The Battle of Vimy Ridge: 100 Years Ago By Steven A Johnson, Fenton History Center Trustee and Karen E. Livsey, Fenton History Center Archivist
In 1920, a group of about 26 Jamestown area men formed what was variously called the British Great War Veterans Association, Volunteers of the British and Canadian Expeditionary Force, and the American Veterans of the British and Canadian Expeditionary Force. This small group were veterans of the Great War, known now as World War I, all served in the Canadian forces, and all were participants in the Vimy Ridge battle. They called the local organization Camp Vimy.
Camp Vimy members had all gone north to join the Canadian army in probably 1916, but not necessarily as a group. After initial training, they were assigned to various units in the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, Canadian Expeditionary Force. They participated in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, France, from April 9 to April 12, 1917. Two of their number were lost there. The Canadian forces suffered over 10,000 casualties in four days, but they prevailed and held Vimy Ridge.
Canadian enlistment documents had been located for 10 of the Camp Vimy members. Of that number, eight were born in England, which may well explain their desire to get into the fight. From his enlistment form, we find that Jamestown resident Mark M. Potter, one of the two men lost, had a “Shield and Eagle tattoo on left forearm. Bullet wound on left thigh.”
The Jamestown Evening Journal of November 7, 1918 related that “Mark M. Potter lost his life at Vimy Ridge, according to word received by relatives in this city. He enlisted in the American Legion in Canada, January, 1915, and later was transferred to the Expeditionary Forces. He is the first Jamestown man to be killed at the front. He was a veteran of the Spanish-American War. [Possibly explaining the bullet wound.] At the time of his enlistment he received a sergeant’s rating. He was in the trenches three weeks before taking part in the battle of Vimy Ridge, where the Canadians saw some of the hardest fighting of the war. He has been missing since that battle, but his name does not appear among the prisoners taken by the enemy.” Mark Potter is still at Vimy Ridge.
Reuben E. Fenton, born in 1819 just outside of Jamestown, made his fortune in the lumber business. He then entered political life, serving New York State as Governor from 1865 to 1868. His 1863 residence, now the property of the city of Jamestown, and home of the Fenton History Center, has served as meeting rooms for many of the veterans’ organizations. The home of his daughter, Jeanette, near the Fenton mansion, also property of the city, was the first home for the American Legion and Camp Vimy. Camp Vimy held meetings each 1st and 3rd Tuesday and had an active ladies’ auxiliary.
Lieutenant J. Francis Monroe was elected Camp Vimy’s first president with Fred J. Smith serving as secretary. In 1926, Camp Vimy, as well as the American Legion, moved their meetings to the 3rd floor of the Jamestown City Hall. That same year, all the veterans organizations were, in effect, thrown out of City Hall because the Department of Public Works needed the space.
Governor Fenton’s home, then unoccupied but property of the City, seemed to be a likely place for Camp Vimy to relocate. However, the other veterans’ organizations wanted space in the Fenton Mansion, too. Several meetings were held with the City officials over what the Jamestown Evening Journal called the “Battle of Fenton Mansion”. Eventually, an amiable “truce” was reached and the rooms at Fenton were shared out by the various groups.
On September 5, 1921, Lord Byng of Vimy, who was about to become the Governor General of Canada, was in Jamestown for the 3rd annual convention of the American Legion. The Journal pointed out that, “Some of the Jamestown men served under Lord Byng.”
Camp Vimy, an active organization with frequent outings, dinners, and a soccer team, owned a few acres south of Jamestown on the Busti-Sugar Grove Road. There they had picnics, and rented the property to Boy Scouts and other organizations, such as the Jamestown Pigeon Club. They built a clubhouse on the property in 1931.
Camp Vimy’s biggest soccer rival was the Swedish Gymnasium Club “Reds”. My grandfather, Ernest Johnson, played Inside Forward for the Reds and on June 6, 1922, a match was held between the two. After being warned for “rough and vicious” tactics three times by referee Ed Hulman, the Reds’ Oscar Engelke was ejected. Fans poured onto the field in protest and chaos reigned until Referee Hulman ruled that the Reds refused to continue play and had therefore forfeited the game, and Camp Vimy was declared the City Champions. Because it was a game for the championship, the Reds protested the ruling, resulting in a replaying of the game. The Reds defeated Camp Vimy.
There is no indication that Camp Vimy remained in existence after World War II but there were a few obituaries into the 1970s that showed the deceased as being a former member of Camp Vimy. The Fenton History Center has no physical artifacts from Camp Vimy in its collection.