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."


Nuraffinah said...

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Unknown said...

I just wanted to let you know that I just Tweeted your page about John Babcock. This is the 2 years since he passed away. @DeadCanadians. Good work!