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Les soldats de la Grande Guerre : Projet de biographies historiques sur les soldats de Fredericton

Les textes explicatifs, les descriptions archivistiques, les commentaires, les en têtes de champs de données et les messages d’assistance à la navigation dans le site Web des Archives provinciales du Nouveau Brunswick sont en anglais et en français. Lorsqu’un élément est extrait d’un document pour être inséré dans une base de données ou présenté comme fac similé, il apparaît dans la langue du document d’origine.

Bidlake, Walter Geoffrey

Private 303457
4th Siege Battery, Canadian Field Artillery
2nd Brigade, Canadian Garrison Artillery

Background

Private Walter Geoffrey Bidlake was born in Wellington, Shropshire, England on February 20, 1893 to George Bidlake and Margaret Cottell Kynoch. According to information obtained from interviews with family, Geoff grew up in England with his family and studied in private schools there as a young boy until moving to Canada in 1905. Walter had six siblings including Frank, Jude, Kit, Rod, Gwen, and Marge. At the time, Walter was only about 10 years old and had grown accustomed to private schools. Arriving with his family to Fredericton, New Brunswick, Geoff made the choice to work instead of going to public school. As a young teenager growing up in Fredericton, he went to work at the Queen Hotel where he would become very popular with the local community.

According to George Bidlake, Walter’s great-nephew, it is during this time that Geoff would meet Greta Gertrude Gaskin, a young Normal School student who was from Albert County, New Brunswick. In 1908, Geoff was only about 15 years old, and two years younger than Greta, however, over the next few years their relationship would blossom. By 1915, Geoff and Greta had become serious enough that he was invited to meet her parents and family at their home in Cloverdale, New Brunswick. Family interviews suggest that it is likely the warmth of family that drew Geoff close to Greta’s family, especially her brothers Cyrus and Ewart, who were also about the same age as he was. On October 15, 1915 Geoff and Greta would marry one another, only two days after he had volunteered for service with the local siege battery. His choice to do so was also likely motivated by the fact that her brothers, Cyrus and Ewart, also were enlisting for service around the same time, friendships that would last during the war as they all left Canada for Europe. Geoff formally enlisted in Saint John, New Brunswick on October 25, 1915 with the 4th Siege Battery. According to his attestation, he had three years of training with the local Canadian Garrison Artillery and was 21 years of age. Private Walter Geoffrey Bidlake stood five feet six inches tall and had a fair complexion, with blue eyes and light brown hair. Although Geoff would write many letters home and send postcards to family and friends while in Europe, especially to his sister Marge, he would never return home to Greta.

Wartime Experience

Private Bidlake would train over the fall and winter of 1915-1916 with the 4th Siege Battery, CFA on Partridge Island near Saint John; a good training location that could simulate the often cold, wet and windy weather of England and France until they arrived. According to his service record, Geoff left Canada for England aboard the S.S. Olympic on April 1 arriving in England on April 11, 1916 with his unit. By late July the 4th Siege Battery had landed in France at Le Havre.

Over the next year, he would serve throughout northern France and Belgium with his unit as a gunner alongside Greta’s brothers Cyrus and Ewart. Sadly, only a month after the Vimy Ridge assault by Canadians, Greta’s brother, Cyrus, would be killed by an enemy shell that hit the hut in which he was working. A few days after it occurred, Geoff wrote a letter home to Greta’s mother offering his deepest sympathy for their loss, a loss he also felt.

“ It is with the deepest sympathy for you and all at home, in this dark hour, that I sit down to do what I feel is my duty of writing and giving you what perceptions I can and am allowed of poor Cy’s sudden death, which happened yesterday at noon. I could not believe it at first, but I found out in a very short time that… a shell had hit right in the centre of the hut where “Cy” and three more boys were sitting in, killing them all instantly. When I heard the news I was struck speechless for a few minutes and couldn’t believe it. When they asked me if I care to see “Cy” I said I would rather not so that I could remember him as I saw him last (which was when I passed him going out on duty and he was coming in). I went up to Headquarters at 5:30 to find Ewart, and we went for a little walk up the road where I told the boy as easily as I could what had happened. He took the news well, poor boy. It has cast an awful cloud over the Battery as it is such a heavy blow. We had just begun to get over the shock of losing two more of the boys the other day and then this came. It all happened in less than fifteen seconds. Death to all was instant and thank God they were spared any pain or suffering. Please accept and tender to Mr. Gaskin, Carmen and Audrey my deepest heartfelt sympathy… in “Cy” I have lost my greatest friend. He was a good one and more like a brother to me.

Yours, Sincerely, Geoffrey”.

Geoff, now truly changed by the effects of war, was granted a short leave of absence in October of 1917, one that saw him leave for England and return by the beginning of November. By late May, 1918, Private Bidlake had returned to England again to train as a motorcycle dispatch rider, a job that many saw as one of the most hazardous but important roles along the front lines to ensure lines of communication. After only a month of training, he was back in France where he played a crucial role in allowing messages to be shared between and within units. According to his circumstances of death record, on October 2, 1918, as he was waiting for his dispatch to arrive near the village of Haynecourt, France, sitting in a shallow but covered depression in the ground, a shell burst nearby wounding him severely in the face and in the back of the head. First aid was administered and he was rushed to a Field Ambulance, however Geoff died before reaching medical attention. According to interviews with family, it is believed that Geoff was writing a letter home at the time of his death. Private Walter Geoffrey Bidlake was 24 years old, leaving his wife, Greta Gertrude Gaskin, a widow.

On October 17, two weeks after his death, New Brunswick papers began reporting the sad news of his passing through information received by Greta and the Bidlake family. By 1921, Greta had moved away from Fredericton and was living in Moncton, later re-marrying a gentleman from British Columbia all the while becoming a well-respected educator and writer. Geoffrey’s parents would both pass away by 1936 and are buried at the Forest Hill Cemetery.

Lest We Forget

Private Walter Geoffrey Bidlake is buried with honour at Haynecourt British Cemetery near the small village of Haynecourt, France. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the cemetery contains 281 identified casualties and is approximately 6 kilometers north-west of Cambrai, France.

*This biography was researched and written by Mehrsa Khoshpasand & Tasha Appleby, Grade 8 students (2015-2016) at George Street Middle School located in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

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