The Canadian Corps was not involved in the British army’s disastrous first day on the Somme, on 1 July 1916, but had spent the summer of 1916 training, resupplying, and integrating the new recruits transferred to the front line to fill the gaps left by the almost 9 000 casualties suffered by the Corps in the spring at Mont Sorrel. Haig sent the Corps to relieved the 1st Australian Corps at Pozières on 1 September; two weeks later the 2nd and 3rd Divisions would fight doggedly for the village of Courcelette, their first introduction to the exhausting fighting on the Somme.
With the 42nd Battalion through all of this was Lieutenant, and by the time Courcelette was fought Captain, Royal Linsday Hamilton Ewing. A real estate agent, Ewing was a descendent of Samuel Hamilton Ewing, who began a drygoods import and manufacturing business in Montreal and was later the vice president of the Molson Bank. The Ewings were part of the city’s Anglo upperclass, and allegedly had hosted the future Nazi minister Joachim von Ribbentrop while he worked briefly in Canada. Royal Ewing had enlisted at age 36 in 1915, and had been with the 42nd throughout the battles of the spring of 1916, sustaining his only wound of the war during a shell bombardment at Mont Sorrel; in fact, according to the 42nd’s regimental history The 42nd Battalion CEF Royal Highlanders of Canada in the Great War, Ewing was thought to have the luck of the devil, since he never seemed to be injured despite being surrounded by death and disaster on a daily basis (Topp, 53).
The Centre has a small collection of letters and postcards that Ewing sent home to his brother Stuart, who was running their business Ewing and Ewing in his absence. Several letters date from around this period, as the 42nd fought at Thiepval, trying to take the Fabeck Graben, and later as they waited in support for the first attack on Regina Trench, on 8 October 1916. Of the fighting at Fabeck Graben, Ewing writes to his brother that “the ground in places was nearly covered with Huns & our chaps.”(24 October 1916). A spare, but nonetheless affecting letter writer, Ewing describes to his brother how being listed as missing mostly meant dead, and sends his condolences to mutual acquaintances who have lost family members on the Somme.
Ewing’s luck would continue to hold out throughout the war. He fought with the 42nd in every major engagement from their deployment and never received more than the light shrapnel wound at Mont Sorrel. He would go on to receive the Military Cross, the DSO twice, the Legion d’honneur and to be mentioned in despatches twice. By the end of the war, Ewing was actually commanding the battalion as its Lieutenant-Colonel, after the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Bartlett McLennan from a shell splinter during reconnaissance on 3rd August 1918. Ewing would thrown immediately into leading the battalion through the Battles of Amiens five days later on 8 August 1918 and would be its commanding officer until the end of the war. Ewing was greatly affected by McLennan’s death, writing that “No one can realise what his loss means to me” (5 August 1918), and apparently glad to have the work of the battalion to distract him. Royal Ewing was demobilised on 5 December 1919 in Montreal and returned to his business.