“Terrible fighting going on”: Clarence Booth at the Battle of Mount Sorrel

24th Battalion Band, c1914 [Pte. Clarence Booth is in the front row, far left]. Clarence Booth Collection, 2015.04.07.02
24th Battalion Band, c1914 [Pte. Clarence Booth is in the front row, far left]. Clarence Booth Collection, 2015.04.07.02
The battle to re-take the lines at Mont Sorrel overlooking Ypres officially ends on Tuesday, after the re-taking of the position by the 1st Division on 13 June. I wanted to take the opportunity to write about another soldier whose possessions we hold who was caught up in the battle, Clarence Allan Booth. 

A jeweler in Montreal, Clarence Booth enlisted in 1914 at the age of 21 with the 24th Battalion (Victoria Rifles). He embarked for France with the battalion in September 1915, and wrote in his field diary several months later “I never though that in a years time I would be fighting Germans one mile from St. Eloi”. Though technically illegal, Booth kept a diary in 1916, which details his first year at the front where he witnessed some of the CEF’s most desperate battles.

Booth’s first frontline experience was at St. Eloi in April 1916 when the battalion was moved up in support of the 6th Brigade. Booth’s account of his time at the St. Eloi Craters speaks of almost constant German bombardments and counter-attacks, as the 24th Battalion relieved the 25th Battalion in the front lines of 14 April. At the end of April, the Battalion moved on to Scottish Wood where they were gassed and shelled almost continually. Booth wrote on 30 April 1916 “This place is a pure hell”.

It was at Scottish Wood that Booth began to show signs of breaking down. By mid-May, he was reporting in his diary that his “nerves were going wrong” and he was sent several times to 5 Canadian Field Ambulance for treatment. Booth knew at this point that he was suffering from “shell shock”, an all purposed term given to symptoms that we now call PTSD.

Shell shock manifested in many different ways, including shaking, an inability to move, or inability to speak. Treatment was extremely rudimentary, if the MO acknowledged the symptoms at all, and Booth was bounced in and out of 5 Field Ambulance several times between May and the beginning of June before being permanently hospitalised on 3 June with influenza in addition to his other symptoms.

Booth was released from hospital on 12 June and rejoined the battalion at the trenches around Maple Copse. Though not directly involved in the German attacks on 2 June, the 24th Battalion relieved the 3rd Battalion at Maple Copse on 11 June and spent three days in shallow trenches, unable to move due to the constant enemy fire. Booth spent only one day with the battalion, listening to the battle rage as the 1st Division struggled to re-take the original trenches lost at Mont Sorrel. He was buried by a shell that evening and taken once again to hospital.

Private Booth was declared unfit for frontline service several days later and was permanently transferred to 2nd Divisional HQ where he remained for the rest of the war.

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