The O'Leary Collection—Medals of The Royal Canadian Regiment

A-3523 Pte Frederick James Dobson

The Royal Canadian Regiment

By: Capt (ret'd) Michael M. O'Leary, CD, The RCR

Frederick Dobson's medal group appeared on ebay in May 2021. In a nondescript posting, with no identifying details other than name and initials, the group of his six Second World War medals and Efficiency Medal attracted little attention. The Efficiency Medal was the long service award for soldiers of the Canadian Militia, so the likely conclusion was that this was a long serving militiaman who had also served through the Second World War with his regiment, The inclusion of both Italy and France & Germany Stars shortened the list of likely units to the 1st Canadian Division. Out of curiosity to attach at least a unit to the name, I looked up Dobson in the Canadian Military Honours and awards Citation Cards database on ancestry.ca. That search turned up a card for Dobson's Efficiency medal, but with no unit listed, only the entry "Released." But it did show the service number A-3523. This, from my experience researching Royal Canadians, I recognized as belonging to the number block of service numbers for The Royal Canadian Regiment. With that knowledge, I started sifting through the material I had at hand. What follows is the narrative I can put together on Frederick Dobson's service without, at this time, his service record. - MMO

Frederick James Dobson was born in St Olave, London, England, on 1 Mar 1918. He arrived in Canada aboard the S.S. Corsican on 20 Sep 1920 when Frederick (2), his mother Alice, and younger brother Alfred (1) made the crossing (an older brother had died in infancy). Alice and the boys went to live with her sister, Elizabeth Titchfield, and family in St. Thomas, Ont. Frederick's father, George, would follow the next year.

While it is unclear (at the time of this writing) what happened to George Dobson, Alice was a widow and she remarried on 22 Jun 1931. Dobson's step-father, William Meredith, was a railway brakeman ten years senior to Alice. The couple were already living together and had a daughter the year before.

At the age of 21, Dobson answered the call to enlist for service with the Canadian Army. He appears on a January, 1940, nominal roll prepared by The RCR Depot at Wolseley Barracks, London, Ont., listing men who were "Newly Enlisted Personnel (No Training)." These men formed a draft heading for their basic training in Toronto.

On 16 Jul 1940, Dobson sailed from Halifax aboard the S.S. Monarch of Bermuda and joined The Royal Canadian Regiment in England. He would enjoy his first break from the Regiment's schedule when he took Privilege Leave from 1 to 8 Dec 1940. Dobson went on another leave period in 1941. His Privilege Leave lasted a week, from 18 to 25 Jun 1941.

Dobson is listed as a soldier in "D" Company in the Regiment's overseas rolls while in England. He would, however, land in Sicily and fight through the Italian Campaign as a soldier of "C" Company.

Also in 1941, Dobson had his first and what appears to be his only encounter with the military's justice system. The Regiment's Part II Daily Orders, No. 61, dated 26 Sep 1941, included him under notes for "Fines, Forfeitures, and Punishments." The details read: "A.3523 Private Dobson F.J., "D" Coy Awarded on 16 Sep 41, 3 days C.B. and to forfeit 1 days pay under F.R.&.I. 149(1)(a) for A.W.L. from 2359 hours 14 Sep 41 until 1015 hours 15 Sep 41. (10 hours 16 mins)."

The minor charge and punishment did not interrupt Dobson's appearance on the periodic leave rotation. His was on leave again in 1941 from 12 to 19 November, and in 1942 from 5 to 12 June.

On 10 Jul 1943, Dobson landed on the beach at Pachino with "C" Company. He fought throughout the campaign in Siciliy and into Italy with the Regiment. His luck would run out in the first days of October, 1943, during the battle for Motta Montecorvino.

On the last day of September, 1943, the 1st Canadian Division was planning for the next stage in its operations in Italy. Described by Maj Strome Galloway in a regimental journal article in 1947, "The Road to Campobasso," the stage was set:

"The intention of 1st Canadian Division was to seize and hold the town of Campobasso and reorganize in that area; the intention of the Advance Guard was to seize and hold Campobasso until relieved. The plan was' to advance westward on a centre line-the main road Canosa - Foggia - Lucerna - Volturara - Vinchiatura, and thence north to Campobasso. Between Lucera and Volturara lay the hill-top village of Motta, now of historic significance in the annals of The Royal Canadian Regiment."

The RCR, detached from the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade, formed the infantry element in the Division's Advance Guard, tasked with the capture of Campobasso. As noted by Galloway, "Between Lucera and Volturara [two of the towns along the route] lay the hill-top village of Motta, now of historic significance in the annals of The Royal Canadian Regiment."

By the final daylight hours of 1 Oct 1943, the Regiment's leading Companies, "A" and "B", had closed up to the town of Motta and held up by enemy resistance. It would take the night for the two companies to secure the town and success was announced by codeword at dawn on 2 Oct 1943. Galloway's narrative continues with the next stage of the operation by "C" Company:

"By this time the local inhabitants were emerging from their shelters surrounding the Canadians with thankful gestures and offering gifts of bread, eggs and wine. However, there was no time for victory celebrations, and Lt.-Col. Spry quickly despatched "C" Company through the village mounted on tanks to maintain contact with the retreating enemy. Within a short time "C" Company ran into heavy enemy fire, both mortar and small arms, and three of the tanks were knocked out. The company went to ground and continued to engage the enemy, losing about fifteen men as casualties. The 48th Highlanders had been ordered by the 1st Brigade to pass through the R.C.R. towards Volturara, but were unable to reach their assembly area in time. Therefore, by late afternoon, following a day marred by spasmodic enemy shelling of Motta, during which the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment were preparing an attack on the right of the R.C.R., the remainder of the R.C.R. was swung around to the south of the town and an attack was launched towards Motta Ridge some two thousand yards westward. Orders for this were received from Brigade late in the day and there was very little time left for reconnaissance and orders. The purpose of this attack was not only to seize the Ridge but also to assist "C" Company, R.C.R., from the exposed position in which they had been held up and subjected to murderous mortar fire directed upon them from the Ridge."

A renewed attack by the remaining companies of the Regiment went in just before dusk on 2 Oct 1943. This night action saw Motta Ridge in Canadian hands by dawn on 3 Oct 1943. "Motta Montecorvino" would become a regimental Battle Honour, one of the few selected for emblazonment on the Regimental Colours.

Private Frederick Dobson was one of "C" Company's casualties in the fight at Motta. On 2 Oct 1943, he was struck off the strength of the Regiment on admission to hospital. The following week, on 6 Nov 1943, his name appeared in the casualty lists published in Canadian newspapers. The Times Colonist, of Victoria, B.C., printed "The 387th Canadian (Active) Army overseas casualty list, Issued Friday contained 113 names," which included under those identified as wounded, "Pte. Frederick James Dobson, St. Thomas, Ont." Dobson would be out of action for over three months and rejoin the Regiment on 12 Jan 1944.

Dobson would continue his service with the Regiment throughout 1944, and have his next significant battlefield experience that appears in regimental records at the crossing of the Lamone River. The Regiment's War Diary, on 4 Dec 1943, sets the scene for the upcoming operation:

"At 1200 hrs Lt-Col J.V. Ritchie called an "O" Gp and revealed to the coy comds that as the [3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade] were unable to bridgehead the Lamone River as previously planned the H. & P.E.R. and R.C.R. would cross on a two bn front."

"At 1700 hrs the C.O. attended an "O" Gp at Bde HQ where the crossing was coordinated with the H. & P.E.R. It was to be a night attack with the H. & P.E.R. right and R.C.R. left. Lt-Col Ritchie, upon his return to Tac HQ, called the coy comds in and told them the Bn. plan, which was as follows, two coys up, B Coy left and A Coy right, followed by C Coy in the centre rear. B Coy was to erect the assault boats, carry them down to the river and help the engineers with the bridging."

The operation had an inauspicious start when the Scout Officer, Lieut. J.E. Joice, affected by the intense cold of the river water, drowned while making a reconnaissance of the crossings sites with members of his platoon. That tragic loss caused a change in the river crossing plan, the battalion would not attempt to swim across, the river being deeper than expected, and assault boats would be used. The War Diary notes:

"A further Bn. "O" Gp was held at Tac HQ and "D" Coy was detailed as the Boat Carrying and Assault Bridging Party. The plan was for "A" and "B" Coys to cross in boats and when they had firmed on their objectives "C" Coy would cross by the assault bridges. By 2400 hrs "D" Coy was on the move to CHOIR MR 419352 where the task was to be undertaken."

Within the early hours of 5 Dec 1944, the two lead companies were across the river and firm in their initial objectives. "C" Company had also crossed, firming up the right side of the bridgehead with "A" Company and at 0430 hours, moved forward to its own objective. This initial success was met by German counter-attacks during the first hours of daylight which followed. The War Diary entry for 5 Dec 1944 describes the next events for "C" Company:

"During the second counterattack on "B" Coy it was reported by "A" Coy at 0750 brs that the H. & P.E.R. was passing through them and swinging off to the right. From this it was gathered that the H. & P.E.R. had failed to est their bridgehead and had crossed the river behind the R.C.R. bridgehead and were endeavouring to swing out to the right and form its bridgehead. At the same time "C" Coy reported seeing enemy tks or SP gun, not quite distinguishable because of the mist. This was the last heard from "C" Coy until some hours later when Lieut L.H. Campeau arrived hack at Tac HQ and told the tragic story of their decimation. Completely cut off, and unable to dig slit trenches because of heavy German MG fire, the Coy sought shelter in a large house. Seven SP shells blew this house into a complete wreck and caused many casualties, the wounded remaining to be captured, the dead to he buried by their comrades several days later. Among the killed were Sgt J.W. Gray and L/Cpl H. Rauta. The wounded and captured included C.S.M. Costello. The Coy Comd (Capt. J.H.R. Wilkinson), and Lieut L.G. Shore, also were missing as a result of this action. On leaving the "A" Coy position "C" Coy had followed the wrong track, due to the darkness, and the fact that the ground was quite confusing. During the counterattacks on "B" Coy a wireless report from "C" Coy had stated that their position was five hundred yards west of their objective. Unfortunately, before the coy could be moved the enemy counterattack developed in such a way that they were trapped. Due to the fact that "C" Coy had gone off to the left they found themselves in position right under the railway embankment and were at complete disadvantage, the enemy MGs firing down upon them, and the enemy SP guns using the railway as a guide came straight down finding the "C" Coy house right in their line of fire. When Capt Wilkinson saw that the position was completely untenable he gave an order for any who could to make a run for it and link up with "A" Coy. As a result of this, some 13 men managed to join up with "A" Coy, but the remainder of the coy was lost. Pte F.J. Dobson, the coy runner, however, managed to make good his escape nearly 24 hrs later, having lain in a dugout beside the house all day during the German occupancy and making his way back to the river and across it under cover of darkness."

The survivors of "C" Company joined "B" Company, and to replace the lost sub-unit, The RCR briefly formed "X" Coy from "the Scout Pl., other elements of Sp Coy and personnel from "X" Area and "B" Ech, although these latter did not arrive until 7 Dec 44. The latter two groups were shoemakers, armourers' assistants, drivers, etc." "C" Company would not be reformed until the final days of December, 1944, once the Regiment was in a rest area at San Pancrazio.

Dobson was awarded his 2nd Good Conduct Badge on 12 Jan 1945. Two months later, his name appears in the Regiment's embarkation roll on leaving Italy. He, along with the rest of the Regiment, was struck off the strength of the Canadian Army (Central Mediterranean Force) on embarkation 7 Mar 1945 and disembarked in France on 9 Mar 1945. Dobson continued his service as a soldier in "C" Company to the end of the war.

In the closing days of the Second World War, opportunities were presented allowing units to submit men for honours and awards to recognize their service. Surviving in regimental records is a brief proposed citation for Dobson which appears to have been the start point for his name going forward. That citation, on a half-sheet of paper, reads as follows:

"To: Adjutant, R.C.R.

"CITATION - A3523 Pte DOBSON F.J.

"On the first crossing of the Lamone river Pte Dobson went across with "C" Coy. When his coy was surrounded almost wiped out he refused to surrender. He kept himself hidden in his coy position for approximately 12 hours With the enemy all around him. When night came he crept through the enemy lines a distance of 400 yards past many sentry posts to the bank of the river Lamone. He crossed the bank and swam the river under fire of enemy sentries and report (sic) to his Bn Headquarters. The information which he brought back regarding enemy positions was extremely valuable to succeeding operations and the determination and fortitude he displayed were of the highest order."

That citation slip has been annotated, probably in the unit process to decide which recommendations would go forward, with the note "Bronze Star Medal" and the date "29 Jun 1945."

A properly staffed cover letter and expansive citation recommending Dobson for the Bronze Star Medal also survive. The cover letter shows that the recommendation went from the unit to the Brigade Headquarters:

"The Royal Canadian Regiment, 29 June 45.

"D.A.A.& Q.M.G., Headquarters, 1 Cdn Inf Bde.

"Citation for American Bronze Star Medal
A-3523 Private DOBSON, F.J.

"Herewith the [marginally named] citation for Pte Dobson and seven copies CFA-1 in his name.

(F.G.C. Darton) Major A/Comd.,The Royal Canadian Regiment"

The full citation reads:

"Citation for American Bronze Star Medal
Reference Map, Italy 1/200,000, Sheet 12

"A-3523 Pte. Frederick James DOBSON

"A-3523 Pte Dobson, F.J., joined the Royal Canadian Regiment in 1942 during the training period in England. He landed with the regiment in Sicily on D-Day and, except for a short evacuation because of a wound received in action, served continuously throughout the Sicilian and Italian campaigns. In Holland he continued to serve and saw considerable action during the fighting in which the R.C.R. took part.

"On the night of 4/5 December 44, in Italy, the Royal Canadian Regt crossed the Lamone River at MR 419352. "OC" Coy, of which A-3523 Pte Dobson, F.J. was a member, was one of the assault companies. During the action which ensued, this coy was heavily counterattacked, surrounded and either killed or taken prisoner almost to the man. Pte Dobson, refusing to surrender, kept himself hidden behind enemy lines for over twelve hours, Under cover of darkness, he crawled a distance of four hundred yards past many enemy posts and reached the river bank. Although repeatedly challenged end fired on by enemy sentries on the river bank he swam the river and reported into his Bn. HQ. with complete and accurate information regarding enemy strengths and dispositions.

"By his gallant and determined actions and strong devotion to duty Pte Dobson brought back information which subsequently proved of the highest value in the attack which followed several days later. Pte Dobson has on many occasion, over a period of many months of action, distinguished himself by his heroic and meritorious achievements. As a company runner and later as a Bren gunner, Pte Dobson, by his great personal bravery, total disregard for his own personal safety and untiring devotion to duty has always been an inspiration to those whe fought beside him, His cheerful attitude under the most trying conditions has been of inestimable value in holding high the moral of the men beside him."

On 7 Jul 1945, the Regiment was still listing Dobson on a roll of "Personnel of RCR for whom Awards Still Pending." The list contains the names of 34 officers, NCOs and soldiers of The RCR. Of these, 13 received awards. (These included 1 of 3 listed officers, 7 of 15 NCOs (including four Privates with acting rank), and 5 of 15 Privates. The solitary Warrant Officer (Class II) on the list did not receive an award).

Commander John Blatherwick, in his reference work "Canadian Army, Honours – Decorations – Awards, 1902-1968" lists 91 Canadian recipients of the American Bronze Star for the Second World War. Only one is a member of The Royal Canadian Regiment; Sgt Emerson George Richardson for actions in Italy, 17 Oct 1944.

The war at its end, his recommended award not forthcoming, Dobson took his discharge from the Canadian Active Service Force and returned home to St. Thomas, Ont. For his operational service in the Second World War, Dobson was eligible to receive the 1939-45 Star, the Italy Star, the France & Germany Star, the Defence Medal, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal with Overseas Clasp, and the 1939-45 War Medal.

The St. Thomas Times Journal edition of 9 Jan 1954 announced Dobson's marriage. The brief item noted the wedding of Frederick James Dobson, son of George Dobson, to Sadie Iona Crandole, the daughter of William Chrysler and niece of George Haun. In the 1959 edition of Vernon's Directory of St Thomas, Frederick and Sadie are shown to be living at 13 Burrows Ave., St. Thomas.

In 1961, Dobson received one more medal to add to his service medals for the Second World War. A citation card for the award (a misnomer for medals without citations), shows that he received the Efficiency Medal with an award date of 23 Jan 1961. The card noted his RCR service number, A-3523. Curiously, there is no unit or corps listed on the record card for Dobson's Efficiency Medal. In the place where a unit might have been entered, the card reads "Released."

The Canadian Efficiency Medal was the long service and good conduct award presented to member of the Canadian Militia between 1930 and 1951. With an award date of 1951, after which date the Canadian Forces Decoration replaced the Efficiency Medal, it is an indication that Dobson completed his eligible service for the medal before that change to be eligible for a late award of the earlier medal.

The Royal Warrant for the Efficiency Medal, dated 23 Sep 1930 and published in the Canada Gazette on 23 Jan 1932, stated that the medal would be "awarded to warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men who had completed twelve years' efficient service on the Active List of Our Militia, of Our Territorial Army or of the other Auxiliary Military Forces of Our Empire." The Warrant also noted that "such war service as may be defined from time to time in the regulations hereinafter mentioned shall reckon two-fold as qualifying service."

With four and one-half years service during the Second World War counting as double time towards a long service medal. Dobson only needed three more years of service in the Canadian Militia to complete the required service. Although his citation card does not list a unit, his return to St. Thomas means it is likely that he joined the Elgin Regiment for a few years. The delay in having his name submitted for the Efficiency Medal and its award in 1961 lacks an explanation.

Dobson's name shows up again in regimental publications with the regimental journal Pro Patria, Issue No. 59, December 1985. Although he has mis-remembered some of the details, in a letter dated August, 1985, Col (ret'd) Strome Galloway wrote about the death (date tbc) and funeral of Frederick Dobson:

"From: Colonel ASA Galloway, OStJ, ED, CD, KCLJ, FHSC Ottawa, Ontario

"August 1985

"Death of a Fighting Royal Canadian

"The death of Fred J. Dobson, which occurred in St Thomas, Ont., in August, has taken a Royal Canadian with a fine fighting record to his last resting place. Fred Dobson served with The Regiment in England and landed in Sicily with "C" Company, with which company he was still serving in Holland when the war ended. He was marked for promotion to corporal time after time, but begged off, preferring to carry on as a private soldier. He had plenty of patrol activity to his credit while on the Ortona front in the early months of 1944. At the Lamone River engagement he had a particularly exciting time. When the Lamone bridgehead was smashed by a German counterattack and "C" Company was wiped out, killed, wounded and captured, Dobson avoided capture with another man named Burley. They hid behind the enemy positions for four days and then managed one night to slip through the Germans over the enemy-held dykes, across the river, then over the dykes on our side of the river, thus rejoining The Regiment.

"They are both mentioned on page 186 of A REGIMENT AT WAR.

"Fred was given a Legion funeral, which was attended by Major J.L. Davis, CD, who was his platoon commander on the Ortona front."

Frederick Dobson is buried in St. Thomas at the Elmdale Memorial Park Cemetery. He lies beside his wide Sadie, who died two years before.

Pro Patria


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