George Donald (G.D.) Fleming (Maj)

147th Battalion at Camp Borden, 1916. Courtesy South Grey Museum

Another Fleming to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force for World War 1 was George Donald (G.D.) Fleming, son of C.A. Fleming and Margaret Donald. When he left in 1916 as an officer in the 147th Grey Owen Sound Battalion, he was 27 years old, (born 22 October 1889), had a wife Alice Naomi Beaton, and a daughter “Peg” of 16 months.

He was a “secretary treasurer” by profession according to the attestation record – probably at the Northern Business College his father had founded in Owen Sound.

A man of medium height at 5 feet 9 inches, weighing 165 pounds, he had a fair complexion, blue eyes, and brown hair. George had been in the 31st Regiment militia for seven years. Feeling a very powerful loyalty to King and Country  and having seen his militia colleagues leave, he enlisted with the  76th Battalion 13 November 1915 (date of attestation)  for training at its Niagara Camp. He transferred to the  147th Grey Overseas Battalion 1 January 1916. Official papers show that he enlisted for overseas  service with the rank of Captain (3 February 1916).   It was the practice to direct troops from training into reserve battalions  in England and from there move men into a Division as needed.

Embarkation on The Olympic from Halifax wasn’t until 13 November 1916.  The voyage  had some perils as described in this segment about the “Canadian Greys’ Rooms”.

“In 1916, the 147th Grey (Overseas) Battalion, also known at the time as the “Canadian Greys”, were ready to leave Canada for England.  They were delayed in Nova Scotia from embarking by an outbreak of diphtheria among the men. Eventually, in November, 1916,  they survived the five-day crossing of the Atlantic on the S. S. Olympic (a sister ship of the ill-fated Titanic), with many of them quite worried about enemy u-boats, as there were about 10,000 troops aboard.”

[Source: A Story of Dedication and Love – Mrs. Eaton and Her Volunteers at the Canadian Greys’ Rooms, Grey Roots.]

On arrival in England 21 November 1916, G.D. was transferred to the 8th Reserve Battalion of Central Ontario in Shoreham-by-the-Sea with the rank of Major– and proceeded almost immediately  (February 1917) on a tour of inspection in France.  At the end of that year (23 December 1917) he was posted, as were many others from the 147th, to the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles (C.M.R.) as a Lieutenant (for the purposes of overseas assignment), arriving in  January.

First item was to attend the Canadian Corps Gas School course, something now required of officers and adjutants.  It wasn’t a text-book learning lark. Tim Cook in No Place to Run: The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the First World War described it as follows: “the students attended nine gas lectures, covering topics ranging from anti-gas defence and how to care for gas dugouts to gas shell tactics and a history of the gas war.  The climax of the course was subjecting the men to a gas attack.”   [Source: No Place to Run: The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the First World War, Google Books, p. 123]

Because of his qualification as a secretary treasurer he was appointed Assistant Adjutant (29 April 1918) holding the rank of Captain to assist in the administration and record keeping of the Battalion. In August he became a full Adjutant.  For a brief time he was Acting Major (appointed 16 October 1918).

During August  the 4th CMR was in the Mericourt area near Amiens – north east corner of France near Belgium –relieving other battalions, and soon after at the Second Battles of Arras.  The 4th CMR was usually part of 8th Canadian Infantry Brigade and it fought in the decisive battle for Canal du Nord and Cambrai  (27 Sept 27, 1918 to 11 October).  This is described in various extracts from the war diaries:  War Diaries at Collections Canada, Nicholson’s official history (see below), and War diaries for the period at the website for the 4th CMR.  But the most detailed account of the activities of the 4th CMR  is given in S.G. Bennett’s book, The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, 1914-19 (Toronto, 1926) available from the Internet Archive.

In the section “Final Advance to Mons” that detailed the activities in the later part of October,  Bennett quoted Captain G.D. Fleming’s entry in the  regiment’s Diary in which he observed the conditions of the Belgium people  long oppressed  by the occupying Germans.

“The Battalion in small groups listens with more or less comprehension to the cruelties and annoyances to which the inhabitants had been subjected by the detested enemy. They told of the requisitioning scheme, under which they were deprived of their homes, cattle, pigs, poultry and grain, which they were forced to cultivate and of which they received no share for their labour ….” ( p. 142)

[As an aside, the author S.G. Bennett thanked the two Adjutants, Captain Gregory Clark and Captain G.D. Fleming for keeping an excellent Diary used as a basis for the book.]

A bout of influenza incapacitated G.D  for nearly two months from 22 November 1918 to 14 January 1919.  By this time the war was over and he returned to England 13 February 1919 and sailed from Liverpool 8 March 1919.

Victory Medal 1914-19
Victory Medal for campaign service.  Courtesy Wikipedia

On discharge he retained the rank as Major, and received British War and Victory Medals for his service. He also received the honour of being “mentioned in dispatches” (11 July 1919).

He had not been entirely free of health problems.  While at the Niagara Camp in Ontario in 1916 for training he contracted  rheumatic fever. In 1919, this must have reasserted itself: A medical  examination  in England (17 February 1919) noted that he had general weakness attributable to rheumatic fever and had complained of pain and swelling in joints.  The doctor, however, described G.D. as “rather pale although well nourished, a man of good physique. At present perspires freely. Heart is clear but rather flabby in force.  Lungs clear. No joints swollen at present. None deformed.” He lived to 1971.

G.D. on returning home resumed involvement with  the Grey Regiment  Reserve  and was  made  second-in-command to Lieut. Col. G.F. McFarland. After organizing   new companies, McFarland turned over the command to Fleming now a Lieutenant Colonel himself (1921-24). Promoted to Colonel, G.D. took over the command of the 22nd Infantry Brigade, possibly to 1929 (Source:  E.L. Marsh in A History of the County of Grey (1935)).

He was also a successful businessman in Owen Sound – owner and president of Richardson, Bond &  Wright; a philanthropist; and a strong family man – he initiated “Sports Day” at Leith for the Fleming family and friends.

About Medals

Victory Medal

British War Medal

British War Medal

Mention in dispatches

Selected Resources  

Canadian Soldiers: Table of Ranks and Responsibilities

Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919: Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War  by G.W.L. Nicholson’s (1962) – See  section “Through the Hindenburg Line to Cambrai”

The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, 1914-1919

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