Aaron Gill

Aaron Gill was my first cousin five times removed.

A painter and decorator by trade,  Aaron was born in 1876, making him 40 years old when he reported for duty under the terms of the Military Service Act in  July of 1916.  He was passed by the medical inspectors at the time of his enlistment, but a month later, his superior officers had submitted paperwork declaring that he should be discharged as he was “unlikely to become an efficient soldier.”  The reason cited was a large hernia. The discharge was approved.

I wonder at the mixed feelings that this must of created for him. On one hand, the there was the consistent message that everyone must “do one’s bit.”  Even among my modest count of 52 soldiers, Aaron had three nephews ( David, Ezekiel, and William Gill) and several cousins in uniform, and the societal and familiar pressure may have been intense.  On the other hand, he must have had a sense through the experiences of his personal connections, the consistent casualty lists published in the papers, and families being left without fathers and husbands, that this was not something to take lightly.  He had a wife and eight children that he would have been leaving behind had he been sent to the front.  It is easy to imagine that being discharged would have been, at least in part, a relief.

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.

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.