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!

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.

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.