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Wednesday, May 14, 2014



Six Nations Honour Roll, Brant County
Ontario Death Certificate Sherman Thomas
Because of my previous blog on Private Adam Sandy, a volunteer researcher at the Six Nation's Woodland Cultural Centre by the name of Tammy Martin contacted me to inquire if she could obtain a copy of his service file as well as his attestation paper (which was not on-line). In the course of communicating she mentioned that she was researching the World War One soldiers on the Six Nations War Memorial in Ohsweken, Ontario and was having difficulty in identifying five of them beside Private Sandy: they were George Peters; Hiram Martin; Wm W. Johnson; Sherman Thomas and James Wilson. I selected one of the names as being slightly familiar and was able to identify Sherman Thomas as Private William Sherman Thomas #9255, an original member of the 3rd Battalion having attested September 23, 1914 in Valcatier and a pre-war member of the 2nd Regiment Queen's Own Rifles militia. His attestation paper is  located here. However in looking at his attestation paper and service record, there is no notation whatsoever to say that William Sherman Thomas is a Mohawk native born and raised on the Six Nations Reserve. Furthermore his date of birth from a number of sources has been proven to be October 1897 thereby making him all of 17 years old when he enlisted. The record of Sherman is unremarkable save for a couple of minor disciplines in Bustard Camp; overstaying a pass by 12 hours 03/11/1914 and being absent from a morning parade 05/02/1915 before the departure for France.Sherman was assigned to "A" Company and therefore somewhat immune to the disaster awaiting the battalion April 22-24, 1915 at St. Julien, 2nd battle of Ypres. However the young man's luck was to run out May 28, 1915 at the Battle of Festubert.

According to Norm Christie in his book Other Canadian Battlefields of the Great War, CEF Books, Ottawa, 2007, The Battle of Festubert, May 15th to May 25th, 1915 can be described as follows:

"It was one of a series of battles fought by the British Army in 1915 (the others were Neuve Chapelle and Aubers Ridge) to assist the French Offensives north of Arras.It was Canada's first big action after losing 6,000 men in the 2nd Battle of Ypres. The newly replenished Canadian battalions (including of course, the 3rd Battalion) has a supporting role to the main British and Indian assaults.After the first day of fighting they were ordered to attack over very difficult terrain in the face of superior German machine-gun and artillery fire.Remarkably they managed to move the line forward and achieve what was asked of them at the cost of 2,500 casualties." William Sherman Thomas was one of these casualties."

Here Private Thomas received a very severe gun shot wound to his right eye. He was admitted immediately to the 4th General Hospital in Versailles. The official Medical Report reads "This mas was struck in the eye on May 28th,1915 while in the trenches at Festubert. He was brought back to hospital and on June 9, 1915 at Queen Mary's Military Hospital, Whalley, it was found necessary to excise the eyeball". Subsequently a medical board obviously found Sherman Thomas "unfit for further duty".He was struck off strength for discharge in Canada by the Pensions Board returning to his homeland on the S.S. Scandinavian. He was officially discharge at the Discharge Depot in Quebec December 29, 1915, intended residence as 1104 Dufferin Street, Toronto, occupation as a clerk. 

Veteran's Death Card submitted by Arnie Kay
Somewhere between the beginning of 1916 and July 1917, Sherman Thomas gained employment as an Immigration Officer on the ferry boat operating between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario. Following are newpapers account of his demise kindly submitted by Brantford historian and CEFSG member Geoffrey Moyer:
Brantford Expositor July 17, 1917
Thomas, William Sherman (9255) 
Indian Veteran Was Laid to Rest – William Sherman Thomas Accidentally Drowned After Return
The funeral took place yesterday afternoon of William Sherman Thomas, a Brant County Indian, who was recently invalided home from the front and met his death by drowning about a week ago. Thomas went overseas with the first contingent. He lost an eye at the front and was invalided home. Since his return he was employed as an immigration inspector at Fort Erie and was drowned a week ago today. The fatal accident occurred while he was boating, he having lost his balance. The funeral yesterday was from Oakland to the Ohsweken Baptist Church. The 37th Battalion band participated in the last sad ceremony. Rev. M. Siple, pastor of the Baptist Church, conducted the service and he was assisted by Rev. Mr. Rodgers of the Oakland Methodist Church. The funeral was very largely attended. Charles Thomas, a brother of the deceased hero, who was only 19 years of age was killed in action at the front. 

Brantford Expositor July 19, 1917
Thomas, William Sherman (9255) 

On Monday afternoon the funeral services of the late Pte. Sherman Thomas, whose death occurred by accident at Fort Erie last week, were conducted from the home of his parents here and were attended by a large number of sympathizing friends. Soon after the outbreak of war Sherman and another brother both having graduated from a commercial course at college in Toronto, enlisted for their country’s defense. A few months ago the parents and family received the sad message that one of their boys had been killed in action, while Sherman, had been wounded, having lost one eye. After being discharged from the convalescent hospital in France he was returned home to Canada and was appointed immigration officer on the Buffalo-Fort Erie ferry. Since he was wounded he has been subject to heart trouble, and it is supposed while in a faint overbalanced over the rail, and after several days’ search his body was recovered. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas and family have the heart-felt sympathy of the entire neighbourhood in their double grief. The services were conducted by his former pastor, Rev. Mr. Robertson of Toronto, assisted by Rev. R. Rogers. Interment being made in the family plot of Ohsweken cemetery.
Brantford Expositor July 19, 1917
Thomas, William Sherman (9255) 
Sherman Thomas formerly of Toronto, drowned at Fort Erie, was wounded at the front the first year of the war. He lost an eye and was invalided home. He was appointed inspector of immigration at Fort Erie. One brother, Charlie, was killed in France, and another one is still at the front. So far, the Six Nations has lost to date about ten men since the war started. 

Equally interesting is that that Sherman joined the QOR draft to Valcartier August 1914 with older brother (b.1895) Charles Arthur Thomas #9254, who likewise was living and working in Toronto but both being native Mohawks born on the Six Nations Reserve. Both were assigned to #1 Company and were Queen's Own Rifles militiamen following the heritage of their brave Mohawk ancestry. However, Charlie, whose attestation can be found here, was even more unfortunate than his younger brother. For on June 8, 1916 during the Battle of Mount Sorrel, Charlie Thomas was killed in the trenches. Like his kid brother, Charlie had been deprived of one day's pay for overstaying his leave pass on November 3, 1914. I have a feeling the brothers were very close and that Charlie was looking out for Sherman at all times. Other than admission to 1st Canadian Field Hospital for a few days in June 1916 for defective teeth, Charlie seems to have survived his brother's injury and the 1915 battles rather well. He was granted 7 days leave in the field November 8,1915. On return he was attached to 1st. Canadian Infantry Brigade Machine Gun School returning to his unit December 4, 1915. The next notation on his Active Service-Casualty Form reads "Killed In Action about 2:30 p.m. by a shell June 8, 1916". Unlike many of his comrades, Charlie's body was recovered and identified - he lies to this day in Railway Dugouts Burial Ground, Belgium. His page on the Veteran Affairs Canada Virtual War Memorial can be found here.

Pte. Charlie Thomas #9254, 3rd Battalion
Charlie and Sherman were sons of Elias and Charlotte Thomas, who in the 1901 Canadian Census are to be found farming with their young family on the Six Nations Reserve, Tuscarora Township, south of Brantford, Ontario. However in the 1911 Census they have moved to Townsend Township, Norfolk County, near the village of Scotland, Ontario. At this time their children were listed as: James F.; Norman; Olive; Wellington; Charlie and Sherman. It is notable as well that later, possibly in 1919, family members  Elias, Norman, Francis and Wellington had applied for Enfranchisement. Another son, Joseph Wellington Thomas, enlisted in Winnipeg May 1916 while working as a "farmer" into the 221st Battalion with service number 288616 here, however it is not believed that he made it overseas. Wellington succumbed to tuberculosis February 23, 1923 and like younger brother, William Sherman, is buried in a family plot at Oshweken Baptist Church Cemetery. The remaining family are buried in the Scotland (Oakland) Cemetery, Oakland Township. Brant County.

Kim Fotheringham has kindly added the following genealogical information:
Also for Thomas I had a look at Joseph Wellington Thomas (or Wellington Thomas). This is the brother who was the death informant for Sherman, he signed up in Winnipeg survived the war only to die of TB in 1923. Sister Olive was the death informant for him and she says he’s buried in Oakland so I had a look there and in Oakland Cemetery: 
Photo by Tammy Martin
Thomas, Eliza (Car), d. 18 Jun 1936, 86 yrs, w/o Squire Thomas
Thomas, Father, b. 1856, d. 1928 (This is Elias – Kim)
Thomas, Frances, b. 1891, death date not cut (Frances Olive, sister of Wm Sherman – she married a man named Armstrong but was widowed by 1950, she may be buried with her husband in T.O. – Kim)
Thomas, Joe, b. 1926, d. 1944
Thomas, Mother, b. 1857, d. 1924 (This is Charlotte – Kim)
Thomas, Norman, b. 1887, d. 1961 (Brother of Wm Sherman - Kim)
Thomas, Squire, d. 18 Apr 1903, 66 yrs, h/o Eliza Thomas (Car)
Thomas, Wellington, b. 1894, d. 1923 (This is brother Joseph Wellington brother of Wm Sherman, died of TB - Kim)
According to Tammy Martin, Joseph Wellington Thomas died February 27, 1922 and there was another Thomas son, Lawrence, born 1880 and died 1899.

I feel that in light of the newspaper reports claiming Sherman's drowning was due to fainting from heart problems related to his service and the fact that the person or persons responsible for the information contained thereon the Six Nations Memorial plaque including "Sherman Thomas" on the plaque in 1919 for the unveiling by the Prince of Wales that this man should be considered for inclusion in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database and on the Veteran Affairs Canada Virtual War Memorial.

There is no question that young William Sherman Thomas would have been suffering from what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Fighting in the trenches at the tender age of 17, coming from mainly a rural environment and surviving through three of the most intensive battles the Canadian 1st  Division was to meet in the First World War plus of course, losing an eye and then learning of the violent death of his beloved big brother would have been devastating! The newspaper reports that Sherman Thomas was boating and that his body was not found for several days which would indicate that there were no witnesses. Therefore it is entirely possible that the young man took his own life while trying to deal with his demons. Regardless of how he drowned, most definitely his death by drowning was directly related to his service in the war. His death at his own hand would have been no different that the death at their own hands that is occurring in the ranks of our returning young men today from Afghanistan. He should be recognized by the VAC Virtual Memorial and the CWGC.

This blog would not have been possible without the kind assistance of Kim Fotheringham, Tammy Martin, Geoffrey Moyer, Arnie Kay and Gary Switzer - Truly a team effort!
Unfortunately we have not been able to locate a photograph of any of the Thomas family.

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