Friday, 11 November 2016

We Remember 1: Sapper John Matheson 1884-1964

In Canada, Library and Archives Canada has been slowly digitizing the service records of First World War soldiers who were part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. This has been going on for a couple of years now, and at its current rate, is expected to be complete in 2018.

This morning, I checked the digitization progress, and was thrilled to at last find my grandfather John Matheson's complete file, along with that of his younger brother, Frank. I've been checking monthly for a very long time.

My grandfather's service files are really quite mundane, dealing with pay, medical and dental, mostly. The files don't reveal exactly where he was posted -- military names like depots, stations, field hospital, etc. But the timeline is what's fascinating to read. John Matheson  signed his attestation papers in Montreal on 15 Mar 1915, joining the Canadian Railway Construction Corps of the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a sapper, having been a locomotive engineer.

attestation paper pg 1
I now know that on 26 Aug 1915, five days after he and my grandmother Dorothy married in Tooting, London, he sailed from Southhampton to France.
attestation paper pg 2

After joining the CEF, he trained in Canada for three months before sailing with his unit from Saint John, New Brunswick to England on 14 Jun 1915.

There, he was at a British Army training camp in Longmoor, Hampshire for two months, until marrying and then sailing for France. That training camp is still used today. Incredible.

Once he was in France, John's first leave was for two weeks in May 1916. He then had a week's leave in June 1917, followed by two weeks in August 1918. That's all. John spent the bulk of the war in France, but was also in Belgium briefly, according to his file.

I'm still trying to sort out what my grandfather received in pay. For his first six months of service, his pay was assigned to his mother, Annie Ross Matheson, in Nethy Bridge. After his marriage, and that fact had been confirmed by the authorities (yes, really), his pay was assigned to my grandmother in Berwick upon Tweed.

On 1 Nov 1918, my grandfather was injured. This is something we never knew. John was treated first at three casualty clearing stations and then for a week at No 7 Canadian General Hospital at Etaples in Boulogne in northern France, followed by time in a convalescent hospital there in November 1918, but no more details are given. Etaples was a collection of 20 military field hospitals, and was heavily bombed in May 1918.

My grandfather was awarded three medals for his service in the Canadian Railway Construction Corps.

He was transferred to England for demobilization on 16 Jan 1919, but that still took time. He wasn't demobilized until he returned to Canada in April 1919, missing my mother's birth on 10 May 1919 in Berwick-upon-Tweed. My grandmother and mother couldn't join him in Montreal until August, no doubt because my mother was a newborn.

You can read my grandfather's full service file here. He never, ever, spoke of his wartime experiences. On Remembrance Day, I remember him.

The never ending story continues....

1 comment:

  1. Just an FYI - diptheria was a relatively common ailment in the late 1918 + period. My mother developed this when she was 5 and was bed ridden for almost a year missing her first year of school, but somehow managed to enter her second year of schooling without missing a beat. Supposedly once you have had diptheria you are immune to further infections, but my mother managed to contract a much less severe bout of the illness again when she was about 18 or 20.