“Dead” Man Appears to Old Comrade
By The Legionary
June 15th, 1926
“My God, Tom, I buried you in France – thought you were dead!”
“Not me, Jack; this is me here.”
And Guard John Reid at the Jail Farm, Langstaff, Ont., walking into the refectory for duty at dinner hour, a few days ago renewed his wartime friendship with Thomas Armstrong, a comrade he has been mourning since the sad day following the battle of St. Julien in the fateful spring of 1915.
On that day of sad memories to many Canadian homes, Provost-Sergeant John Reid, of the Ontario Fourth Battalion, was among those whose sorrowful duty it was to give burial to fallen comrades.
The party came across an unrecognizable figure without any means of identification, but close by was a disc bearing the name of Thomas Armstrong, 4th Battalion, with his military number 11104. Armstrong had been listed as missing and dead, and as the small metal disc proved that something serious had happened to him, and as the body which the burial party had found resembled that of Armstrong, it was agreed by Sergt. Reid and his burial party that they had found Armstrong dead.
With the great sorrow that all comrades felt for their fallen friends, the unknown soldier was buried and a cross erected among the poppies of Flanders’ Field which bore the name of Thomas Armstrong. For all Sergt. Reid knew, his comrade still slept the sleep of the brave, where he had fallen in his last great fight, and for all he knew the cross of wood still marked the spot.
On a recent evening Guard Reid was in the dining hall when he got the shock of his life when Armstrong walked in. Reid explained to him that after the battle of St. Julien on April 23, 1915, only 123 men of the 4th Battalion answered roll call after that body had made a half-mile charge across open country, captured and held a wood from the German forces. The list showed that Armstrong had been among the 353 men who had paid the supreme sacrifice. The body was found and buried, and the original members of the “Fighting Fourth” mourned Thomas Armstrong as dead.
“I never expected to ever see you again. I felt sure I had buried you in France, Tom,” said Guard Reid. “It sure is a shock to see you after practically knowing you were dead.”
Armstrong told his comrade, Sergt Reid, of his experience. In that great charge he had been wounded badly in the side by a high explosive shell. The wound was approximately eight inches long. As he charged he must have lost his identification disc; he did not remember seeing it again. For two days and two nights he lay on the battlefield and was finally picked up by French army stretcher-bearers. After being in hospital for eight months he was invalided home, and though reported dead was granted a 10 per cent pension which he later commuted.
The coincidence of meeting a comrade who was supposedly dead is made more wonderful in this case because of the history attached to the service of both Reid and Armstrong. On August 5, 1914, the day following the declaration of war, these two men enlisted for active service at the same time. The officer who swore them in was Lieut.-Col. H. S. Cooper, who later commanded the Fourth Battalion. They were together constantly until the battle of St. Julien, 1915, when they became separated in the charge and Reid was left to mourn the other, but Armstrong to rejoice in the knowledge that his “pal” had pulled through and was one of the few members of the original unit to fight through the whole of the war.