Allen Otty was born 17 April 1888, the son of Norval Hallett Otty (1856-1944) and Charlotte Frances Gilbert (1859-1936) of Hampton, Kings County. The family had relocated to Gagetown by the time of the birth of daughter Marianne Grey Otty, 24 February 1890. Both young Ottys attended the local grammar school, Marianne graduating from the University of New Brunswick in 1911.
Allen Otty joined the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force 11 May 1915 at Amherst, Nova Scotia. He lists his occupation as boat builder, he was unmarried, and lists service in the 71st York Regiment and 74th New Brunswick Rangers militia regiments as previous military service. A slight fellow like his contemporary Percy Babbit, and a very good looking man, Otty stood 5 ft. 7.5 inches with a fair complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair and a scar on the nape of his neck was noted.
Throughout the war, Lieutenant Otty’s letters home were often printed in local and provincial newpapers. On 1 December 1915, the Saint John Daily Telegraph printed several excerpts and gives us a sense of the feelings of those serving at the front in the trenches. “Well,” he wrote after some particularly terrible fighting in October and November 1915, “those who do not come now will be fetched later.” Otty wrote of the experiences of the other Gagetown boys, most notably that the concussion of one blast flattened the buttons on the great coat of Alfred Ashburne which had been left a short distance from him; Otty enclosed one of the buttons as proof! “The ground heaved,” he noted with each blast. It was “just like walking on a floating bog.” Otty closed this letter with “Don’t worry! We are doing fine, and making Canadian history as fast as we can.”
Two weeks later, Otty wrote again, speaking of returning to the trenches after a short rest to “take a pot at Fritz.” In still another message home in November, he wrote, “Well, socks are what a soldier needs. He gets nearly everything else he wants, but the socks are too thin – too much cotton in their make-up.” Later, in the same letter, “Got an apple today! . . .I am feeling fine, and can eat anything that’s as soft as sole leather. You won’t have any trouble to keep me when I get home. I’ll just put up a little dugout in the backyard, and anything you can’t eat, I’ll eat it.” A sense of humour made life easier. After telling his family not to send money as he had nothing to spend it on, apologizing for not sending Christmas gifts and hoping that Christmas 1916 would be spent at home, Otty told the following story:
We are all in good spirits. One can see lots of comical stuff out here, if he only looks for it. Last week in the trenches was sure a wet one. We were bailing out the trenches, and an officer went up to one chap and said, “What are you in?”-meaning, “What party are you in?” The sagacious Tommy said, “I’m in the navy.” Needless to say, all hands haw-hawed.
In another November letter home, Otty mentioned yet again how grateful the troops were for letters, treats and gifts. “You must be doing some Red Cross work in our town. You people back home have the right spirit, all right, and we, out here, appreciate all you do, so much. It’s all in the cause.”
On 30 October 1917, the Gagetown Women’s Institute was busy packing 37 boxes of Christmas goodies for those serving overseas. Courtesy of the meticulous minutes of Allen Otty’s sister, Marianne Grey Otty (1890-1963), we know that the items in the boxes included: half pound of Moirs chocolates, half pound of Ganong’s chocolates, one fruit cake, cookies, crullers, one cake of soap, one towel, one pair of khaki socks, one package of either butterscotch or dulse, one package of Kisses, one package spruce gum, three candles, sugar, and one package Mogel or Murad cigarettes. The packages cost about $2.40 each and after all the bills were paid and after a discount by local merchants, $8.90 remained. The WI members agreed to give the balance to the men of D Company, 5th CMR, under Lieutenant Allen Otty.
That very day, Lieutenant Otty was north of Passchendaele serving with C Company, the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles. At 1:45 pm he sent a note to headquarters via carrier pigeon. He and his men were holding a desperate position against repeated counterattack since early that morning. “Holding Source Farm with 6 men” the message read. “Gifford on the right. Send reinforcements and ammo. Enemy estimated at 300 digging in on the right.” Otty led his men across a bullet swept stretch of mud to clear a German machine gun nest from a hill. Only ten men were left by the time they achieved their objective. Minutes later the ten were reduced to five. Otty was wounded in the arm and side as his men sustained the counter attack and “just as his day’s work was done, [he] fell on the field which he and the brave little remnant of the 5th CMR had won.”
No help reached him until dark, by which time it was too late. Lieutenant Allen Otty was buried in the Poelcapelle British Cemetery, Poelcapelle, Belgium and his name appears on page 304 of the First World War Book of Remembrance. Two years later, the war over and life resuming it’s pre-war routines, a “handsome brass and oak mural tablet, commemorating the death at Passchendaele of Lieut. Allen Otty,” was unveiled by his mother at a “impressive service in St. John’s church”, Gagetown. During the service, Otty’s favourite hymns were sung, Unto the Hills, There is No Night in Heaven, and Abide With Me, concluding with the national anthem. Canon G.A. Kuhring, rector of St. John’s Stone Church, Saint John and at one time chaplain of the 6th CMR, tenderly spoke of the character of the young officer, his whole-souled devotion to duty, his love of home, his affection for the church, on the wall of which his memorial tablet was placed. As the congregation left the church, Chopin’s funeral march played.
The service had opened with the words “Greater love hath no man than this, that man lay down his life for his friends.” Amen, Lieutenant Otty. Ninety-three years after your supreme sacrifice, we continue to offer our thanks.