Oliver's Military and Battle Honors

 

Captain Oliver Alexander Mowat, M.C.


Born in New Westminster B.C. on 8 Aug 1893. Son of Lumber Baron Maxwell M. Mowat and his wife Lillian. When Oliver was only 2 years old his family moved back to Campbellton. And in 1910 he enlisted in the Sussex Militia until 1911.

I have no stories of his childhood as all relatives that would have known him have since passed on or are too young to remember. It wasn’t until his enrollment in the Forces that I got to know Ollie. As best as one can from words on a paper. It states on his attestation papers that he was a commercial Traveler. In reading letters that he wrote home to his parents you can definitely see that he had a sense of humor. You can also tell that he was very fun loving, had a huge heart and really cared for his family. He mentioned many times about his younger brothers and how important it was for them to go to school, and get good grades. Even through all the hell he went through over in the trenches of France and Belgium from Vimy to Flanders he still wrote to make sure that everyone back home was alright. Many times mentioning to his mother for her not to worry about him. He was going to do all the worrying for both of them.

In 1914 Oliver went to the RMC in Kingston Ontario and took the Artillery Lieutenant’s Instructor’s course. Upon graduation he was given his commission and assigned to the 24th Battery Canadian Field Artillery stationed at Fredericton New Brunswick.
When sent overseas he was attached to the 10th Battery 3rd Brigade 1st Division Canadian Field Artillery. He was mentioned in the war diary many times from July 1916 to August 1917.

On Oct 2 1916 he was wounded only slightly but still remained on duty. There is no mention of what sort of injury he received. But obviously Ollie didn’t think it serious enough to warrant seeing the medic. Even his commanding officer told him to go. I guess stubbornness started early in our family.
On 9 Oct 1916 he was promoted to Capt. Due to the promotion of the present Capt. August of 1917 he was severely wounded and spent the rest of the fall and winter at his home in Campbellton. According to the military he had served his time and was offered the command of the Newcastle Wireless Garrison and a position in Woodstock for the duration of the war. In an excerpt from the Campbellton graphic, it states that Oliver “felt it was his duty to return to active service”

In February of 1918 he left for overseas again and arrived in England’s Whitney Camp. It was here that the 67th and 68th batteries were being organized for the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force or the Northern Russia Expeditionary Force. Here he was appointed Adjutant. Along with these Duties he was also President of the Court of Inquiry as well as prosecutor of Court Martials. He held this position until he was medically cleared to go back to active service.

Very soon after that 67 and 68 batteries left for Russia. In an article published in the The Fourth Dimension in January 2005 it explains how Oliver died. For those of you who have read The Gunners Of Canada, you will be familiar with this battle as well as the Russian Campaign. The article from The Fourth Dimension is posted a little further down the page.

 
     
These are Ollie's Attestation Papers


 I know everyone wants to see his Military Cross and all his awards but I first have to put in all the little tid bits of his career up until then.   The following photos have been taken from The Archives of Canada.  These are the actual war diaries that were written by the commanding officer or officer in charge of the daily goings ons.



LIEUT. OLIVER MOWAT


Wounded

Ottawa Oct., 6

Max. M. Mowat,
Campbellton, N.B.
Sincerely regret to inform you Lieut. Oliver Alexander Mowat, artilery, officially reported wounded. Remaining on duty Oct. 1st, 1916.

Officer in Charge Record Office.,
Lieut. Mowatt, of the 10th Battery, 3rd Brigade, D.F.A., is brother of Lieut. G.A. Mowatt, of the 26th Batt., who was wounded some time ago and is now convalescing at his home here. Lieut. Oliver Mowatt was some months ago mentionned in despatches for gallantry in taking a field gun into the front line trenches and successfully blowing up a section of enemy parapet.
 

       
22 July                   10 Feb 1916                      Diary





Oliver's Medical Records

   




Oliver's Hall Of Fame!




This is the Cross of Sacrifice.  It was given to the mothers of soldiers who were killed in the war.


 

 

Mike Grobbel put together a webpage about Ollie long before I ever started researching him.  He cites books and passages that Ollie was mentioned in.   I am proud that someone would think enough of him to devote an entire page to Ollie. This page can be viewed here.  He has also done a lot of work on the Polar Bear Expedition. Mike was kind enough to send me the links to everything he had found about Ollie and allow me to post them on my website.  You'll notice that on the Mike's page there is a link to the "Godfrey J. Anderson Papers" in which Godfrey writes about Ollie in the hospital.  He refers to him as Capt Moffat but it's close enough.  Capt. Mowat's story in North Russia is also told on pages 192-193 in Damien Wright's book "Churchill's Secret War with Lenin".

The 1958 book "The Ignorant Armies" by E. M. Halliday makes numerous references to Capt. Mowat in the closing pages of Chapter 8, "The Snows of Nijni Gora". In the margins of the copy of that book which was owned by 1LT Nines Simmons, 337th Field Hospital, Simmons wrote about Mowat: “He died at Bereznik. I was with him and took him back to Archangel. I had 39 wounded in my convoy.”  This book was later republished under the title "When Hell Froze Over".

As you can see from the links above Oliver is mentioned in many books about the war in Russia.  Most of the books are written by American soldiers who served with him.  I did find one by a Canadian author named T. Robert Fowler.  His book is titled "Courage Rewarded: The Valour of Canadian Soldiers Under Fire 1900-2011". A link to Mr. Fowler's pages can be found here and his blog here.

 


   

This is the front and back of his Military Cross.




This is Oliver's Death Penny.  It was sent to the families of those killed in action.


 

   

Recently I was able to purchase Oliver's 1914-1918 WW1 medal (above), from E-Bay of all places.
 It was brought to my attention in a very strange and unusual way.  I was contacted by a Mr. Dave Thomson. 
I have thanked him hundreds of times and I will do it again here.  Thank you Dave for taking time to track me down.


 
The following is an article taken from the Maple Leaf newspaper courtesy of D.N.D. January 2005.  Unfortunately this article is no longer available online.


Maple Leaf, 12 January 2005, Vol. 8 No. 2, Pages 14 - 16.

"The Fourth Dimension
"
By Charmion Chaplin-Thomas


January 19, 1919

In Nijni Gora, a village upstream of Shenkursk on the Vaga River, Lieutenant Harry H. Mead of Company A, 339th Infantry Battalion, US Army, awakes to artillery rounds thumping in unpleasantly close to the log cabin he shares with his platoon. The temperature is -45o F, quite normal for sub-Arctic Russia, and the countryside lies under three feet of new snow. The shelling develops into an intense barrage so, when dawn finally arrives, Lt Mead takes his field glasses to the bank of the frozen Vaga, where he can observe the plain on the other side, all the way to the edge of the forest. At the tree-line he sees infantry wading slowly through the fresh powder. They are the assault companies of the Red Army, beginning the operation that will envelop Shenkursk, the forward position of the North Russia Expeditionary Force. Realizing that Nijni Gora is as good as lost, Lt Mead and his men slip away, heading for Shenkursk.

Shenkursk is a charming provincial city currently garrisoned by a multinational task force that comprises a section of the 68th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, a large, well-equipped British-American hospital and a substantial White Russian force including artillery and Cossack cavalry, as well as Company A and Company C of the 339th Infantry Battalion. From its headquarters at Archangel, on the coast, the NREF is strung out in defensive positions along the railway and the Dvina and Vaga rivers. Under its British commanding officer, Major-General Sir Edmund Ironside, its mission is to recruit and train local men to fight the growing and increasingly successful Red Army of the Bolshevik revolutionary government. The Canadian contingent is the 16th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery (Colonel C.H.L. Sharman), a remarkably successful unit, considering the harsh conditions, the futility of their mandate, and the soldiers’ intense desire to go home.

As the Soviet attack on Shenkursk and its neighbouring villages develops, the platoons of Company A fall back with their supporting Cossack cavalry toward the city, where the garrison commander is organizing a fighting retreat to the north. In the early hours of January 24, Lt Mead’s platoon passes through Bolshevik lines and arrives in Spasskoe, a town perched on a bluff above the river, where they meet Captain O.A. Mowat of the 68th Battery, just in from Shenkursk with a sleigh-load of shells and an 18-pounder gun. At 7 a.m., a Cossack reconnaissance patrol arrives with a report of thousands of Soviet troops moving toward Shenkursk, so Lt Mead and Capt Mowat climb into the belfry of the village church with their field glasses. For once, the Cossacks are not exaggerating: the roads heading into town are full of long columns of artillery and infantry and the plain below the bluff is swarming with Soviet soldiers.

Lt Mead’s company commander, Capt Otto Odjard, establishes a skirmish line on the edge of the bluff, and the Canadians dig in their 18-pounder across the road from the church. Bellowing at the top of his lungs, Capt. Mowat acts as forward observer, directing their fire from the belfry. Oddly, the Soviet commander does not order an infantry assault; either he considers it unnecessary, or perhaps his soldiers would rather not charge the Canadians, who have a vicious reputation for mowing down infantry with shrapnel. The Americans dig in among the graves in the churchyard as Soviet shells strike closer and closer to their aiming point, the church tower, until an airburst right beside the belfry sends a hunk of shrapnel clanging off one of the bells. In the momentary silence that follows, Capt Mowat sings out, like the barker at a country fair, “One cigar!”, and the soldiers on the skirmish line collapse in giggles.

A few hours later, Capt Mowat is strolling across the road from the churchyard to the gun position when he is cut down by a Soviet shell. The gunners pack him into a sleigh for the four-mile trip to Shenkursk, and the American soldiers hear his voice again: “Tell the captain I couldn’t wait.” He is dead on arrival. Eventually Spasskoe, too, is abandoned to its fate, as is Shenkursk in its turn.

__________________________________________________________________________

 

However in reading the war diaries for this time from the Archives of Canada he was not dead on Arrival. In the war diaries for 16th Brigade Lt. Col C.H. Sharman wrote:
27 jan 1919 Captain Mowat is in bad shape and is to be operated on at once. I received word from C&C that Capt Mowat had been awarded the Military Cross for bravery at KODEMA in December last. Also message from hospital that he was operated on but there was little hope. I was there at once, but he was already unconscious and died at 11pm. I pinned the ribbon of the Military Cross on him before he died, Notified GHC and all Canadian units. Arranged for Capt. Mowat to be buried at PIANDER, the Canadian.
On December 16 1918 it states in the war diaries that a mobile column under command Capt Mowat 68 bty consisting of one gun, a company of Russian Infantry, a platoon of Americans and a troop of Cossacks returned to SHENKURSK after a fight with the Bolshevicks 65 versts to a flank.. They were under heavy machine gun fire here. Capt. Mowat had a peasant that knew where the machine guns and pon-pon were located and also where the Command lived. The 124 rounds fired at a range of 800 yards were very well invested and direct hits all targets were obtained.  This is where he earned his Military Cross.

 



Officers of the 16th Brigade, C.F.A. September 1918

Oliver is sitting second from the left in the front row

 

 



A letter written from my Grandfather Godfrey "Goog" Alden Mowat with regards to Oliver's body being brought back to Canada. Also a reply from Sgt. Don Seaton of the Polar Bear Expedition.

(Excerpt from ?, no date)

North Russian Campaign

 

    May I be allowed a slight correction in reference to C. J. Jones’ letter in your January issue regarding the last Canadian casualties in World War 1 and particularly in the North Russian campaign of 1918-19.

    My brother, Captain O. A. Mowat, M. C., did not come from Moncton, as stated by Mr. Jones, but from Campbellton, N. B.  He died January 27th,  1919, south of Archangel and was buried there until June when his Battery, the 68th, was about to return to England.  His comrades did not want to leave him there, so a coffin was made of soldered biscuit tins and his remains were brought to England as battery baggage.  I was in Ripon with the 13thReserve Battalion for return to Canada at that time and had an undertaker make a sealed casket for my brother’s remains which were than forwarded to Campbellton.  A full Military funeral was held here, including a gun carriage and firing party.

 

-  G. A. Mowat (Major, ex-Lt. 26th Bn. C.E.F., and R.A.F., W.W. I), Campbellton N.B.

 


  Letter from:

Dr. D. G. Seaton

104 Scarborough Road

Toronto 13

 

Toronto, Mar 16/68

Major G. A. Mowat

Campbellton N. B.

 

Dear Sir : -

  I am sure I was one of the few besides yourself, who spotted the mistake in Mr. Jones’ letter.

  After your brother died of wounds our Adjutant Capt. Bruce, gave me a package of his personal papers, and possessions and told me to take them down to British Headquarters Beregrik.(?)  The parcel was addressed to Campbellton and I handed it over to a British Officer.  I hope it reached it’s destination.

  Although not a member of your brother’s battery, the 68th, I was a sergeant with the 16thBrigade and attended your brother’s funeral at Pianda(?).  As I had a small camera, I took these pictures of his grave, and of the burial party.  You may have copies of them, but if not I am sure they will be of special interest to you.

  You may be also interested to know that Polar Bear Organization will be holding it’s 50threunion in Detroit the end of May this year.  At our last reunion (both American and Canadian troops who served in N.B.) held two years ago.  I spoke with an American medical officer, who was with your brother when he was wounded.

  Although not directly under Capt. Mowat’s Command, I well remember the sense of loss throughout the whole brigade at his death, as he was held in high esteem by both his fellow officers and men.

  Personally I am now living retired in Toronto, but memories of those long past days and the comrades with whom I served are still as clear as ever.

  Yours very tuly,

  ex-Sergt. Don Seaton



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