Joseph James Foster-Part 2

Joseph James Foster, 1916.

By January of 1919, Joseph had been away from his family for two and a half years and had been in France and Belgium for some very brutal parts of the war. There was no record of him ever having been injured or sick, not even the very common ailment of scabies.

In the months after armistice, the armies found themselves with a tremendous amount of personnel, equipment, and animals scattered throughout Northern France and Belgium that needed to be reorganized and reassigned, and in several cases there was also a great deal of infrastructure that needed to be repaired in order to facilitate that level of movement of people and machinery.

In the case of troops from overseas, there was also a tremendous backlog in terms of determining how and when to get men home.  This resulted in battalions with a lot of time on their hands, attending dances, organizing sports activities, parading, and then performing light duties as needed.

The entry for the 12th Engineers on January 27, 1919 in the war diary is almost identical to the days that preceded it and the days that followed it.  They had been in Belgium since armistice, and there was no sign of them moving significantly anytime soon.  The Battalion built a boxing ring that day… this is the only thing of note. But for my great-grandfather, that day was the start of a dramatic few months that would precede his returning to his family in Toronto.

He went missing from his billet that evening, and would not return until January 31st, nearly four full days (3 days and 22 and a half hours to be precise), at which point he was arrested by the Regimental Sergeant Major for being absent without leave, and, more seriously, for stealing a horse belonging to the government and selling it.

The stable master had discovered a horse missing on the night of January 27th, and quickly organized a search party to look for the animal.  They found the horse in question that same night, and woke the man on whose property the horse was found to piece together what had happened.  According to the statement provided by one of the men who had been part of the search for the horse and who was present when the civilian who had bought it was describing the events, the civilian stated that he had been sold the horse by two Canadian soldiers:

He described one was being French-Canadian and the other as a short, dark man who he thought was a cook.

This short, dark man matched the description of Joseph James Foster. Although there is no direct mention of cook’s training in his service file, there are several mentions of men being sent for cook’s training after the 124th disbanded and was dispersed.  Unfortunately the parts of the court martial file with Joseph’s verbatim statements are too faded to read, but the word “cook” is legible on one page.

He was held in confinement for 29 days before his trial on February 28, 1919.  He and another soldier, Dvr. A. Jobin, a French-Canadian soldier, were accused of stealing a horse from the stables of the battalion on the evening of January 27th, and then selling it for 700 francs to a nearby civilian. Both men pleaded guilty to being absent without leave, but not guilty to the charge of stealing the horse.  Evidence against him included the statements of all the men who had assisted in finding the horse, as well as his previous punishment from October of 1917 when he had been found drunk on active duty, and had been given 14 days worth of “field punishment No.1.”  This punishment, nicknamed “crucifixion” by many soldiers, entailed labour duties and attachment to a fixed object such as a post or wheel for two hours a day.  According to the Canadian War Museum’s page on discipline and punishment, this was considered a particularly humiliating and degrading practice.

Despite their plea, both men were found guilty on both counts and were sentenced to four months in military prison.   The convictions and sentences from the field court martial were upheld on review by a judge, and Joseph was sent to military prison in March of 1919. It appears that he served his full four months sentence, as it wasn’t until July of 1919 that he finally boarded a ship for his return to Canada, landing in Halifax on July 23, 1919, just a few days under three years from when he sailed for Britain.  Three days later, he was back in Toronto, where he was officially discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Joseph went to work as a postal clerk, and by early 1920, he and his wife Mary Alice, were expecting their third child.  This baby, a boy, was born in November of 1920, and he was named Joseph James after his father.  This baby was also my Grandfather. Six years later, another baby, a daughter, was born.  Joseph was 41 at this time.

By late 1937, 51-year old Joseph was in sales with a dairy.  At least one of his sons was also working as a dairyman.  His two older sons were 26 and 23 respectively.  The eldest was married with a son of his own, and the younger was engaged. Joseph’s two younger children were 17 and 10 respectively.  On November 10, 1937, Joseph took some sheets and tied them to a bannister, then around his own neck.  He was 51 years old.

Family lore says that it was my Grandfather, Joseph James Jr., who found him.  His record of death states that he died of strangulation by way of suicide. My Grandfather’s oldest brother was on record as the informing party.

Soldier suicide after the great war has not been widely studied, but it has been fairly universally acknowledged that this war had a profound effect on the mental health of many of the people who participated.  This is a phenomenon that we recognize much more broadly today, and supports and treatment are available. I have no way of knowing what specific series of events or state of emotional health contributed to my Great-Grandfather’s death in 1937.  All I know is that he passed away in a very sad manner, and that it is very possible that he had been deeply impacted by what he experienced between 1916 and 1919.

My great grandmother, Mary Alice Pickering, married again in 1938 to widower Elias Williams. The following year, the world was engulfed in war again, and the pattern I have been tracing for the past year began to repeat itself.  My Grandfather, Joseph James Foster Jr. enlisted in 1941, soon after marrying my Grandmother, Florence Elizabeth Miller.  My Grandmother’s father, John Russell Miller, had also been in the Great War.  Her brother, Samuel, was already overseas in the RAF when she married my Grandfather. In 1942, Samuel was shot down and killed. My Grandfather, however, did make it through the war, and returned in 1946 ready to resume his life as a salesman with CIL paints, and begin his family life with my Grandmother in earnest.

Tomorrow, I look forward to being able to share this story and the stories of the 51 other men in this series at the Armistice 100 events here in Edmonton, Alberta.  It has been an honour to share these stories over this past year.  I am looking forward to the next evolution of this project, which I will share more about in the weeks and months to come.

 

 

 

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!

Harry Addison McIntyre

Harry Addison McIntyre was my second cousin, three times removed.  We are both descended from William Langton and Margaret Risdale who were my 4th Great Grandparents, and Harry’s Great Grandparents.  He was part of the same branch of my family as Thomas Ross Milne, in whose post I have already recounted some of the earlist days of my paternal line’s family history.

McIntyre

Abbreviated family tree of Harry Addison McIntyre

Harry’s father, John, was the sixth child of Mary Ann Langton and Malcolm McIntyre. Eventually settling in Grand Valley, Ontario, slightly north-west of Toronto, John is listed throughout the census years as a Grain Buyer and a merchant.  On the 28th of January 1873 at the age of 23, he married 17-year old Mary Georgiana Rudd, also from southern Ontario. Between 1874 and 1900, they had 12 children, though sadly four of them did not survive past infancy, and one passed away at the age of 14. Their first child, a daughter born in 1874 who only lived for one day was not named, and the four other children are memorialized on the back of the grave marker of John and Mary.  In 1911, they also lost their first son William at the age of 36 to drowning.

Annie M. McIntyre

Reverse side of the grave marker of John, Mary, and William McIntyre

It was five years after this last loss, that this family’s youngest surviving child, Harry Addison, volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the age of 17 years and 9 months.

Grandpa

Harry Addison McIntyre, 1916

Harry trained in Toronto with the 164th Battalion, and sailed for England from Halifax on April 11, 1917.  He was in England for nearly a year before being transferred to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), and sent to France in April of 1918.  The PPCLI was a significant part of Canada’s last 100 days of the war.  100 years ago right now, they were pushing the German lines back toward Mons where the British army first engaged the German army in 1914.

The following is verbatim from a letter written by Harry’s son, John, as he recalls what his father told him about a particular incident in the trenches during this 100 days:

He was suddenly awakened to realize that in the coming darkness three German soldiers had crept upon them and were standing on the parapet of their trench. One was a German Captain who held a Luger […] trained on them. Beside him was a German Corporal with a rifle, and a German Sargent with a machine gun, all guns pointed at the four Canadians.

[…] No prisoners were being taken after the brutal four years of war. My dad happened to be lying on his side with his left arm hidden under him in the gathering darkness. Dad was fully aware that he had a grenade clipped on his belt, and knew that this was their only hope. He very slowly moved his hand and worked the grenade loose from his belt. These grenades had a four second timer which was activated by pulling out a pin. Dad slipped his thumb into the ring which holds the pin in place, he pulled the pin, counted three seconds, then lobbed the grenade over the parapet between the Captain who was pointing his Luger at Dad standing over him, and the Sargent with the machine gun. He threw it just clear of the parapet hoping none of the shrapnel would blow down into the trench.

All three Germans died instantly and fell into the trench with the Captain right on top of Dad. All three died before they could use their gun. Dad said the first thing he did was to feel himself all over to see where the Captain shot him. He was all covered with sticky blood. It took him a while to realize that the blood was not his, and the three helped each other to push the dead soldiers of them and stood up.

The story goes on to tell how Harry found the Captain’s Luger the following morning, and decided to keep it and the shell that had been in the chamber of the gun.  Harry’s grand daughter recalls being fascinated by this gun and the shell.

The PPCLI returned to Canada in March of 1919 to great fanfare.  Harry returned to southern Ontario and studied to become a dentist. In 1923, he married Edith Pearl Jenkins in Toronto, Ontario, and eventually the two settled in Clinton, Ontario, about 20 minutes east of the south-east shore of Lake Huron. In his 40s, Harry again served his country in the second world war as a Captain in the Canadian Dental Corps.

Harry passed away in 1955 at 56 years of age in Clinton, Ontario.  I would like to extend my thanks to Harry’s granddaughter for her permission to share the photo of her Grandfather above as well as the excerpt from her father’s letter.

 

Lilian “Liby” Tee and Herbert Gardner

Lilian “Liby” Tee was my first cousin three times removed.  We are both descended from Jeremiah Pickering and Anne Filburn who were my third Great Grandparents, and Liby’s Grandparents.  I am descended from their son James Pickering, while Liby is descended from their daughter, Hannah Pickering.  Hannah was the second youngest of eleven children, and she married young, at the age of 17, to Edwin Tee.  Edwin Tee was a gardener’s labourer in Pontefract, Yorkshire. It was here that Edwin and Hannah lived after their marriage, and where they started their family.  They had five children, Liby being the 4th of the five, before Hannah’s untimely death in 1892 at the young age of 31.  Liby was only 6 at the time of her mother’s death.

By 1901, Liby, age 15, was working as a domestic servant on a cattle farm in Naburn, Yorkshire. In 1910, at the age of 24, she married Herbert Gardner, a chauffeur and motor mechanic. They had three children between their marriage and the outset of the war.  Herbert.  On August 12, 1914, only 8 days after the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, Herbert enlisted in the Army Service Corps.  Included in his file is a letter of reference from his employer that stated that “We are pleased to recommend Herbert Gardner as a driver suitable for the charge of motor cars and vans. We have known him for some years and can state that he is capable of all roadside repairs etc.”

Herbert Gardner letter.png

Letter of reference for Herbert Gardner

Herbert served through the entire war in England and France with the occasional leave home.  For most of the war, Liby and her children would have been on their own. Herbert was discharged in early 1919, and he returned to Yorkshire.  He and Liby had one more child in 1919, and they lived the rest of their lives in Yorkshire.  Herbert passed away in in 1962 at the age of 85.

 

 

 

Thomas William Pickering

Thomas William Pickering was my first cousin three times removed.  The youngest of 10 children, he joined the Territorial Forces of the British army at 18 years old. This may be the 52 Davids record for shortest post, as I could find no definitive further record of where he was assigned effective October of 1914, nor any voters list data or date of death.  Part of the confusion is due to his having two of the most common given names of the early 20th century, and one of the most common last names in Yorkshire.

If anything, this speaks to the way that records have shaped this project.  Without them, I am truly flying blind.

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.

John Russell Miller

John Russell Miller was my Great Grandfather. He was born on October 30, 1884 in Belfast, Northern Ireland to Walter Miller and Agnes Fee.  I know nothing about his parents other than their names.  The Allan Line steamship, Tunisian, arrived in Montreal on May 28, 1904 with my Great Grandfather as one of its passengers, and thus began the Canadian story of this branch of my family.

He settled in Toronto, and was listed in the census data of 1911 and later as a “presser.” Family stories tell of his work at the Timothy Eaton company working on lovely high end clothing. He married Elizabeth Brady in Toronto in 1910. Elizabeth was also born in Northern Ireland, and had also arrived in Canada in 1904 although later in the year than John.  When they married, John was 25, and Elizabeth was 20.  They had two children soon after their marriage, Samuel, born in 1911, and Dorothy, born in 1914.

I have a small glass cup that was purchased at the Canadian National Exhibit in 1912 and given to Elizabeth.  I’ve had it in my possession for over 15 years–my grandmother gave it to me when I was living in Ontario, and she told me that it had been her mother’s.  I’m just now realizing that since Elizabeth would have only had one child when this was purchased in 1912, and he would have been an infant at the time, it must have been John who bought it for his wife.  This is the only tangible artifact I have in my possession of any of the Davids. I’ve always found this a very special family heirloom, but it is even more beautiful to me today.

cup

The small cup that was given to Elizabeth Miller by her husband in 1912.

John enlisted in the war effort on November 11, 1915. He joined the Canadian Army Service Corps which provided supply services to the troops in France, and in England was responsible for feeding the troops. After training in Toronto, he sailed for England, arriving on Christmas Eve, 1915.

John worked as a cook with the corps, and it appears that he was in England for the entirety of his service.  I have no information about why he was not in a combat role, as there is nothing in his medical report from enlistment that would indicate that he was anything other than a healthy 31 year-old. That said, early in his time in England ,he was hospitalized for “rheumatism” and “myalgia” with pain in his ankles, chest, and back, and he was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis in 1917, so it is possible that this could have been indicative of a broader condition that would have made combat service untenable.

He spent the war moving to various places in England and filling in as acting corporal and acting sergeant at times.  He was specially trained, and was sent for a period of two weeks at one point to a school of cookery, and it appears that he was given special assignments cooking for senior ranks.  It was after the official conclusion of the war that he was actually wounded in his role.  On February 13, 1919, he was severely scalded as he attempted to pull a pot of boiling water off of a stove.

Medical report.png

Description of John’s injury.

He was in hospital for over seven weeks as the second degree burns on his left foot were treated. By mid-April 1919, he was sent to Kinmel Park in northern Wales to await repatriation to Canada.  Interestingly, he narrowly missed being present for the “mutiny” of Canadian soldiers at Kinmel Park, protesting the length of time it was taking to be repatriated, and the conditions that they were living in as they waited. John was only at Kinmel for a few weeks, sailing on May 3 for Halifax aboard the RMS Mauretania (sister ship to the famous RMS Lusitania that had sank in 1915 after being hit by UBoat torpedoes).  He was back in Toronto and discharged by May 14, 1919.  He had been overseas and away from his wife and children for nearly three and a half years. His son Samuel may have remembered him, having been 4 years old when his father went overseas, but his daughter Dorothy who had only been a year old when he left, certainly would not have.  I’m sure it was a tremendous adjustment for everyone. My grandmother was born less than two years later.

Many years later, John’s son Samuel also participated in a war, as a pilot in the Royal Air Force,  Sadly, Samuel did not survive his war, as he was shot down in 1941.  John passed away eight years later on April 9, 1949 at the relatively young age of 64.

My grandmother remembered her father very fondly.  I dedicate this post to her: Florence Elizabeth (Miller) Foster, 1921-2010.

 

Percy Freely Latham

Percy Freely Latham was my first cousin twice removed, and was first cousin to John Pickering and William Frederick Pickering. Percy’s mother, Emily Pickering; John and William’s father, John Pickering, and my great-grandmother, Mary Alice Pickering; were siblings: three of the 10 children born to James Pickering and Elizabeth Wilson.  My great grandmother was the second youngest of these sibling which is part of what accounts for her nephews being veterans of the first world war while their first cousin, my grandfather, Joseph Foster, was a veteran of the second world war.

Percy’s mother, Emily, was the eldest of the Pickering siblings, and was born in 1873 in Stockton, Yorkshire.  She was 13 years old when her family immigrated to Canada and settled in Ontario (East York, now Toronto) where her father was a rail labourer.  In 1894, at the age of 20, She married Henry Freely: a milk delivery man 20 years her senior who had immigrated from Germany as a child. Emily and Henry had five children together before Harry died due to pneumonia and heart failure in 1901.  This left Emily alone with her children, ages newborn through seven.  Percy was the second youngest, only two years old. Two years later, Emily, still only 30 years old, re-married.  Her second husband, Alexander Latham, was very much a father to the two youngest Freely children, as both of them added his name to theirs, and Percy listed him as his father on his attestation papers. Emily and Alexander had five more children together, the youngest two of whom sadly died in infancy.

Percy attested to the Canadian Expeditionary Force on February 5, 1916.  On his attestation papers, he listed his date of birth as May 18, 1897, which would have made him 18 years old.  I will spare you the math from all the dates above, but this is not consistent with other records. It wasn’t until after he had already been serving for over two years that the military discovered that he had aged himself by two years.  He was actually only 16 years old when he enlisted.  He originally enlisted in the 169th Battalion, which, after arriving in England in October 1916 was absorbed into the 5th Reserve Battalion.  At this time, Percy was transferred to the 2nd Pioneer Battalion.  Pioneer battalions were infantry battalions plus skilled labour.

It was the pioneers that built the dug outs, built the roads in forward areas, laid barbed wire entanglements, and were the power house in trench construction. Pioneers also were the ones who followed on the heels of the Infantry in the attack to fill trenches and build passable avenues for the guns to be brought forward.  (From description of 3rd Canadian Pioneers at Russians in the CEF).

He arrived with the unit in Northern France in early December where they were stationed at Fosse 10, and were supporting nearby trench activity.  The war diary of the battalion has a beautiful description of what would have been Percy’s first Christmas away from home, including the description of the dinner.

2nd Pioneer Christmas

In the spring of 1917, the 2nd Pioneers were supporting the preparations for the 2nd Canadian division’s attack on Vimy Ridge.  They were laying cable for communications and explosives, as well as track for trams in order to get supplies closer to the front.  On April 8, 1917, the day before the Canadian guns opened fire on the German line, Percy was shot in the left wrist and through to his abdomen.  He was evacuated to a field hospital at Le Treport, then back to England to recover at several different hospitals before being released in August of 1917.   Throughout the rest of 1917 and in to 1918, 18 year-old Percy was moved through several reserve battalions in Bramshott, and was even put in some senior roles on an acting basis. Late in 1918, he was returned to Canada, and discharged in January 1919 as medically unfit, likely as a result of his earlier injuries.

In the 1921 census, Percy is listed as living in Toronto with his parents and younger siblings, and his occupation is listed as “engineer.”  He married in 1924, but I have no other information about his life after this time until his death in 1969 at the age of 70.

Thomas Ross Milne

Thomas Ross Milne, the 26th entry in this series marking the half-way point, was my 3rd cousin twice removed.  We are both descended from William Langton and Margaret Risdale who were his 2nd Great Grandparents, and my 4th Great Grandparents. William and Margaret represent the beginnings of part of my Canadian heritage, as they were the first direct ancestors on my father’s side to arrive in Canada. Born in England at the end of the 18th century, this couple crossed the Atlantic with their children sometime between 1816 and 1825, settling in what is now the Peterborough area of Ontario. William and Margaret had 8 children:  I am descended from their second oldest son, Francis Joseph, while Thomas Ross Milne is descended from their eldest daughter, Mary Ann.

Milne

Abbreviated family tree of Thomas Ross Milne.

Mary Ann Langton and her husband, Malcolm Macintyre, eventually settled in Fergus, Ontario, a small community in south western Ontario, just north of Guelph.  Their eldest son, Duncan, a blacksmith, went on to marry Jean Ross, a recent arrival from Scotland, and they had twelve children between 1861 and 1879.  Their 8th child, Helen Maud Macintyre, was Thomas Ross Milne’s mother.

Helen married Thomas William Milne, a tailor, in 1892.  Thomas Ross was born the following year.  From the 1901 census, it is clear that the Milne family is living with Helen’s father-in-law, also a tailor. Through one of my connections on Ancestry, I have seen a delightful picture of three generations of Milne men, Thomas Ross, his father, and his grandfather taken when Thomas Ross is no older than 5 years old.  Unfortunately I haven’t been able to contact the owners of the picture to use it here, but if I am able to in the future, I will certainly share it.

By the 1911 census, Thomas Ross is working for the Canadian Pacific Railway as a baggageman, and by 1916, the year he enlisted in the CEF, he was a telegraph operator for the CPR. This trade directed his participation in the war as he directed to the Canadian Engineers Training Division and eventually the Canadian Signalling Corps where he served as the rank of Sapper.  He arrived in England in November 1916, and unfortunately in less than a month, was hospitalized with German measles, and wasn’t released until mid-January 1917.  By May 1917 he was in France with the Canadian Signalling Pool.  This work could have involved everything from laying and operating telephone lines, operating the very new wireless technology, or sending messages via morse code with lanterns.

He retuned to England in May of 1919, and then returned to Canada to be demobilized the following month.  He returned to his work with the CPR, and was moved to Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) Ontario.  In December of 1919, he married Margaret Whent, and by late 1920 they were expecting their first child who, sadly, was stillborn.  They had one other child the following year in 1921, Thomas Howard Milne, the fourth in a line of Thomas Milnes, Thomas Howard joined the Royal Canadian Navy during the second world war, and another photo I’ve seen shows him standing with his father, both looking very proud.

Thomas Ross Milne passed away in 1953 at the age of 60.