WW1 touched the lives of millions of families, both at home and across the Empire, with families suffering irreconcilable grief and loss, many families never fully recovered. So many young men volunteered at the outbreak of War, to do “their bit” for King and Country, little did they know the full scale of the horrors that they were about to face.
Caring for the sick, wounded and dying during War was a torturous task and a task that required a mammoth amount of effort and organisation and something that created a logistical nightmare.
Recently I wrote a blog detailing the role of a Casualty Clearing Station during WW1, the link to the blog can be found here;
I was subsequently contacted by the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa and was informed of the wonderful volunteer project that they are undertaking regarding the No.1 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station.
Before I go on to tell you about the project itself, let me give you a bit of background information specifically about the No.1 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station;
No. 1 CCCS was originally assigned as No. 2 Clearing Hospital and was based at Liverpool, Nova Scotia, as well as Valcartier, Quebec, in August and September 1914. The unit, consisting of 11 officers and 75 other ranks was commanded by Major F. S. L. Ford and formed part of the first contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The unit arrived in England in October 1914 and was posted to France in February 1915. On 6th March 1915, it was reassigned as No. 1 CCCS and was based near Aire, France, and remained there until January 1916. The station received approximately 550 casualties within two days of its arrival. Casualty clearing stations were not stationary, but they moved infrequently. During the course of WW I, No. 1 CCCS was located in France, Belgium and, at the end of the war, in Germany. Throughout the war, the station had a capacity that ranged from 200 to 900 beds. It ceased operations in February 1919 and was demobilized two months later, upon arrival at Halifax, Nova Scotia. While the station was staffed by Canadians, they treated wounded soldiers from all allied armies and also a few enemy soldiers.
The chaplains of No.1 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station maintained a separate register for some of the servicemen who died at No. 1 CCCS, which provides us with a unique account of the passing of these 879 soldiers. The chaplains who signed most of the records were James Patrick Fallon (Roman Catholic), Walter Francis O’Neill Fisher (Church of England), Andrew Dunn Reid (Presbyterian), John Knox Tibbits (Church of England), Geoffrey Cyril d’Easum (Church of England), Robert Kerr Lambert (Methodist), and Ralph Lionel Brydges (Church of England).
The original journal is held at Library and Archives Canada as the Record of Deaths, 17 February 1916–10 February 1919, a record maintained at No. 1 CCCS, (Record Group 9, series IIIC10, volume 4556).
The war diaries for No. 1 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station are at: “War Diaries of the First World War: 1st Canadian Casualty Clearing Station 1914/08/13-1919/03/31,” Library and Archives Canada, the link can be found here;
Like many War Diaries from WW1, there is seldom a mention of non-officers, but the diaries do include mentions of the coming and goings of the chaplains.
The official history of the Canadian Forces Medical Services during the Great War can be found here;
(Soldiers and a nurse at No. 1 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station. George Metcalf Archival Collection, CWM 19920044-385. Courtesy of Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.)
The picture above, shows Soldiers and a Nurse at No. 1 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station. The uniform and medical tags on the soldiers in the foreground identify him as a new arrival. These wounded soldiers are moving through the medical chain, having come from the front line medical officers and dressing stations. More detailed information regarding the various other dressing stations and the links between them can be found in my earlier blog, the link for this is at the top of the page.
The project itself came about when one of the BIFHSGO members found a journal that had been kept by the various Chaplains who had been stationed at the CCCS. The journal that was discovered covers from February 1916 to January 1919, sadly the remaining journals are ‘missing’.
Initially the records were transcribed and collated and then to commemorate the WW1 centenary, a project was undertaken to work on the individual biographies of which around 70% are complete. There are however some limitations within these records as there are a number of gaps within this time period. The data was also recorded by different Chaplains over the years and therefore what was actually recorded differed between each Chaplain. Almost all recorded the name, rank, service number, unit, date of death, and name of chaplain. But others included also the date of admission to the CCCS, date of burial, description of soldiers’ wounds, next of kin with address. In addition, as the biographies have been completed, errors in the original journal entries have been found, incorrect name spellings for example, so like all records that we discover, the information should always be checked and verified. A number of the soldier biographies also contain pictures of the individual soldiers. The amount of detail on each biography differs from soldier to soldier, dependent on the records that have survived. Initially all information about the soldier comes from publically available sources. However, in some cases, the biographer was able to reach family members who provided additional information. Some of the biographies have an incredible amount of detailed information and if you were looking for one of your ancestors who might have passed through No.1 CCCS then you will be astonished at the amount of detail that has been documented. Many of the biographies include details from the descendants of the deceased and also many include photographs of the graves.
Many soldiers died of gunshot and shrapnel wounds and others through the effects of gas. This was the first time that gas had been used in the field of conflict as a weapon, with mustard gas being the most commonly used gas. Of those that suffered gunshot and shrapnel wounds, even the smallest of wounds could end a soldiers’ war due to infection. Trench Foot could also ultimately kill a man, or at the very least cause the loss of a limb and was caused by an infection and it was a major problem during the initial stages of the war and was caused by the wet, cold, and unsanitary environment. Men would stand in waterlogged trenches for long periods of time without being able to move their legs or remove their socks. If the condition worsened it would make the legs numb and lead to gangrene and often amputation.
Many of the Canadian soldiers that died, were actually born in the UK, some of whom had only been in Canada for a few years and their hopes of starting a better life for their families, by emigrating, was cruelly taken away, before their new lives had even begun. Some of these individual soldiers’ stories included some very unusual circumstances and some heroic deeds of bravery, which resulted in the awards of the Distinguished Service Medal and the Military Medal for bravery. Some of the more unusual causes of death included; Two airmen who died when the engine of their plane fell off. A group of soldiers who died as a result of an accidental explosion and fire in camp (a fire was lit on top of an unexploded bomb!) A soldier who was part of the army of occupation in Germany in early 1919, who died of cocaine poisoning and the most tragic story of all, a father and son suffering from tetanus, who were together at No. 1 CCCS, but sadly only the father survived. To end of a more positive note, there was also a soldier who, before enlisting, played with an ice hockey team that, after the war, won an Olympic gold medal.
The amount of work and detail that has gone into this project is a testament to all the volunteers who have worked tirelessly to put this wonderful resource together and make it accessible for everyone. Like many Family History projects undertaken by volunteer organisations, it’s an ongoing project that will be continually updated as more of the deceased soldiers’ stories are uncovered. With thanks for all the hard work and dedication to the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa.
The link to the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa can be found here;
Current BIFHSGO volunteers include:
Sheila Dohoo Faure (Team Leader)
Jean Kitchen (Editor)
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