21st July 1884 - 1st October 1918 (age 34)
14th Bn. Canadian Infantry (Quebec Regiment)
Chapel Street, Thirsk in the early 1900s may have lacked excitement for a young man, and perhaps Arthur Close wished for more than his apprenticeship with Mr.W.Jackson, a plumber. The youngest of four sons, Arthur made a brave decision that would shape the rest of his life when he left Thirsk and his widowed mother, and emigrated to Canada at around the age of 22. After three years of military service with the 3rd Royal Canadian Regiment, he settled down with Canadian Pacific Railway Co. as a pump repairer.
At the outbreak of war, adventure beckoned again and, almost immediately, on 4th September 1914, Arthur presented himself for a medical at Valcartier, Quebec. The records show he was 5 feet 7.5 inches tall with a 35-inch chest, dark complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair. Whatever his hopes, enlisting with the newly created Royal Montreal Regiment (RMR) was going to offer many adventures but also the chance to visit home and there may have been very few opportunities for this during the past twelve years. The RMR formed the 14th Battalion of the 1st Canadian Expeditionary Force and its soldiers were to be among the first of the Canadians to be committed to the Western Front.
By the end of September, the battalion was over a thousand strong and sailed from Quebec on the S.S.Alaunia and S.S.Adania joining the convoy, which steamed out of Gaspe Basin on October 3rd, an impressive sight. The 32 ships with escorts took 3 hours in a line more than 21 miles long to pass through the harbour's narrow exit into the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the start of their eleven day journey to Devonport, England. For the Canadian troops, the camps on Salisbury Plain must have seemed a long way from home but for Arthur, of course, it would have been more like a home coming. Indeed, he must surely have enjoyed some home leave during the four months of training at West Down South and Larkhill.
Eventually, training complete, the Montreals embarked on the Australind at Avonmouth arriving in France at St. Nazaire on 15th February 1915. After a brief period of indoctrination into trench warfare at Armentieres and playing an active supporting role at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, they were on the move again, north to Ypres. During the Second Battle of Ypres, the Canadians were involved in a series of vital holding actions and counter attacks after initial German gains had been made with the help of poison gas. At St. Julien on 24th April, the Germans again released gas and the Canadians made improvised masks from handkerchiefs soaked in water or urine. They fought bitterly giving up very little ground despite severe losses. Arthur survived this action only to receive a shrapnel wound to his left shin on 1st May 1915, and the long journey home began. First by ambulance train to the Canadian Stationary Hospital at Wimereux, then to Rouen and finally reaching Staffordshire General Infirmary at Lichfield on 11th May. One can only imagine the discomfort suffered by a wounded man enduring a journey such as this. The wound kept him in hospital for a further month before he was back home again to the normality of Chapel St. opposite the Fleece Hotel where his late father had been groom for many years.
Although recovered, Arthur was perhaps considered not yet fit for action because he spent the rest of that summer with the 3rd Battalion at Shorncliffe, the Canadian training camp near Folkestone. When on 25th September he finally rejoined the RMR at the Western Front, he had already been elevated to corporal.
Arthur's rise through the ranks continued with his promotion to sergeant in 1916 and he began to develop a specialist role by attending an army signals course lasting almost two months. More significantly, he was first recognised for his bravery during that year in the Battle of Thiepval Ridge, one of the later phases of the major offensive on the Somme. Near Courcelette, the RMR advanced taking 40 prisoners and achieving their objectives against heavy machine gun fire and shelling from which they suffered severe losses. This was the first of several mentions that Arthur was to achieve in his regiment's history:
Acting Company Sergeant Major A.Close was recognised for his outstanding courage during the battle of the Somme, in which the Royal Montreal Regiment were ordered to attack and take the Sudbury and Kenora trenches. The attack commenced on 26th Sept. and the Regiment was in continuous contact and battle with the German lines until the 28th Sept. The Regiment succeeded in their attacks for which 360 men were killed, wounded or missing in action.
For his part in this action, Arthur was awarded the DCM; his citation reads as follows:
For conspicuous gallantry in action. He repeatedly repaired wires under heavy fire, displaying great courage and determination. He has on many previous occasions done very fine work.
The signalling training and the promotions continued and in 1917, Arthur was commissioned as Lieutenant but his record was not completely untarnished. After being granted ten days leave in the UK, he appears to have taken an extra seven days which were recorded as AWOL (absent without leave). We can only speculate what tempted Arthur to delay his return, did some event in Thirsk occur to cause this, or did he simply fail to understand his return date? Whatever the reasons, his senior officers did not let this and an earlier absence of one day, prevent Arthur from attaining the position of Signalling Officer, 14th Battalion. He had perhaps learnt from his mistakes because in February 1918 he returned two days early from another 14 days UK leave.
In August 1918, the tide of war turned and the Allies began consistently to push the Germans back towards the Hindenberg Line. The Canadians were much involved but Arthur was away at Signalling School during the initial battles. Casualties seriously affected the battalion's signalling section in early September, which may be why Arthur returned on the 18th of that month, in time for the battle of The Canal du Nord. At 5.20am on 27th September the Canadian infantry of Arthur's battalion advanced behind a rolling artillery barrage on what was described as one of the most formidable lines of defence on the Western Front. They crossed two water and wire filled ditches and the dry bed of the great canal, encountering numerous machine gun nests on the way. The village of Sains lez-Marquion was captured along with many German prisoners. Here we find a second mention of Arthur's achievements in the RMR's history:
Meanwhile, communication between elements of the attack and Battalion Headquarters had been established and maintained in a manner that left little to be desired, largely due to the efforts of Lieut. A.Close, D.C.M., the Signalling Officer, who advanced with the attacking waves and established report centres as soon as objectives had been captured.
In recognition of his bravery, Arthur was awarded the Military Cross with the London Gazette showing the following citation:
For most conspicuous gallantry near Sains lez Marquoin on 27th September, 1918. As signalling officer he went forward with the advancing infantry and, in spite of heavy fire, succeeded in establishing communication, which he kept up throughout the operation. When the advance was checked by machine-gun fire and the leading platoon had lost its officer he rallied the men and led them forward, personally killing two and compelling the rest to surrender.
Sadly, Arthur would never know of his MC, which was awarded posthumously. After the operations on 27th September and the days immediately following, the Allies realised that final victory lay in their grasp and drove forward offering the enemy no respite. On 1st October the RMR was ordered to attack Blecourt and Bantigny. At 5am, pressing forward along the Arras-Cambrai Road they encountered a costly counter barrage, which was costly indeed because it was here that the RMR lost their gallant signalling officer Lieut. Arthur Close. Mrs. Close received a telegram from Lieut.-Col. Worrall:
Heartfelt sympathies from all ranks on the loss of your gallant son.
By the end of the Great War, over 6,000 soldiers had worn the RMR badge. Of these, over 3,000 suffered serious wounds and 1,192, the size of a battalion and including Arthur, were left behind in the fields of France and Flanders. The grave of Lieut. Arthur Close can be found at Plot D.23, Cantimpre Canadian Cemetery, Sailly, Nord, France (3km North West of Cambrai, just to the north of the main Arras-Cambrai road D939).
Arthur Close lies at Cantimpre Canadian Cemetery - "Heavenly Father Let Thy Light Shine Upon Him"
Arthur's elder brothers Foster and George both served in the war and survived. His mother, Mary died in 1930 at the age of 87 and is buried in Sowerby churchyard where her gravestone (plot C42) also commemorates her husband and her son:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
DIED JANUARY 9TH 1902
AGED 60 YEARS.
ALSO MARY JANE
WIFE OF THE ABOVE
DIED APRIL 10TH 1930
AGED 87 YEARS.
ALSO THEIR SON LIEUT A. CLOSE, M.C., D.C.M.,
14TH CAN BAT
KILLED IN ACTION OCT 1ST 1918
AGED 33 YEARS.
FAREWELL UNTIL UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN
The Close family grave at Sowerby - "Farewell Until We Meet Again"
The information on this page was compiled by Steve Billings.
Information about Arthur Close on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Information about Arthur Close on the War Graves Photographic Project website
Part of the St Oswald's Church website