Lumberman’s Act of Bravery Recognized in World War One: The Story of Arthur Whelan of Point Leamington

A little while back I posted an old Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company film from 1957 called Pulpwood. A number of the people in the film were positively identified. Among those identified were one of the camp foremen, “Skipper” Art Whalen. Some of the film was shot in his camp in Bishop’s Falls Division.

He’s the man handing out the paychecks. To me, he looked as hard as nails, this tough looking older man with a stern look on his face and an old tattoo on his arm. Back then tattoos were not common, mostly found on war veterans. I wondered, had he been in World War One?

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“Skipper” Art Whalen handing out cheques at his camp in 1957. (Still from Pulpwood)

 

I had wondered right.

Almost forty years before the film was made Skipper Art Whalen had been Lance Corporal Arthur Whalen, DCM of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. DCM means Distinguished Conduct Medal. He had to have done something important to get that, for enlisted soldiers it was an award second only to the Victoria Cross. Most soldiers and sailors in World War One could have survived the hell of the trenches or repeated torpedoing and come out of it with two or three general service medals, it didn’t really matter where they had served. In World War One the award of most additional medals, especially those like the DCM resulted from acts of bravery.

Arthur Whalen was from Point Leamington and enlisted in the Newfoundland Regiment in January of 1917. By the summer of that year, he was with the unit in France.

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Arthur Whalen in World War One. (Point Leamington Heritage Museum)

In October of 1918 in Belgium L.Cpl Whalen was part of a Lewis gun section while his unit was advancing on a German position. They were being fired on from very close range by both machine guns and artillery. The bipod of their light machine gun was blown off. So another soldier, Private Thomas Corbin of Corner Brook, had L.Cpl. Whalen rest the barrel of the weapon on his shoulder, from where he laid down withering fire on the German machine gun positions only 80 yards away. At the end of the battle the two of them were slightly wounded and their uniforms were noted to be perforated with bullet holes! For their actions both Whalen and Corbin were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

The official citation can be read below.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion of duty

On the 14th October 1918 during the advance from Ledegem towards Lys when our smoke barrage lifted, the platoon to which these men belonged was being enfiladed by enemy M.G’s any [and] fired at by field guns at point blank range. These men immediately opened fire with their Lewis Guns but the tripod of the gun was shot away. In order to being fire on the enemy M.G’s which were firing from 80 yards away, Pte. Corbin knelt down and supported the Lewis Gun on his shoulder while Private Whalen operated. Though both men were very much exposed and at very close range, they outfought and killed enemy machine gunners. Both men’s clothes and equipment were perforated with bullets, and though both men were slightly wounded, they refused to leave the company and carried on throughout the action

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Australian soldiers demonstrating how to fire a Lewis gun in the same manner used by Whelan and Corbin. The Lewis gun was an early “light machine gun,” at 28 pounds it fired .303 ammunition from a 47 round drum at the theoretical rate of fire of 5-600 rounds per-minute.  Tommy Ricketts won the Victoria Cross the same day Whelan won the DCM, for actions also undertaken with a Lewis gun.  Below the Distinguished Conduct Medal from World War One.

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Whalen had been awarded the ribbon for the medal while he was overseas, but he had to write to the Department of Militia get the actual medal. That same October day in 1918 a number of awards for bravery were earned by members of the Newfoundland Regiment, including a Victoria Cross. It was at that same battle that Tommy Ricketts won the Victoria Cross.

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Letter written by Whalen inquiring about the Distinguished Conduct Medal. (PANL)

On returning home Whalen went to work as a lumberman. Sometime between 1921 and 1935 he moved to Bishop’s Falls. By that time he was a camp contractor and running  camps in Bishop’s Falls Division. He retired sometime after 1957. Arthur Whalen passed away in 1972 and is buried in Bishop’s Falls.


Another point of interest is that Whalen had served a year in the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve, prior to enlisting in the Regiment in 1917.

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Both George I. Stuckless at left and Arthur Whelan at right were men from Point Leamington who enlisted in the Newfoundland Regiment during World War One. Stuckless, who enlisted in 1918 didn’t make it to the front as he fell ill with Pneumonia after arriving in the UK. Both men had long careers with the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company in Bishop’s Falls Division. 


Arthur Whalen Military Record Provincial Archives of NL

Thomas Corbin Military Record, Provincial Archives of NL

2 comments

  1. I have often heard this story of my Grandfather Arthur Whalen. Unfortunately he had passed when I was only 11months old and I believe I inherited the love for the woods and outdoors from this great man. Because of him and the other great souls I continue to enjoy the freedom of the outdoors. Lest we forget.

    Like

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