Edward Walter Rathbun enlisted on this day in 1915. He was born in Deseronto on December 28th, 1865, the eldest son of Edward Wilkes Rathbun and his first wife, Elizabeth How Burt. After the death of his father in 1903, E. Walter Rathbun took over the running of the Rathbun Company. He was mayor of Deseronto, like his father before him, in 1914 and was also active in provincial and local politics: between 1905 and 1908 E. Walter represented Hastings East in Ontario’s Legislative Assembly.
In the 1901 census the Rathbun household comprised E. Walter, his wife Aileen and his mother-in-law Emma C. C. Blair. Rathbun had married Aileen Blair in Portsmouth, England, in 1893.
Rathbun was active in the local militia, holding the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel when he enlisted at the age of 49. Belleville’s paper, The Intelligencer, reported his departure in the following way on February 15th, 1915:
Farewell to Colonel Rathbun
At Deseronto, on Saturday night the opera house was filled with an enthusiastic audience of well-wishers to Col. Rathbun and his gallant comrades, who are going to the front with the guns of the 6th Brigade. An address was presented by those associated with him from boyhood, and patriotic music by local talent, led by Mr. Hercher [Herchimer] Aylesworth—a host in himself—stirred all present.
Colonel Ponton, of Belleville, carried the greetings of the Bay of Quinte District and comrades-in-arms west of Deseronto, and congratulated both the gallant Colonel and the Town on having the honor of furnishing a commander of a Brigade, which General Lessard has pronounced one of the best ever inspected in the whole Dominion in organization, spirit and efficiency.
A bountiful supper was served at the close and another of Canada’s soldier sons left for the post of duty.1
He arrived in England in March 1915, when his brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery was transformed into the Canadian Reserve Artillery. Rathbun himself was transferred to the Canadian Forestry Corps when it was established in 19162: presumably as a consequence of his experience in running the Rathbun Company’s lumbering business in Deseronto. The Forestry Corps was established to harness Canadian expertise in the lumber industry to supply the Western Front with the wood it desperately needed. It operated in England, Scotland and France.
E. Walter Rathbun died in Deseronto on September 6, 1940. His wife, Aileen, was living in Scotland at the time with her brother, Arthur Blair, and Rathbun’s body was transported to Toronto for cremation and his ashes were then shipped overseas. There is a memorial to the couple in the cemetery at Nairn in Scotland. This image of it is from the Scottish War Graves Project‘s site. It reads:
In memory of Col Edward Walter Rathbun, Royal Canadian Artillery died 6th Sep 1940 and his wife Aileen Blair who died 1944.
1 Our thanks to the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County for this information
2 For a history of the Corps in the First World War, see The Canadian Forestry Corps, by C.W. Bird and J.B. Davies, published in 1919.