The 117th Eastern Townships Overseas Battalion, CEF
"The only Eastern Townships Battalion to leave Canada"

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THE PERCY ADAMS LETTERS

 

Please click on the links below to access the letters.

In late 2006 I received an email from a gentleman living in Ingleside, Ontario who was following up on a newspaper story written by Nick Wolochatiuk of the Seaway News in November 2006 entitled “We can’t remember what we don’t know”.  Until this article was published I had never heard of the Seaway News (Cornwall, Ontario), or Mr. Wolochatiuk.  I am also certain that at that time Mr. Wolochatiuk had no idea of the significance his article would have for the family of the late Percy Adams.

The November 2006 article centered around unnamed photographs and letters written by 748082 Corporal Percy Adams, an original 117th Battalion solider.  Letters written by Percy Adams to his mother during the war were found in the bottom of a jewelry box bought at a Montreal area yard sale years earlier.  The purchaser of the jewelry box put the box away for safe keeping and did not further mention the letters until 2006.  

In his article Mr. Wolochatiuk lamented that without properly identifying the photos or the letters that history was lost.  Indeed, the last line of Mr. Wolochatiuk’s article was “…history lost, book closed.  Stay tuned”.  This article did not close the book but rather opened it, for me at least, to dig deeper into the military life of Percy Adams...and I did exactly that.

After reading the article I contacted Mr. Wolochatiuk who was kind enough to arrange a meeting between myself and the lady who then possessed the Percy Adams letters. Our first in person meeting was in the summer of 2008. The topic of discussion was what should become of the letters. While we all agreed that donating the letters to a museum may be a viable option I did not want overlook that some attempts to locate living relatives of Percy Adams should be made prior to the letters being donated. I quickly volunteered to take up the task of conducting furhter research into Percy Adams, .

Genealogy, locator and discussion board websites are a great resource and a great starting point when trying to locate someone whom you know little about. In late summer 2008 I posted inquiries into Percy Adams on several websites and hoped that someone would recognize the name. I focussed my search to the Montreal area and the Eastern Townships. All that could be done now was wait. In the meantime, I made several inquiries into the various military history forums that are online. Unfortunately, I did not garner any further information on Percy Adams. As the months turned into years I always provided Mr. Wolochatiuk with quarterly updates on any progress I was making. While I was able to provide some further context into Adams war service I was no closer to finding any relatives.

In November of 2010 I received a reply to my 2008 post. It was someone claiming to be the grandson of Percy Adams. After some due diligence that this man was indeed Adams's gransdson a meeting was arranged with all parties to repatriate those lost letters to their rightful owner. What equated to a five year search ended in lost letters being returned to a grafeful family. I am proud to have had a part in this story.

A brief account of this meeting was documented by Mr. Wolochatiuk as a follow-up to his original article in 2006.

http://www.cornwallseawaynews.com/Columns/Dances-with-Words-%26ndash%3B-by-Nick-Wolochatiuk/2011-04-27/article-2458718/A-good-story-has-long-legs/1

Below is a brief history of Percy Adams' military service as pieced together by the letters that he wrote home.

Walter Percy Adams was born on 15th September 1895 in the Township of Cleveland, Richmond County, Quebec.  He was living in Richmond, Quebec on 7th December 1915, when he attested for military service with the 117th Battalion and was assigned the regimental number 748082. 

Percy Adams was a 20 year old single man and listed his trade as a bank clerk.  His records also reveal that his father was deceased and he was helping to support his mother, with the aid of at least one brother – perhaps 748371 Wray Preston Adams (this is only speculation on my part).  A letter written to his mother in 1914 was on Canadian Bank of Commerce letter head and confirms that Percy was working as a bank clerk at the Rock Island branch in late 1915 and was being transferred to the North Hatley branch.

The 117th Battalion departed Canada on 14th August 1916 and arrived in England on 24th August.  By October 1916, rumours were abundant that the 117th Battalion would be disbanded and on 7th January 1917, the 117th Battalion officially ceased to exist.  Those soldiers who had not yet been transferred to other battalions were transferred to the 23rd Reserve Battalion located at Shoreham, England, including 748082 Percy Adams. 

In a letter to home dated 11th January 1917, Percy wrote about the transfer to a new battalion and although not happy about the change he wrote “we make the best of it and go on cheery with our work”.  In the same letter, Percy also stated that he had applied for flying training with the Royal Flying Corps.  Having the support from his superior officers, he was confident he would be accepted into the training program.  Percy was now listed as unavailable to proceed to France.  He also wrote that by the time the six months of training was complete, the war would be over.  It is not known if the application for flying training was Percy’s way of remaining in England.  However, a letter home dispels that thought. 

In a letter to home dated 22 February 1917, Percy wrote that his application to the Royal Flying Corps was being approved by the General and was submitted to the War Office.  He had the option of staying in England and waiting for flying training or he could go to France and he would be called back when his training commenced.  Percy continued to write that he would be in France within the week and that he was now part of the 14th Battalion, Royal Montreal Regiment.

According to the records, Percy Adams joined the 14th Battalion on 27th February 1917. 
By June 1917, Percy Adams more than likely saw his share of fighting and would have been well on his way to being a seasoned veteran.  For June, July, and the better part of August 1917, the 14th Battalion performed reserve and support duties for the Brigade between Vimy Ridge and the village of Ruitz until the 15th August when the moved forward to the front lines to take part on the attack on Hill 70 near Lens.  The attack would have great consequences for Percy Adams.

On 15th August 1917, the 14th Battalion in coordination with 13th Battalion and 15th Battalion started the attack on Hill 70.  Although none of the records indicate exactly where or what Percy Adams was doing on this day, he would show the greatest of courage that would win him a Military Medal for bravery in the field. 

After only 6 months in France, Percy Adams had proven himself to be a seasoned veteran of trench warfare.  Despite displaying utmost of courage his luck ran out three days later when he was wounded on 18th August, 1917.

Percy Adams was wounded when an artillery shell filled with gas exploded near him.  He suffered slight shrapnel wounds and suffered blistering eyes and breathing problems that caused him great distress.  Not being able to treat him properly, Percy Adams was transferred to England on 21st August 1917.  Percy Adams would not return to the 14th Battalion in France until April 1918.

Percy Adams’ first stop on the road to recovery was the Military Hospital in Eastbourne, England.  He remained there until 30th October 1917, when he was transferred to the 14th Canadian General Hospital also at Eastbourne. 

In a letter to home dated 8th September 1917, Percy spoke of having to stay at Eastbourne for a few more weeks and then being allowed to convalesce.  In his letter, Percy seemed excited to go on leave to Ireland to help in his recovery.  He wrote of having weak eyes and having to wear big shades of over them, but the gas did not affect his lungs much.  He considered himself lucky to get off so easy.

It was during his stay at Eastbourne where Percy met Kate Harbage.  Though it is uncertain exactly when they met, it was only a few months later when Percy decided he wanted to marry Kate. 

Keeping with military tradition that soldiers required permission from their Commanding Officer to marry, Percy Adams requested permission to marry Kate.  On 7th November 1917, the Commanding Officer of the 23rd Reserve Battalion granted permission for Percy Adams to marry. 

In a letter to home dated 17th November 1917, Percy finally told his mother of his plans to get married.  He wrote affectionately about his wife to be and explained that “she is the finest girl in all the world.” 

Another letter to home dated 1st December 1917, was written from Bramshott tell his mother that the Colonel had granted him permission to be married at Christmas and that all was OK now.  Percy then causally mentions in a post script “…I won the military medal in the scrap on Aug, 15-17.” 

Percy Adams and Kate Harbage were married on Christmas Day 1917.  They were married at St. Andrews Parish at Eastbourne, Sussex, by Harold Pain, Vicar of St. Andrews. 

In January 1918, Percy Adams continued duties with the 23rd Reserve Battalion and was stationed at Bramshott.  He was receiving machine gun training and was expecting to proceed to France soon.  He was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal on 21st March 1918.  However, that promotion was short lived as he reverted back to the rank of Private and was transferred to the 14th Battalion and proceeded to France on 7th April 1918.

Percy Adams was promoted to Lance Corporal on 14th May 1918, and again promoted to Corporal on 13th August 1918.  The Battalion spent the remainder of August 1918, moving towards Arras in preparations for future operations as the Canadian Corps pushed East towards Cambrai. 

On September 2nd 1918, the 14th Battalion conducted attacks along the Drocourt-Quenat Line.  In two days of fighting the 14th Battalion suffered heavy casualties that included: 2 officers killed and 11 wounded, and 250 other ranks reported as killed, wounded, or missing. 

It is unclear exactly what part Percy Adams played in the attack of Cagnicourt, however, similar to the attack at Hill 70, Percy again displayed the utmost bravery and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

On 5th September 1918, Percy Adams was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.  However, like most of his promotions, this too would be short lived.  On the 18th September Percy Adams reverted to the rank of Corporal and proceeded to England.  His application to the Royal Flying Corp was finally approved and Percy left France and the 14th Battalion for the last time on 18th September 1918.

The records do not indicate him receiving any officer training or if he ever did receive his commission.  It is likely that as the war was quickly coming to end that training of this type was slowly winding down. 

Percy Adams left the 23rd Reserve Battalion on 13th November 1918, and was posted to the Quebec Regimental Depot.  On 18th December, Percy Adams was once again in Bramshott awaiting orders to be repatriated to Canada.  There was no mention of Kitty during this period.  It is possible she had sailed to Montreal earlier and was anxiously awaiting Percy’s arrival.  Percy Adams left Liverpool, England on 21st January 1919, sailing on the SS Megantic and landed in Halifax on 28th January.       

Corporal Walter Percy Adams, MM, was discharged from military service on 18th February 1919 at Montreal.  He was now 23 years 5 months of age.  He had listed no reservations towards his health, and as such was granted a Category A discharge by reason of Demobilization.  His intended place of residence was listed as:
781 Bloomfield Ave, Outremont, Quebec. 

Corporal Walter Percy Adams, DCM, MM was officially awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal on 4th March 1919 – weeks after he was formally discharged.

Percy Adams was one of only ten former 117th Battalion soldiers awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, and is one of only four former 117th Battalion soldiers awarded both the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal.

 

LETTERS

10 May 1914  

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