FIRST VICTORIA CROSS FOR RMR

Sunday, April 25, 1915

25 April 15THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: Francis Alexander Caron Scrimger was born in Montreal, Quebec, February 7, 1880. He attended Montreal High School before going on to McGill University Medical School. He received his M.D. in 1905, and then did post-graduate medical studies in Europe. Returning to Canada Scrimger was commissioned a Captain in the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) on 13 April 1912, and appointed medical officer of the Montreal Heavy Brigade, Canadian Artillery. When War was declared he became MO of the 14th Battalion (RMR), on 22 September 1914.

“At the outbreak of the battle, [second Battle of Ypres] Capt. F.A.C. Scrimger, the original Medical Officer of the Battalion, was in charge of an advanced dressing station at Wieltje, when French coloured troops poured back from the broken front line. A part of this stream halted at the dressing station where Scrimger was at work, and some of the poor Turcos, crawling on the floor, sought comfort by clinging to the M.O.’s coat. Never before had Scrimger seen such terrible ‘mass fear’. No attempt to pacify or reassure these individuals could be successful. Their morale was shattered, and weeks must elapse before it could be restored.

On the following day, Capt. H.A. Boyd, Medical Officer of the 14th Battalion, having been wounded, Capt. Scrimger was attached to his old unit and ordered to report for duty at 3rd Brigade Headquarters. That afternoon the vicinity of Headquarters was shelled and Capt. Scrimger, together with other medical officers present, was ordered to the rear. This order the M.O. of the 14th could not see his way to obey. Instead he proceeded to the G.H.Q. trenches occupied by Nos. 1, 3, and 4 Companies of his Regiment, and there, under fire, dressed the wounds of five men who had been badly injured. Next day Brig.-Gen. R.E.W. Turner and officers of the 3rd Brigade Staff were standing in the rear of their Headquarters farmhouse, studying a large map, when an aeroplane circled twice overhead. This plane bore Allied markings, but must have been a German, for a few minutes later Headquarters was blown to pieces. Shell after shell landed on the farmhouse and out buildings, the ruins soon taking fire and blazing fiercely. Eventually the flames reached 350,000 rounds of small arm ammunition, the cartridges detonating individually, but in such rapid succession as to suggest a great roar of rifle fire. Some such impression must have been conveyed to a strong party of Germans, who approached under cover of the shelling. A half dozen men alone stood between this party and the capture of Brigade H.Q., but, when the cartridges started to explode, the Germans halted and dug in.

Numerous wounded lay in the farm stable when shelling began and these, with the assistance of a small band of devoted stretcher bearers, under Sergt. Bethell, Capt. Scrimger removed to safety. Among the wounded was a Staff Officer, Capt. McDonald. Supporting this officer, who was helpless, Scrimger made his way of the burning dressing station, only to run into shell fire. Refusing to abandon the wounded man, the Medical Officer lay with him at the side of a ditch, while some seventy-five 6-inch shells exploded around them. Five shells fell within fifteen feet of the lying men, who were dazed by the concussion and half smothered by the flying mud. Eventually, when the shelling subsided, Scrimger staggered with his wounded companion to safety. For his valour in effecting the rescue just described, and for his great devotion to duty throughout the period April 22nd to April 25th, Capt. Scrimger was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was the first Canadian officer to win this most coveted of all distinctions in the Great War.” [2]

“After gaining his VC, Captain Scrimger was invalided to England following an injury and, when fit, he served in various hospitals in England, including the Canadian Hospital in Ramsgate. He was promoted to major on 5 December 1916 and returned to France, working at No. 3 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station, Boulogne.

On 5 September 1918 he married Ellen Emerson Carpenter, a Canadian nurse, at St. Columba’s Church, Pont Street, London. The service was performed by the Rev’d. Archibald Fleming DD and the Rev’d. J. Tudor Scrymgeour, Francis Scrimger’s brother, who was also serving in France as a chaplain and working with the YMCA. Promoted to lieutenant-colonel on 21 April 1919, Scrimger returned to Montreal after the war and was appointed assistant surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital; he was appointed surgeon-in-chief there in 1936. A mountain near the Kootenays in the Canadian Rockies was named after him in 1918.

Francis Scrimger died suddenly on 13 March 1937 and was buried at the Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal. On 17 October 2005 Lt.-Col. Scrimger’s VC and campaign medals were presented to the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, by his three daughters.” [3]

Lt.-Col. Scrimger’s only son, Capt. Alexander Caron Scrimger (McGill Arts, 1939- ’41), 29th Canadian Reconnaissance Regiment (South Alberta Regiment), Canadian Armoured Corps, was killed in action in Holland, October 28, 1944, aged 23 years. [4]

[1]   Peter F Batchelor and Christopher Matson;  VCs of The First World War 1915 The Western Front, The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire, England, May 30, 2012.
[2]  R.C. Featherstonhaugh, The Royal Montreal Regiment 14th Battalion C.E.F. 1914-1925, Montreal, The Gazette, Printing Co., Ltd., 1927, pp. 48-49.
[3]   Peter F Batchelor and Christopher Matson;  VCs of The First World War 1915 The Western Front, The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire, England, May 30, 2012.
[4]  Extract from “McGill University at War,” p. 29-31  http://mcgillremembers.mcgill.ca/ww1/stories/scrimger.html

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