Ernest John Sheppard
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Ernest was born and raised in Salisbury, Wiltshire. He appears, working as an errand boy on the 1911 Census, the eldest of his siblings - aged 17, and living with his brothers Albert and Leonard and sisters Mabel, Beatrice and Edith. His father, Thomas is a house painter, and his mother, Martha, completes the houshold at 10 College Street, Salisbury. Below is how the house looks today (click to enlarge).
At some point after the census of 1911 Ernest emigrates to Canada.
Ernest John SHEPPARD (Private)
466631, A Company, 5th (Western Cavalry) Infantry Battalion, 1st Canadian Infantry, Canadian Corps.
(also entitled to British War Medal - missing. Service records note that he was not entitled to the 1914-15 star)
Single, 5ft 9in, 21 year old Ernest signed up and attested for the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on the 17th July 1915. He was working at the time as a hotel porter.
Ernest sailed aboard the SS Metagamma on the 22 April 1916, landing in England on the 5th May 1916. After training, he joined his unit on the 7th July 1916. The Division were involved in a few actions on the Ypres Salient, prior to moving to the front in France. One of Ernest's first major actions would have been at the Battle of the Somme, almost certainly at what was known as the "third phase" at the Battle of Flers–Courcelette in September 1916, where the Allies first used tanks, and later in mid-November at The Battle of the Ancre.
He would next have been involved at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, where all 4 Canadian divisions and 1 British division (a total of 120,000 men) successfully captured the strategically important ridge, largely on the first day of the engagement, on the 9th April 1917. The ridge once held, would allow troops to advance at the later Battle of Arras, without the German artillery's previous height advantage. The success was put down to meticulous planning, powerful artillery support and extensive training. The battle came to symbolise Canadian national achievement and sacrifice. A 250 acre section of the battlefield remains today as the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in memory of the 3,598 men of the Canadian divisions killed there at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
In late August 1917, Ernest was back in action against the same German 6th Army they had forced back from Vimy Ridge, at the Battle of Hill 70. Despite the extensive use of poison gas used by both sides, and the shocking new German "yellow cross" shells containing a new blistering agent "Sulphur Mustard", which caused blistering on exposed skin and inside the lungs, the Canadian divisions were successful in preventing the Germans moving men and equipment to aid defensive operations on the Ypres Salient.
Following further engagements during the Third Battle of Ypres (The Battle of Passchendaele) in November 1917, the Canadians were moved off the line and held in reserve during the German "Spring Offensives" of early 1918. Now considered crack-assault troops they were to used in the planned counter-attacks in what became known as "Canada's Hundred Days" to the end of the war (8th August - 11th Novemeber 1918).
The counter-attacks began with the Battle of Amiens, which was planned and prepared for in utmost secrecy. The Canadians marched the entire Corps to the front, while a diversion caused the Gemans to think the divisions were being moved North. Allied commanders even included the words "keep your mouth shut" in official orders. The assault begun without the usual initial artillery bombardment, and instead relied on the large-scale use of tanks. Ernest and the rest of the 1st Canadian Division broke through the German lines and advanced 8 miles further, with the help of the tanks, causing confusuion and panic among the German forces. The 8th August was referred to by General Ludendorff (German commander) as "the Black Day of the German Army". The next few days saw the Canadians push the enemy back further still, until on the 10th August, they withdrew totally from the salient, back as far as the Hindenburg Line.
On the 10th August 1918, 24 year-old Ernest John Sheppard was killed in action as the 5th Battalion advanced upon the enemy. His service records show that his father, still living in College Street, Wiltshire was informed of his death in a telegram sent 18 days later.
His hastily-dug battlefield grave was later exhumed in October 1919 by the men of the Empire (later Commonwealth) War Graves Commision, and re-located to the Rosieres Communal Cemetary Extension, South-East of Amiens, where he is remembered, with honour, among the other 439 men buried there. His Mother (his father having died in 1906) paid the extra fee when returning the form required to add the words "Gone, but ever near" to his headstone, as shown on the "Headstone Schedule 2" below.
The records show that his mother was sent, as were all mothers of lost Canadian soldiers, the silver Canadian Memorial Cross.
Ernest John Sheppard - Full service Record (30 pages PDF)
Ernest John Sheppard - Attestation Papers - Page 1 , 2
Ernest John Sheppard - Cemetery Register
Ernest John Sheppard - Cemetery Layout Plan (PDF)
Ernest John Sheppard - Grave Concentration Report
Ernest John Sheppard - Grave Registration
Ernest John Sheppard - Headstone Schedule
Ernest John Sheppard - Headstone Schedule 2
Ernest John Sheppard - Memorial Certificate (PDF)