Robert P. Johnston (1885-1917)

Although a few months late, as I originally started this post in November of last year, I decided to finally post the work I’ve done related to one of my first cousins. I have collected the files of every WWI serviceman in my family that I have so far identified and this is but one of those stories.

Robert P. Johnston was born on December 15th, 1885 to parents William John Johnston (1861-) and Martha Ann Johnston (1854-1933) in Renfrew, Ontario, Canada. The medical history sheet from his war file reveals he was born in Forester Falls which makes perfect sense as this is where the Johnston clan settled in the area.

Robert can be found in the 1891 census living in the township of Ross with his parents and four siblings, James P. (1884-), John Samuel (1887-1978), William Andrew (1889-1971), and Noah Thomas (1890-). Interestingly enough, I believe his brother James was named after his maternal grandfather, James Patrick Johnston (1827-1905) and who is the first of the Johnston line to immigrate to Canada.

Another interesting tid-bit is that Robert’s middle initial is listed as ‘P’ in one census record while the other is listed as ‘B.’


1891 Census.

I found the family in the 1901 census where they’ve made a substantial move west now living in Westbourne, Manitoba. This was a distance of over 1,600km. I’m curious as to whether or not the move was made so that Robert’s father could work and own a farm of his own rather than work as a labourer in Ontario. I was able to find a Western Land Grant for William Johnston Jr. which may be Robert’s brother but I am unable to confirm at this time.


1901 Census.

There are some inaccuracies when it comes to birth years of the children between the census records and they are as follows:

Name Dates Difference
James P. 1884 vs. 1882 2 years
Robert P/B. 1885 vs. 1883 2 years
John Samuel 1887 vs. 1885 2 years
William Andrew 1889 vs. 1888 1 year
Noah Thomas 1890 vs. 1889 1 year

The children’s birthdates are a few years off, but I’m more inclined to believe the dates themselves are correct as Robert’s birthdate December 15th matches what is found on his attestation paper.

I’ve been stalling on writing this piece because I’ve had difficulty locating certain family member’s records. For instance, I don’t have James’ birth record; the same can be said of his younger brother John. This frustrates me as I’ve found the birth records for Robert, William, and Noah.

Furthermore, I’m unable to find the family in any census records for 1911 or 1916. I’ve located a few family members in the 1921 census, but a lot has happened in that 20 year period. For now, I will continue to focus on Robert, before I touch on some of the other family members.

Sometime between the 1901 census and the birth of his daughter, Grace Loretta Johnston (1915-2014), Robert married Eleanore Loretta Schneider (1895-1991).

Eleanore, also known as Ella, lived with her family in Edrans, where she is found with her parents and her six siblings in the 1911 census.

The date of their marriage can be narrowed to sometime between 1911 and 1915 yet I have not been able to locate it. The distance between the two communities is 40km, so I imagine the Johnstons might have moved closer to Edrans or the Schneiders towards Westbourne. I am leaning a bit more towards the latter since I found Eleanore’s parents and siblings living in Westbourne in the 1916 census.

I would like to search the census records a little closer to Edrans based on some other locations mentioned in other documents including Keyes, Wellwood, and Austin. These locations are mentioned as later residences for Robert’s wife and mother. All of these locations are further west than Westbourne.

On September 11th, 1915, Robert travelled south-west to Hughes Camp, previously known as Sewell Camp, and attested. He enlisted as a private and his regimental number was 623165. Robert is described as thirty years and nine months old, 5 foot 9 1/2 inches with brown hair and eyes. Some 48 days later, Robert arrived in England on October 30th, 1915, after travelling on the SS Lapland from Halifax.

The next of kin listed is Robert’s wife under a PO Box in Wellwood, Manitoba. There are some additional notations on the attestation paper which appear as though Robert original next-of-kin listed was going to be his mother but he apparently changed his mind. An “A” was originally written but was crossed out and replaced with an “R.” There is also the start of what I believe to be the word “mother” but was replaced with the word “wife.”

From Robert’s pay book, signed March 30th, 1916, he indicates in his Will that everything should go to his wife, Ella, living in Edrans. The time between when Robert attested and when he signed his Will was 6 months while it was some 15 days before he was sent to France.

Another address lists Robert’s wife living in Keyes dated August 12th, 1918. Additionally, Robert’s mother, Martha Ann, is listed as living in Keyes as well.

Yet another document list’s Ella as living in Austin with a stamp on the reverse dated October 25th, 1922. This same address is found on a second card.

After Robert landed in Europe in October, he contracted influenza which he sought treatment for on November 18th, 1915. He was treated at the Bramshott Military Hospital and discharged on November 30th, 1915. This would not be the last time Robert would seek treatment at a medical centre.

Robert was originally assigned to the 61st Battalion but was transferred to the 44th Battalion on October 16th, 1915. This information can be found on Robert’s casualty form which also states Robert embarked and arrived overseas with the 27th Battalion on April 15th, 1916. He left the Canadian Base Depot (CBD) with his unit on May 4th and arrived in the field on May 6th, 1916.

A month later, on the 6th of June, Robert was wounded in action at the battle of St. Eloi. He was thrown onto a stake hurting his ribs on the right pectoral region. Below are excerpts from the 27th Battalion war diaries.

F CAMP. JUNE 6, 1916.
Battalion in Brigade reserve at F Camp. Weather, heavy rain in early morning clearing towards noon. Wind fresh westerly. At 3:50PM received message to fall in and move at once to the Asylum past west of Ypres H12d central.

A CAMP. JUNE 6, 1916.
4:15PM. Battalion moved as ordered. [Diving] to shelling of road battalion moved by platoons at 100 yard intervals. Met by guides and proceeded at once to the Ramparts in Ypres at I14b24 ref sheet 28.

6:30PM. Arrived at Ramparts where Battalion headquarters were established along with Brigade headquarters. Brigade front was held by 28th Battalion in left sub-sector and 31st Battalion in right sub-sector. After an intense bombardment lasting some hours the enemy blew up four mines at Hooge covering a frontage of 200 yards and then attacked and made some ground. Sent “C” Company and 100 men of “D” boy to occupy Zillebeke Switch in I16 in support of 31st Battalion. Furnished carrying parties of 150 men for front line at night. Men not in trenches were quartered in Infantry Barracks in Ypres.

On June 23rd, 1916, Robert was transferred to the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre (CCAC) via the HS Newhaven and was admitted to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London. He was transferred to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital at Bromley on July 5th, 1916, and later to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital at Epsom (also known as Woodcote Park) on July 7th, 1916.

It was during an exam on July 5th that the doctor recounts how Robert was injured and the severity of those injuries. Robert’s ribs had healed but with some irregularity on the third rib in addition to pain on coughing and breathing.

On August 21st, 1916, Robert was transferred from the CCAC to the 11th Reserve Battalion in Shroncliffe. He was taken on strength by the Battalion on August 22nd, 1916, where he remained until a little after 1917. In September 1916, Robert sought treatment for an ailment at the Military Hospital in Shorncliffe and was transferred to the special Canadian Hospital in Etchinghill.

Robert was transferred to the 27th Battalion overseas on March 6th, 1917. He landed and was taken on strength in France where he fought with his unit. Seven months later, on September 11th, 1917, Robert was awarded a good conduct badge during training exercises. Below is a copy of the training schedule from the war diaries.

Battalion in rest ESTREE CAUCHIE. Weather fair. Wind S.W. Remainder of Battalion bathed. Training as per Syllabus.

Time Schedule 1 Schedule 2
9:10AM to 10:00AM Physical Training Section and Platoon Drill. Bayonet Fighting. Rifle exercises.
10:00AM to 10:30AM Interval. Interval.
10:30AM to 12:30PM Musketry. Company in Attack. Rifle Grenades. Bombing, Lewis Gun. Musketry.

Communication Section and Company Signallers 9:10AM to 10:00AM instructed by Bomb Officer. 10:30AM to 12:30PM – Signalling.

Company Scouts and Snipers will report to Scout Sgt. after C.Os. parade on days in which their Companies have Bombing.

Sixteen men per Coy. will report to wiring instructor during Bombing period.
All Companies will practice attack as well as Bombing and musketry with Gas Respirators on.

“A” and “B” Companies will follow Schedule 1, “C” and “D” Coys. will follow Schedule 2 September 11th and will alternate following days.

Company Officers will spend one hour each afternoon on map reading and Compass work. Opportunity should be given Senior N.C.Os. to take advantage of this work.

Nearly two months later, Robert is reported missing on Nov 6th, 1917. This date is particularly interesting as it appears he was likely killed by a shell during the Battalion’s assault on the village of Passchendaele.

I have transcribed the following page from the Battalion’s war diaries.

Battalion in front line in front of PASSCHENDAELE. Weather dull. Wind N.E. Battalion assembled for the assault and all in position at 4AM. Zero hour was at 6AM. Battalion attacked the village of PASSCHENDAELE with the 31st Battalion on the left and the 26th Battalion on the right. All objectives captured at 7:40AM.

Day spent in consolidating position. 9 Machine Guns and 76 prisoners were captured. Approximate casualties were: 13 Officers and 240 O.Rs. Operation Orders No. 197 for move from HILL 37 to Assembly Position attached.

There were two Victoria Cross recipients for this date and their participation in the fighting on Nov 6th, 1917. One of the recipients was James Peter Robertson who was part of the 27th Battalion and was awarded the cross posthumously. I wonder whether the two men knew each other, and how many of their friends died alongside them that day.

On June 28th, 1918, Robert is reported as having been killed in action and his name can be found on the Ypres Memorial. He was 31 years old.


An interesting remark on one of the forms in his file indicates that Robert’s wife married his brother, William, only 32 days after he was declared dead.



War Service Gratuity Form.


On July 30th, 1918, Ella married William Andrew and on September 26th, 1918, Robert William Johnston (1918-2018) was born. Based on his date of birth, Robert William was likely conceived sometime in December 1917 or January 1918 only a few months after Robert went missing in France. I wonder then, whether anything was going on between Ella and William before Robert’s disappearance or if their relationship developed suddenly when it appeared Robert would not return.

Both explanations are plausible, but with a piece of information I received from two researchers in Ontario who work with WWI records I’m leaning more to the first scenario. If a soldier required treatment or hospitalization for venereal disease their pay home would be stopped for that period. In turn, this would lead to family questioning why pay was stopped which might serve as a catalyst for a new relationship. Robert was in hospital receiving treatment from October 11th to December 18th, 1016 which meant his pay would have been stopped for two months – a substantial amount of time.

Two more children would be born to Ella and William, Anne Louise Johnston (1920-2004) and Vernon Andrew Johnston (1923-1944).

Ella and her three children, Grace, Robert, and Anne can be found living with Ella’s brother, Albert Schneider in the 1921 census. I don’t know where William is, though I suspect he is working somewhere on another farm. The full family of William, Ella, Grace, Robert, Anne, and Vernon can be found in the 1926 census split between two pages.


1921 Census.



1926 Census.


Both Robert and Vernon served in the second world war although only one would return home. Vernon rose to the rank of Corporal with the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) and was killed September 13, 1944. He was buried at the Calais Canadian Military Cemetery in St. Inglevert, France.

Robert was injured in 1942 and 1944, with the second injury being severe enough to have him sent back to Canada where he convalesced at Deer Lodge Hospital in Winnipeg.

Based on the information above, I believe the only child born to Robert and Ella was their daughter, Grace. Grace married Norman George Bowden Hay (1898-1958), who was 17 years her senior, on October 19, 1940. She had met him while working on the Hay family farm. They would have 7 children before Norman passed away on March 19, 1958.

Grace passed away in 2014 while her brother, Robert, passed away in 2018.

One of the reasons why I wanted to do a write-up of Robert is not because of anything specific to him, but because of the following doodle I found in his file. It amused me to see this little smiling pumpkin and I bet you the person who drew it likely never thought it would see the light of day.



Assigned Pay Sheet.


52 Ancestors – Week 5 – Nelson Carlyle Galbraith

The fifth theme in this year’s 52 Ancestors is “Plowing Through.” When presented with this theme I automatically assumed that I would focus on a ancestor who was a farmer as there are many of them in my family line. Instead, I decided to do more research on a relative who I had little information about before researching.

I was always curious about my grand aunt’s husband (Ellis Blake Galbraith) and his family as I had little more than a name and a tidbit that one of his relatives fought in the 1885 North-West Rebellion. In my research during 2014 I was able to find more information on my aunt’s husband, his siblings, parents, and even a bit on his grandparents.

This week I will be looking at the brother-in-law of my grand aunt named Nelson Thomas Carlyle Galbraith (1914-1994).

Nelson was born to parents Thomas Duncan Galbraith (1878-1957) and Mary Ellis (1882-1963) on Mar 29, 1914, in Dufferin, Manitoba and was the second eldest son of seven children. The eldest was Blake who married my grand aunt Ruth Elizabeth White.

As his father, Thomas Duncan, was a solider during the first world war he moved to Camp Hughes while the rest of the family resided in Winnipeg on the 1916 Census. The family is then found in the 1921 Census in the RM of Dufferin but without their father Thomas Duncan who I assume is somewhere else working for the Canadian Military.

galbraith 1916 census




On Sep 8, 1939, two days before Canada officially entered the Second World War, Nelson signed up for military service and became part of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, B Company, 8th Platoon. It is likely that he served in Jamaica and Bermuda before the 1st Battalion landed in Hong Kong on Nov 16, 1941. Sadly, the Granediers would experience some of the first fighting in the Pacific when they lost in the Defence of Hong Kong to the Japanese on December 25, 1941.

galbraith, nelson carlyle

Galbraith, Nelson Carlyle

The photograph below is from the December 1939 photo album of The Winnipeg Grenadiers (M.G.) – Canadian Active Service Force. Nelson can be seen in the top 3rd row, second from the end on the right hand side.

Company B, Platoon 8

1st Row – Cpl. Stancove, A., Mabley, G.K., L-Cpl. Sexsmith, C.L., Wood, E., Wermie, M.R., Sgt. Foster, R.M., Lane, G.O., Maddess, C.R., Moore, W.S., Vibert, J.P., Cpl. Stanley, C.
2nd Row – McTaggart, H.P., Foster, S.P., Clubine, C., Nobiss, R., Lawrie, K.R., Donnelly, H.G., Bloomfield, B., Kincaid, C., Mallows, H., L-Cpl. Deacoux, M.J., Bilyk, M.
3rd Row – Cyr, L., Moore, J., Davidson, D.F.A., Pascal, J., Davies, J.C., Smith, R., Edgley, C., Knight, J.G., Galbraith, N.C., Olason, M.J.

Nelson’s name is listed in a Winnipeg Free Press article on Jan 1, 1942 in the pictorial articles These Men Made Valiant Stand in Hong Kong’s Defence. His name is mentioned a number of times more in several other articles of the Free Press during the course of his imprisonment.

Winnipeg Free Press – 19 Oct 1942 (page 1) (page 2)
217 More Hong Kong Prisoners Listed
Ottawa, Oct. 19. (CP) – Another group go names of men now officially reported prisoners of war as a result of the battle of Hong Kong was released today by the department of national defence. The list included 97 names which, together with 120 released last night and the number announced last week, brings the total number officially reported to be in the hands of the Japanese to 496. The original Hong Kong fore of two battalions and a bridge headquarters numbered 1985 men.All the names on today’s list were of men of the Manitoba regiment, of which the Winnipeg Grenadiers which fought at Hong Kong forms a part.So far no names have been announced of prisoners of war from the Royal Rifles of Canada, Quebec, the other battalion which fought at Hong Kong.

As the names are received by cable from Japanese authorities at Tokyo, it is expected the Royal Rifles its will start coming after the Winnipeg Grenadiers list is completed.

Last night’s two lists included one officer and 119 other ranks. All but one were names of members of the Manitoba regiment, presumably the Winnipeg Grenadiers.

It is expected that a complete list will be available from Japanese authorities shortly, through the International Red Cross.

Previous some 500 members of the force which fought at Hong Kong were unofficially reported prisoners on the basis of word from people who escaped and letters from prisoners.

The only officer in last night’s list was the sole man named who was not a member of the Manitoba regiment. He was Capt. John A.G. Reid, of Toronto, of the oral Canadian Army Medical corps.

The Canadian force at Hong Kong numbered 1985 men and the Japanese reported they took 1689 prisoners. It is officially assumed here from this that 296 Canadians were killed or missing.

Lt.-Col. J.?.R. Sutcliffe, officer commanding the Winnipeg Grenadiers, and several others are known to ave died while prisoners and there may have been other deaths.

The Hong Kong garrison consisted of Canadian, British and Indian troops. The battle for the British colony lasted from Dec 7 last year under its surrender Christmas Day.

Today’s list was the 178th Canadian (active) army’s overseas casualty list of the war, and last night’s the 176th and 177th.

Following is the 178th casualty list, with official numbs and next of kin.

Now Official Reported Prisoners of War
Manitoba Regiment

Galbraith, Nelson Carlyle, Pte., H6186. Mrs. Mary Galbraith (mother), Box 12, Roseisle, Man.

The camp where Nelson would spend the next few years of his life was called Oeyama and it was located 12 Kilometers from Miyazu Harbor. This camp was established on Aug 20, 1943, with the first POWs arriving on Sep 2, 1943. A total of 700 POWs would call this camp home.

Prisoners destined for Oeyama traveled on the Manryu Maru for 17 days, making stopovers in Taihoku (Taipei), Formosa (Taiwan); then 2 day stopover at northern point for stool tests, before being transported to Oeyama. Prisoners at Oeyama were forced to work mining nickel and work at the Nippon Yakin Nickel Refinery.

Winnipeg Free Press – 16 Sep 1944
Tone of Cheerfulness Found In Letters From Hong Kong
In general a cheerful tone prevailed throughout letters received by families of the Winnipeg Grenadiers and brought into the Free Press. All the letters wore written between June and October of 1942, from Hong Kong prisoners of war camp.

Says All Is Well

A letter from N.C. Galbraith, prisoner-of-war at Hong kong, to his mother. Mrs. M. Galbraith stating that all is well, came Saturday. He sands his regards to his family and friends and remarks that the weather is very unreliable.

Oeyama Camp was closed on Sep 2, 1945. Nelson was able to return to Canada shortly after his rescue, and he was able to return to Winnipeg in October 1945.

Winnipeg Free Press – 12 Oct 1945
Seven Families Welcome Their Hong Kong Men
It will be a happy week-end for the seven Manitoba families who welcomed their Grenadiers home Friday night at the C.N.R. and C.P.R. depots.

Given Merry Greeting

“Come on where’s the star of the family?” laughed Pte. Nelson Carlyle Galbraith, of Rise Isle, trying valiantly to get all his crowing nieces and nephew straightened out, when he arrived on the 7.45 train at the C.P.R.

With his little two-month-old niece, Diedre Galbraith, in his arms and his proud and beaming mother, Mrs. Mary Galbraith, who has been staying with another of her four sons, Bruce, of 2633 Elgin Avenue, Pte. Galbraith looked the picture of contentment. Even a siege of beri-beri and diphtheria and losing 60 pounds in weight could not take the twinkle out of his eyes.

Mrs. Galbraith had just, yesterday, received a letter from her son written in November, 1941. It had been sent air mail to assure quick delivery. “That’s pretty good service for the Japs.” said Pte. Galbraith. He had only received half a dozen letters during his imprisonment, no personal parcels at all, and just one and a half Red Cross parcels.

“The first time we knew there was anything ?? about surrender was Aug. 15 when the Japs held a meeting in their offices. We didn’t actually know until the 26th that they war was over, though we didn’t have to do any work after the 15th.”

“We were at Oeyama camp No. 3, where we worked at surface nickel mining. I happened to be a foreman so I didn’t get it so bad. But anybody doing the coal shovelling really got it,” Pte. Galbraith continued.

Pte. Galbraith came from Guam to San Francisco. “The Americans were really grand to us. The Canadian pay officer who met us in Frisco was a wonderful sight though. The next time we saw Canadians was at Bellingham Wash., where the Red Cross gave us cigarettes and things.”

On the Hong Kong Veterans Commemorative Association website Nelson’s name is found on a page for ‘awards’ was mentioned in a dispatch.

Nelson married Helen Peal Couser on Aug 16, 1946 in Winnipeg, Manitoba and the couple would have two children Graham and Shelagh.

Winnipeg Free Press – 26 Aug 1946
Galbraith – Couser
Home Street United Church was the scene of a wedding August 16 at 8 p.m., when Helen Pearl, youngest daughter of Mrs. E. Couser was united in marriage to Nelson Carlyle Galbraith, son of Mrs. E. Galbraith. Rev. C.E. Whitmore officiated. Miss Helen Young played the wedding music and Miss H. Wills sang.Given in marriage by her brother. Thomas Couser, the bride wore ivory satin, the fitted bodice fash- and lily point sleeves. The full skirt fell from the dropped waistline, into a slight train. A sweetheart head-dress held her fingertip veil. She carried red roses.Miss Margaret Davis was bridesmaid and Bruce Galbraith was best man. Ushers were Blake Galbraith and Jack Davis.A receptions as held at Peggy’s pantry. Following a short honeymoon, Mr. and Mrs. Galbraith will reside in Winnipeg.


Winnipeg Free Press – 24 Feb 1947
Japs Given Sentences for Cruelty
YOKOHAMA, Feb. 24, (AP) – Chogo Hashimoto, Japanese civilian coal mine foreman, has been sentenced by a United States military court to 15 years imprisonment for contributing to the deaths of to Canadian prisoners-of-war, G.R. MacLaughlin of Hamiota, Man., and Gerald Sneddin, Toronto. They died as a result of beatings and forced labor while ill.Sentences ranging from five years imprisonment at hard labor to hanging for the camp commandant, Chuta Sasakawa, were recently handed out to eight members of the personnel of the Sumidagawa camp. Five of them – Kiyoshi Yui, Shosaburo Fujita, Kasanori Takahashi, Kihari Suzuik and Yoshi Nishikawa – were involved in the mistreatment of George Belcourt, of St. Eustache, Man.

60 Manitobans

More than 60 Manitoba servicemen are among the Allied prisoners-of-war figuring in the charges against a Japanese, Kosaku Hazama, now on trial before a war comes court here Hazama was commandant of the Tanagawa camp, Jan. 5, 1943 – Aug. 21, 1942, and of the Oeyama camp from Sept. 1, 1943 – Sept. 1, 1945.

The Manitoba men whose names have been cited by the prosecution in the Hazama trial included: Kenneth Roy Johnston, George Auld, Michael Haddad, Edward Draho, Henry Albert Shayler (deceased), Gordon H. Bell (deceased), Henry Douglas Cameron, Emil Drahom, Ernest Charles McFarland, Nelson C. Galbraith, Fredrick G. Adams, Robert J. Turner, Jack Aubert, Edward H. Bergen, Clifford J. Carpenter, Howard G. Donnelly, Frederick A.E. English, William Fostey, Nelson C. Galbraith, Sydney Hiscox, Gordon Hollingsworth, Arthur H. Jackson, Oscar G. Jonasson, arthur M. Lousier, Bert McKinnon, Arthur S. Mack, Francis D.F. Martyn, Frank Neufeld, Raymond W. Pellor, Kenneth E. Porter, William H. Savage, Reginald A. Smith. William J. Smith, Marcel Van Damme and Thomas D. Weir, all of Winnipeg; George H. Townsend (deceased) of West Selkirk; Ralph C. Rees (deceased), McAuley; Carl J. Bross (deceased), St. Boniface. Ernest J. Paul (deceased), Carman; Joseph H.P. Bazinet (deceased), Deerhorne; George D. Delorme (deceased), Carman; Hartley M. Winram, Neelin; Bronik Lewicki, Falconer; Gordon Clark, Carman; William Achtymuchuk, Malonton; Lucien A. Brazeau, Roblin; Arlis Clark, Carman; Edward William Cole, Swan River; Alexander A. DeVlleger, Mariapolis; Alexander Favel, Pine Falls; Stanley Kennedy, McCreary; William James Lancaster, Tyndall; Henry G. Lawson, Oakdale; Wilburt H. Lynch, Neston Siding; George Merritt, Birch River; George E. Mitchell, Kenville; John Olason, Somerset; Richard P. Oomen, Bird’s Hill; Aime Paul, Haywood; Joseph Podosky, Portage la Prairie; Lloyd T. Poole, McCreary; John W. Pople, Cartwright and Percy A. Thompson, Union Point.

Death and disabilities were numerous at both Tanagawa and Oeyama prisoner-of-war camps where Hazama, a lieutenant in the Japanese army, was chief officer. Chief causes were working the sick and physically unfit men and neglecting to provide food, medicine, hygiene and other necessities, acceding to the charges laid.

Nelson retired from his position at Canada Post in 1971. Helen, his wife, died in 1988 after a short battle with cancer. Nelson died suddenly sometime in late Sep, 1994, at his home in Buffalo Point. While Nelson lived to the ripe old age of 80 I can only imagine what sort of influence his time as a prisoner of war did to shorten his life.


I’ve been working on a new post that is still not finished yet but in the meantime I’ve added a number of names to the Mossey River Honour Roll.

I’ve collected these names from the Dauphin Herald under an article entitled “Dauphin Men in Arms”. It is by no means a complete list, however I hope to update it with more information including date of birth, date of death, and service number.

I will be adding posts on these soldiers including the causality list.


It’s been rather quiet lately on my blog. I’ve been busy with life mostly, however I have added a new page under Mowat Pioneers.

The Mossey River Honour Roll is a collection of names of settlers who fought in WWI, WWII, and the Korean War that I’ve gathered from Memoirs “From The Past”, CEF Attestation Records, the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, the Dauphin Herald, and the Winnipeg Free Press.

It is by no means a complete list, however I hope to update it with more information including date of birth, date of death, and service number.

52 Ancestors – Week 8 – William George Washington Johnston (a 71-year-old mystery)

For this week in Amy Johnson Crow’s genealogist challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, I would like to present a 71-year-old family mystery that has yet to be solved.

Throughout my genealogical research one of the topics that I’ve enjoy the most is learning about family members who have served in war. This is especially true for two of my direct Johnston relatives, consequently, both named William.

William Henderson Johnston was the brother of my great-grandfather, James Washington Johnston. He was born 18 May 1890, in Black River, Michigan and died ‘in action’ just outside of Arras, France on 29 Mar 1917. While not mentioned by name, based on the 31st Alberta Battalion war diary for that day, I’ve concluded that he might have been killed by artillery fire.

Two other ranks are unaccounted for, but I think that it is established that they were struck by a shell when crossing “NO MAN’S LAND” escorting three prisoners. Major Seaton states that he saw a shell strike in the middle of a party that he took to be three prisoners and two of our men, and two others bear witness to having seen such a party. (31st (Alberta) Battalion Order No.138. – 29-3-17.)

I digress, William Henderson is not the subject of this post, that honour belongs to his nephew, my grandfather’s brother, William G.W. Johnston. I wanted to give some brief history of William’s uncle for a note further below.

William George Washington Johnston was born 10 Jun 1917, to parents James Washington Johnston (1876-1967) and Sophia Harriett Basham (1890-1959). A brother to my grandfather, James Henderson Johnston (1913-1981), he was my great uncle, and like many of my relatives he was one that I will never get to meet in this lifetime.

c. 1929 (Ern, Jim, Bill)

c. 1927 (Ern, Jim, Bill)

Like his siblings, he attended, Mowat School where he completed seven and a half years of classes and can be found in the school records from 1924 to 1931. In the image below, the 1929 Mowat December Attendance Record, you can see that Bill is 12 years old and in Grade 6 while his older brothers are in Grade 7 and Grade 9.

c. Dec 1929 (Mowat School Attendance)

c. Dec 1929 (Mowat School Attendance)

My great aunt wrote a bit about her step-brother, “Brother Bill was a born farmer. But World War II was just around the corner and life changed for all of us.” The two photos below are some of my favourites; I love the poses and the clothing they’re wearing. I wish I had a better copy of the tractor photo.

c. 1939 (Bill, Jim, Ern)

c. 1939 (Bill, Jim, Ern)

c. 1939 (Ern, Jim, Bill)

c. 1939 (Ern, Jim, Bill)

On 15 June, 1942, Bill was called up to the Canadian Military in Winnipeg, MB. On the occupational history form he listed his occupation as a farm labourer and he wished to return to this type of work when the war was over. He completed 60 days of basic training as well as 60 days of advanced training with the Winnipeg Light Infantry.

On 11 January, 1943, he was interviewed in W.L.I. Vernon, B.C. The interviewer noted a few interesting things about Bill, “Doesn’t smoke and drinks very little. He would like to be in the heavy artillery because he thinks he’d like it. Dull type, average physique, and not particularly interested in anything. Limited learning ability and no particular liking for Carrier Pl. Unlikely to improve greatly.” He was recommended as either an infantry rifleman or a carrier pl. (Bren Gunner).

Bill was admitted to the Vernon Military Hospital on 11 July, 1942, and was discharged on the 31st. He was then granted sick furlough from 1st of August to the 22nd. His sick leave was extended to 5 September and he returned on the 4th of September.

On 1 March, 1943, a transport warrant #A362, 085 d/17 Feb 43 was issued.
S.O.S. W.L.I. on t’fer to 3rd ??? BN Regina Rifles on 23 July, 1943.
S.O.S. for A-P 3 rd Regina Riles on 17 August, 1943.
T.O.S. for A-P 2nd Airfield Defence Bn. (Regina Rifles) on 18 August, 1943.
Attached for a/p ex pay to #12 Dist Depot (Farm Duty) on 31 August, 1943.
Ceases to be att’d f.a.p. on retuning to Unit 17 October, 1945.
S.O.S. F.A.P. on transfer to 31st (Alberta) Recce Regiment on 5 November, 1943.
T.O.S. 31st (Alberta) Recce. Regiment on transfer from 2nd Airfield Defence Bn. (R.R.) on 6 November, 1943. Rank is now a trooper.
Granted leave and furlough with R.A. to 3 December, 1943. TWA547586
Att. for rations and qtrs. to KORC(CA) Victoria to 7 December, 1943.

Bill never made it to any battlefields. The record of military service indicates that he was listed as being A.W.L. at 2200 hours of 27 February, 1944. He was never seen alive again.

Sadly, with special grief to Jim and our mother, Bill had died while in the army…Bill of the blue, blue eyes and the kind and honest heart.

On 10 February, 1945, Bill’s body was found in brush outside of Chiliwack, B.C. The causality notification form indicated that the presumed date of death was the day he went missing on 27 February, 1944. A letter was sent from G.S. Perrin, Brigadier, of the Department of National Defence Army, to my great grandmother, Sophia Johnston, that indicated the body of her son had no evidence of bone fractures and because of the advanced state of decomposition the coroner was unable to record the actual cause of the death.

Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg Free Press (13 Feb 1945)

Bill’s body was discovered wholly by accident when an 18-year-old boy, Gerald Walsynuk, found it in a remote spot of Oscar Hotchkiss’ Farm near Lickman Road. The body was found lying behind a log, under some cedar trees, near a stream of water. The body was fully dressed in battle dress including black coveralls and a black tam on the head.

The British Colombia Police report sent along with military records from LAC is able to fill in a few questions. Lieut. Chet Woods, who was attached to the 41st. Alberta reconnaissance Regiment, Vedder Crossing, B.C., while talking to a Miss A. Flynn, informed her that a private of that unit had gone insane and wandered away from the camp and that they had searched for the man but without success. If the above is true then it is possible that William G.W. Johnston is the man in question. Capt. Mooney was there that night and might be able to shed some light on the matter.

This is where the report ends abruptly. I do not know whether the police were able to get a hold of Capt. Mooney or whether they were able to conclude the report. I contacted the Chilliwack RCMP office but to no avail as their records only go as far back as 1971 and anyone who might have known if there were earlier records have either died or retired. The Chilliwack Archives were able to provide me with a few newspaper articles but they also do not provide a conclusive answer. My next step is to contact Canada National Defence to determine whether they have an archives department that might hold something. I also want to contact the Canadian Military Education Centre Museum to see if they have any ideas on where I should turn next, however, their hours of operation are limited and I have not had the time to contact them.

I have no idea what happened to my grandfather’s brother and I don’t know if I ever will. Was the pressure of his post too much for him? Did he loose his mind and commit suicide or was he a victim of homicide? I wonder if a more conclusive answer would have been made if his body was found sooner. It seems like such a bizarre set of circumstances I really don’t know what to make of it. Based on my current knowledge of Johnston family we have no obvious history of mental illness. The closest instance I can think of is that Jane Atchison (1854-1893), William’s grandmother, died of asphyxiation during an epithetic fit.

Chilliwack Newspaper (7 Mar 1945)

Chilliwack Newspaper (7 Mar 1945)

Bill was buried on 5 March, 1945, with full Military Honours in the Canadian Legion Cemetery in Chilliwack, B.C. Row C, plot 57. He is one of 9 individuals buried there. After the death of William George Washington there was some superstitious feelings on naming any further Johnston babies William in case further tragedy might befall the family again. Consequently I have no uncles, cousins, or nephews named William.

52 Ancestors – Week 5 – Napoleon Pelletier

EDIT: Please visit this blog post for new research. Portions of the following blog entry on Napoleon Pelletier are now out-of-date based on research done on Treaty annuity records.

I want to keep the information in this post unchanged beyond this addendum about the identity of his mother. I was previously under the impression that Marie Adele Lerat (1888-) had been his mother, but in fact, she was his step-mother.

You can read more about this discovery here.

For this week in Amy Johnson Crow’s genealogist challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, I am going to write about my maternal grandfather, Napoleon Pelletier (1905-1985). He was born on the Cowessess First Nation to parents Joseph Pelletier (1876-) and Marie Adele Lerat (1878-) in 1905. He had six other siblings that I am aware of although it is highly possible he may have had more.

Napoleon attended the Cowessess Indian Residential School and he can be found in the 1916 census. Cowessess Indian Residential School opened in 1898 and was later renamed Marieval. Residential schools that ran during this era typically used the half-day system where students would attend classes for half the day and work the other half. Napoleon would have most likely worked in the fields to provide food for the rest of the students or done other chores to keep the costs of the school low. My grandmother- his wife, Marie Cecilla Allary, also went to Cowesses. Her memories of the school during this era were not very pleasant, she remembers that the uniforms were rough, almost like potato sacks, and that she worked mostly in the kitchen to provide food for others students rarely ever spending time in a classroom.

pelletier, nap 1916 census

c. 1916

One of the issues I have with researching my Aboriginal ancestors are the records. First, there is nothing much in regards to census records before Saskatchewan became a province in 1905. The area where my family would have lived was known as The Territories, more specifically Assiniboia, but what complicates the search for them in official records is the fact that they traveled between the Canadian and United States border.

Another issue in regards to researching Aboriginal ancestors are the names. Names that I am related to are Agecoutay, Allary, Lerat, and Lavallee – this is not an exhaustive list. When looking at the census records between 1901-1921 there are many families on the reserve and just outside of it with these names and it’s hard to determine who is the right Napoleon Pelletier. Furthermore, the spelling of these names are varied and it is difficult to look for family when Pelletier has been recorded as Pelter, Peliter, or even Pelger! What worries me further is whether family members also went by traditional names which I would have no know of thereby missing individuals entirely.

Napoleon married my grandmother sometime in the late 1920s or very early 1930s; he and his family moved to southern Alberta where they lived on the Blackfoot (Siksika) reserve and where Napoleon worked as a miner. I have located two photos of my grandfather from the Glenbow Archives during this time. My grandfather is in the second row, second on the left.

Napoleon fought in Italy during the second world war. I have yet to get a copy of his military records although I’m very interested in taking a look at them. Apparently, Amsterdam was one of his favourite cities and when my mother came to visit me this past summer she lit a candle in one of the churches in his memory. My mother says he never spoke about his time in the army but that when he returned his once black hair had turned white and said it was because of what he had seen. (I have gotten the photo below restored and gave it to my mother as a Christmas present in 2012.)

c. 1941

c. 1941

Napoleon passed away just before Christmas in 1985. He is buried alongside his wife in Marieval, Saskatchewan, at the Sacred Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church. There is still much that I want to know about my grandfather and the fact of the matter is that I just haven’t asked enough questions. This is the year that I am going to sit down with my mother and contact my other relatives in order to get as much as I can.