Guy Provins signature

Photograph of Guy Provins

Guy Provins (image from the Canadian Virtual War Memorial)

On this day in 1916, Guy Provins was killed in the trenches at Courcelette during the Battle of the Ancre Heights (part of the Battle of the Somme). It was his nineteenth birthday. A letter from Provins was published in the Deseronto Post alongside the report of his death.

Letter from Guy Provins

“Somewhere in France”

October 7th, 1916

Dear Mother and Sister:-

I just received your letter to-day and was glad to hear from you. I am well and never felt better in my life though we don’t get half enough to eat. I wish you would send me a box with some cake and eats and also some cigarettes, as my tobacco is all gone. I would have liked to have been home to go to Midland with you, I bet you had a good time.

Well I was in one raid on the Germans but I got back all right. One fellow in the Bombers got a Military Medal for the for the capture of a machine gun and the taking of a couple of German Prisoners all by himself. I am not in the Bombers now, but back with the Company, so you can change my address to C. Co. again.

I have not run across the Deseronto boys yet, but we are moving down where they are, so will likely see some of the boys from home.

Well, I guess that will be all for now as it is pretty near supper time – supper is the biggest meal in the day to us. Write soon.

Your son,


Guy’s body was not found. He is remembered on the Vimy Memorial and in Deseronto.

Deseronto memorial

Edward Gardner Craig signature

Edward Gardner Craig, an electrical mechanic, signed up in Kingston on this day in 1916. He was born in Deseronto on April 27th, 1885, the son of Robert John Craig (the Presbyterian minister) and Fanny Gertrude (née Rathbun, sister of Edward Wilkes Rathbun). He married Frances Isabel Butt on December 4th, 1912 in Parry Sound.

Craig joined the Field Ambulance Depot for Military District No. 3 with the regimental number 536053. he had a dark complexion, grey eyes and iron grey hair. His service record shows that he arrived in England on the SS Missanabie on April 7th, 1917. He served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps in England and was admitted to hospital in February 1918 suffering from neurasthenia.

He was invalided home to Canada in October 1918 and was admitted to the Ontario Military Hospital in Cobourg on October 19th with a diagnosis of constitutional neurasthenia. A hospital report in his file dated December 12th, 1918 notes that he was a

7 mo. [month] child (mother had fright) & the youngest child – always delicate. Always hypersensitive and worried over trifles. Had a nervous breakdown about 1911 following overexertion on a hot day…never as well since…was an invalid on enlistment – thought the army life and open air would help him – but they didn’t…health went down while in Eng. Was not in France…always interested in astrology, planetary influences, moroscopes [horoscopes] etc as well as in telepathy, spirit influences etc…These items from civil life probably explain hallucinatory and delusional tendencies noted in Eng.

Craig was discharged as medically unfit for further service on December 26th, 1918. A note on his file reads “Deceased 12-3-1939”.

Harold Smart's signatureOn this day in 1916 Harry Smart was killed in action while serving with the 25th Battalion in France at the Battle of Thiepval Ridge.

The Intelligencer reported his death on October 18th:

Killed in Action. In the casualty list today appears the name of Private Harold Smart, of Deseronto, who has been killed in action. He left Belleville with the 39th Battalion and was known to many in the city.

Harry’s body was not recovered after the battle. He is commemorated at Vimy and on the Deseronto war memorial.

Deseronto memorial

Francis Vincent Kelly's signature On this day in 1916 Frank Kelly was killed at Courcelette in France, during the Battle of Thiepval Ridge. This was part of the Battle of the Somme, which lasted for more than four months in late 1916 and in which more than a million men died. Tanks made their first appearance in the war at Courcelette.

Frank Kelly had enlisted in the 28th Battalion in March 1915. A detailed history of this battalion’s First World War experiences compiled and edited by Major Donald George Scott Calder can be found online at the University of Saskatchewan. The battalion was assigned a tank on the day of Frank’s death, which Calder notes was “far from popular, becoming much less so when the Fritz gunners selected the Tank as a calibration point for all their guns in the area during the remainder of our stay.”

First aid at Courcelette

First aid being rendered at Courcelette (image from the Canadian War Museum)

Frank’s service record includes a hand-written will:frank-kellys-willWILL

In the event of my Death I give the whole of my property and effects to

Mrs Mary Elizabeth Neville. Deseronto Ontario Canada (signed)

Frank Kelly

Private No 424476

Date May 27th 1916

The circumstances of Frank’s death were recorded as “Killed in Action” in the trenches at Courcelette.

Casualty report for Frank Kelly
Frank is remembered on the Deseronto war memorial and at the Vimy Memorial. His grave was reported to be in Courcelette, but was not marked.

Deseronto memorial
In 1921 Kelly’s mother, Mary Elizabeth Neville, was living in Dundas Street, Deseronto.

The Ontario Temperance Act was passed on April 27th, 1916, banning the sale of alcohol in the province apart from for medicinal, religious or scientific purposes from September 16th. This had an impact on the local hotel business, as this extract from the minutes of Deseronto Town Council on this day in 1916 makes clear:

William Myles's request to Council

Mr. W. N. Myles of the Deseronto House Hotel being present, it was moved by the Reeve, seconded by Councillor Richardson, that he be heard.
Mr. Myles stated he was now keeping a standard hotel and requested the Council to grant him a license to keep two or more billiard tables. Councillor Hunt said at the present time it was revenue we are after as the cutting off of liquor licenses left the town in a bad monetary shape. He was in favour of the application. The Reeve also stated that he was in favour of granting the application.
Moved by Councillor Hunt, seconded by the Reeve, that Mr.Myles be granted the privilege he asked on payment of the usual fee. Carried.

A “standard hotel” was one where the hotel-keeper was

…entitled to sell all non-intoxicating drinks and beverages, cigars, cigarettes and tobacco, and to conduct an ice cream or general restaurant or café without further or other license

according to the terms of the Act.

Deseronto House Hotel

Deseronto House Hotel

William Myles maintained his association with billiard tables: in the 1921 census he was living in Thomas Street with an occupation of ‘Amusements’, working as an employee in a pool room. He retired to Hamilton and died there on December 31st, 1927 at the age of 69. He lived long enough to see the Ontario Temperance Act repealed: in March 1927.

Enlistments and conscriptions over WW1

September 1916 was the first month of World War I in which no Deseronto men or women joined the services. As the graph above shows, enlistments hit their peak in January 1916, with more than 30 local people joining the forces in that month. After a busy spring, the summer months showed a marked decline in rates of enlistment as news of heavy loss of life at the Battle of the Somme reached home.

This drop in recruitment was true across Canada and led to the passing of the Military Service Act in August 1917 [text of the Act], which introduced conscription. The graph below shows the number of Deseronto people who joined the forces voluntarily alongside those who were drafted under the Military Service Act.

Enlistment and conscription rates by year

Gerald Cecil Burton signature

On this day in 1916, Gerald Cecil Burton, a fireman, signed up in Toronto. He stated that he was born in Deseronto on July 29th, 1897. At the time of enlisting his mother, Margaret, was living in Elm Street, Sudbury, Ontario.

Gerald joined the 69th Battery of the Canadian Field Artillery with the regimental number 340069. He was five feet seven and three quarter inches tall, with a fair complexion, grey-blue eyes and brown hair. He arrived in England on board the RMS Mauretania on November 30th, 1916. He got to France on March 11th, 1917, serving with the 1st Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery. His service file notes that he was tried at a court martial on August 29th, 1917:

Gerald Cecil Burton theft

 25.9.17 In confinement awaiting trial 31 days. Tried & convicted by F.G.C.M. [Field General Court Martial] of W.O.A.S. [while on active service] Stealing goods the property of an officer in that he in the field on or about 13 July stole a revolver & Holster the property of H. J. Rolph & sentenced to Hard Labor for 1 year 29.8.17

This sentence was commuted to 90 days of Field Punishment number 1. On March 19th, 1918 Burton was struck off the strength of his unit and sent to England when it was discovered that his true date of birth was July 29th, 1900. He left Liverpool for Canada on May 13th and was examined by a medical board in Toronto on July 11th. This board noted that he was under age (17) and was suffering from bronchitis caused by poison gas. He was discharged as medically unfit on July 25th, 1918. It is not clear what happened to him after the war.