May 12 - The memorable day, the one ever to be remembered by those who lived through it.
Early breakfast and all were ready for orders. Every man in the whole brigade felt that the crisis had come. There would be something decisive done on this day, the 12th of May. What would be the first move? General Middleton with a mounted force could be seen away to our right front moving cautiously among the low lying hills. Col. Williams, our commanding officer (Midland Btn.), stood for some moments with his adjutant, Capt. Poston, watching the movements of the General and staff as if waiting to see them out of sight. Then suddenly he gave the following orders: "Men, I want you to fall in quietly at once. You will receive no orders farther than that ‘A' & ‘C' Companies will move off in fours and take the positions we had yesterday and there will be no talking. No orders given by company commanders."
We then moved to the woods overlooking the ravine at about 10 a.m. On arriving there Col. Williams formed the companies into a square and addressed us in words scarcely above a whisper as follows:
"I have not received any orders to do what I am going to do. Batoche can be taken and will be taken today. We will advance through and along this ravine. I only ask you to follow me, and we will go as far as we can. We will then be supported by the Royal Grenadiers and the 90th Rifles."
There was no order to fix bayonets. Each man had previously been served with 100 rounds of ammunition. The forward movement through the bush and ravines then began cautiously and without firing, merely feeling out the hidden enemy.
Ten minutes passed. Then suddenly a scattered firing came from across the river on our left. We pushed on then more rapidly and were presently met by a volley of shots on our front. Every man dropped to cover and returned the fire. We had at last located the enemy.
Col. Williams cautioned us to take cover and lie low. "We will hold this ground until the Grens and 90th come up on our right."
We could see nothing but banks and bush on our right. All the rifle pits of the enemy were still ahead of us and we knew a hot reception awaited us. A few of our men fell and there were many had very narrow escapes.
The firing now became heavier from both sides. Then the reinforcements arrived and our whole line was extended a full mile east. The advance all along the line then began in earnest. Firing as we went in rushes, then taking what cover we could. There was no volley firing. Every man regulated his own shooting. Then a small fenced-in cemetery was reached. Here our men passed round either side, then doubled up to re-form the line beyond. At this point the Indians and halfbreeds put up their real fighting. Running from rifle pit to rifle pit firing as they went, they fell back, stubbornly contesting every foot of ground.
Snipers from across the river, 200 yards away on our left, kept up a steady firing that worried our flankmen. Very heavy firing could be heard on our extreme right, where we knew the 90th were having a hot time. All the mounted men, including Boulton and French's Scouts and the Surveyors Corps, leaving their horses behind, joined the infantry and further extended the line from the right flank of the 90th.
Everything was done to prevent the Indians from getting around to attack us in the rear. Suddenly when rounding a bend at the foot of a rise, the village of Batoche came into view. It stood well out in a large clearing. Several neat-looking houses and stores could be seen. But to take that village, we all quite understood that the hottest fighting of all could take place.
There were at least 200 yards of open ground for us to cross, that afforded the protection, while the enemy had the protection of their houses and stores on our immediate front with dense bush on our two flanks. There was a short pause made at the edge of the bush. Every man held to his last bit of cover before emerging into the open on the final charge to take the village.
We, on the extreme left of the line, stormed the first houses, drove the enemy out and took possession. By this move we protected the left flank of the whole line. We poured a heavy fire into the enemy across the street and in the bush to our left. Every window inside and every corner of that house outside was filled by our men.
Captain French led us here, but was shot dead as he and I stood firing out of the same window. His body was carried down the narrow stairs and reverently laid out on the floor in a small back room for the time being. Other men were shot down in this hell-hole: Laidlaw, Wrighton, Christie, Barton of the Midland and one of the Grenadiers.
The house was heavily bombarded from the houses across the street until the whole line with a rush advanced across the open and a plowed field right through and around the stores and houses and for a half mile and in some cases fully a mile beyond. The village was ours. The day was won after four days and three nights of constant engagements with the enemy. The enemy from the first held a well prepared and almost impregnable position, stretching for miles in all directions and all in bush and ravines. Dugouts were everywhere.
As our men reached the village they went through every house and store. In one building a trapdoor leading into the cellar was discovered. On the closed trapdoor a heavy pole five or six inches in thickness stood wedged between it and the rafters above. It was surrounded at the base with a pile of rocks. This was the prison. Inside were prisoners previously collected on the prairies by Riel's soldiers, consisting of surveyors, storekeepers and settlers, some 17 altogether, and for more than 18 days had been confined in this 10 x 12 hole without light or ventilation and very little food.
They were a sickly looking lot when we released them, but they were glad to be alive. They were quickly assisted back to our fort for a square meal. They just hugged us, some broke into tears.
In about an hour after taking Batoche between 200 and 300 prisoners were taken by our men. They were all halfbreeds, the Indians having taken to the woods. There were many incidents of note during this final charge of the 12th day of May 1885.
One was where little Marcile Gratton, a French halfbreed girl aged 10, ran across our line of fire and was shot dead on the doorstep of one of the stores. She wanted to be with her mother. Our boys gathered round the little dead thing as she lay in her frantic mother's arms, who kneeling on the step rocked her as she had when a baby, trying to get her to speak. She couldn't believe that her child was dead.
Suddenly a figure was seen to break away from among the group of prisoners, then under guard, farther up the street. Bareheaded and in shirtsleeves he bounded like a panther through the crowd, pushing our men right and left until he came to the mother and the little dead girl. He stood for a moment looking down at them, his long black hair half covering his face. Then dropping to his knees he stroked his little daughter's hair gently, reverently. "Our poor little Marcile - est mort."
He passed his other arm about his wife's shoulder and the tears welling in his eyes dropped on the little girl's dead hand. The group of soldiers looking on were deeply touched by the scene that was being enacted at their feet. "I'd sooner let them keep Batoche than to have hurt one hair of that poor little girl," one soldier was heard to say.
Then one officer was heard to exclaim, "General Middleton, only yesterday, sent orders to Riel, to have all their women and children put in one place under a white flag and every man would respect it." The reply that Riel returned was the "if one woman or child was even hurt by our fire, he would have all the white prisoners in his possession shot." (By now we had all these prisoners safe in our camp.) No one knew what to do or say.
The father slowly rose to his feet, assisting his Indian wife to hers. He took his little Marcile in his arms and they slowly made their way, towards the setting sun and the ravine, where a few hours ago we were fighting our way toward the finish of the campaign. Such is life. Such is death.
We camped that night behind the building at Batoche, slept in the open under the canopy of heaven and slept well; we were good and tired, every one of us. Then in counting up our dead and wounded for the day earlier in the evening, there were 10 killed and about 35 wounded, some badly. But worst of all, my cousin and partner at Shell River, had been shot and instantly killed. Captain Ted Brown, while leading his men, had been picked off by a sniper.