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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.

1 comment:

Sharon Reeves Ransom said...

I read this post with great interest. My Grandfather was Frederic Reeves-brother of Thomas. I will be printing a copy of this to share with my father-our family historian. He is an authority on all things "Reeves!"
Thank you for sharing this.