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One of the most useful records for finding out about a Canadian person’s experience of World War I is their service file. These records are looked after by Library and Archives Canada, who have been busy converting 640,000 of these paper files into digital form over the past few years. In this post, we take a look at what types of information these files contain, using the file of Gerald Cecil Burton as an example.

Attestation paper p.1 Gerald BurtonAttestation papers are the form that people signed when they enlisted. (Click on the image for a closer look.) On the front page, information about the individual’s date and place of birth, address, next of kin, occupation, and military experience were recorded. This page was also signed in two places by the enlistee. In the Deseronto First World War project we have been using these signatures to illustrate the blog posts about each Deseronto veteran, as very often we don’t have photographs of the people, but there is nearly always a signature. Towards the top right of the form, the soldier’s regimental number was noted. This is a unique identifier which is helpful in distinguishing between two men of the same name. In our group of records, for example, there were two Jacob Greens (644773 and 636686) and two Wilbert Brants (785039 and 636958). The military unit that the individual initially joined is usually noted at the top of the form, although often this is not the unit that the person ended up serving with in Europe.

Attestation paper p.2 Gerald BurtonOn the back of the form, details of the recruit’s physical appearance were recorded, including apparent age, height, colouring, chest measurement and any distinguishing marks, such as tattoos or scars.

Attestation papers were the first World War I records to be digitized by Library and Archives Canada. They were not taken from the service files, but from a separate series of Attestation Registers (RG 9, II B8). Some people (about 50,000) are missing from that series, and for those individuals the newly-digitized service files provide the first glimpse of their attestation paper information.

Record of Service forms like the one below are very useful for determining the course of an individual’s wartime career. These forms are copies of army orders relating to the person. They record transfers between military units, arrivals and departures,  injuries, and penalties. Extract from service record for Gerald Burton

For example, the card above shows that Gerald Cecil Burton arrived in England on the SS Mauritania on November 30th, 1916. It also notes that he was sentenced to a year of hard labour for stealing a revolver and holster.

Service files often contain detailed medical records: some even have x-ray photographs of injured limbs.

Medical report on Gerald Burton

In this example from Gerald Burton’s file, details of a diagnosis of bronchitis are noted. The files also usually have information on the dental health of recruits, with details of fillings and extractions.

The service files are a wonderful resource for First World War research, and digitizing them has been an enormous project for Library and Archives Canada. Thank you very much to everyone involved in the effort!

Norman Bruce 'Nipper' ScottOur colleagues at Elgin County Archives hold the Norman B. ‘Nipper’ Scott fonds, which includes materials relating to Scott’s career as a pilot during the First World War. Scott trained at Camp Rathbun in Deseronto, among other places, before joining the Royal Flying Corps’ No. 11 Squadron in France.

Elgin County Archives have digitized Scott’s pilot log book and made it available online [PDF]. It is interesting to see the flights logged by a trainee pilot at Camp Rathbun, and Scott’s subsequent activities on the front line in France.

Norman Bruce Scott's pilot log book

This page shows the flights taken by Scott this week in 1917: his third week as a cadet. You can see that he was already taking solo flights in this week, and getting a good tour of the local sights: Napanee, Belleville and Kingston all feature in his log.

The serial numbers of the Curtiss JN4A aircraft Scott flew are listed. We have two photographs of one of the planes, C593, in our digital collections. Let’s hope Nipper Scott wasn’t responsible for this particular landing.

Curtiss JN4A C593 upside-down

2011.20 (11) George Edward Munk’s album

On June 10th we were delighted to have our first historical plaque unveiling in Deseronto. As part of a day of activities, Mayor Norm Clark and Major Bill March of the Royal Canadian Air Force revealed this new commemorative part of Deseronto’s town landscape.

Plaque unveiling event

Deseronto Archives Board Chair, Paul Robertson introduced our two guests. This is the first of a planned series of plaques that will be installed around Deseronto, sharing different aspects of our town’s history. The plaque uses images from the Deseronto Archives collection, beautifully arranged by graphic designer Darren Young of youngdesigns and is situated next to the Town Hall, in Rathbun Park.

New plaque in place (photo by Paul Robertson)

Curtiss JN4A C593 upside-down

As part of a day of commemorative events on June 10th, Mayor Norman J. Clark will unveil a commemorative plaque in Rathbun Park, Deseronto, to mark the town’s involvement in the First World War.

Some 300 local people served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and more than 50 men lost their lives while they were attached to the two pilot training camps, either side of Deseronto.

The commemorative plaque was funded by the Council of the Town of Deseronto and coordinated by the Deseronto Archives Board. It is the first of a planned series of plaques aimed at bringing Deseronto’s colourful past to life on the present-day streets of the town.

We hope you will be able to join Mayor Clark and the Deseronto Archives Board in Rathbun Park at 3pm on June 10th for the unveiling of the plaque.

Media release – Deseronto plaque unveiling.

Edith May Allison signature

On this day in 1917 Edith May Allison enlisted as a nursing sister in Calgary. She was born on May 14th, 1878 (she said 1881 on her form) in Tyendinaga Township, the daughter of Jonathan G. Allison and Sarah Edith (née Prentice). She was listed as a nurse in Tyendinaga in the 1901 census and was still in Tyendinaga in 1911. By 1916 she had moved and was living at the hospital in Coronation, Alberta.

Edith’s service record tells us that she was five feet seven inches tall and weighed 150 pounds when she signed up to join the Canadian Army Medical Corps. She arrived in England in May 1917 and initially served in hospitals in Brighton, Sussex. She was then posted to No. 2 Canadian Stationary Hospital in Outreau, France between June 1918 and March 1919. [War diaries for this hospital are at Library and Archives Canada.]

Edith sailed back to Canada on the SS Lapland in April 1919. She continued to work for the Corps as a nurse in Ottawa after the war, and was transferred to Colonel Belcher Hospital in Calgary on June 1st, 1919. This hospital opened in 1919 for veterans of the war.

Edith was the Matron-in-Charge of the hospital until she died there on July 10th, 1933. Her death was determined to be as a result of her war service.

Edith May Allison circumstances of casualty

Canada, War Graves Registers (Circumstances of Casualty), 1914-1948, courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

CIRCUMSTANCES OF CASUALTY
Died at Col. Belcher Hospital, Calgary, Alta.

Cause – Myocarditis, etc.
Death was due to service, authority BPC.d.15-8-33

Edith’s gravestone, from ‘Great War 100 Reads’

Edith was buried in the Deseronto Cemetery, near her father, Jonathan Allison. Her mother died three years later and was also buried there.

Harry Stiner, who had enlisted on January 15th, wrote a letter home to John ‘Jack’ Evans on this day in 1916. At the time Harry was stationed in Camp Bramshott in Hampshire, England and was hoping to be posted to France. His letter was published in the Deseronto Post of December 14th, 1916:

Deseornto Post 14 Dec 1916 Letter from Harry Stiner

Letter from Harry Stiner
Bramshott Camp, England,
Nov. 29th, 1916
Mr John G. Evans
Deseronto, Ontario.
Dear Jack, —
Just thought I’d drop you a line. We have just given a draft of one hundred men to go to France and another will be made up in a day or two. I offered myself for the first but my company commander scratched me and would not hear of my going. I have been examined for the second and I am marked for medical board, as owing to the climate I have a severe attack of asthma so I may not see the scrap at all well I saw the big draft move out and it was a wonderful sight-ours was only a small part of it.
It made every body feel a bit blue knowing that in less than 24 hours they would be in the danger zone but when the massed bands started their music about 200 strong it made things a bit more lively; our Brigadier who is an officer of the famous P.P.C.L.I. [Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry] made a very good speech after which the Bands played, “Hats off to Tommy Atkins” and the boys were cheered to the echo. They marched away very cheerful and made an excellent showing.
Herb left me today and I don’t expect to see him again as the section is transferred from us to the machine gun Brigade School somewhere on the coast. If I don’t get to France I’ll hardly see him again until the war is over. He and Hogan are McGee’s right bowers and he will look after them well.
Well Jack, there is not much to tell you. Its a great country but I would sooner have Canada. I saw some of the greatest sights and now I am satisfied that I wouldn’t care to stay here. All for now.
Yours truly.
Harry.

Editor’s Note-The draft spoken of was made up of, as well as others, Isaac Maracle, Hugh Brant, Rendall [Randall] Brant, Harry Corby, Jake Green, Bill Sero and Alex Bardy. Those rejected for this draft were highly disappointed but will leave in about 11 days with the second draft.

The Ontario Temperance Act was passed on April 27th, 1916, banning the sale of alcohol in the province apart from for medicinal, religious or scientific purposes from September 16th. This had an impact on the local hotel business, as this extract from the minutes of Deseronto Town Council on this day in 1916 makes clear:

William Myles's request to Council

Mr. W. N. Myles of the Deseronto House Hotel being present, it was moved by the Reeve, seconded by Councillor Richardson, that he be heard.
Mr. Myles stated he was now keeping a standard hotel and requested the Council to grant him a license to keep two or more billiard tables. Councillor Hunt said at the present time it was revenue we are after as the cutting off of liquor licenses left the town in a bad monetary shape. He was in favour of the application. The Reeve also stated that he was in favour of granting the application.
Moved by Councillor Hunt, seconded by the Reeve, that Mr.Myles be granted the privilege he asked on payment of the usual fee. Carried.

A “standard hotel” was one where the hotel-keeper was

…entitled to sell all non-intoxicating drinks and beverages, cigars, cigarettes and tobacco, and to conduct an ice cream or general restaurant or café without further or other license

according to the terms of the Act.

Deseronto House Hotel

Deseronto House Hotel

William Myles maintained his association with billiard tables: in the 1921 census he was living in Thomas Street with an occupation of ‘Amusements’, working as an employee in a pool room. He retired to Hamilton and died there on December 31st, 1927 at the age of 69. He lived long enough to see the Ontario Temperance Act repealed: in March 1927.

Moving archivesA significant change to the operation of the Deseronto Archives will be happening in September 2016, as we are moving the collection into the new Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County in Belleville. From September 12th, the Archives will be available for research in Belleville.

This increases the availability of the collection, which will now be open to the public from Monday to Thursday, 9.30 to 12 and 1 to 4pm instead of the limited hours we have been open in Deseronto.

Donna Fano labelling shelvesThe Town of Deseronto was the first municipality in Hastings County to provide a staffed archive service, back in 1997. Now it is joining the City of Belleville and the County of Hastings in taking advantage of the facilities of the new Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County. There our local records will be kept in climate-controlled conditions in a brand-new facility.

Amanda Hill, the Deseronto archivist, has also relocated to the new archives at Belleville, which will provide a continuity of care for the Deseronto materials and knowledge of their contents.

This website will continue to be updated with news from the Deseronto First World War project, and Deseronto Archives images will remain available from our Flickr account.

The email address to contact the Archives is now archives@cabhc.ca and you can also call 613-967-3304.

Grateful thanks are owed to Frances Smith and all the staff at Deseronto Public Library for providing a home for the Deseronto Archives, and also to the Deseronto Archives Board and the Corporation of the Town of Deseronto for their support of the Archives over the past 20 years and their continued dedication to the service as it enters this new phase.

In April and May 1916 there was a measles epidemic in Deseronto. The 1916 report of the Medical Officer of Health was presented to the Town Council at a meeting on December 15th of that year and described the outbreak in the following way:

Description of measles outbreak

During April and May, an Epidemic of Measles passed through the town, a large number were attacked and there were two deaths from this disease. It was part of a general epidemic which swept through the Province of Ontario last winter and spring.

The first death was of Audrey Jean Whiting, daughter of Arthur Henry Whiting, the principal of Deseronto Public School, and Annie (née Leedham). Audrey was two years old. She died on May 16th.

Isabella Barnhart was the second child to die in the epidemic. She was the daughter of George Barnhart and Isabella (née Louis or Lewis), who were both Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. She was fifteen months old when she died on June 17th, 1916. She had been ill for three weeks.

CIBC in October 2012 (from Google Streetview)

Deseronto CIBC in October 2012 (from Google Streetview)

The CIBC branch in Deseronto will be closing its doors for good this summer, bringing to an end more than 120 years of banking history in the town.

The Bank of Montreal was the first firm to open a bank in Deseronto: Herbert Osborne took this photograph of its original Main Street branch in around 1895:

Bank of Montreal, c.1895

Bank of Montreal, c.1895

In 1904 the Bank of Montreal built a new structure at Centre and Main on the corner of the park lot.

DESCOM-06-23

DESCOM-06-23

Shortly after the Bank of Montreal opened its new building, the Standard Bank opened a branch in Deseronto, in September 1905. Seventeen years later, a new brick building, the current CIBC branch, was constructed on the south side of Main Street. Here is the bank under construction:

2009.26 CIBC-09-02

2009.26 CIBC-09-02

And here is the finished building in the 1920s:

2009.26 CIBC-09-15

2009.26 CIBC-09-15

In 1928 the Standard Bank was taken over by the Canadian Bank of Commerce. During the Great Depression it was common practice for banks to rationalize their branches and transfer customers to another firm. The Bank of Montreal closed down in 1932 and its customers were moved to the Canadian Bank of Commerce.

This is how the building looked in 1933:

2009.26 CIBC-09-17

2009.26 CIBC-09-17

The Bank of Montreal building was taken over by the Town of Deseronto and became the Town Hall in 1945, with Council holding its first meeting there on November 15th of that year. In 1961 the Canadian Bank of Commerce merged with the Imperial Bank of Canada to become the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. The CIBC Deseronto branch celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2005.

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