Lt. Arthur Ross Ackerman

Lieutenant Arthur Ross Ackerman was born on September 14th, 1893 in Peterborough, Ontario to Benjamin F. (B.F.) and Charlotte Ackerman.  The Ackermans were the owners of a Harness Factory, located at 204 George Street, a business that specialized in leather goods and attire.  Arthur worked with his father and brothers at the Harness Factory. Arthur’s family was one of the richest in Peterborough at the turn of the century. The Ackerman family lived at 222 Dalhousie Street. Arthur had two brothers, Charles and W.C. Ackerman, and two sisters, Mrs. (Major) S.T. Medd, and Mrs. R.M. Waddell; his sisters were both married to high-ranking soldiers who also served in World War I. He was educated at local public schools and the Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School.
On August 7th, 1914 a telegraph had been sent to L-Col ED Clegg, Commanding Officer of the 57th Regiment, Peterborough Rangers, urging young men to enlist into the British army. 125 Peterborough men answered the call, including Arthur Ross Ackerman. Sir Sam Hughes, the Minister of Militia, ordered all volunteers to Valcartier, Quebec to begin training. Ackerman and the 57th Contingent arrived early in the registration process as his medical inspection was dated August 26th, 1914.

Photo of Lieutenant Arthur Ross Ackerman in uniform before going overseas to fight in World War I, 1914. Archive reference: Peterborough Museum and Archives. 2000-012-004810-1. Balsillie Collection of Roy Studio Images. Used with permission from Peterborough Museum and Archives.

Unfortunately for Ackerman, due to the high number of volunteers, he was reduced to the role of a corporal, losing his sergeant title he received from the Canadian Militia.  After he was declared fit for duty, he was selected for the First Canadian Contingent and re-volunteered for the war on September 22nd, 1914. Twelve days later, Ackerman and the First Contingent set sail for England to begin their military training. For approximately five months, Ackerman and his fellow troops trained in Salisbury, waiting for the call of war.

On February 8th, 1915, Ackerman and the 1st Canadian Division were sent to France. They were stationed with experienced British soldiers who could familiarize them with their surroundings and prepare them for life on the front lines. Within his first month of active duty, Ackerman proved his worth and was promoted to sergeant on March 14th, 1915. During his
time in France, he recorded his experiences of the front lines in personal journals. In a letter he wrote to his sister on October 25th,1915, he told her of the miserable weather they were experiencing in France. He went on to say that he was receiving recognition from locals for being Canadian and that they thanked him for fighting in this war. However, in the letters he sent home, he often avoided the horrific details of war, not wanting to cause his family distress. In his personal accounts, he wrote of the different types of shells that fell around him. He described them as ‘rum jars’, ‘sausages’, ‘whistling Willis’, ‘silent Sues’, and ‘turnips’. His accounts revealed the atmosphere of war, proving that he was constantly under threat.

In April 1915, the Second Battle of Ypres was about to begin. Ackerman and the 1st Canadian Division were sent to Ypres on the night of April 14th/15th. While stationed on the lines of Neuve-Chapelle, his unit suffered 278 casualties. Ackerman's personal reflections are silent during this conflict and his exact whereabouts are unknown. However, the Second Battle of Ypres was some of the bloodiest fighting that he would have seen. While Ackerman did survive this conflict, many of his comrades did not. Soon after this battle, Ackerman was sent to England to begin training as an officer as he was promoted to the position of lieutenant. When Ackerman accepted his role as a lieutenant he understood the dangers of war. A lieutenant stationed on the front lines life expectancy was approximately two weeks. During active combat however, it was shortened to two minutes. Ackerman accepted this duty knowing the risks. In February 1916, Ackerman was put to the test as the Battle of Verdun broke out in the French Sector. Ackerman had been in charge of his unit for two months at this point, living the dangerous life of a platoon leader. From what he described, living on the front lines was like being “eye deep in hell.” This position came with a cost and on February 28th, 1916, Lt. Ackerman sent back to England and was admitted to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital in Bromley, Kent. There he was treated for nervous debility also known as shell shock. Originally, he was only supposed to be there to recover for a few days, but his medical records state that his leave was extended for another week. He returned to active duty on March 14th, 1916. One can infer from his hospital records that the strain of being in combat for over a year had its toll on Ackerman. Lesser men would have used this as an excuse, claiming they had done their part for their country. But Ackerman was dedicated to the war and pushed on, accepting a new position. On July 18th, 1916, Ackerman said farewell to the 2nd Battalion and volunteered for the First Trench Mortar Company. Their job as a unit was to fire mortar shells from a close range at their enemies. For this reason, they were hated by the enemy and targeted when their position was discovered.

B.F. Ackerman Son & Co. Harness Factory in Downtown Peterborough, 1900s. Archive reference: Peterborough Museum and Archives 2000-012-000518-1 Balsillie Collection of Roy Studio Images. Used with permission from Peterborough Museum and Archives.

Ackerman also participated in the Battle of the Somme, one of the most bloody and fierce conflicts in World War One. On the first day of the battle, it would have the highest casualty rate in the British Army's history. With so many lives lost, many men considered it a sense of national pride to defend their position from the enemy. On August 19th, 1916, Ackerman and a small group of soldiers prepared a small-scale attack and raided a front-line trench.  Ackerman’s bravery and actions did not go unnoticed and on July 12th, 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross, Canada’s third highest award for his bravery in battle.

On September 23rd, 1916, while fighting in the Battle of the Somme in Courcelette, Lieutenant Ackerman was fatally shot in the abdomen and was transferred to London General Hospital. He was held in critical condition but there was a slim chance of survival according to the records. It is quite possible, however, that they were attempting to lessen the blow to his family as a telegram was sent saying his condition was stable. Unfortunately, on October 10th, 1916, at the age of 23, Lieutenant Ackerman died of his wounds. He succumbed to his wounds with his brother-in-law, Major S.T. Medd, and former commanding officer, Major A.W MacPherson by his side. Soon after, B.F. and Charlotte Ackerman were notified of their son’s death via telegram. The announcement of his death and obituary appeared in the Peterborough Nightly Examiner on Thursday, October 19th, 1916. His death was devastating to the community. Fortunately for the Ackerman family, B.F was able to bring his son’s remains home. This was due to the family's wealth and this opportunity was incredibly uncommon as soldiers who perished overseas were often buried there. He was one of the half dozen soldiers whose bodies were returned home following their death, and the only one in Peterborough. He was brought home on November 8th, 1916 with Major S.T. Medd by his side. Lieutenant Ackerman had a large funeral procession and parade in the streets of downtown Peterborough, from the Armoury to Little Lake Cemetery, where he was laid to rest, shortly after his body was returned.

After World War One, one of Lieutenant Ackerman’s sisters, Mrs. R.M. Waddell, had a son, Hugh Waddell. He went on to become a prominent businessman and in 1952 he was elected the mayor of Peterborough. He returned to the public's eye on December 13th, 2014, when his tombstone was damaged to the point of disrepair. This sparked community interest in the fallen soldier. Hugh Waddell Jr, Ackerman’s great-nephew, was prepared to pay for the repairs. Additionally, city councillor Henry Clarke reached out to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, a global organization that cares for cemeteries and memorials from the two world wars. The Commission replaced the gravestone in June 2015, at no cost to the family and the new tombstone stands in place of where his original one stood. Lt. Ackerman’s name is commemorated in the First World War Book of Remembrance on page 45 and is listed on the Veterans Wall of Honour at Peterborough’s Confederation Square and War Memorial.

Research by Hannah Bradford and Gillian Whitfield

C.G.W.P. Lieutenant Arthur Ross Ackerman.

City of Peterborough Directories (1893, 1914) (1893) 
(1914) Accessed 25 October, 2017 (Peterborough Museum and Archives)

Hamilton Letters B-79-00613 File 5. Trent University Library and Archives, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

“Lieut. Arthur Ackerman” (Announcement of death/obituary). The Peterborough Nightly Examiner (3 October - 31 December 1916 microfilms). 18 October, 1916. Accessed 25 October, 2017. Peterborough Public Library, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

Library and Archives Canada. Ackerman, Arthur Ross (7589).
“Major S.T. Medd Has Returned to Peterborough”. The Peterborough Nightly Examiner (3 October - 31 December, 1916 microfilms). 8 November, 1916. Accessed 25 October, 2017, Peterborough Public Library, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

Medd Family Letters, 81-001 Box 1. File 2. Trent University Library and Archives, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

Portrait of Lieutenant Arthur Ackerman, 1914, 2000-012-004810-1. Balsillie Collection of Roy Studio Images. Peterborough Museum and Archives. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.
Photograph of B.F. Ackerman Son & Co. Harness Factory, 1900s, 2000-012-000518-1. Balsillie Collection of Roy Studio Images. Peterborough Museum and Archives. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

Roger Family Letter, 82-002 Box 10. File 4,Trent University Library and Archives, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

“ LT Arthur Ross Ackerman and the Canadian Experience of the First World War by Henry Clarke. Speech to the Peterborough Historical Society.” Peterborough Library, November 17th 1998, F98, Box 24, Trent Valley Fonds, Trent Valley Archives, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

Kovach, Joelle. “Vandalized Monument Replaced.” The Peterborough Examiner, 3 July, 2015. Accessed 26 October, 2017. 

Anderson, Lance. “Vandals Damage 16 Monuments.” My Kawartha News, 18 December, 2014. Accessed 26 October, 2017.

Veterans Affair Canada. Canadian Virtual War Memorial: Arthur Ross Ackerman.

Clarke, Henry.“Who is the Man Behind the Vandalized Grave?” My Kawartha News, 21 December, 2014. Accessed 26 October, 2017.