It was 4 a.m., Easter Saturday, March 30, 1918. A cold first-light dawn with heavy mist; dull, but promising slow burn-off as the sun rose over Moreuil Wood near Amiens in France.
The already mounted troops of Lord Strathcona’s Horse were waiting for the command to advance and lead the Second Canadian Cavalry in what would be the last major cavalry charge of WWI.
The advance call should have been given as dawn broke, but the only early command had been “move postponed two hours” giving the cavalry men just enough time for what the journals of the day described as “a hot breakfast of bacon and tea.”
Riding with Lord Strathcona’s Horse that day was Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, the young son of a wealthy family of immigrants to western Canada; a teenager seeking relief from severe bouts with pleurisy. He had finally settled in a rapidly growing English community called Walhachin, which in the early 1900s promised to be Canada’s new Camelot.
And it may well have happened had WWI and a local weather disaster not decided otherwise. The war stripped the small but growing community of Walhachin of its manpower when 90 per cent of the males left overnight to fight for king and country. Flowerdew was first among them heading for Calgary, where he joined the Lord Strathconas.
Walhachin began to die from lack of a work force.
The close to final blow to the sweet dream of a second Garden of Eden came in 1918 when a wild storm wrecked the settlement’s irrigation system, and young proud orchards died. And in France many of the young men who built the system perished in the maelstrom of the “last charge.”
Walhachin, 65 km west of Kamloops, still exists. Wikipedia lists its population in 2018 as 31. It even has a small museum.
I wonder what Lieut. Flowerdew, 33, was thinking that far off morning as he rode through the chaos of battle. The official description provides part of an answer: “Lieutenant Flowerdew saw two lines of enemy, each about sixty strong, with machine guns in the centre and flanks; one line being about two hundred yards behind the other … (His) squadron passed over both lines killing many of the enemy with the sword; and wheeling about galloping on them again. Although the squadron had then lost 70 per cent of its members killed and wounded … the enemy broke and retired …”
Amazingly, Flowerdew, found badly wounded lying at the tree line, kept his mind in focus as he was picked up to be carried to safer ground by a “Lieutenant Harrower and a sergeant. As they carried him into the woods, a burst of machine-gun fire struck Harrower in the foot. The still conscious Flowerdew said: ‘You had better get under cover Hammy or they’ll shoot your head off next.’ Four men then took over carrying Flowerdew back to the field ambulance.”
Wartime stories seldom have happy endings. Wounded multiple times in the thighs and chest, Flowerdew died the following day. He was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously and had his approved promotion from Lieutenant to Captain confirmed. The citation reads in part: “There can be no doubt that this officer’s great valour was the prime fact in the capture of the position.”
They say Flowerdew’s charge with Lord Strathcona’s Horse and a few lads from Walhachin marked the beginning of the end for Germany in WW1 – but sadly it didn’t mark the end of war itself..
We have spent decades since Nov 11, 1918, reviewing annually the murder and mayhem of war, praising our heroes, lamenting the destruction of our youth, and the loss of golden dreams. But we don’t seem to make much progress down the paths of peace. Man’s inhumanity to man continues to make countless thousands mourn.
Up on the high plains of British Columbia, Walhachin still dreams of what might have been. In France – in plot I, row H. Grave 1 in Namps-au-Val Cemetery, 11 miles south-east of Amiens and not far from Moreuil Wood lie the remains of Captain Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, VC, who once played polo and cricket and “rode to hounds in Little England”, Walhachin – when dreams held promise.