At thirty-nine years old, Ernest Coulter Whitehouse, born in Karachi British India (present day Pakistan) was an established Physician and Surgeon living in Vancouver British Columbia. It was September 13th 1915, just over a year had gone by since the Germans had ignored the British ultimatum to leave Belgium by midnight of August 3rd 1914 and war was declared. While the first division of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (C.E.F.) had already made their way to France fighting in the first battle of Ypres the past spring, Ernest was filling out his attestation papers in Shorncliffe England. Being found fit, Ernest was selected as an officer for the Canadian Army Medical Corps attaining the rank of Captain.
It wasn’t long before Ernest found himself transferred into the recently disbanded 6th Battalion. Now known as the Fort Garry Horse, the unit was largely comprised of Cavalrymen, serving as the remount brigade for the Canadian Cavalry who had been training since early April of 1915. In February 1916 Ernest (now in squadron B), and the rest of the regiment transferred to France and by July they were engaged in action at the battle of the Somme.
Ernest’s squadron was tasked with the exceptionally dangerous mission of laying bridges for an infantry advance to which they were to supplement in the attack on the hamlet of High Wood. The attack started out successfully between the 13th and 14th but was evacuated due to heavy casualties on the 15th . Despite this, The Fort Garry Horse would retire to the defensive trenches which would hold for another two weeks.
In late August of 1916 Ernest would find himself at Number 3 General Hospital with contusions to his abdomen and right foot. It’s not clear the exact cause but he was promptly discharged to duty two days later. During the 1916-1917 winter campaign, Ernest would find himself again trading mounted horses for trenches spending two weeks at a time relieving front line troops before taking a week’s worth of rest. At this time Ernest would have been busy tending to the wounded at or near the front lines.
Things remained quiet until March 27th when The Garry’s and the rest of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade were ordered to attack in the Guyencourt-Saulcourt area. Due to a scorched earth policy adopted by the Imperial German forces upon their retreat to the infamous Hindenburg Line not much remained. What was was left was quickly captured before again crashing up against the new German lines. May would see The Garry’s back in the front line trenches, this time at Somerville and Max Wood. Many in the unit would recieve decorations during this time.
The Battle of Cambrai
Before the end of 1917, Fort Garry Horse would see one of their most iconic actions at Cambrai. A major supply hub for the Hindenburg Line, it’s capture would cause considerable disruption to the German war machine. It would also threaten the rear of the Germans to the north giving considerable favor for the next spring. The battle itself would see an amassing of combined arms including infantry, tanks, artillery, aircraft, and cavalry.
The Fort Garry Horse as part of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, was tasked with leading the 5th Division. Ernest’s squadron (B Squadron) commanded by Cpt. Campbell was given the special assignment of capturing German Headquarters in Escaudoeuvres. On the day of the attack the Regiment was held up after a Mark IV had collapsed a vital bridge. Working diligently, a temporary bridge was constructed in which Squadron B could carry on with their objective. Shortly after crossing Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Paterson received orders to cancel the advance, but it was far too late.
By this time Squadron B was well on it’s way to it’s objective. Hampered almost immediately by German machinegun fire which subsequently killed Captain Campbell. Lieutenant Strachan took over, leading the squadron on a sword drawn charge of German artillery emplacements before finding cover in a nearby sunken road. Of the initial 129 men and 140 horses only 43 men and horses remained. Unable to continue on to the objective, B squadron returned to friendly lines under the cover of darkness. For his gallantry Lt. Strachan recieved the Victoria Cross. Many men in B squadron received Military Crosses, Distinguished Conduct Medals, and Military Medals one of which was Ernest.
As quoted by the Supplement to London Gazette on April 25th1918
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He attended the wounded under heavy fire, going out repeatedly to bring in wounded officers and men.”
Captain Ernest Whitehouse would go on to survive the war, transfering to Hillingdon House, Canadian Convalescent Hospital as a surgeon before being found unfit in 1920. Subsequently demobilized back to Canada he would continue his work as Resident Physician at Port Renfrew British Columbia. Ernest would pass away in 1952 at the age of 76.