First and Last

This first blog  is going to look at the first and the last Regimental casualties overseas, so both England and Continental Europe. I’ll actually be looking at three people; Sgt. Ernest Grundy, who was the first to die but not in combat; Pte. Herbert Milotte, the last soldier killed in action; and, Pte. Arthur Summers, who was the last member to die in Europe. I should note two things, however. Firstly, Sgt. Grundy was, in fact, the second Black Watch casualty, but the first was a suicide and I decided not to include details of that. Secondly, the first KIA’s for the Regiment were actually in September of 1942, during the ill-fated raid on Dieppe, and I’ll try to cover those in a separate blog.

As mentioned above, Sgt. Ernest Grundy was the second Black Watch overseas casualty, dying of an apparent heart attack on November 19, 1940, while the Regiment was stationed in Aldershot, Hants, England. He was 35. Sgt. Grundy was one of the ‘originals’, having joined the Regiment on September 9, 1939 – eight days after the declaration of war on Germany. Sgt. Grundy was born on December 4, 1894 in Bolton, Lancashire and was living in Montreal at the time of his attestation. He had married Emily, almost ten years his senior, in Bolton on June 22, 1917 and they emigrated to Canada in 1923. Ernest and Emily had two kids, Ernest, who was 18 when his father died and Mavis, who was 16 in 1940. Ernest was a fairly experienced soldier, having served for four years with the 3rd. East Lancashire Brigade, which was a reserve force that served near Plymouth during the First World War. He also joined the 42nd Battalion the Black Watch (RHR) of Canada in 1935 and seems to have been with that militia unit at the outbreak of the war in 1939. This previous experience seems to have paid off as he was promoted to sergeant on June 1, 1940. Sgt. Grundy is described as being just over 5’ 7”, 171lbs, with a sandy hair, blue eyes, and a ruddy complexion. Sgt. Grundy travelled with the Regiment as they sailed to Botwood, Newfoundland, in June 1940 then back to Halifax on August 13, where they were briefly billeted in Aldershot, before finally departing for England on August 23. The Regiment arrived in Gourock, Scotland on September 9. Sgt. Grundy was in England for a very short time before his death, the impact of which is described in the War Diary:

The Battalion was unfortunate in having another casualty this month. D.81257 Sgt. Grundy, E. who died of natural causes while having lunch in the Sergeants’ Mess. A veteran of the War of 1914-1918, his loss was felt keenly by ‘E’ Company where he had been a guide and advisor to many a newly enlisted young soldier.

Sgt. Ernest Grundy is buried in Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey.

The last Black Watch soldier to be killed in action was Pte. Herbert Milotte, born on May 12, 1921, in Lanark Ontario, so he was less than two weeks shy of his 24th birthday. Herbert Milotte was a mill worker and seems to have been living with his mother at the time of his attestation in Ottawa, on the 13th of August, 1942. According to his physical he was 5’ 4 1/2”, 127lbs with black hair and hazel eyes. Pte. Milotte was taken on service at the Canadian Army (Basic) Training Centre in Cornwall on August 28, 1944 and remained there until he was transferred to the 71st General Transport Royal Canadian Army Service Corps back in Ottawa. On August 29th his unit was in Camp Debert, Nova Scotia. Camp Debert was ta division level training camp and the last staging area for units embarking to the U.K. All five Canadian divisions of the First Canadian Army were housed and trained in Debert prior to leaving for the European theatre. Pte. Milotte was promoted to Lance Corporal on December 13, 1942 but has reverted back to private when he arrives in Scotland on September 1, 1943. His service record gets somewhat complicated as he seems to be attached to the Royal Canadian Artillery and then back to the RCASC, but on November 18, 1944 he is with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Training Regiment. Pte. Milotte arrived in Normandy on December 16, 1944 and joins the Black Watch on the 31st, where they are dug in south of Nijmegen. According to the war diary that New Year’s Eve “all was quiet, and the moon was riding high in a cloudless sky”. I find this story quite personal as my father joined the Regiment soon after this. The Black Watch’s advance through Holland was at an almost break-neck pace and I have talked with veterans about how quickly they advanced. So, by April 1945 the Regiment are fighting their way north through central Holland to Groningen and into Germany through the Hochwald. On April 29th the Regiment was in the area of Hude, Germany and at 0800 hours left as part of an operation named ‘Stutz” and, despite some elements encountering heavy resistance, they attained their objective by 1317 hours. Pte. Herbert Milotte was the only Black Watch soldier killed on that day. Pte. Milotte was initially buried in a temporary grave “in yd in front of low thatched house East side of rd 496997 Sheey 2916 GERMANY – NW of Delmenhorst. He would have been disinterred at some time in 1946 and was reburied in Holten Cemetery in Holland.

8 thoughts on “First and Last

  1. Herb Milotte was my uncle – my father’s brother – and I am extremely grateful for this brief account of the circumstances surrounding his death, none of which were known to me. The only thing I remember hearing about Herb’s death – and this was in my childhood – is that he was shot by a sniper not long before the war’s end. I had thought this happened in Belgium, but now know he died in Germany. In more recent times a small lake in the Thunder Bay area of Ontario has been named after Herb.

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      1. Many thanks again for all of that. I read the April 29 diary which records the day’s fighting, but there is no actual detail on how, when or where Herb was killed. Only at the end of the day’s entry does it record the fact that one OR (ordinary rank?) was killed, presumably Herb. At one point on your site you give a reference to ‘Copp, p.193’ for details of the regiment’s ‘last real action in the area of Hude’ which is where Herb was killed. I couldn’t find the full citation for Copp. Can you provide further details? On another matter, do you know if such detailed records are publicly available for the Candian Forestrey Corps? This was my father’s regiment and he was stationed in Scotland.

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    1. Was there any more detail in the regimental diary about the actual engagement in which Herb lost his life? When I showed your site to my sister she responded by sending me an insurance application form filled in by our father in 1947 in which there was a question about siblings alive and dead. Here my father recorded that Herb was 20 years old at the time of his death, not 23 as your record states. I wonder where the error might have arisen?

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  2. Mike – OR stands for Other Ranks. Your father’s records would be at the National Archives in Ottawa and you can find the request form on their website. I believe they will release limited records unless the person has been dead for over 25 years. I had to provide proof of relationship and an obituary as well, but that may have changed. Here is a link to the Cops book: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-brigade-the-fifth-canadian/9780811734226-item.html?ikwsec=Books&ikwidx=0

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