Private Charles Philip Gruchy

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Virginia.

The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private Charles Philip Gruchy
The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private Charles Philip Gruchy

Charles Philip Gruchy, a Canadian, served in France with the 3rd Battalion, where he was wounded. He succumbed to illness after the war while living in the United States; his death being attributable to his war service.

He was born at D’Escousse on Isle Madame in Nova Scotia on 12 June 1880.[1] His father, Peter William Gruchy, a merchant and trader, married his mother, Eliza Lucy (née Ward), in 1874. They had eight children, of which only three—Charles and his sisters Nellie and Violet—survived beyond childhood.[2]

After leaving school, Charles Gruchy worked as a bank clerk and he served for three years with 17th Field Battery, Canadian Artillery in the Non-Permanent Active Militia.

He enlisted for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force early in the war, on 12 August 1914, when he joined the Active Service Mobilisation Detachment of 27th Lambton Regiment (St. Clair Borderers). By 22 September he was on the strength of the 1st Battalion of the nascent Canadian Expeditionary Force at Valcartier Camp. He sailed with the first Canadian contingent on the SS Laurentic, arriving in England on 14 October 1914, where the training and organisation of the 1st Canadian Division then began on Salisbury Plain. The Division departed for France in February 1915 but Private Gruchy did not embark with his Battalion. In early December 1914 he went absent and was declared a deserter. By the end of the month he had rejoined the 1st Battalion but when it sailed for France, Gruchy was sick and he was posted to the 9th Reserve Battalion at Tidworth.

On 3 May 1915 Private Gruchy embarked for France where he joined the 3rd Battalion in 1st Canadian Brigade, 1st Canadian Division. His service in France was not without incident—he was sentenced to a total of 35 days’ Field Punishment No. 1 over the next seven months for offences that included being absent without leave and drunkenness. After a year with the Battalion he injured his ankle on 23 May 1916. Admitted initially to 2nd Canadian Field Ambulance, he was sent back to the Base Depot where he was found to be unfit for service in France and sent to England, where he joined the 12th Reserve Battalion at West Sandling, near Folkestone in Kent. He remained there until early in 1917 when he again absconded. This time on his return to his unit he was tried by District Court Martial and sentenced to 40 days’ detention. At the end of his period of confinement, he was sent back to France on 4 May, and where he rejoined the 3rd Battalion and was posted to C Company.

On 10 July 1917, the Canadian Corps moved north to replace the British I Corps at the former coal-producing city of Lens. The Corps Commander, Lieutenant General Arthur Currie, had been ordered to capture the town but had found agreement that ‘Hill 70’ north of the town should be the Canadian Corps’ objective. The attack was planned for late-July but was postponed due to bad weather.

Private Gruchy and the men of the 3rd Battalion spent July in support, although there were a few casualties on working parties. On 10 August the Battalion moved into the line at Loos for the first time. The Battalion position was at ‘Le Bis 14’, a mine-head 1,500 yards north-east of the town. The trenches here were in poor condition, many being shin-deep in water. C Company was in the centre of the Battalion’s position with A Company on its right and D Company on its left. The relief and the first hours in this postion were not without incident—six men were wounded during the relief (Private George Ballinger died of his injuries); later Private Toso Santo was killed and one man wounded when an artillery round dropped short.[3]

The positions of 'A', 'C', and 'D' Company, 3rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry on 12 August 1917
The positions of ‘A’, ‘C’, and ‘D’ Company, 3rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry on 12 August 1917

From the war diary entry of 12 August:

Night passed quietly, our patrols active without meeting any opposition from the enemy. 4 O.R. wounded in C Company. Captain W.B. Woods returned from leave. Lieut. J.K. Gillespie to First Army Rest Camp. Gas attack by 2nd Canadian Division on our right about 2.20 a.m., effects felt very strongly by D Company, who were forced to put on their box respirators for 15 minutes. Band to 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade School. Trenches cleared from 2.00 p.m. to 6.00 p.m. to permit heavies to shoot on enemy front line. Weather – fine.’ [4]

One of the men wounded on 12 August was Private Gruchy, hit by shrapnel in the right thigh, he suffered a compound fracture of his right femur.[5] He was evacuated via 2nd Canadian Field Ambulance and 18th Casualty Clearing Station to hospital in Etaples and then to England, where he remained in hospital and in convalescence (a period again characterised by periods of absence without leave) until he sailed home from Liverpool on the hospital ship SS Araguaya,[6] arriving at Portland, Maine on 17 August 1919 over two years after being wounded.[7]

On his return to Canada, Private Gruchy was admitted to Ste Anne de Bellevue Hospital. He was discharged on 20 January 1920 (which included another period of ‘absent without leave’ for which he forfeit 18 days pay), by which time his wound had healed fully, although it left his right leg one inch shorter than the left. He was finally discharged from the Army on 23 January 1920.

3001 Monument Avenue, Richmond, Virginia
3001 Monument Avenue, Richmond, Virginia

Charles Gruchy eventually returned to work as an accountant. He was unmarried. His sister, Violet, married Kenneth Everet Finlay in 1912. In 1916 she, her husband, son, and mother, Mrs Eliza Gruchy, emigrated to the United States, firstly to Milton, Pennsylvania before settling in Richmond, Virginia at 3001 Monument Avenue. Sometime after April 1920, Charles Gruchy moved in with them.

He fell ill with tuberculosis and was treated at United States Public Health Service Hospital No. 60 at Oteen, North Carolina from 3 February 1921. He died there at 5.00pm on 5 July from chronic pulmonary tuberculosis; he also suffered from ankylosis in his right knee and chronic myocarditis. His death was determined as attributable to his war service. He was buried at Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Lot 81. Initially an Imperial War Graves Commission Stone was declined and the grave was marked with only a private memorial. A Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone has since been placed at his grave. Both it and the private marker read: ‘I thank God for every remembrance of thee.’ He is commemorated on page 557 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 28 November.

His medals group comprises the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal.

The grave of Charles Philip Gruchy
The grave of Charles Philip Gruchy
The original grave marker for Charles Philip Gruchy
The original grave marker for Charles Philip Gruchy

The transcribed records of St John’s Anglican Church, Arichat.
Library and Archives Canada. RG9-III-D-3. War Diaries Textual Record. 3rd Canadian Infantry Battalion. June 1917 – February 1919.

1. (Back) St John’s Anglican Church, Arichat, Baptismal Records. This is at odds with his attestation and his death certificate, which record his year of birth as 1882. The baptismal record is, however, clear that he was born on 12 June 1880 and baptised on 13 July 1880. His original grave stone also records a birth date of 12 June 1882. See also note 2 below re his siblings.
2. (Back) St John’s Anglican Church, Arichat, Baptismal and Cemetery Records. Peter William Gruchy was born at D’Escousse on 30 January 1851. He died on 21 May 1913, aged 78. The other seven children were: Eva Weston (8 November 1875-9 April 1876); Gordon Dumarseq (1 July 1877-13 April 1881); Ellen ‘Nellie’ (18 August 1878-NK); Martha Weston (January 1882-20 March 1885); Edith (17 August 1884-17 September 1884); Violet Beatrice (24 August 1886-NK); and Winifred Aldon (16 October 1888-2 September 1889). The children who died in childhood and their father, who died on 21 May 1913, are buried in St John’s Anglican Cemetery, Arichat.
3. (Back) Library and Archives Canada. RG9-III-D-3. War Diaries Textual Record. 3rd Canadian Infantry Battalion. August 1917, p 6.
4. (Back) Ibid.
5. (Back) Library and Archives Canada, Op. Cit. p 14. Gruchy is recorded as being a Lance Corporal but that is not shown in his service record. The others recorded as wounded were: 237315 Private Frederick Taylor (later awarded the Military Medal and promoted to Sergeant) and 201274 Private James Cecil Spivey. The fourth man is not recorded and it is assumed that his wounds were slight and that he remained at duty.
6. (Back) HMHS Araguaya was one of five ships chartered by Canada for use as hospital ships—the others were Essiquibo, Llandovery Castle, Letitia, and Neuralia. The SS Araguaya was owned by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co Ltd until 1926. By 1940 she was in use with Compagnie Générale Transatlantique as the SS Savoie II. She was sunk during the Battle of Casablanca on 8 November 1942 by USS Massachusetts.
7. (Back) Library and Archives Canada. RG76-C. Department of Employment and Immigration fonds. Passenger Lists, 1865–1935.

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