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These are the stories of Kenora participants in the First World War.

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  • Robertson, James McLaren Image
  • Robertson, James McLaren

  • Over 60,000 Canadian soldiers died in the First World War and almost one third of them have no known grave. One of the missing is Private James McLaren Robertson who was killed in October 1916 at the Battle of the Somme.

    James was the son of William and Bertha Louisa Robertson of Vancouver, British Columbia. William was from Cupar in the county of Fife, Scotland and his wife Bertha (née Thompson) was born in Lancashire, England. They were married in Lancashire in 1884 and their daughter Mildred was born in March 1885, the first of at least 13 children. Later that same year the Robertsons immigrated to Canada and settled in the North-West Territories, in what would become the province of Saskatchewan. Two children were born there, Eleanora (1886) and John (1888). Their next daughter Edith was born in Syracuse, New York (1889). After that the family lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba for a couple of years where they had two more girls, Bertha (1891), who died at age 5 months, and Marion (1892).

    From Winnipeg the Robertsons moved to Rat Portage (later called Kenora) in northwestern Ontario where seven children were added to the family: Edmund (1893), James (4 August 1894), Mary (1895), Stuart (1897), Alan (1899), Olive (1900) and Malcolm (1902). They lost two sons while they were living in Rat Portage, Edmund as an infant and Alan at age 4. Lumbering was a major industry in northwestern Ontario and William worked as a bookkeeper and accountant for a local lumber company. Around 1909 the family moved once again, this time to Vancouver where William worked for the Rat Portage Lumber Company. The company had purchased some mills in BC and William was one of several employees who relocated there from Kenora.

    The war started in August 1914 and James and his brother Stuart Robertson both enlisted that fall. Stuart signed up in September 1914 when he was 17 and he left for England a month later. James enlisted next, joining the 29th Battalion on 9 November 1914 in Vancouver. He was 20 years old and his occupation was motor driver. The 29th was organized and recruited in Vancouver and after training in Canada for six months the volunteers were sent to England, embarking from Montreal on 20 May 1915 on the SS Missanabie. The men trained in England for another four months. They left for France on 17 September and disembarked at Boulogne the following day. The 29th Battalion was part of the 6th Brigade in the newly-organized 2nd Canadian Division and together with the 1st Division they formed the Canadian Corps. That fall they were in the Ypres Salient in Belgium and in November James became ill with bronchitis, spending a short time at a divisional rest centre. “The Canadian Corps now settled down to a dismal winter in a section of the front between Ploegsteert Wood and St. Eloi. As steady rain filled the trenches with muddy water the men were forced to fight not only the enemy, but also trench foot, colds, influenza and lice.” (www.veterans.gc.ca)

    In March 1916 James asked to be transferred to the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish), his brother Stuart’s unit, and he joined them in the field two weeks later. That spring the Canadians were holding part of the front line in the Ypres Salient, between St. Eloi and Hooge. In the middle of May the 16th Battalion had an eight day rotation in the front trenches, opposite Hill 60, and two weeks later, on the morning of 2 June, the Battle of Mount Sorrel started. An artillery barrage destroyed trenches and equipment and some companies were almost wiped out by the explosion of underground mines. After the bombardment German infantry advanced and captured Mount Sorrel and nearby areas. A counter-attack was planned for 3 June and additional units were brought in. The 16th Battalion arrived very early that morning but they didn’t take part in the counter-attack and instead were put to work digging a new front line. On 5 June James was admitted to hospital for five days, most likely due to illness. His battalion took part in the final operation on 13 June, when most of the areas lost to the Germans were recaptured. The battle ended with little change to the front lines but at a cost of 8,000 Canadian casualties.

    The Somme Offensive started on 1 July 1916 and in late August and early September the Canadian Divisions left the Ypres Salient and moved to the Somme area in France. They were involved in several operations over the next few weeks and the final objective was the capture of Regina Trench. An attempt on 1 October failed and a week later, after the heavy rains stopped, a second attempt was planned. The 16th Battalion was brought in from the town of Albert on 7 October and they took part in the assault the following morning. During their advance the battalion ran into problems with uncut barbed wire and counter-attacks by the Germans. The men were forced to withdraw to their starting position, leaving behind the wounded. Among the battalion’s losses were about 50 men who were missing in action and presumed to have died, including James.

    From the Circumstances of Death record for James: Previously reported missing, now for official purposes presumed to have died on or since 9 October 1916. Location of unit at time of casualty: Attack North East of Courcelette.

    James’ final resting place is unknown. He is commemorated on the Cenotaph in Kenora, on the Kenora Legion War Memorial and on the Vimy Memorial in France. The Vimy Memorial bears the names of over 11,000 Canadian soldiers who died in France and have no known grave. He is also commemorated on page 155 of Canada’s First World War Book of Remembrance, on display in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

    James’ brother Stuart survived the war and returned to Canada. Their father William Robertson also enlisted, signing up in July 1916 at the age of 52. He left Canada as a Sergeant with the 238th Battalion and served in England and France with No. 14 Company Canadian Forestry Corps. James’ oldest sister Mildred married Joseph Nevison in 1904 and they lived in the Kenora area. His sister Eleanora was married in Winnipeg in 1905 and her husband Matthew Brown played for the Kenora Thistles hockey team. The rest of James’ family lived mainly in BC and his father died in Vancouver in 1954, shortly after his 91st birthday.

    By Becky Johnson

    Robertson-James-90Kenora-Cenotaph-plaque-image

  • Regimental Number:
  • 76147
  • Service Record:
  • Link to Service Record
  • Survived War:
  • No
  • Force:
  • Canadian Expeditionary Force
  • Branch:
  • Canadian Infantry
  • Battalion:
  • 16th Battalion
  • Place of Birth:
  • Kenora, Ontario
  • Country:
  • Canada
  • Next of Kin:
  • Bertha Louisa Robertson (mother), Vancouver, BC
  • Address at Enlistment:
  • Date of Birth:
  • August 4, 1894
  • Trade or Calling:
  • Motor Driver
  • Marital Status:
  • Single
  • Place of Enlistment:
  • Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Date of Enlistment:
  • November 9, 1914
  • Age at Enlistment:
  • 20
  • Religion:
  • Church of England
  • Enlisted or Conscripted:
  • Enlisted
  • Saw Service In:
  • Europe
  • Date of Death:
  • October 9, 1916
  • Age at Death:
  • 22
  • Buried at:
  • No known grave; commemorated on the Vimy Memorial in France
  • Plot:
  • Prisoner of War:
  • No
  • Over 60,000 Canadian soldiers died in the First World War and almost one third of them have no known grave. One of the missing is Private James McLaren Robertson who was killed in October 1916 at the Battle of the Somme.

    James was the son of William and Bertha Louisa Robertson of Vancouver, British Columbia. William was from Cupar in the county of Fife, Scotland and his wife Bertha (née Thompson) was born in Lancashire, England. They were married in Lancashire in 1884 and their daughter Mildred was born in March 1885, the first of at least 13 children. Later that same year the Robertsons immigrated to Canada and settled in the North-West Territories, in what would become the province of Saskatchewan. Two children were born there, Eleanora (1886) and John (1888). Their next daughter Edith was born in Syracuse, New York (1889). After that the family lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba for a couple of years where they had two more girls, Bertha (1891), who died at age 5 months, and Marion (1892).

    From Winnipeg the Robertsons moved to Rat Portage (later called Kenora) in northwestern Ontario where seven children were added to the family: Edmund (1893), James (4 August 1894), Mary (1895), Stuart (1897), Alan (1899), Olive (1900) and Malcolm (1902). They lost two sons while they were living in Rat Portage, Edmund as an infant and Alan at age 4. Lumbering was a major industry in northwestern Ontario and William worked as a bookkeeper and accountant for a local lumber company. Around 1909 the family moved once again, this time to Vancouver where William worked for the Rat Portage Lumber Company. The company had purchased some mills in BC and William was one of several employees who relocated there from Kenora.

    The war started in August 1914 and James and his brother Stuart Robertson both enlisted that fall. Stuart signed up in September 1914 when he was 17 and he left for England a month later. James enlisted next, joining the 29th Battalion on 9 November 1914 in Vancouver. He was 20 years old and his occupation was motor driver. The 29th was organized and recruited in Vancouver and after training in Canada for six months the volunteers were sent to England, embarking from Montreal on 20 May 1915 on the SS Missanabie. The men trained in England for another four months. They left for France on 17 September and disembarked at Boulogne the following day. The 29th Battalion was part of the 6th Brigade in the newly-organized 2nd Canadian Division and together with the 1st Division they formed the Canadian Corps. That fall they were in the Ypres Salient in Belgium and in November James became ill with bronchitis, spending a short time at a divisional rest centre. “The Canadian Corps now settled down to a dismal winter in a section of the front between Ploegsteert Wood and St. Eloi. As steady rain filled the trenches with muddy water the men were forced to fight not only the enemy, but also trench foot, colds, influenza and lice.” (www.veterans.gc.ca)

    In March 1916 James asked to be transferred to the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish), his brother Stuart’s unit, and he joined them in the field two weeks later. That spring the Canadians were holding part of the front line in the Ypres Salient, between St. Eloi and Hooge. In the middle of May the 16th Battalion had an eight day rotation in the front trenches, opposite Hill 60, and two weeks later, on the morning of 2 June, the Battle of Mount Sorrel started. An artillery barrage destroyed trenches and equipment and some companies were almost wiped out by the explosion of underground mines. After the bombardment German infantry advanced and captured Mount Sorrel and nearby areas. A counter-attack was planned for 3 June and additional units were brought in. The 16th Battalion arrived very early that morning but they didn’t take part in the counter-attack and instead were put to work digging a new front line. On 5 June James was admitted to hospital for five days, most likely due to illness. His battalion took part in the final operation on 13 June, when most of the areas lost to the Germans were recaptured. The battle ended with little change to the front lines but at a cost of 8,000 Canadian casualties.

    The Somme Offensive started on 1 July 1916 and in late August and early September the Canadian Divisions left the Ypres Salient and moved to the Somme area in France. They were involved in several operations over the next few weeks and the final objective was the capture of Regina Trench. An attempt on 1 October failed and a week later, after the heavy rains stopped, a second attempt was planned. The 16th Battalion was brought in from the town of Albert on 7 October and they took part in the assault the following morning. During their advance the battalion ran into problems with uncut barbed wire and counter-attacks by the Germans. The men were forced to withdraw to their starting position, leaving behind the wounded. Among the battalion’s losses were about 50 men who were missing in action and presumed to have died, including James.

    From the Circumstances of Death record for James: Previously reported missing, now for official purposes presumed to have died on or since 9 October 1916. Location of unit at time of casualty: Attack North East of Courcelette.

    James’ final resting place is unknown. He is commemorated on the Cenotaph in Kenora, on the Kenora Legion War Memorial and on the Vimy Memorial in France. The Vimy Memorial bears the names of over 11,000 Canadian soldiers who died in France and have no known grave. He is also commemorated on page 155 of Canada’s First World War Book of Remembrance, on display in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

    James’ brother Stuart survived the war and returned to Canada. Their father William Robertson also enlisted, signing up in July 1916 at the age of 52. He left Canada as a Sergeant with the 238th Battalion and served in England and France with No. 14 Company Canadian Forestry Corps. James’ oldest sister Mildred married Joseph Nevison in 1904 and they lived in the Kenora area. His sister Eleanora was married in Winnipeg in 1905 and her husband Matthew Brown played for the Kenora Thistles hockey team. The rest of James’ family lived mainly in BC and his father died in Vancouver in 1954, shortly after his 91st birthday.

    By Becky Johnson

    Robertson-James-90Kenora-Cenotaph-plaque-image

  • « Return to all stories
  • Robertson, James McLaren Image
  • Regimental Number:
  • 76147
  • Force:
  • Canadian Expeditionary Force
  • Battalion:
  • 16th Battalion
  • Place of Birth:
  • Kenora, Ontario
  • Next of Kin:
  • Bertha Louisa Robertson (mother), Vancouver, BC
  • Date of Birth:
  • August 4, 1894
  • Survived War:
  • No
  • Branch:
  • Canadian Infantry
  • Country:
  • Canada
  • Address at Enlistment:
  • Trade or Calling:
  • Motor Driver
  • Marital Status:
  • Single
  • Place of Enlistment:
  • Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Date of Enlistment:
  • November 9, 1914
  • Age at Enlistment:
  • 20
  • Religion:
  • Church of England
  • Enlisted or Conscripted:
  • Enlisted
  • Saw Service In:
  • Europe
  • Date of Death:
  • October 9, 1916
  • Age at Death:
  • 22
  • Buried at:
  • No known grave; commemorated on the Vimy Memorial in France
  • Plot:
  • Prisoner of War:
  • No
  • Robertson, James McLaren

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