The story of Charles Henry Crosswell may be the most unique of any of the more than 1,200 Bruce County Volunteers that joined the 160th Bruce Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in WWI.
The 42 pages of his Military record from the Library and Archives in Ottawa tell a story of a citizen who took large steps to show loyalty to his birth country.
He came to Canada late in the 19th century, from Ealing, a suburb of London, England. Prior to moving to Port Elgin, he had lived in Ottawa where he was a member of the Governor General’s Foot Guards Militia Unit.
In December 1915, he went to Tara and enlisted in the 160th Bruce Battalion which, this causes one to question why he would not have enlisted in the Port Elgin Platoon where he was living and where he worked as a bricklayer.
His attestation papers state that he was 5’ 3” with blue eyes, fair complexion and light brown hair. He was married to Beatrice Elizabeth and they had a 16-year-old daughter Maud. He gave his birth date as September 24, 1878 which would have him as 37 years of age.
In the summer of 1916, the 160th was preparing for departure for England. Prior to their departure the soldiers got their affairs in order and he had two military comrades witness his will. They were Trew James, from Walkerton, and Albert Monkman, from Tara. He declared that he had no personal life insurance and that his “worldly possessions” were to go to his wife, Beatrice if he did not return.
Prior to departure for England, Mr. Crosswell was promoted to Corporal. The 160th departed from Halifax on October 17, 1916 aboard the S. S. Metagama. This ship was a 1915 addition to the Canadian Pacific fleet and ran regular service from Saint John, New Brunswick to Liverpool. The ship regularly carried Canadian troops in her Third-Class accommodation with paying customers on the upper decks.
On November 2, 1916, the Bruce Battalion arrived at the Bramshott Military Camp in Hampshire, England. Soon after, Charles was promoted to Acting Sergeant. On April 3, 1917 he did something quite out of the ordinary. He formally requested a ‘demotion’ to his original rank of Private. This was done, as indicated in his request, to give him a better chance of getting to the “front” as a replacement for the many soldiers who were casualties in the trenches.
Here, things took a negative turn for Charles. On July 10, 1917, Dr. J.L. Cook, in a Medical Board ruling declared Mr. Crosswell unfit for continuing active service and directed his Commander to return him to Canada. A review of his “Medical History Sheet” shows dates (Page 16 of 20) from August 1, 1916 ruling him as “fit’, then on Nov. 30, 1916 as being Approved Class “A”, then followed by the July 1917 findings of Dr. Cook, that were very inconsistent.
A note on the Medical History Sheet reads: “This sheet to be disposed of in accordance with instructions in
the Regulations for Army Medical Service, on the man becoming non-effective; the date and cause being stated on the next page.” The next page is totally blank.
Months later, on November 17th, Charles embarked on his return to Canada from the port of
Liverpool. Upon his arrival in Canada he was stationed in London, Ontario at the Western
Ontario Supply Depot. On January 18, 1918 he was promoted to his earlier rank of Corporal
and served there until his discharge on August 9, 1918.
The answer to the mystery of his return to Canada becomes much clearer when we review his
In London, Ontario on July 17, 1918 he was declared “Overage Category C 11”. His Discharge Certificate dated August 9, 1918 and very clearly states his age as 49 years. His birth date is stated as September 26, 1869. This is a full 9 years earlier than the September 24, 1878 date he gave in Tara when he enlisted in December 1915.
The following statement is included. “He served in Canada and England and is now discharged from the service by reason of as medically unfit for further general service”. The maximum age was 44 to be in the Canadian Expeditionary Force for general service. He had enlisted at age 47 and was discharged after 2 years and 233 days of service at age 49.
His story ends with a typed card as the final entry in his military record.
Crosswell died in Hamilton on Christmas Day 1919 with his daughter, Miss Maude Crosswell shown as next of kin. His wife Beatrice had died shortly before his death. The typed death notice in his military file includes
this statement; “Death not due to Service”.
What is important is that this older man was brave enough to enlist and to show a real willingness to serve.
He is buried in Sanctuary Park Cemetery in Port Elgin
Researched & Written by: G. William Streeter