Remembering Lance Corporal Archie Kitt
On the 6th of November 1917, five days and 100 years ago, my Uncle Archie peered over the parapet of the trench from which he would be advancing toward Poldenhoek Chateau in Belgium and was shot by a German sniper. He fell dead back into the trench. His buddies took mementoes from his pockets to take back to his family in Cornwall, England, before climbing over the trench to charge across open ground strafed by machine gun fire.
Archie died a 21-year-old Lance Corporal who had enlisted at 18 as a Kitchener volunteer in March of 1915 and been assigned to the 1st Battalion, Duke of Cornwallis Light Infantry in January 1916. During that year he fought on the southern edge of Vimy Ridge near Arras and at the Battle of the Somme.
In the spring of 1917, he fought at the Battle of Arras and at Vimy until September, then was transferred to Flanders to take part in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. He was killed in the 2nd Battle of Passchendaele, which ended on Nov. 10.
Our prime minister reminded us on the third of this month of the 16,000 Canadians who were killed in this same battle. Fifty-thousand British, Australian, South African and New Zealand soldiers died with them, as did 83,000 Germans. Total wounded on both sides; 425,000. British prime minister at the time Lloyd George said “We have won great victories”, but when I look at the appalling casualty lists I sometimes wish it had not been necessary to win so many.
The huge artillery bombardments during the battle and later in the war, completely pulverized the ground where Archie’s body lay so he is remembered at the Tyne Cott Memorial where he is listed as “missing”.
Tyne Cott was a huge fixed gun emplacement three times captured by the Canadian Army Corps under General Sir Arthur Currie. It served as a field hospital site and burial ground for those the medics couldn’t help. The monument was later built on top of the gun emplacement.
While researching this tribute I wondered how appropriate it was to be remembering the sacrifice of a Cornish farm boy at a memorial on the top of a Canadian mountain. Then I considered where he had fought. He had been fighting alongside Canadians for his whole military career helping them achieve victory at Vimy Ridge and Arras.
I bet he wished he was under the command of careful Arthur Currie who planned battles with tactics that reduced casualties, unlike most of the British generals. Perhaps he mused about making a new life in Canada after the war? His Uncle Tom had emigrated to Saskatchewan before the war and his younger brother Ray emigrated to Michigan in 1921 and we (Ann and I) came a generation later.
Time has passed. The mementoes Archie’s comrades brought home have disappeared. The battlefield carnage of the First World War was reduced in the Second World War but civilian deaths were hugely increased by air war: over 50 million people died. The Cold War managed to keep the lid on nuclear catastrophe, but there still exist thousands of war heads whose use would turn the biosphere into a radioactive desert.
Archie’s death and the events of 100 years should keep us mindful of the dangers of sabre rattling and of animosity at every level of society. I think he would have approved of the 70-year existence of the United Nations organization and the recent unprecedented unanimous vote in the Security Council to sanction North Korea.
What other solutions do we have?