Guest post: Lieutenant Henri Hervé Moreau

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We’re very excited to bring a guest post to you today, in advance of the centennials of the battles of Thiepval and Regina Trench, by Diane Moreau Hemmings, the niece of Lt. Henri Hervé Moreau of the 22nd Battalion (Canadien-français).  

Hector and Emilia’s unmarried second son, Henri Hervé Moreau [1891-1916] was a Lieutenant/Platoon leader in the 2nd Canadian Division, 22nd Battalion [French Canadian], 5th Brigade, “B” Company.

Early in World War 1, Henri Hervé Moreau joined the 65th Battalion in Montréal.  Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal originated in Montréal, Québec on 18 June 1869 as The Mount Royal Rifles.  It was redesignated as the 65th Battalion, Mount Royal Rifles on 5 November 1869, as the 65th Regiment “Mount Royal Rifles” on 8 May 1900 and as the 65th Regiment “Carabiniers Mont-Royal” on 1 August 1902.  The 69th Battalion [Canadien-Français], C.E.F. was authorized on 10 July 1915 and was commanded by Lt.-Col. Joseph Adolphe Dansereau [1890-1948] from 1 April 1916 to 4 January 1917.  Lt.-Col. Dansereau was the son of the founder of La Presse, a graduate of the Royal Military College, a veteran wounded at Ypres and the youngest colonel in the C.E.F.  His new reserve battalion was recruited throughout the province of Québec and was mobilized in Montréal; some of the 65th Battalion joined their ranks.  Its history is described in J. Castell Hopkins’ Canada at War; A Record of Heroism and Achievement; 1914-1918.

Having been appointed an Officer on 24 August 1915 in the 65th Battalion, Carabiniers [Mont-Royal Rifles], Henri Hervé Moreau then joined the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force, 69th O [Overseas] Battalion.  The Battalion was sent by train to St. John, New Brunswick, in the fall of 1915.  After disembarking, there was a parade through the streets of St. John.  “Some of the latest recruits either had not been issued uniforms yet or had uniforms that were incomplete.  While here, the battalion formed a strong bond with the local citizens”, according to Terry R.J. Keleher & Donald P. Collins’ book Saint John: More Postcard Memories.

After months of training in St. John through the winter of 1915-16, Lt. Moreau’s medical fitness for overseas duty was approved on 1 April 1916.  The 69th Battalion, with officers and 1023 other ranks, embarked on S.S. Scandinavian in St. John and sailed to Britain on 17 April 1916, arriving there on 27 April 1916.  Once in Britain, this force formed part of the newly created 10th Reserve Battalion, being reinforcements for other units on active service.  Two-thirds of these troops were destined to become reinforcements for the 22nd Battalion in northern France.

Lt. Henri Hervé Moreau was originally mis-identified on his enlistment paper as H.J. Moreau, and is identified Joseph Chaballe’s Histoire du 22e Bataillon canadien-francais as J. Moreau.  The Canadian Expeditionary Force, 69th Battalion’s Nominal Roll of Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men for embarkation on the S.S. Scandinavian in April 1916 includes Lt. Moreau’s next of kin: Mrs. L.P. Pelletier [remarried mother], 22 Laval Avenue, Montreal, PQ.

Lt. Moreau saw his first major action with the French Canadian 22nd Battalion [the “Van Doos”] at Courcelette [15-22 September 1916].  During the first four days of this battle the 22nd Battalion lost one-third of its men in capturing the town and its environs.  The 22nd Battalion appears to have been stood down for the Thiepval engagement; however the Battalion, including “B” company and Lt. Moreau’s platoon, did their part in the Courcelette victory.  They were also involved in the process of clearing the German defenders from the village of Courcelette and holding it in the face of four days of enemy barrage and counterattacks despite being cut off from supplies including food and water.

The first battle for Ancre Heights was on 1 October 1916; its objective was to capture Regina Trench [Staufen Riegel].  That day, the British artillery bombardment had increased in intensity to “drumfire”, while the German artillery stayed silent because of a shortage of ammunition, being limited to firing only when the British infantry attack began.  The Germans also withheld machine gun fire until the Allied troops were within easy range.  Three 5th Canadian Brigade battalions attacked on a 1,200 yards front on both sides of the east Courcelette–Miraumont road at 3:15pm on 1 October 1916 – the 22nd Battalion being on the east side of the road.  According to the 22nd Battalion War Diary maintained by Major A.-E. Dubuc, they were caught by heavy artillery and machine-gun fire, about 300-400 yards from Regina Trench.  Only about 50 troops reached the objective, where the wire was seen to be uncut.  Being repulsed by counter-attacks of the German Marine Brigade, they were then forced to retreat for lack of resources to hold on.  During this one day, 1 October 1916, the 22nd Battalion lost another one-third of its men in this suicidal charge on Regina Trench.

Lt. Moreau, leading his “B” company platoon, was severely injured from a devastating shot to his abdomen in this attack on Regina Trench, and was left on the battlefield to the east of the East Miraumont road about 300 yards from the objective in No Mans Land, too gravely wounded to be dragged back safely to Allied lines in the height of battle with frequent counter-attacks.  By nightfall the 5th Canadian Brigade held most of Kenora Trench, with outposts in the western of the two Courcelette–Miraumont roads and Courcelette Trench, running north parallel to the eastern Courcelette–Miraumont road, before being relieved by the 6th Brigade before dawn.   A counter-attack by I and II battalions of the German Marine Regiment 2 overcame the Canadians in mutually-costly fighting at 2:00 a.m. on 2 October.  It was probably during this counter-attack that the Germans took Lt. Moreau prisoner and moved him back to their Artillery Reserve Field Hospital #49 near the church in Ribécourt-la-Tours, about 30 km behind the front line of battle.  There were several days of rain in early October 1916, making the ground soggy and difficult to traverse.  He died of his wounds in hospital during the night, early on 4 October 1916, his 25th birthday.  He was buried in a temporary military cemetery at Ribécourt-la-Tours church in E. Grave 1.A.; it was another six years before his remains were re-interred in Grave IV.C.13 at Flesquières Hill British Cemetery, where he lies today.

Correspondence from Sergeant Major W. Picard was transcribed in Col. Joseph Chaballe’s Histoire du 22e Bataillon canadien-francais :  “Among the prisoners taken were as Lt. J. [H.H.] Moreau and Sergeant Picard, Company “B”. Here is the postcard that he [Picard] sent on 9 October to his company commander from a German hospital behind the lines.  It did not reach the recipient until 10 November through the neutral Spanish Embassy; the news from the unfortunate and brave sergeant confirmed that the death of the Lieutenant had occurred three days after falling into enemy hands.

Message Written 9.10.1916

Dear Sir,

I am happy to give you the news that I’m pretty well despite a nasty injury to my right lung that pains me much.  One expects it to be more difficult to send me to Germany.  Lt. Morency [Moreau] was in the next bed to me for two days.  I do not know where he is now.  I have several injuries in different places.  I moved along the German trench but could not follow the others.  I am well treated.

Love to all, 61615 W. Picard.

 

Picard, in the hospital, had confused MOREAU [Company “B”] with MORENCY [Company “C”].  The latter was killed on the 30th, the day before the attack, and was buried in Courcelette.”

The Battalion’s War Diary continues…

Notes from Major A.-E. Dubuc, Commanding 22nd [F.C.] Battalion:

“Operation Order No. 100, 1st October 1916:

The 5th Brigade will seize and consolidate Regina trench from… junction of Regina trench and East Miraumont road, going west to 23 road.

Our “B” & “C” companies will form first line of attack with “A” company in support…

“B” company with Right on East Miraumont road and “C” company with left flank on West Miraumont road will start at Zero time with each two platoons in new trench dug last night, remainder of company following close up from main front line… and forming second wave.  The 5th Brigade Stokes Guns will occupy defensive position…  If objectives cannot possibly be reached all units will dig in and hold position gained.

Courcelette, 1st October 1916: Attack on Regina Trench between two Miraumont Roads at 3.15p.m. …  Enemy in great strength.  About half way to objective, enemy opened most intense artillery barrage, rifle and M.G. fire.  Only about 50 men succeeded in entering Regina Trench.  After a sharp fight seeing themselves hopelessly outnumbered, they gradually retreated to our original trenches.  No reinforcements were available.  Casualties 7 officers and 332 O.Rs [other ranks]…

On Oct 1st, three waves of one man per 5 yards in an 800 yards advance in the open against a strong and practically undamaged trench like Regina was sheer suicide.  No other reinforcing troops available…

Each man carrying rifle, bayonet, 170 rds. S.A.A., 4 bombs, 48 hours rations and water, water-proof sheet.  No tools outside of small entrenching.”

“It is no easy matter to express opinions as to the lessons to be derived….  Out of 31 officers who went into action on Sept. 15th and Oct. 1st, only 4 are left at present with the unit.”

The trouble seems to be that casualties amongst officers are usually so large proportionately, that nobody is left to send to information [about the situation, such as a counter-attack].  …Once ascertained that the enemy held Regina trench strongly with fresh troops determined to fight, in the light of after events, nothing could have remedied the situation on October 1st

“[For Artillery] On Oct. 1st, with an advance of 800 yards over level ground with practically no obstacles, lifts… of 100 yards per 3 minutes is much too slow.  In face of M.G. fire and in their anxiety to make as much ground as possible before enemy barrage drops, men advance at a fast pace which, on October 1st, lead them into our own barrage.”

The Canadian Centre for the Great War in Montréal holds the uniform and personal effects of a man who served under Lt. Moreau at the battle of Courcelette, Arsène Bélanger.  Pte Belanger was shot in the foot in the presence of Lt. Moreau and the Company Sergeant Major, just before they went over the top at Regina Trench on the day Lt. Moreau was wounded and taken prisoner.  Because witnesses were not present [due to them being prisoners], Pte. Bélanger was investigated for a self-inflicted wound; Lt. Moreau’s name is mentioned in the testimony of the commander of B Company, Lt G.E.A. Dupuis.

The battles on the Somme were the first in which all four Canadian divisions participated in the same battle, although not together in a cohesive formation.  The Canadian divisions suffered over 24,000 casualties – within an horrific 10-week period of questionable orders from Allied generals.

Brief Family History

Henri Hervé’s father was Hector Moreau [1866-1904], the eldest son of Jean Baptiste Moreau (1845-c.1880) and Marguerite Edesse Toupin [1846-1884].  Hector became an accountant and partner of the firm of Watson & Chambers in Montréal.  He married Emilia Delorme [1870-1929], daughter of a local butcher Louis Delorme and his wife Maria Albina Prevost, on 6 August 1889 in Notre Dame church in old town Montréal.  Their entire married lives were in Montréal; Henri Hervé had three surviving brothers and one sister.

Henri Hervé Moreau [4.10.1891-4.10.1916] lived for most of his childhood, until 1904 when his father died, at 719 Rue Berri, St. Jacques, Montréal.  His family was Catholic and service to their country was instilled in him and his brothers – the latter serving on the home front in Montréal’s depot during the War.  He attended the local school, and worked as a bank clerk immediately prior to the War.  In early 1916 he was living at 22 Avenue Laval in Laval.

This Moreau family is well documented back to the early 17th century in Québec and France.  Jean Moreau [1614- ] of Saint-Philibert de Grandlieu married Jeanne Doucet [1616- ] in 1635 in Nantes, Brittany, France.  Both probably died in France; however, their son Jean LaGrange Moreau [1638-1704] had a healthy constitution and an adventurous spirit.  He was born the same year as King Louis XIV [1638-1712], the Sun King.  Soon after Louis XIV reached his age of majority and took over the monarchy for himself in 1661, Jean LaGrange Moreau decided to emigrate to the French colony of Québec in North America, at a time when the colony had a population of less than 2,000.  He took up residence in Sainte-Famille de l’Ile d’Orléans.  After establishing his farm on this island, he signed a contract of marriage on 23 October and married Marie Anne Couture [1641-1715] on 12 November 1665 in Chateau-Richer, Montmorency, Québec.  There were at least eight large and multiple small Moreau immigrant families that came to North America during the 17th and 18th centuries.  As a young widow with four small but healthy children from a marriage to Jean Mineau in Fontenay-le-Comte, La Rochelle, Poitou, France, Marie Anne Couture had immigrated to Québec on 2 October 1665 on board the ship “Sainte Jean Baptiste de Dieppe” as a “Fille du Roi” – a marriageable woman sent to the colony to marry a local man and build the colony with surviving children; she was from Saint Hilaire, Chartres, Eure, France, and was the daughter of Jacques Couture [1614- ] and Marie Chevalier [1616- ].  Marie Anne Couture had a further six sons and two daughters in her long marriage to Jean LaGrange Moreau.  The only son known to have married was Pierre LaGrange Moreau [1679-1744], from whom Henri Herve Moreau was directly descended.

 Sources [websites]:
Ancestry.com
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
International Committee of the Red Cross
Library & Archives Canada [LAC]
Veterans Affairs Canada
Private Collection of Photographs & Documents
Published books & Military orders

The LAC database reference [available online in 2017] is:
Name: MOREAU, HENRI HERVE             Rank: LT
Date of Birth: 04/10/1891
Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 6353 – 64

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