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  • Writer's pictureArt Duval

The Men From Penetang

Updated: Nov 20, 2019

The men from Penetang in the First World War

In the beginning of the twentieth century the world was at war. Some people will tell you of teenage assassins or political strife, but for men in small town Penetang, it was probably more personal. I will not speak of language politics, at least not here as French and English natives of Penetang both lie in graves in far off places, one instance side by side, regardless of political or language beliefs.

Their families and friends were worth protecting and they were of tough stock, having been living some pretty hard lives of their own.

Penetang in the early part of the century was still populated by those who worked very hard, physical jobs as laborers and tradesmen. Even those who had other occupations would often sign on as laborers, least they spend the war in a supporting role and not fighting, for if you put down you worked in a kitchen or office, you were sometimes given more menial jobs in kitchens and offices.

Badge of the 157th Simcoe Foresters

Simcoe Foresters

The Foresters had been around since 1866 being a reserve unit known as the 35th. In 1916 with the ordinary forces already overseas, it became evident more men were needed. So, they were asked to form a battalion, to join the expeditionary forces in Europe.

Sergeant Stanley Knowles along with Lieutenants JL Hogg, John Cummings and Penetanguishene native Alfred Hamilton Thompson,were chosen to head up recruitment for the Foresters.

JL Hogg of Collingwood, John Cummings, a recent immigrant from Scotland, and Stanley Knowles from England, came to Penetang to enlist the local men on behalf of the Simcoe Foresters. They would enlist William Baxter and Napoleon Picotte to sign attestation papers.

William, who was barely over 5 feet tall, enlisted and trained to join the war. He was a stenographer, and would be asked to sign as a witness on many of the attestation forms. He would go overseas, but be found better served as a telegraph operator.

Three men from Beausloleil First Nation also answered the call.

They would join the 157 battalion, the Simcoe Foresters, and would train in a newly opened base south of Barrie known as Camp Borden.

On a lesser extent, the foresters also recruited for the 177th battalion. They would enlist on different days.

If anyone knows where the recruitment office was in Penetang, I would be happy to hear from you.

Early Entrants

Not all, however, would wait to enlist at Penetang. Those who were studying at Colleges and Universities or for some reason in a major Canadian city would be recruited, many would find their way into the war earlier than the common enlisted men from their hometown.

William Elliott who was a student in 1915, answered the call, joining the 37th battalion, June 3rd of 1915 in the Niagara district. Also in the service of his country, was George Morin who enlisted with the 74th in Niagara on the fifth of December, 1915 and Charles Darling, the son of longtime Penetang Postmaster James Darling. Charles enlisted with the 4th, on September 9th in Toronto. Charles Darling was a twenty seven year old widower with a young son.

Charles Heber Wright would also enlist in Toronto on October 4, 1915 at age 23. He was a hardware merchant.

As the age of enlistment at the time was between 18 and 45, Penetang saw men and boys enlist. Two underage boys would make their way overseas. Sadly one of the youngsters made his way to war and would not return. (Another was found out to be under age overseas and return to Penetang.) While some of the older men would succumb to arthritis and other injuries and would eventually find their way home. It wasn't until much later that anyone was drafted, these were all volunteers.

Training was not easy and many of the men spent time in hospital with injuries and disease. Being exposed to the elements, hard training and the presence of common diseases meant that time was lost due to illness.

157 Simcoe Foresters at Base Borden

Men Training at Camp Borden

Canvas tents the men lived in at Camp Borden

Other recruits were on the other side of the scale, the older recruits, came down with rheumatism and arthritis. As was the case throughout history, the men often would be marched to wherever they were headed, their feet being the easiest means of conveyance.

Food was probably of a pretty high quality during training, but was still of a industrial nature, as cooks were not chosen for their abilities.

In doing my research I had hoped that I would find one maybe two who had been at a major battle of the First World War. What I found was the complete opposite.

VIMY 1917


YPRES 1917



Scarpe, 1919






These battles listed above had our boys, our men, present and very much accounted for. One was sentenced to die by firing squad, one would die in a shipwreck. One would die accidentally in England while another would crash his plane. Some even married overseas!

In future blogs I will endeavor to tell their story as best I can.

Art Duval

Featured Soldiers

William Louis Baxter

Born: Penetang, 25th August 1896

Father: William Baxter

Next of Kin: Mother,Philomene Baxter

Occupation: Stenographer

Enlisted: February 10th 1916 (Napoleon Picotte witness) deemed unfit (stature) cleared to do clerical work, telegraph operator

Unit: 5th CDT(telegraph) England

Outcome: Demobilized, discharged 26th August 1919, as a Sergeant

William Louis Baxter Apparently went by Louis, was the son of William and Philomene Baxter who kept the Brebeuf/Gin Rocks lighthouse.

John Lawrence Hogg

Name: John Lawrence Hogg

Born: Collingwood, Jan 16th 1891.

Father: William Hogg

Occupation: Journalist

Enlisted: March 7th 1916

Units: (Previous to the war 35th) 157th Lieutenant 5th Reserve battallion

John Lawrence Hogg was a descendant of John Hogg, founding member of Collingwood and local newpaper magnate. He is listed as a journalist and wrote for Collingwood newspapers

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