Doreen Annala transcribed the WW1 diaries of her great-uncle

VIDEO: Sharing a soldier’s stories

Langley woman treasures written recollections of her great-uncle – a veteran of the First World War

Jesse Butcher helped treat the wounded during the battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917 — a battle that claimed the lives 3,598 Canadian soldiers.

He wrote about his experiences in a small black diary, one of several that he filled, in defiance of military secrecy regulations.

Many years later, his great-niece, Langley resident Doreen Smithson Annala, came into possession of the diaries and transcribed the cramped, hard-to-read entries.

“He never spoke of what was in them,” she said.

ButcherButcher (pictured standing with pipe next to brother-in-law Thomas Smithson) was a seminary student at St. Chad’s College in Regina, studying to become an Anglican minister, when he and many of his fellow students enlisted.

He did not approve of smoking, drinking or cursing and he would not carry a gun.

Annala describes her uncle as a “man of peace,” whose conscience would not allow him to fight, but still wanted to serve.

Butcher worked at the main “dressing station” during the battle of Vimy Ridge, a military field hospital, when four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force launched an attack on German-held high ground.

“Canadian Troops went ‘over the top’ at 5:30 this morning,” Butcher wrote .

“Wounded began to pour in abut 10 a.m. About 1400 cases up to 4 p.m. I went up the line at dinner time as guide to No. 13 Imperial Field Ambulance. ‘Twas an awful sight to see our wounded men lying in fields & on roads awaiting clearance by Motor Ambulance. Bitterly cold.”

He returned to work all night treating the injured.

“Some very bad cases, blinded, nose & eyes off & out, legs & feet off, arms & legs smashed. Lots of chest & abdominal cases,” Butcher wrote.

On April 12, the Canadians reached their final objective, a fortified knoll located outside the village of Givenchy-en-Gohelle, forcing the Germans to retreat.

The Germans continued to fire shells day and night at the road leading to the dressing station.

“Dead horses and men laying all over the road,” Butcher wrote on April 17.

“I made five trips with stretcher cases this evening. Road congested with fallen horses, overturned guns, timbers, service wagons.”

The diaries are full of matter-of-fact descriptions of the horrors of war like this entry for Nov 13, 1918:

“Yesterday a shell burst amongst a bunch of men, tore arm off one soldier.

“I helped bandage him & also cut off the arm with my pocket knife.

“Quite a number of civilians hurt also.”

When Butcher returned to Canada, he became a priest and eventually Rector of St. Michael and All Angels Church in Moose Jaw.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Aldergrove nine year old starts veggie stand to raise money for his first computer

Lochlan Delmaestro has sold $45 worth of herbs and vegetables in just two weeks

VIDEO: Fire breaks out in RV, spreads to garage of Langley home

Crews remain on site as the investigate the cause and extend of damage

Langley intersections lead Lower Mainland for 2019 car crashes: ICBC data

Stats indicate 200th and 264th Street at Highway 1 prove the most dangerous for crashes

Off-duty cop nabs suspected drunk driver

Call for assistance at Langley incident drew massive police response

Dinosaurs revived for Langley animatronic auction

More than 500 robot dinosaurs, fossils, and exhibition gear are going on the block Aug. 6

Airlines dispute Dr. Henry’s claim they ‘very rarely’ give accurate COVID contact tracing info

Air Canada, WestJet say they provide names and contact information

Airborne hot dog strikes Greater Victoria pedestrian

Police called to 4200-block of Quadra Street for hot dog incident

Mission’s 7-Eleven defaced with racist graffiti

Racist insults attacking Indo-Canadians ‘shocked’ manager

B.C. scientist, 63, protests in trees set to be removed for Trans Mountain pipeline

Tim Takaro is reaching new heights as he tries to stall the pipeline expansion project in New Westminster

Dwindling B.C. bamboo supply leaves Calgary Zoo biologists worried about pandas

Zoo has been trying to send pandas back to China since May

UPDATE: Slow growth for wildfire near Harrison Hot Springs

Fire now burns 12 hectares, grew by 2 hectares overnight

B.C. paramedics responded to a record-breaking 2,700 overdose calls in July

Province pledges $10.5 million for expansion of overdose prevention response

Canada signs deals with Pfizer, Moderna to get doses of COVID-19 vaccines

Earlier in July both Pfizer and Moderna reported positive results from smaller trials

Most Read