Bartholomew John Cottam

Lt BJ Cottam Lt BJ Cottam

1894 - 1916

The following was prepared by John Sargeant with material provided by the family of Lt BJ Cottam, and is reproduced here with their permission.  The information below is the property of the Cottam family and may not be reproduced without their permission.  For more information please contact the webmaster.


Bart Cottam was born 24th October 1894 to John Arthur Cottam and Deliah Cottam.

He lived at The Birdland Society, on Ridout St, London Ontario

 As student, he enlisted in the 91st Battalion, the Elgins, on the 22nd of March 1916 at St Thomas Ontario with the rank of Lieutenant. He was 22 years old. He was a Presbyterian. He had joined the 26th Middlesex Light Infantry and also had served 2 years as a cadet. He was known to everyone as Bart and signed his Officer’s Declaration paper as “Bart Cottam.”

Bart embarked on the SS Olympic at Halifax on the 29th of June 1916 and arrived at Liverpool on the 5th July 1916.

Lt BJ Cottam

On the 15th of July 1916 he was transferred to the 39th Btn at West Sandling Camp under command of Lt Col W. J. Green. He qualified in musket and Lewis Machine gun courses and obtained 1st Class Brigade Entrance Class 26 Sept 1916.

 While at Hythe Kent, he wrote to a friend of his mother’s a Mrs R V Lowthian:

School of Muskety
Hythe Kent
July 25 1916

 Mrs R. V. Lowthian
Delaware Ontario

Dear Mrs Lowthian

In writing to your family I have often addressed my letters to Will, quite a few to Marjie and some to Bessie and Mr Lowthian but none to you so I shall try to make up by starting with a nice long one to you.

I trust you are all well. Mother said the 135th were having their last leave so Will should be over soon. I shall watch and try to get to welcome him if it is at all possible.

I am afraid however that they go to Camp Borden as Army Postal sergeant said the 135th wouldn’t be over for a few months anyway and he showed me the list. But he may be mistaken.

Well England is just the same dear old country but it is a jolly sight more pleasant viewing it from inside an officer’s uniform than as a poor seaman with only a sweater for his best clothes.

Last Saturday I went to London. I had previously written the Minnits and they had very kindly asked me to use their house when I should be in the city. So I stayed with them over night. They are a very warm hearted and splendid family. Mr Minnitt is a prince and Mrs Minnitt reminds me of my own mother so you can see she is very fine indeed. Their daughter Winifred who is just 4 months younger than I am is very clever and bright. She sings with much expression and plays her own difficult accompaniments. In fact I am fond of her already.

I have orders to take Will up there at the first opportunity and shall certainly do so as soon as he gets leave.

            Bessy’s photo hangs in the drawing   room and it is her best photo, one I had never seen, with a low necked gown. I certainly made  Bessie out as an angel with four wings instead of the imp she is (please show her this) In fact Winifred actually asked me if I were ever in love with Bessy. I very untruthfully told her not for reasons you may perhaps suspect.

            Of course I had to talk a lot about dick and they certainly worship him over here. Winifred showed me the house of one of Dick’s flames in his younger days. Please tell Bessie.

            It seems to me I am leaving Marge out of my letter but the Minnitts were very much interested in her and were delighted when they heard how well she played and how nice she was.

            Winifred and I went to the theatre Saturday night and Mr Minnitt and I went to St Pauls in the AM.

            They are a very hospitable family and had company dropping in several times. If dick is as splendid a man as his father and I see no reason why he should not be, you have every reason to congratulate yourself on Bessie’s engagement.

            Sunday before last I went to Canterbury and had tea and went to the evening service in the great cathedral which is the mother church for the Anglicans. The male choir boys and men was very beautiful and with the organ the music was magnificent. In fact it was ever superior to St Paul’s.

            Well, I must close with love to all

            Your’s truly

Please tell Mr Lowthian I have seen a lot of ladies waiting for the buses and trains but no ladies in waiting. I still have hopes though.


His records show that in addition to notifying his mother of his death, that Miss Winifred Minnitt, 42 Beatrice Ave, Norbury, London was to be notified.

He  was transferred to the 21st Battalion on the 5th of October 1916 as reinforcement and joined his unit on the 9th of October.

He was killed in action on the 1st December 1916. The Brigade report reads as follows:

Lieut. B Cottam and 27 OR left our trenches at 2 am. They proceeded in a southerly direction to within 50 yards of enemy wire, where MG crew, bomber and scout were left.  About 15 yards from the enemy wire, Sgt McFadden, four scouts, four bombers and the bayonet men were left in a shell hole as supporting party. Lt Cottam and snatching party proceeded through enemy wire to within 10 yards of German parapet where they were left in trench mortar hole inside enemy wire. Lt Cottam and L Cpl Wood proceeded to parapet and were on point of entering enemy trench when several shots were fired from this bay. Lt Cottam was shot through the head and killed. Bombs were immediately thrown by the enemy who held this trench strongly on this front. Party returned at 4:30 am

 His Statement of Service shows that the British War Medal and Victory Medal were forwarded. Having no known grave, his name is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial.

 His mother was best friends with a Mrs Dick Minnitt of Delaware Ontario. When Mrs Minnitt died, her letters were passed on to a daughter and these were preserved.

 From what can be gathered in the letters, on leave Bart came to see the Minnitts in London and while there met Winifred Minnitt. They fell in love and pledged to marry when Bart had his first leave. The bans were read in her church. Sadly he was killed in action on the 1st of December 1916 before he could return to marry her.

 The following are extracts from the letters.

25 Aug 1916 Arthur Minnitt to Bess - Mrs Dick Minnitt (daughter in law) living in Delaware Ontario Canada

---------I must say I am getting disgusted with you Canadians. You have captured my dear old Dickie, now Bart Cottam , a friend of yours, wants to collar Winifred. You might have little respect for old age and not want to take our best beloved over thousands of miles across from us. But I suppose we must grin and bear it as best we may so long as our children are happy in their loves. We cannot grumble and after all, we older ones have not had such a bad time as we are still lovers.

We three went down to Eastbourne for a fortnight and had a very enjoyable holiday, the first week was too hot but the second was very nice until some rough seas and Babs (Winnifred’s pet name –transcribers note) and I had a swim every day. On the first Sunday Bart came down so Babs, he and I went for a swim before breakfast, but it didn’t agree with her and she was done up for the rest of the day.

The place was very full indeed and Bart could not get a bed for love or money, so we put him up, Mater turning in with Babs and Bart sharing my room. The same thing happened the following week he came down again. Seems fond of us doesn’t he? I expect he comes to see me.

On Tuesday he wired to say he had got 6 days leave and would arrive at Norbury at 11 pm. We had gone to bed and the wire arrived at 10:45 so we turned out again in dressing gowns and slippers to receive him. He leaves again for camp on Sunday night…………………

 11 Oct 1916 Arthur Minnitt to Dick Minnitt in Delaware Ontario Canada

----My Dear old Dickie

            Bart can say with the ancient roman Vini Vidi Vici. He and Babs seem to have hit it off No 1 and are now properly engaged. They are desperately in love with each other. We are very pleased indeed. We have quite taken him to our hearts. He is such a good straight clear minded boy. Has not a bit of side on. Quite different to many of the boys in Khaki who seem to think they are little gods and quite heroes thought they haven’t smelled powder yet.

            Bart is a dear good lad. We are all very fond of him. It will be a bit of a crunch parting with Babs as there all our chicks will be far away from the old home, but we are quite content so long as our bairns are happy.

            They talk about being married very quickly in a few months, but whether it will come off as soon is problematical. He is very anxious she should have his separation allowance and live at home with us until the war is over and if the worst happens and he was killed she would have a pension.

            He went out to the front last Thursday and Babs has had 2 letters from him. He is well and happy and writes very cheerfully. I had a very charming letter yesterday from his father. They are apparently quite pleased about it all and he was very complimentary in speaking about you and us. ………

 15 Oct 1916 Mrs Arthur Minnitt to Dick Minnitt in Delaware Ontario Canada

---------Bart has gone to the front and how we watch with added consciousness all that is going on. God grand that he may be spared to come through allright. If he does, it is almost decided that Winifred and he get married during his first leave, but we have yet to find out all about his separation allowance before anything definite is decided. I sincerely trust that it can be arranged, for, for our sakes it will come much less as a blow to have her married and home with us until the end of the war and perhaps, longer…………..

            Winifred wishes to send her best love and say she is going to write you and send her photo one she has had recently taken for her boy and also say how very anxious she is about Bart, now that he has gone to the front.

 28 October 1916 Mrs Arthur Minnitt to Dick Minnitt in Delaware On

……….Bart is now in the front trenches and due out again in a day or tow I do trust he is all right. It is a most anxious time………….

……….Winifred went to ask Mr Cubusion if he would marry her when the time comes. Everything will have to be arranged in a terrific hurry, as Bart will not know about his leave until a day or two before it is given him. Anyway we shall get all ready for Dec banns put up etc. It wont matter if he doesn’t turn up, banns can be put up again and again under these circumstances. It will be jolly for us, the kid being here for an indefinite time after her marriage. We shan’t feel the final parting quite so deeply perhaps.

 1 November 1916 Mr Arthur Minnitt to Dick Minnitt

……Bart, as you no doubt know, has been at the front for 3 weeks. He writes as often as he can and seems very chirpy.

There is a good deal of talk about he and Babs being married when he comes home on his first leave and the banns are being read in our church this month. Of course everything will have to be done at a moment’s notice almost, as he only knows about the day before when he will get leave. As it will have to be a War Wedding, very quick, with no guests or brides maids and no reception. We shall just invite a few friends from the church to come into 42 for light refreshments and of course wedding presents will have to come after. Mr Culison will marry them—says he will come to do it at a hour’s notice if necessary.

Dear old Bart, we are awfully fond of him and have every confidence that Babs will be perfectly happy with him. After the honeymoon he will go back to the Front and she will come to us so we shall not have the dear girl for some long time we hope…….

At our church after every service we have God Save the King and have added another verse:

God save our splendid men
Send them safe home again
God save our men
Make them victorious
Patient and chivalrous
They are so dear to us
God save our men

                        12 November 1916 Mrs Arthur Minnitt to Bess Minnitt

……. Well today has been quite an eventful day for us here for Winifred’s banns were put up for the first time. You see, Bart says he may get his first leave from France early in December so he wishes Winifred to be quite ready. I don’t imagine he will have more than 5 or 6 days if as much, so all will be very quick work. You see the bans will hold good for 3 months, so that if he can’t come it will still be all right. They can always be put up again, of he can get a license to be married at any moment. We are delight with the dear boy. I feel sure he will make a splendid husband for our darling but oh Bess, when the time comes where we have to see her got to Canada, will if feel now as though my heart would surely break. It seems strange that we should have to part with another of our dear children, to go so far far away. But I don feel thankful that she will be coming out to you and Dickie. She won’t feel quite so strange ….

                        1 April 1917 Mrs Arthur Minnitt to Dick Minnitt

            ….We have practically given up all hope of finding Bart alive. It is 4 months today since we received the wire announcing his death and since then all possible inquiries have been made through various agencies  ?? here nothing, so must accept Lieutenant Woods evidence as conclusive. Winifred will see him I hope soon. The poor man has been ill almost all the time he has been in Derbyshire, but he will write her again and arrange a meeting before he goes back to the front. Bart’s kit arrived last week, very dirty and not nearly all that he took out, no books for instance or binoculars or watch. It’s too bad to keep everything back.

3 June 1917 Mr Arthur Minnitt to Bess Minnitt

….Most likely you and your friends had a very sad Xmas on hearing of dear old Bart’s death in action. We have only so far heard very meager particulars in that he was leading a bombing party and was knocked off by a German sniper. One can only conclude that he was killed at once and could not have suffered any pain. His CO Major McLaughlin wrote praising him as a very good officer and his men would follow him anywhere.

The dear old fellow how we loved him and thought we had only known him a few months we loved the dear boy as our own. I never knew a young fellow who worked his way into our hearts as he did so soon.  Such a noble character, clean minded, clean living thoughtful for others, utterly unselfish and always thinking how he could give pleasure to others and never thinking of himself.

His devotion to our dear Kid was beautiful to see as was hers to him. And all looked forward to a very happy future for them both. Though it would have been a great wrench for us to have parted with our only chick, we should have left with us, ye we should have cheerfully have given her to dear old Bart.

The sad part of it was that their banns of marriage had been called for the last time in our church. We were expecting him home in a week or two to be married but it was not to be. God moves in a mysterious way and it was evidently not his will they should be united and we can only bow to His superior wisdom. We cannot hope to understand it but it does seem strange that so many really God fearing men should be taken.

I know men who have been in the big fights since the start so far have not had a scratch yet a glorious character like dear old Bart is taken within a few weeks of going over. I shall always treasure his dear memory and think of him as one of the finest boys I ever knew. I shall always feel intensely proud  in that it was my privilege to have known him.

Our hearts bleed for his dear parents and one can really say so little which can be of any comfort to them to lose one’s only chick is simply awful. One has only the consolation that he died a hero fighting for his King and County in a righteous cause and fighting to defend us who are prevented by age from doing our best to help.

…..Winifred has had the most splendid letters from Mr and Mrs Cottam and of course they are in constant communication with each other. His dear mother’s grief must be terrible as they perfectly idolized Bart. We are looking forward to making the acquaintance some day. I feel sure we shall love them for his dear sake.

            28 April 1918 Mrs Arthur Minnitt to Dick Minnitt

…….I can’t remember if I told you in my last letter, that Winifred has just become engaged or rather I should say officially so, and is going to be married very soon now in case her fiancé may be sent over to France again. Otherwise she would have waited until later in the year……

After Bart was killed there were a number of articles in the local papers and we have reproduced them here. London Free Press


St Thomas Journal

December 5, 1916

Lieut. Cottam First Officer of 91st To Die

 Well-Known London Young Man Makes Supreme Sacrifice for His Country

              Lieut. Bart Cottam, son of John Cottam of London, was killed in Action on December 1.  Official notification was received from Ottawa by his father Monday.  No particulars were given.

              Lieut. Cottam enlisted with the 91st Battalion and went overseas with it.  In France he served but a short time before he was raised from the rank of junior lieutenant to that of send in command of his company, the promotion being made last week. 

            He was 22 years old, and before enlisting was well known in London as a newspaperman.  He was for a time, a member of the staff of the Montreal Star. 

            He is survived by his parents who reside at 187 Ridout Street London.


St Thomas Journal December 22, 1916 

Lieut. Cottam of 91st, May be Held by Huns 

            In a letter to his father, J. D. Walters of 1029 Richmond St London, Lieut Joe Walters who left with the 91st Battalion of St Thomas, writing from “somewhere in France” describes the incidents on the night of December 1 when Lieut Bart Cottam, son of John Cottam was reported killed. 

            The possibility of Lieut. Cottam having been wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans is mentioned by Lieut Walters. 

            In that portion where he states that this possibility may exist, he writes as follows: 

            “Bart was seen to pitch forward on his face on the German parapet. The patrol supporting rushed forward. They made desperate efforts to reach the parapet, but were forced to return to shelter. 

            His body was seen silhouetted against the parapet, and in the morning it was gone” 

            Based on the assumption that he may have been only wounded and then taken prisoner by the Germans, Lieut Walters says there is a possibility that Lieut Cottam is yet alive as it is not known positively that he was killed. 


Mrs Cottam was determined to find out if her son was in fact killed. She took great stock in what Ltn Joe Walters had said and went to all sorts of lengths to make sure. Mr Minnitt’s comments in a letter give some idea of the extended measures taken to find this “only son”.

…..Dear old Bart. I am beginning to give up hope of ever seeing the dear lad again. We have done everything we can through the Vatican, Red Cross, Spain and friends in Switzerland who are in high places as well as the Record Officer, in fact we have left no stone unturned to try and get some definite news and so far not the least information has come through. I begin to despair. The dear fellow, how we all loved him. He was like one of my own to me, such a grand character I have rarely met in a fellow so young.


The following is taken from the January 1938 edition of The Communiqué, the newsletter of the 21st Battalion Association.  The entire series of newsletters are available on a CD-ROM from the Kit Shop.  Email the webmaster for details.

The Raid at the Burning Byng

By Sergeant C. L. “Tommy” Tucker

Twenty years are apt to dim one’s memory, especially as to names of some who took part in the raid at “The Burning Byng”, on the Bully front, on the night of Dec 1st 1916, which, at the time, was termed a stealth raid. But some of the events of that night will remain, forever, burned into the writer’s memory.

We were instructed to capture a prisoner and one or two attempts had been made on a German post, selected and watched by us for some time. Attempts to rush the post failed, so Lieut B. Cottam , our Scout Officer, conceived the idea of stealing up under the parapet and waiting a favourable opportunity, then throwing a rope over one of the Fritzies in the post and literally dragging him out of the trench and across No Man’s Land.

The Stokes Guns did a good job on the wire, and on the night selected, after taking all the usual precautions of eliminating identification marks, badges, letters, etc., our little party started out over our own parapet, Lieut. Cottam leading.

I wonder how many of the survivors of this little stunt remember the perfect setting, absolute darkness, and a slight ground mist.

We left a covering party of rifles and bombers about half way over and two pairs of men from the covering party to the German wire. Heatem and the writer took up a position about midway between the German wire and their parapet, whilst Lieut. Cottam, George Wood and I have forgotten the third man’s name, went on up to their parapet.

I seemed like an age before Lieut. Cottam rose to throw the rope, and from then on things were hard to follow but, quite evidently, the Fritzies were right on the job, as one fired point blank at Cottam and got him cold, through the head. Through the noise of the machine gun, rifle fire and bombs, George Wood shouted to us to make our way back, the best way possible. After we cleared the German wire , we simply had to run for it but I missed the gaps and landed, waist high, in our own wire. That was the most helpless feeling I ever experienced in my life but eventually I tore myself free by leaving most of the lower portion of my clothing still in the wire.

The most welcome sight that night was the rum jar at advance headquarters.

We made an attempt to get Cottam’s body later that night and again the next night but the Fritzies took him in first.

Editor’s Note: the Communuqué is indebted to Tommy, who lives at 419 Hillsdale Avenue East Toronto, for another really good story. He might have added that the Germans waved a white flag, next day, above their parapet as a sign that they had Lieut. Cottam’s body. The reason why this raid did not produce a number of decorations, was not because the efforts of the raiders was not a brave and glorious one. Whether they succeeded or not the action was heroic.


Above is a photo of Lt B Cottam's name on the Vimy Memorial

 Bartholomew Cottam is also honoured in the Woodland Cemetery
in London, Ontario


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