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Friday, June 17, 2011


In a continuation from my last blog concerning Adam Sandy and the Halifax Explosion, the original soldier I was following on the Halifax Memorial was Private Alphonse Gosselin #3056616. His name is included as well on the Omemee, Ontario District War Memorial, the closest village to our former summer residence on Pigeon Lake.

I have submitted and had published the following story about Gosselin and the troopship S.S. City of Cairo in The Maple Leaf, Journal of the Western Front Association, Central Ontario Branch and the fine website on the S.S. City of Cairo authored by Scotsman, Hugh MacLean.

"I first became aware of the troopship S.S. City of Cairo when while recently investigating the 19 World War I names on the Omemee District War Memorial (Omemee, small Central Ontario resort village in the Kawarthas of 1200 inhabitants presently). Omemee has gained some notoriety lately as the former original home of Canada's last remaining soldier, Private Lloyd Clemett (and his 3 brothers) whose former residence was the wooden frame house still located at #10 King Street in the village. Many of the names on the Cenotaph relate to the area's 109th (Victoria and Haliburton) Battalion, based in nearby Lindsay. Omemee is also a boyhood home of Neil Young, who allegedly wrote his hit song Helpless after the living in the village as a young man. It is also the family home of Lady Flora McCrea Eaton, wife of Sir John Craig Eaton. The local elementary school is named in her honour. I was curious about Private Gosselin because as a Military Service Act 1917 conscript, his name was mentioned on the Halifax Memorial and because his date of death was listed as being only 26 days after being drafted in Lindsay, ON . On further investigation of his death date, I found a number of other men that died that same day or close to it also listed on the Halifax Memorial.

Thinking that the Memorial was used only for sailors that died at sea during the two World Wars, I was determined to find the source of the deaths of these young men. I was able to locate a reference to the loss of these soldiers on that date confirming my suspicions in The History of the Canadian Forces, 1914-1919 Medical Services, Sir Andrew McPhail. Here McPhail states in considerable detail that this time period was the peak of the worldwide Spanish Influenza epidemic. I was to learn that on the three troopships that had departed Canada in September, 1918, a total of 99 deaths occurred at sea and many more on arrival in England. These ships were: the S.S. City of Cairo; S.S. Victoria and the S.S./ Hunstead. My man Private Gosselin was 21 years old, a single farm labourer, possibly born in Quebec but working on a farm in Downeyville, a small community near the village of Omemee. He was included in Draft #175, Eastern Ontario Regiment, 1st Depot Battalion consisting of 1 officer and 50 soldiers who boarded the S.S. City of Cairo in Montreal that fatal September. Three of his mates from this Kingston, ON unit also succumbed to the flu while in transit.

The S.S. City of Cairo departed the Port of Montreal on September 26, 1918 with 1075 passengers, the majority of which (1057) were Canadian reinforcement soldiers for the Canadian Expeditionary Force and included six nursing sisters and a number of medical doctors. "Nearly all on board were sick and there were 32 deaths at sea. On arrival 244 flu cases were transferred to hospital, of which 114 were carried in on stretchers". The S.S. Hunstead and the S.S. Victoria had very similar numbers. With a brief stop in the Port of Quebec City September 28, she landed in England Port of Devonport (Plymouth) October 11, 1918".

All the names listed above can be found on the Halifax Memorial, Halifax, Nova Scotia.


Special thanks to Hugh A. MacLean and to Tony Jones for his photos of the S.S. City of Cairo

Friday, June 3, 2011


Funny how military researchers (at least this one) always get easily sidetracked into other topics, sometimes a number of other topics. A few years ago I was researching the village of Omemee's Centotaph when one of the names stood out. Pte. Alphonse Gosselin #3056618 also had his name on the Halifax Memorial as dying Oct. 8, 1918. My findings found he (and a number of others) had succombed to the Asian Flu while on a troopship heading for England. I submitted a short article on this subject to the Editor of the SS City of Cairo website which will be the topic of my next blog.

Then I noticed that the Halifax Memorial, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and in additon to it's 23 panels containing 3112 names of men and women of Commonwealth Forces who have no known grave, had an "Addenda Panel" with 14 names that were presumably added after 1967 when the Memorial was built. Two names again stood out as having died December 6, 1917 a date of notoriety - the date of the Halifax Explosion. Jumping ahead, after receiving his service record from Library and Archives Canada, my suspicions were confirmed - Private Adam Sandy #739267 had indeed been a victim of one of Canada's worst man-made disasters. I am still waiting for the service file of Pte. Charles Caplen #832713. Another fact is somewhat less obvious, both are First Nations natives. In fact of the 5 names listed on the "Addenda Panel" all are Canadian Aboriginal soldiers who apparently have "No Known Grave". Can't understand why the Commonwealth War Graves Commission didn't have that information in November 1967 when the Memorial was unveiled. On his service file is a telephone request from CWGC dated 1982 for information on the man so presumably that is around the time the "Addenda Panel" was added to the Halifax Memorial.

Private Adam Sandy # 739267 had been born in Tuscarora Township, Brant County on the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario and was a proud member of the Tuscarora Nation, Iroquois Confederacy. Working as a labourer, his attestation paper claims that he was married, born April 15, 1872 (making him 44 years old at the time of death) and having served 18 years in the 37th Haldimand Rifles, a Canadian militia unit almost entirely comprised of Six Nations natives. He attested into the 114th (Brocks Rangers) Battalion, C.E.F. on January 16, 1916 in Ohsweken listing his wife, Maggie, as next of kin signing the paper with an X signature. Apparently Pte. Sandy accompanied the battalion to Halifax where they departed for England on October 31, 1916 on the S.S. Coronia under the command of Lieut.-Colonel Andrew Thompson also a 37th Regiment veteran.

Now the story gleaned from his service record becomes contradictory. Private Sandy is listed "as a deserter - did not proceed overseas with the 114th". However his pay account was not closed and he is listed as being admitted to Rockhead Military Hospital in Halifax December 26, 1916 and being discharged to duty on January 1, 1917. Again on June 9, 1917 he was hospitalized with infected tonsils until his discharge on June 24. I think either he was asked to remain in Halifax because of his age and/or he was in ill health and was possibly hospitalized when the 114th Battalion proceeded overseas. The Casualty Form in his service file shows that Adam was transferred to the #6 District Special Services Company stationed in Halifax on October 31, 1916. This leads to his presence in Halifax the day of the great explosion of the French munition ship Mont-Blanc in the Harbour after colliding with the Norwegian vessel Imo. At this time we do not know if Adam was on duty or off duty in Wellington Barracks, the home of the Halifax Garrison that was directly in the path of the explosion and suffered heavy damage. Nevertheless Adam Sandy's body was never found or at least not identifiable.

Private Adam Sandy, according to then current regulations, was not entitled to either a British War Medal or a Victory Medal despite making the supreme sacrifice as a soldier of Canada for God, Country and King. His Last Pay Certificate shows that in addition to the normal Canadian soldier's pay of $1.00 per day, he was receiving the extra Service in the Field Allowance of $.10 per day. One would have to conclude that someone considered him employed in a war zone to receive the extra per Diem. His widow was entitled to a Silver Cross, Death Plaque and Scroll however I found no confirmation that they were ever sent out in his file. Maggie did receive the War Service Gratuity for Deceased Soldiers of $80.00 after his death.

The other four natives listed on the Halifax Memorial Addenda Panel are: Private Bertie Nackogie #1006931, 228th Battalion, Taykw Tagamou Nation (New Post, ON), Cree, Died December 25, 1916; Private Charles Caplen #832713, 145th Battalion, Lennox Islands First Nation (P.E.I.), Mi'kmaq, Died December 7, 1917; Private Francois Painted-Nose #1051587, 243rd Battalion, One Arrow First Nation (Batoche, SK) , Cree, Died December 26, 1918; and Private John Bones #820336, 141st Battalion, Manitou Rapids Band (Rainy River First Nation), Ojibwa, Died between 01/01/1919 and 31/12/1919. According to the late Edward H. Wigney in his book The C.E.F. Roll of Honour, the names of these five men collectively have never been recognized by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (until 1982 ) and the four (excepting Private Sandy) all died from disease. THEIR FINAL RESTING PLACES NEED TO BE FOUND AND PROPERLY IDENTIFIED! Their stories need to be told!