2nd Regiment, South African Infantry Division
Major Howard Church Symmes
By Colonel P.J. Fleury, MSM, CD1
By the spring of 1917, Canada had grouped its four ‘heavy’ Divisions together for the first time as a single fighting formation. The Canadian Corps, composed of over 100,000 soldiers, was then assigned the difficult task of capturing a heavily fortified ridge near Vimy, northeast of Arras, France. The Battle for Vimy Ridge was part of the larger Battle of Arras, which, in addition to the Canadians, included forces from the United Kingdom, Australia, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South Africa.
Howard Church Symmes was born in Aylmer on the 24th of March, 1874, the fourth of Thomas and Mary Symmes’ six children. In 1822, Howard’s grandfather, Charles had founded “Symmes Landing” on the edge of the Ottawa River at the west end of the turnpike originating in Hull, Quebec. In 1847, this village was incorporated as Aylmer in honour of the Baron Aylmer, Governor General of British North America (Canada) from 1831 to 1835. The family owned Symmes Inn (now a museum near the Marina). The Inn was famous for catering to fur traders, loggers and settlers moving up and down the Ottawa River.
Howard Church Symmes volunteered with “D” Battery, Royal Canadian Field Artillery (Guelph, Ontario) to fight in the Boer War, deploying to South Africa on the 21st of January, 1900. For his service in the Boer War, he was awarded the Queen’s Medal with three clasps. At the end of the War, the University of McGill Engineering Graduate remained in South Africa, where he eventually became Inspector of Machinery and Electricity in the Mines Department, Orange Free State. In 1914, Howard enlisted in the 2nd Regiment, South African Infantry Division, a unit which drew heavily from the areas of Natal and the Orange Free State. He saw initial action, with his unit, in German South West Africa, and at the conclusion of the South West Africa campaign, he was transferred to North West Europe and promoted to the rank of Major.
“Z” Day on the 9th of April 1917, launched the Battle of Arras with the Canadians heavily engaged and capturing Vimy Ridge to the North; to the East of Arras were the British (which included the Irish, Newfoundlanders, South Africans, and New Zealanders); while in the South were the British and Australians. It was during this first day of fighting that Major Symmes, leading his men in the attack, was hit by shell fragments and killed instantly. For his distinguished service he was Mentioned-in-Dispatches (posthumously) by Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Armies in France. He was also awarded the Mons Star, 1914-15, and the General Service and Victory Medals.
Major Howard Church Symmes is buried at the Highland Cemetery, Roclincourt, Pas de Calais, France. His grave reference is: I.B.45.
Lest we Forget
The Remembrance Day Ceremony on November 11 will start at 10:30 at the Parc Commémoratif in Aylmer.
In honour of the Centennial of Armistice (1918-2018) the Aylmer Legion Branch 33 is inviting you after the ceremony to a Special Reception which will take place at the Aydelu Recreation Centre from 12:00 to 18:00. To mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, there will be an historical exhibit, WW1 re-enactors; free lunch; live band; and much more.
On November 11, 2018. Honour. Thank. Remember.