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

7578–477448–15055 Sgt Gordon Hymmen

The Royal Canadian Regiment

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

Gordon Hymmen was born at Berlin, Ontario, on 9 Jun 1889. During the First World War, his home town would be renamed Kitchener. Hymmen's family, led by parents Henry and Leah, can be found in the 1891 and 1901 Canadian Censuses. These records show Hymmen as the fourth of five children and the only son. His maternal grandmother and a lodger are also shown to be living in the household. Gordon's mother died on 14 Nov 1901, and by the time of the 1911 Census his father had remarried. By 1911, Gordon and all of his sisters from his father's first marriage have moved out of the household, to be replaced by a step-sister and four new half-siblings, three girls and a boy. Henry Hymmen was a Berlin businessman who, with his brother, operated a tinsmith shop from 1874 until 1892 when his brother bought out his half. He next spent four years with H. Wolfhard & Co. (hardware), after which he bought out C.E. Moyer's hardware stock, operating that business until 1900. In 1901 he was became the first full-time superintendent of the Berlin waterworks, a post he held until 1920.

Gordon Hymmen enlisted with the Canadian Permanent Force on 28 Dec 1907, joining The Royal Canadian Regiment at No. 1 Regimental Depot, Wolseley Barracks, London, Ontario. Hymmen was 18 years old and working as a plumber's helper before joining The RCR. He was described as 5 feet 7 1/2 inches tall, weighing 171 pounds, with a 37 1/2-inch chest, good physical development, a fresh complexion, light brown eyes, and light brown hair. On enlisting, Hymmen was given the regimental number 7578, the first of three numbers he would have during his service with The RCR.

On the night of Friday 17 Apr 1908, Good Friday, Hymmen was on duty and sleeping in the guardroom at Wolseley Barracks. He was woken by a heated exchange between Sergeant Harry Lloyd and Private William Alexander Moir. That exchange would lead, a very short time later to gunshots and the murder of Lloyd by Moir in one of the barracks' basement rooms. Moir avoided capture during a lengthy manhunt, and was apprehended weeks later following by a tip to police which led to his arrest. At Moir's trial, Hymmen testified about what he had seen, confirming that Moir was excited but not noticeably under the influence of drink. He confirmed that he had never seen Moir drunk, or behaving in that fashion before. Harry Lloyd, an N.C.O. attached from the 28th Perth Regiment, was buried in Stratford, Ont. Moir was sentenced to life in the Hamilton asylum (later moved to prison in Toronto) and eventually released during the First World War to return to England where he re-enlisted in the British Army. Moir was killed in action on 27 June 1917 while serving with the 2nd/10th Battalion, The King's (Liverpool Regiment).

A good part of Hymmen's life in The RCR around his military duties was the opportunity to play sports. He can be found in a variety of regimental sports team photos over the years and appears in the sports columns of the local newspaper before and after the Great War. On 3 Nov 1908, The Advertiser of London reported a victory by The RCR over "B" Company of the Seventh Regiment at basketball. The game was played in the London Armouries; forwards on The RCR team were Gilmour and Hymmen.

The Advertiser of London issue of 15 Jul 1909 reported on an East End picnic hosted at Queen's Park with nearly 10,000 people in attendance. The entertainment for the day included a display of Military Physical Drill. The paper reported: "A magnificent exhibition of military physical drill was given by Sergeants Oakley, Ludgate and Carr, Corporals Philips, McFarlane, Campbell and Stevens, and Privates Cook, Davis, Travis, Shaw, Hymmen, Innis, Walsh, Stevens and O'Shea, of the Royal Canadian Regiment at Wolseley Barracks under the direction of Sergeant-Major Borland. The men went through their exercises with a precision and expertness that showed the most careful training and considerable endurance. The whole body moved as one man, even when they were doing some most difficult exercises with heavy military rifles, and the crowd showed their appreciation of the splendid exhibition by giving the party hearty plaudits."

Not only did Hymmen play on military sports teams, but he can also be found playing for community teams. In The Advertiser of 25 Oct 1909, he is listed among the members of the North Enders, a local soccer team which was traveling that day to play a game against the St. Thomas team in that city. The team went to the game on the Southwestern Traction Company, a local railway which operated passenger service from London to St. Thomas and Port Stanley between 1901 and 1918.

Hymmen was posted from London to Halifax on 3 Mar 1910. The RCR had provided the garrison troops for Halifax since 1905 when the last British troops departed that city and The RCR expanded to place a regimental headquarters and six new companies in the port city. As needed, members of the Regiment were posted from the outlying company stations to Halifax to maintain the necessary strength in that garrison. Before leaving London, Hymmen would participate in one more sporting event.

"Sports Club, No. 1 R.C.R.," The RCR at Wolseley Barracks, conducted a field sports meet on 28 May 1910 which was reported in the local paper the following day. Corporal Hymmen's name showed up four times in the results: (1) second place in the 100 yards' dash, finishing behind Corp. Dunkerley who won by an inch; (2) winning the long jump with a jump of 19 feet 7 inches; (3) winning the 220-yard race in 22 4/5 seconds; and (4) winning the Non-Commissioned Officers' Race (100 yard) in 11 seconds, narrowly beating Dunkerley.

On 3 Apr 1910, Hymmen arrived at the Halifax regimental station where no doubt he quickly entered and established himself in the regimental and garrison sports leagues there. His sporting activities may also be the reason behind his hospitalization on 23 Nov 1910 for ten days with a knee injury and again on 15 Oct 1911 for 4 days with a sprained ankle. These minor injuries did not prevent him from returning to sports, a group photo of the regimental Garrison Hockey Champions of 1913 includes Sergeant G. Hymmen (position Cover Point).

The annual cycle of military duties, training and sports would be interrupted in the summer of 1914 by the outbreak of the First World War. The RCR, being the only formed battalion in the country ready for employment was the first to sail from Canadian shores. But their destination was not the European theatre of war.

On 11 Sep 1914, The RCR sailed for Bermuda where they would serve for a year on garrison duty. The Regiment relieved the 2nd Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, which sailed immediately for England. On 12 Aug 1915, The RCR was relieved in turn by the arrival of the 38th Overseas Battalion from Canada. The RCR returned to Halifax for a stay of only a week. During this time, the Regiment was re-attested for overseas service. Although The RCR had just spent a year in Bermuda, there were concerns regarding the applicability of the soldiers' Permanent Force enlistments for wartime deployments. This was, perhaps, prompted by the idea that a man on a P.F. three-year engagement could choose not to re-engage and the Government would be obligated to bring him home. Enlistment in the C.E.F., on the other hand, was for the "Duration of War." Accordingly, the soldiers of The RCR were re-attested, signing C.E.F. attestation papers in August 1915 before sailing for Europe. On 26 Aug 1915, The RCR sailed from Halifax aboard the S.S. Caledonian, the same ship that had brought them home from Bermuda. Disembarked at Plymouth, England, on 6 Sep 1915, the Regiment went to Shorncliffe for training.

Gordon Hymmen attested for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) with the The RCR at Halifax, N.S., on 23 Aug 1915. Hymmen identified his father, Mr. H. Hymmen, Superintendent Water Works, Berlin, Ont., as his next of kin.

Training at Shorncliffe was not without its perils for Canadian soldiers training there. Hymmen fell foul of military authority when he let temptation lead him into an unauthorized absence. On 16 Sep 1915, he was charged with, and found guilty of, being away without authority. Hymmen received a severe reprimand and lost four days "mulct pay," essentially returning the pay he would have earned during his absence from 6.00 a.m. on 13 Sep until 2.15 p.m. on 16 Sep 1915.

On 28 Sep 1915, Hymmen would receive a new C.E.F. service number to replace the regimental number he received on enlisting in 1907. While serving in the C.E.F., his service number would be 477448. Since the Regiment received its C.E.F. numbers while at full strength and not as they were recruited, it had the interesting effect that the soldiers of the Regiment at the time were renumbered in alphabetical order.

The RCR crossed the English Channel on 1 Nov 1915, entering the theatre of war at Boulogne, France. During November and December of 1915 the Regiment prepared for service in the trenches, with companies rotating in the lines for training and a period of providing working parties before entering the line as a battalion at the end of December. The first months of 1916 saw the Regiment in the steady rotation through front line trenches, support trenches, and reserve positions that was the fundamental experience of the infantry in the Great War.

The activities of The RCR in early 1916 are summarized in the unit's "Battle Bar Document" (prepared after the war by the Militia Department in anticipation of the possibility of clasps for the British War Medal). Ending 1915 and starting 1916 in Corps Reserve (BERTHEN. Hqrs R.16.d.5.8. Sheet 27.), the Regiment was soon cycling in and out of the front lines. The battalion's record of movements and changes of duty over the first four months of 1916 illustrate how much the life of the infantry contrasted with the often described "static" nature of the Western Front:

Hymmen was granted 9 days leave of absence from 21 Mar 1916, missing the front line tour between 26 and 28 March. Not long after his return, on 12 Apr 1916, he reported sick at Zillebeke, diagnosed with influenza. This would begin a rearward journey and a series of illnesses that would prevent him from returning to front line service.

On 18 Apr 1916, Hymmen was admitted to No. 18 General Hospital, Camiers, his diagnosis confirmed as severe influenza. He was invalided and transferred on 29 Apr 1916 to the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre (C.C.A.C.) at Folkestone. At this time, diagnosed with nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys), Hymmen crossed the channel back to England aboard the hospital ship H.S. Brighton.

Hymmen was admitted to the Northumberland War Hospital at Newcastle-on-Tyne on 30 Apr 1916. he would remain here until he was transferred to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bear Wood, Wokingham, Berkshire, on 29 Sep 1916. Case notes made at this time read: "improved, condition fair, legs and face swollen, headaches, milk diet." Discharged from hospital to C.C.A.C. and a return to duty on 18 Oct 1916, Hymmen was taken on the staff of the C.C.A.C. at Shoreham a week later.

A Medical Report completed on 1 Nov 1916 identified that Hymmen was suffering from nervous irritability, D.A.H. (disordered action of the heart, a label for what would now be considered post traumatic stress diorder), and nephritis. His condition began on 13 Apr 1916 with nephritis from occupying a dug-out at Ypres. The essential facts of his case were recorded as "Began while he was in a dug out at Ypres. He was continually wet and practically never dry, he noticed that his legs and face were swollen and the urine proved a condition of severe nephritis. He never had scarlet fever and was always healthy." Hymmen's condition at the time of the report was described as: "Patient looks well but has lost about 70 lbs. in weight. At the present time the heart action is fairly normal, no irregularity of pulse but a slight systolic murmur on exertion. Reflexes normal." His condition was considered permanent and he was recommended for return to Canada.

On 9 Nov 1916, Hymmen was detached from C.C.A.C. to the General Details Depot (G.D.D.) for Permanent Base Duty (P.B.D.). In early 1917, from 26 Feb to 9 Mar, he was hospitalized at the Canadian Military Hospital, Hastings, returning to duty thereafter.

Hymmen was struck off the strength of the C.C.A.C. on 10 Mar 1917 and transferred to the Nova Scotia Regimental Depot (N.S.R.D.). The N.S.R.D. was part of the new regionally based reinforcement system, with named Depots taking in troops from battalions raised in those areas in Canada and providing reinforcement drafts to similarly designated fighting units. The RCR, having been headquartered in Halifax in the decade before the War, was associated with the N.S.R.D. These Depots also became the parent unit for any soldiers returned to England from their affiliated battalions in France and Flanders.

On 23 Mar 1917, Hymmen was transferred to the 2nd Quebec Regimental Depot at Shoreham. This posting would be short lived and on 19 Apr 1917, he returned to the N.S.R.D. and was taken on strength of the Depot Company. Hymmen was posted to the Administrative Staff of the N.S.R.D. as Provost Sergeant on 18 Oct 1917.

Hymmen would not hold the post of Provost Sergeant for long. On 4 Nov 1917, he was sent "On Command," i.e., a temporary duty assignment without change of parent units, to the Canadian Discharge Depot (C.D.D.) at Buxton, Bramshott. The following day he was taken on the strength of the Discharge Depot in readiness for his return to Canada.

Gordon Hymmen returned to Canada, sailing from Liverpool, Eng., on 17 Nov 1917 aboard the S.S. Saxonia. He was examined by a Medical Board at Quebec on 11 Dec 1917. The Board's report gave the following detailed description of his condition, based on the disabilities of nephritis and D.A.H.:

"Six months in France. On exposure to cold and dampness found that his feet swelled, and that there was swelling beneath his eyes. Treated for 3 weeks in Hospital there for Nephritis, then sent to England and treated for 6 months, with same trouble. Present Condition:— Pulse 90 slightly irregular. Increases on exertion rate 130. Soft systolic murmur at apex. No enlargements and otherwise normal. Complains of shortness of breath when he walks rapidly or goes upstairs."

The Board assessed Hymmen at 25% incapacitated, with the possibility that it might partly be permanent. He was recommended for further treatment at a convalescent home.

On arrival from the Clearing Depot at Quebec, Hymmen was taken on the strength of "F" Unit, Military Hospitals Commission Command (M.H.C.C.), at London, Ont., on 13 Dec 1917. He was admitted as an outpatient patient at the Guelph Military Convalescent Hospital (G.M.C.H.) and his intended address after discharge was recorded as 47 Alma St., Kitchener, Ont.

A report on Hymmen's medical condition was prepared at the Guelph Military Convalescent Hospital on 5 Jan 1918. he was diagnosed at this time with "Debility (nervous)" caused by "nervousness following nephritis." Hymmen's present condition at the time of the report was recorded as:

"Can walk 5 miles taking his own time. Any over exertion causes a shortness of breath. This cane on after an attack of acute nephritis in France. Complains of same nervousness on over exertion. This has improved since returning home. Patient eats and sleeps well. Is well nourished and has gained 10 lbs. since enlisting for overseas. Knee jerks normal. Normal pulse 84. Respiration 22. After climbing 16 steps rapidly 4 times, pulse 122, respirations 48. No marked dyspnoea and R&P return to normal after 2 1/2 minutes. At present has a husky voice due to cold. Nothing abnormal found in lungs or heart. He complains of an occasional pain in lumbar region. Complains of slight deafness but can hear ordinary voice at 20 feet."

A later comment on the form added: "This man is in good condition and a little physical training will overcome his breathlessness." Hymmen was declared fit for duty, category Ci and recommended for home service in Canada only.

Gordon Hymmen was struck off the strength of the M.H.C.C., "Medically Unfit," and discharged at Guelph, Ont., on 16 Feb 1918. A Last Pay Certificate was prepared to close out Hymmen's pay account. As a Sergeant he was being paid $1.35 regimental pay plus another fifteen cents daily field allowance. In addition to his pay owed for that month, he received $13.00 Clothing Allowance.

A few years out of uniform agreed with Hymmen and he must have regained his health and his strength. But he was not done with military service. On 8 Jan 1920, he re-enlisted with The RCR at Montreal, P.Q., in the rank of Lance Corporal. The Regiment was using new post-war regimental numbers and Hymmen's new number was 15055.

Hymmen's return to the Regiment soon found him back at Wolseley Barracks in London, Ont, and back on the sports teams' rosters. His name appeared in a baseball statistics list of local athletes published by The London Advertiser on 7 Jul 1921. As a fielder, in 6 games he had 32 "chances," 26 "put-outs," and averaged .813. As a batsman, in 6 games Hymmen had 15 "at bats," and a batting average of .333. Other players from The RCR team also appear on both lists. On the batting stats list Hymmen is the highest placed RCR.

On 29 Nov 1921, Hymmen was one of the regimental players that played both games of the opening night double-header of the Garrison Indoor Baseball League at the London Armouries. First, the team fielded by The RCR defeated the men of the local militia cavalry regiment, the 1st Hussars. After that, the RCR team stepped up to replace the no-show C.O.T.C. team from the university and, in that second game, defeated the Headquarters staff team. In the team lineup, Hymmen is identified as the team's catcher. An edition of the next day's paper mis-identified Hymmen in noting his contribution: "Harvey Hymen (sic), formerly of Kitchener, caught for the R.C.R. and looked a real hitter at bat, making the Royals' battery most formidable in their ironmen stunt."

The London Advertiser edition of 17 Mar 1922 reported on football (soccer) games played the previous day, one between the Grand Trunk Apprentices and the R.C.R. Juniors, and the second game between the R.C.R. Seniors and an 'Army and Navy' team. Sergt. Hymmen is identified as one of the senior RCR team's backs. The Regimental junior team won their game 1-0, while Hymmen and the senior team were aggressively and evenly matched, finished 2-2. In a brief sports item announcing upcoming games in the local soccer leagues, the London Free Press of 21 Apr 1921 published the lineup for the senior RCR team. In this lineup, they identify Hymmen by his nickname, "Dutchy Hymmen."

On 15 May 1922, in reporting on a hard-fought though losing soccer game against the St Andrew's Saints, Hymmen and a few of his teammates came in for special accolades: "The R.C.R. tried hard to equalize and the Saints were given a merry argument. The playing of MacQueen, Hymmen, Wright and Hill was brilliant, while Morgan, Whitelaw, Croal, Holt, D. Smith and Russell was on a par."

Demonstrating that his skills were not limited to field sports, Hymmen's results are shown among those of two regimental teams in their fourth Canadian Rifle League shoot. Hymmen and his teammates were shooting at 200, 500, and 600 yards. Hymmen shot 30, 33, and 18 points at those distances respective, out of a possibly high score of 105 (5 points for a bullseye at each range).

The summer's sports in 1922 were interrupted by military duty when a detachment of 143, all ranks, was sent from Wolseley Barracks to Nova Scotia for strike duty. Sergeant Gordon Hymmen was one of the NCOs who left the garrison on 18 Aug 1922 with six hours notice. Both the regimental headquarters and "C" Company departed that morning. The Company had been under canvas at the Coves rifle range, five kilometers from the Barracks. Warned late at night, they struck camp, marched back to the Barracks by 2.30 a.m. and were ready to depart by train at 5.30 a.m. The London troops arrived at Sydney, N.S., on 22 Aug 1922, part of a force of over 700 from The RCR and the Royal Canadian Dragoons. After a quiet period during which no major incidents with the strikers occurred, the troops from London returned to Wolseley Barracks on 5 Sep 1922.

The Free Press of London, in its 12 Dec 1922 edition, described Hymmen's overall capabilities as an athlete: "'Dutch' Hymmen, of the Royal Canadian Regiment, and Berryhill, of Headquarters, shape up as about the best backstops in the Indoor Baseball League These boys are of the Lionel Conacher type, being all-round athletes, and always in the pink of condition. Both are near the six-foot mark and weigh around 180. The manager of the London Amateur Athletic Association's hockey team would do well to look over this pair when selecting the O.H.A. team, especially Hymmen, who was last year one of the best defence men in the Garrison League."

Hymmen's athletic abilities were not limited to field and indoor sports. A photo of a regimental hockey team in The RCR Museum collection identifies him as Captain of The RCR Hockey Team, London, Ont., 1922-23.

For his service in the C.E.F., Hymmen was entitled to receive the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. These were despatched to him in care of the Officer I/C Records, R.C.R., at Tecumseh Barracks, London, Ont., on 5 Apr 1923. Tecumseh Barracks was one of the barracks established at the Wolseley Barracks military property in that city.

Preparations made by The RCR for the upcoming 1923-24 season of the Regimental Rifle Association were announced in The Free Press of London on 3 Oct 1923. Sergeant Gordon Hymmen was named as one of the officials of the executive committee for the Association that year.

The Free Press of London, in its edition published for Friday, 9 Nov 1923, showed how closely it followed the condition of well-known athletes in the local sports scene. A brief note, printed alongside a photograph, announced: "Sergeant Gordon Hymmen, of the R.C.R., had the misfortune of breaking his leg while practicing soccer at Carling Heights on Monday afternoon. He has been playing good soccer, baseball and hockey for the R.C.R. for years, and the accident was ill-timed. He expects to be able to play indoor baseball and hockey when the broken bone mends."

Sergeant Gordon Hymmen was discharged from the Permanent Force at Wolseley Barracks on 31 Dec 1924. The reason for his discharge was recorded as "medically unfit" and his character on discharge was noted as "Good."

Hymmen remained connected with garrison life. On 2 Mar 1925, The Free Press of London printed a description of the Regimental Smoker hosted by the Sergeants of The RCR at Wolseley Barracks the previous Saturday evening:

"Senior Noncommissioned Officers of the City Mark Victory of Paardeberg
"R.C.R. Sergeants Hold Regimental Smoker in Wolseley Barracks Mess—Fine Program by R.C.R. String Band

"Warrant officers and staff sergeants of the Royal Canadian Regiment entertained similar non-commissioned ranks of the Canadian Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) and of other city regiments at their mess at Wolseley Barracks on Saturday evening in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the victory of Paardeberg.

"The entertainment took the form of a regimental "smoker," with the Royal Canadian Regiment's string band, under Sergt. Drummer Maule, furnishing a program of outstanding merit. Recitations, songs and special numbers by bandsmen furnished our the evening's good fellowship, which concluded just before midnight, with the singing of the National Anthem by men who had pledged their devotion to the King's service on a score of battlefields and on three continents.

"The only formal speech of the evening was delivered by Warrant Officer Jack Wyatt, D.C.M., regimental sergeant major of the R.C.R's, who, on behalf of Lieut.-Col. Seeley-Smith, who is ill, welcomed the R.C.R's guests to the regiment's headquarters station.

"Capt. V. Hodson, adjutant of the R.C.R., represented the officers' mess at the Paardeberg celebration."

Hymmen is listed among the attendees at the Paardeberg celebrations, identified as "G. Hymmen, formerly of the R.C.R." Guests came from the Fusiliers, the 1st Hussars, the 2nd Battalion, Canadian Machine Gun Corps, and the various Corps represented at London.

Remaining in the London area, Hymmen also stayed connected to his Regiment. He is listed in the regimental journal The Connecting File, Volume XII, No. 4, November, 1933, as an attendee at the Regiment's 50th Anniversary Reunion held at Wolseley Barracks: "Sjt. G. Hymmen, 75 Elliott St., London, Ont."

Gordon Hymmen died at London, Ont., on 26 Feb 1970. He is buried in Woodland Cemetery.

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