Pte. Shurley Assesltine was born on May 3rd, 1898, in Napanee, Ontario, to Turpin Asselstine and Helena Maud Godfrey. Shurley had an older sister, Rosa, and three younger ones: Flossie, Gladys and Olive, as well as two younger brothers: Gordon and Walter.
Shurley was 5 foot 4 inches tall, weighed 138 lbs and brown eyes, dark hair and what was described as a dark complexion. He was noted as having good physical development and his religion as Methodist. Shurley had some prior Military experience, having served 2 years with the 47th Regiment.
On February 19th, 1916, three months short of his 18th birthday, Shurley volunteered to the 146th Battalion of the CEF and was declared fit for overseas duty. While most soldiers printed their information on their attestation papers, Shurley wrote on his, requiring the officer to print 3 clarifications so the information would get recorded correctly. He had been a labourer in Napanee at the time and was not married. Given regimental number 835622, Shurley went on into 7 months of training and preparation for war.
In July, 1916, Shurley committed some unspecified offence for which he received 10 days C.B. or Confined to Barracks. This minor punishment can mean being confined to barracks in the soldier's off hours and reporting to the guard room at regular intervals, or confined to barracks while his buddies were out training. The soldier could also have been required to present themselves in full kit every hour from 06:00 until 22:00, or be used by junior officers and NCOs for parade ground drill. In July this would have been a long, hot and boring punishment.
In September, the 146th made their way to Halifax and boarded the S.S. Southland and sailed for England. Arriving on October 6th, he was immediately transferred to the 95th Reserve Battalion, waited out the quarantine period and then transferred to the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles on October 27th. It took until the November 22nd for him to get to France and meet up with the unit in the field.
The next few months were spent alternating from the front line trenches, to Brigade support and rest camp in and around Etrun. These were relatively quiet times in this section of the line. However, on February 2nd, 1917, the 4th CMR was in the front line trenches in the left sub-section of Ecurie below Vimy Ridge when Shurley was slightly wounded. The wound was not specified and he was able to re-join his unit the next day.
Shortly afterwards, the 4th was pulled out of the front lines to start 5 weeks of training and preparation for the attack on the German stronghold of Vimy Ridge. The Ridge was thought to be impenetrable as the French had tried for 3 years, with 150,000 casualties, and still had not been able to take it. On April 9th, 1917, the 4th CMR, with snow blowing at their backs, attacked the Ridge with rest of the 4 Canadian divisions. The 4th CMR had the objective of crossing 3 German trench lines and capturing a large wooded area called La Folie Wood, which was just beyond the crest of the Ridge. The 4th CMR had taken all of their assigned objectives by mid-afternoon on the first day, but it was not without significant cost, as 43 men were killed, 131 wounded and 19 were missing that day.
In the process of achieving their objective, the 4CMR captured 250 German soldiers, 1 Colonel, 3 trench mortars and 4 machine guns. The Regiment was relieved on April 11th after 63 hours of holding the line in the most trying of weather conditions. For the Canadians, this was their first major victory of the war.
On April 20th, Shurley was noted as being seen by the No. 1 Canadian field Ambulance for PUO or Pyrexia of Unknown origin. This term was used for a fever of unknown origin and was more commonly known as trench fever, which was highly prevalent in the trenches at this time. This could have been caused by many different things such as an infection, bacteria, parasites or the flu and in Shurley's case it was not serious or cleared up quickly as the entry in his service record was 'cancelled' afterwards. With all of these potential sources, the number of cases and the stress of the soldiers it was often difficult for the medical corps to diagnose the true underlying cause.
On May 26th, 1917, Shurley was well behind the lines at Toronto Camp. It was 8:30pm and the 4th CMR was enjoying a game of baseball when another young man from the Napanee area, Pte. Clarence McCabe, picked up a blind (unexploded) shell. The shell went off killing Clarence instantly and severely wounding Shurley with a shrapnel wound to his chest and a compound fracture to his left femur. He was taken to the No. 6 Casualty Clearing Station, however these wounds took his life the following day, May 27th, 1917.
7 other men died as a result of the tragic accident on that day, including:
Sgt. George Knowles all died immediately;
Pte. Bertie Traviss both died the next day at no. 6. Casualty Clearing Station;
Pte. James Dunn survived until May 31st and
Pte. Edwin Payne died on June 18th.
10 more were wounded, including: Pte. Thomas Davy and Pte. Morley Gilbert. Four days after Shurley's death, Captain W.H. Davis, the 4th CMR Chaplin, wrote this letter to his mother, which was printed in the Napanee Beaver.
Shurley is buried in Barlin Communal Cemetery Extension, Pas De Calais, France, and a picture of his headstone can be seen courtesy of the Maple Leaf Legacy Project website. His original grave marker can just be seen to the right in this image, beside Pte. Traviss' grave, before the Commonwealth War Graves Commission put in permanent headstones after the war.
Credit and many thanks go to Bryan Joyce for the above biography and image.
Bryan has written a book about Clarence McCabe's life, and this can be reviewed and bought via this link: Clarence McCabe