Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lance Corporal John Babcock

Canada's Last Surviving WW1 Soldier

John Henry Foster Babcock was Canada's last surviving First World War Soldier (WW1; Great War). He died at his home in Spokane, Washington at the age of 109 on Thursday February 18th 2010. Unlike other CEF WW1 Soldier Blogs contained in this collection, this blog contains a number of news releases that relate to the final years of John Babcock.

Private John Babcock Joins the CEF

John Babcock attested to the Canadian Expeditionary Force on February 1, 1916 at Sydenham, Ontario. Images of his Attestation Papers and links to the files at Library and Archives Canada are provided. Unlike many others, John Babcock did not lie about his age to join the CEF, as his papers clearly show his date of birth as July 23rd, 1900. Oddly enough, however, the second page of his attestation papers shows his ""Apparent Age" as 18 years.

The birth records for John Babcock, showing his birth date as July 23, 1900 were kindly provided by CEFSG member Annette Fulford: Record1Record2

A complete set of John Babcock's military service record has been posted to the "CEF MATRIX PROJECT MEDIAFIRE: F2 CEF Service Records". Special thanks to CEFSG Member Mike O'Leary of the Royal Canadian Regiment for providing these records for this private military research.

Private Babcock, as he was at that time, listed his address as Perth Road, in Lober Township, Ontario. His father was deceased and thus he listed his next-of-kin as his mother, Annie Isabel Babcock in Regina, Saskatchewan. Elsewhere he also listed his next-of-kin as his brother William James Babcock of Holleford, Ontario. His brother's records ( William James Babcock #835860) that although the elder at age 24, he did not attest to the 146th until April 4, 1916. Both John and William survived the Great War.

John reported his occupation as a Labourer and his religion as a Methodist. He was a small man, even for a soldier in 1916, as his records show his height as 5 feet 4 1/2 inches with only a a 33 inch girth at full chest expansion. His "Medical History Sheet" shows his weight at a mere 118 pounds. His subsequent medical examination when leaving the service in November 1918 shows his weight had increased to only 122 pounds.

Other documents filed for John Babcock list his place of birth as Holleford, Ontario - a place now in the area of South Frontenac, north of Kingston Ontario. His discharge papers report that he enlisted at Sydenham, Ontario. Documents show that John joined the 146th Canadian Infantry Battalion, which is confirmed by his Service Number (#835571). The block of 835001-838000 was assigned to the 146th Infantry Battalion, located in Military District 3 when it was organized on December 22, 1915. The 146th Battalion did not serve as a fighting unit in the Great War, as after shipping out it was broken up and absorbed by the 12th Reserve Battalion to provide reinforcements for the Canadian Corps in the field.

Service Record of John Babcock

The details of John Babcock's service record show that in September 1916 he was being paid as a member of "No. 1 Boy, Special Service Battalion" at the main CEF staging base in Valcartier, Quebec.

Initially taken on strength with the 146th Canadian Infantry Battalion on May 24, 1916 his records show he was transfered to the 239th Battalion on September 21, 1916 and then to the 95th Infantry Battalion on October 8, 1916. His papers are stamped "Unit Sailed September 25, 1916", which is more or less in agreement with the sailing of the 146th in late September 1916 (see Matrix Troopship Utility). We know from his service file that John Babcock did not sail with that unit at that time.

It was around this time in later September or early October 1916 that John Babcock's unit details changed. His service record clearly shows that he did not sail with his unit on September 25th but rather shipped out from Halifax with the 151st Battalion on board the S. S. California on October 4, 1916, arriving in Liverpool on October 13, 1916. Documents show he was taken-on-strength with the RCR-PPCLI Depot at Caesar's Camp (Bedfordshire, England) on October 13, 1916.

In January 1, 1917 Babcock was transferred to the 7th Reserve Battalion at Seaford and subsequently transferred to the 26th Reserve Battalion on February 7, 1917. From there he was struck-off-strength to the Boys Battalion at Seaford on August 8, 1917. On September 22, 1917 Private Babcock's rank was upgraded to "Acting Lance Corporal", with pay. His rank was progressed to Acting Corporal on October 12, 1917, until such time he was demoted due to "Neglect of Duty", at which time he was reduced to his permanent grade as Private (Bramshot, England March 6, 1918). On October 7, 1918 he was once again appointed Acting Lance Corporal while at Kemmel Park.

John Babcock is shown on discharge as having been originally in the "Young Service Battalion". He embarked England (perhaps suggesting he was serving outside England) on November 22, 1918 and Canada on November 29, 1918. Clearly Babcock's "Discharge Certificate" shows that he served only in Canada and England. He arrived back in Canada on the S. S. Aquitania on November 28, 1918. His records report that his address on leave was Hartington, Ontario and that his mother now resided on Vancouver, British Columbia. On December 1, 1918 he was taken-on-strength with the 3rd District Depot for disposal. On December 21, 1918 he refused treatment for dental matters.

He was struck-off-strength from the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Kingston, Ontario on January 11, 1919, as part of the formal demobilization process. His age at discharge was recorded as 18 years 7 months.

Soldier John Babcock in the Young Soldiers Battalion

Private Babcock's Army Form B.103 (Casualty Form - Active Service) has a hand-written notation at the top that states "Not to be sent overseas until 19 years of age", yet the form still shows his age on enlistment as 18. It was the "Opinion of the Medical Board" on September 18, 1916 that Private Babcock was "Fit for Special Service" with the recommendation that he be transfered to Special Service.

At the time of his discharge it was acknowledged that he had attested at 16 years of age and that he was both "under aged" and "undersized". His general physical condition was listed as "slight" with a chest measurement that was "under normal". John was also missing the distal phalanx (the terminal piece) of the fourth toe on his left foot. None of these afflictions were due to service in the CEF and it was deemed that he would be able to carry on as he would have prior to enlistment.

Lance Corporal John Babcock as a "Royal Canadian"

It is reported that Private Babcock was a "Royal Canadian", meaning that he saw service with the Royal Canadian Regiment of 7th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division. For details on this linkage to the RCR, see the information provided by Captain Michael O'Leary, Royal Canadian Regiment 2010. On April 1, 1918, Acting Lance Corporal Babcock's Pay Records show that he was serving with a "Draft of the Royal Canadian Regiment". John Babcock's "Last Pay Certificate" at discharge on January 11, 1919 documents that he had attained the rank of Lance Corporal with the RCR (Royal Canadian Regiment).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Winnipeg Free Press February 18, 2010

OTTAWA - He was an unlikely and reluctant figurehead for a generation of heroes, a self-described "tin soldier" whose teenaged zeal for combat conspired to keep him out of the very war that would one day cast him as its sole Canadian survivor.

John Babcock was destined to play a starring role in the First World War. It just came nearly a century later than he might have expected.

Babcock, the last known veteran of Canada's First World War army, died Thursday at the age of 109.

He went in search of military glory at the age of 16, when he tried to sneak his way on to the front lines in France. His ruse was discovered, however, and he never made it to the battlefield.

"I wanted to go to France because I was just a tin soldier," Babcock said in an interview with The Canadian Press in July 2007 at his home in Spokane, Wash.

He was born July 23, 1900 on a farm in Ontario and emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s.

"I volunteered (for the front lines), but they found out I was underage. If the war had lasted another year I would have fought."

Still, more than 80 years of hindsight had helped to temper that young man's regret over not having faced enemy fire in the trenches of France u unlike many of his friends, who never returned.

"I might have got killed," he said matter-of-factly.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in a statement Thursday announcing Babcock's death, said: "As a nation, we honour his service and mourn his passing."

"The passing of Mr. Babcock marks the end of an era. His family mourns the passing of a great man. Canada mourns the passing of the generation that asserted our independence on the world stage and established our international reputation as an unwavering champion of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law."

Gov. Gen Michaelle Jean said Babcock always gave the best of himself.

"You know how dear the members of the Canadian Forces and our veterans are to my heart. And while I am deeply moved and saddened, I am also very honoured to be the Commander-in-Chief and Governor General to pay final tribute to Mr. Babcock."

"On behalf of all Canadians, we extend our deepest sympathies to his family and many friends who mourn his passing. May his accomplishments and his example inspire many future generations to serve their nation."

Ten per cent of the roughly 600,000 Canadians who enlisted to fight in the First World War died on the battlefields of Europe u 170,000 more were wounded.

The war would ultimately claim 15 million civilian and military lives on both sides of the conflict.

"(Babcock) was both an individual and a symbol," said Rudyard Griffiths, of the Historica-Dominion Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting Canadian history. "We should honour his contribution to Canada."

In the days to come, there will no doubt be tributes and ceremonies to mark Babcock's passing. It's hard to say how he would react to the fanfare. Because he never saw action in the war, he was always a little uncomfortable being known as the last surviving First World War veteran.

"I really didn't accomplish very much," Babcock said. "I went there and I did what the people above told me to do."

He said he had heard rumours about the government holding a state funeral for him, but wasn't sure that's an honour he deserves.

"I think it should be for the fellows who spent time in the front lines and were actually in the fighting."

Babcock wanted badly to be right there with them. "I wasn't smart enough to be scared," he explained.

"While he didn't serve, he was emblematic of that generation and of a certain kind of fiestiness," said Griffiths. "I know he felt quite proud of the Canadian period of his life."

Duncan Graham, a Korean War veteran whose father served in the First World War, said Babcock was the last living member of a generation that he and other veterans looked up to.

"I've got great respect for them. The war they fought was completely different from the war I fought, where we had the luxury of tanks and armoured vehicles," he said. "What they went through during the war in the trenches... we didn't have to see what they had to see."

As an underage volunteer, Babcock was stuck digging ditches and doing endless military drills rather than fighting enemy soldiers. But he said he had vivid memories of the war, and the day an army sergeant inspired him to enlist.

"He came and told us about the charge of the light brigade," he said, referring to the recklessly brave British cavalry attack of the Crimean War, immortalized in a famous poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. "I was really impressed by that."

Frustrated that he had been relegated to loading freight onto army trucks in Halifax, Babcock lied about his age when he answered the call for volunteers to join a "peacetime regiment."

"When they asked me how old I was, I said 18. Well, when we got to England you had to be 19 to go to France," recalled Babcock.

"I was waiting to be 19 and my service record came through, and they found out I was 16, so they put me in the young soldiers' battalion."

Babcock joined 1,300 other underaged soldiers and was drilled eight hours a day, always with an eye on reaching the front. By October 1918, the then 18-year-old Babcock was awaiting training that would send him to the battlefields of France.

That same month, some Canadian soldiers were kicked out of a dance hall in Wales by British Army veterans. Babcock and other members of his battalion decided "to go up there and clean them."

The ensuing brawl, in which one Canadian soldier was bayoneted in the thigh by a British cadet, saw Babcock handed 14 days of house arrest. Before those two weeks were up, the Armistice had been signed and he was on his way home.

Babcock has said that he worried that Canadians today, children especially, aren't learning enough about the First World War.

"They don't know a lot about it. People are always thinking about what they're doing right now," he said, adding that Canadians should take the time to learn from veterans of the World Wars while they still can.

Griffiths shares that concern. Without "living reminders" like Babcock around anymore, he said, he worries that the history of the First World War will fade into obscurity, much like the War of 1812 has.

"The duty not to forget now falls on a generation who has never known war, who's been separated from the history of the Great War by a period of going on 90 years. I think there is a danger (that people will forget)," he said.

Houchang Hassan-Yari, a professor of international relations at the Royal Military College, said that Canadians need to know about the Great War to understand how the country was born.

"Babcock's generation was important because they witnessed a transition for Canada from a member of the British Dominion to an independent state," he said, explaining that Canada's new-found military presence on the international stage helped the country find its own identity.

Babcock himself, however, emigrated to the United States in the 1920s and served a brief stint in the U.S. military.

"When he came back to Canada he really didn't have a home to come back to; his father was killed when he was six years old," said his wife.

"He had heard that in the United States the (military) was going to train people in a trade, so he and a couple of other buddies decided to come."

Babcock met his first wife, Elsie, while working as an oil burner service man in San Francisco. The couple moved to Spokane in 1932, raised a son and a daughter, and spent every weekend golfing.

Babcock married his second wife, Dorothy, after Elsie died in the late 1970s.

In September 2006, at the age of 106, he managed to get out for a game of golf. While he lacked the balance to putt, he was still able to drive.

When asked what lessons this generation should take from the First World War, Babcock had a simple reply.

"I think it would be nice if all the different people in the world could get along together so we weren't having wars. I don't suppose that'll ever happen, though."

Find this article at: Winnipeg Free Press

AND from BBC News on February 19, 2010

Final Canadian WWI veteran dies

The last Canadian veteran of World War I has died at the age of 109.

John Babcock enlisted at the age of 15 after lying about his age. He trained in Canada and England but the war ended before he reached the French frontline.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Mr Babcock was Canada's last living link to the Great War.

At least three other people who served with the forces in World War I are known to still be alive - an American, a British-born Australian and a Briton.

The Canadian prime minister, paying tribute to the 650,000 Canadian men and women who served during WW1, said: "Today they are all gone.

"Canada mourns the passing of the generation that asserted our independence on the world stage and established our international reputation as an unwavering champion of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law," Mr Harper said.

“ I wanted to go to France because I was just a tin soldier ”

John Babcock Speaking in 2007

John Babcock was born on July 23, 1900 on a farm in Ontario.

In February 1916, at the age of 15, he signed up and the medical examiner recorded his "apparent age" as 18, which meant he was allowed to train.

Despite being under the legal age to fight, which was 19, he persisted in his attempts to get to the front line.

He lied about his age again, and sailed to Britain with the Royal Canadian Regiment. There, conscripts under the legal age of 19 formed the Young Soldiers' Battalion to train until they were eligible to fight.

But he never saw action as the armistice was signed six months before he reached his 19th birthday.

"I wanted to go to France because I was just a tin soldier," Mr Babcock said in an interview with the Canadian Press in July 2007.

Second attempt

In October 1918, after a brawl between Canadian soldiers and British Army veterans in Wales over a dancehall incident, Mr Babcock was sentenced to 14 days house arrest, the Canadian Press reported.

Before the fortnight was over, the armistice had been signed and he was on his way home.

He moved to the US in the 1920s, serving in the United States Army between 1921 and 1924 before becoming an electrician.

He died in Spokane, Washington, where he had lived since 1932, according to a statement from Mr Harper.

Mr Babcock tried to enlist in the US military again in 1941 but failed when it was discovered he had never become a US citizen.

He was naturalised as a US citizen in 1946.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2010/02/19 04:50:09 GMT

Thursday, July 23, 2009

John Babcok turns 109!

By The Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. - Canada's last known surviving veteran of The First World War celebrated his 109th birthday with a party on Thursday.

John Babcock received letters of greetings from the Queen, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, along with songs and well-wishes from about 40 family and friends.

A barbershop quartet sang 'O Canada" at the gathering in the restaurant of a Rosauer's grocery store, Babcock's favorite eatery. He ate his standard lunch of french fries with tartar sauce and coffee.

"It was a very jolly event," said Wendy Baldwin, of the Canadian consulate in Seattle.

Babcock was born in 1900 on an Ontario farm and enlisted with the Royal Canadian Regiment when he was just 15 years old, lying about his age.

Babcock trained with nearly 1,300 other underage soldiers in anticipation of crossing the English Channel and facing enemy fire, but the war ended before he could set foot in France.

Soon after the war, he moved to the United States, where he served in the U.S. Army and became a naturalized citizen. He has lived in Spokane since 1932.

Babcock became Canada's last First World War veteran after two others died two years ago. More than 600,000 Canadians served in World War I and about 66,000 died.

The lone remaining U.S. veteran is Frank Buckles, 107, of Charles Town, W.Va., according the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Babcock, who draws some veterans benefits from the Canadian government because of hearing loss, has attributed his longevity to the physical training he received from serving in two armies in his youth. He doesn't drink much and stopped smoking a long time ago.

He remains married to his second wife and has a son, a daughter and numerous grandchildren.

Babcock, who grew up in Kingston, Ont., was born into a large family that scattered after his father died in a logging accident when the boy was six. He lived with relatives and did hard physical labor on a farm while receiving only a rudimentary education.

According to an autobiography he wrote for his 100th birthday, he enlisted in the Canadian Army just after New Year's Day in 1916. He was posted to several training camps. He was deemed too young for combat so he was given assignments in Canada.

While unloading military trucks in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he answered a call for volunteers to head to France. He lied about his age and got on a troop transport.

But it was discovered in England that he was only 16, and he was assigned to the so-called "Young Soldiers Battalion," who were held out of battle. Babcock ended up in Wales in 1918, but the war ended and Babcock shipped back to Canada.

He worked on farms and at 19 received vocational training in electrical wiring.

Seeking work, he paid a $7 tax to enter the U.S., taking various jobs. He joined the U.S. Army in 1921, even though he was not a citizen.

He tried to enlist in the U.S. military again in 1941, hoping to learn to fly. He didn't get in, but it was discovered he had never become a U.S. citizen. It wasn't until 1946 that he was naturalized.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

John Babcock, Patriarch of the RCR Association

CEFSG Member Al Lloyd has just made us aware of the appointment of John Babcock as the "Regimental Patriarch" of the Royal Canadian Regiment Association. Apparently, this is the first time this appointment has been made in Canada. The appointment is symbolic and does not reflect any official standing.

The view the full article, please follow this link:

The article text:

Babcock earns special distinction: Canada's last living First World War veteran named regimental patriarch.


Jack Babcock is last, and now he has been honoured with a rare Canadian first.
Babcock, who was born in Holleford north of Kingston, is Canada's lone surviving First World War veteran. He recently became not just a member of the Royal Canadian Regiment Association - the regiment with which he served - but has been made the regimental patriarch.
Retired Maj. Hugh Conway of Jasper, Alta., travelled to Babcock's home in Spokane, Wash., to make the presentation. He believed it was the first time that honorary title had been bestowed on someone, not just in the regiment but in Canada.

"Patriarch means an honoured elder male leader, and that's what he is to the regiment," said Conway, who was accompanied by RCMP Const. Peter Lavalee of Jasper when he visited Babcock's home.

"The title is unique - it's never been used before by anyone."

Officials with National Defence's History and Heritage Directorate in Ottawa, which oversees honours and awards in the Canadian Forces, confirm that they are not aware of anyone else being named a patriarch, although they point out it is a symbolic appointment with no official standing in the hierarchy of Canadian awards and titles.

Babcock, who enlisted at age 15 and whose true age was found out before he made it to the trenches, trained in the RCR's reserves in England for two years and was waiting to turn 19 when the war ended.

His regimental affiliations were only confirmed a couple of years ago after historians reviewed his military records, and while Babcock has always downplayed his military service - as he never saw combat - Conway said the regiment wanted to recognize him.

Babcock was thrilled by the honour, the latest in a series of Canadian accolades that include regaining his citizenship after the personal intervention of Prime Minister Stephen Harper earlier this year.

"When I got to his house, I said, 'It's an honour to meet you, sir,' and he immediately shot back, 'Don't call me sir, I work for a living,' " recalled Conway.

The ceremony was low-key and after the formal presentation, the two accompanied Babcock to his favourite restaurant, where a small circle of friends helped celebrate.

Still sprightly at 108, over lunch Babcock recited poems he learned during the war and in the parking lot afterwards he belted out a few verses of O Canada.

"I hope I'm that sharp when I'm 75, let alone 108,"Conway said.

The Royal Canadian Regiment is one of the most self-effacing of all Canadian military units and has been historically reluctant to play up its achievements, but one of the members who pushed for recognition for Babcock was Jack O'Brien.

The retired RCR sergeant-major runs a farm on Kingston Mills Road and pushed for Babcock to receive some regimental acknowledgement at the unit's recent 125th anniversary reunion here.
"Patriarch means an honoured elder male leader, and that's what he is to the regiment," Conway explained.

"The regiment can only do what the family will allow," he said.

"However, we do not forget a Royal -once a Royal, always a Royal."

Parliament has authorized a rare state funeral to be offered to Babcock's family when he dies, but publicly Babcock has always demurred, saying that honour should have gone to someone who fought. RCMP Const. Peter Lavalee (standing, left) and retired Maj. Hugh Conway (right) of Jasper, Alta. travelled all the way to Spokane, Wash., to present veteran Jack Babcock with an unusual award. Babcock, Canada's last living First World War veteran, is now the regimental patriarch of the Royal Canadian Regiment.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

John Babcock Regains Canadian Citizenship

The following was posted on the Canwst News Services on May 8, 2008.

First World War vet regains Canadian Citizenship
Tobin Dalrymple , Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, May 08, 2008

OTTAWA - It all started with a hand-written note to the prime minister, scrawled on a sheet of paper decorated with cartoon Teddy Bears and American flags. But on Thursday, Canada's last remaining First World War veteran, John Babcock, received an important gift: the restoration of his Canadian citizenship.

Babcock, 107, is the only remaining Canadian to have served in the Great War. But until this week, he was only a Canuck by birth - after the war, he moved to the United States, where he was eventually naturalized as a U.S. citizen. At the time, the U.S. did not allow "dual citizens" and he had to renounce his Canadian status.

Last month, Veteran Affairs Minister Greg Thompson visited Babcock near his home in Spokane, Wash., to present him with a Minister's Commendation - a special award recognizing the sacrifice and achievements of veterans and commendable service to the veteran community.

Canada's last known World War I veteran John Babcock (R) toasts to his health with Greg Thompson, Canada's Minister of Veterans Affairs, after receiving the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation in Spokane, Washington, April 19, 2008.

During the minister's visit, Babcock told Thompson that he would like to be a bona fide Canadian citizen once more. Thompson suggested he write Prime Minister Stephen Harper a note. At the suggestion, Babcock's eyes "lit up," and he "grabbed a sheet of paper and penned the note right away," said Thompson.

"It was certainly something he was thinking about, that had been weighing on his mind," said Thompson of the soldier. "I think (Babcock) was thinking that it would be nice to leave this world the way he entered it."

The veteran, who served in 1917 in the Boys Battalion, a reserve brigade, kept his note to the prime minister short and simple:

"Dear PM," he wrote. "Could I have my Canadian citizenship restored? I would appreciate your help. Thank you, John Babcock."

After that, the Conservative MP delivered the letter to Harper personally during a cabinet meeting, he said. According to Thompson, the prime minister was "really taken" with it and acted on the request right away.

"I think everyone really focused on the fact that there was some level of urgency, given (Babcock's) age, and wanted to get it done as quickly as possible," said Thompson.

The vet became a Canadian again - officially - Thursday, after Governor General Michaelle Jean completed "all the necessary signatures," said Thompson, adding that officials will soon be flown down to meet Babcock near his home for a swearing in ceremony.

The newly minted Canadian started his life as an Ontario boy, growing up as one of 13 children on a farm in Kingston, Ont. Born on July 23, 1900, he was too young to join the forces in 1915, so he lied about his age to sign up with the 146th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Two years later, Babcock landed in England with the Boys Battalion. The war ended before he could join the front lines - something he has said is a great disappointment.

Babcock moved to the United States after the war and served in the U.S. army from 1921 to 1924. It was these circumstances that led to the removal of Babcock's original citizenship. Today, however, dual citizens are allowed in Canada and the U.S.

"I wouldn't call it an accident of history," said Thompson, "but he was caught up in a set of circumstances, and today we corrected it."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Veteran's Affairs Commendation for Babcock

The following story appeared on the CBC's national Website on April 19th, 2008

Canada's last WWI veteran, 107, gets award

Canada's minister of veterans affairs presented an award to the country's last surviving veteran of the First World War on Saturday.

John Babcock received a Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation from Greg Thompson at a ceremony in Spokane, Wash., where he now lives.

Thompson called the 107-year-old an "ambassador for all those who served in the First World War," adding that veterans are critical to the remembrance and understanding of that period in history.

Babcock, a native of Kingston, Ont., joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the age of 15.

He was soon deployed to England, but was too young to serve on the front lines and never saw active service.

The Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation is presented to individuals who have contributed to the care and well-being of veterans and to the remembrance of their contributions.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

CEF WW1 Soldier John Babcock

With the passing of Lloyd Clemett on February 21, 2007 and Percy Dwight Wilson on May 9, 2007, John Babcock is the only surviving WW1 Veteran of the CEF (Canadian Expeditionary Force) from the Great War.

Volunteer members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group, which includes researchers from around the world, teamed together to gather what information is available on the history of John Babcock. We have done so to honour his contribution to the CEF and to make this information readily available to others. Similar blogs exist for Lloyd Clemett and Dwight Wilson.

John Babcock's Attestation Papers show that he joined the 146th Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on February 1, 1916. At that time, John's "apparent age" is reported as "18 years" however that same record notes that he was born July 23rd 1900 in Lober Township, Ontario. Obviously he was only 16, not 18. John noted that his next-of-kin was his mother "Mrs. T. J. Babcock" also located at Perth Road, Ontario.

The 146th Battalion was organized in Kingston Ontario starting on December 22, 1915 and was later broken up and absorbed by the 12th Reserve Battalion.

Veterans Affairs Canada hosts a news briefing and interview with A/Lance-Corporal John Babcock, from which many of the other sources draw their information.

CEFSG Member Mike O'Leary ("RegimentalRogue") prepared a summary for the Royal Canadian Regiment, which he has kindly offered to John Babcock's blog:

835571 Acting Lance Corporal John Babcock

In the recent exchanges in the media concerning the last surviving veterans of the First World war, it was identified in a Globe and Mail article (11 Nov 2006) that one of these veterans, John Babcock, was a Royal Canadian.

Since the Regiment has not maintained a comprehensive roll of those soldiers who served with the Regiment in the Great War, it was necessary to confirm this statement by examining John Babcock’s CEF service records. Consequently, the service record of 835571 Acting Lance Corporal John Babcock was acquired by the Regimental Adjutant. The following is a brief summary of information from that file.

John Henry Foster Babcock attested for overseas service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 1 February 1916. He originally attested for the 146th Overseas Battalion, which was recruiting at Kingston, Ontario, at that time. Five foot, four and one-half inches in height, with blue eyes and fair hair, Babcock gave his date of birth as 23 July 1900. The medical examiner stated his “apparent age” at the time was 18 years and on 4 February 1916 he was pronounced firt for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force.

With his file annotated “Not to be sent overseas until 19 years of age”, John Babcock did not sail to England until October, 1916. On the 18th of October he arrived in England aboard the S.S. CALIFORNIA as a designated reinforcement for the Royal Canadian Regiment. He was taken on strength The R.C.R. & P.P.C.L.I. Depot at Caesar’s Camp effective the 13th October, 1917. This period of service with the R.C.R. & P.P.C.L.I. Depot, and being identified as a reinforcement for The RCR in France, confirms the John Babcock was, and remains, a Royal Canadian.

John Babcock was with the Depot until 1 January 1917 when he was transferred to the 7th Reserve Battalion, located at Seaford, near Newhaven on the southern coast of England. He was subsequently transferred to the 26th Reserve Battalion at Bramshott on 7 February 1917 and then was transferred again, this time to a “Boys”, or “Young Soldiers”, Battalion at Bexhill. Apparently throughout this period, Babcock’s youth was catching up to him and he continued to be transferred ‘away’ from front line service, at least until he was of age.

Serving in the Young Soldier’s battalion, John Babcock was promoted to the rank of Acting Lance Corporal (with pay) in September 1917, and then Acting Corporal (with pay) in October. In March 1918 he lost his stripes, being reduced to Private for “Neglect of Duty”, although he did regain a promotion to Acting Lance Corporal again in October 1918.

John Babcock was repatriated to Canada from the Young Soldier’s Battalion in November 1918. He arrived back in Canada aboard the S.S. AQUITANIA on 28 November 1918. His processing through the demobilization and release system lasted until his final discharge on 1 January 1919 at Kingston, Ontario.

At the age of 18 years, 7 months (in accordance with his Discharge Certificate), Acting Lance Corporal John Henry Foster Babcock returned to civilian life after 2 years and 11 months of service. Accepting the age recorded at Discharge as correct means that John Babcock attested for service at the age of 15 years, 8 months.

The following article was published by CP on CNews to commemerate the 107th birthday of John Babcock.

Oldest Canadian WWI vet turns 107

Canada's oldest living First World War verteran and about to turn 107, John (Jack) Babcock speaks about his life from his home in Spokane, Washington on Wednesday July 18. (CP PHOTO/Larry MacDougal)

SPOKANE, Wa. (CP) - Canada's last known surviving First World War veteran took a bite of his 107th birthday cake, read his card from the Queen and wondered what all the fuss was about.

Holding court from his livingroom couch in suburban Spokane, Wa., John (Jack) Babcock admitted Wednesday that the global attention lavished upon him had little to do with his war-time accomplishments. "I ate up a lot of good government rations," Babcock said with traditional Canadian humility despite the American twang in his voice.

But with the death of his brother-in-arms Dwight Wilson in May at 106, Babcock has indeed achieved something he never ever thought of until recently. He's the last soldier standing. Babcock now holds the title of the last known living Canadian to cross the Atlantic in uniform to fight for the Allies in the Great War. And with his official birthday approaching next Monday, July 23, now is as good a time as any to celebrate.

Babcock doesn't at all mind the attention and visitors - particularly females in short skirts - and he loves to tell old stories and sing long-forgotten war ditties. But he also realizes his newfound fame is fleeting. "I know I'm going to die some day, so what the hell. I try to live a good clean life and I have a good wife who helps me."

With a full head of frizzy white hair, a bright blue Hawaiian shirt and white shorts hanging off his bony frame, some imagination and time-yellowed photographs are required to picture Babcock in his young soldier prime. With little prompting, his mind drifts back more than a century to his early childhood on an Ontario farm, complete with vivid memories of wild cherry trees, snakes and foxes.

Born in 1900, Babcock was not even 16 years old when he enlisted with the Royal Canadian Regiment to go and fight the Germans in the muddy, bloody battlefields of Europe. Lying about his age, Babcock made it to England before his service record caught up with him and he was relegated to the Boys Batallion and not allowed to see action. He trained hard along with nearly 1,300 other under-age soldiers in anticipation of crossing the channel and facing enemy fire, but the war ended before he could set foot in the trenches of France.

The passage of 90 years have helped to smooth the edges of his utter disappointment in being a "tin soldier" who never saw the battlefield. But he still freely admits he'd have fought if he could have. "I think if I had a chance, I would have gone to France, taken my chances like the rest of them did. A lot of good men got killed."

Ten per cent of the roughly 600,000 Canadians who enlisted to fight in the First World War died on the battlefields of Europe - 170,000 more were wounded. The war ultimately claimed 15 million civilian and military lives on both sides of the conflict.

Along with a cluster of family, media and elected representatives all jostling for position near Babcock's couch Wednesday came letters of congratulations from Queen Elizabeth and a tie festooned with red poppies from Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean praised his "rich life, filled with accomplishments, personal encounters, happiness and challenges." "As you take stock, you can also reflect on the fact that your generation has seen tremendous and unprecedented changes, be they technological, scientific, political or social."

Soon after the war he moved to the United States, serving in the U.S. Army and becoming a naturalized citizen. He has lived in Spokane, in eastern Washington State, since 1932. And despite his 107 years, he still likes to go to his favourite restaurant where he flirts with all the waitresses before ordering a burger and fries. His son, Jack Jr., said his father may now come across as a polite elderly gentleman with lots of stories to tell, but don't think for a second that he's not strong-willed. "He's humble and bashful about being the last guy and very realistic about it. But you don't do what he's done in his lifetime without getting a little self-assurance."

Along with outlasting all Canadian First World War servicemen, Babcock is also the last of 10 children who were raised on that southern Ontario farm. His baby sister Lucy died a week ago at the age of 102. His wife, Dot, says Babcock has taken his sister's death with an acceptance earned through his years. "Sometimes we all want to shelter older people from death," says Dot, who at 78 is nearly 30 years younger than her husband. "But they've seen so much of it through their life that actually they accept it better than we do."