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…

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.

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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.

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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.

John Brady

This is an interesting post for me as this is the first entry where I have memories of people who had direct connections to the subject of the post. This makes it feel both more personal and more difficult to write.

John Brady was my 2nd Great Uncle.  He and his siblings, my Great Grandmother Elizabeth Brady, my second great uncle Thomas, and my second great aunts Emily (who my father remembers fondly) and Charlotte (who I met several times as a child), were all born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to John Brady and Emily Topping.  The family emigrated to Canada in 1904 when my Great Grandmother was 14, Thomas was 12, Aunt Em was 11, John was 8, and Aunt Charlotte was 3. The family settled in Toronto on Salem Avenue where John was a carpenter, as was his son Thomas according to the 1911 census.  In April 1911, John contracted Influenza and died soon after of pneumonia.  His eldest child, Elizabeth, had already married John Russell Miller in 1910, and had delivered her first child, Samuel, just ten days before her father’s death.  John’s other four children were still at home at the time of his death, the oldest of whom, Thomas, was 19.  In October of 1913, Thomas died of “phthisis pulmonalis,” otherwise known as Tuberculosis. Less than a year later, Canada was at war.

On February 5th, 1915, at the age of 19, John Brady enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, in the 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles. He arrived in England in June of 1915 where he was transferred to the 2nd Canadian Divisional Ammunition Column. It was with the 2nd CDAC that he first arrived in France in September of 1915.  From arrival in France until April 2, 1916, the John was was stationed near Berthen, about 20 kilometres south-west of Ypres, where the Divisional Ammunition Column functioned as the railhead where divisional ammunition was stored before being shipped to the front.  On April 2, John and 21 other ordinary ranks were transferred to the 6th Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery.  Just over a month later, he was transferred to the 5th Brigade stationed in Dikesbusch, Belgium due to a reorganization of the brigades.

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John Brady, Age 19

It is in May 1916 that there is a first mention in his record of an issue with his hearing as he was admitted to hospital for an infection in his ear.  This became a chronic problem for him, and was attributed to his exposure to gunfire. He spent the duration of the war alternately serving in artillery units and in hospital for his painful ear.

He finally returned to Toronto in May 1919 at the age of 23.  In March of 1920, he married Gladys Louisa Moat, and together they started their family. His first three children were born in Toronto, and at some point between 1922 and 1926, he and his family moved to the United States, first to Iowa, then eventually to Illinois, settling in Chicago. In total, he and Gladys had 8 children. In an email exchange with his Granddaughter, she told me that he worked at the Chicago Tribune, and was beloved by his coworkers; so much so that when he suffered a stroke at work in 1964, a group of them carried him to a nearby hospital, where sadly, he passed away at the age of 68.

I would like to thank John’s Granddaughter for sharing her memories and family stories with me as well as for permission to use the above photograph of John in uniform.

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

 

 

 

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.