Ernest Robert Mungham

Ernest Robert Mungham was my first cousin, four times removed.  He and I are both descended from Thomas Mungham and Elizabeth Sarah Wood who were my 4th great grandparents and his grandparents.  I wrote more about Thomas and Elizabeth in the post about Herbert George Hewlett, who was Ernest’s second cousin.  Where I am descended from Thomas and Elizabeth’s son Henry, and Herbert was descended from their first son, William, Ernest was the son of their son Alfred, born in 1845 in Milton, Kent.

As early as the age of 16, Alfred is listed in the census records as a labourer, later detailed in the 1871 census as a “brickfield moulder.” He married Elizabeth Maria Fagg in  1867 at the age of 22.  They went on to have eight children. Ernest, their 6th, was born in 1879.  Ernest followed in his father’s footsteps and was also a brickfield labourer.  He married Ada Louisa Wood in 1905 when he was 26, and they had three children between 1905 and 1911.  When war broke out in 1914, 35-year old Ernest was supporting his wife, two daughters, ages 9 and 6, and son, age 3.

Ernest’s service record is one of the many burnt records, so I do not have a precise timeline of when he attested and where he served.  From the honour roll and medal records, we can tell that he served with the Prince of Wales’ Leinster Regiment, with the 7th and 2nd battalions.  The 7th battalion was raised in October 1914, and it is likely that this is the unit to which Ernest volunteered.  This battalion was in France from December of 1915 until it was disbanded and troops were dispersed to various battalions.  Ernest was reassigned to the 2nd battalion, and was eventually discharged in August of 1918 as physically unfit.  Again, due to his record not being available, I do not know why he was considered unfit.

Sadly, just a month after his discharge, Ernest’s second daughter, Winnifred Florence, died at the age of 10.  Four years later, Ernest and Ada lost another daughter, Joan, at or just after birth.

Ernest lived the rest of his days in Kent, passing away in 1949 at the age of 70.

 

 

 

Percy Freely Latham

Percy Freely Latham was my first cousin twice removed, and was first cousin to John Pickering and William Frederick Pickering. Percy’s mother, Emily Pickering; John and William’s father, John Pickering, and my great-grandmother, Mary Alice Pickering; were siblings: three of the 10 children born to James Pickering and Elizabeth Wilson.  My great grandmother was the second youngest of these sibling which is part of what accounts for her nephews being veterans of the first world war while their first cousin, my grandfather, Joseph Foster, was a veteran of the second world war.

Percy’s mother, Emily, was the eldest of the Pickering siblings, and was born in 1873 in Stockton, Yorkshire.  She was 13 years old when her family immigrated to Canada and settled in Ontario (East York, now Toronto) where her father was a rail labourer.  In 1894, at the age of 20, She married Henry Freely: a milk delivery man 20 years her senior who had immigrated from Germany as a child. Emily and Henry had five children together before Harry died due to pneumonia and heart failure in 1901.  This left Emily alone with her children, ages newborn through seven.  Percy was the second youngest, only two years old. Two years later, Emily, still only 30 years old, re-married.  Her second husband, Alexander Latham, was very much a father to the two youngest Freely children, as both of them added his name to theirs, and Percy listed him as his father on his attestation papers. Emily and Alexander had five more children together, the youngest two of whom sadly died in infancy.

Percy attested to the Canadian Expeditionary Force on February 5, 1916.  On his attestation papers, he listed his date of birth as May 18, 1897, which would have made him 18 years old.  I will spare you the math from all the dates above, but this is not consistent with other records. It wasn’t until after he had already been serving for over two years that the military discovered that he had aged himself by two years.  He was actually only 16 years old when he enlisted.  He originally enlisted in the 169th Battalion, which, after arriving in England in October 1916 was absorbed into the 5th Reserve Battalion.  At this time, Percy was transferred to the 2nd Pioneer Battalion.  Pioneer battalions were infantry battalions plus skilled labour.

It was the pioneers that built the dug outs, built the roads in forward areas, laid barbed wire entanglements, and were the power house in trench construction. Pioneers also were the ones who followed on the heels of the Infantry in the attack to fill trenches and build passable avenues for the guns to be brought forward.  (From description of 3rd Canadian Pioneers at Russians in the CEF).

He arrived with the unit in Northern France in early December where they were stationed at Fosse 10, and were supporting nearby trench activity.  The war diary of the battalion has a beautiful description of what would have been Percy’s first Christmas away from home, including the description of the dinner.

2nd Pioneer Christmas

In the spring of 1917, the 2nd Pioneers were supporting the preparations for the 2nd Canadian division’s attack on Vimy Ridge.  They were laying cable for communications and explosives, as well as track for trams in order to get supplies closer to the front.  On April 8, 1917, the day before the Canadian guns opened fire on the German line, Percy was shot in the left wrist and through to his abdomen.  He was evacuated to a field hospital at Le Treport, then back to England to recover at several different hospitals before being released in August of 1917.   Throughout the rest of 1917 and in to 1918, 18 year-old Percy was moved through several reserve battalions in Bramshott, and was even put in some senior roles on an acting basis. Late in 1918, he was returned to Canada, and discharged in January 1919 as medically unfit, likely as a result of his earlier injuries.

In the 1921 census, Percy is listed as living in Toronto with his parents and younger siblings, and his occupation is listed as “engineer.”  He married in 1924, but I have no other information about his life after this time until his death in 1969 at the age of 70.

Alfred Edward Perring

Alfred Edward Perring was the older brother of Richard John Perring, though it seems that the two probably barely knew each other. Alfred and Richard’s parents, Annie Bester and Walter Perring, immigrated to Canada in 1907.  Alfred, who was 18 at the time, did not make the trip, while Richard, only 10, did.  It is likely that this was the last time they saw each other, as Richard died serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the war.

At some point before 1910, Alfred joined the military, and was stationed in India.  There he met Amelia Edith Adshead who had been born to a British family in Kolkata, West Bengal. At some point, he also dropped the “g” from his last name, as he is known as “Alfred Perrin” in all documents throughout his adult life. He and Amelia married in 1910 in Rangoon, and their first three children were born in India before the war. He served in the war in both France and Gallipoli as a Sergeant in the Alexandra, Princess of Wales’ own Yorkshire Regiment, and with the Corps of Military Staff Clerks. He and Amelia had three more children between 1915 and 1920, all born in India.  At some point before 1939, Alfred and his family moved to Edmonton, UK which is where Alfred later passed away in 1950 at the age of 60.

 

 

Thomas Ross Milne

Thomas Ross Milne, the 26th entry in this series marking the half-way point, was my 3rd cousin twice removed.  We are both descended from William Langton and Margaret Risdale who were his 2nd Great Grandparents, and my 4th Great Grandparents. William and Margaret represent the beginnings of part of my Canadian heritage, as they were the first direct ancestors on my father’s side to arrive in Canada. Born in England at the end of the 18th century, this couple crossed the Atlantic with their children sometime between 1816 and 1825, settling in what is now the Peterborough area of Ontario. William and Margaret had 8 children:  I am descended from their second oldest son, Francis Joseph, while Thomas Ross Milne is descended from their eldest daughter, Mary Ann.

Milne

Abbreviated family tree of Thomas Ross Milne.

Mary Ann Langton and her husband, Malcolm Macintyre, eventually settled in Fergus, Ontario, a small community in south western Ontario, just north of Guelph.  Their eldest son, Duncan, a blacksmith, went on to marry Jean Ross, a recent arrival from Scotland, and they had twelve children between 1861 and 1879.  Their 8th child, Helen Maud Macintyre, was Thomas Ross Milne’s mother.

Helen married Thomas William Milne, a tailor, in 1892.  Thomas Ross was born the following year.  From the 1901 census, it is clear that the Milne family is living with Helen’s father-in-law, also a tailor. Through one of my connections on Ancestry, I have seen a delightful picture of three generations of Milne men, Thomas Ross, his father, and his grandfather taken when Thomas Ross is no older than 5 years old.  Unfortunately I haven’t been able to contact the owners of the picture to use it here, but if I am able to in the future, I will certainly share it.

By the 1911 census, Thomas Ross is working for the Canadian Pacific Railway as a baggageman, and by 1916, the year he enlisted in the CEF, he was a telegraph operator for the CPR. This trade directed his participation in the war as he directed to the Canadian Engineers Training Division and eventually the Canadian Signalling Corps where he served as the rank of Sapper.  He arrived in England in November 1916, and unfortunately in less than a month, was hospitalized with German measles, and wasn’t released until mid-January 1917.  By May 1917 he was in France with the Canadian Signalling Pool.  This work could have involved everything from laying and operating telephone lines, operating the very new wireless technology, or sending messages via morse code with lanterns.

He retuned to England in May of 1919, and then returned to Canada to be demobilized the following month.  He returned to his work with the CPR, and was moved to Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) Ontario.  In December of 1919, he married Margaret Whent, and by late 1920 they were expecting their first child who, sadly, was stillborn.  They had one other child the following year in 1921, Thomas Howard Milne, the fourth in a line of Thomas Milnes, Thomas Howard joined the Royal Canadian Navy during the second world war, and another photo I’ve seen shows him standing with his father, both looking very proud.

Thomas Ross Milne passed away in 1953 at the age of 60.

The Half Way Point

It’s hard for me to believe, but this weekend marks the halfway point in this journey.  Later today I will post the 26th of 52 profiles. On one hand, in the life of a busy person with two kids and a full-time job and other commitments, I haven’t always been excited about sitting down and spending the time each weekend to make this happen.  On the other hand, my busy life with its daily highs and lows is a very beautiful one, and part of that is that is underscored by the hope that the era of the citizen soldier, at least in my country, is past. This is a hope that is deeply rooted in privilege, and I mean that in all its connotations–it is my privilege and honour to live in Canada and be a Canadian, and I am also aware my experience of this pride and patriotism is intertwined with the lens of socio-economic and cultural privilege extant in being a white, middle-class woman.  Taking the time each weekend to remember families whose lives and their own versions of the daily highs and lows were completely up-ended due to the war has given me some insight into parts of this privilege in a way I hadn’t considered before.

First, many of these families were not comfortable from an economic standpoint.  Obviously, due to actually having fixed addresses at which they could be enumerated for a census, they had homes, but some of them were in precarious positions when one or more of their family members with top earning potential went to war.  On the other hand, these men were paid for their service, and separation allowances were paid to their families.  For some families, it is very possible that the financial driver of a steady wage for a period of time was far more of an incentive than patriotism, or indignation over the invasion of Belgium, or the pressure of the propaganda or their peers.  For some, this was an opportunity for a job.  I had always been aware of the military as a career choice (my mother comes from a military family), and I remember watching American tv as a kid and seeing recruitment commercials during Saturday morning cartoons saying “be all that you can be” in the army.  But to think that during a time of total war, the chance to procure a wage would entice a person to join even as one in ten who did so died as a result is astounding to me. I didn’t realize that I still had a bit of a veil of romance over my eyes about this, but I did.

Second, the voice that comes through the records I have found is overwhelmingly, homogeneously white.  From a genealogy perspective, this isn’t surprising.  Genetically, (yes, I did a test) my origins are over 40% from the British Isles, and the balance from other parts of Western Europe.  I knew that in deciding to profile ancestors, I was not going to have a lot of cultural or ethnic diversity in my posts. That said, I now consider myself a pretty adept researcher of WW1 history and events in popular media, and it is rare to come across resources that approach the British or Canadian experience of the war from a perspective other than that of people of British descent. This is not to say that there hasn’t been a lot of scholarly work done on this, because of course there has been, but since a lot of my scholarly work was on the popular consciousness of the war, that is where my mind still goes.  In 1914-1918 very specific rhetoric was grown and maintained in the popular consciousness about the experience of war.  A century later, this has grown and changed, but it is far from being inclusive.

Finally, one of the things that has always made me uncomfortable about acts of remembrance is the rhetoric around “they died to protect us,” as though somehow without the farmer from Kent or telegraph operator from Ontario going to France, civilization would not have gone on.  This is part of why the Timothy Findley quote about this not being a battle of David and Goliath but rather of “one little David against another” has always resonated with me.  But now, through the act of looking more closely at these individual stories, I’m realizing that the scale of the losses from WW1, WW2, and Vietnam for the US has done something to protect us.  Not in the sense that my little corner of land in Canada is somehow more secure or safe because of these soldiers, but in their role as cautionary tales.  We have examples to point to as nations as to what it looks like to immerse ourselves in total war.  Should we come to this kind of crossroads again, and right now things do feel pretty volatile on the world stage so this doesn’t feel entirely hypothetical, we can and should look to these stories to think deeply about whether the benefit of engaging the citizenry in military action will outweigh the profound losses to communities. If this is kept in mind, then yes, they died to protect us.  From ourselves.  From making decisions without the context of what they may mean.  It is our responsibility not to ignore this context.

I’m hoping that this little blog contributes to keeping that context alive.  Thank you for coming along on the journey with me up until now.