John Edward Hewlett

One more brief post to get us back on schedule:  John Edward Hewlett was the son of Joseph Hewlett from his first marriage.  Although not related to me, he was half brother to Herbert Hewlett, and step son to Elizabeth Mungham.

John was five years old when his father married my cousin. His father was a rail engine driver, and as the family grew from three to seven children between 1890 and 1896, he followed in his father’s footsteps.  It is clear that he was a Sapper with the Royal Engineers, but beyond that, his service record is nearly illegible, so I cannot tell where he served or even with what units.

He was married before the war, and he and his wife had seven children between 1910 and 1921.  I do not have a date of death for John.


Herbert George Hewlett

Herbert George Hewlett was my 2nd cousin three times removed.  We are both descended from Thomas Mungham, an agricultural labourer, and Elizabeth Sarah Wood who were my 4th Great Grandparents, and Herbert’s Great Grandparents.  They were born in Kent, England in 1809 and 1921 respectively.  They were married in June of 1841, but their son, William Mungham was already 7 years old at the time, which would have made his mother 13 at the time of his birth.  Whether this was indeed the case or William was a child from another union, he was certainly claimed by both as their son.  Herbert was descended from William, while I am descended from Thomas and Elizabeth’s third son, Henry.  In all the census data, William is listed as a labourer, sometimes agricultural and sometimes industrial such as on the railway.  He married Sarah Elizabeth Johnson in 1858, and they had six children together, including Herbert’s mother, Elizabeth Ann who was born in Kent in 1861.  In 1889, she married widower Joseph Hewlett who had three children from his first marriage, aged 8, 5 and 4.  Joseph and Elizabeth went on to have four more children together, the youngest of whom, Herbert, was born in 1896.


Abbreviated family tree of Herbert Hewlett

In the 1911 census, Herbert is listed as 15 years old, living with his parents and three of his older siblings, and working as a newspaper boy in Dover, Kent.  He joined the Royal Navy in May of 1915 when he was 19 years old as a stoker, being trained at Pembroke II in Chatham. He then served aboard the HMS Jupiter and HMS Blenheim.

He was aboard HMS Jupiter at a time where she was assigned to the Medeterranean sea to the Suez Canal Patrol, then to the Red Sea, then back to the Suez Canal with a home port in Port Said, Egypt.  This must have been an extraordinary experience for a newspaper boy from Dover. HMS Jupiter returned to England in November 1916, at which time Herbert spent some more time at Pembroke II, close to his family in Kent, before being assigned to HMS Blenheim in February of 1917.  This ship was a depot ship to the destroyer fleet throughout the rest of the war.

Herbert married three times in his life, and I found no indication that he ever had children.  He died in 1985 at the age of 89.

Wilfrid Lacasse

As happens with us all, life happened to me last week, and I did not get my post on Wilfrid Lacasse, my 2nd cousin 3x removed, completed.  Apologies for any confusion that the blank post may have created! This will mean you’ll see two posts from me this weekend, one on Wilfrid today, and another tomorrow on Herbert Hewlett.

Wilfrid Lacasse is one of only two members of my maternal grandfather’s family I am profiling over the course of this year.  I have a few theories about why that is, but most notably is the fact that my grandfather came from a French Canadian family in an isolated part of Northern Ontario.  French Canada was less likely to subscribe to the British imperial rhetoric driving recruitment, so the likelihood of enlistment was lower.  Also, being in a community where the main industry were mines and mills, men’s incomes were important to the survival of families, and the products of the work was considered important to the war effort.  Wilfrid is not only one of the only two members of this side of my family I will be profiling, he is also the only member of the American war effort I have as part of this project.

Wilfrid and I are both descended from Laurent Lacasse and Emelie Bergeron who were my 4th Great Grandparents, and Wilfrid’s Great Grandparents.  Both families extend back generations in Canada, with traces back to the settlement of “New France” around the St. Lawrence River. Both were born just south of Montreal, and, sometime after their marriage, settled in the Ontario community of Clarence Creek, just south of the Quebec/Ontario border.


Abbreviated family tree of Wilfrid Lacasse

While I am descended from their son Jean Baptiste, Wilfrid is descended from their oldest son, Laurent, and then his son, also named Laurent.  Wilfrid’s father and his mother, Josephine Bergeron, were both born in Clarence Creek, where they married and where their children were born.  In the 1901 census, completed early in the year, Laurent and Josephine are listed as living in Clarence Creek with with their four daughters and one son: Wilfrid.  In July of that year, Josephine died, leaving Laurent with five children ranging from one to twelve years.  By the end of the year, the family had moved to Michigan, potentially to be closer to his brother Felix, who already lived there.

Wilfrid was living in Alger, Michigan when the American forces joined the war in 1917. He was twenty four.  As I’ve written before, American service records were destroyed in a massive fire at the National Personnel Records Centre in St. Louis which destroyed 80% of service records of men discharged from American military forces between 1912 and 1960.  As such, there is no military file for Wilfrid, but there is a record of a request his wife made for him to have a military headstone upon his death.  This record states that he served as a cook at Camp Mills in Long Island, New York. This was a camp that was established in the autumn of 1917 as an embarkation point for troops leaving for Europe.  His period of service was less than a year, ranging from September 2, 1918 to July 1919.  Since the war ended in November of 1918, it is very unlikely that he served overseas.

He returned to Michigan after his discharge where he married Ruth McMaster in 1924 and began his family.  They later moved to Wisconsin where he lived until his death in 1952 at 59 years of age.



John Brady

This is an interesting post for me as this is the first entry where I have memories of people who had direct connections to the subject of the post. This makes it feel both more personal and more difficult to write.

John Brady was my 2nd Great Uncle.  He and his siblings, my Great Grandmother Elizabeth Brady, my second great uncle Thomas, and my second great aunts Emily (who my father remembers fondly) and Charlotte (who I met several times as a child), were all born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to John Brady and Emily Topping.  The family emigrated to Canada in 1904 when my Great Grandmother was 14, Thomas was 12, Aunt Em was 11, John was 8, and Aunt Charlotte was 3. The family settled in Toronto on Salem Avenue where John was a carpenter, as was his son Thomas according to the 1911 census.  In April 1911, John contracted Influenza and died soon after of pneumonia.  His eldest child, Elizabeth, had already married John Russell Miller in 1910, and had delivered her first child, Samuel, just ten days before her father’s death.  John’s other four children were still at home at the time of his death, the oldest of whom, Thomas, was 19.  In October of 1913, Thomas died of “phthisis pulmonalis,” otherwise known as Tuberculosis. Less than a year later, Canada was at war.

On February 5th, 1915, at the age of 19, John Brady enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, in the 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles. He arrived in England in June of 1915 where he was transferred to the 2nd Canadian Divisional Ammunition Column. It was with the 2nd CDAC that he first arrived in France in September of 1915.  From arrival in France until April 2, 1916, the John was was stationed near Berthen, about 20 kilometres south-west of Ypres, where the Divisional Ammunition Column functioned as the railhead where divisional ammunition was stored before being shipped to the front.  On April 2, John and 21 other ordinary ranks were transferred to the 6th Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery.  Just over a month later, he was transferred to the 5th Brigade stationed in Dikesbusch, Belgium due to a reorganization of the brigades.


John Brady, Age 19

It is in May 1916 that there is a first mention in his record of an issue with his hearing as he was admitted to hospital for an infection in his ear.  This became a chronic problem for him, and was attributed to his exposure to gunfire. He spent the duration of the war alternately serving in artillery units and in hospital for his painful ear.

He finally returned to Toronto in May 1919 at the age of 23.  In March of 1920, he married Gladys Louisa Moat, and together they started their family. His first three children were born in Toronto, and at some point between 1922 and 1926, he and his family moved to the United States, first to Iowa, then eventually to Illinois, settling in Chicago. In total, he and Gladys had 8 children. In an email exchange with his Granddaughter, she told me that he worked at the Chicago Tribune, and was beloved by his coworkers; so much so that when he suffered a stroke at work in 1964, a group of them carried him to a nearby hospital, where sadly, he passed away at the age of 68.

I would like to thank John’s Granddaughter for sharing her memories and family stories with me as well as for permission to use the above photograph of John in uniform.





John Dash

John Dash, older brother of Herbert Dash, was born in 1887. Unlike his brother, was not part of the war from the beginning. In the 1911 census, he is listed as a boarder with a horsekeeper on a farm in Hertfordshire, with his trade or calling listed as a blacksmith.  On April 5, 1915, John married Charlotte Lilian Randall in Cobham, Surrey after which he returned to Cambridgeshire with his bride to the same cottages near Meldreth where his family lived.  Just over a month later, on May 14, 1915, he signed his attestation papers to the Royal Field Artillery and Royal Horse Artillery as a shoeing smith.

After training throughout the summer in England and undergoing journeyman testing and certification, his unit, the 100th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery in the 22nd Division, embarked for France in September of 1915.  After a brief two months, the unit was one of many that was assigned to the Mediterranean theatre of war in the fall of 1915 to provide military assistance to the Serbs who had recently been attacked by combined German, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian armies.

The Macedonian Campaign, also called the Salonika Campaign (about which the Salonika Campaign Society has collected a great deal of information), was established through the fall of 1915 and winter of 1916 at Salonika (now Thessaloniki), in Northern Greece. It was marked by several battles, and saw thousands of soldiers participate between 1915 and 1918, but receives much less attention than the Western Front.  It is perhaps best known for the thousands of cases of malaria that came from the ravages of mosquitos in the mucky conditions.

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Christmas postcard from Salonika in 1916.

John was among those who spent some time in hospital due to his time in this theatre.  First, he was kicked in the mouth by a mule, an occupational hazard for a farrier, in June of 1916.  He spent nearly two months away from his unit before being discharged back to active duty on August 1, 1916.  His stint back with his unit was brief, as he was once again hospitalized on August 31, 1916, this time for malaria, one of over 162,000 cases of the disease that struck British forces in Northern Greece.  He was evacuated to Malta, where he remained in hospital for almost two months before being invalided back to Britain in late October 1916. By early 1917 he had been posted to the 19th Reserve Battery of the RFA, and served the remainder of the war in Britain.

Being back in England also allowed him time with his family, and in October 1917, his son, John Cornelius Aubrey Dash was born.  Sadly, being on the home front did not shield John from further tragedy. On March 6, 1919, one month after John had been discharged from his unit, his 16-month old son died due to complications from the influenza virus that had ravaged the western world throughout 1918 and 1919. John and Charlotte did not have any more children. John passed away in Cambridge in 1951 at the age of 63.





Herbert Dash

Herbert Dash, my first cousin four times removed on my mother’s side, was descended from Sarah Gill and Charles Bester, his grandparents, and my 4th great grandparents. As illustrated below, he is one of three brothers who served during the war.  His brothers, as well as two of his first cousins, will be the subjects of future posts.


Abbreviated tree of Herbert Dash.

Charles Bester, son of John Bester and Mary Constable, was born in Little Eversden, Cambridgeshire, in 1833, and Sarah Gill, second daughter of John Gill and Elizabeth Munns (of whom you can read more here), was born in 1837 in Orwell, Cambridgeshire.  They had ten children, including Annie Bester, my 3rd Great Grandmother, and Elizabeth Bester, born in 1863, Herbert’s mother.

Elizabeth Bester was the 5th of the Bester children. By the age of 18, she was a servant in the home of the Roads family in Orwell, Cambridgeshire. In 1885, at the age of 22, she married 19-year old farm labourer Walter Dash, also of Cambridgeshire.  They had seven children between 1885 and 1895, Herbert being the second youngest, born in 1894.

In 1909, 15-year old Herbert joined the Royal Navy as Boy, 2nd Class, beginning his service at HMS Ganges. Between 1910 and 1914 he served aboard several ships including HMS Berwick in the West Indes, HMS Hampshire (the famous ship that sank after hitting a mine in 1916, killing most on board including Lord Kitchener), and HMS Zealandia.

When the war began in the summer of 1914, 20-year old Herbert was aboard HMS Black Prince, which was stationed in the Mediterranean. The first part of the war was spent patrolling for German merchant ships, and by December 1914, she was transferred to the Grand Fleet.  Eighteen months later, she was one of 250 ships that engaged in the deadly Battle of Jutland. The German High Seas Fleet had hoped to surprise the British Fleets, but codebreakers alerted the British to the approaching ships.  The clash began on the afternoon of May 31, 1916 off the coast of Denmark.  Black Prince, approaching the battle with the rest of the Grand Fleet from the north, was somehow separated from the rest of the fleet.  At the time, what happened to the ship was a mystery to the British forces, but German records have since revealed that she approached the German ships in the darkness, potentially thinking the outlines of the ships were British, just before midnight.    This mistake proved deadly.  Once spotted, Black Prince was fired on by six German battleships.

Devon Heritage ( cites an eyewitness account of the aftermath from a crew member who had been on board HMS Spitfire:

“We were just recovering from our ramming match with the German cruiser, and most of the ship’s company were collected aft, when suddenly there was a cry from nearly a dozen people at once: “Look out!”

I looked up, and saw a few hundred yards away on our starboard quarter, what appeared to be a battle cruiser on fire, steering straight for our stern. To our intense relief, she missed our stern but just by a few feet; so close was she to us that we were actually under her guns, which were trained out on her starboard beam, She tore past us with a roar, rather like a motor roaring up a hill in low gear, and the very crackling and heat of the flames could be heard and felt. She was a mass of fire from fore-mast to main-mast, on deck and between decks. Flames were issuing out of her from every corner.

At first sight she appeared to be a battle cruiser, as her funnels were so far apart but afterwards it transpired that she was the unfortunate Black Prince with her two centre funnels gone. Soon afterwards, soon after  midnight, there came an explosion from the direction in which she had disappeared.”

All 857 officers and crew were lost.  Combined, the German and British forces lost 25 ships and over 8,500 men that day.

Herbert Dash, along with many others who lost their lives at the Battle of Jutland, is commemorated at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.  I am honoured to post a memorial certificate to my cousin here.


Nellie Richmire and Edward Clinton Biccum

Martha “Nellie” Richmire was my 2nd cousin twice removed on my father’s side.  Like Emma Maud Law who I profiled in December, Nellie Richmire is also descended from Francis Joseph Langton and Sarah Bishop, my 3rd great grandparents, and Nellie’s great grandparents. As the abbreviated tree below demonstrates, Emma was in fact Nellie’s aunt.

Langton and Law abbreviated tree

Nellie’s mother, Margaret Eden Law, was the oldest child of Martha Jane Langton and John William Law. She was born in 1871, and married in 1889 to Ransom Richmire,  a teamster in Cardinal, Ontario, when her youngest sister, Emma, was only one year old.  Nellie was born in 1896 in Cardinal, where she lived with her family until marrying Edward Clinton Biccum in June of 1915.  She was 19, and Edward was 18.

Of course, when they married, the war had already been raging in Europe for 10 months, and Canada was immersed with it.  Local battalions were being created in counties across the country, and, starting in late 1915, the 156th battalion began recruiting in Grenville and Leeds counties.  Cardinal, where Edward was born, was in Grenville county, and on February 6, 1916, almost exactly 102 years ago, he travelled to the neighbouring town of Iroquois, Ontario to attest to the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the 156th.


The 156th Battalion before sailing to Britain.  One of these men is Edward Clinton Biccum.

Cardinal is a beautifully situated village on the St. Lawrence River, directly across from New York State.  It is still a small community described as and “industrial” village, as has been its primary industry since the late 18th century.  Edward identified himself as a “labourer” on his attestation papers, and it is likely he worked in one of the mills.

On the day that he attested, his wife Nellie was 5 months pregnant with their first child. These were not the heady days of late summer 1914. The spirit of adventure that had inspired some men to enlist early on had turned to a sense of patriotism, duty, and even resignation perpetuated through the popular media of the day encouraging all men who were able to “do their bit.”  From early 1915 onwards, Canadians had been in active combat.  Many men had perished. Both Edward and Nellie would have known that enlisting was a dangerous thing for their little family.

The battalion spent its early days training close to home.  Edward would have been close by on June 14 when his son, John Edward, was born.  His son would have been just over a month old when the picture above of the entire battalion was taken.  In October 1916, Edward and the rest of the 156th bade their families goodbye, and left for Halifax to sail to England.  The 156th sailed on the Mauretania, sister ship to the famous Lusitania, and arrived in England on October 31, 1916.

Very soon after his arrival in England, Edward was temporarily promoted to Acting Lance Corporal.  He was only twenty years old. He and the other members of the 156th were split up and assigned to other battalions as reinforcements. After being assigned to the 154th and the 6th battalions, once he reverted to his rank of Private, he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion in May of 1917.


Cap badge of the 2nd battalion of the Eastern Ontario Regiment.

Barely three months later, in August 1917, he was wounded in his arm in the Battle for Hill 70 near Lens, France.  He was evacuated to Britain to heal, and was eventually able to rejoin his battalion in France in November.

On March 21, 1918, at the age of 21, Edward was killed at what I can only assume was the first day of the German offensive at St. Quentin–the same day and at the same battle that Stanley Frederick Gill from my maternal line was taken prisoner.  I have had a hard time finding a war diary for Edward’s battalion, so I am making an educated guess that he was killed at St. Quentin based on the date and the number of men from the 2nd battalion who were killed on that day and buried in the Aix-Noulette Communal Cemetery.

Edward was posthumously awarded the rank of Corporal. I am honoured to share the CWGC commemorative certificate for my cousin’s husband here.

Back in Cardinal, Nellie Biccum and her toddler John, not yet two years old, were left without their husband and father. In the 1921 census, the two are listed as living on their own, but her parents and siblings were living in nearby Edwardsburg, so one hopes that she had some assistance.

In August of 1925, just over ten years after her marriage to Edward, she married Frank Brant, a 30-year old farmer from Michigan.  Nellie and John moved with Frank to Michigan where the new couple had three more children, Margaret, James, and Dorothy, born in 1926, 1928, and 1930 respectively.  Nellie died in 1978 at the age of 82, and John Biccum died in 1989 at the age of 72. Although Edward never got to see his son take his first steps, his descendants and his name are still in Michigan today.