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  • Writer's pictureArt Duval

The Men of Penetang: Chapter 8: Those not infantry

Most of my writing on the Men of Penetang is about those who enlisted and were made into infantry, but some went to other specialties. Some were taken in by the RCF, some were made sappers and pioneers. We were also represented by doctors and medics. I would love to hear if anyone from the area was a nurse overseas, I have not found any, but that doesn't mean they were not there.


Aubrey Thomas McFadden, entered the war while away at school. He became a sapper with the 4th Divisional Signal Corp. Signal Corps during the first World War ran telegraph wires to the front lines. Thomas, as he was known, must have been close to the front lines, so close, that a shell that fell near him loaded with mustard gas struck him down.

Thomas was a young man of twenty, five foot six inches tall with a fresh complexion, grey eyes and black hair. He is listed as a student, his address reads Burwash Hall, Victoria College,

Burwash Hall, is still used as a residence today

so would seem to be on his way to a bright future.

Enlisted with the 157th, they must have recognized his intelligence. Transferred to the 4th Signal Company he would serve with them until October 24th, 1917. On that date he was the victim of a gas attack. Mustard gas is a terrible killer, and his case was no different. Between the 24th and the first of December his condition worsened and on the first of December he died of his wounds. He spent the better part of a week fighting for his life.

Some died Accidentally

Clifford Hames joined in Penetanguishene, but became enchanted with the Royal Airforce. Clifford was the son of Reverend David Hames, who had been the pastor in Penetanguishene. He died in a plane crash shortly after joining.

Alfred Hamilton Thompson also died due to an airplane crash. Enlisting as an officer he spent time with the 116th before being assigned to the Central Ontario Reserve depot. Somewhere along the line he decided to become a flying officer.

Private Herbert Arthur Lyall Osborne

(September 6th 1896-August 18th 1917)

153rd Battalion England

Lyall was the grandson of local historian A. C. Osborne, son of local photographer H.A and Maude Osborne of Penetanguishene. Lyall was born in Kingston, September 6th 1896. He was living in Arthur, where he was a bank clerk when the war broke out. He was a tall man, especially for the times at six foot one and a half inches. He had a dark complexion with brown eyes and black hair.

Lyall as he was known enlisted on March 11th 1916 with the 153rd Battalion out of Guelph, he was nineteen years old. Guelph’s military history is rich, it has a armory that stands like a castle and it was home to John McCrae, who wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields”.

Lyall went through the ordinary training of a Private for the next year, before going to England, arriving on May 5th of 1917. He was at Bramshott, where most of the men from Penetanguishene had first seen Europe.

Training ground at Bramshott England

Slated to make the trip to France and join the war first there would be the usual training and parading. On August 18th 1917, at 1030pm the unit Lyall Osborne was with was involved in a training operation. Six men lost their lives when a mine accidently went off. A few days later at the inquest it was explained what happened. The following is an excerpt

Daily Mirror - Wednesday 22 August 1917

Company Sergeant-Major Tasker explained that four mines had been prepared, two of which were fired by the instructor. The other two mines were to be fired by wires against which the men would trip as they advanced. Having no wires, he connected the two mines by twine to a string, which he pulled. He heard the explosion and received the signal "All clear!" from the observer.

As the raiding party advanced he ordered them to keep on the flanks and out of "No man's land," but apparently they misunderstood. He saw the string attached to the mine, and was advancing when there was another explosion and he was blown into a sap. It was a misfortune, he said, that he was not blown up with those who were killed. He could only explain the accident by thinking that the lever of the second bomb did not work, and that as the men advanced one of them must have kicked it. If the men on the left had carried out the order they would have been safe, and he probably would have been the only one blown up because he walked right over the mines.

The jury returned a verdict of "Accidental Death."

Herbert Arthur Lyall Osborne was one of the six men who perished in the accident. He had compound fractures to both ankles, fractures of the tibia at both knees, and a fracture to the right humerus. He also had burns and was in shock, but managed to stay alive until he was brought to the Hospital at Bramshott where he died of his injuries.

Although he has a plot in Penetang besides his mother and father, he lies at: St Mary the virgin Churchyard Bramshott East Hampshire district, Hampshire, England.

Joseph Handforth Blackstock was a private in the 157th, when he was in hospital for arthritic like symptoms. On March 15th of 1917 he mysteriously died of the result of an accident. As this was not a military accident, no information exists. Joseph was 29 years old and had been married for almost a year.

Some were returned.

Others remembered...

Penetang lost Bert Aitkins as well, but he didn't die in the war. Somewhere he found his way to a young lady, and he would make her his wife. He had been born in Brighton England and had emigrated at some point to Canada, ending up in Penetang where he would enlist and return to England. In March of 1918, he would be granted permission to marry, and would be "Taken on Strength" married to Miss Marguerite Homans, who of course would become Mrs Marguerite Aitkins.

Which leaves me with a uplifting post in his paperwork. When brought into a Battalion it is said you were "taken on strength", or TOS. Here they marked his marriage with "Taken on Married!"

Machine Gunners

William Braithwaite, of Lefaive's corners, became a machine gunner, and served with the 9th Machine Gun Corp. The son of Jonathon and Ettie Braithwaite, his brother Rueben, also served but returned when he was injured in his hand and leg. William was killed in action in October of 1917, his remains remain unfound.

William Braithwaite, of Lefaive's corners, became a machine gunner, and served with the 9th Machine Gun Corp. The son of Jonathon and Ettie Braithwaite, his brother Rueben, also served but returned when he was injured in his hand and leg. William was killed in action in October of 1917, his remains remain unfound.

Machine gun training

Irvine Joseph Brasseur was a rambunctious youth who made it all the way to England before they found he was underage and returned to Canada. William Cresswell who had enlisted in Penetang, and was a sailor, had a severe injury to his head and would return to his family in England.

Other notables

Bruce Lowery Gropp would get the military medal and the good conduct medal while climbing his way to through the ranks of the Railway corp. I wish I knew why! Will have to keep looking.

Henry Hamelin was born in Escanaba Michigan, survived the war but nobody knows why he was born in Escanaba.

A few I wish I had more info on.

Phillip Lemieux made it through the war. Gropp signed his attestation, so were they friends?

John Alexander MAcDonald was a mechanic, became part of the Motor corp and became a driver for an officer.

Wilfred Allen MacMillan, Neil's brother, worked his way up to sergeant and survived the war.

Edward Thomas Maher survived the war.

Oliver Joseph Marchildon left a wife and five children, so thankfully he returned at the end of the war.

George Mckeown survived the war. Ralph McCall climbed his way to Sergeant. Frederick Morin survived, to return to his three kids. George his brother had a terrible time, being sentenced to death by firing squad before being commuted to hard labor and bein released, only to be shot in the head and killed instantly.

George Cuthbert Murray was a musician, he survived the war. William Herbert Nesbitt also survived the war.

Robert John Parker was an officer. One day while on maneuvers he stopped in an abandoned basement by Avion Court. Sergeant Parker started to clean his gun when another Sergeant, MacDonald came into the basement and sat in front of where Sargent Parker was cleaning his gun. The gun accidently discharged while trying to remove the clip, and hit Sergeant MacDonald from about three feet away. Sargent Macdonald received injuries to his arm above the elbow. Sargent Parker was court martialed in the field, but no punishment issued, as it was found to be accidental. This is the situation in war, armed men, under great stress, can sometimes make mistakes, and in this case it seems all were lucky to get away without life lost.

Arthur Pelletier was nineteen on joining, worked his way up to Lance Corporal and found time to find a wife. Who became Mrs. Priscilla Pelletier. Arthur went on to become an electrician. Edward his brother also enlisted, was hit with shrapnel from a bomb and was sent home. Thomas McFadden signed his attestation.

Elie Picotte survived the war.

One was the victim of a war crime

Victor Sanders enlisted in Penetang and was with the 157th until going overseas. In England he was transferred to the 116th. Victor became a medic and was in the field of battle, until he was transferred to the Hospital Ship Llandovery. Presumably out of the battle, he must have felt relief at being away from the action. Some who had been on the front lines were assigned to the ship so that they could get away from the stress of the front lines.

U-86 the submarine that sunk the Llandovery Castle

But it was not to be an easy assignment, having returned a load of injured to Canada, they were soon to return to the front lines. On the trip from Halifax to Liverpool England, on June 27 1918, a German U-boat took sights on the Hospital ship and torpedoed her to the bottom of the ocean 200 Kilometers from Ireland. Only 24 people survived out of 258 Doctors, nurses soldier and crew. The 24 people were in one lifeboat, the UBOAT captain realizing his error in sinking a hospital ship, returned and turned his guns on the surviving lifeboats. Only a cruising destroyer who came to aid chasing off the sub resulted in any survivors at all.

From Wikipedia

Sergeant Arthur Knight was on board lifeboat #5 with the nurses. He reported:

"Our boat was quickly loaded and lowered to the surface of the water. Then the crew of eight men and myself faced the difficulty of getting free from the ropes holding us to the ship's side. I broke two axes trying to cut ourselves away, but was unsuccessful. With the forward motion and choppy sea the boat all the time was pounding against the ship's side. To save the boat we tried to keep ourselves away by using the oars, and soon every one of the latter were broken. Finally the ropes became loose at the top and we commenced to drift away. We were carried towards the stern of the ship, when suddenly the Poop deck seemed to break away and sink. The suction drew us quickly into the vacuum, the boat tipped over sideways, and every occupant went under.

Matron Margaret Marjory (Pearl) Fraser (daughter of Lt. Governor of Nova Scotia Duncan Cameron Fraser).

"Unflinchingly and calmly, as steady and collected as if on parade, without a complaint or a single sign of emotion, our fourteen devoted nursing sisters faced the terrible ordeal of certain death--only a matter of minutes--as our lifeboat neared that mad whirlpool of waters where all human power was helpless. I estimate we were together in the boat about eight minutes. In that whole time I did not hear a complaint or murmur from one of the sisters. There was not a cry for help or any outward evidence of fear. In the entire time I overheard only one remark when the matron, Nursing Matron Margaret Marjory Fraser, turned to me as we drifted helplessly towards the stern of the ship and asked: "Sergeant, do you think there is any hope for us?""I replied, 'No,' seeing myself our helplessness without oars and the sinking condition of the stern of the ship. A few seconds later we were drawn into the whirlpool of the submerged afterdeck, and the last I saw of the nursing sisters was as they were thrown over the side of the boat. All were wearing lifebelts, and of the fourteen two were in their nightdress, the others in uniform. It was doubtful if any of them came to the surface again, although I myself sank and came up three times, finally clinging to a piece of wreckage and being eventually picked up by the captain's boat."

Afterward, HMS Morea steamed through the wreckage. Captain Kenneth Cummins recalled the horror of coming across the nurses' floating corpses;

"We were in the Bristol Channel, quite well out to sea, and suddenly we began going through corpses. The Germans had sunk a British hospital ship, the Llandovery Castle, and we were sailing through floating bodies. We were not allowed to stop - we just had to go straight through. It was quite horrific, and my reaction was to vomit over the edge. It was something we could never have imagined ... particularly the nurses: seeing these bodies of women and nurses, floating in the ocean, having been there some time. Huge aprons and skirts in billows, which looked almost like sails because they dried in the hot sun."

It is not known whether Victor Sanders died as a result of the torpedo, sinking or machine gunning of the life boats. The captain and crew were tried for war crimes. Although receiving sentences of just 4 years, nobody spent any time in jail for the crime. Fourteen nursing sisters lost their lives that day along with the Doctors and nurses in one of the most heinous war crimes of World War 1

The full story can be seen at this link.

The story of some of the Nurses is told in this story about a Opera writen about them.

One Doctor of note

Painting by Gerald Moira

Dr. John Morris Nettleton, was a doctor from Penetang who enlisted and went overseas. He spent time in #3 Stationary Hospital in Doullens where he was adjutant. Made a Captain at the onset of the war he would be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and moved to Shorncliffe England. (I will tell the full story of Dr Nettleton at a future date, but his name deserves mention here.)

I am not in anyway done with some of these stories, so if you have anything to add let me know. These are some of the stories of those who were not serving with the 116th. Those serving with the first, closely followed those of the 116th.

So just a chapter to fill in some of the gaps of the story of those "Men from Penetang" who fought in the first world war.

Art Duval Pipesmoke of the past.

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