Category Archives: Military

He Couldn’t Serve

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If you weren’t in uniform you weren’t doing your part.” This was a quote from a veteran on Remembrance Day 2017.

My father, Donald Sutherland volunteered for service at the beginning of WWII but was twice rejected for medical reasons. He had to sit out the war working as an accountant and serving in the Blackwatch reserve.

“ Dear Mother, I had my medical test today. It went fairly satisfactorily except that as usual, my heart was a little fast and I have to go in again Thursday am to have a recheck. They do everything under the sun to you and it takes about an hour and a half. Everything else went well and I suppose I’ll be accepted if my heart steadies down next time. I am supposed to go to bed very early on Wednesday night to soothe my nerves. I just expected to have the interview today but they buzzed me right through the whole works, Love Don”

Donald graduated from McGill University in the spring of 1939. He had just turned 22 and he and all his classmates expected to find jobs and begin their adult lives but war was on the horizon. Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, three days later Britain declared war on Germany, followed by Canada a week later. Personal lives were put on hold as young men volunteered for military service.

With his new commerce degree, my father had begun working for Ritchie Brown and Company as an auditor  Once war was declared, he signed up for the McGill Canadian Officers Training Corp (C.O.T.C.). The McGill C.O.T.C. was quickly expanded from 125 to more than 1,400 cadets and 50 instructors. The need for a drill hall spurred the construction of the Arthur Currie Gymnasium. New recruits were trained in map reading, military law, organization, administration and upon completion sent to a branch of service in which they could best contribute their talents and skills.  

In August of 1940, he registered with the Dominion of Canada National Registration Regulations expecting he would soon be in military service. He went in for his medical examination without a thought and was rejected. He later tried again.

Twice he received a certificate of rejection from the Canadian Army. The doctors said he was not able to do strenuous work because of his high blood pressure and mitral valve insufficiency. He also received a rejection notice from the Airforce because that application wasn’t completed.

With his second rejection letter from the army came an Applicant for Enlistment badge and card to identify him as an applicant who had failed to meet the minimum medical standards. The lapel badge was to be worn to show the public he had volunteered.

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Applicant for Enlistment Lapel Pin

 

He served in the Black Watch Reserve to the end of the war. As a reservist, he was a part-time soldier while he continued at his day job. He trained raw recruits at camps in Mount Bruno and Farnham, Quebec and garnered high praise from his commanding officer. The battalion’s modified trooping of the colours was written up in the Montreal Gazette, pointing out Lt. D.N. Gatehouse and Lt. D. Sutherland, bearing the flags.

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Commanding Officier & Donald Sutherland Black Watch Camp, Mount Bruno, Quebec  1941

 

I can only imagine how my father felt, staying home, receiving letters from all his friends serving overseas, while he travelled in Canada auditing company books and marched in Montreal.

Notes:

2017 was the 100th Anniversary of my father’s birth and in his memory, I wrote this story. This is a companion piece to my mother Dorothy Raguin’s war service https://wordpress.com/post/genealogyensemble.com/4470

Letter from Donald Sutherland to his mother Minnie Eagle Sutherland July 28, 1942.

Letter from Major D.L.Carstairs to Lt Gatehouse and Lt. Sutherland July 19, 1942.

Black Watch Stages Colourful Ceremony – The Gazette, Montreal July 20, 1942. The full trooping of the colours was not done in wartime. According to other newspaper clippings my grandmother saved, he marched in a number of parades and ceremonies.

Served under Lieut Col. H.A. Johnston 4th (Reserve) Battalion of the Black Watch.

A Wren’s Story: Dorothy Isabel Raguin

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Dorothy Raguin my mother, joined the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) known as the Wrens in April 1943. She left a job teaching grade three at Berthelet School in Montreal to help in the war effort and to look after her brothers, Robert and Arthur Raguin, both serving in the Navy.

She had graduated from The High School of Montreal Girls School in 1939 and then attended MacDonald College for teacher’s training and began her teaching career.

War was declared in September 1939, but it wasn’t until three years later that the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service was formed. Dorothy was one of over 6000 women who joined the navy, allowing the shore-based men to go to sea. The navy was the last of the forces to admit women. The first recruits were cooks, clerks and laundry maids but by the end of the war, women filled 39 trades including communication operators, signalman, coders and radar plotters. Their pay was also raised from two-thirds of a man’s to eighty percent. The Navy found women were useful.

The Wrens were inundated with applications even though the Army and Airforce had been recruiting women for two years. These women wanted to join the Navy. As the smallest of women’s services, it claimed to be the most selective. The Wrens were known to have recruited a “better type” of girl. They were ladies, not sailors and kept their hats on indoors.

There was a short three-week course at the WRCNS training centre HMCS Conestoga, in Galt Ontario. This facility which had been a girls reform school was referred to as a “stone frigate.” The women put on the Wren uniform and had a rapid transition into military life. They were given physical training, drill practice and learned about naval traditions and customs.“ They all seemed anxious to serve and do something constructive to help win the war. I found them very receptive to naval tradition and amenable to discipline, said Superintendent Carpenter. ”¹

Dorothy was drafted to HMCS Cornwallis September 1943. Mom’s first posting was to a hospital base, Stadacona in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A family friend, Miss Fellows was in charge of the women and had two sick berth attendant positions available. These were prime positions working in the laboratories. One was in haematology and the other in urinalysis. Mom chose blood and a friend got the other position.

 

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Lab in Halifax 1944

 

It wasn’t all work, marching and standing in lines. In their free time, they visited the scenic places around Halifax including Peggy’s Cove and Chester NS. There were always men coming and going from the ships and the Wrens used to take some of the patients rowing on the Arm. As innocent women, they were warned to be careful walking on Gottingen Street which had buildings right to the sidewalk, as they could be grabbed from the doorways! Dorothy celebrated her 21st birthday in the Navy with a lobster dinner at the Lord Nelson Hotel, a treat by her cousin Richard Scrivner who was then a Navy Commander. It was her first lobster and she never had another. There was also trip with other Wrens to New York City. They didn’t have to pay for their hotel and received meals for free as a thank you for their service.

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Doreen, Dorothy, Gwen

One of her teaching friends Mary Hawkins wrote in May 1943 from Halifax. “Dorothy Raguin and I met at the ANA (Army, Navy, Airforce) Club yesterday. She looks fit and is getting a kick out of the Wrens. She was in the School for Teachers the year before I was and was teaching at Berthelet. She left a month after I did – to join the Navy. I asked her if the Wrens get their tot of rum and she said, No, but apart from that everything is just the way Nelson left it. I know what she meant.”²

She finished her duty doing discharge physicals at the Royal Canadian Naval Hospital (RCNH) St Hyacinthe, Quebec. Her transfer was mentioned in the Tiddley Times, the Wrens newsletter. “Our hospital staff have been lucky in the acquisition of Dorothy Raguin, Aileen Fee and P.O. Anne Hawke, all lab. technicians with first-hand experience from Halifax.”³ The WRCNS disbanded in August of 1946 as women were not needed in peacetime.

Dorothy saw her brothers only once while she was in the Navy. She arranged dates for them when their ship came into Halifax. Happily, they managed to survive without her care and returned home safely.

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Dorothy Raguin in the Women’s Volunteer Reserve Corps before 1943.

 

My mother Dorothy Raguin Sutherland, died recently, at 95. She was proud of her service in the Navy and so to honour her and her service to Canada I am posting this story.

Notes:

  1. Superintendent Carpenter on Navy Radio, Recorded10 June 1943 for broadcast 14 and 16 June on CBC. Library and Archives Canada: MG30 E 391 Volume 1.
  1. Buch, Mary Hawkins., and Carolyn Gossage. Props on Her Sleeve: The Wartime Letters of a Canadian Airwoman. Toronto: Dundurn, 1997. Print.
  1. Tiddly Times May – June 1945 Wrens Newsletter page 26.
  1. Huba, Diane., The Wrens 70th Anniversary 2012. Starshell Volume VII No. 58, Spring 2012.
  1. Dorothy Raguin Sutherland reminiscences as told to the author.
  1. www.navaireview.ca/wp-content/uploads/public/vol3num3/vol3num3art5.pdf
  1. www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/wmens-royal-canadian-naval-service/
  2. In the third picture, Dorothy Raguin is not wearing a Wren’s uniform but rather the Women’s Volunteer Reserve Corp (W.V.R.C.) uniform. The main goal of this organization was to fundraise for the war efforts and train women in war-related tasks.

Heatwaves and Victory Gardens

 

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On Sunday, October 1, 2017, some members of Genealogy Ensemble will be participating in the Culture Days event at the Verdun Farmer’s Market, in promotion of Beads in a Necklace, our  book of family stories to be published in November.   My talk will focus on WWI Victory Gardens and the rising cost of living during that period.

The newspaper clipping, above, is from the social notes column of the Richmond-Times Guardian, (Richmond, Quebec) circa 1905. The very silly item about a big potato is probably my husband’s grandfather’s way of poking fun at small town pretentions.  Or is it?

The Nicholson family’s vast vegetable garden behind their charming red-brick house in the Eastern Townships of Quebec was no joke to them, not even in an era when pre-prepared foods like Heinz Beans, Jello, and Quaker Oats, were fast becoming house-hold names.*(1)

In 1911, with their four children were grown up, the large backyard garden that produced corn, beets, sweet peas, etc., was critical to the diet of this frugal Scottish Canadian family.

The potato patch was a particular concern:

“I put the Paris Green on the potatoes twice. Mrs. Montgomery came over to tell me that the bugs were eating up my potatoes. I was waiting to get someone to do it for me, as that was one thing I never attempted.

“But when she interfered thought we would try it. So one dark night, Flora (daughter) got the lantern and we went out when the bugs were asleep and gave them their dose. We dressed ourselves in the shed. You ought to have seen us. When we got through left our clothes there. Went to bed and dreamed all night that the bugs were crawling over us.”

So writes Margaret Mcleod Nicholson, in a July, 9, 1911 to husband Norman, who was away in Northern Ontario working as a railway inspector.

You have to admire Margaret’s style. Although her letters were often penned in haste and full of household concerns, ‘the local news’  as in gossip, and much high anxiety over finances, she certainly could paint a word picture when she wanted to.*(2)

In the spring of 1911, it was 57 year old Margaret’s job to care for the garden because her two older girls, Edith and Marion, were away teaching in Montreal, and her youngest, Flora, was very busy studying for final exams. Margaret and Flora were living alone for most of the year.

Although her daughters returned to Richmond for the summer, they came and went as they pleased, often in motorcars owned by wealthier neighbours. *(3)

Norman, in his letters home,  warned his wife not to work too hard out in the backyard, especially in hot weather, and the summer  of 1911, as it happens, was very, very hot.*(4)

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An ‘old-fashioned’ carriage in front of Tighsolas, the Nicholson home, circa 1910. A hire. The Nicholsons couldn’t afford to keep a carriage, let alone buy an automobile, like so many of their neighbours.

The same  letter continues:

“We have had dreadful hot weather. Just fancy, one night we slept out on the veranda. Took our mattresses down. The Skinners (other neighbours) were sleeping in theirs so that we were not afraid and we had Flossie (the dalmatian) with us but yesterday afternoon it rained so last night was cool.

We all had a good sleep and today is fine. We feel like working. I hope you did not have this extreme heat. We had quite a cold wave about the 24th but no frost.”

This sounds like typical Quebec  weather, doesn’t it?  So up and down.  It’s not easy cultivating a garden in this province. It takes perseverance.

Six years later, in the spring of 1917, most everyone in the west end of the city of Montreal was out on the street digging their wartime Victory Gardens.*(5)

Marion Nicholson, now a mother and homemaker living on York Street in lower Westmount, describes the scene in a letter home to Mom:

“Every vacant lot around the city has been utilized for gardens and I think it is more common to see people out digging and planting in these gardens than in a small town like Richmond. Some I think are making their first attempt.”

Her small family is no exception.  “Hugh (husband) and Willie (cousin) are making a garden. What success they will have I do not know. One thing for sure, the beds are straight (her underline) and square. I myself would prefer more in them.”

Marion (who is six months pregnant) then describes how she has hardly slept all week while tending her very sick toddler. She begs her mom to send as many crates of eggs as she can on the next train.

It certainly was an era of high-anxiety about food, nutrition  – and so many other things.

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Margaret’s 1917 butter bill. Inflation. The price of butter goes up from 30 to 40 cents from September to October.* (6)

Still, Marion closes her letter to her Mom by praising her comfort food:  “So, now to get a taste of your home-made bread. When I eat it, I close my eyes and I feel as if I were home. Thank you for all the good things you sent.”

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Edith, young Margaret, and Marion, far right, in summer of 1918 in an orchard in Richmond, possibly behind the Nicholson home as they had apple trees. (The newborn is in other pics.) This was the year of the Spanish Flu. It was safer in the countryside. Marion stayed an entire month in Richmond, until her husband, Hugh, begged her to come home in a letter. “The ice in the icebox has melted all over the floor, there’s no food in the house, the windows are kept open and it’s hot as Hades in here. Please come home and take care of me!” He was in the care of his sisters-in-law, who had better things to do in wartime Montreal  than to baby their brother-in-law. Edith, a Sun Life employee, volunteered in Soldiers’ Aid for the YMCA and for the Navy League.

  • 1. Most of the famous food brands of the 20th century got their start in 1900-1910 by advertising in magazines like the Ladies’ Home Journal with happy-family lifestyle ads with bigger graphics and fewer printed promises. “Pure” was the adjective of the day.

It was understood, even back then, that the home was evolving from a center of production to a center of consumption. Margaret, born in 1853, made everything from scratch, on a woodstove, with recipes she kept firmly locked in her head; Marion Nicholson, born 1886, would cook on a gas stove relying on her Fanny Farmer Cookbook; her daughter, also Marion, born 1917,  living in middle class comfort in 1950’s suburbia, would feed her brood nothing but canned vegetables, even canned potatoes, which she warmed on an electric stove.

  • 2. Norman was tickled by an anecdote from a November, 1909 letter, where Margaret vividly describes a back-and-forth argument she has had with a male relation over woman suffrage. The relation invokes St. Paul as was the custom. She replies “St. Paul has been dead for a long time. I don’t live in those days, milking cows and making fires.” Norman, who is active in local politics, replies in support of his wife: “Too absurd to think that a woman cannot exercise her franchise with as much intelligence as some of the male sex. And when you have to drag some of these supposedly intelligent men to the polls as you would cattle.”
  • 3. Margaret disliked motor cars. From 1909. “Mr. Montgomery is selling his horse and buying a car. Don’t you think he is foolish?” But, she was happy to go on drives when invited.
  • 5.  http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/victory-gardens. Apparently, Victory Gardens weren’t only a way to add to the food supply; they were about improving morale on the home-front by making people feel useful.

 

  • 6. A Chicago Agency sent a very fancy direct mail advertisement out to Richmond homemakers in 1916 on behalf of a new product called Crisco Shortening asking, “Do you like the taste of fresh buns in the morning? Try Crisco.” A coupon was attached.

 

Finding British Regiments in Quebec, 1759-1760

The 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham, in which General Wolfe’s British invasion force defeated General Montcalm’s defending army, is the most famous battle in Canadian history. After the British also conquered Montreal the following year, New France became history and a new British colony in Canada was born.

Thousands of people took part in these events. British historians say that the fleet that sailed up the St. Lawrence River in the spring of 1759 carried between 10,000 and 12,500 British sailors and soldiers, while the book Combattre pour la France en Amérique lists 7,450 French soldiers.

Finding out whether your ancestor fought in this campaign is not easy, but the PDF attached below, Finding British Regiments in Quebec, 1759-1760, may help you make a start. This compilation lists the British regiments that fought at Quebec City and Montreal, and it identifies the places British regiments were posted during the 1759-1760 campaign.

The Canadian government website of The National Battlefields Commission www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/en/ describes the historical context of the Seven Years War (also known as the French and Indian War), while the searchable page www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca/en/history-heritage/battles-1759-1760/soldiers/ lists the names of 7,279 British soldiers and 4,079 French soldiers who took part.

Marcel Fournier and a staff of about 30 researchers in Montreal and France identified 7,450 soldiers and officers who fought for France in New France, plus the names of another 1374 soldiers. These findings were published in Combattre pour la France en Amérique by La Société généalogique canadienne-française, Montreal, 2009 (in French only).

If you are interested in the soldiers who fought in British regiments, you should consult the two-volume In Search of the “Forlorn Hope”: a Comprehensive Guide to Locating British Regiments & Their Records (1640-WWI) by John M. Kitzmiller II, published in Salt Lake City by Manuscript Publishing Foundation, 1988. You will probably find it in a large library. This book is the source of the information complied here.

These two volumes, plus a supplement, tell you which regiment was posted where from 1640 to 1914. The book does this in reverse: you need to look up the name of a place or campaign and the book identifies the regiments stationed there. The supplement can also help you with genealogical research you might want to conduct in British War Office Records. Once you find your ancestor’s name, you may need to visit the Public Record Office, Kew, near London.

Another book, My Ancestor was in the British Army, by Michael Watts and Christopher Watts, published by the Society of Genealogists in the U.K. in 2009, lists dozens of other archives in England, Wales and Scotland in which military records are kept, including the soldiers and mariners who fought during the Seven Years War in North America. You can also try searching military records on the subscription website Find My Past, www.findmypast.com.

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