Valour on the road to Cambrai

October 14, 2018 by Don Gillmor

“Nowhere have I seen such gallant work as this boy of yours displayed…. He was the first to reach the objective during the first day and through the days that followed he was an example of grit and determination that was the talk of the whole command. The men idolized him.” —Letter to Honey’s family from his commanding officer
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Samuel Lewis Honey was born in Conn, Ont., to Reverend George Honey and Metta Blaisdell. A schoolteacher, Honey enlisted at the age of 21 in January 1915. In 1917, he was awarded the Military Medal for his raids on German trenches. The citation read, “He did most excellent work in clearing an enemy’s communication trench and establishing a block in spite of heavy opposition. He personally covered the withdrawal of his own and another squad under a very heavy grenade fire.”Honey was modest about his feats.

“I think the rest of the party deserved recognition as much as I did,” he said.

At the Battle of Vimy Ridge, he earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Under tremendous fire and taking heavy casualties, he was forced to dig in. He held his position for three days, “encouraging his men by his splendid example.”

One more honour was to come.

In September 1918, he was a lieutenant with the 78th Battalion, outside Bourlon Wood. They were part of the offensive to take the city of Cambrai, a critical railway and supply hub for the Germans. To get into Cambrai, the Allies needed to cross the Canal du Nord and take control of Bourlon Wood, which overlooked the area.

The Germans had flooded the low-lying area around Cambrai and the Canadians assembled on a narrow, dry stretch where they could cross the canal. At 5:20 a.m. on Sept. 27, the Canadian Corps began its assault, with the 4th Canadian Division moving through and gaining the south part of the village of Bourlon, although it sustained heavy casualties. Then it was on to Bourlon Wood.

Resistance in Bourlon Wood was fierce and the commander of the 78th and all officers except Honey were quickly killed or wounded. Honey immediately took command and continued the advance.

They were getting hit by enfilade machine-gun fire and suffered more casualties. Honey located the machine-gun nest and single-handedly captured it, taking 10 prisoners.

The enemy’s counterattack was surprisingly energetic, and under Honey, the 78th helped repel them. At night, he led a party through the woods and located an enemy post, capturing it and three guns.

On Sept. 29, he led his men against another enemy stronghold. Bourlon Wood was finally secured and they moved onto the road to Cambrai, although the Germans fought hard in retreat. The war diaries for the 78th read, “still resistance felt & heavy shelling.”

Honey was severely wounded and taken to hospital. He died the next day, at the age of 24. He was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously and is buried at the Quéant Communal Cemetery British Extension in Pas-de-Calais, France.

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