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…

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.

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.

William Frederick Pickering

William Pickering was the younger brother of John Pickering. He was born in 1903, so you may already get a sense of the direction of this story.  In February of 1918, he was not not quite 14 and a half years old.  His brother John was seriously wounded at Vimy the previous year, and was back in Toronto at a convalescent hospital. On February 26, William went to a recruiting station, and he embellished his age by four years, claiming to be 18 and a half.

On his enlistment papers his height was recorded as just over five foot three, and 116 pounds, which would have been considered fairly short and light for an eighteen year old, even by the standards of a century ago. Even so, he was declared fit for service, and was enlisted in the 1st Depot Battalion of the 1st Central Ontario Regiment.

By April 1918, he was being treated for prostatitis in hospital.  Whether it was through his time in hospital that his true age was discovered is unclear, but by June, 1918, Private William Pickering was discharged from the military as underage.  He was not yet 15.

I can’t help wonder what possessed him to try and enlist.  His brother’s injuries, which he would have undoubtedly seen, were horrific.  Was it because of this, or despite it that he enlisted? Were there other drivers? He was a teenaged boy in the home of his mother and step father and their three-year old son–was this a factor? He wasn’t in school–why did he leave?

Regardless of his reasons for enlisting, William, unlike many other boy recruits, did not go overseas and see battle. He lived out his life in Toronto, and passed away in 1977 at the age of 73.

 

 

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.

vimy-grave

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.