The No. 10 Platoon of the 131 Overseas Battallion. Harry Triggs is the second man from the left in the back row. (131st Overseas Battalion commemorative booklet)

Cloverdale farm boy took to the trenches in the First World War

Harry Triggs’ name lives on in Canada’s Vimy Memorial

It was spring in France, 1917, and the formerly frost-hardened walls of the trenches had turned to mud. Within their confines, soldiers worked to remove the sludge, often working only at night to obscure their movements from the Germans.

Looking up beyond the trench walls, they faced a formidable sight: a natural ridge fortified with lines of trenches, a network of barbed wire, and dotted with machine guns.

It was life for Private Harry Triggs, and the others in the Canadian Expeditionary Force’s 47th Battalion. Alternating back and forth between trenches and a French mansion-turned-military-base, they practiced assaults, built roads and hauled supplies up to the front lines.

It was a busy life for the private, and a very different one than what he had left back in Cloverdale.

There, the 21-year-old was a single farmer, the youngest in a family six.

The family emigrated to Canada from England when Triggs was a toddler. Moving from Cardston, Alta., to Cloverdale, Triggs’ father set up a farm on a section of land at the corner of Town Line and Clover Valley Roads, where 96 Ave and 176 Street meet today.

His father, George Triggs, took to farming, fishing and road construction to make money for his family. In 1914, the same year the Great War began, George Triggs had taken his first foray into municipal politics as a councillor.

That year, Harry Triggs was turning 19 — old enough to enlist as a soldier in the war.

He started by joining the 104th Regiment Westminster Fusiliers of Canada, a militia that was placed on active service for local protection in August 1914. In March 1916, Triggs enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

He became part of the No. 10 platoon for the 131st Overseas Battalion, a unit formed out of the Royal Westminster Fusiliers of Canada.

A year later, Triggs was a member of the 47th Battalion, waiting in the trenches at Vimy Ridge.

But not just waiting. At the front, Canadian soldiers undertook trench raids — an attack on enemy lines to undermine the morale of the German soldiers.

These raids were common and brutal; conducted in the dead of night, they were wild, chaotic fights. There was no ground gained, no traditional victory — simply carnage and confusion. Although these raids had helped secure the Canadians’ reputation as a formidable force in the war — there were at least 55 raids held in the four months before Vimy Ridge — they were not easy. Several had seen catastrophic casualties.

On March 1, just over two weeks before Triggs’ company would attempt another raid on German lines, 687 Canadian soldiers had died in an attempted raid on German lines. It was what historian Tim Cook called “the single most self-destructive Canadian raid of the war.”

Triggs was about to follow in their footsteps.

At 3:45 a.m. on March 16, Triggs and his company set out into no man’s land. Six minutes later, the Germans began firing. The official war diary of the 47th battalion doesn’t say how long it lasted, or when the men returned to the trenches.

It was more successful than the March 1 attack on German lines: only eight Canadians were killed in action. Thirty-one were wounded.

Nine men were missing. Triggs was one of them.

His body was never found, and he makes up one of the over 11,000 other soldiers who were missing, presumed dead in France. Today, his name lives on in Canada’s Vimy Memorial, as a monument to the men from all parts of Canada who sacrificed their lives for victory.

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