Thursday 5 June 2014

A Soldier's Story: Private Frank Johns, 1st Battalion Canadian Infantry, pt. 2

[This is the second part of our case study. To read the first instalment, see the entry on this blog from 05/05/14]

It was possible to start tracing Frank John's story from the regimental details on the reverse of the war medals.

The family were not sure if Frank had ever been to Canada, let alone joined the army there. Using the information I had, I contacted the Canadian armed forces and obtained copies of his attestation papers, documents that all recruits had to sign.

Signed a century ago, they show that he was indeed working in Canada as a carpenter. It was not unusual for a Cornishman to be plying his trade abroad before the war. Figures show that, by the end of the 19th century, some 230,000 men and women had left Cornwall in search of work.

Frank Johns signed these papers at Valcartier, a major recruiting station for the overseas expeditionary force. I found the document rather moving. From the starting point of an impersonal, dusty medal, we now have a description of Frank, including a full list of physical attributes and his mother's address. This story is international and reminds us that the war drew in people and nations from across the globe.

In the next blog, I will look at what happened to Frank when the battalion travelled to Salisbury, England, and then to the Western Front.

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