It was a gray, rainy afternoon on August 18th, 1917, when 41-year old Sergeant Frederick Hobson of the 20th Battalion (Central Ontario), 2nd Canadian Division peered out of his front-line communications bunker at the fog of war surrounding the German trench network. A hardcore veteran who had fought with the Wiltshire Regiment during the Second Boer War and who had already survived the epic Battle of the Somme a few years earlier, Hobson was no stranger to combat, and he was a hardcore, awesomely-mustachioed badass who knew he had to do whatever the hell needed to be done to destroy all who opposed him, and who could not possibly be deterred by something as mundane as hardcore World War I German artillery shelling.
Today's artillery barrage, however, had been a little different. Thousands of rounds of anti-personnel high explosives falling out of the sky seemingly at random, blowing the hell out of everything, then followed up with heavy iron canisters that spewed sulfuric mustard gas. The shelling went on for hours, softening up the Canadian trench network in Hobson's sector, presumably for the inevitable full-scale assault of German stormtroopers that was sure to follow. Hobson, resolute as ever, just threw on his gas mask, readied his bolt-action Enfield rifle, surveyed the smoke-filled horizon, and prepared to go to work.
Tell me that isn't terrifying.
It was the middle of the Battle for Hill 70 – a hardcore, ten-day death-fest that pitted the Canadian Corps against five full-strength Divisions of front-line German infantry. The British had been launching an attack on Ypres, and, seeing as how things weren't going so great, they ordered the Canadian Expeditionary Force to head around the side, capture this giant hill named Hill 70, then set up a bunch of artillery on it so they could teabag the Kaiser's henchmen with it. Sure, the attacking Canadian troops were badly outnumbered by hardcore German soldiers in entrenched positions, but what the hell, the British were a little busy anyways so screw it.
The Canadians were under the command of General Arthur Currie – a future Badass of the Week, Canada's most famous and successful war hero since the days of Isaac Brock, and a man who should not by any circumstances be confused with Arthur Curry aka Aquaman – and despite the grim task before them these psychotic Canucks set out about it like a gun-toting mob of lumberjack hockey enforcers being ordered to take out the knees of the opposing team's best playmaker. With their artillery (and apparently catapults and trebuchets?) launching massive canisters of poison gas, drums of burning petroleum, and entire unopened six-packs of whoop-ass at the German positions on Hill 70 in a righteous flurry of barrel-hurling madness, the Canadian 1st and 2nd Divisions charged in the fray like banshees, blitzing into the German positions and capturing the first line of German trenches after some fairly ferocious bayonet-to-face combat.
But the Germans, as you might have heard at some point or another in your unwavering dedication to the study of world military history, are actually a pretty damned hardcore group of warmongering hardasses, and they weren't going to let a little thing like "being nailed in the face with a burning oil drum and then being showered in exploding gasoline" stop them from fighting their guts out for ultimate King of the Hill supremacy of this position. With the first line of trenches swarmed by screaming Canadians, the Germans fell back to their second line of defense, regrouped in a new network of hardened trenches, and then launched a ridiculous twenty-one counter-attacks aimed at retaking the summit of Hill 70. Over the course of three days, seven full battalions of German infantry charged ahead with flamethrowers, grenades, and rifles, desperately trying to incinerate the Commonwealth troops into Soylent Green Canadian Bacon – but nothing like what Sergeant Hobson was about to see.
WWI German flamethrower teams in action.
The shelling went on for an eternity, until the entire sector was completely clogged with smoke and poisonous gas capable of burning out your lungs from the inside. Still, Hobson held fast, ordering his men to stay calm as their buddies blew up into tiny bite-sized morsels around them, nearby heavy weapons and artillery teams had their guns and crews exploded. and artillery fire severed all communications with central command.
Then, suddenly, a German shell hammered down very close to Hobson's position, completely wiping out the crew of the sector's last Lewis Gun – a heavy machine gun the Canadians desperately needed to have in semi-functioning condition if they were ever going to have any hope of getting out of this battle without a spiked German helmet implanted in their sternum. Hobson, understanding the gravity of the situation, did the sort of balls-out thing that separates true badasses from regular men.
He got out of his trench, pulled out his entrenching tool (basically just a small, super-sharp shovel), and began to dig the Lewis Gun crew out from underneath a pile of dirt, shrapnel, and other debris.
As he was working on digging out the gun, a poison gas smoke canister hit near his position, once again covering the sector with fog. Only this time ,through the fog, he could make out movement. German soldiers. Advancing fast, rifles and grenades at the ready.
This is made only marginally more terrifying by the fact that gas-mask-equipped WWI German stormtrooper assault squads basically looked like Helghast:
Hobson somehow managed to dig out the one and only surviving member of the gun crew, and while that guy was trying to get his balls reattached and figure out what the hell century he was living in, Sergeant Hobson dug out the gun, turned it on the enemy, and opened fire, and despite the fact that he had absolutely no training in how to operate a Lewis Gun (and this is a big deal at a time when automatic weapons were considered new and complicated pieces of equipment) began laying down a withering hail of fire that forced the Germans to hit the deck and pay attention to the dude with the gas mask and the assault rifle currently spraying them with several thousand rounds per minute of large-caliber machine gun ammunition.
It also kind of caused every German in the immediate vicinity to direct their fire towards the only functioning machine gun in this part of the Canadian defensive line.
Lewis Gun in action.
Despite having roughly every weapon on the Western Front pointed in his general direction, Hobson didn't even pretend to give a crap. He took a bullet in the chest at one point, which apparently failed to slow him down in any noticeable manner, and he continued firing like a madman while the now-semi-functional crew member loaded fresh magazines of ammunition into the weapon.
The Germans regrouped, continued to lay down fire, and then slowly began to advance on Hobson's position.
He waited until they reached the open, leveled his sights on the squad leader, and pulled the trigger.
Click. The gun jammed.
Sergeant Frederick Hobson, a 20+ year veteran of wars across two continents, handed the weapon to the crew member, looked him hard in the eyes, and said something to the effect of, "You get that gun online. I'm going to buy you as much time as I can."
So, as if it wasn't crazy enough that this one 41-year-old Canadian Sergeant had braved a barrage of high-explosive shrapnel-laden artillery to save the life of one of his comrades, dug out the only functioning machine gun in his combat sector and got it operational again, and then used it to single-handedly hold off an entire German assault, now that the chips were out he was running straight-on into the middle of an entire battalion of German stormtroopers despite being armed with nothing more than his rifle and a bayonet, launching a balls-to-the-wall one-man suicide charged aimed at holding back their advance Horde Mode style and taking as many of those Hun bastards with him as possible.
The Germans swarmed Hobson as he blasted in every direction with his rifle, firing from the hip while charging forward Rambo style. When he blew through his small ammunition clip, Hobson lunged out with his bayonet and rifle, bashing skulls and shanking fools as he unleashed his righteous Canadian fury on anything that moved around him – something that probably looked exceedingly extra-badass considering he was doing it in a gas mask while surrounded by stormtroopers.
One (admittedly non-primary) source puts the number of Germans Hobson took out in his last stand at 14, and since that's the only number I can find that's the one I'm going with. Surrounded on all sides by men with busted faces or lacerated abdomens, Hobson fought like a demon, piling up corpses around him in every direction, until finally he was hit with a bullet in a very uncomfortable place and died gloriously on the battlefield, covered in the blood of his enemies.
As he hit the ground, the Germans looked past his body to see a Canadian machine gunner racking the slide on the Lewis Gun.
By the time Hobson's insane one-man last stand was over, the Lewis Gun was back in operational condition, spraying bullets everywhere. Meanwhile, other Canadian troops had heard the carnage taking place in this section and had managed to reinforce the depleted lines, so when the demoralized Germans finally got past Hobson and preceeded to launch their assault on the Canadian trench, instead of facing a blasted-to-hell line of corpses, they were staring at hundreds of rifle barrels and a bunch of pumped-up Canadians. The line held, the counterattack was repulsed, and the Hill remained in Canadian hands for the remainder of the war.
Frederick Hobson's Victoria Cross is now on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ontario.
Canada in the Great World War. United Publishers of Canada, 1921.
Hopkins, John Castella. The Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs. Annual Review, 1919.
Castella. The Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs. Annual Review, 1919.