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Morris.EarlDavidMorrisr1.1 - 06 Nov 2006 - 19:58 - Main.guesttopic end

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Earl David Morris

Born Born 1 Nov 1893 in Clinton, ON
Died Died 21 Feb 1958 in Oakland, CA, USA

Parents of Earl:

Earl’s Early Years

Earl's Military Experience


I am presenting the following story about my uncle, Earl David Morris, as an example of the kind of trials and tribulations that young men went through as participants in the First World War. As a young lad of 21, having grown up on a homestead with his parents just outside Medicine Hat, Alberta, I picture him as being a typical naïve lad going into a war about which he know nothing, and probably had no real perception of possible consequences. What a shock it must have been for Earl, and many others like him to participate in what transpired over the next few years.


(From Military Records received by me, Earl Edward Morris, June 7, 1995 from the National Archives of Canada.)

Date of Enlistment: September 23, 1914 Regimental Number: 20801 Rank: Private Regiment: 10th Battalion, C.E.F., Calgary Rifles, “B” Company Medals: 1914-15 Stars; Victory Medal, 1914-1918; British War Medal, 1914-20


Earl David Morris was born November 1, 1893 in Clinton, Ontario and moved with his family to Medicine Hat, Alberta in about 1897. Therefore he was certainly old enough to enlist in September of 1914, being about 21 years of age. However, he apparently chose to change his name to Edward when he enlisted. He carried on for the duration of his military service as Edward Morris. His Military Medical History sheet shows the name “Earl” crossed out and replaced with the name “Edward” – an obvious slipup on his part. Otherwise, all other documents show only the first name “Edward” or initial “E”, and no middle name or initial. I can attest to the fact the Edward John Morris, Earl’s younger brother, born March 17, 1899 in Medicine Hat, was my father and saw no military service. There was no other Edward Morris in the family at that time.

As the real Edward Morris was only 14 years old at the start of World War I, he certainly was unable to enlist. I believe that there was a verbal agreement between the two brothers to switch names in an attempt to have my father fake his age and try to enlist. I know that my father was very eager, if not desperate, to join the army and perhaps convinced his elder brother to switch names for that reason. The result was an unsuccessful attempt on the part of my father to enlist, even as late as 1918. But his brother Earl certainly made it into the army!

Upon joining the army – the 10th Battalion – Earl was sent to Valcartier, Quebec with many others for basic training. He then sailed for England October 3, 1914 on the Scandinavian with the rest of his unit and arrived at Plymouth Harbour 12 days later.

Along with many other Canadians he then trained at Salisbury, near Stonehenge, from October until early February of 1915. That was a miserable experience for these recruits as it rained there nearly the entire time and the training field was an ongoing mud bath.

Next, he was sent with his unit to France on February 10, 1915 on the steamer Kingstonian where the battalion began to participate in minor skirmishes with the German army. The unit was moved shortly thereafter into Belgium, where the first real battle took place involving this battalion – namely the Battle of St. Julien. This battle was at its worst between April 22nd and April 26th. It took place within the Ypres Salient, in and around an area known as Kitchener’s Woods. It was at this time that the Germans chose to use chlorine gas. The records show that my uncle was taken prisoner sometime between April 22nd and April 24th when battle conditions were at their worst, with the release of chlorine gas adding to the misery. According to information passed along to me by my father years later, Earl was the last man at a machine gun post and was taken prisoner after suffering gunshot wounds to his left leg and right wrist. I also believe he had some bayonet wounds. Also, he did suffer from minor exposure to the chlorine gas, and in later years he blamed his ongoing ill health on that fact.

Subsequently, he spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner. The records show that he was detained at prison camps in Germany at Giessen, Soltau, Vehnmoor/Oldenburg, Soltau (again) and Hameln.

Upon his release as a prisoner he went to Ripon, England (in Yorkshire), arriving January 1, 1919. On April 12, 1919 he embarked on a steamship to Rhyl, and on May 2, 1919 he embarked on the S.S. Cassandra for Canada.

He was discharged from Military Service May 17, 1919 at Medicine Hat.


What is not indicated anywhere in the military records is information about his life during his years in Prisoner of War camps. The following, then, is information as passed verbally from my Uncle Earl to my father Edward (with much coaxing on the part of my father, as Earl was very reluctant to talk about his war experiences).

Life in those POW camps was most unpleasant and Earl plotted to escape and did so from several camps, but was unfortunate enough to get caught each time. Fortunately the Germans who caught him each time chose not to execute him, but to return him to (probably the nearest) prison camp.

His method of escaping which was successful on at least one occasion is as follows. Apparently he befriended one of the prison guards, at least long enough to engage somewhat in conversation on a regular basis. On one of those occasions, Earl was able to surreptitiously take the impression of a key the guard was carrying, using a bar of soap. Then he set to work to manufacture a key in a manner which must have taken an incredible amount of time – he wet some string, and imbedded in it concrete dust from the floor, and used that tool to saw a key out of a piece of cutlery. The result obviously worked and he made his escape, but was subsequently caught.

Upon escaping from prison on one occasion, he apparently made his way across a border into a neutral country and crawled along to keep out of sight. Believing that he was well out of Germany he stood up, only to be captured, as the Germans had put up a false border.

On the occasion of one of his other escapes from a camp and his usual recapture, he was requested to row across a river in a rowboat that was being used by his captors. Earl was a strong swimmer and quite familiar with small boats. In earlier years, he and his brother Edward (my father) had spent many hours while growing up in Medicine Hat, monkeying around with a canoe on the South Saskatchewan river, as the river flowed right by their front door. They apparently spent a lot of time intentionally dunking the canoe and bailing it out while treading water to learn the art of recapturing an overturned canoe while drifting down the river, So, in the process of crossing a body of water in Germany as a captive, Earl thought nothing of dunking the rowboat and escaping once more. Unfortunately, again he was captured and taken back to prison.

Eventually the Germans gave up and decided there was a better place for him. They sent him to the salt mines in Northern Germany. That was a most unpleasant experience for Earl and his comrades. Working in a damp salt mine was in itself no fun at all. On top of that, a diet of fish and whale blubber was not good for his health. The combination was disastrous. He broke out in boils and suffered extreme discomfort with salt water dripping down onto open boils on his back. This was nearly tragic. However, a German doctor rescued Earl from this terrible place and had him sent to a hospital in Germany and brought back to some semblance of good health. When he was discharged from the hospital, he was sequestered with a German farming family, who had lost their son in the war, fighting the Allies. This family obviously took a liking to him, as they fed him food that they had hidden away for the day that their son would have returned from the war.

It is because of the kind treatment that Earl had had from the German doctor that got him out of the salt mines, as well as the treatment by the farming family, that Earl held no bitter feelings towards the Germans and was very reluctant to talk about his war experiences.

The Later Years for Earl

Shortly after Earl’s return to Canada in 1919, he made his way to California. He went to work in the naval shipyards in Oakland and spent the rest of his life there. He never married.


Occasionally my father and Earl would meet – either in Medicine Hat on the few occasions that Earl returned to Canada, or in California in the years between 1920 and 1930. It is upon those occasions that my father managed to extract the above anecdotal information from Earl, information which was eventually passed along from my father to me.

Unfortunately, I met Earl on only one occasion – upon his brief return to Medicine Hat in the early 1950’s, shortly before his death. According to his obituary, he died February 21, 1958 in a hospital in Oakland, following a lengthy illness. His cremains were sent to his brother Bill Morris in Medicine Hat. The whereabouts of those cremains is unknown. From what I have gleaned in stories from my father, I believe that the ill health that persisted with him all of his adult life resulted from a combinations of the effects of the chlorine gas, his stay in prison camps, and his time spent in the salt mine.

The Calgary Highlanders and the 10th Battalion

The 10th Battalion was created in September of 1914 and was destined to be famed far and wide as “The Fighting Tenth”. The 10th Battalion/103rd Rifles eventually became the Calgary Highlanders in the early 1920’s. The Highlanders have seen action in WWII and Korea and have participated in many peacekeeping events as well.

Each year the Calgary Highlanders commemorate tow significant battles – the battle at Ypres, which took place April 22-24, 1915 in which the 10th Battalion played a significant role, and the Calgary Highlander’s battle at Walcheren in Holland in October, 1944, at which time the Walcheren Causeway was taken by them from the Germans. This battle, culminating on October 31, 1944 was significant in that it was a major role in the liberation of Holland.


“Gallant Canadians - The story of the Tenth Canadian Infantry Battalion” by Daniel G. Dancocks,

“Welcome to Flanders Fields – The First Canadian Battle of the Great War: Ypres, 1915” by Daniel G. Dancocks.

“GAS! The Battle For Ypres, 1915” by J. McWilliams & R.J. Steel

“Silent Battle - (Canadian Prisoners of War in Germany 1914-1919” by Desmond Morton

“For King and Empire” (The Canadians at Ypres) by Norm Christie (Look in the "Detailed History" section regarding the 10th Battalion.)

-- EarlMorris - 10 Oct 2006
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