April 9, 1917: Private William Alfred Rogers

Rogers William A

Date of Birth: Dec 13, 1897 at New France, Antigonish County, NS

Parents: William H. and Mary M. (Durant) Rogers

Siblings: Sisters Florence, Sadie, Anita; brother Freeman

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Farmer

Enlistment: January 19, 1916 at Truro, NS

Units: 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) & 26th Battalion (New Brunswick)

Service #: 715641

Rank: Private

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: William H. Rogers, New France, Antigonish County, NS (father)

Date of Death: April 9, 1917 at Vimy Ridge, northwest of Thélus, France

Memorial: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France

William Alfred Rogers was born at New France, Antigonish Co., where he farmed with his father, William H., and grandfather, Firmin (Freeman) Rogers. His mother, Mary Durant, was the daughter of Peter and Caroline Durant, who lived next door to the Rogers family.

Firmin Rogers was a grandson of François Roshea, an exiled Acadian who returned to Nova Scotia from France. François was among the second group of families to arrive at Pomquet in 1794. He received 100 acres of land on the western side of Pomquet Harbour, now located along the Monks Head Road. François married Madeleine Broussard, sister of Pierre Broussard, who was one of the first settlers to arrive at Pomquet in 1772. François’ son, Augustin, married Marie Benoit of Tracadie and settled on the Bayfield—now called New France—Road.  Over time, the family surname was anglicised to Rogers.

William Alfred Rogers traveled to Truro and enlisted with the 106th Battalion on January 19, 1916. Authorized on November 8, 1915, the 106th was the first rifle battalion recruited in the Maritime Provinces, its motto “None So Reliable.” The unit established its headquarters at Truro, where two Companies were located. The remaining two were stationed at Springhill and Pictou respectively. A notable Company “B” Officer was Lieutenant Alexander M. O’Brien, son of James O’Brien, one time Mayor of Antigonish.

The 106th Battalion left Canada on July 16, 1916 and encamped at Lower Dilgate, Shorncliffe, England. It soon met the fate of many other Canadian units arriving in England that year, as it was dissolved to reinforce units in the field. While the 40th Reserve Battalion (Nova Scotia), East Sandling, absorbed many of its personnel, William A. Rogers was part of a reinforcement draft transferred to the 26th Battalion for service in the line.

The 26th Battalion (New Brunswick) was authorized on November 7, 1914 and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to England in June 1915 as part of the 2nd Canadian Contingent. Assigned to the 2nd Canadian Division’s 5th Brigade, the 26th landed in France in September 1915 and deployed in Belgium’s Ypres Salient shortly after landing on the continent. The 26th saw action at Mount Sorrel, Belgium (June 1916), Courcelette, France (September 1916), Thiepval and Ancre Heights, France (October – November 1916), and was a seasoned unit at the time of William Alfred’s arrival.

In late 1916, the Canadian Corps relocated from the Somme to the Vimy Sector, whose primary geographic feature was Vimy Ridge. The German-held escarpment consisted of a gradual slope on the western—Allied—side and a steep slope on the eastern—German—side of the line. If lost, the steep terrain would make a German counterattack almost impossible.

French forces had attempted to capture the ridge three times, suffering 150,000 casualties in the failed attacks. Following the third attempt in September 1915, both sides assumed a “live and let live” posture. British forces took over the sector in February 1916 and soon discovered extensive German tunnelling operations. In response, the British brought in mining engineers to counter this activity and commenced preparations for an attack, while German forces responded with artillery fire in the area.

By early 1917, the Canadian Corps contained four divisions, all with experience in the line. Planning for an attack on Vimy Ridge commenced soon after the Corps arrived in the sector and included specialised training for all troops. In the hours prior to battle, the Canadian Corps lined up from left to right—4th Division, 3rd Division, 2rd Division and 1st Division—and launched its historic attack in the early hours of April 9, 1917.

Two of the 2nd Division’s Brigades moved forward for the attack, the 4th on the right and 5th on the left. The 4th Brigade’s first objective the small village of Thélus, while the 5th Brigade’s initial goal was a location on its flank called the “red line,” northwest of Thélus. The 4th Brigade would actually pass through the town toward the second objective—the “blue line” on the far side of Thélus—while the 2nd Division’s 6th Brigade and the 13th British Infantry Brigade would add weight to the drive, leapfrogging though the forward brigades to reach the ridge itself, called the “brown line.”

William Alfred Rogers was killed in action northwest of Thélus—near the first objective—on the morning of April 9, 1917. Struck by an artillery shell fragment, he died almost instantly. In the battle’s aftermath, William’s remains were never recovered from the mud-strewn ridge. His name is inscribed on the Canadian War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, which bears the names of 11,285 soldiers who died on France’s battlefields and have no known final resting place.

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