Joseph James Foster-Part 1

Joseph James Foster was my great-grandfather, and the 52nd citizen soldier I am profiling in this series.  On his mother’s side, he was descended from the Langton and Bishop clans, both of which arrived in then Upper Canada in the early 1840s. This is a line of my paternal family I have documented in 6 other posts this year.  His father George Whitfield Foster, along with his parents William Foster, a draper from Manchester, and Jane Kirkman immigrated to Canada from England in 1871.  George, who became a painter (I assume of buildings) married Ada May Langton in 1880 in Peterborough, ON.  By 1891, George, Ada, and their 6 children (their 7th and youngest child was not born until 1896), including my great grandfather Joseph, were all living in the same home in Toronto.

By the 1901 census, William and Jane were no longer living with the family, and 16-year old Joseph is listed with the occupation “driver.”  In 1910, he married Mary Alice Pickering, the second youngest of 10 children in the Pickering clan.  He was 24, and she was 18. Joseph and Mary Alice had two sons before the war, Gordon and Earl Edwin, who were five and three respectively when Joseph signed his attestation papers in January of 1916.  He was a short man, 5’2″, with dark brown hair and blue eyes. Thelittle finger on his right hand had been amputated in 1909 after being severely burned in an accident when he was working at a brick yard, but this did not prevent him from being considered fit for duty.

Joseph enlisted in the 124th Battalion (later the 124th Pioneer Battalion) of the CEF which trained in and around Toronto before finally sailing to Britain in early August of 1916. Training continued in England between August of 1916 and March of 1917.  On March 9, 1917, the battalion sailed for France, landing in Boulogne. Their first month was predominantly spent digging trenches, laying communications cabling, and working on ammunition dumps.  On April 9, 1917, after only one month in France, the war diary for the unit states:

Weather continues unsettled and condition of ground very muddy. Parties are very fatigued but are continuing work uncomplainingly, and cheerfully.

Not only was the work being done through difficult environmental conditions, but the battalion was also under fire or being shelled during much of their work, with members of the battalion being injured or killed on nearly a daily basis. This work must have seemed thankless, though we now recognize that all this digging and cable laying in the spring of 1917 in this part of Northern France was instrumental to success of the Canadian troops at the battle of Vimy Ridge from April 9-12.

By the fall, it can be imagined that this level of work would be taking its toll.  Joseph had only had one break from the field on record in this time: 7 days at the 1st Army Rest Camp where he was still on duty, but could have been participating in other activities.  At some point in early October, he was caught drunk while on active duty, and punished. By mid-October, the 124th battalion was in Belgium at Ypres. The account of the autumn there is brutal: continual attempts to build and rebuild roads and shelter just to have them shelled when they are nearly complete.  By late November, the battalion had moved back to Northern France further back from the front lines to engage in training. On December 22, Joseph was granted 14 days leave to Troyes, which is where he spent Christmas of 1917.

Joseph returned to the unit on January 5, 1918. At the end of May, 1918, the battalion was broken up and dispersed among the 10th, 11th and 12th battalions of the Canadian Engineers.  Joseph landed with the 12th battalion.

Joseph’s first few months with the Engineers does not seem to be as intense or dangerous as his time with the 124th. By mid-August, however, the battalion was in full support of the final push of the war. By November 11, 1918, the battalion was close to the border between Belgium and France, and was ordered to march east toward Germany.  Joseph was granted leave to England from November 23 to December 14, and he rejoined his unit at Ransart, Belgium, and they continued their march east. By Christmas, they were at Longueville, Belgium, and there they had a Christmas dinner consisting of “turkey, vegetables, plum pudding, fruit, nuts, tea and beer, and afterwards a substantial issue of rum.”

In January, the battalion moved in to Brussels, and seemed to be in a holding pattern, spending a great deal of time playing football and practicing football.  In was in this environment that Joseph found himself getting in to trouble.  I will continue with his story in my next post in a couple of days.  Until then…

Harry Willie Edward Dodd

Harry William Edward Dodd was my first cousin three times removed.  We are both descended from Francis Joseph Langton and Sarah Bishop who were my third great grandparents, and Harry’s Grandparents. As a refresher since it has been a while since I wrote about this branch of my family, 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.  After settlings in Peterborough, ON, Francis and Sarah had 11 children, one of which being Harry’s mother, Sarah Ellen, and another being my 2nd Great Grandmother, Ada May Langton.

Sarah Ellen married John J. Dodd, a barber, in 1875 in Peterborough at the age of 22. Two years later, Harry was born, and he grew up in Northumberland county, just south of Peterborough. He grew up here, and began work in the tannery in Cobourg, which was a significant industry for the town. In 1897, he married Mary Eliza Raycroft, and the two started their family in Hastings, Ontario, still in Northumberland county. By the time the war began in 1914, Harry and Mary had eight children, one son, and seven daughters.

Harry enlisted in the 139th overseas battalion of the CEF in January of 1916 when he was 38 years old. After training, he sailed for England in September of 1916, and on arrival was transferred to the 36th Battalion, then again to the Royal Canadian Regiment before being sent to France in late December of 1916. The conditions he arrived to were atrocious. For the day he arrived with the regiment, the war diary states:

Very heavy rainfall. Deep dug-outs leaking, trenches in very bad condition, sides caving in, flooding C.T.s and Front Line. This is due to taking over unrevetted trenches with no Draining System. This work should have been done in the summer months.

Harry was with them for 15 months in France, which happened to coincide with 15 of the most active months for the RCR.  During this time, they were actively involved at Flers-Courcelette, Vimy, Hill 70, Ypres–some of the most intense battles of the war. In early 1918, Harry was sent back to England due to some generalized complaints about pain and nervousness.  He claimed he couldn’t march more than 1 mile, or walk more than 3.  His medical board report states that he has some generalized discomfort, and that “patient appears nervous.”  He was diagnosed with slight “disordered action of the heart.”  I am not a medical professional, but I can’t help but wonder if what Harry was suffering from was panic attacks.

Harry served the rest of the war in England with a service corps team.  He was again reviewed by the medical board before discharge, and was again recorded as being nervous with an inability to stand still, but nothing that indicated his military service would interfere with his ability to work upon return home. He returned to Canada in March of 1919. In the 1921 census, he is listed as living in Hastings with his family and working as an “agent.”

That 1921 census entry makes me sad.  It is so normal.  I know a census is not meant to me a narrative history of a person, but it still feels mean somehow that it doesn’t take into account the three year separation from his family, the experiences he had while away, and the impact it may have had over the two years since he was home. It embodies the expectation that things would return to normal.  He, I suppose was considered one of the lucky ones given that there were so many other young men from southern Ontario who didn’t return at all. Harry passed away in 1951 at the age of 74.

There is only one more entry left in this project, the 52nd David, my Great Grandfather Joseph James Foster.  I am taking some time with that post, and it may or may not appear next weekend, I may decide to post closer to the centenary of armistice the following weekend.  Until then!

Sara Gladys Langton and Richard Sackville Cresswell

Sara Gladys Muriel Langton was my first cousin 3 times removed.  We are both descended from Francis Langton and Sarah Bishop who were her Grandparents, and my 3rd Great Grandparents.  She is second cousin to Martha Richmire (who I posted about in February), and first cousin to Emma Maud Law (who I posted about in December) and to my Great Grandfather Joseph James Foster who I will write about toward the end of the project.

Sarah Langton

Abbreviated family tree of Sara Gladys Muriel Langton

The youngest child of Francis Langton and Sarah Bishop was Albert Edward Langton.  His father was 51 and mother was 45 when he was born in 1866, older parents even by today’s standards.  His oldest sibling was 18 when he was born. Albert left Peterborough and his family at the age of 16.  Although we can’t know the specific reason from the records available, it is very possible that with 9 surviving older siblings, 4 of which being brothers, there may not have been much in the way of prospects connected to any family business or agricultural endeavour for him to take on once he was of age.  He moved to North Dakota where he worked as a railroad labourer.  It was here that in 1889 he married Louise Millwood whose family was also originally from Canada. It appears that over the first 15 to 20 years of their marriage they moved frequently between North Dakota and southern Manitoba, their children being born almost alternately between the two regions.  Sara, or Gladys, as she was more commonly known, their third child, was born in 1893 in Gretna, Manitoba, a border town between Canada and the United States. By 1906 it seems the family had permanently settled in Canada near Morris, Manitoba, 50 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

Richard Sackville Cresswell was born in Elham, Kent, and moved to Canada with his family in 1904 when he was 13 years old. He eventually began working for the railroad, as did Gladys’ father, as a brakeman. In early March 1915, at the age of 23, Ritchie enlisted in the 44th Overseas Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary force. This was a short-lived situation as by April 27 of the same year, he was discharged as medically unfit.  There are no clues as to what the nature of the medical reason for the discharge may have been.

Ritchie and Gladys were married in November 1915, and settled continued to live in Manitoba. They had one daughter in 1916.  Ritchie worked his entire career on the railway.  He passed away in 1970, and Gladys passed away in 1984.

1914-18recruitmentitem22l

One has to wonder what the war years were like for Ritchie and Gladys.  Although he had been deemed medically unfit, he was clearly not unable to work, and with only a month spent in Winnipeg training, it would not have been evident to those who knew him casually that he had, in fact, volunteered.  As a man in his mid-20s, he would have been considered the ideal candidate for a recruit.  The pressure being exuded through government propaganda as well as through the popular media of the time (mostly newspapers and novels) framed unwillingness to join as a character flaw, or a sign of cowardice.  There was little public consideration given to a person’s or a family’s individual situation beyond how many boys they had “in khaki.” Much like it can be today though modern media, hyperbole was used to incite action for a specific cause, and this could create very deep divisions in and between communities.  Perhaps this was not an issue for Gladys and Ritchie, but the fact that it could have been, is certainly worth some thought.

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.

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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.

 

 

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.