Route to the Past # 252         Archie Barrow of the 168th                         November 7, 2011 

He was just 18; more of a boy than the man he was about to become in the course of the next sixteen months. Archie was the youngest of eight born to Charles and Mary Barrow. His parents had emigrated from England several years before but like most expatriates they no doubt staunchly held firm in their loyalty to King George V.

With older brothers working in town, Archie was probably itching for a bit of adventure by the time he reached the age of majority when he could enlist. He was likely overflowing with enthusiasm when he signed up with the 168th Battalion, the Oxford Rifles, on January 20, 1916.

Doubtless his mother was none too pleased. Sure, her son Donald had a good job working at the Kirwin House and his brother Fred had steady employment with the Morrow Screw & Nut Company, but she had enough worries with her husband not being in the best of health. Fact was, Charles had been ailing for nearly 3 years. He had worked as a coatmaker with the tailoring firm of Thompson and Smith and later Smith and Kerr at the corner of King and Queen Streets -- just down from their own home at 201 King Street West.  Mary had reason to fret. Within three months of Archie’s enlistment she was a widow.

By 1916 casualties were such that Canadian troops were needed as reinforcements for the standing army on the Front. Once they got overseas, members of the 168th were split up and sent to fill the ranks of other regiments. Archie was sent to the Eastern Ontario Regiment, the 21st Battalion.

In April of 1917, Canadian forces were amassing under the direction of Generals Julian Byng and Arthur Currie in preparation for an all-out assault on Vimy Ridge.  Other Allied forces had tried to capture this German stronghold and failed. This time, it was up to the Canadians. Rather than another blundering suicidal charge up the hill, the Canadians spent weeks carefully planning and rehearsing their assault.

On sunny Sunday April 8th, young Canadian lieutenant Frank Smith wrote to his father that he was one of thousands of Canadian soldiers resting in a field preparing for the next day and what they felt would be the most important day in Canadian history. 

That next day, April 9, 1917, did indeed turn out to be the watershed moment for the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. At 05:30 all four of the Canadian divisions launched their attack. It was the first time that they had all fought together as one army. Within half an hour they had captured their first objective, and within four days total victory was theirs.  Henceforth they earned and deserved the reputation of being the elite storm troopers that struck fear in the hearts of the Germans. April 9th however would turn out to be Private Archibald Barrow’s last day of earthly existence.  He along with 10,600 other Canadians were killed or wounded in this battle.

Back home, his widowed mother received news that her boy had paid the supreme price but little more could be revealed by the authorities. We may never know where, when or how 18 year old Archibald Barrow was killed. Did he live to know that victory was close at hand?

Today, you cannot visit Archie’s grave. He, along with 52 other Canadian soldiers were hurriedly entombed in a mass grave that has since become known as Zivy Crater – a lasting reminder of the pockmarked landscape that was the Hell on Earth Archie and others strove to defend.

Not all those buried were identifiable; 48 of them who were include another 18 year old: John Noble Barlow of Toronto; 19 year old Bobcaygeon grocery clerk Thomas Arscott, 20 year old Sidney Bush of Hamilton, 29 year old Thomas Edward Allard of Trenton, Russian-born Stanley Bress from Saskatchewan, and Irish immigrant Fred Cranston who had been working as an asylum attendant in Toronto. All were Canadians who fought together as one and who now lie buried as one.

Lest we forget. 

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