Our Town

'The World Convulsed:' Part II

A photo taken by Harold Smith shows Cranbrook recruits serving with the 54th Kootenay Battalion, pictured in camp in Vernon, B.C., in 1915. - File
A photo taken by Harold Smith shows Cranbrook recruits serving with the 54th Kootenay Battalion, pictured in camp in Vernon, B.C., in 1915.
— image credit: File

The news of the outbreak of war in Europe dominated the front page of the Cranbrook Herald on August 6, 1914 — the day after Canada officially declared war on Germany. But the local news still demanded to be heard, and on August 13, 1914, the Herald's main story concerned a "mysterious and baffling murder" of a Japanese resident of Cranbrook — Sasa Moto, who seemed to have been plagued by a recent run of bad luck, according to the Herald's reportage, mostly involving the theft of livestock from his "truck farm."

On the evening of Saturday, August 8, Sasa Moto was shot dead on the front porch of his house, two miles southwest of Cranbrook. His wife heard the shot, found the still breathing Sasa Moto on the porch and alerted the authorities and other members of the Japanese community.

"...The murderer lay in wait for his victim, just behind the woodpile, which was only a few feet from the back door," the Herald reported. "The shot was fired from a shotgun with a number 5 shell, and struck Sasa Moto full in the face, shots entering his head from his chin to his eyes ... Sheriff Morris and Constable Logan are working on the case."

The Herald went on to speculate that Sasa Moto "must have possessed an enemy who was continually on his trail, and anxious to do him harm."

But everywhere else, the war was rushing in, like water in a leaking boat.

The main war news at this point was still dominated by reports from Belgium, which the Germans had invaded August 4 as part of the two-pronged “Schlieffen Plan.” The German military strategy was to bring three armies into positions in Belgium, from which they could invade France, which led to sieges of Belgian fortresses.

The reports on August 5 had indicated the Germans were facing stiffer than expected resistance from their invasion of Belgium. But by August 7, the German advance regained momentum, and they had captured the city of Liége.

“Allied Armies To Oppose German Advance In Belgium,” was the Herald’s war headline, August 13. “Main Army of Hostile Germans Expected to Attack Belgians Today or Tomorrow, and a Terrific and Decisive Battle is Expected to Result.”

The Herald, then under the guidance of Editor J.R. Thompson, went on the tell its readers:

“It is still impossible to throw any light on military operations which may culminate … in a terrific collision between the forces of disruption and those of civilization. Never before … have movements of an army been shrouded with such impenetrable mystery. Considering the number, the audacity and the ingenuity of German agents still in Belgium, these precautions may be indispensible.”

Though the German armies did indeed move forward in the last days of the week, the expected “terrific and decisive battle,” perhaps along the lines of Waterloo, did not occur as expected. The last Belgium defensive forts surrendered on August 16 and 17, the Belgian government abandoned the capital, Brussels, on August 17, and after some fighting on the Gete river, the Belgian field army withdrew to the west, towards French and British allies. The first major engagement of the British Expeditionary Force was at hand, which would result in a massive retreat — the so-called Battle of Mons (see Part 4 of this feature, in Friday’s Daily Townsman).

Other Herald subheads, August 13, 1914:

“Belgian Lancer Captures Many.” At this point it was still a war of movement and free maneuvering, where cavalry was expected to play a decisive role — even with lances! Four years of stagnant but murderous trench warfare was beyond the realm of imagining, and the word “machine” hadn’t been univerally linked with the word “gun.”

“Allies Ready To Give Battle.”

“Kaiser To Head Army in Belgium.”

“Belgians Rout Kaiser’s Forces.”

“Belgians Win Open Country Clash.”

“Main Armies Grow Nearer.”

“Use Brussels as Bait.”

Closer to home, it was announced that the East Kootenay was to have its own regiment, eight companies with headquarters at Fernie, Cranbrook, Elko, Golden, Fort Steele, Hosmer and Michel. Cranbrook volunteers would eventually become part of the 54th Battalion (Kootenay) of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The 54th Battalion was authorized on November 7, 1914 and embarked for Britain in November 1915. It disembarked in France on August 14, 1916. It fought as part of the 11th Infantry Brigade, 4th Canadian Division in France and Flanders until the end of the war.

And calls for public meetings abounded. “A public meeting of the patriotic citizens of Cranbrook … is called to meet at City Hall next Monday … The object is to consider ways and means of equipping two companies of volunteers … on behalf of the Empire and Canada at this time.”

A.H. Webster, Captain of the Cranbrook Rifle Association, sent a telegram to the commanding officer of District 11 in Esquimault, announcing the Rifle Association members wished to enlist immediately, and requesting instructions to be wired.

And the Herald’s coverage of that week’s regular monthly meeting of Cranbrook Council noted a generous response to the Daughters of the Empire, who requested a public meeting “to raise funds to assist in equipping a hospital ship, to be furnished by the women of Canada.”

Acting Mayor J.F. Campbell turned the information over to the officers of the Cranbrook Women’s Institute, and an appeal made to “every religious, fraternal and social society in the city.”

Rev. E.P. Flewelling, who ended up chairing the meeting held two days later at City Hall, said “Canada could do no better than to assist in relieving the suffering of those of her sons who came in contact with the enemy’s bullets.”

The meeting ended up raising $296.

The front page of the August 13, 1914, Cranbrook Herald also included this letter to the editor, from A.E. Watts:

“Sir; A marked copy of your paper of July 30th has been forwarded to me, and I notice some remarks you should have labelled ‘this is writ sarcastic.’ Others should have been labelled libel, innuendo, falsehoods, etc. … Just now I am engaged in important business with great and able statesmen, and when I get through I will attend to your criticisms in detail, and you can prepare an apology and get ready to eat your words.”

 

See Thursday’s Daily Townsman for Part III of “The World Convulsed.”

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