Le Bretons at the Battle of Vimy Ridge

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Le Bretons and their in-laws at the Battle of Vimy Ridge


The battlefield at Vimy Ridge

Several members of the Le Breton family and their relatives were involved in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 2017

This article was writen by descendant Ken Holden, and posted to the Jersey Temps Passe Facebook group in April 2017

April 9, 1917 5:30 am

On the morning of the battle, my 1st cousin 2x removed, Frank Mackenzie, with the 71st Battery CEF, and his brother-in-law Francis Le Breton, with the 6th Field Artillery CEF, began the artillery barrage that would provide cover for the advancing troops.

Frank MacKenzie was likely thinking of his brother Frederick of the 19th Battalion CEF, convalescing in England from a battle injury he received on Jan. 18, 1916, and his brother Alexander of the 4th Battalion, also convalescing in a London Hospital. Foremost in his mind, however, were his two other brothers, Robert and Richard, who were about to follow the artillery barrage with the 19th Battalion CEF as part of the attack by the 2nd Canadian Division, almost at the middle of the battlefield. Frank MacKenzie was later gassed in a different battle on 13 November 1917 but he remained on duty.

Hill 145

As the order to advance was given, my great uncle Harold Hoskins advanced with the 46th Saskatchewan Battalion as they pushed through the valley near Souchez, on the northernmost flank of the attack, as part of the 4th Canadian Division. In the days to follow the 4th Canadian Division would finally take Hill 145 and the area known as the pimple, to finally secure the ridge.

On the south end of the ridge, under the command of Major General Arthur Currie, John McKellar, fighting with the 13th Battalion Royal Highland Regiment of Canada, also known as the Black Watch, took and held the left flank of the position of the 1st Canadian Division. Also fighting with the 13th Battalion was Harold Hoskins' brother Percy, who had transferred to the 13th in November 1916.

Somewhere on the battlefield were the brothers-in-law of Harold and Percy Hoskins. Their brother Cecil had married Rosalie Vandal, and her brothers Norbert, Henri, and Joseph were all fighting with the CEF. These Vandal siblings were all children of William Vandal who fought at the battle of Batoche with Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont.

My grandfather Albert Beckett serving with the Royal Canadian Dragoons, had to wait out the two weeks surrounding the battle in hospital with a knee injury, though he saw plenty of difficult fighting in other parts of the war. His thoughts were likely of the events of the day and his brother George serving with the British Army in another field in France. Albert would also re-enlist in the Lincoln and Welland Regiment reserves during WW2.

Francis Le Breton's gravestone at Ecoivres Military Cemetery, Mont-St-Elois

War diary

By the end of the day the first line in the War Diary of the 19th Battalion would read "The Canadian Corps attacked and took the VIMY Ridge". Francis Le Breton had been killed in the battle, and the Le Breton family would lose William Le Breton a year later. They had already lost Wilfred Le Breton in November 1916, and Edward Le Breton would arrive in England from Canada on 14 May 1917 as part of the 235th Battalion which became the 3rd Reserve Battalion. Edward survived the war. Francis Le Breton’s son Frank would later be lost in battle at Ravenna Italy in April 1945 during WW2. The Hoskins family would lose Harold three weeks after Vimy on 1 May 1917 in another part of the Arras offensive.

The Hoskins and MacKenzie family members mentioned above who served in WW1 were all 7th cousins of Queen Elizabeth II, 17th great-grandsons of King Edward III, and 19th great-grandsons of King Philip IV of France. As a result, there were two famous distant cousins who also served in WW1. One of them being Winston Churchill, and the other being their 5th cousin twice removed who was Field Marshall Julian Byng, commander of the Canadian Forces during the battle at Vimy.

The battle of Vimy Ridge was the day that all of my English, French, and Metis cousins fought together in one battle.

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