|Archie William Wallace Gray|
What follows was compiled by John Sargeant
Archie, as he was known to his friends in the 21st Battalion CEF, was born 8 August 1896 at Rodney Ontario. His father was A…. Gray.
Little is known of his early life but at age 19, while employed as a painter, he answered his country’s call on 10 Sept 1915 and joined the Canadian Expeditionary Forces going to France to fight the Germans. From his attestation papers, it looks as if he made several attempts to join up as he had a series of three registration numbers 123448, 189105 and 123448, the latter, which seems to have stuck. He was part of the St Thomas Elgin Battalion numbered the 91st. He was an original member of the 91st and his name is on their nominal list. He was drafted to the 21st Btn in England and served with them until he was moved to the 75th Btn. His name appears in the Elgin Book of Honor.
At the time of his medical examination, Sept 11th 1915 at St Thomas, to enter the armed forces, he was described as age 19, 5 feet 7 inches tall with a light complexion, gray eyes and light hair. He stated his religion as Baptist.
The next time we find Archie W Gray is when he is mentioned as a Rev Archie Gray and the author of a book set in St Eloi, one of the battle areas of WW 1.
In the January 1934 issue of The Communiqué, a newsletter for members of the 21st Battalion, it was announced as follows:
“The Towers of St Eloi”
A war romance, bearing the above title, and well worth reading was released by the author, Rev. A. W. Gray of Rodney Ont, at the end of November.
This story has received some very favorable reviews, and it should be especially interesting to 21sters, as the author came to our battalion with a draft from the 91st and was posted to B Company, where he remained until 1917, when he was assigned for duty to one of the divisional auxiliary units”
In the August 1934 issue of the Communiqué, a more detailed account of “The Towers of St Eloi” followed:
“The Towers of St Eloi by Archie W Gray, is the book which was written by the one man in the 21st who seems to have the energy to perform that much labour. While the 21st is not mentioned in the book it will be clear to all our old-timers who read it that the author describes the scenes through which we passed in 1916 and 1917. Certain early actions, in the Salient, are well covered and many details are so truly dealt with that they create a slight homesickness for Dickebusch. The story drifts from actual experiences into fiction, losing touch with the affairs known to our men. The book had one edition and is coming out with a second printing. It would be worth while to any 21st man to while away a few hours in its pages. The authors memory failed him the spelling the title which should read Mont St Eloy although there are thousands who have passed through the town who would make the same mistake.”
In 2005 the author was able to obtain a first edition copy of “The Towers of St Eloi”.
It shows the publisher to be Gray Printing Company, Rodney Ontario, copyright 1933. After reading it, I can only say that if you liked “Saving Private Ryan”, you’ll hate this book. It is written in the Zane Grey tradition of adventure stories and perhaps fitted in with the popular novels of the day.
In Rodney, I found an old Baptist Church, according to the arched stain glass window over the door. The church appeared to be lived in as a residence. Throwing propriety to the wind, I knocked on the front door and it was answered by a kindly young lass. Once I explained what I was looking for and showed her my 21sters card, she invited me in. She told me that they had purchased the place after the congregation decided to sell the church. Since then they have been renovating it to make the basement into a harness and leather workshop and the sanctuary into living quarters. It certainly looked in good repair and I was told the plaster etc was in very good condition. They didn’t seem to know much about the history of the church but they did give me a copy of the last order of service.
I recounted Archie’s life to her and she said, that there was a stained glass window with his name on it.
She also showed me a brass plate on the lectern which commemorated the survival of some parishioners in a ship that was destroyed during the First World War:
Mr & Mrs S. J. Gilpin & Beatrice
Thanks to Almighty God
In Sparing their Lives
When Torpedoed on “Hesperian”
Sep 15th 1915
Rodney's Baptist Church
Rodney's Baptist Church was built in 1879 on the south corner of Powell and Munroe. The church bought the land off of Nicol Kingsmill for $1, and the church cost about $1,300 to build. Many of the congregation members donated the needed supplies to build the church. Many changes have been made to the church since then; the members of the congregation supplied all materials.
Special Thanks for their kind assistance to 21sters Discussion Group in gathering the history of the 21st Battalion CEF to
James Stewart & Julie Bell 214 Monroe St, Rodney, Ontario, current “stewards” of Rodney Baptist Church