LT. COL. L. H. NELLES, D.S.O. (Bar), M.C.:
A DISTINGUISHED CANADIAN WAR HERO
Lt. Col. L.H. Nelles
L.H. Nelles commanded the Second Battalion, Irish Regiment of Canada, in World War II.
Photo Credit: Photos courtesy Edward Nelles
By Edward Nelles, Stouffville Free Press
On Thursday, June 16, 1915, a 20 year old Captain named L.H. Nelles led a detachment of reinforcements on board the S.S. Scandinavian bound for England and then the Allied front lines in World War I. After a period of training in Folkestone he was appointed to the 1st Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force that was about to fight at the Battle of the Somme. For his gallantry in this battle he was awarded the Military Cross. Because of his reputation as an excellent tactician he was then sent to England as Tactical Instructor at the Staff Training School, a particular distinction for a colonial officer.
On November 20, 1917, Nelles was appointed Commanding Officer of the 4th Battalion when his predecessor was killed in action, making him the youngest man in the forces of the British Empire ever to command a battalion in the field of battle. The ‘Mad Fourth’ was involved in almost every major engagement of the war, including The Battle of Amiens, during which the advance of one of their units was halted at the top of a hill overlooking entrenched German machine gun emplacements. There was no cover between the hilltop and the German guns at the bottom of the hill and machine gun fire raked the open field. Nelles vaulted over the fence line and ran down the hill encouraging his men to follow him. He was wounded and fell to the ground but was able to get up and continued to advance against impossible odds until the enemy abandoned their positions. Recalling the action after the war he swore that the guns were aiming to miss him. For his bravery at Amiens Nelles was awarded the Bar to his Distinguished Service Order.
The Hindenburg Line was Germany’s last defensive position. To breach the line the Canadians were chosen to launch an offensive at the Canal du Nord, a dry wide deep trench some 2,700 meters long through which thousands of troops must pass to press home the attack against heavily fortified German positions. General Currie had been informed that, should this attack fail, he would be sent back to Canada. So Currie gave the task of a tactical plan for the assault to Nelles and he came up with a plan to surprise the enemy by the use of heavy artillery at point blank range at the front line. The surprise was indeed complete and the operation a great success. While High Command had expected casualties in the order of 25,000, the Canadians achieved the objective with casualties in the order of 3,000.
On April 10, 1919, Lt. Col. Nelles was summoned to Buckingham Palace where King George V invested him with the Military Cross, the Distinguished Service Order, and the Bar to the D.S.O. Five days later he led the 4th, the 1,200 men for whose lives he had been directly responsible for the last two years, on board the S.S. Olympic for the trip home to Canada.
Lt. Col. Nelles D.S.O. (Bar), M.C., and mentioned in dispatches 4 times, was 24 years of age. He also went on to command the Second Battalion, Irish Regiment of Canada, in World War II.
He was my father.
Edward Nelles is a long time Stouffville resident.