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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

PRIVATE THOMAS A. STEER, #404210 - Killed In Action April 28, 1917


Although the Canadian Expeditionary Force suffered over 59,000 deaths over the course of World War One, despite popular opinion, not all of these deaths were as a result of the hostilities. A significant number were due to disease such as influenza and tuberculosis. Some were from accidents, drowning and suicides. Most of the remaining deaths from warfare came in major battles in which Canadians participated: 2nd Ypres; The Somme; Mount Sorrel; Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and the Final 100 Days. However a significant number were killed in the day-to-day maintenance and manning of the front line trenches for which the CEF were responsible at any given time. So when a single Victory medal recently became available very reasonably for Private Thomas Armstrong Steer, #404210, 3rd Battalion, I snapped it up. Private Steer was listed as being Killed In Action on April 28, 1917, a day on which the 3rd Battalion were not doing much of anything near Farbus Woods south of Vimy village.

According to Battle Royal, D.J. Godspeed, Toronto, 1962:

The Toronto Regiment had only an inactive part in this attack (referring to a British attack on the Scarpe  and the 1st Canadian division on their left attacking the Arleux Loop), as it happened the 2nd Brigade captured all its objectives smartly and on time. The Regiment however did provide  three officers and 135 men as stretcher parties to evacuate the 2nd Brigade's wounded. Later on the afternoon of the 28th, the Germans heavily shelled "B" and "D" Companies along the railway embankment, killing Major C.E. Cooper and one soldier (Private Steer), and wounding Lieutenant W.C. Bush and two privates. Lieutenant Bush died the following morning at No.30 Casualty Clearing Station at Aubigny.

Thanks to Marika Pirie for contributing this clipping
Attesation Paper Thomas Steer
Private Steer and his family have proved to be somewhat elusive in terms of family research. My resources included, Mr. Google, Canadian Censuses and the various Library and Archives Canada websites/databases which provided little information. Without a service record at this point, I really had not much biographical information save for the information on his attestation records. So I posted on the CEF Study Group Forum a call for assistance and was not disappointed. We know that both the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Veteran Affair Canada Virtual Memorial pages for Private Steer claim that Thomas Steer was born in Brooklyn, New York despite his declaration on the attestation to have been born in Toronto. Member Tighe McManus found Thomas's mother Margarite listed as a widow in Toronto City Directories for 1913, 1914 and 1917. Marika Pirie found a couple of Toronto Star newspaper clippings from May 1917 concerning his death. Tighe later found the family in a 1910 U.S. Census living in Pittsburgh,Pa, only adding to the mystery. Helen Russell was kind to point out that in the census, there was an unmarried Aunt living with the family with the name of  Margaret  M. Armstrong. Armstrong, of course is Private Steer's middle name. Thomas Steer appears to be an only child. Mike, the Regimental Rogue, is checking the pre-war rolls of the Royal Canadian Regiment, to confirm or deny the soldier's claim of service in this permanent force Regiment.

Major Charles Edwon Cooper
We know that Thomas Armstrong Steer, 404210, was a 32 year old, single, street car conductor employed by the Toronto Street Railway when he enlisted in Toronto's 35th Battalion May 5, 1915. The tall man at 5'11" apparently had Eagle Shields and Flags tattooed on both forearms. Private Steer was included in the 1st Reinforcing Draft that was rushed from Canada leaving from Montreal on the S.S.Metagama June 4, 1915 after the disastrous  losses by the 1st Canadian Division during April 1915. Of the 250 men is this draft, 227 were sent almost immediately on arriving in England, to the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion in the field, being taken on service July 17, 1915. As we have no service record, we know only that Private Steer remained and survived in the 3rd Battalion until his death near Farbus Woods on April 28, 1917. Private Thomas Armstrong Steer was buried in Orchard Dump Cemetery, France. His name is included on the bronze Memorial Plaque located in Old City Hall, Toronto for employees of the Toronto Railway Union Div. 113.
Charles Edwin Cooper had enlisted in Valcartier September 22, 1914 into the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion as a Lieutenant, having served as the Colour Sergeant in the 10th Royal Grenadiers Regiment for 10 years and prior service in both the Royal Canadian Regiment and the 48th Highlanders Regiment. Born in 1880, he worked as a clerk in the T. Eaton Company, married to Sarah in 1903 and a native of Alcester, England. By spring 1917, he had been promoted to rank of Acting Major and had been award the Military Cross for "Conspicuous Service leading his company" during the Battle of Mount Sorrel June 1916. Major Cooper was buried in Ecoivres Military Cemetery, France. His name appears on the T.Eaton Memorial Plaque along with 314 other men who gave their lives in the war from the company.  
3rd (Toronto) Battalion War  Diary entry for April 28, 1917
Walter Clarence Bush had been a lieutenant in the 47th Frontenac Regiment when he enlisted in Tamworth, Ontario as a lieutenant in Kingston's 146th Battalion on April 10, 1916. Born in 1892, working as a carpenter, he travelled with the battalion from Halifax on the S.S.Southland September 25, 1916 for England. In England, most of the 146th were absorbed by Toronto's 95th Battalion who in turn supplied reinforcements to Toronto area front-line battalions including the 3rd (Toronto) Battalion. Interesting the last Canadian World War One veteran, John Babcock, joined the 146th Battalion as well, before being transferred to the Young Soldiers Battalion as an underage soldier. Lieutenant Bush after succumbing to his wounds, was buried in Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension, France.

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