amount of time; starting on October 8th and mopping up on the 10th.

The Canadian Division, including Herbert and the 31st Battalion followed the Germans in a north eastern direction liberating the villages of Naves and Thun-St. Martin.  On October 11th, they arrived at the small town of Iwuy with a population of less than 3,000. Here they were met with heavy German resistance and each time they attacked they were met with counter attacks and pushed back.

One of the officers leading the Canadian attack was Lieutenant Wallace Lloyd Algie, a 23-year-old banker from Toronto.  That day his heroics were forever recognized with his being awarded the Victoria Cross. There were only 71 of these prestigious medals granted to Canadians in all of WWI. The following information is from the documents that recommended Algie for his Victoria Cross:

“On the morning of October 11th, the Canadians faced a formidable barrier of lumber and wire from which the Germans were laying down a steady curtain of fire, at the entrance to the village, causing heavy casualties to the battalion.  While reorganizing, they observed the Germans bringing up additional guns on small handcarts. Once these were in position the entire Canadian Brigade would be threatened.

Algie called for volunteers to join him in a small party to move to the left and deny that area to the enemy.  They succeeded in capturing two German machine guns, killing the gun crews.  Then they positioned themselves in the town’s cemetery using headstones as gun mounts and used the captured machine guns to overcome the remaining German defenders.  Algie and his small group returned to the Battalion for reinforcements and while leading them forward he was cut down and killed.”

Herbert Leeder died during this battle when a piece of shrapnel hit him on the right side of his head.  In liberating the town of Iwuy, 170 Canadian soldiers died.   All of them, including Herbert Leeder and Wallace Algie are buried in the Niagara Cemetery, close to Iwuy along with 30 British soldiers.  This very small and picturesque cemetery with only 200 graves has 5 rows of between 34 and 43 graves each.  Herbert Leeder is buried in Row C, Grave 7 and Wallace Algie is close by, also in Row C, Grave 28.

May they rest in peace.

We will remember them.

               Researched and written by: G. William Streeter