Private Rupert William Schwitzer enlisted in May 1916, at age 18, and served in France with the 46th Battalion. He died of wounds in September 1918, two months before the Armistice.
Rupert was the only son of John Edward Schwitzer and Eva McNaughton of Winnipeg, Manitoba. His parents were both born in Ottawa, Ontario and they were married there in August 1894. A short time later they moved to the small town of Rat Portage (now called Kenora) in northwestern Ontario. John was a civil engineer and according to the local newspaper he was employed as the town engineer. Rupert, their oldest child, was born in Rat Portage on 24 December 1897. By the time of the 1901 census the Schwitzers had moved to Winnipeg where John worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). They lived at Suite 8, Westminster Block and one of their neighbours was James Arthur Hesketh, who later became Rupert's stepfather.
John and Eva had two daughters, Edna (1901) and Nora (1905), both born in Winnipeg. John was promoted through the ranks of the CPR and in early January 1911 he became the company's chief engineer. His family was staying in Ottawa at the time and a notice of congratulations in the Ottawa Evening Journal was followed two weeks later by the sad news of John's sudden passing. He had died in Montreal of pneumonia on 23 January 1911, at age 41. His body was returned to Ottawa for burial in Beechwood Cemetery and Eva and the children moved back to Winnipeg. In May 1912 Rupert's youngest sister Nora died of meningitis at age six. Her body was sent to Ottawa to be buried beside her father in Beechwood Cemetery.
Eva was married again on 10 March 1916 in London, England. Her second husband was Major James Arthur Hesketh, DSO, commanding officer of Lord Strathcona's Horse. She had arrived in England on 28 February and she returned to Canada via New York in early April. Major Hesketh was a graduate of the Royal Military College in Kingston and he'd served with the Canadian militia for 31 years. He also helped to found the Boy Scouts in Manitoba. The war started in August 1914 and he attested in October while at sea on His Majesty's Troop Ship Bermudian. Hesketh arrived in France with the Strathconas on 4 May 1915 as a Major and he became their commanding officer on 23 December 1915. He earned his Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1915. After his marriage to Eva he returned to France and continued to serve as commander of the regiment until 28 September 1917. He was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and also awarded the Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG).
Rupert enlisted on 1 May 1916, at age 18, signing up in Winnipeg with the 196th (Western Universities) Battalion. He was a student at Kelvin High School at the time and he'd served for two summers in the militia with the Canadian Army Service Corps, which supported the active militia units. Over the summer the 196th trained at Camp Hughes near Brandon, Manitoba and in October they headed to the east coast. Rupert embarked from Halifax with his battalion on 1 November 1916 on the SS Southland. In England the recruits were transferred to reserve battalions to be used as reinforcements for other units. Rupert trained in England for 16 months, serving with the 19th Reserve Battalion, the Saskatchewan Regiment Depot and the 15th Reserve Battalion. He'd been sick with bronchitis and the flu at Camp Hughes and when he suffered more respiratory illness in the spring of 1917 he spent a few weeks in Bramshott Military Hospital.
In February 1918 Rupert was transferred to the 46th (Saskatchewan) Battalion and sent to France. He joined his new unit in mid-March in a draft of about 100 reinforcements. The 46th was in the 4th Canadian Division and that spring they were holding a long stretch of the front line near Arras. The Germans had started their big spring offensive, a push aimed at breaking through the Allied defences, but they didn't attack the lines held by the Canadian Corps. In May the Canadians went into reserve and during the summer they were given several weeks of intensive training in open warfare.
The final period of the war, known now as the Hundred Days Offensive, started in August with the Battle of Amiens (8-11 August 1918). The assault was spearheaded by the Canadians and they advanced twelve miles in four days of heavy fighting. The 46th Battalion took part in the battle and on 15 August Rupert wrote a long letter home describing his experiences of the previous week. Part of his letter was published in the Manitoba Free Press on 25 September 1918, captioned "Chasing the Hun." The letter ends, "Two days later we were relieved and are now miles behind, enjoying a fair rest in bivies. Am happy and never sorry to have gone through it."
Following their remarkable success at Amiens the Canadians were moved to the Arras area for the assault on the Drocourt-Queant Line (2-3 September 1918). The 46th moved forward into position on 1 September, encountering heavy shelling on the way. The attack began at 5 am the next morning. Rupert was one of the casualties in the intense fighting that day, suffering a gunshot wound and fracture of his left thigh. He was evacuated to England and admitted to the 1st Southern General Hospital in Edgbaston, Birmingham on 7 September. He died there ten days later, on 17 September 1918.
Rupert is buried in Birmingham's Lodge Hill Cemetery, which contains almost 500 First World War burials, most of them from local hospitals. He is commemorated on the Next of Kin Monument in Winnipeg, Manitoba and on page 497 of Canada's First World War Book of Remembrance, displayed in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Major James Hesketh returned to Canada in June 1919 and died at his home in Winnipeg in January 1923, at age 60. Mrs. Eva Hesketh passed away in Winnipeg in December 1960, at age 89, and she's buried beside Major Hesketh in Elmwood Cemetery. Rupert's sister Edna graduated from the University of Manitoba, became a teacher and married Gunnar Solmunder (Solly) Thorvaldson in October 1926. Solly was a lawyer and he served as an MLA for eight years. In 1958 he was appointed to the Senate, a position he held until his death in 1969. Edna passed away in Winnipeg in April 1999, at age 97.
By Kenora Great War Project