Opinion

Early Vimy casualty had burning urge to serve

By Tom Villemaire, Special to Postmedia Network

Daniel Eaton.

Daniel Eaton.

Daniel Eaton was only one of the many Canadians killed at Vimy Ridge.

He didn’t start out as a soldier — by 1896 at the age of 27, he had worked on a complete survey of the Labrador Peninsula, drafting much of the final report and establishing himself as a leading Canadian geologist.

The tall, handsome, self-educated geologist and engineer was brilliant and driven. His future seemed assured — rock solid, you might say.

But he resigned, to join the army, with no war to march off to, just a burning urge to serve.

Eaton had been a member of the militia since 1887 when he was still living at home, at Salmon River in Nova Scotia.

But during his time as a geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada, he’d moved out of the province and was living in Ottawa. He joined the Ottawa Field Battery, entering as a second lieutenant. He was made full lieutenant in 1894, captain by 1896 and major later that year.

This is incredibly fast for non-wartime, even for the militia. When he joined the Permanent Force, he took a reduction of rank, but still entered as a full lieutenant.

The Boer War led to his first overseas posting and in January 1900 he was South Africa-bound with the Royal Canadian Artillery.

Eaton was loaned to the British army for special service, working for General Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell. (Yes, the Lord Baden-Powell who later started the Boy Scouts.)

He returned to Canada after his year of service but immediately volunteered again and headed back to South Africa only to have peace declared shortly after his arrival.

Eaton wrapped up the war as a captain. He was selected as the first colonial officer to be accepted at the Staff College at Camberley, England in 1902. He returned to Canada three years later, a major.

In 1905 he was made assistant director of operations and staff duties at the Department of Militia and Defence in Ottawa. In 1908 he became director of military training. Eaton returned to regimental duty in 1911, taking over B Battery of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery out of Kingston.

When the First World War erupted in 1914, Eaton jumped at the opportunity to serve overseas. He was with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915, setting up his B Battery in France. In the spring of 1916, he was given command of 8th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery and then later command of 3rd Divisional Artillery. In May, he was made lieutenant colonel and returned to command of the 8th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery which was in England at the time and brought it to France. It wasn’t long before they were engaged in battle at Ypres.

The attack on Vimy Ridge was planned for the following spring, Easter of 1917, and Eaton’s artillery was to play a key role. Eaton was visiting his batteries on April 8, the night before the first barrage in the battle, when a German shelling took place, a piece of shrapnel ripping into his guts. He died three days later.

His body is buried at the Barlin Communal Cemetery Extension in Barlin, France.

— Tom Villemaire is a writer based in Toronto and the Bruce Peninsula.