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

Lieutenant Bertram Tschudi Nevitt

3rd Canadian Infantry Battalion
1st Canadian Infantry Battalion

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


Photo from the Canadian Virtual War memorial.

Bertram Nevitt was born in Toronto, Ont, on 25 Aug 1895. he was a son of Dr. Richard Barrington Nevitt. Dr. Nevitt's life was captured in the 2001 film "The Great Lone Land: The Life of R.B. Nevitt." Synopsis: "Richard Nevitt fled Savannah Georgia at the age of 14 after being drafted by the Confederacy. Settling first in Quebec, he studied medicine, then signed up as a doctor with the RCMP's famous Great March West of 1874. Helping to chase violent American "whisky-traders" out of the Canadian West, Dr. Nevitt's care of local natives won him their respect; and his many sketches created a valuable historical record of the peaceful settling of the West. Later in life he would become a leader in the cause of women's health and would help found Canada's first women's hospital."

The Nevitt family can be found in the 1901 Canadian Census. Father "R.B." and mother Elizabeth are identified with six children; Robert (b. 23 May 1879, age 22), Mary (b. 24 Jul 1880, age 21), Irving (b. 16 Jan 1882, age 19), Adna (b. 9 Feb 1884, age 17), Richard (b. 25 Aug 1890, age 11), and Tschude (sic) (b. 14 May 1895, age 6). The family was sufficiently well-off that they had two domestic servants listed in the Census as residing at the family home. Curiously, the family does not appear in the available data for the 1911 Census, but that may be a result of poor hand-writing and resultant transcription, or lost documents.

Bertram Nevitt enrolled in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) on 22 Sep 1914 with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Battalion at Valcartier, P.Q., where the First Contingent of the C.E.F. was being assembled. On his attestation paper Nevitt is described as 5 feet 8 1/2 inches in height, weighing 135 pounds, with a 35-inch chest, a fair complexion, brown eyes, and brown hair. As a soldier of the 3rd Battalion, he was assigned the service number 9593. Nevitt identified his father, Dr. Richard Barrington Nevitt as next of kin. The family address was 46 Bloor St. West., Toronto, Ont.

The 3rd Battalion sailed from Quebec City aboard the S.S. Tunisian on 25 Sep 1914. and arrived in England on 16 Oct. While the battalion was training at Bustard Camp, Nevitt would encounter the military justice system. On 11 Nov 1914, he was deprived of one days' pay for absence.

On 11 Feb 1915, Nevitt and the 3rd Battalion crossed the Channel for France, arriving at St. Nazaire. Nevitt would spend almost all of 1915 serving in the ranks of the battalion. The list of Battle Honours for 1915 awarded to the unit and published in General Order No. 123 of 1929 provides a glimpse of the actions he would have participated in. Dates given are those specific for award of the Battle Honour, while operations in each sector often extended well beyond those dates:

Nevitt's potential for advancement was recognized while he was a young private. On 18 Jun 1915, he was appointed Lance Corporal, the lowest supervisory rank. Nevitt's service record notes that on 9 Jul 1915, he "returned to duty from H.Q.S.S. and reverts to the ranks," i.e., returned to the rank of private. It does not, however, provide information on how long he had been employed with the Headquarters Subordinate Staff.

On 1 Aug 1915, Nevitt was admitted to No. 3 Canadian Field Ambulance in 1 Aug 1915 and returned to duty the following day. The reason why he reported sick was not noted. Nevitt was granted seven days leave from 1 Nov 1915 and returned to the unit on 9 Nov 1915. Six weeks later, on 15 Dec 1915, he was attached to the Cadet School for officer training.

After only six weeks of officer training, Bertram Nevitt was granted a Commission as a Temporary Lieutenant and posted to the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion on 30 Jan 1916. He reported for duty with the 1st Battalion in the field on 8 Feb 1916. A few weeks after arriving at the unit, Nevitt attended a course at the Training School, 1st Canadian Division, commencing 25 Feb 1916 and returned to his unit on 8 Mar 1916.

Other than proceeding on leave in England on 19 Jun 1916 and returning ten days later, Betram Nevitt was with the 1st Battalion throughout the spring and summer of 1916. The so-named "Battle Bar Ledgers" prepared after the war by the Department of Defence (in anticipation of clasps being issued for the British War Medal) describes the steady rotation between front line trenches and reserve positions at brigade, Division, and corps levels. This schedule was the foundation of the infantryman's experience throughout the Great War, punctuated at random intervals with days of intense activity as the opposing forces contested one section of the trench lines of land or another.

It was during one of these periods of heightened activity that Bertram Nevitt's war would end in tragedy. One night in September of 1916, as the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion was attacking the German lines, he would fall in battle. In the reporting of casualties after the attack, Nevitt would be listed as "Reported missing, believed killed in action" on 22 Sep 1916.

The battalion's Battle Bar document offers the following summary of activities for 21-23 Sep 1916:

The 1st Battalion's War Diary offers a detailed description for the days immediately prior to and the day of Bertram Nevitt's death:

COURCELETTE

20 Sep

21 Sep

22 Sep

On 30 Sep 1916, Nevitt's death was announced in the Toronto Star, a brief note read:

"Lieut. Bertram T. Nevitt, who was killed in action, enlisted as a private with the 3rd Battalion. He received his commission at Festubert. He was 21 years old, and was educated at St. Alban's school, the Model School, and Jarvis street Collegiate. He had just taken his honor matriculation when he enlisted. He is the son of Dr. R.B. Nevitt, 46 Bloor St. West. His brother, Mr. Richard Nevitt, is with the firm of Pellatt & Pellatt, stock brockers."

Two months later, on 30 Nov 1916, a longer notice appeared in the Toronto Star newspaper. In it were details of Nevitt's service that must have come either from his own letters home or those of others written to the family after his death. The report that he had received the Military Cross was incorrect:

"Lieut. Nevitt Missing

"Lieut. Bertram T. Nevitt, son of Dr. Barrington and Mrs. Nevitt, 46 Bloor west, reported missing, and winner of the Military Cross, has been in the trenches since going over with the First Contingent. Lieut. Nevitt was only 19 when he enlisted, and celebrated his 21st birthday in the trenches last August. He has been with the First Contingent without receiving any leave since reaching France. Lieut. Nevitt went overseas with the 3rd Battalion as a private, and in December, 1915, received his commission in the field.

"He was then transferred to the "Fighting First" Battalion, and was in command of "A" Company.

"On one occasion when his superior officers were killed he held the trench for 48 hours without food or water and withdrew without loss of a man.

"At another time he saved the life of a chum, who fell beside him. Lieut. Nevitt saw that his friend would bleed to death, and, picking him up, carried him to the dressing station. His commanding officer in writing to his mother, says:

"When last seen Bertie was in a shell hole in No Man's Land, firing his revolver at the Germans. Since I last wrote you, that area has been thoroughly searched and no trace found of him whatever. We miss him, not sometimes, but all the time. Bertie was one of the whitest boys I ever met (sic), and his sense of honor and decency compelled respect from all who knew him."

"He had been recommended for the Military Cross, for I was acting adjutant at the time, and forwarded the recommendation myself, after it had been signed by the C.O. There are no honors given posthumously except the V.C., but if ever any one deserved decoration Bertie did. There is one consolation. He died as he lived, a soldier and a gentleman, and at the very forefront of battle. More could be said of no man. We all want to express to you, as well as lame words can, our deepest, most sincere and most respectful sympathy in these sad days for you all. With fellows like Bertie one can say in spite of everything: "He is not dead, but liveth."

"Lieut. Nevitt would have received his commission as captain if he had survived the engagement. He is a nephew of Mrs. Russell Snow."

Nevitt had assigned $15 monthly from his pay to his mother, amounting to about half of his pay as a private soldier. This pay assignment continued after his commissioning, and was not finally stopped until 1 Jan 1917.

It was not until 3 May 1917 that Nevitt was officially recorded as "Previously reported missing and believed killed, now for official purposes presumed to have died on or since 22 Sep 1916."

Bertram Nevitt's medals were despatched to his father in Toronto, Ont., on 22 Apr 1922. He was entitled to the 1914-15 Star (named to him as a Private of the 3rd Battalion), and the British War Medal and Victory Medal, named to him as a Lieutenant. In addition his family received a Memorial Plaque and Scroll, and his mother receives a silver Memorial Cross. The Cross was mailed to the family on 9 Jun 1920, and the Plaque on 17 Aug 1922.

Lieutenant Bertram Tschudi Nevitt is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial.

Pro Patria


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