VIMY, A LOCAL CONNECTION: CHAPMAN LAND SURVEYING

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This year’s Remembrance Day has a special significance, marking the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. At Kay Meek Arts Centre, we’re commemorating this historic milestone by presenting Western Canada Theatre’s remount of Vimy by Vern Thiessen, directed by James MacDonald who also helmed the premiere a decade ago for the 90th anniversary.

A celebrated military victory, the Battle at Vimy Ridge (April 9-12, 1917) was the first time the Canadian Corps fought together. Although it was considered a pivotal moment in the war, an incredible engineering feat and a great success, the sacrifice was extreme with 10,000 men killed or injured.

The battle at Vimy Ridge also has special significance for one of the show’s sponsors Bill Chapman of Chapman Land Surveying in West Vancouver with a personal connection to his firm and family.

THE HISTORY OF CHAPMAN LAND SURVEYING

It’s hard to imagine what the North Shore must have been like 100 years ago. In fact, West Vancouver wasn’t founded until 1912 and there were no bridges, only a ferry to link downtown to the communities that now sprawls from Deep Cove to Lions Bay.

The entire province was being surveyed around the turn of the 20th century and one of the first land surveying companies in Vancouver was Williams Brothers established in 1889. George Dawson joined in 1891. The Williams brothers left and John Elliott joined the firm in 1906. In 1911 Dawson became the province’s Surveyor General and Mervyn Hewett joined Elliott. Elliott married Edith Swift. Her sister, Daisy Swift, married Ernest Chapman. Their son, Ray, Bill’s father, worked for his uncle John, and through that decided to become a surveyor. Later Ray went into partnership with John and his brother, Hector and the firm went on to become Chapman Land Surveying and moved to West Vancouver in the 1950s. Bill Chapman joined his father Ray Chapman in the business in 1975.

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VIMY & BC LAND SURVEYORS

During the Great War, 129 BCLS surveyors enlisted, representing over half of the active surveyors in the province at that time. Twenty-four died and several received injuries that affected them for the rest of their lives. Nine were honoured with the military cross.

Advanced engineering and surveying techniques were employed at Vimy Ridge and were instrumental in its success. The land surveyors were vital in the planning and execution of the attack, adding their expertise especially with the construction of the tunnels and railway lines.

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ELLIOTT & HEWETT’S WAR YEARS

Three members of the small Elliott and Hewett firm served in the war and two fought at Vimy Ridge. Mervyn Hewitt enlisted in 1915 at the age of 43 and was a sergeant in the 3rd Canadian Division Engineers. He went on to receive the Decoration Militaire for his service. He was one of several BC land surveyors who worked on developing the infrastructure of the tunnels, railways and communications that played a key role in the Allied success at the ridge.

John Elliott, the eldest of four brothers, was married and had children. He stayed back in Vancouver to maintain the business while his three brothers—Hector, Lachlan and Marshall—all enlisted. Hector and Marshall worked on Elliott and Hewett’s survey crews. Hector contracted an illness during training and was discharged. Lachlan, who hoped to be a lawyer, was severely wounded at Mount Sorrel and never able to work at steady employment again. Marshall enlisted in the 54th Battalion and fought at Vimy. The war experience of the Elliott brothers is similar to that of many families living in BC during the war years.  

Continuing the tradition of serving in the Canadian military, Bill’s father Ray Chapman served in the Second World War.  

BC SURVEYORS AT VIMY RIDGE

Mervyn Hewett was one of several BC land surveyors who developed the infrastructure of tunnels, railways and communication lines that played a key role in the Allied success at Vimy Ridge.

Another was Lieutenant Richard Henderson, BCLS #2. According to the BCLS Roll of Honour, “he was attached to the 11th Field Company, Canadian Engineers, with whom he was engaged in consolidating the ground before Vimy Ridge on April 11 1917, when he was instantly killed by a chance shell.” The war diary for the 54th Battalion that day states: “Intermittent shelling… Lieut. R.H. Henderson, attached 11th Coy, C.E., killed.”

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On the same day, Marshall Elliott, who served in the 54th Battalion, was injured when one of the intermittent shells fired at this sector of the line exploded near him. The shrapnel lacerated Marshall’s left thigh, and necessitated the amputation of his little toe. He was in the hospital for a few months and left with a permanent weakness in his feet and legs.

Many thanks to Bill Chapman and Chapman Land Surveying for your support of this presentation of Vimy, and to all veterans and their families who have served.

Lest We Forget.

Archival photos from Library and Archives Canada.

PlayZoe QuinnVimy