Lionel John Baber Aitkens

Informations sur naissance

Date de naissance:
Lieu de naissance:
Honor Oak, Surrey, Angleterre, Royaume-Uni

Informations générales

Dernière résidence connue:
"Windie Edge" Southborough, Kent, Angleterre, Royaume-Uni
Church of England

Informations service militaire

Force armée:
Canadian Expeditionary Force
Incorporation date:
Incorporation nom de lieu:
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
 —  Canadian Field Artillery, 21st (Howitzer) Bty. 4th Bde.  (Dernière unité connue)

Informations sur décès

Date de décès:
Lieu de décès:
Ashtead, Surrey, Angleterre, Royaume-Uni
Cause du décès:
Décès après-guerre (sans rapport)

Cimetière ou mémorial

Pas de cimetière ou de mémorial connu pour ce militaire.

Distinctions et médailles 4

British War Medal
Mentioned in Despatches
Eervolle vermelding — 28/05/1918
Military Cross
Médaille — 14/11/1916
Victory Medal

Points d'intérêt 5

#1 Lieu de naissance
#2 Dernière résidence connue
#3 Lieu d'enrôlement
#4 Lieu de blessure
#5 Lieu du décès (approximatif)

Mon histoire

Lionel John Baber Aitkens was born on 22 March 1890 in Honor Oak, Surrey, England. At that time, his parents already have a son, Albert, and a daughter, Violet. After Lionel, two more brothers, Cyril and Geoffrey, and a sister, Pearl, are born. In April 1914, 24-year-old Lionel travelled on the Lusitania to New York and then to Canada. He reports to immigration authorities as a traveller and states his intention to travel as a tourist as far as Vancouver on Canada's west coast. Lionel, however, does not immediately return to England. In late January 1915, he volunteered for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Lionel John Baber served as a lieutenant in the D/21 (Howitzer) Battery, part of the 4th Canadian Brigade, of the Canadian Field Artillery.

He is sent to Britain, where he marries Kate Winifred De Rusett a few months later. It was not until January 1916 that Lionel made the crossing to France. In May 1915, Lionel's brother Albert was killed at Wimereux. His brother Cyril is also killed in July 1916, during fighting near Mametz in the Somme Offensive. Lionel is awarded a Military Cross in November 1916 for taking the initiative to establish and maintain a communications link during the Somme Offensive under very heavy shelling. In mid-October 1917, Lionel's unit is sent to Flanders. There, the Third Battle of Ypres had already been raging for a month and a half. The Canadians have to take Passchendaele and during this period are getting everything ready for their offensive there.

They send the D/21st Battery directly to the front and it takes up positions west of Zonnebeke, some three kilometres behind the front, on 16 October. The bad weather makes conditions miserable and German artillery constantly strafes their positions. Lionel's battery moves to the church ruins of Zonnebeke on 25 October. A day later, the offensive at Passchendaele erupts. Even in these new positions, they are bombarded for days with shrapnel grenades and mustard gas.

During his stay in Zonnebeke, Lionel Aitkens walks over the rubble of the destroyed church. Less than six months earlier, this historic building looked completely different. Due to shelling in the autumn of 1914, the spire and the roof of the nave had partially collapsed. Although broken pews snaked through the church and bullet impacts littered the wall, the church interior remained quite recognisable for years to come. German soldiers staying in Zonnebeke between 1915 and spring 1917 regularly took pictures of the ruined interior as souvenirs. However, the unseen artillery shelling during the Third Battle of Ypres pulverised the battered church into rubble.

It is on this pile of rubble that Lionel finds himself in early November. Among the rubble, grit and shards, his eye catches an object. It is a white-painted angel head, the size of a palm. It leaves an impression on Lionel as it is one of the few recognisable elements among the rubble. The head was once part of one of the 18th-century side altars in the abbey church. He picks up the wooden figurine, puts it in his pocket and moves on. Later, he notes on the back "Zonnebeke Church / Nov. 1917."

A few days earlier, in late October 1917, Lieutenant Aitkens had been involved in a gas attack. He is only mildly affected by the gas and initially remains at his post. On 3 November, however, he develops a high fever and is evacuated from the front. Lionel is sent to the UK for rehabilitation with severe throat and pneumonia. In early December 1917, he is cured and rejoins his unit. In 1918, he is promoted to captain and later temporarily to acting major. The CEF demobilises Lionel on 24 April 1919. He does not return to Canada but remains in England.

During the interwar period, he set up a publishing company and during WWII commanded a local Home Guard battalion. But what happened to the angel head? Lionel kept it all his life as a reminder of his difficult period during the Battle of Passchendaele. He dies in 1980 at the age of 89. Sometime later, Lionel Aitkens' grandson, searches through a chest containing his personal belongings. As a result, he rediscovers the angel head. Based on the inscription on the back, he decides to contact the municipality of Zonnebeke. Thus, in 2006, Peter donated the object to the fledgling Passchendaele Museum. When asked why he wants to donate the object back, he answers simply: the little angel just wants to return home.

Fichiers 2

Sources 11

4th Bde Canadian Field Artillery (Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa (LAC), RG9-III-D-3, Volume number: 4967, Microfilm reel number: T-10789, File number: 537).
Sources utilisées
Albert Reginald Knight Aitkens (Commonwealth War Graves Commission Database, nr. 507515)
Sources utilisées
Bostyn, Franky, Marjan de Smet en Paul Trio. 'Geëxamineert de tijtels ende pampieren': het verhaal van de Zonnebeekse Augustijnerabdij, 1072-1796 (Roeselare: Roularta Books, 2009), 93-94, 103.
Sources utilisées
Canada, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1865-1935 (Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa (LAC), Series: RG 76-C; Roll: T-4719).
Sources utilisées
Cyril Arthur Charles Aitkens (Commonwealth War Graves Commission Database, nr. 547112)
Sources utilisées
Death Index, Lionel John Baber Aitkens (General Register Office, Londen (GRO), Surrey, Volume: 17; Page: 69.
Sources utilisées
Honours and Awards Citation Cards. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa (LAC), reference: 2004-01505-5, item Number:36922.
Sources utilisées
Marriage Index, Lionel John Baber Aitkens (General Register Office, Londen (GRO), Middlesex, Volume: 3a; Page: 1021.
Sources utilisées
Personnel Records of the First World War, Lionel John Baber Aitkens (Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa (LAC), RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 63 - 42).
Sources utilisées
Peter Aitkens (famille de Lionel John Baber Aitkens) interviewé par Wouter De Witte (Chargée de projet Passchendaele Museum), digital, 10.03.2023.
Sources utilisées
The Queen's Royal Surrey Regimental Association, The Home Guard - Major Peter Aitkens writes, The Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment Website
Sources utilisées