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(Posted 3 p.m., April 11)
Honouring Navan and Cumberland's Vimy Ridge vets

By Fred Sherwin
The Orléans Star

Navan resident Fred Muggleton holds a picture of his father George, who served in the artillery during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Fred Sherwin/Photo

As Canada commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, it’s important to acknowledge and pay tribute to the boys from Navan and Cumberland who took part in the campaign.

George Muggleton was a farmhand when he joined the army in September, 1914. He was one of more than 36 men from Cumberland township who answered the call to serve when the war broke out.

Most of the young men were in their late teens and early 20s.

Martin Burns was working on a farm in Alberta when he joined. Robert Kennedy was working on the family farm near Orléans.

All three men would end up serving in the artillery, which is where many of the farmers who volunteered ended up. They knew their horses and could hitch and drive a team carrying the big guns and the ammunition cartridges through the mud.

Muggleton, Kennedy and Burns saw action in every major battle of the war – Ypres, Passchendaele, The Somme and Vimy.

George Muggleton’s son Fred says his father didn’t talk about the war very much. It was only later in life that he opened up and offered a few insights about his experiences, including the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

“My father said, he knew something big was coming up and that was Vimy Ridge,” says Muggleton, who lives in Navan with his wife Jean. “It was the first time they used the tactic of a rolling barrage, so they fired in advance of the infantry and allow them to move forward. It was the first time they used that tactic and it was a Canadian thing,”

The Canadians bombarded the German positions on Vimy Ridge for 13 straight days using 245 heavy guns and 600 pieces of field artillery.

Ultimately, more than a million rounds of ammunition, weighing more than 50,000 tons, fell on the Germans who dubbed the week leading up to the final battle for Vimy Ridge “the week of suffering”.

Navan resident Bob Burns' father, Martin, also served in the artillery during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Fred Sherwin/Photo

About the impact of the artillery barrage, Pierre Burton wrote in his book Vimy, “It was the gunners, stripped to the waist, sweating despite the wind and the sleet, labouring hour after hour without rest, or let up, who were the real victors in the battle to seize the ridge.”

Conditions at the artillery positions were nearly as bad as in the trenches. The predominant feature was mud.

Muggleton says his father said they would sleep on the gun barrels, or on top of the magazine cases to avoid sleeping in the quagmire.

Bob Burns says his father Martin never spoke about the war either.

“It wasn’t something he liked to talk about. He carried some scars with him for the rest of his life. He had some shrapnel in his knees that effected him quite a bit,” says Burns who also lives in Navan.

Burns and Muggleton weren’t the only boys from Navan who volunteered at the outbreak of the war. They were joined by Jim Shaw, Jack Pruner, Tom Melvin and several other young men from the area, while others would
follow in service to their country.

Robert Kennedy was so certain that the war would be over in a few months, he never took the time to say goodbye to his fiancée Eva. She would end up serving in the nursing corps and the two would marry soon after the war ended.

But many of the boys from Cumberland would never come back. There are 15 names on the Cenotaph in Navan of men who paid the ultimate sacrifice and didn’t make it back. Another seven names are on the Cenotaph in Cumberland Village. In total, 28 men from Cumberland Township were killed during the First World War.

That was heavy toll to pay when you considered the population of the township was fraction of what it is today.

Bob Burns and Fred Muggleton are grateful their fathers did return from the war, but they are even more grateful to those who weren’t able to make it back.

“I’m proud and thankful, really,” says Burns. “For a small community like Navan to send so many of its boys over there, and a lot of them never came back, it’s really something and it tugs at your heart strings.”

That it definitely is, and was.

(Left to right) Navan chums Jack Pruner, Martin Burns, Tom Melvin and George Muggleton were among the first Canadian soldiers deployed in the European Theatre during the First World War. Photo courtesy of Fred Muggleton

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)

 

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