PAGE 8 - THE ADVANCE - NOVEMBER 5, 2008
Heroes Never Die The untold story of Sgt. Alexander McClintock and Lt-Col. John Glass nathan jahn Advance staff
istory often has a way of reaching out when we least expect it; yet perhaps when we should expect it most. It was a rather serendipitous moment when the call came from Kemptville resident Bill Glass. I had been sitting in the office wracking my brain for something besides the typical — though true — “these men died for us… let us never forget” columns that populate the media. The problem is, it’s all true. We cannot afford to forget the sacrifices made by the men and women who fought in both World Wars, in Korea, Afghanistan and on a host of peacekeeping missions. Bill had written to the minister of Veterans Affairs nearly five years ago, asking for the inclusion of Sgt. Alexander McClintock in the Book of Remembrance. This is strange for two reasons: McClintock was an American who came to Canada to join the war; he committed suicide on June 28, 1918. The biggest question on my mind was simple: Why would a man who is unrelated to a soldier who shot himself some 90 years ago fight for his inclusion in the Book of Remembrance? It started more than a decade ago when Bill’s father died and his birth certificate had the name “J. Glass” as the father. This led Bill on a genealogical and historical journey back to the Great War where he discovered not only who his grandfather was, but the man who — in the short-term — saved John Glass’ life: Sgt. McClintock. It wasn’t until after we had finished talking that I realized it was my distant relative who gave the order that ended up killing Bill’s grandfather. Bill and I met to chat and he relayed the story of McClintock and his grandfather. McClintock was determined to join the war, enough so that he — along with an untold number of fellow Americans — came to Canada and joined the military.
Leaving Lexington, Kentucky, far behind, in 1915, McClintock intended to join the French Foreign Legion so he could join the “great adventure” unfolding in Europe at the time. He ended up meeting a soldier on leave at a place called the Knickerbocker Bar, in New York City. This fellow happened to be a member of the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry and he convinced McClintock to join the Canadian forces rather than the French Foreign Legion.
John Glass McClintock arrived at the Windsor Hotel in Montreal at 8 a.m., Nov. 2, 1915. Two hours later, he was sworn in as a private with the Canadian Grenadier Guards. After training in and around Montreal, McClintock boarded the Empress of Britain, on May 5, 1916, sailing for Liverpool, England. After a whirlwind of training in England, the regiment was dropped in France on Aug. 12, 1916. The Great War was a trench war. Hundreds of soldiers would die simply to gain the advantage of 100 yards farther down the fields where battles occurred. The battles were bloody, as machine-guns were strategically placed where barbed wire funnels would force opposing soldiers into their sights — both sides did this. McClintock’s unit was placed south of Ypres near the town of St. Eloi. St. Eloi is remembered primarily because both sides used mines that devastated the landscape — the biggest crater is the result of some 95,000 pounds of explosive being detonated by the Canadian Tunneling Company. John Glass enters the picture now, with the Canadians preparing for a trench raid.
Sixty men, all volunteers, were moved from their trenches for special training in an old barn located 20 miles to the rear of the main forces. Mock trenches, exactly like the ones they were to attack, were dug out and the men practised nightly for a week. The purpose of the attack was to take prisoners and documentation to obtain information on troop movements; something that could turn the tide of battle in the Great War. On Sept. 17, 1916, the men were divided into six groups of 10 men. Each group had its specific target and entry points into the trenches. The closest thing to war I’ve experienced is the spectacular fireworks show that the cities of Windsor and Detroit put on to jointly celebrate their country’s birthday each July. It is an awesome show of force, but nothing compared to the fear the men felt that night as the artilleries fired barrage after barrage of shells on the enemy lines. We can never truly know how they felt, but I have trouble believing a shot of rum is enough liquid courage to crawl on all-fours across a body-strewn muddy field; but they did it anyway. Everything was going according to plan — or so it seemed. Within moments of entering the trenches, two large mines exploded. The explosions sent men and shrapnel flying in all directions; half of the men were killed or disabled right away. McClintock was stunned but was otherwise unhurt; he saw the Germans coming out of their dugouts, shooting and throwing grenades. He tried to Alexander carry Pte. Henry Green out of the trench but managed only to get a short distance before Green died in his arms. The next man McClintock saw was Bill’s grandfather, John Glass. He was hurt, but not dying, due to a wound across his right hip that wrapped around and went across his right buttock. “Can you make it back?” asked McClintock. “If you help me,” replied Glass. During their journey back, another soldier named Pte. J.D. Hunter came along and assisted McClintock.
The raid failed: there were no significant gains for the Canadians in terms of information or ground gained.
Glass was in severe pain. He was tended to by medics under the supervision of the regimental doctor, Capt. A.L. Gildray before being sent behind the lines. He would never again see the man who had carried him to safety. McClintock returned for more men several times and was rewarded with the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Sixty men went into that mission: 25 went missing and believed killed; nine were wounded. From there, Bill Glass’ family history veers off from M c C l i n t o c k ’s story. His grandfather spent many months in hospital before returning to active McClintock duty. He wasn’t present for the historic assault on Vimy Ridge, but was killed in the aftermath as troops were sent to “mop up.” Bill’s father never met his own father. Very little was spoken about him at home, Bill said. But Bill is a man who is very devoted to his genealogical roots; he is very proud of what his grandfather did; what he fought for. Tears welled in his eyes as he spoke of the grandfather he never knew — the grandfather whose genes he carries.
This is where my story, my history, connects with that of Bill: a distant relative of mine, a man who would go on to be recognized as one
of the great leaders of the war; the first Canadian-born commander of the Canadian Corp., Sir Arthur Currie, was the man who ordered the operations that eventually killed Bill’s grandfather. As a commander, Currie sent many men to their deaths. I can only imagine the emotional scarring on a man who, by all accounts, was a man of great character. McClintock was lucky enough to avoid physical injury during the Battle at St. Eloi. From there he was transferred to Somme where, on Nov. 18, 1916, he would be selected to lead a group of 25 hand-picked men to destroy a machine-gun emplacement prior to a major attack. The men would crawl on all-fours across the barbedwire deathtrap that covered the fields between the two sides. Unfortunately, the barbed wire created a funnel that led directly into the machine-guns' sights. Twentythree men died in that hail of bullets within seconds. McClintock and another unnamed soldier survived and pressed the attack. Throwing grenades to the sides and crawling forward inches at a time, they managed to approach the emplacement and destroy it with a few wellplaced grenades. McClintock and the other soldier happened across another trench, filled with injured Canadian and British
soldiers. While there, a shell landed and the shrapnel hit McClintock in the leg between his knee and thigh. McClintock told the other soldiers to go ahead while he tied a tourniquet around his upper thigh. McClintock later wrote columns for the New York Times as he fought in his quest to get the United States to join the war. Bill told me that he wrote about a perfectly-placed shell that landed in the middle of 15-20 injured men making their way back to the Canadian lines and “vapourized” them — the men he told to go ahead. McClintock made it safely back to Canadian lines after that horrific event and was later discharged as being medically unfit. From there, he returned to the United States and became “obsessed” with getting his country to join the war; but his wounds — both physical and mental — never healed. McClintock walked with a cane and started taking drugs to help him sleep. He managed to talk his way into a commission with the American army and was given the rank of First Lieutenant in the American 78th Division. However, when it came time to go overseas, McClintock went AWOL (absent without leave). He was found on June 28, 1917, in a hotel room at 42nd Street, in New York City. McClintock died of a gunshot wound to the head. The bullet came from a gun he fired. Whoever found McClintock found a bottle of a drug called Veronal beside his bed. It was used to treat insomniacs at the time. McClintock’s name can be seen in the State of Kentucky War Memorial and the Fayette County War Memorial (Fayette, Kentucky). It can also now be seen in an addendum to the Canadian Book of Remembrance, thanks to Bill Glass. A man who didn’t know his grandfather, and who surely didn’t know McClintock, but a man who remembers the sacrifice they made, not only for us in North America, but abroad in Europe as well. Instead, some 90 years later, we remember the story of Sgt. Alexander McClintock and Lt.-Col John Glass. We remember their sacrifice: physically and mentally. These men paid the ultimate price for us.
We will never forget.