Veteran Stories:
Herbert Laurier Irwin

Army

  • When war was declared in 1914, Herbert Irwin tried to enlist immediately but because he was only 16, he family retrieved him from the recruiting depot. Herbert returned the following year and was accepted into the Artillery.

    When war was declared in 1914, Herbert Irwin tried to enlist immediately but because he was only 16, he family retrieved him from the recruiting depot. Herbert returned the following year and was accepted into the Artillery.
  • Bert Irwin (right) and comrade Charlie Groves from Jamaica enjoy an ice cream cone before heading to the front.

    Bert Irwin (right) and comrade Charlie Groves from Jamaica enjoy an ice cream cone before heading to the front.
  • This postcard with a photo of a soldier reading a letter and the text "Glad to have news from home" shows the importance of letters from home in keeping soldiers' morale up.

    This postcard with a photo of a soldier reading a letter and the text "Glad to have news from home" shows the importance of letters from home in keeping soldiers' morale up.
  • Bert Irwin (left) and comrade Cecil Delworth in sheep-skin coats to help them get through the cold winter on the Belgian front, 1917.

    Bert Irwin (left) and comrade Cecil Delworth in sheep-skin coats to help them get through the cold winter on the Belgian front, 1917.
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Transcript

My name is Herbert James Irwin, the son of Herbert Laurier "Bert" Irwin, who enlisted in the Canadian Field Artillery in 1915 at the age of seventeen, and served overseas until the end of the war. He was engaged in a number of battles: Ypres, Somme, Vimy Ridge, Arras, Passchendaele and Amiens, where he was wounded on August the 8th, 1918, and that was the end of his army career. He was sent back to England to recuperate, and eventually sent back to Canada, where he arrived just before Christmas, 1918.

He had many adventures while he was there and some of them bad, some of them good. He experienced being buried alive in a dugout by the explosion of a German shell. His companion who was buried with him went mad, and my father had to knock him out and start digging to escape. I can remember him being unable to stay in any building or elevator, or even a barber's chair. These are things I remember as a kid. And of course, all the stories he told about the war, over and over again, I memorized, or at least remember most of them. He taught me 'The Shooting of Dan McGrew' and 'The Cremation of Sam McGee ', because he'd learned them in his dugout in France. By the time I was three or four, I was repeating these poems.

He told us a great deal about Vimy Ridge, and what a 'well-organized battle' it was. He remembers all the guns going off at five thirty in the morning, firing barrages just ahead of the advancing troops.

He survived many dangerous incidents. At one time he was pinned down on a field and had to cut open the belly of a horse and crawl inside to protect himself from the shrapnel and German fire.

My mother tells me that when he came home from the war and they were married that any loud noise would cause him to immediately dive under a bed. His reflexes were pretty finely tuned.

He managed to live to be a ripe old age of eighty-five, and told his grandchildren and great-grandchildren all these stories of his experiences. But the final battle of Amiens, August the 8th, 1918, he was loading a shell into the eighteen-pound gun. A German shell exploded above him, and the shrapnel hit him in the back and knocked him flat. They picked him up later that night and took him to a dressing station later, and then back to England. He recuperated at Lady Astor's estate. And at that time the flu epidemic was severe, and an old soldier in the hospital told him if he chewed tobacco, he wouldn't get the flu. So he chewed tobacco and he didn't get the flu, but his roommate died of it.

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