Honouring Our Veterans by Telling Their Stories

On the eve of Remembrance Day, November 11th, remembering veterans by telling their stories is a significant way of honouring them.

Now that the files of the World War I Canadian Expeditionary Force have been digitized and made freely accessible on the Library and Archives of Canada website we can find information to help tell those stories. The files of soldiers who sacrificed their lives in World War II are available on Ancestry.ca. For a lot of soldiers who survived World War II the twenty year period after their deaths has expired so their files can be requested from Library and Archives Canada.

Whose stories should I be telling? The following stories represent some of them:
World War II
Private Alexander Thomas Campbell
Private Alexander Thomas Campbell, regimental no. L-64945, is my only Campbell uncle. He enlisted 17 February 1942 and was discharged 8 July 1942. I had to wait for 20 years after his death, 3 January 1988, before I could find out why his service time was so short.

Uncle Alex was a carpenter and cobbler living at Saltcoats, Saskatchewan, at the time of his enlistment at Regina. I learned from his military medical records that he had pleurisy and pneumonia at 13 years of age. After his enlistment he contracted scarlet fever and was admitted to Alexandria Hospital 11 April 1942. He was considered cured and discharged from Alexandria Hospital 8 May 1942. Cured did not mean that he wasn’t affected medically as the scarlet fever caused myocardial damage or mitral valvular damage. Uncle Alex was officially discharged from service at Regina 8 July 1942 because he was considered unable to meet the required military physical standards. In other words he no longer had the physical ability to carry a pack and march long distances. He did receive the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal- War Medal 1939-1945.

Going back home to Saltcoats after his discharge must have been hard for Uncle Alex at a time when many of his age had enlisted and were fighting and dying at the front. He lived the remainder of his life at Saltcoats working as a competent handyman. I detailed Uncle Alex’s life after the war in an article, Discovering Alex Thomas Campbell which was published in Families.1

World War I
The following three men were sons of Frederick Pratt and Mary (Sloan) Campbell:
Corporal David Alexander Wellington Campbell
Corporal David Alexander Wellington Campbell, regimental no. 487344, is a first cousin, once removed. David enlisted in the 1st Canadian Pioneers 13 December 1915 at Vancouver. This was a good place for him as he was a bridgeman prior to enlisting. He was sent to France 9 March 1916 and served at the front first with the Pioneers and continued with the 9th Canadian Railway Troops, created from the Pioneers, until 30 January 1919. David received the Military Medal for Bravery in the Field 25 September 1917.

David worked at the front helping with such jobs as “…consolidating positions captured by the infantry, tunnelling, mining, wiring, railroad work, deep dugout work and laying out, building and keeping trenches in repair.”2 This must have been dangerous work considering it was occurring at the front where fighting was taking place.

Upon his return to Canada, David worked as a logger and then as a self-employed carpenter. He did not marry but lived with his mother until 1932. His father, Frederick, died in 1918. Did David not find a soul mate to marry or did he carry home demons from the war that he did not want to inflict upon a potential wife? David died from bronchopneumonia in 1957.

Gunner William James Morton Campbell
Gunner William James Morton Campbell, regimental No. 331612, is also a first cousin, once removed, who worked as a miner prior to joining the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force 21 February 1916. He was placed in the 3rd Field Artillery Volunteer Reserve as a gunner. By May of 1916 he was complaining of a general weakness, primarily in his legs, that he attributed to a vaccination that he had received earlier. He was diagnosed with a heart condition in October of 1916 and discharged at Vancouver, British Columbia 17 November 1916 from the 68th O/S Depot Field Battery.

On his return to Vancouver, William worked as a carpenter. He died in 1958 from Arteriosclerotic heart disease.

Private Gordon Frederick Campbell
Private Gordon Frederick Campbell, regimental no. 760505, is also a first cousin, once removed, who joined the 121st Battalion, Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force 10 December 1915. Gordon was shipped out of Halifax 14 August 1916 and arrived at Liverpool, England, 24 August 1916. He was transferred from the 121st Battalion to the 16 Canadian Resource Battalion at Seaforth 9 July 1917. As of 10 July 1917 Gordon was transferred back to the 121st Battalion. By 1 August 2017 he was transferred to the 102nd Battalion for overseas service.

The 3 September 1918 Gordon was wounded while in the field of battle with the 102nd. His medical examination upon leaving the ranks notes that his gunshot wound went “through the skin and fascia of his left arm [with] no resulting disability.”3 He was returned to duty in the field 19 October 1918. He was shipped out to England 3 May 1919 and arrived there 8 May 1919.

Gordon was shipped home on the Mauritania 31 May 1919 but ended up in the hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia, due to contracting diphtheria on the voyage. He was discharged from the hospital 10 July 1919. His official discharge from service due to demobilization occurred at Vancouver, British Columbia 13 August 1919. He received a War Service Badge Class A [no. 308664].

More information about Gordon can be found in some of my recent blog posts.

War is not pretty nor at times honourable. These men had human failings as detailed by citations for being AWOL [Away With Out Leave] or in one case for failing to carry the appropriate rations. Occasionally infections like gonorrhea were noted which hinted at what the soldier was doing while he was AWOL. What must not be forgotten is that each of these men signed up for military service knowing that they might be killed in action. For that action alone, they deserve our respect.

1. Alan Campbell, Discovering Alex Thomas Campbell, Families, The Ontario Genealogical Society, Volume 45, No. 3, August 2006, pp. 165-169.
2. Pioneer Battalions, Library and Archives PDF, p. 1, downloaded 5 November 2018 from https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/Documents/pioneer%20battalions.pdf
3. Medical Examination Upon Leaving the Service of Officers and Other Ranks Who Have No Disability form for Gordon Fred Campbell, Private, file no. 760505, Library and Archives Canada website.