John Pickering

Returning to my paternal line, John Pickering was my first cousin 2x removed, and my closest relative to date in this series.  We are both descended from James Pickering and Elizabeth Wilson who were my 2nd Great Grandparents, and John’s Grandparents.

James Pickering was born in Pickering, Yorkshire, the 9th of 11 children born to Jeremiah and Ann Filburn, a farming family. His father died when he was just 16, but with so many elder siblings, one could imagine that the family farm was quite crowded. He relocated to the new community of Lingdale, and, like many men in that town, began work as an ironstone miner. Elizabeth had been largely on her own since she was 13, and was working as a servant when she met James. Their first daughter, Emily, was born in 1873 in Yorkshire, and the following summer, James and Elizabeth married. They had another seven children before immigrating to Canada in around 1887, including John Pickering’s father, John William.  The Pickering family established themselves in East York (now Toronto) where by 1891, James’ occupation was listed as a rail labourer. James and Elizabeth had three more children after moving to Canada, including my Great Grandmother, Mary Alice Pickering.

Returning to John’s line, his father, John William Pickering was 10 years old when his family immigrated to Canada.  In 1895, at the age of 18, he married Catherine “Katie” Malcolm, whose family had emigrated from Scotland when she was an infant. By the 1901 census, John and Katie were living with their two sons, John and Harry, as well as Katie’s younger sister Lilly. They had three sons in total: John was born in February of 1898, Harry in October of 1899, and their third child, William Frederick, was born in 1903.  Sadly, in 1909, John William, died from shock after a scalding incident at an abattoir where he was foreman. His children were 11, 9, and 6.

Katie remarried the following year to William Lawrence, a stove mounter from the same part of Toronto. In the 1911 census, the family was living on St. Clair avenue in Toronto, and Katie and William eventually added two more children to the family, Teddy in 1912, and Viola in 1919.

John attested to the Canadian Expeditionary Force in January of 1916, one month before his 18th birthday.  His trade or calling is listed as a butcher.  He joined the 126th Overseas Battalion, and sailed from Halifax on August 14 of that year.  After spending some time in England, John was transferred to the 20th Battalion, and, in November of 1916, he joined the unit in France.  Although I know that his first few months in France would have had its share of notable events, it is his last two weeks there that solidify how the rest of his military experience would play out.

“The month opens with stormy weather,” states the war diary of the 20th battalion on April 1, 1917. The battalion is camped at Yukon Camp outside of Vimy.  The record of the next few days seems almost too run-of-the-mill given what we now know what coming on the 9th of April. What does come through very clearly is the meticulous planning and organization underway. The days were spent practicing for the “upcoming operations,” including drills and mock attacks.  Then, on the morning of the 9th, every available piece of Canadian artillery began its barrage at 5:30 am precisely, and 30 seconds later, engineers detonated the mine charges laid under no man’s land and the German trench line, destroying a number of German strong points. Over the following two days the infantry worked to capture the ridge, and by the end of April 12, the Canadian Corps was in firm control of the area.  This was at the cost of 10,602 casualties: 3,598 killed and 7,004 wounded, one of whom was John Pickering who had suffered a significant wound in his arm on April 10. To learn more about the battle of Vimy Ridge, I recommend visiting the Vimy Foundation.

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Memorial to members of the 2nd Division, of which John’s battalion was a part, after the battle.

John was evacuated to England where he spent several months in various hospitals before being “invalided” to Canada and placed in a convalescent hospital in Toronto.  Ultimately, it does not appear that John made things easy for his caregivers.  On more than one occasion throughout 1918 he forfeited pay as punishment for things such as “breaking out of hospital while undergoing treatment and absenting himself” for 4 days in late June, or “refusing to obey an order in such a manner as to show willful defiance to authority” in July.  In August, he was discharged from the army as “medically unfit” as a result of his injuries.

John lived out his life in Toronto, passing away in 1953 at the age of 55.

 

 

 

Walter Francis Bester

This week we move to a different branch of my maternal line with my 2nd cousin, 3 times removed, Walter Francis Bester.  We are both descended from Charles Bester and Sarah Gill who were my 4th Great Grandparents, and Walter’s Great Grandparents.

Charles Bester was born in 1833 to an agricultural labourer father in Little Eversden, Cambridgeshire about 11 kilometres south of Cambridge. Sarah Gill was born in 1837 in Orwell, Cambridgeshire to John Gill and Elizabeth Munns, whose history I detailed in a previous post. This makes her a great aunt to several of the Gill soldiers I have already written about.  Charles and Sarah married on 30 November 1856 when Charles was 23 and Sarah was 19. Together, they had at least 10 children, 9 of whom survived to adulthood. I am descended from their third child, Annie, who was my 3rd Great Grandmother, while Walter is descended from their first child, Charles, who was born in May 1856 (six months before Charles and Sarah were married). The first five Bester children were all baptized together in 1861.

In the 1871 census, when Charles was 14, he was listed as living at home with his parents in Little Eversden and working as a labourer. By 1877, he had relocated, and was working as a labourer in Edmonton, North London (the perennial spot for my ancestors, it seems!), and in January 1878 at the age of 21, he married 19-year old Fanny Adams. Charles and Fanny had nine children between 1878 and 1896, the two youngest of whom, Frank Harold Bester and Sydney Smith Bester both served in the Great War and will be profiled here later this year.

Charles and Fanny’s oldest son, Walter Beaumont Bester, began working at a young age like his father, and is listed in the 1891 census at the age of 13 as a “Milk Boy.” He married Alice Louisa Goodchild in 1898, and their son, Walter Francis (or “Frank” as he went by later in life), was born in Hackney, a more central area in London, in January 1899. It seems that Walter Sr. had stayed with his early occupation, as in the 1901 census he is listed as a Milk Carrier. In 1910, Walter, Alice, and 11 yr-old Frank sailed from Liverpool to Quebec City with the intention of farming in Canada. They settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Whether the family every did attempt to farm in Manitoba is unclear, but by the 1916 Western Canadian census, Walter was once again listed as a Milk Carrier, with 17-year old Frank listed as a farm labourer.

On the 6th of April, 1917, Frank enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  As an aside, one of the most interesting things to me about his attestation papers is that his trade or occupation is listed as a “moving picture operator.” There is a lot of scope for the imagination in this–he would have been consistently exposed to the jingoistic and propaganda-filled newsreels that accompanied the films, and I have to wonder what kind of impact this had on his impression of the war. He enlisted and served in Lord Strathcona’s Horse, one of the most decorated Canadian regiments in the War, and a regiment still in existence today with its home base being in my home town, Edmonton, Alberta.

Frank embarked for England on April 29, 1917, and arrived on May 7 at which time he was sent to the Canadian Reserve Cavalry Regiment in Shorncliffe for training and to await posting. He was mobilized to France and sent to join the Lord Strathcona’s Horse nearly a year later in April 1918.  Frank joined the regiment at a time of significant rebuilding.  In fact, the war diary of the regiment stated on April 6 that “every effort [was being] made to collect reinforcements from various parts of the country.” From mid to late April, the regiment was making good on those efforts and working to train the men they collected. May and June were largely spent engaged in training rides and grazing parades keeping both men and horses ready for action.

Training and conditioning continued through July, but, fortunately for the men, the month is marked more by sporting events more than by military action. On July 1, Dominion Day, the troops played baseball throughout the afternoon and evening. Later in the month, there is also reference to a basketball game that roused “great enthusiasm.” On July 19th it was reported that the regimental baseball team was defeated by the Royal Canadian Dragoons team, 4 to 3.

No one would grudge the regiment their leisure considering what was to come.  On August 8, 1918, the Lord Strathcona’s Horse was part of what would be a tremendous 9-day effort to push the German Forces east: away from the key railway junctions at Amiens. From 4:20 AM onwards, the regiment was monitoring the advance of infantry and tank brigades, and following behind to clear areas of remaining opposing forces as advances were made.  Eventually, rather than wait for the slower advancing tanks and risk being caught in the crossfire, leadership decided to advance without the tanks and run ahead at a gallop.  This resulted in a significant amount of prisoners taken and equipment captured. General Ludendorff would refer to this first day of the Battle of Amiens as “the black day of the German army.” Though there were many successes that day, there were also several casualties, one of whom was Walter Francis Bester who had received a gun shot wound to his right calf and a large shrapnel wound to his left buttock.

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German prisoners are escorted by Canadian cavalrymen near Amiens. Library and Archives Canada Photo.

Frank was evacuated to Britain: first to the 4th Southern General Hospital in Plymouth on August 11, 1918, then transferred on Aug 22 to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bear Wood, Wokingham, Berkshire where he recovered until discharged on October 4. At this point he was posted to the Canadian Reserve Cavalry Regiment in Shorncliffe where he stayed until the end of the war. On December 4, 1918 he was sent to Kinmel Park where he embarked for Canada on December 10. He was discharged January 23, 1919 in Winnipeg, where his wounds were assessed as well-healed, with no impairment or disability.  He was 20 years old.

Later that same year, Frank married Nellie Alice Hollingsworth who he must have met while stationed in England.  She arrived in Canada on July 2, 1919 with the words “to be married” stamped on the passenger manifest beside her name.  Frank and Nellie were married on July 29. In the 1921 Canadian census, Frank is listed as a farmer living just outside Winnipeg with his wife, his 1-year old daughter Joyce, his mother, and his maternal grandmother.  Although his mother is not listed as a widow, I could find no trace of Walter Beaumont Bester in the Canadian census from that year. As it seems that Alice passed away in England, it is possible that he had returned there as well.

Frank and Nellie had one more daughter, Jaqueline, in 1922.  In 1937, Frank, Nellie, and Jaqueline moved back to Britain, with Joyce following in 1939 all indicating that they would be residing in Essex. Jaqueline eventually returned to Canada to live, while Frank and Nellie both lived out the rest of their lives in England.  Nellie passed away in 1954 at the age of 58, and Frank in 1964 at the age of 65.

 

 

 

 

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.