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…

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.

Joseph Webber Raglan Cornelius

Joseph Webber Raglan Cornelius was my first cousin four times removed.  We are both descended from Michael Ing and Mary Ann Macey who were his Grandparents, and my 4th Great Grandparents. Mary Ann and Michael were both born in Kent, and Michael was a brickfield labourer.  They were married in 1850, and went on to have eight children.  I am descended from their eldest daughter, Eliza Francis, while Joseph is descended from their youngest daughter, Clara Alice.  Clara was born in Faversham, Kent in 1873.  In her teenage years, she was a domestic servant, including being resident in London at the time of the 1891 census.  She married Joseph Webber Raglan Cornelius Sr. in July of 1892 when she was 19, and her husband was 21.  Joseph Sr. was a brick maker like Clara’s father.  Together Joseph and Clara had eleven children, many of whom followed in their family’s footsteps and also worked in brick making.  Joseph Jr., however, took his own path.  By the 1911 census, 18-year old Joseph was no longer living in Kent. He had joined the Royal Field Artillery and was living in the Woolwich Barracks in London.  At some point in his time in London, he met Elizabeth Fryers, daughter of a journeyman carpenter at a chemical works in London.  Joseph and Elizabeth married in July of 1914.

Cornelius tree

Abbreviated family tree of Joseph Webber Raglan Cornelius Jr.

Less than two months after his marriage, Joseph was in France.  The 37th battery of the RFA was put under the command of the 27th Battalion in the 5th Division. On December 25th, 1914, the Christmas day that so many men had said they were sure they would be home for, Joseph and Elizabeth’s daughter, Elizabeth Doris, was born.  I do not have Joseph’s service record, so I cannot know for sure, but I dearly hope that at some point during his service, he was able to have leave to return to Britain to meet her.

In April 1917, the 37th Battery was one of the artillery units supporting the creeping barrage at the Arras offensive, the overall series of battles that included the famous operations and Vimy Ridge early in the month.  Later on in April, though Vimy had been a success for the allies, the offensive had bogged down.  In the war diary for the battalion, there is a description of a direct hit on the night of April 25-26.

War diary exerpt

Excerpt from war diary of 27th Battalion.

I believe that when that gun of the 37th battery was hit, Gunner Joseph Webber Raglan Cornelius was fatally wounded.  He died at the 22 Casualty Clearing Station in Bruay on April 27, 1917: One hundred and one years ago yesterday.  He is buried at the Bruay Communal Cemetery Extension in Pas-de-Calais, France.  I am honoured to share a the commemorative certificate from the CWGC for my cousin here.

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.

 

 

 

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.