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.

Canadian_Expeditionary_Force,_156th_O.S._Battalion,_Barriefield,_July_7,_1916_(HS85-10-32558)

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.

CEF_E2c

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.

 

 

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.