Ezekiel Gill

Ezekiel Gill, with his brothers David and William, formed a trio of Gill brothers that were in the British Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium. The second son of David and Louisa Gill, he was born on the 27th of December, 1894, just over 123 years ago, in the post-Christmas and pre-New Year’s period, just as we are in right now. In the 1911 census he is listed as still living with his parents, and working as a bottle packer at a glassworks.

On August 3, 1913, at the age of 18, he married Rosa Charlotte Kitchener, and very soon afterwards, they were expecting their first child. Their son, Ezekiel, was born in the spring of 1914, but sadly did not see his first birthday, passing away in early 1915.

Ezekiel’s military service record was destroyed among the other “burnt” service files, so we are left to piece together his service from other sources. Family documents shared with me by a Great Grand niece of Ezekiel suggest that he, like his brother David, first joined the Royal Field Artillery. At the very least, the family is fairly certain that he was present at the Battle of Loos in the fall of 1915, as his second child, David, born in December 1915 was given the middle name “Loos” presumably after this battle.

At some point after the fall of 1915, Ezekiel was transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Gloucester Regiment in the 1st Division.  His service between late 1915 and the fall of 1918 cannot be ascertained through the military record, although he must have had some time on leave as his wife, Rosa, was again expecting a child that fall.

In September of 1918, the Battles of the Hindenburg Line began in which the allied forces worked to break the defensive position the German forces had held since 1916. On the 28th of September, the men of the 1st Battalion of the Gloucester Regiment had baths in the morning, and by 5pm they had been ordered to move to the front to relieve the 2nd Infantry Brigade. The next morning marked the beginning of the Battle of the St. Quentin Canal.  The 1st Battalion was ordered to take and hold three strategic objectives, some of which were heavily defended by machine guns. The artillery was supporting them, but bad misty weather, heavy hostile shelling, and a great deal of noise made it difficult for officers on the ground to discern whether their artillery support was even there.

By midday, conditions improved, and the 1st began a creeping barrage toward their three objectives.  This was a gruelling series of hours with heavy artillery creating a screen allowing infantry to slowly advance 50 metres at a time. By dark, their targets had been captured, but at a toll of 55 casualties, including 8 men killed.  Among them was Ezekiel Gill.  He was 23 years old.

Ezekiel’s daughter, Rosa Louisa Gill, was born just over three weeks later.

Ezekiel is buried in Vadencourt British Cemetery in Maissemy, France.  I am honoured to share the CWGC commemorative certificate for my cousin here.

 

Herbert Arthur Gill

Herbert Gill, brother of Stanley, is the first Royal Navy serviceman that I will profile in this series.  Four years older than his brother, he first joined the Navy in 1911 at the age of 16 for a 12-year commitment, first at the training establishment HMS Ganges as Boy 2nd Class.  He worked his way through the ranks in his first three years through Boy 1st Class, Ordinary Seaman, then by the autumn of of 1914, Able Seaman at which time he was serving on the HMS Roxburgh. He would have been still serving on Roxburgh in June 1915 when she was struck and severely damaged by a torpedo from a German submarine.

HMS Roxburgh

HMS Roxburgh from naval-history.net

Herbert spent late 1915 and early 1916 at Vivid I, a seamanship, signalling and telegraphy School in Devonport. The rest of the war he was alternately at training and on HMS Colossus and HMS Hindustan.

Herbert was serving on the Hindustan was part of the Zeebrugge and Osten raids of April 23, 1918. The operation was intended to block the access of German shipping and submarines in and out of both ports. German submarines, torpedo boats and ships were based at the inland docks in Bruges and were using the Bruges shipping canal to access the English Channel via the two sea entrances at Zeebrugge and Ostend. The raids were considered successful, and several gallantry awards were presented as a result, including eight men being awarded with the Victoria Cross.

Herbert served with the Royal Navy until January 1925.

From there, I am not certain about the rest of Herbert’s life.  In my research, I have found at least three different Herbert Gills living in Edmonton all born around the same time between 1925 and 1950, and I haven’t found any conclusive enough evidence to identify any of them as this Herbert Gill.

Next week, another Gill–Ezekiel.

In the meantime, all the best to you for a lovely Christmas if that is your tradition! I will have a special post on the Facebook page on Monday, so please make sure that you follow me there as well.

Stanley Frederick Gill

Stanley Frederick Gill, like David Gill and William Jack Gill, is my second cousin four times removed.  We are all descended from John Gill and Elizabeth Munns, but where David, William  and their brother Ezekiel (who I will profile at a later date) are descended from John and Elizabeth’s son Jack, and I am descended from their daughter Sarah,  Stanley and his brother Herbert Arthur, who I will profile next week, are descended from their daughter Alice Gill.

Family tree

Abbreviated family tree showing my relationship to two other branches of the Gill family.

Alice Gill had two children before she was married, a daughter, Elizabeth, presumably named for her mother, who died at the age of two, and William John. William was six years old when his mother married Stephen Farrington in 1869.  Alice and Stephen went on to have five more children together.  By the 1891 census, William is listed as living with his wife, Emily, and their daughter Nellie on Bury Street in Edmonton, North London.  Interestingly, he didn’t stray far from home as his mother and step father lived on the same street, as did his aunt (and my 4th Great Grandmother) Sarah and her family. By 1901, William and his family had moved to Osman Road, still in Edmonton with their growing family.  William and Emily had a total of twelve children between 1889 and  1910, five of whom did not survive past infancy.  William died in early 1914, just before the world descended into total war.

Stanley Frederick Gill was 15 when his father, William, died, and only 17 years and 10 months old when he attested to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps on December 16, 1916, one hundred and one years ago today.  He was listed as the “head” of his household at the time. In March 1917, roughly a month after his 18th birthday, he reported for his medical inspection and spent the first part of his service in a King’s Royal Rifles Corps training battalion located in Canterbury.

In the fall of 1917 he was hospitalized twice for scabies, a parasitic skin condition that afflicted thousands of men in the close quarters of military camps and training.  He found himself in a spot of trouble in early 1918 as he was discovered absent from the morning of January 10, 1918 to the next morning, and was confined to barracks for three days as a punishment. Whatever his reason for being absent, given what was to come for him over the following months, I hope it was for something that gave him a pleasant memory to look back on.  He was hospitalized once more for scabies from the 26th to 28th of January.

He embarked for France February 3, 1918, one day after his nineteenth birthday, being deployed to the 7th King’s Royal Rifles in the 14th Division. He had only been with the battalion for a short while, when, at 4:45 am on the morning of March 21, everyone was awoken by the sound of what was described in the war journal as “a very heavy enemy barrage.” This barrage cut communications between headquarters and the front line, then, morning greeted them with a dense fog with visibility down to 50 yards.  These were less than ideal conditions for a coordinated response to what would be one of largest German offensive efforts of these later days of the war.  This battle, known as the Battle of St. Quentin, was the beginning of the First Battles of the Somme, 1918.

The war diary reported that 250 “ordinary ranks” from the 7th King’s Royal Rifles were killed, wounded, or went missing on March 21.  One of these men was Stanley. Throughout April of 1918, his mother, concerned after not hearing from him for several weeks, was trying to get information on his location.

Mother's letter

Excerpt from letter written by Emily Gill on the subject of her son, Rifleman Stanley Gill.

 

Stanley was one of several men who had been taken prisoner that day at St. Quentin. The International Committee of the Red Cross’ archive of Prisoners of War places Stanley first at the Stendal POW camp, then at the Neuhammer POW camp.  By all accounts, life in these camps was, at best, cramped and uncomfortable with days filled with hard labour, at worst, cruel and humiliating including being paraded in public at cinemas and train stations in order to underscore the strength of the captors.  But this said, there was massive infrastructure at these camps including a camp-specific currency that could be used to purchase items at a commissary.

Camp

Barracks at Camp Stendal

The repatriation of Prisoners of War was one of the items covered in the armistice.  Generally, British prisoners were re-patriated very quickly.  By March 1919, Stanley was back in Canterbury.  He was hospitalized again, this time for diarrhea–another very common complaint among soldiers. He was then posted to the Rifle Depot at Winchester.

Stanley was demobilized in February 1920.  He was barely 21 years old.

He married Ada Goulding in 1926 and they went on to have three children.  Stanley passed away in 1961 at the age of 62.

 

Emma Maud Law and George Harris

CalltoWomen

Poster directed at Canadian Women

At various points throughout this year, the soldier I will profile will not be my relative, but rather the spouse of a relative.  Given much of my initial interest in the Great War was based on homefront life and how the war was being communicated through popular media of the time, it’s important to me to examine at least a few of these stories through the perspective of the women who were left behind when their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons left home for extended periods of time.

To date, all the relatives I have profiled have been from my maternal grandmother’s side of the family, a branch of my lineage that are 20th century transplants to Canada, having arrived in a post-confederation dominion already joined coast to coast by rail.  On the other hand, my paternal grandfather’s family arrived in an early colonial Canada still being shaped by conflicts between France and England on the other side of the Atlantic, and where the European settlement west of the Hudson’s Bay was largely focussed on the fur trade.

Emma Maud Law is the first of the relatives from my this side of my family I will be profiling. We are both descended from Francis Joseph Langton (1814-1888) and Sarah Bishop (1821-1887). The Langtons arrived in Upper Canada (later Ontario) sometime before 1825, and the Bishops sometime before 1847 which was the year Sarah married Francis in Newmarket.  This couple later settled in Peterborough (which interestingly continued to figure prominently in my family’s history, as it was here that my parents met and married a century and a quarter later). Francis and Sarah had 11 children, one of which being Emma Maud’s mother, Martha Jane (born 1852), and another being my 2nd Great Grandmother, Ada May Langton (born 1858).  

Emma was the youngest child of Martha Jane Langton and John William Law making her my 1st cousin 3x removed. Born in 1888, Emma was born into a largely industrial town that was Ontario’s largest producer of timber at the time. By 1901, the family was living in Cardinal, Ontario, a small industrial community east of Toronto where Emma’s father was listed in the census as a machinist. By 1910 the family had moved into Leslieville, a largely industrial east-end part of Toronto with a concentration on tanneries and metal working. 

Made by Samsung DVC

Badge of the 83rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force

It was here that Emma married George Harris in 1910. George was a recent immigrant to Canada having arrived only four years earlier from England. His sister and her family had also recently immigrated, and they all settled in the east of Toronto.  In the 1921 census, George ‘s trade or calling is listed as “bricklayer.”  George attested to the 83rd Overseas Battalion in August of 1915, and his brother-in-law, Charles Pentney did the same in November of 1915.

The 83rd was broken up soon after arriving in England in the spring of 1916, and used to reinforce other CEF units.   George was one of 498 men from a variety of reserve battalions sent to reinforce the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles. This unit was part of the Canadian effort at the battle of Fleurs-Courcelette as part of the 1916 Somme offensive, the April 1917 Vimy Offensive, the October 1917 Passchendaele battles, and many more with the 4th CMR becoming one of the most celebrated battalions in the CEF.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, Emma was living in a city consumed by the war effort. As a main transportation hub, thousands of soldiers were coming through the city as they were on their way to ports like Montreal or Halifax for transport to England.  Thousands more were based out of Toronto for their training, and the city transformed to accommodate this reality.  University campuses became camps, the Canadian National Exhibition Grounds became a recruitment and training centre, parks were used to simulate battlefield conditions, and parades to drum up recruits and financial support for the war in the form of Victory Bonds became commonplace on major streets.  Industrial business owners transformed their operations to support the war effort.  I have very little information on Emma’s life during the years George was overseas other than the record of her separation allowance being paid.  She and George had no children, but with George’s sister nearby whose husband was also overseas, and a sister of her own outside of Toronto with a husband overseas, I like to think that she was not utterly alone.

The 4th CMR finally returned to Toronto in March 1919.  The Toronto Star described in detail the scene as these men were received home including how the “YMCA lady helpers never had an idle moment.  They were busy all the time preparing the eats for the boys. When the boys did arrive, the ladies stood at attention and made a pretty picture in the glare of the electric lights.”

In the 1921 census, George had been unemployed for 12 months, not an unusual state for returning soldiers, as the immediate post war economy had high unemployment and inflation (both of which contributed to labour actions such as the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919). In February of 1923, Emma died due to complications from Influenza.  It appears that she had been ill for a long time as there is a list of chronic conditions also listed on her death certificate. George passed away in Toronto in 1968 at the age of 82.

William Jack Gill

William Jack Gill, brother of David and Ezekiel Gill, was the third son of David Gill and Louisa George. He attested on December 1, 1915, 102 years and one day ago.  By this point, his brother David was in France, and likely also his brother Ezekiel.  What is certain is that David and Louisa had three sons in the western theatre of war at the same time while also supporting seven other children at home with another to arrive in 1917.  The stress of it is deeply difficult to imagine.

Piecing together William’s war service is a combination of close reading, interpretation, and guess work.  Although his military file is available, the condition of it makes it very difficult to read. We can discern his original regiment, the fact that he was wounded at some point in 1916, and that he was later transferred to serve the final part of the war in England.

William Gill file

Sample of the state of the some of the pages in William Gill’s military record.

William initially attested to the the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment. Although both his record and the available war diaries make it difficult to completely discern, it appears he was posted to one of the “football” battalions, which were 2 battalions formed to encourage professional footballers (soccer players to those of us in North America) to join the war effort.  I have found no evidence to suggest that William was a footballer, and this is consistent with the fact that the units were supplemented with men from other walks of life.

He sailed for France in May of 1916 which is consistent with the timeframe of the 23rd (second football) battalion which was part of the 41st Division. William’s records tell us that he was in France from May to October of 1916 which meant he was likely part of two of the largest battles of the Battles of the Somme 1916: Fleurs-Courcelette, and Le Transloy.

The Battle of Fleurs-Courcelette, September 15-22, 1916, marked a general regrouping and renewing of the offensive at the Somme, including the entry of Canadian troops into this part of the campaign.  As an aside, this is the first specific WW1 battle I was ever conscious of, as it figures prominently in L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside.

The war diary for the 23rd battalion states that at 6:20 am on September 15 the “attack [was] launched–124th bgde on right–122nd bgde on left–tanks leading.” This is significant as it was the first time tanks were used in battle. This was a gamble, for as the Long Long Trail states, the tanks were “few in number, mechanically unreliable and as yet without proven tactics for their best use.” By the end of the day on September 16th, the Ordinary Ranks (non-officers) of the 23rd battalion had suffered many casualties: 22 killed, 129 wounded, and 32 missing.

The battle of Le Transloy is one that is characterized by the muddy and miserable conditions that have become synonymous with WW1. The 23rd Battalion was charged with kicking off their participation with a reconnaissance mission:

October 1, 1916 War Diary

Excerpt from War Diary of 23rd Battalion of the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment, October 1, 1916, Battle of Le Transloy.

Whether it was at Courcelette, Le Transloy, or any of the other myriad of places a Private could be injured in the fall of 1916, at some point William was shot in the left shoulder, and he was returned to Britain by October 10, 1916.

At some point in 1917, William was transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving at the Reading War Hospital in Berkshire. A wonderful tribute to the Reading hospitals was done in February 2014 through the the local news, GetReading.

There is not much I can discern from William’s file about what his role was at the hospital.  There is a sense that at some point in 1918 he found himself in trouble as there is a misconduct form in the file, but its contents are illegible.  William was formally discharged as part of demobilization in September 1919.

William married Grace Maud Woolmer in 1925.  He died in 1986 at the age of 89.