Two years ago Minor Leaguer recounted how soldiers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force celebrated Dominion Day (now known as Canada Day) in 1918 with the Canadian Corps Championships, a grand sporting event held just a few kilometres away from the front lines of World War I.
The climax of the event was the finals of the Corps Baseball Championship. In what was an 11-inning thriller, the 7th Canadian Engineer Battalion triumphed 3–2 over the 1st Divisional Ammunition Column.
When Minor Leaguer’s article was published there was no known box score for the game, and so other than the photographic record and the tournament programme little was known of the game and players outside the generalities.
A recent chance discovery has now rectified this and allows us to appreciate more details about the championship game that was played in the rural fields of Tincques, France on a “fine weather, and rather hot” July 1, 1918.
The Canadian Sapper, the official magazine of the Canadian Military Engineers (“sappers”) during World War I, had this to say about the event (Vol. 1, No. 6, p. 160):
This was easily the largest gathering of its kind ever held in France.
There were over 70,000 troops of all ranks present—of whom about 5,000 were officers. The meeting was honoured by the presence of H.R.H The Duke of Connaught, Sir Robert Borden, W.W. Rowell Esq., and representatives of all the allied nations.
The ground was prepared by the Canadian Engineers, and was in wonderful shape. The grand stand was built of 42 trestles, and was 280 yards long. A notable feature was the great revolving board for results, visible from all parts of the field.
Athletics tracks, tennis courts, and a baseball diamond—the oval in Tincques boasted facilities for almost any sport. The Engineers’ pride in their work was all the more greater for their success in the sporting events, not least in baseball.
The following month’s edition of the Canadian Sapper (Vol. 2, No. 7, p. 23) included the following box score, without any accompanying explanation or context.
The first thing to note from the scorecard is that the 7th Canadian Engineer Battalion team was referred to as “Colonel Kingsmill’s Battalion.” The difference in name may explain why the a box score for this game had been hard to find. So why the different name? It would seem that this was to help members of the Canadian Engineer Regiment, which was spread across France and England at the time, to identify exactly which unit this was. The 7th Battalion had only just been formed in May 1918 by the amalgamation of the 7th Field Company and the 123rd Pioneer Battalion. With the war now moving out of its static phase and into a mobile one, the former field company structure was no longer adequate, and larger battalion-sized units were formed.
The second thing to note is that we now have names for the players and a bit of detective work has helped us to get a better understanding of who they were and where they came from.
The most exciting discovery is that all these men hailed from Toronto, but more interestingly the majority of them had originally enlisted in the 180th Battalion which had been raised by the Sportsman’s Patriotic Association. The Battalion was described in Toronto Does Her Bit, a compilation by Hubert Groves from 1918 (p. 38):
The Toronto organization was asked to organize the 180th Overseas Battalion, which was done and given the name of the Sportsman’s Battalion, to which many famous Athletes were attached , both as officiers and non-commissioned officers and men, and after a short training of eight months, arrived in England, where it was recognized as one of the best of our Canadian battalions and was subsequently broken up for drafts as reinforcements for the Front.
Before the Great War, Toronto was home to a thriving baseball scene, ranging from the International League Maple Leafs to active amateur circuits with at least three distinct leagues operating within city limits. It is compelling to think that the ballplayers of the 7th Canadian Engineers had likely played with and against each other in happier times in Toronto. Indeed there is evidence that their shortstop William Alexander “Irish” Eagleson was the same “Irish” Eagleson who later played infield for the famous Toronto Oslers of the 1920’s.
The prestige attached to the Engineers winning the inaugural Canadian Corps Championships cannot be understated. To have reached such heights, they first would have had to navigate their way through Brigade and Divisional Championships—all while, it should be stated, fighting a war in which members were shot and gassed.
The Canadian Engineers had an auspicious year in 1918. In addition to winning the Corps Championships in France, the Canadian Engineers Training Centre (based in Seaford, Sussex) became the baseball champions of the British Isles, defeating the United States Army’s champions by a score of 6–2.
We’ll leave the final word to the Official War Diary of the 7th Canadian Engineer Battalion and this entry for, written on July 1, 1918 (from Library and Archives Canada):
The Regimental baseball team covered itself with glory today, winning the Championship of the Canadian Corps from the 3rd (sic) D.A.C. with a score of 3-2. The previous day they defeated the Corps troops by 11-8.
The Corps sports, which were held at Tincques, were an unqualified success.
Andrew Taylor is a resident of Folkestone, United Kingdom and is the curator of the Folkestone Baseball Chronicle Facebook page. He wrote an excellent guest piece for Bluebird Banter two years ago where he told the story of Canadian soldiers playing baseball in his home town during World War I. When I visited Folkestone in 2018 (remember travelling to other countries?), Andrew and his family took me on a whirlwind tour of the area and I was very grateful for their kindness and time. Many thanks to Andrew again for a wonderful guest piece! Please “Like” and “Follow” his Facebook page.—Minor Leaguer