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Thursday, November 28, 2013


When the rather mundane medals came up for auction, I remember my only interest was based on the fact that World War One grouping named to a Canadian Railway Troops killed in action are relatively rare, so I submitted a low bid. Much to my surprise it was successful and thus my research began. The story of Sapper Thomas Arthur Reeves #136500, his demise and his family were to dominate much of my awake time for the past week.
Reeves Family Home, Humber Bay, ON
Francis Frederick Reeves was 1862 born in Canterbury, Kent to schoolmaster Henry Reeves and wife Jane. Francis emigrated about 1882 to Canada and found employment with the CPR in Nipissing, ON. He met Catherine Tompkins, a native of Great Horwood, Bucks, England marrying her in North Bay 1885. By 1891, the couple had moved to Etobicoke West, had children Harry (4) and Jennie (2) were working as gardeners living with Frank's younger brother Charles and younger sister Violet, who had also emigrated to Canada. By 1901, the family had moved to Humber Bay,ON. The brother and sister had departed by 1901 however the following children had been added: Frank (9); Egerton (7); Cedric (5); Thomas (3) and Winnifred (4 months). Thomas had a twin brother who died at a young age. In the 1911 Census, for some inexplicable reason, the family name is listed as "Burnes". However Frederick (8) and George (6) had been added along with employee Fred Bragg (22). All these people with housed in a very substantial dwelling located at today's northwest intersection of Berry Road and Stephen Drive, the site today of the Stonegate Plaza. A number of area market farmers banded together in 1892 to form nearby Humber Vale Cemetery (later to become Park Lawn Cemetery in 1916), it is probable that Frank Reeves was one of them. It is worth noting at his point, Frank Reeves was employed as a "gardener" and not a "farmer". He and his Reeves family were to develop a number of garden nursery locales in the City of Toronto, under various names, which exist to this day. There is also to this day family living across the street from the location of the first site of the market garden in nowadays Etobicoke.
Humber Bay Cenotaph, R.C.L. 8th Street
Thomas Reeves gave his birthday as September, 1897 when he enlisted in Toronto's 74th Overseas Battalion, C.E.F. in Toronto on November 13, 1915. Barely old enough (18) to enlist with his parent's permission. However certainly not old enough to fight in the brutal trenches of Europe given his true age (born late1898) under any circumstances! He was following older brother Cedric Reeves #10069 (born 1896), an original Valcartier member of Toronto's 3rd Battalion who had already been wounded in the 2nd Battle of Ypres, April 1915. Still older brother Frank Owen Reeves #324907 (born 1892) was to follow the two of them into battle when he joined in Guelph the then forming 56th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery March 20, 1916. I feel that Frank may have been either a student or instructor at Guelph Agricultural College.

Humber Bay Market Gardens, circa 1935
The 74th Battalion was raised in the Western outskirts of the Toronto, by the 36th Peel and Dufferin Regiment mobilizing in Camp Niagara.The battalion sailed for England  on the S.S. Empress of Britain with a strength of 34 officers and 1,046 ranks under the command of Lt.-Col.J.M. McCausland. It had departed Halifax March 29 and arrived Liverpool April 9, 1916. An earlier draft (October 1, 1915) had already departed for the U.K. On arrival in England, the 74th Battalion was broken up for badly needed reinforcements to front line units. Thus young Thomas was sent  on June 8, 1916 to the 1st Canadian Mounted Battalion, then fighting in the front lines in France, arriving at the trenches June 12. Serving with this dismounted Infantry battalion, Private Reeves suffered a gun shot wound to the cheek September 17, 1916. He had not yet reached his 18th birthday!.While recovering in hospital in England, his actual age was found out. After convalescence, Thomas was transferred to the much less risky Canadian Railway Troops on February 4, 1917 and arrived back in France February 24 being assigned the the 5th Battalion The, CRT. Now Sapper, Thomas Reeves, 18 years old, was killed in action May 14, 1917.
Sapper Thomas Reeves
The official war diary for the 5th Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops, for May 14, 1917, reads as follows:

Duisans - Arras, France
B Company double tracking Duisans to Achicourt. The attached labour, 12th West Riding, 550 strong, has now changed into the 24th and 5th Labour Companies, the total average attached labour on the work, including 450 2nd Canadian Labour Battalion mounts to 990 attached labour altogether. C Company ballasting Arras-Pampoux Line north of Scarpe River, also grading into Pampoux. 2 other ranks killed and one wounded of the 5th Bn., C.R.T., 4 other ranks killed and 7 wounded of 12th Lincolns attached. Damage to line, 1 break, repaired at once. 2 platoons worked till 2:00 am 15-517 unloading train at Q Dump. General maintenance carried on. D Company, 1 platoon grading on "B7" Line, 1 platoon on "B6" Line, 2 platoons on maintenance of "D" and "D2" Lines. 180 attached labour divided between "B6" and "B7" Lines. Weather - fine.
And so a brutal day for the "C" Company, 5th battalion, CRT and young Sapper Thomas Reeves and his brother in arms, Sapper Jacob Orr Cherry #27524, were initially interred in the closer burial ground, Rue St. Michel British Cemetery, Arras. However with battlefield consolidations, the bodies were exhumed in 1921 and reburied int he larger Faubourg-D'Amiens Cemetery, Arras, where they lay to this day.
 I have yet to receive the World War One service records of Thomas' two older brothers, Cedric and Frank, however they have been ordered. The Reeves family have remained active in the florist/garden business in Toronto since the turn of the century. The area of family market gardens located in the Humber Bay/Stonegate area of Etobicoke, north of the Queensway and south of Bloor street, west of the Humber River, is now asphalt and concrete. By count there are approximately 75 low-rise apartment buildings in the neighbourhood. Plans have been announced to redevelop the plaza into a high-rise community with food stores, library and storefront community centre. Park Lawn Cemetery remains as tranquil as ever and home to Francis Frederick Reeves and wife, Catherine (as well as our Richardson, Timpson and Clearwater Families).

Special thanks are extended to Michael Harrison, Denise Harris from the Etobicoke Historical Society and Jessica Ehrenworth of Toronto Archives, without whom their cooperation, this blog would not be possible.

Illustrations and photographs: special thanks to Marika Pirie and book "Memories of a Place Called Humber Bay", Harry & Blanche Hall, 1991

Thanks as well to David Bluestein, new owner of the medals, for the Telegram newspaper clippings.

Sunday, November 24, 2013



During the war 245 officers and 8096 N.C.O.'s and men have passed through the 3rd Battalion and it has suffered battle casualties amounting to 181 officers and 4596 other ranks.

The Honors awarded it include:
  • Victoria Crosses                         2
  • C.M.G.                                        1
  • Distinguished Service Order       11
  • Bars to the D.S.O.                       2
  • O.B.E.                                          1
  • Military Crosses                           50
  • Bars to the M.C.                           11
  • Distinguished Conduct Medals    42
  • Military Medals                            233
  • Bars to the M.M.                          23
  • Second Bar to the M.M.                1
  • Meritorious Service Medals           6
  • Foreign Decorations                     9
  • Mentioned In Dispatches             44    
The battalion took a great pride in the turnout of the horses and vehicles of its transport which was successful in winning, 7 times out of 11, the whip awarded by the Brigade Commander for the best transport in the 1st Brigade.

3rd Battalion marching into Germany, 1919

The Band of the battalion was formed in the Autumn of 1915, all of the bandsmen being men who were then doing duty in the trenches, The original instruments were provided through the generosity of a few Toronto friends.

3rd Battalion Band, 1915
The battalion received a great deal of assistance from the 3rd Battalion, Toronto Regiment, Women's Auxiliary, which under the Presidency of Mrs. Amilious Jarvis, was untiring in supplying socks and other comforts and helped each year to provide the men\s Christmas Dinner, besides performing a multitude of services for the women relatives of the men of the battalion. Shortly after the Armistice this association presented the battalion with its regimental colours.
In 1916 an Association, of which Major Ward Wright was President, was formed in Toronto, for the purpose of keeping together ex-members of the battalion.

The Following Officers, N.C.O.'s and Men Who Went To France With The Toronto Regiment Returned To Toronto With It:-
  • Lieut. - Col. J.B.Rogers, C.M.G.,D.S.O.,M.C.
  • Lieut. - Col. D.H.C.Mason, D.S.O., O.B.E.
  • Capt. E.H.Minns, M.C.
  • Capt. A.K.Coulthard, M.C., M.M.
  • Capt. H.T.Lord, M.C.
  • Lieut. A.V.Noble
  • Lieut. D. Morrison, M.M.
  • Lieut. J.L.Austin

  • 9356  R.Q.M.S. G.R.Pollock
  • 9068  Sgt. H.V.Spence, D.C.M., M.M., Belgium Crosse de Guerre
  • 9306  Sgt. R.J. Clapton, M.S.M.
  • 9070  Sgt. N.Thorn, M.S.M.
  • 9265  Sgt. R.H. Williams
  • 10153 Sgt. W.H. Minett
  • 9074  Cpl. J. Mullen, M.M.
  • 9226  Cpl. R.J.Murdock
  • 9606  L.-Cpl. G.Spraggett
  • 9889  Pte. W.Bennett
  • 18171 Pte. J.Bodell
  • 18761 Pte. J.J.Burns
  • 9900  Pte. T.Clarke
  • 9434  Pte. G.W.Dent
  • 10026 Pte. T.Franklin
  • 9513  Pte. H.Kingsley, M.M.
  • 9801  Pte. W.J.Leatham
  • 9463  Pte. W.C.Legier
  • 18213 Pte. Ed Lindsay
  • 9332  Pte. A.S.Lukeman
  • 9073  Pte. W.Maitland
  • 9105  Pte. R.G.Ottey
  • 9748  Pte. S.H.Pilling
  • 9714  Pte. Wm.Renfrew
  • 9251  Pte. H.Sanderson
  • 9373  Pte. H.F.Smith
  • 9057  Pte. P.C. Stephenson
  • 10171 Pte. G. Stretton, M.M.
  • 9497  Pte. E.W.Thorne
  • 9494  Pte. P.H.Theberge
  • 9385  Pte. H. Webster
  • 10079 Pte. G.White

Thursday, November 14, 2013



The 1st Canadian Division then took over a new sector farther north , the 1st Brigade being in Reserve at Vis-en-Artois. On October 10th, the enemy withdrew to the Sensee Canal.The 3rd Battalion took over from the 15th here and co-cooperating with the
3rd Battalion Divisional Patch
engineers, carried out a daring and successful raid. The Engineers bridged the canal with a cork bridge , "B" and "D" Companies crossed, captured several prisoners, 4 machine guns and accounted for many of the enemy. Two days later the enemy again retired, the 3rd Battalion following to the Cambrai-Douai Road. The next morning the 1st and 4th Battalions carried on the chase, getting as far as Pecquencourt, where there was over 1000 civilians.The pursuit continued for three more days, when the 3rd Battalion arrived at the outskirts of St. Amand. Here the 1st Division was relieved by the 3rd Canadian Division, the 3rd Battalion being moved to Montigny, where it remained training and resting until the signing of the armistice on November 11, 10:00 am, on December

3rd Battalion Machine Guns August, 1918
Two days later, on November 13th, as part of the Army of Occupation, the battalion, commanded by Major Mason, commenced the march to the Rhine, a distance of some 250 miles. The route lay through Valenciennes and Mons, the latter only recently being freed by the 2nd Canadian Division. Everywhere flags were displayed and enthusiastic crowds greeted the troops. At Arquennes a civic reception was tendered the battalion. On November 24th and 25th "C" and "D" Companies formed the Infantry of the Advanced Guard. The Meuse was crossed at Andennes on the 28th, and the hilly country of the Ardennes entered on the 30th. At noon on December 4th, the battalion, led by the Corps and Divisional Commanders, entered Germany at Poteau, bayonets fixed, and the band playing the "Maple Leaf Forever." Two days later the battalion furnished "A" and "B" Companies to the Advanced Guard, under Major Mason, which pushing steadily forward, reached the Rhine at Wesseling, 5 miles south of Cologne, at 10:00 am, on December 9th, the first Canadian troops to reach the River.They had covered 85 miles in five and a half days Four days later, on Friday, December 13th the whole Division crossed the Rhine at Cologne, being inspected as they did so, by General Sir Herbert Plumer, Commanding the Army of Occupation. After a few short moves, the battalion settled down in the workman's barracks at the Wahn Dynamite Factory, 10 miles south-east of Cologne, where here Christmas and New Year's Day were very pleasantly spent.  
3rd Battalion Marching Into Germany December 4, 1918

S.S. City of Poona
On January 10th, 1919, the Battalion entrained for Belgium and went into billets at Moxhe, Ciplet and Avin, 10 miles northwest of Huy on the Meuse, where it remained till March the 18th, before entraining for Le Havre. The monotony of this period was relived by a good deal of short leave for trips to points of interest in Belgium, and by a review of some 2500 men of the Division in Liege. Early in March the King's Colour given by His Majesty to the Battalion.was formally presented by the Divisional Commander, Maj.-Gen. Sir Archibald C. McDonnell, K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O. On the night of March 22nd-23rd, four years and six weeks after its arrival in France, the Battalion crossed to England and went into hutments at Bramshott, where the demobilization documents of all ranks were made out, and eight day's leave granted during the following three weeks. April 14th saw the Battalion again commanded by Lt.-Col. Rogers, embarked on the S.S. "Olympic" which on the following day sailed for Halifax, reaching that port on the 21st. The Battalion arrived in Toronto with the 4th Battalion in the afternoon of April 23rd, with a strength of 31 officers and 694 warrant officers, N.C.O.'s and men; of the former two were originals officers and six had been in the ranks when the Battalion entered the war. Of the latter 32 were originals. Detrainment took place at North Toronto Station were the previously returned veterans of the Battalions' were drawn up to receive it. Preceded by them, and followed by the 4th Battalion, it marched down Yonge St. and via Queen's Park to the University Stadium, the grand stand of which was crowed with the fiends, and relatives of the members. For the last time the Battalion formed Mass. The next movement it was over-whelmed by a rush of its friends and then there and there ceased to exist as a military unit.

Private Eric Richard Seaman #9825, 3rd Battalion
Prisoner of War Repatriation, December 1918

"I'll never forget the train that pulled out of this camp and on to the docks in Hamburg, and it was Christmas Day, 1918. There were soldiers everywhere, on the running boards, on top of the railway cars, and everything. I'm sure there must have been about twenty-five hundred of them and we got off it whooping and yelling, and there what do you suppose we saw at the very dock, right in Hamburg? There she was, the "S.S. City of Poona", with the Union Jack floating at the stern. Oh gee, the sight of that flag after months and months in that bloody country, you know. It got so you wondered if you would ever get back."

Major D.H.C. Mason, 3rd Battalion
March Into Germany, December 1918

"The march to the Rhine finished up in a race between the 1st and 2nd Divisions quite unexpectedly. I happened to have the advance guard, and just before noon I was just mounting my horse and the signaller was just going to leave the telephone when a message came through from Brigade, a very excited Brigade Major said,": The Brigadier wants you to get to the Rhine tomorrow as soon as possible." So I said, "Right." 10:15-10:30, something of that kind, the next morning we hit the Rhine and gave them the time. All I heard was a fervent "Thank God". That afternoon I think that I had pretty near every member of the Divisional Brigade staff in to see me to shake my hand. It appeared that hey had suddenly discovered that the 2nd Division was further ahead than they thought, you see. Hence this frantic message. Sir Archie MacDonnell wouldn't have been fit to live with for a week, you know, if the 2nd Division had got there before the 1st."