Kenora Great War Project

 

Personal Details
Date of BirthFebruary 1, 1898
Place of BirthVictoriaville, PQ
CountryCanada
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinSamuel Bird, father, Box 209 Kenora, Ont.
Trade / Callingstudent
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number529519
Service Record Link to Service Record
BattalionNo. 10 Field Ambulance
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Army Medical Corps
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of Enlistment18/09/1915
Age at Enlistment17
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Decorations and MedalsMilitary Medal (France)
Death Details
Date of Death14/07/1990
Age at Death92
Buried AtElmwood Cemetery, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Plot10A-G0429

Bird, John Thomas Samuel Roland

Roland (Rollie) Bird came to the Kenora area with his parents Samuel and Margaret Bird and siblings Edna, Dorothy, Margaret and Henry during the decade before the war.

His father, Samuel had come to Canada around 1890 from England and settled in the Victoriaville area of Quebec where he found work with the Grand Trunk Railway. He married Margaret Jane Atkinson there and began to raise a family of three daughters and two sons – Edna, born in 1894, Dorothy, 1896, Roland, 1898, Margaret, 1902 and Henry, 1904. After Henry’s birth, Samuel joined the CPR and moved the family to Kenora where he was employed as a locomotive engineer.

Roland enlisted in the army in September 1915 in Kenora five months before he turned 18. While his mentor, local physician Dr. William Gunne, had suggested he might be better suited to the regular infantry, Rollie, as he was more often known as, had an interest in medicine and took the train to Winnipeg to join the No. 10 Field Ambulance Company, Canadian Army Medical Corp.

After training in Canada, Roland Bird shipped to England in March of 1916 and moved on to France in April for further training. He joined No. 10 Field Ambulance in the field Aug. 31, 1916, midway through the Battle of the Somme.

Dr. Gunne needn’t have worried about Roland Bird’s ability to handle the sight of the blood and gore a front line medical unit experiences. In one letter home published in the local paper Bird recounted how he and his comrades actually had it much better than front line infantry and went on to recount how he and other stretcher bearers were allowed to view an autopsy and how interesting he found it and the doctor’s explanation of what he was doing.

On Oct. 8, 1916, near the end of five month long the Battle of Somme, Roland Bird and other members of his ambulance company were sent forward to bring wounded troops to the company’s aid station. When they returned to their huts that evening Roland was missing and his comrades feared the worst. They set out to find him and located him by the roadside, alive and tending to his patient. Shell fire had fallen so close to them it had catapulted the man from the stretcher at one point. Roland rescued the man a second time and continued to bring him to safety.

Roland’s action’s that day earned him one of the rarest medal’s of the war for a Canadian soldier – France’s second highest gallantry award, the Medaille Militaire. Normally reserved for French citizens the award is occasionally awarded to foreign soldiers, for distinctive service in the case of senior officers, and for gallantry in the field for junior officers and other ranks. Roland Bird was one of only 55 Canadian soldiers to receive the award during war. While the official London Gazette entry of his award and his CEF service file give no details of his actions that day, letters home from others in his unit described his gallantry, and the soldier he saved must have been French, to justify the award.

When word of the honour reached his unit several month’s later, his commander immediately ordered Roland to begin wearing the yellow and green piped ribbon that comes with the medal on his tunic even before it was formerly pinned on him. At that point in the war he was reportedly only the 12th Canadian soldier to be so honoured by the French.

Roland Bird survived the war with no injuries himself – his only time in hospital was three days to clear up body lice infestation before leaving France in 1919.

On his return home to Kenora in March 1919  he decided on a career in medicine, attending dentistry school in Winnipeg and Toronto and then setting up a practice in Winnipeg, but making frequent visits to Kenora where his parents and brother Henry continued to live. In 1926 he married Charlotte Ritchie of Kenora, whom he met on one his frequent return visits and they raised their family – son Richard and daughter Colleen in Winnipeg. His son also became a dentist. Roland Bird continued to practice dentistry in Winnipeg until he was 75. Charlotte passed away in 1961 and in 1965 Roland married Audrey Galbraith (nee McKenzie).

Roland Bird passed away in 1990 at the age of 92 and was interred at Elmwood Cemetery along with his son Richard, who predeceased him in 1987 and his wife Charlotte. His obituary notice in July 1990 in the Winnipeg Free Press made note of his many contributions to that city, his devotion to his family, his church and the Masonic Order and his high award for valour earned in his youth.

by Bob Stewart

Grave marker photograph provided by Bocephus, findagrave.com.

 


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