On Genealogy: The Life of WWI Pte. Émile Lamothe

This is an update to genealogy blog #4 which featured my great grand father, Émile Lamothe, whom I called grand-pépère Lamothe (original blog has been deleted). It was originally posted on June 3, 2017 and I’ve since come across some new photos and information that I want to document and update his story. 

Cleophas Émile Lamothe (he went by Émile) was born on June 10, 1897, in Bonfield, Ontario to Marie Louise Charron, age 38, and Joseph Magloire Lamothe, age 42.  For those of you who don’t know where Bonfield is (and I don’t blame you, I’d be more surprised if you actually knew where it was), it’s a small township in Northeastern Ontario, located on the north shore of Lake Nosbonsing in Nipissing District.

Private Emile Lamothe

There was no single organized or complete taking of photographs of soldiers. Men did not have their photos taken as a standard part of being enlisted. Instead hundreds of thousands of men had their pictures taken privately. These were generally done by local photographers, most men are seen in photographic studios.

There were some initial family discussion as to whether he volunteered or whether he was drafted.  So, I did some research, turns out volunteers for the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) were questioned at the place of enlistment to complete the two-sided Attestation papers which included the recruit’s name and address, next-of-kin, date and place of birth, occupation, previous military service, and distinguishing physical characteristics. Recruits were asked to sign their Attestation Papers, indicating their willingness to serve overseas. By contrast, men who were drafted into the CEF under the provisions of the Military Service Act (1917) completed a far simpler one-sided form which included their name, date of recruitment, and compliance with requirements for registration.  Having reviewed his Attestation Papers/Particulars of Recruit, I was able to deduct that grand-pépère WAS DRAFTED.  This is congruent with the General Orders for Battalion Depots. 

Émile was drafted on May 13, 1918 to the 1st Depot Battalion, 1st Central Ontario Regiment.  Regimental #3037591 to the rank of Private. 

Émile was short in stature, only 5’2.5″ and was 20 years and 11 months old when he was drafted. His CEF documents state that he was a single Farmer.  He was listed as a Class One, Category A2.

Assessments were made by medical officers as to the suitability of men to perform military duties. A system of lettering and numbering was devised to enable a man’s abilities to be quickly noted.

  • Class One meant he was single.
  • Category A meant that he was able to march, see to shoot, hear well, and stand active service conditions.  
  • 2 meant that he was fit for dispatching overseas as regards to physical and mental health but required training.

Émile was initially part of the 1st Depot Battalion, 1st Central Ontario Regiment.  What I have been able to find out so far is that it was authorized by General Order 89 of September 1 1917 (see below) amongst the first Depot Battalions being authorized was the M.D. 4 1st Depot Battalion 1st Quebec Regiment and by General Order 57 of 15 April 1918. They were to reinforce the 4th, 19th, 123rd and 208th Battalions through the 3rd Canadian Reserve Battalion.  They were commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel B. H. Belson.

General Orders, 1917

His military records are quite scant, to be honest, and contain only about 15 pages in total.  I’m not able to get a really good idea of what he did in The Great War.  All I know thus far is that on August 20, 1918 he TOS (took on strength) at Bramshott Military Camp.

I don’t have his regiment’s war diaries or mobilization accounts; I will have to request them.  I see from his personnel file that he’s noted under 3 separate regiments:

  • 1st Depot Battalion, 1st Central Regiment
  • 1st Depot Battalion, 2nd Quebec Regiment and;
  • Finally before demobilization, the 1st Depot Battalion 10th Canadian Reserve Battalion.  
  • From the records I have on hand, am unable to decipher when he was SOS (struck of strength) from one and TOS (took on strength) with the other.  

On June 20, 2017, I spent the day at the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa.  The assistant working at the genealogy desk provided me with some information which makes sense.  She said that as part of a depot battalion and because we can only find him in England that he likely did not see “action”.  He would have been training and keeping in shape over his time in one of the military camps, in the event that he was called up to infantry for one of the battalions they were supporting.  She further added that there are not likely war diaries for depot battalions … and if there was, they would not be very interesting. She suggested that I could check the records anyway, which I intend on.  They may not be interesting or important to her, however they are ample important to me, it’s part of my heritage.

All WWI military records are available online, so I was able to access his WWI CEF Personnel File via Ancestry.ca (the site I am doing my family tree on). You can also access them through the archive’s website.

Military Summary

June 28, 1914: The spark that set off World War I came when a young Serbian patriot shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Austria), in the city of Sarajevo.  The assassin was a supporter of the Kingdom of Serbia, and within a month the Austrian army invaded Serbia. As a result of the military alliances that had formed throughout Europe, the entire continent was soon engulfed in war. Because European nations had numerous colonies around the world, the war soon became a global conflict.

August 10, 1914:  The government established the strength of the First Canadian Contingent for overseas service at 25,000.

1917-1918:  When it was no longer possible to recruit enough men for infantry battalions, depot battalions were organized in Canada to obtain personnel who would then be sent to the Canadian Reserve Battalions in England.

May 13, 1918:  Emile attested at North Bay, Ontario

Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Valcartier is one of the oldest military training areas in Canada. it is located a few kilometres north of Quebec City, and was founded as Camp Valcartier just before the First World War. During the war, it was the primary training base for the First Canadian Contingent before it departed for overseas service.was the primary training base for the First Canadian Contingent in 1914.

This post card was part of grand-pépère’s WWI collection. Le Chez-nous du soldat at Valcartier, Québec was part of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul and was founded in April 1918, as a way French Catholic soldiers to feel less alone while away from home training. The site at 33 d’Auteuil offered reading and writing rooms, game rooms, entertainment, concerts and church services.

Saint Vincent de Paul, Le Chez nous du soldat (post card, Emile had in his possession)

I found this from the book Le Chez-nous du soldat: oeuvre de la Société de Saint-Vincent de Paul, fondée à Québec en avril 1918:

July 21, 1918: Embarked at Québec (location unknown)

August 8, 1918:  Arrived London, England via the H.M.S. Somali – she was built in 1901 by Caird & Company Greenock and served as a troop carrier in WWI. 

This photo is from my Grand-Pépère’s personal collection of his WWI memorabilia.

From the research I’ve done, this appears to be the HMS Somali

August 20, 1918: TOS at Bramshott a.k.a. Bramshott Military Camp, which was a temporary army camp set up on Bramshott Common, Hampshire, England during WWI Bramshott was one of three facilities in the Aldershot Command area established by the Canadian Army. The permanent facility on both occasions was at the British Army’s Bordon Military Camp. Bramshott was one of two temporary camps set-up for additional accommodation in the lead-up to D-Day, along with Witley Camp.

Real photo postcards are postcards with genuine photographic images on the front. They are actual photographs on photo paper but designed to be mailed and have letters written on the back. This was one such real photo post card. None of these seem to be addressed or mailed home. The backs of all of his “post cards” are blank.

Emile Lamothe, first row, first soldier to the left (sitting)

Stamp boxes are the small rectangular boxes printed on the back of some postcards where the stamp is to be stuck. One of the popular photographic papers used for printing postcards was Kodak Professional AZO Paper. This was suitable for making contact prints, rather than enlargements for which the source of light would be much weaker.

The photos below appears to be a stock photos/post cards from my grand-pépère’s personal collection, I’m not certain if this is Bramshott, Aldershot or Borden (need to do some research).

November 11, 1918: WWI ends on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the incessant boom of artillery abruptly went silent along the Western Front in France. This became known as Armistice Day, the day Germany signed an armistice (an agreement for peace) which caused the fighting to stop.

February 19, 1919:  In Ripon, Émile was admonished and condemned to pay 1/9.5 (1 pound, 9 schillings, 5 pence) for losing 1 scrubber. What kind of post did he after the war ended that he would have that would have lost a scrubber?  

  • On June 20, 2017, the Genealogy Assistant at The National Archives in Ottawa advised that he literally lost a “scrubber” for cleaning.  The reason she believes this is that he was there well after the war ended and was likely involved in clean up tasks.  Given the price he was penalized to pay, she thinks it was likely a long-handled scrubber.

Description: Brass maple leaf on which a King’s crown surmounting an oval strap, buckle to bottom right, clasp to bottom left, round the top part of which 2EME REGT DE QUEBEC, in the centre a pair of fleur de lys above an heraldic lion above three maple leaves, across the centre of the strap a scroll, the centre of which goes behind the segment holding the lion, the left portion of the scroll bears PREMIER, the right BATTALION, at the bottom of the strap an upward scroll passes behind the clasp and the buckle, the visible left portion bearing JE ME SOUVIENS (I Remember), across the bottom of the strap above the leaf stalk an upward scroll bearing CANADA.


May 19, 1919: Dental Exam for demobilization in Ripon

Dental record for demobilization

May 24, 1919: Emile had this custom medallion made while he was in Ripon.  The front of the medallion is reflective of the front of an British Florin, which if a real coin was worth 24 pence (two shillings, or one-tenth of a pound). The back of the medallion is inscribed with what I thought were his initials, however, the first letter does not appear to be an E (Emile) or a C (Cleophas) … I’m confused.

June 14, 1919: SOS (struck off strength) at Ripon – he was now a part of the 10th Canadian Reserve Battalion (Québec). He was likely transferred to this Battalion as the other battalions he was part of demobilized and returned home. 

  • A little information about the 10th Canadian Reserves – they were organized at Shoreham on 4 January 1917 under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel H. DesRosiers. They were formed by absorbing 69th and 163rd Battalions. They absorbed 178th Battalion on 15 March 1917 and 258th Battalion on 17 October 1917.  They reinforced 22nd and 150th Battalions; the latter was absorbed in February 1918 after the disbandment of the 5th Division. They were absorbed by 20th Canadian Reserve Battalion on 28 March 1918 but re-constituted at Bramshott on 8 April 1918. They moved to Ripon on 9 February 1919 and returned to Canada 24 June 1919; they disbanded on 2 July 1919.
Sports Day, 10th Canadian Reserve Battalion – Ripon 1919

June 23, 1919:  Embarked at Liverpool on the SS Belgic. The White Star Line vessel was to be named Ceric & intended to replace Titanic in 1914. The outbreak of WWI changed all of that.  During construction, White Star decided to go with the name of Belgic IV. She was launched in January 1914 but was not yet completed when WWI began later that year and the work was stopped. Belgic IV was eventually completed in 1917, but as a troop transport and freighter rather than the passenger liner she was designed to be.

SS Belgic

July 1, 1919:  Disembarked in Halifax, Nova Scotia

July 3, 1919:  Discharged due to demobilization

July 26, 1919: The British War Medal was authorized.  The medal was awarded to all ranks of Canadian overseas military forces who came from Canada between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918, or who had served in a theatre of war.  There were 427,993 issued to Canadians in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).


A circular, silver medal, 1.42 inches in diameter.

The obverse shows the King George V, bareheaded coinage effigy, facing left, with the legend: GEORGIVS V BRITT : OMN : REX ET IND : IMP :

On the reverse, there is a horseman, St. George, armed with a short sword (an allegory of the physical and mental strength which achieves victory over Prussianism). The horse tramples on the Prussian shield and the skull and crossbones. Off-centre, near the right upper rim, is the sun of Victory. The dates 1914 and 1918 appear in the left and right fields respectively.

Here’s a map of where I’ve been able to locate Émile while in the UK (pinned are Ripon, London, Liverpool and Bramshott).

Locations where I was able to locate Émile

I wondered why he stayed over in England so long after armistice, the Genealogy Assistant at The National Archives in Ottawa, Canada, informed me that some of the troops had to stay overseas longer to clean and pack up.  Not everyone was able to go home right after Armistice, and there was only a limited supply of troop ships, so everyone had to take turns to return. The sick, injured, and infirmed were sent home first.  The abled bodied men were left to clean.

Below are some of his Discharge Papers:

Demobilization Papers
Emile’s CEF Discharge Certificate
Active Service Form 1
Active Service Form 2
Active Service Form 3

After being discharged from the military he returned to Bonfield.  Emile married Marcella Houle on September 25, 1927.

Marriage Certificate – September 25, 1927

They had four children (Clifford, Thelma, Edward, and Mary).

  • Clifford (1928-2014), Thelma (1930 – present), Edward (1932 – 1978), and Mary (1943-1943, lived 2h10mins)

When I was young, we’d drive up to visit them from Kitchener, it was about a 4-5 hour drive.  They lived at 217 Yonge Street.  The house has long been sold.  It was a white and light green house, with a large white wrap around veranda.  I always thought the house was cool and creepy at the same time, because it was so old. It was grand-mémère Lamothe’s parents place, she was born there.  When you walked in, you’d immediately walk into the living room (to the left), the staircase to head up to the second story was straight ahead (on the right), it had a white railing. I have such vivid memories of grand-mémère rocking away in her chrome glider, by the window, watching her shows.

The room immediately to the right when you walked in the front door used to be a funeral parlour and as a child that creeped me when out. Those were days of when pretty much all funerals were home funerals. It was always the practice to be with loved ones as they died in our homes. Then, with their own hands, they washed, dressed, combed their hair, laid them out, and lamented. While neighbours built the coffin, others dug the grave, made a meal, or sat with the body for two or even three days. ​The expectation in those days was that one would die and be cared for at home was such a sure thing that folks even built funeral-friendly elements into their homes. Nonetheless, it was the room that I could always envision dead people.  In my childhood years, it was the room that they’d set up their Christmas tree and where the whole lot of us would open gifts before/after midnight on Christmas Eve mass at St. Bernadette’s Parish down the road.

When you walked toward the back of the house from the entrance, I recall there being a long dining table before you stepped through a single door on the right to the kitchen.  Just before you entered the kitchen, on the right-hand side, there was a cabinet, where grand-mémère would hide all the goodies and where I may or may not have snuck a few extra pieces of liquorice. The kitchen was an addition,  it was big (or at least it seemed big in the eyes of a little kid) and filled with white cabinets, with silver handles.  There was a kitchen table in there with a back bench, and on the back wall was a large picture hanging of The Last Supper.  

The house had a small half bathroom on the main floor, in my younger years, the house didn’t have a bath tub or shower, as children we’d bathe in the kitchen sink. We weren’t allowed to flush the toilet, instead grand-mémère or grand-pépère would use a bucket of rain water to manually flush it.

Grand-mémère would get up early in the morning and when we’d come down, she’d make us peach or maple soupane (French slang for porridge) and the best Map-O-Spread (Composed Sugar Spread) toasts.

There were two doors in the kitchen; one exiting to the back veranda which lead toward the front of the house and the other side door went out to the old step-up laundry washing area/line.  They never owned a dryer. Grand-Mémère did all the laundry and hung it out back on the line to dry.  They owned an old-fashioned washing machine where you would wash it and then you had to take the piece of clothes and put it in a wringer and it would fall in a big bucket of clean cool water to rinse, then she would take it out of the rinse water and wring it again.

Left  – “The cousins” (Mona: Tina, Darryl) (Darlene: Lisa, Francine,Stephanie) (Doreen: Sylvie, Ginette, Danielle).
Top Right – “June 1984” – Mom Mona, Me, Darryl, Grand-Pépère and Grand-Mémère and Pépère.
Bottom Right – “Grand-Pépère’s 87th Birthday” at Tante Thelma and Oncle René’s in Bonfield.

Coming from the generation that they did, and the house sourcing from a well, I understood that they were afraid of the well running dry. So, at nighttime we had a large marmite (French for pot) at the top of the stairs to pee, if we had to go.  Grand-Mémère would then empty it when she got up in the morning.  

I remember the bedrooms did not have doors, they had curtains. The bedrooms did not have closets, they had hooks. There were 3 bedrooms plus theirs (the master bedroom), which was located at the front of the house facing Yonge St.

At grand-pépère & grand-mémère Lamothe’s in Bonfield, 1981

I remember Grand-Pépère fiddling around in the back tool shed.  I remember going in there as a child and thinking “wow this place is filled with really cool old junk”.  I’d love the opportunity to sort through it now as someone who loves thrifting for old relics.

They had a garden out back with a rain barrel that they’d collect water in.

I recall the house not being too far from the train tracks because I would hear it whistling while laying in bed at night.

It’s when I sit here and reminisce on my life that I wish I had the thirst for knowledge then as I do now.  The things I would love to have asked grand-pépère; from 1897 to 1992 he must have seen soooo many changes!  He went from a seeing the first Ford Model T to a Lamborghini.  He went from coal and wood fires to electricity, telephones and tv’s all during HIS LIFETIME.  He saw two World Wars and was at one of them.  Oh, the stories grand-pépère would have told me as he puffed on his pipe and sat on the front veranda.

Émile died on April 17, 1992, in his hometown at the age of 94. Marcella died the following year at the age of 87.

They are buried together at Ste. Bernadette Cemetery in Bonfield. They were married 65 years.

Gravestone in Bonfield, Ontario

When I was up in Bonfield last summer, I popped by the house at 217 Yonge Street; sooo disappointing and heartbreaking it hardly looks at all like the house of my memories.  It looks run down, dilapidated and totally unkempt.  Nothing like the memories we shared here as a large extended family when we were younger.  The large white wrap around veranda has been torn down, the house no longer has the large added on kitchen.

217 Younge Street, Bonfield in 2020 – it looks nothing like it did when I was a child

4 thoughts on “On Genealogy: The Life of WWI Pte. Émile Lamothe

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