One hundred years ago today, on April 12, 1917, my great-great uncle Private Ernest Albert Proven, succumbed to wounds received during the assault on Vimy Ridge three days prior. His brother, Lance Corporal (later Sergeant) Harry Proven survived the attack but was killed a year-and-a-half later, on September 29, 1918.
Today, I’m happy to announce that two lakes in Northern Manitoba have been named in their honour. Ernest Proven Lake and Harry Proven Lake are among thirteen lakes were named after Manitoban soldiers who died during the First World War. Coverage of the event, held on Monday at the Manitoba Legislative Building, is available by clicking here.
Ernest Proven Lake
Harry Proven Lake
I am extremely happy to have played a small part in remembering these two men and a special thanks goes out to Des Kappel for making this possible.
Today marks the 97th anniversary of the Canadian assault on Vimy Ridge. Among the thousands of Canadian soldiers who went “over-the-top” that fateful morning were two of my great-great uncles, Harry and Ernest Proven. While Harry survived the attack (read more about him here), his younger brother was not so lucky.
On December 13, 1895, James and Harriet Proven of Clanwilliam, Manitoba, welcomed the birth of their son, Ernest Albert Proven. Ernest, or Ernie, was eventually one of three children; his older brother, Harry, was born two years previous, and his younger brother, Sidney, was born in 1896.
Shortly before war broke out in 1914, Ernie and Sid purchased land in the Alonsa area and started working on homesteads there. I do not know where the Proven brothers were war was declared but like the many prairie farming families, they were likely more concerned with their crops than war in Europe. This, however, would soon change as his older brother, Harry, enlisted in January 1915 with the 45th Battalion.
On March 18, 1916, Ernie and a number of the Clanwilliam boys not yet in uniform attended a recruiting rally. There, alongside fourteen of his comrades, twenty-one year old Ernest Proven volunteered his services for Lt. Col. Glen Campbell’s 107th Battalion.
Following a brief stay in Winnipeg, Ernie and the 107th Battalion relocated to Camp Hughes for summer training. Here, the men of the 107th Battalion trained in the mock trench system, practiced marksmanship, learned how to throw grenades, and prepared for life at the front.
On September 13, 1916, Ernie and the 107th Battalion left Camp Hughes and began their journey East. Stopping briefly in Winnipeg for a final send-off, the Manitoba Free Press remarked the “…platforms were quickly converted into one mass of humanity.” Some ten thousand people had gathered to send off the 107th and two other local battalions. Allowed to detrain for half an hour, the battalion’s men did their best to find their friends and family and spend some final time with them before heading overseas. As the paper reported, the men of the three battalions, “with bronzed faces and stout hearts took a farewell of their relatives and friends…” who had gathered at the station.
The battalion arrived in Halifax a few days later and was quickly loaded upon the S.S. Olympic, the sister ship of the RMS Titanic. With 6,000 men on board, the Olympic left Halifax on September 19, 1916 and arrived in England without incident on September 24.
Ernie’s time in England was brief, spent mostly at Camp Witley in Surrey. In December 1916, Ernie recieved notice that he was to proceed to France for service with Harry’s battalion, the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMRs). Upon arrival in France, Ernie spent the next two months at a depot camp training and preparing for the rigors of trench warfare.
Ernie finally joined the 1st CMRs on February 14, 1917. Assigned to “D” Company with his brother Harry, Ernie was also joined by some of the Clanwilliam boys he had enlisted with almost a year previous. Soon after, Ernie and Harry and their Clanwilliam friends Fred Minns, Herman Klemet, Nelson Graham, and Hugh Sanderson got together to take a souvenir photograph. As the sender of the photograph, Herman Klemet noted, they expected to return to the trenches soon. He was not wrong.
In mid-February, the Canadian Expeditionary Force began training for the eventual assault of Vimy Ridge. On March 21, 1917, the unit moved into the front lines but Ernie’s here, however, was fortunately uneventful.
On April 5, Ernie, Harry, and the rest of “D” and “C” Companies, moved into the front lines in preparation for the assault.
In the early hours April 9, 1917, the twenty-four officers and 890 other ranks of the 1st CMRs moved from the dugouts to the jumping-off trenches (highlighted in blue on the map below), from which they would begin the assault. The battalion was assigned to take three objectives: the German Front line (red), the Swischen Stellung Trench (green), and a Sunken Road (yellow). Harry, Ernie, and the rest of “D” Company was assigned the first enemy trench systems (red) and clean up any resistance as the rest of the battalion pushed forward. Once this was completed, the company was told to move forward and help capture the other objectives.
At 5:30 am, friendly artillery opened fire on the German lines and, three minutes later, the whistle blew.
Ernie, Harry, and the rest of “D” Company climbed out of the trenches and led the assault. The company kept close to the creeping barrage and the men struggled over the shell-torn ground as shrapnel and machine gun fire filled the air. The Germans who were fortunate to survive the bombardment quickly recovered and opened fire upon the advancing Canadians.
At some point during the assault, an artillery shell landed close to Ernie as he advanced across no man’s land. Shrapnel tore into his right shoulder, leaving him seriously injured. As a comrade stopped to provide aid, Ernie reporteldy told him, “Go on, I’ll manage.” These were to be Ernie’s last words to him.
Harry and the rest of the company pressed forward and left Ernie behind to wait for aid. Ernie was eventually picked up by stretcher-bearers and taken to a nearby Regimental Aid Post. From here, men of the 8th Canadian Field Ambulance transported Ernie to the advanced dressing station at Neuville St. Vaast, where his wounds were once again treated.
On April 11, 1917, Ernie arrived at the No. 2 Canadian Stationary Hospital at Outreau, near Boloulogne. A message was dispatched to the Proven family notifying that Ernie was “dangerously ill.” The following day, on April 12, 1917, Ernie succumbed to his wounds.
His body was buried in the Boulogne Eastern Cemetery and news of his death was published in the April 19, 1917 edition of the Minnedosa Tribune. On May 10, the paper published a short obituary, noting that he had died “somewhere in France.”
In 1922, the village of Clanwilliam erected a monument to its war dead. Ernest Proven’s name, along with his brother, Harry Proven, are inscribed alongside the the names of the area’s twenty-seven men who died for King and Country.
September 29, 2013 marks the 95th Anniversary of the death of my great-great uncle, Sergeant Harry Proven. Unfortunately, in the past ninety-five years, much of the history has been lost to time as his younger brother, Ernest Proven, was mortally wounded at Vimy Ridge, and the third brother, my great-grandfather, shared few stories about his older siblings. That being said, I am still in possession of some documents and photographs that provided some light into their military service but it was not until last year’s First World War course that I was actually able to bring his story to light.
I hope to show that even with a few seemingly irrelevant records, there are still the tools and resources out there that can shed some light on Canadian Soldiers in the First World War. For those interested, I will post a follow-up describing some of these resources I used in filling in the gap in my family’s history.
Harry Proven was born on January 2, 1893 to James and Harriet Proven of Clanwilliam, Manitoba. In the years before the outbreak of war, Harry attended school in Clanwilliam but, like many prairie boys, spent most of their time working on the family farm.
On January 30, 1915, at the age of twenty-two, enlisted in the Brandon-based 45th Battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel F.J. Clark. Following training at Camp Hughes, the battalion relocated to Winnipeg where it remained before going overseas in March 1916. Harry’s time in England was relatively short as he was transferred to the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMRs) to replace the staggering casualties the battalion had received at Mount Sorrel in June 1916.
Harry’s first night in the trenches likely came in July 18, introducing him to the apparent endless supply of mud, rats, and lice. However, activity in the area was relatively quiet and Harry spent the next few months rotating in and out of the line. Christmas 1915 was spent in the front line but fortunately enemy fire remained minimal.
In early 1917, the battalion spent most of its time behind the lines preparing for the eventual assault on Vimy Ridge. Harry was joined by fellow Clanwilliam boys, including his younger brother, Ernest Proven, who had just been transferred to the unit from the Winnipeg-based 107th Battalion.
In the early hours of April 9, 1917, Harry, Ernie and the rest of the 1st CMRs went “over the top” following a spectacular artillery barrage on the German lines. As part of the first wave, Harry and Ernie were tasked with capturing and clearing the front lines and to then move forward to assist with the rest of the assault. Either in the initial assault or as “D” Company moved forward to assist, Ernie was struck in the shoulder by shrapnel, a wound that would claim his life three days later. Harry, however, remained unscathed and, by the end of the day, found himself fortifying his position in preparation for a counterattack.
The summer of 1917 was relatively uneventful as Harry was assigned to various courses and was also granted leave to Paris in August. While in Paris, Harry received his promotion to Sergeant. Fortunately, Harry was spared the nightmares of Passchendaele as he was transferred to the Canadian Corps School for the next five months, following which he was granted two weeks’ leave in England.
In late September 1918, Harry and the 1st CMRs prepared themselves for the assault on the town of Cambrai. Facing thirteen German divisions and numerous machine gun companies, the Canadian Corps launched its assault in the morning of September 29, 1918.
At 8:00 a.m., the 1st CMRs launched their attack under the cover of a rolling barrage. As they advanced, German machine gunners in and around St. Olle opened fire. Caught advancing across open fields, Harry and his men were prime targets for the enemy fire. While “A” and “C” Companies received the brunt of the casualties, “D” Company was not spared; German machine gun fire struck Harry in the chest.
Evacuated to the Regimental Aid Post, Harry was taken to the 12th Canadian Field Ambulance’s Advanced Dressing Station to have his dressing changed before being taken to the Main Dressing Station at Quéant. While in transport or following his arrival at Quéant, Harry succumbed to his wounds.
Harry was interned in the Quéant cemetery where he remains today. At home in Clanwilliam, the Proven family mourned the loss of another son and a service commemorated his “supreme sacrifice.” In 1922, the village of Clanwilliam erected a monument to its war dead and Harry and Ernest’s names were inscribed along the names of twenty-eight Clanwilliam men who died for King and Country.