Today is Remembrance day, Nov 11, so this is a good time to talk of the Great War. Normally we remember the people who died defending our country, but this post is about someone who survived.
Sergeant Charlie Olmsted was one of Canada’s most respected soldiers in the Great War. He was involved in a major advance through the front lines, and when the advance was successful the brigades found themselves far from support, and had to fight their way back to regain contact.
A RECORD N. C. O.
Probably the most-decorated Civil Service soldier of non-commissioned rank is Charlie Olmsted, late sergeant in “C” Squadron of the Royal Canadian Dragoons.
When the war broke out Charlie was following the peaceful career of a clerk in the Land Patents Branch, Department of the Interior, yet he was by no means without military experience. He had been a militiaman ever since he was big enough, serving in the Governor-General’s Foot Guards, the 43rd Regiment and the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards; while during the South African war he belonged to the 3rd Special Service Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment at Halifax, being deemed too young for
He was one of those militia cavalrymen who were disappointed that no Volunteer cavalry corps were intended to be included in the First Contingent of Canadians for service in France. As the next best thing, he enlisted, on August 7th, 1914, with the 1st Battery, 1st Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, but jumped at the chance of a transfer to the Royal Canadian Dragoons when that regular corps was raised to war strength.
The R. C. D. went to France, from England, as infantry, on May 3, 1915, fought as infantry at Festubert and was on the line between Dickiebush and Armentiéres until January, 1916; when they got their horses back and were re-trained as cavalry.
All the next Summer they waited back of the line. on the Somme, but it was not until February, 1917, that the long-hoped-for chance of a cavalry fight came and they rode over “Fritz,” somewhere South of Peronne.
Then followed more waiting and watching, until the Cambrai drive of December sent them far across the lines, only to be caught without support when “Fritz” counter-attacked and to have to fight their way back over the hard-won ground.
It was for brilliant work during the Cambrai operations that Sergt. Olmsted was awarded his first decoration, the coveted Distinguished Conduct Medal. The Order of the award says:
For distinguished gallantry and devotion to duty, both as troop leader and S.S.M., especially during two months’ hard fighting.
The R. C. D. opened its 1918 programme on the St. Quentin front, and there, in a trench raid in February, Sergt. Olmsted won his second decoration, the Military Medal. This was presented to him on the field by Major—General Cavanagh, the Cavalry Corps Commander.
About the same time he was awarded a third recognition of his consistently gallant and efficient service, the Croix de Guerre of Belgium.
As a Canadian “original” and a married man, Sergt. Olmsted came in for special home leave in the spring of 1918, and this proved to be his permanent return to Canada. Though he had never been wounded, an injury sustained at the front caused him to be retained on this side of the Atlantic, and he was on duty in Ottawa when the armistice paved the way for his discharge.
Besides the ribbons of the D.C.M., the M.M. and the Croix de Guerre, his tunic displayed the rainbow decoration of the men of 1914 and his long military experience now entitles him to the green ribbon of the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Long Service Medal, making an array not exceeded by that of many volunteers of “other ranks.”
SERGT. CHARLIE OLMSTED, D.C.M, M.M., Croix de Guerre
This item is a random choice from the Archives Canada collections. Actually, not very random: this is a piece that could be OCR’d well, so when I searched the OCR results this page came up along with 4000 other results (out of 25 million). Here is a zoom showing the print quality.