Sunday, 13 November 2016

We Remember 2: Private Frank Matheson 1892-1949

My great uncle Frank arrived in Montreal from Scotland in 1912, a month before he turned 20, to join his older brother, John. Like my grandfather, Frank also worked on the railways, in his case as a fireman.

After the First World War broke out in August, Frank signed his attestation papers on 23 Sept 2014, joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force. I downloaded his complete digitized service file two days ago from Library and Archives Canada.

Attestation page 1
Frank was captured as a prisoner of war on the second day of the fierce month-long second battle of Ypres in Belgium, being first reported missing on 24 Apr 1915. He was officially confirmed as a prisoner of war on 26 May 1915 in three different POW camps in Germany: first at Gottingen in Hanover, then at Freidrichsfeld in Rhein and finally Langensalza in Thuringia for three and a half years.

Was he gassed or physically injured in battle before capture? I know that when he was repatriated from Germany in December 1918, his medical records note that he had diptheria. By 18 Mar 1919, his medical records indicate that his physique and nutrition were good. The family story is that his mother, Annie Ross Matheson, came down from the Highlands to bring him home so that she could nurse him. But army records tell a different tale. After he was repatriated from Germany, he was at the Ripon Drill Hall, an auxiliary British Army hospital in Yorkshire, where he seems to have been until March, a three month recovery period. Ripon was a demobilization centre for returning troops after the war ended.

Attestation page 2
Likely after he was discharged from Ripon, he was given leave, and visited his family in Aviemore before returning to Montreal, where had been building a new life for himself before the war. Records show that he sailed from Liverpool on 3 Apr 1919 and arrived in Montreal on 12 Apr.

Frank's First World War service file is just 56 pages in total. You can read it here. Missing from his file are details of when he left Canada for England, where he was in England, and then when he was deployed to France.

How long was he on the ground in France before Ypres? What he endured in his three and a half years at three German POW camps we will never know. He never spoke of his experiences, except perhaps with my grandfather because he also served, but he too never spoke about his own experiences.

Frank married Victoria Marsh (1893-1942) on 20 June 1920 in Montreal. They had three daughters. He and his family were very close to my grandparents, mother and aunt, with frequent Sunday dinners through the years. He died from injuries sustained in a car accident in Montreal in May 1949, at the age of 56.

The never ending story continues....

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