Battery mates knock back last one
Treasured jug becomes casualty of final reunion
By Pat Currie, London Free Press
With reverence, Bill Davis cracked the seal on a carefully preserved bottle of 51-year-old whisky Thursday [Sept. 25, 1987] and tipped out shots for himself and three old buddies.
“This is it. There won’t be any more,” said Davis as he clinked glasses with Walter Allsop, Walter Day and George Parker.
Davis wasn’t talking about the bottle of whisky in this bittersweet moment at the Grosvenor Club on a bright September afternoon.
It was the 67th and final reunion of the 63rd Battery.
Davis, 88, Walter Allsop, 91, and Walter Day, 89, all of London, and George Parker, 89, of Sarnia tipped their glasses and drank a final toast to Bill Riseborough, 90, of Goderich, who couldn’t attend, and to all their dead comrades of long ago as trumpeter Earl Todd sounded the Last Post.
1921 was 1st reunion of 63rd Battery
“There will be no more reunions, at least not as a unit,” said Davis, who could recall Toronto in 1921 when 600 attended the first reunion of the London-based depot battery that supplied trained gunners and drivers to the Canadian artillery on the voracious western front.
“It’s gradually slipped,” Davis said of the number attending the annual reunion down the long years. In 1978, at Blenheim, only eight of the old-timers were on hand.
The carefully hoarded bottle of Seagram’s Crown Royal was set aside at a battery reunion at the old Hotel London in 1936.
“The stipulation was that it wouldn’t be opened until the reunion of the last four or five members,” Davis said. “This is it.”
The four who gathered Wednesday with a handful of friends and relatives are all old men. All, except Parker, spent time on the western front in 1917-18.
All are deaf to some degree, perhaps as a result of the crash of howitzers across the mud of Flanders.
The Western Front
“I was there – everything from Passchendaele to the armistice in 1918. I was in Mons the day after the war ended,” said Day. I never expected I’d be sitting down at a reunion in 1987. But then, I never thought that even last year.”
Allsop said he “started at Vimy and went right through.”
How was it?
“Oh, good and bad.”
The manpower shortage was so bad in late 1917 that Davis and his draft were shipped out of Halifax on Dec. 1 after only one week of what was supposed to be a two-week quarantine. Five days later, an ammunition ship exploded in the harbour, killing 1,630 people.
“We were supposed to still be there,” Davis said.
Parker admits he got only as far as England but there, he says, “I learned to roller skate.”
His combat was limited to a trip to Dublin “where we all ended up in jail.”
Bob Symington, a nephew of Davis and a Sarnia justice of the peace, drove Parker to London for the reunion.
When the glasses were recharged with what Davis called “sipping’ whisky,” Symington proposed the toast: “We’ll all meet again in 20 years.”
Replied Parker: “Not unless some of you young fellows change your ways.”
1936 Seagrams Crown Royal
Davis said the group had planned one toast, then would decide on the fate of the remainder of the bottle of 1936 whisky. But it soon became apparent the bottle was about to become a certified casualty of the day.
Davis said the bottle – “they don’t make them like this any more” – had been sought avidly by a distillery representative.
“I’m going to give to the RCR (Royal Canadian Regiment) Museum …
… was opening that bottle, all I could think of was all the fellows who have passed on.
“I feel it in my bones, I know I’m going to be the last guy.”
Mom clipped this article out of the London Free Press in September 1987. However, she missed part of the conclusion on the other side of the page. That’s why there’s a bit missing at the end of my transcript.
So I don’t know who felt it in his bones that he’d be the last guy alive. But from what I found out about these men, maybe it was Bill Davis. Here’s what I learned googling them:
William Carlton Davis, Driver, Reg. No. 334049
Bill Davis was born June 29, 1899 in Exeter in Huron County, Ontario, son of Ellen and Arthur Silas Davis. His attestation papers give printer as his occupation. He married Ruth H. Hills. He died in 1996, aged 96 or 97. The troopship he sailed on from Halifax, just before the explosion, was the White Star Line’s SS Megantic. She went out of service in July 1931.
Walter George Day, Gunner, Reg. No. 334125
Walter Day’s attestation papers say he was born in 1895. This article says he’s 89, making his birth year 1898. Perhaps he made himself older when he enlisted. His papers list his occupation as farmer. He died in 1990. An online genealogy of his wife’s family says, “On January 15, 1917 Walter enlisted with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force with the 63rd Artillery Battery… While in Europe he was involved with the battle at Vimy Ridge.”
George William Parker, Sgt. Reg. No. 3132758
George Parker was born in 1897 in Watford, Lambton County. His occupation is farmer on his enlistment papers. He died in 1990. The Lambton County Museum website says, “William and Sarah [Parker]’s son George served in the 63rd Battery in World War I where they used horses to pull big guns into position. When he returned from the war, he began working at Mueller’s Brass Foundry in Sarnia. Despite having only a Grade 8 education, he became President of the company. He also had a farm at Lot 28, Con. 1 SER.”
George Walter Allsop, Gunner, Reg. No. 333829
Walter Allsop was born in 1896 in Toronto. His parents Charles and Matilda lived on Askin Avenue in London when he enlisted in 1915. His occupation was given as printer. I found reference to a marriage that might be his. If so, he married Madeline Mabel McCullough, on September 23, 1922 in Middlesex County, Ontario.
William James Riseborough, Driver, Reg. No. 334338
That is all I could find out about these five men. Their attestation papers are at Library and Archives Canada. And the Seagrams bottle? The RCR Museum at Wolseley Barracks in London doesn’t yet have a full listing online of their artifacts. I took a virtual tour of their WWI display (in Gallery) but did not see it.
63rd Battery, CFA CEF
The 63rd Battery was based in London and Petawawa, Ontario. It was part of the Canadian Field Artillery of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Organized in March 1916, absorbed by No. 1 Artillery Depot in Oct. 1918, it disbanded on 1 Nov. 1920.
I am so glad my mother kept this article. It was a joy to read and to get to know these men a bit. Also humbling. Especially Mr. Allsop’s assessment of going “right through” from Vimy Ridge to the end as “oh, good and bad.” To their descendants, you have good reason to be proud. Thank you, Drivers Davis and Riseborough, Gunners Day and Allsop, and Sgt. Parker.
100 years ago today, the guns fell silent at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. After four years and three months of war. 1,564 days. Nearly 60,000 of about 620,000 in the Canadian Expeditionary Force died in battle.