Joseph Jean Baptiste Thivierge

I have been thinking about this post for a long time.  This, along with the post from earlier in this series on Wilfrid Lacasse, is one of only two posts from my maternal Grandfather’s side of my family, which, interestingly, I have the most genealogical background on both from my research through Ancestry as well as through work that has been done on family history by a number of different distant relatives throughout the years. This part of my Canadian pedigree can be traced back to my 8th Great Grandmother, Marie Helene Desportes, who was according to some reports the first child of European descent born in  New France (now the Province of Quebec). Born in 1620, she married twice and had fifteen children, one of whom, Marie Morin, married Gilles Rageot, a recent arrival from France, in 1673. From here, the Rageot (later Rajotte) family spread in French Canada, then eventually also into western Canada.  My Grandfather, Albert Rajotte, was fascinated by this family history, as are many descendants of the Rajotte lines.  That said, it is the branch of my family history with the least evidence of direct participation in the Great War.  There may be many reasons for this, but, as I wrote in the entry on Wilfrid Lacasse, I suspect that at least in part, this is due to the fact that the war was not part of the French Canadian consciousness in the same way that it was in English Canada.  This was related to the fractious relationship with British Imperialism in French Canada as well as to the sense that, as this fantastic article from the Canadian War Museum states: “neither France nor Britain was “a mother country” retaining the allegiance of French Canadians. The “patriotic” call to arms rang hollow.”  Attempts were made through a variety of means to appeal in different ways to French Canada’s interests, including the poster below blatantly appealing to the connection between French culture and Catholicism, but enlistment would never reach the pace it did in English Canada.

French Canadian recruitment

Recruitment poster directed at French Canadians: loosely translated: “Are we waiting until it’s ours that burn? Let’s join up, and right away.”

The Canadian government’s 1917 reversal of a previous promise to never conscript men into military service also hurt the relationship with French Canada. Demonstrations at the Military Service office in Quebec City turned to a deadly riot in March of 1918, with English troops opening fire on French protesters.  These wounds between what Hugh MacLennan later famously called the two solitudes would not easily heal, and in some very real ways, still haven’t.

Joseph Jean Baptiste Thivierge, my 2nd cousin 2x removed, was one of these French Canadian conscripts.  He was not connected to the Rajotte line, but rather to the Monette line, my Grandfather’s paternal grandmother’s line.

Thivierge

Abbreviated family tree of descendants of Elmire D’Amour and Auguste Monette

Joseph was born in 1895 in Hull, Quebec, to Jean Baptiste Thivierge and Adelia D’Amour.  By the time Joseph was called up under the Military Service Act to join the 2nd Depot Battalion of the Eastern Ontario Regiment, it was May of 1918.  He was 22 years old, and an accountant, still living in Hull.  His mother, Adelia, was listed as his next of kin.  He trained throughout the summer, and was transferred to the 2nd Canadian Tank Battalion in September of 1918. On October 4th, 1918, he sailed from Halifax for England, arriving on October 18th.  On November 11, hostilities ended, and Jospeh, never having left England, re-embarked for Canada eleven days later, arriving on November 29.  He was discharged from the service on New Year’s Eve 1918.

While in retrospect, it is clear that Joseph would never see the western front, and his voyage to England and back is almost comically short, he had no way of knowing that he wasn’t going to find himself inside a tank in France. For nearly six months, he was training for, and even shipped overseas in preparation for, a war he did not sign up to fight. I can’t imagine how frightening and frustrating this may have been.

Joseph married Alice Sauve in 1919, and they went on to have two children.  Joseph passed away in Hull at the age of 64 in 1960.

 

How Records Shaped the List of Davids

One of the biggest differences between researching this project and researching for my MA Thesis in 2002 is the complete lack of paper involved in this process.  In 2002, although I could see attestation papers of Canadian WW1 soldiers through Library and Archives Canada (LAC), in order to see a full military file, I had to file a request to have it copied and mailed to me.  The time lag between wanting to see the record and actually seeing the record was weeks, and there was a cost involved for the retrieval, copying, and mailing of the records.  As part of LAC’s Great War commemoration activities, they are working on completing digitization of all WW1 service files by the end of 2018.   They are working on them in roughly alphabetical order, and new batches of files are added to the database every two weeks. As of their last update, they are up to the last name “Russell.”  The scans are beautiful high quality colour images, allowing for a very detailed examination of the documents.  The files contain information about the attestation, service, medical treatment, action, pay, medals, and next of kin of the soldiers, and read in conjunction with the soldier’s battalion’s war diary, can provide at the very least a chronology of the soldier’s service, and in some cases, even a sense of what their experience of the war may have been like.

A similar experience can be had with the British Military Service files.  The scans are lower quality–they look more like what one would expect in scrolling through microfiche–but the biggest challenge with these records are the condition that they were in when they were imaged due to their physical history.  Whereas the Canadian files are largely in good shape and can be handled relatively easily by archivists and conservators, the British files, like the British capital, were victims of the bombings in London in WW2. In September 1940, a War Office repository where the records of WW1 soldiers were stored was hit, and up to 60% of the records were destroyed through fire and water damage.  These are referred to as “burnt” records.  Those records that do exist can sometimes be very tattered and difficult to read.  As such, there is not always a full record available for a British soldier, and one has to rely on other records such as military honour rolls or war graves records to learn more about the units in which they served.

As I’ve mentioned in the project description, I am quite certain that I have American ancestors who took part in that country’s efforts in the Great War.  Unfortunately, the American records were also largely destroyed, in this case affecting files from WW1, WW2, and the Korean conflict, as in 1973, a devastating fire at the National Personnel Records Centre in St. Louis destroyed 80% of service records of men discharged from American military forces between 1912 and 1960.

There are many more Davids in my family tree than I will ever know, as my list of 52 men was shaped by the availability and quality of records available.  The stories that get told are the stories that can be uncovered in those boxes in archives and shown the light of day through careful conservation and, certainly in the case of this project, digitization.  Bless the archivists and conservators and those who fight to fund them–they are the best defence against more stories being lost.