07 April 2007

Military history and family history: students and immigrants

The media are providing close to saturation coverage of the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, considered by many a defining event in Canada's development as a nation. The Ottawa Citizen has been running a series on Vimy and its significance with involvement of a panel of recent immigrants, and another panel of students. A larger group of students have travelled to Vimy for the unveiling of the restored memorial, after having researched a soldier involved in the battle.

Anyone can research a soldier. I chose, almost at random except for his last name, Ernest Howe Reid. He served with the 78th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry (Manitoba Regiment), died on 9 April 1917 at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, is commemorated at the Vimy Memorial and recorded in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site here. Like many of his soldier compatriots he was an immigrant to Canada. His attestation paper informs he was born in County Cavan, Ireland, on 27 January 1889.

I'm not sure it has come out but Vimy shows for me the importance of immigrants to Canada. Although seemingly not a popular things to point out, checking randomly in the CEF deaths at Vimy I estimate half were immigrants, born in Britain, including Ireland. Canada is a country where immigrants play a leading role. Unlike in the US, that can be and is up to and including the highest office in the land. The present and previous Governor General demonstrate the leadership role. Vimy shows the importance for Canada's development of more ordinary, yet exceptional, immigrants

What did I find in researching Ernest Howe Reid?

On the attestation paper his wife's name was Irene, living in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. Reid enlisted on 24 April 1915 giving his occupation as railway fireman. He is found with his wife and a son, James, born February 1910, in North Battleford in the 1911 census giving his month of birth as February 1890, emigration as the same year as his wife, 1907. She was born in India in July 1892.

The best fit for him on a passenger list departing the UK is Ernest Reid, single, age 18, who sailed third class on the Lake Erie from Belfast on the 26th of September 1907, arriving in Quebec on the 6th of October. He gave his occupation as farm labourer. This is found at Ancestors on Board, a commercial database.The corresponding passenger list deposited on arrival in Quebec, found at Library and Archives Canada, indicates he is bound for North Battleford.

There is a land grant in his name for 10th section in township 47, range 16, W3 meridian.

Going to the Irish civil registration index, not online, the birth of Ernest Reid is registered in the district of Cavan in the 1st quarter of 1889.

Apparently Irene and James moved to BC shortly after the war. She remarried. The son, James Howe Reid, was a fatality during WW2. An attachment to his file on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, here, includes a mention of his father dying at Vimy.