Wednesday, June 22, 2011

MAIL CALL: Tunnels at Vimy


My great-uncle, Thomas Laidlaw Mather, fought for Canada at Vimy Ridge, and later died at Paeschendale. There is a tombstone for him at Tyne Cot Cemetary at Ypres. He wrote his name on the wall of the "Goodman" tunnel at Vimy, and this graffiti was featured on the History Channel's special about Vimy Ridge a few years ago. I understand this tunnel has since been closed.

My husband & I will be touring Belgium next month, so I have researched the story of my great-uncle. I will include the story which I submitted to the 4CMR website and some pictures I have.

If you come across any evidence of my uncle being in the tunnels you are researching, I would be thrilled to see pictures of it.

Lynn W.
Waterloo, Ont

NOTE: Mrs. W. refers to this post about the carvings made by Canadian soldiers of the First World War as they slept, ate and waited in a cave in northern France - S.L.

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Tom Mather's grafitti in the Goodman Subway, Vimy Tunnels

Thomas Laidlaw Mather, born September 9th, 1897, was the youngest child born to John and Mary Ann (Laidlaw) Mather, who owned a farm at Priceville, Ontario, Canada. His father, John, died in 1901 from injuries after being kicked by a horse. Tom’s brother, William, 14 years his senior, ran the farm so Tom could remain in school.

Tom enlisted with the 147th Grey Owen Sound Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Forces, on November 30th, 1915. The 147th trained in Grey County until the spring of 1916, when they moved to Camp Niagara. The Battalion relocated to the newly opened Camp Borden, in July 1916, to continue their training. They then moved to the Maritimes in the fall and boarded the RMS Olympic, which was the Titanic’s sister ship and was being used to transport troops to Europe. They arrived in England on November 20th, 1916, and proceeded to Shoreham-by-the-Sea, Sussex, for further training.

Between February and June of 1917, some 350 men of the 147th BN were transferred to the 4th CMR. Tom joined them in the field with the bulk of the 147th on March 7th, 1917, and served with 'A' Company during the assault on Vimy Ridge in April 1917.

There, in the underground tunnel system, he wrote his name on the wall of the "Goodman Subway". A clip of Tom’s graffiti was shown on a television special entitled "Vimy Ridge: From Heaven to Hell", which first aired on the History Channel in Canada, the US and Europe in 2007. This subway system has been explored and documented by the Durand Group but unfortunately was closed to the public due to safety considerations in 2008.

October 26th, 1917, was the first day of the "Second Battle of Passchendaele", and Tom served on the right flank which was being held up by heavy machine gun fire from a German pill box. It is interesting to note that during this same battle, one of Tom’s comrades from the 147th, 19-year-old Private Thomas Holmes from Owen Sound, Ontario, became Canada’s youngest recipient of the Victoria Cross for single handedly and repeatedly rushing a German pill box and destroying it by throwing bombs into it.

Most sadly, Private Thomas Laidlaw Mather, aged just 20, lost his life on the opening day of the battle.

Tom’s mother received a letter stating that her son was missing in action, and later received the Memorial Cross and Plaque. The Mather family was troubled that they never fully knew what had happened to Tom, until a chance meeting in the 1960’s with a person who was previously unknown to them, but was a relative of the wife of Tom‘s nephew. This man was Elmer Stevens, who by coincidence had served with Tom in Passchendaele. He informed Tom’s brother, William, that he had seen Tom shortly before a shell exploded in the area where Tom had been positioned, after which Tom never reappeared. The Mather family was extremely grateful for this information.

There is now a headstone for Tom at the Tyne Cot Cemetery, Zonnebeke, near Ypres (Ieper), Belgium. His name is also recorded on the Mather family tombstone in Priceville, Ont., as well as on the Priceville Cenotaph erected in October 1921 in memory of the local men who had lost their lives in WW1.

The Mather family is appreciative of the work of the Durand Group, who researched the Vimy tunnels, and especially to Ian of for his work at maintaining the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles web-site.

Biography credit to the nephew and great-niece of Thomas Mather.


1 comment:

  1. Family history is a good thing to know, even more so when it is "honorable" history.