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Just a little over a year ago, I started work on something I never dreamed I could do. Ever! I started work on a book; actually a novel. The book is now Published and available at Amazon, Chapters, Barnes and Noble and on this website. Needless to say, then, this is a very exciting time for me. At the same time, I am learning to set up this Blog page and Web site to provide background material for the book.
The project of writing this book started out innocently enough – about 5 years ago. I became curious about a Great Uncle who lost his life in the Great War. The only thing that I knew about him was his name; Farquhar McLennan. He was mentioned from time to time in family conversations. I remembered him because his name was so unusual. I grew up in Toronto Canada and nobody was ever named Farquhar.
As I said, about 5 years ago, I became curious and had some time on my hands. I sat down at the computer and did a search in the Library and Archives in Ottawa. I searched under WW1 records. Within a few minutes some documents came up on my screen. There in front of me was a document called “Attestation Papers”. In other words, enlistment papers. I could see detailed information about my Uncle and the thing that really blew me away – his signature.
Farquhar McLennan was no longer just a unique name, but a real person who lived and breathed and signed his name. And he was about to go away to war.
I was hooked.
Start here and follow the Blog through to the end. I will update it regularly.
In my first post, I mentioned my Uncle’s attestation papers. Farquhar McLennan signed up with the 58th Battalion, Central Ontario Regiment on July 12, 1915. He traveled from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake, where the training camp was located. Oddly enough, the training camp was called Paradise Camp. It was located on The Commons right next to the old Fort George site. The Commons was covered with thousands of white bell tents where the recruits slept.
Farquhar would have undergone a medical examination before he was presented with his papers. I have posted the 2 pieces of Attestation in the Gallery for you to see.
As of today, 555,443 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project. Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, […]
My family recently relocated to Burlington, Ontario, along the shore of Lake Ontario. It certainly is a delightful city with a beautiful waterfront. It also has the Lakeshore Rd running through it, and if you recall, this was the route for the Great Trek. Since I have moved here, I have become aware of the older buildings and features of downtown Burlington. I have become aware, in the context of, what would Pte. Farquhar McLennan have seen as he and the 58th passed through: for sure some of the old houses, built in the 1800s, and huge trees that tower over the houses and streets.
There is one structure though, that really caught my eye. It is a simple building, a municipal hut. Look at the date on the stone. – 1915. This structure was built in the year that the Great Trek passed by it. They passed by in November, so the hut probably would have been completed. Did Farquhar look at it? What did he think?
Almost bright lights, big city. This was back before Toronto was the centre of the Universe. In the featured picture above, you can see the intersection of Yonge St. and Carleton St. It looks a little different today, obviously. But this is how Farquhar McLennan and the boys of the 58th would have seen it.
The battalions of the Great Trek were billeted at the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition, in tents and in the buildings.
The battalions arrived in Toronto at the beginning of November, 1915 and would stay at the Exhibition site until close to the end of the month. They knew that the day was drawing close for them to be shipped overseas. Make no mistake, they were aware of what they heading for. It was no secret. The time was used for additional training. The city parks, High Park and Riverdale were used for field practice and maneuvers.
While the troops were in Toronto, they were able to do other things, beyond training. They were able to tour, shop and visit friends and family in the area. The COs encouraged their men to get photos taken of them in uniform to give to their families and friends. A bit of a chilling thought, don’t you think? Below is a portrait of Pte. McLennan, probably taken during this November stay in Toronto. This particular picture was given to my Grandmother, Catherine.
Near the end of November, the troops boarded trains, right in the Exhibtion, to head for Halifax and a trip across the cold, grey Atlantic. For some, this would have been their last glimpse of Toronto.
On November 15, 1915, the 58th boarded a train at the Exhibition grounds and headed for Halifax, Nova Scotia. The men used this time to play cards, sleep, eat and enjoy themselves. Two days later they arrived. Not much time was wasted transferring them to the city port and to the ship that they were to sail on – the HMT Saxonia.
The ship had just arrived from a 4-day stay in New York City. The 58th was to share the ship with the 54th Kootenay Battalion and the 1st Siege Battery of Halifax. The Saxonia could accommodate about 1100 troops in relative comfort. For this trip, she would be carrying 2400.
A last glimpse of Canada for those destined to die.
The Saxonia was originally a Royal Mail Ship of the Cunard Line. She was now one of His Majesty’s Troop Ships. She was painted in camo to make detection more difficult.
It certainly doesn’t take much imagination to picture the living conditions aboard ship. To make matters worse, they shared the vessel with a couple of dozen horses. There were many complaints about the amount of food that was served to the men. On November 29, some of the men raided the food canteen and this resulted in the Captain of the ship relenting, and increasing the portions given to the men.
Off the coast of Ireland the Saxonia picked up a destroyer escort for the duration of the journey. She arrived safely in Plymouth Harbour on December 1, 1915. For many of these men, it was a return home.