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).

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