The Clayton Knechtel story

Clayton Knechtel at Chantry Island          Lighthouse – late 1930s

My earliest memory of Clayton Knechtel was from about 1954. My mother phoned him to tell him that I was coming down to his house on Huron Street with my wagon (a metal Red Flyer model) to get it filled with his locally well-known and respected rhubarb. This became an annual task for me as rhubarb, for our family, was our most common winter dessert and he had a large patch of it.

A few years ago, I found out that he was also one of the very first men in our town to enlist in WWI and went overseas with the First Contingent in 1914.

Here is his story.

On August 4, 1914, England declared war on Germany. The Government of Canada called on the Militia organizations across Canada to enlist volunteers in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and for them to report to Canada’s only Military Base that was in Val Cartier Quebec near Quebec City.

Local enlistment, in Bruce County, was held in Southampton, under the direction of Captain Lionel Joseph Tranter of the 32nd Bruce Militia. Among those that reported on August 14th to enlist was Clayton Knechtel, the 20-year-old son of Peter and Mina Knechtel. He was a brother to Arthur and Walter and to sister Emma. A few weeks later the new enlistees travelled to Val Cartier along with approximately 33,000 young Canadian men to prepare for departure to England and eventually to the war’s front on mainland Europe.

The local boys became members of the 1st Battalion from the Western Ontario Division and sailed from Quebec City on the S. S. Laurentic, a luxury steamship, on October 3, 1914. The ships left Quebec City that day and gathered in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to sail across the Atlantic. A total of 38 ships contained more than 33,000 Canadian soldiers, their supplies, 7,000 horses, equipment, food, etc. This was referred to as the “Grand Armada” and was the largest fleet to have ever sailed to or from North America up to that time.

They arrived in England on October 14th and immediately went to camps on Salisbury Plain in Central England, near Stonehenge, for intensive training.

During training in England Clayton became part of the 1st Division Signal Company and trained to be a proficient motorcyclist. In Feb. 1915 he and all those in the Canadian 1st Division were ready to join the battle and left for mainland Europe. The area surrounding Ypres, in Belgium, is where the Canadians found themselves in April 1915. Clayton spent most of his time there, over the next year. The Battle over Ypres became central in Belgium for the full period of action right up to the wars end in 1918. Close by Ypres were many of the famous battle sites including Passchendaele, St. Julienne, Hill 60, Mt. Sorrel and others. There were also many direct attacks by the Germany Army on Ypres.

It was here, in April 1915 that Germany introduced poisonous chlorine gas into the war. It was totally unexpected and had an enormously tragic affect on the French, British and Canadian troops. Clayton had been promoted to Corporal and was delivering messages back and forth from Command Headquarters to the wars front. The fighting around Ypres was vicious during April and May of 1915 and on May 9th the city was evacuated of all residents and left to the military. Clayton and fellow members of the Signal Corps remained there in support of the British forces for the next year. In 1916 fighting around Ypres was quiet compared to 1914 and 1915 and some residents returned.

It was during this period, on April 24, 1916, that a major change in the life of Clayton Knechtel happened. While delivering messages in the area around Ypres, on his motorcycle, he was involved in a near fatal accident.

To understand what happened and what followed, it is best to refer to the details of that day and the weeks and the months that followed. They are covered in the formal medical report details dated October 28, 1916. The details are covered in a report titled “Medical Report on an Invalid”.

Medical Report:

Name and Rank: 1st Division Signal Corps
Corporal Clayton Knechtel
Former Trade: Machinist
Disability: Compound fracture of Tibia and left Fibula
Date & Place of Injury: 24.4.16 Ypres Belgium
Essential Facts: His left leg was fractured in a collision
Between his motorcycle and another while he was carrying
Messages. The bones protruded through his skin. He was
Sent to Hospital in Boulogne for 3 days.
– To Edmonton Hospital in London for 6 weeks.
– To Roseneath Voluntary Aid Detachment for 11 weeks.
– To Woodcote Park, Epsom 25.8.16

The October 30, 1916 recommendation read: Invalided to Canada. Discharge as permanently unfit.

But this would take a while.

Following his discharge from hospital on October 30, 1916, Clayton joined the Western Ontario Regiments camp at Shoreham in Kent, south and east of London and was assigned miscellaneous base duties. He remained there more than a year, until December 1917 when he sailed to Canada aboard the S. S. Metagama. This was the same ship that had brought the 160th Bruce Battalion and their 1,200 volunteers to England in October of 1916. He arrived at the London Ontario Home Base of the Western Ontario Regiment in December 1917 and received his final discharge on February 2, 1918 and returned to his home in Southampton.

Clayton and wife Bernice (sister of Ross DeLong)- 40th wedding anniversary in 1966 – for larger view, Click on Image


Clayton lived a prominent and active life despite his war injuries. For some years, he served as the Chantry Island Lighthouse custodian and he and his family spent their summers living on the island. During WWII he worked in management at the Dominion Plywood’s factory that produced many of the components for the Mosquito Bomber that played a prominent role in helping the allies win that war. Here he supervised my mother and many other local ladies and men in this most important support activity.


His family is still prominent in our community and his son Arthur served as Mayor of Southampton.

The Knechtels’ grave marker in the Southampton cemetery with a picture of Chantry Lighthouse

Clayton’s commitment to Community and Country was significant. He passed away in our town on March 3, 1974 at age 81.

We Shall Remember Them

Researched and written by: G. William Streeter