Leo Eugene Snider signature

Leo Eugene Snider, an automobile salesman, signed up in Winnipeg on this day in 1917. He was born in Deseronto on October 22nd, 1884, the son of watchmaker George Edmund Snider and Iva (née Wartman). The Snider family were still in Deseronto in 1901 but had moved to Coe Hill by 1911. Leo was living in Saskatoon and working for the McLaughlin Carriage Company when he enlisted. He gave his father’s address as 12th Avenue East, Vancouver.

Leo joined the Canadian Army Service Corps with the regimental number 2115732. He was five feet nine inches tall, with a dark complexion, blue eyes and black hair.

Snider survived the war and was back in Saskatoon, still working for McLaughlin in 1921. He died in Saskatoon on January 19th, 1950 and was buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery.


Herbert Edgar Wicks signature

On this day in 1917 Herbert Edgar Wicks, a glass-cutter, signed up in Brockville, Ontario. He was born in Norfolk, England on November 21st, 1898, the son of Herbert Edgar Wicks senior and Agnes Clara (née Baker). His father died in 1898 and in 1901 Herbert and his mother were living with his great-grandmother, Eliza Baker in Norwich. Eliza died in 1904 and Herbert came to Canada on the SS Dominion in September 1907, aged eight, with a party of Barnado’s children heading for Toronto. His mother remained in England.

A photograph of Herbert featured in Ups and Downs, the journal of the Barnardo’s Homes in May 1910. The journal noted:

We may present the portrait of Master Herbert E. Wicks to our readers as that of a boy who is a good sample as well as a most encouraging product of our work. He has been boarded out for the past three years in a thorough comfortable, happy, Christian home, where he has received the best of care and been under good wholesome training. Both at school and at home Herbert bears an excellent character, and is, in fact, as good a boy as we could wish to see.

Herbert enlisted in the Railway Construction and Forestry Depot with the regimental number 2161219. He was five feet two inches tall, with a fair complexion, blue eyes and blond hair. He gave his address as Napanee.

John Joseph Marrigan signature

On this day in 1917 John Joseph Marrigan, a machinist, enlisted in Toronto. He was born in Deseronto on December 27th, 1886, the son of hotel keeper Michael Marrigan and his wife, Elizabeth (née McVicker). Michael died in May 1914 and Elizabeth was still living in Deseronto when John enlisted. John’s cousin, Thomas Bernard Marrigan had signed up in May 1917.

Marrigan joined the York & Simcoe Foresters (part of the Canadian Forestry Corps) with the regimental number 2499026. He was described as being five feet eight and a half inches tall, with a medium complexion, grey eyes and medium hair.

John survived the war and in 1921 was living at 28 West Aveune, Toronto, with his mother, brother and sister.

One of the most useful records for finding out about a Canadian person’s experience of World War I is their service file. These records are looked after by Library and Archives Canada, who have been busy converting 640,000 of these paper files into digital form over the past few years. In this post, we take a look at what types of information these files contain, using the file of Gerald Cecil Burton as an example.

Attestation paper p.1 Gerald BurtonAttestation papers are the form that people signed when they enlisted. (Click on the image for a closer look.) On the front page, information about the individual’s date and place of birth, address, next of kin, occupation, and military experience were recorded. This page was also signed in two places by the enlistee. In the Deseronto First World War project we have been using these signatures to illustrate the blog posts about each Deseronto veteran, as very often we don’t have photographs of the people, but there is nearly always a signature. Towards the top right of the form, the soldier’s regimental number was noted. This is a unique identifier which is helpful in distinguishing between two men of the same name. In our group of records, for example, there were two Jacob Greens (644773 and 636686) and two Wilbert Brants (785039 and 636958). The military unit that the individual initially joined is usually noted at the top of the form, although often this is not the unit that the person ended up serving with in Europe.

Attestation paper p.2 Gerald BurtonOn the back of the form, details of the recruit’s physical appearance were recorded, including apparent age, height, colouring, chest measurement and any distinguishing marks, such as tattoos or scars.

Attestation papers were the first World War I records to be digitized by Library and Archives Canada. They were not taken from the service files, but from a separate series of Attestation Registers (RG 9, II B8). Some people (about 50,000) are missing from that series, and for those individuals the newly-digitized service files provide the first glimpse of their attestation paper information.

Record of Service forms like the one below are very useful for determining the course of an individual’s wartime career. These forms are copies of army orders relating to the person. They record transfers between military units, arrivals and departures,  injuries, and penalties. Extract from service record for Gerald Burton

For example, the card above shows that Gerald Cecil Burton arrived in England on the SS Mauritania on November 30th, 1916. It also notes that he was sentenced to a year of hard labour for stealing a revolver and holster.

Service files often contain detailed medical records: some even have x-ray photographs of injured limbs.

Medical report on Gerald Burton

In this example from Gerald Burton’s file, details of a diagnosis of bronchitis are noted. The files also usually have information on the dental health of recruits, with details of fillings and extractions.

The service files are a wonderful resource for First World War research, and digitizing them has been an enormous project for Library and Archives Canada. Thank you very much to everyone involved in the effort!

Harry Albert Downer signature

On this day in 1917 Harry Albert Downer, a law student, died at Camp Rathbun when the aircraft in which he was a passenger crashed. He was born in Vancouver on December 17th, 1897, the son of Frederick Downer and Lilian (née Orchard). He had originally joined the Canadian Field Artillery on February 24th, 1917 with the regimental number 339577. He was five feet six and a half inches tall, with a medium complexion, hazel eyes and dark brown hair. On June 13th, 1917 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as a cadet with the number 70420. He was attached to 86 Canadian Training Squadron at Camp Rathbun as a Cadet Flight Instructor.

The accident in which Downer died was reported in Belleville’s Intelligencer newspaper on Monday September 17th, 1917:

Intelligencer report of 1917 Sep 17 on Harry Albert Downer's death

Intelligencer report on the accident in which Cadet Downer died, courtesy of Belleville Public Library

Fatal Accident at Camp Rathbun

At Camp Rathbun, on Friday afternoon, another air tragedy took place resulting in the death of a flyer and serious injuries to another. Flight Sergt. Drummond with Flight Cadet Alexander were in a plane at a considerable height when from some cause it fell to the ground. Sergt. Drummond was killed and Cadet Alexander sustained injuries of such a nature that his life is despaired of. The aeroplane was wrecked. The accident was witnessed by a number of residents of Deseronto and some from this city were in the vicinity at the time.

Gordon Porter Alexander

The newspaper got Downer’s name wrong. The other man in the aircraft was 22-year-old Lieutenant G. P. [Gordon Porter] Alexander, who suffered cuts and bruises and was “badly shaken up”. Lieutenant Alexander was a Toronto man who had originally served in the 48th Highlanders. He received his Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate (#2869) on May 3rd, 1916 in England – this photograph of him is taken from the records of the Royal Aero Club (courtesy of the Royal Air Force Museum).

The casualty card for the accident is reproduced below:

Harry Albert Downer RFC casualty card

Royal Flying Corps casualty card for Harry Albert Downer, courtesy of the Royal Air Force Museum

…Date of Casualty: 14.9.17
Where occurred: Canada Camp Rathbun Deseronto
Type of Machine: Curtiss JN4
Nature and Cause of Accident: Stall on a turn. Nose dive into the ground from 100 ft.
Result of Accident: Killed
Name of other Occupant of Machine: Lieut GP. Alexander Injured…

The Court of Inquiry into the accident was held on the same day. Captain Aird of 85 C.T.S. gave the following description of the accident:

Detail from Attorney General's 1917 file RG4-32/1900 from the Archives of Ontario

Detail from Attorney General’s 1917 file RG4-32/1900 from the Archives of Ontario

1st. Witness.

Capt. J. Aird, C.C. 85 C.T.S. having been called, states:-

Driving along the road I saw a machine steeply bank to the left at about 150 feet; he then straightened out and went along about 100 yards or so, making a vertical bank to the left in which he seemed to lose his flying speed and went into a spinning nose dive. When I arrived on the scene they were endeavouring to take Lieut. Alexander out, having first discovered Can. 70420 Sergeant Downer was dead. I inspected the machine and found all controls in perfect condition. The work of taking the bodies out was carried on as fast as possible, but could have been greatly accelerated if axes and proper wire cutters had been available.

[signed] John Aird


Harry Downer was buried in Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver.

Intelligencer report 1917 Sep 14 on Domville and Kramers' deaths

Report in the Intelligencer newspaper of September 14th, 1917, courtesy Belleville Public Library


Two Airplanes Collide Over Landing Place and Crash to Earth – Cadets Domville and Kramer in Training for Royal Flying Corps, Instantly Killed

Camp Mohawk, where so many bright young men are being trained for service in the Royal Flying Corps overseas, was saddened yesterday by a double tragedy which cost the lives of two popular young students of aviation. Cadet Domville, of Montreal, and Cadet Kramer, of Detroit, both strong and vigorous young men, with high hopes and ambitions to give their best, even life itself, in the great struggle for the freedom of the world which is being waged with such relentless fury on the battlefields of Europe, on the sea and in the sky, where the “eyes of the army” keep unceasing vigil on the movements of the the enemy and fight thrilling duels among the clouds with armed enemy aircraft.

The two young cadets had each taken a machine up and after successful flights returned about the same time and were manoeuvring over the landing place preparatory to alighting, when in some manner both machines came together and crashed to the ground. Death came almost instantaneously to both cadets and life had departed when the bodies were lifted from the wreckage.

The Toronto express was just passing the camp when the accident took place and the machines fell near the station. Many of the passengers were witnesses of the event and were shocked and thrilled by the spectacle of a collision between two of these aircraft, and saddened by the certainty of death to the gallant young aviators.

Cadets Domville and Kramer were fine upstanding types of young manhood eager for adventure and anxious to take a man’s part in the great task of freeing the world from the menace of German domination. Both were blessed with jovial and kindly natures and had many friends in the camp and in Belleville who sincerely regret the sudden call with closed to prematurely lives giving such abundant promise of usefulness.

James de Beaujeu Domville had enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto on July 12th, 1917 with the regimental number 74199. He was born in Montreal on March 1st, 1899, the son of James Domville and Adele (née de Beaujeu). He was five feet eleven inches tall and was flying with 84 Canadian Training Squadron at Camp Mohawk.

Justin John Kramer initially joined the United States Army and transferred to the Air Service. He was born in Dayton, Ohio on April 28th, 1895, the son of John Kramer and Theresa Rosa (née Stompf).

The official reports of the accident assigned blame to neither pilot. Kramer was flying under the instruction of 2nd Lieutenant E. C. Bridgman, who escaped the crash with cuts to the face and bad bruising.

J. J. Kramer RFC Casualty Card

Royal Flying Corps casualty card for Justin John Kramer, courtesy of the Royal Air Force Museum

Date of Casualty: 13.9.17
Where occurred: Canada Camp Mohawk
Type of Machine: Curtiss JN4a.
Nature and Cause of Accident: Mach[ine] C650 piloted by Cadet Domville while coming in from an altitude of over 400 ft in a straight glide collided with a machine C632 piloted by Cadet Kramer who was flying at less than 400 feet & turning to the left to make landing into aerodrome
Result of Accident: Killed
Name of other Occupant of Machine: 2Lt Bridgman Injured
Remarks: Cadet Kramer had control of the machine & the finding of the Court of Inquiry attached no blame to Cadet Kramer

Once again, we have photographs showing the aftermath of the crash.

Kramer and Domville crash

From Sergeant Devos’s photographic collection, 2009.09(29), courtesy of Denzil Devos

James de Beaujeu Domville was buried in the Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery in Montreal.

Justin John Kramer was buried in the Calvary Cemetery, Kettering, Ohio.

Norman Bruce 'Nipper' ScottOur colleagues at Elgin County Archives hold the Norman B. ‘Nipper’ Scott fonds, which includes materials relating to Scott’s career as a pilot during the First World War. Scott trained at Camp Rathbun in Deseronto, among other places, before joining the Royal Flying Corps’ No. 11 Squadron in France.

Elgin County Archives have digitized Scott’s pilot log book and made it available online [PDF]. It is interesting to see the flights logged by a trainee pilot at Camp Rathbun, and Scott’s subsequent activities on the front line in France.

Norman Bruce Scott's pilot log book

This page shows the flights taken by Scott this week in 1917: his third week as a cadet. You can see that he was already taking solo flights in this week, and getting a good tour of the local sights: Napanee, Belleville and Kingston all feature in his log.

The serial numbers of the Curtiss JN4A aircraft Scott flew are listed. We have two photographs of one of the planes, C593, in our digital collections. Let’s hope Nipper Scott wasn’t responsible for this particular landing.

Curtiss JN4A C593 upside-down

2011.20 (11) George Edward Munk’s album

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