Com­ing to Canada

From Bri­tish home child to Cana­dian First World War vet­eran, this boy was forced into man­hood at an early age

Our Canada - - Contents - by Cam Trows­dale,

Dur­ing the early 1940s, four vet­er­ans of the First World War lived within a two block ra­dius of our home, in Strat­ford, Ont. One had served with Gen­eral Ed­mund Al­lenby in the Mid­dle East cam­paigns. An­other, a shell-shock vic­tim, would stand in his mother’s yard, stiff as a ram­rod, for hours on end, oc­ca­sion­ally throw­ing his arms around but never say­ing a word. Our fa­ther’s best friend lived down the street from us, and was still alive af­ter sur­viv­ing a gas at­tack and the hor­ror of be­ing buried alive. Then there was our dad, Ge­orge William Trows­dale, who car­ried shrap­nel in his right leg to the grave.

Dad and his younger sis­ter were born in an English workhouse. Decades later, she told my sis­ter Brenda and me how they had searched rail­way tracks, look­ing for par­tially burned cin­ders for their win­ter heat. When their fa­ther died and their mother dis­ap­peared, they ended up in two sep­a­rate Catholic or­phan­ages. The one my fa­ther at­tended was called The Chil­dren’s Homes of the Sh­effield Union. In 1913, he sailed for Canada as a “home child” im­mi­grant, and worked as a farm labourer near Till­son­burg, Ont. En­list­ing in the Cana­dian army on March 9, 1916, he didn’t find out his true date of birth— Au­gust 20, 1900—un­til send­ing in an ap­pli­ca­tion for his birth cer­tifi­cate in 1927. At the time of en­list­ment, he was un­aware that he had joined up as a 15-year old.

He served ini­tially in the 168th Bat­tal­ion, and then trans­ferred to the Ma­chine Gun Squadron of the Cana­dian Cavalry Brigade on March 7, 1917. I first heard about his trans­fer dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion he had while pur­chas- ing a paint­ing of a First World War cavalry ma­chine gun squadron, in Van­cou­ver. Wounded in Trou­ville, France, in 1918, he was dis­charged from an Aus­tralian field hos­pi­tal sev­eral months later in Rouen, France, and left with­out his col­lec­tion of war sou­venirs. The only spe­cific item I re­mem­ber he brought back was a Ger­man Uh­lan cavalry hel­met. He de­cided to move back to Eng­land in 1919, but when he found out that his aunt, whom he had sent his pay for safe­keep­ing, had dis­ap­peared, he re­turned to Canada and set­tled in Strat­ford, Ont., af­ter a brief stay in Detroit. He only ever told us three war sto­ries. The first was about his de­ci­sion to give up his sergeant’s stripes be­cause of what he had to en­force. The sec­ond was about his pun­ish­ment in the “glass house,” a mil­i­tary prison for sol­diers who have bro­ken cer­tain rules. The only thing I re­call him say­ing about that was, “once was enough.” The last story he ever told us was about his de­ci­sion not to join three friends who had been mem­bers of the North-west

Mounted Police (later the RCMP) be­fore en­list­ment and wanted him to join them af­ter de­mo­bi­liza­tion. Brenda and I al­ways found it amus­ing when he strug­gled to ad­mit that our mother, who had grown up on a farm and could do al­most any­thing as­so­ci­ated with horses, was ac­tu­ally just as good, if not bet­ter, at han­dling them than he was.

Upon his re­turn from the war, he be­gan cor­re­spon­dence cour­ses for a high­school cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and also worked as a ma­chin­ist’s helper for the Cana­dian Na­tional Rail­way. His first ma­jor pur­chase as soon as he saved up enough money was a piano, which still re­mains in our fam­ily home in Strat­ford. He be­gan tak­ing piano and voice lessons, de­cided to en­ter a singing class in On- tario’s first com­pet­i­tive mu­sic fes­ti­val in 1927 and ended up win­ning the first-place prize. I can still re­mem­ber be­ing played to sleep at night with one of my favourite 1920s songs,“doll Face.”

Af­ter com­plet­ing the cour­ses nec­es­sary for pro­mo­tion to full ma­chin­ist, he went on to sur­vive the De­pres­sion. Rather than tak­ing out a mort­gage on a house that was built in 1858, he de­cided to re­build it him­self.

With a ma­jor in­ter­est in Freema­sonry, he achieved his am­bi­tion of get­ting ac­cepted into the Shrine, but passed away just be­fore his oft-stated goal of liv­ing to three score and ten. An im­por­tant part of his life from the early ’30s un­til his death in 1969 was the Ma­sonic Lodge in Strat­ford.

It’s es­ti­mated that there are now over three mil­lion de­scen­dants of the more than 80,000 Bri­tish home chil­dren who came to Canada be­tween 1875 and 1933. Not only was this our per­sonal legacy, it was the legacy of many other Cana­di­ans as well.

Por­trait pho­to­graph of Ge­orge W. Trows­dale dur­ing his time with the 168th Bat­tal­ion.

Clock­wise from top: Paint­ing of a WWI cavalry ma­chine gun squadron, done by Cam Trows­dale‘s fel­low unit mem­ber, E.A. King; Home Chil­dren plaque in Strat­ford, Ont.; Ge­orge’s Bell piano, pur­chased in 1923.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.