|Date of Birth||February 9, 1893|
|Place of Birth||Port Antonio|
|Next of Kin||Ellis P Binns, father, 4 Lee Park, Blackheath, London SE, England|
|Trade / Calling||Civil Engineer|
|Religion||Other - See Notes|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Battalion||1st CE Brigade|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Toronto, Ontario|
|Address at Enlistment||Engineer Training Depot, Ottawa, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||January 19, 1916|
|Age at Enlistment||23|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Decorations and Medals||Military Cross|
|Date of Death||August 28, 1918|
|Age at Death||25|
|Buried At||Dainville British Cemetery, France|
|Plot||II. C. 2.|
Percy Vere Binns was born on 9 February 1893 in Port Antonio, Jamaica. Both of his parents had also been born in Jamaica. His father Ellis Panton Binns was the son of cabinet maker John Binns and wife Jessie and his mother Amelia Saffery was the daughter of William and Amelia Saffery. In a christening record of one of Amelia’s siblings William’s occupation was given as organier, a craftsman specializing in the building and maintenance of organs while in another his occupation was storekeeper. Percy’s father worked as an accountant/auditor/exporter for the United Fruit Company. Percy’s siblings were Edward Ellis (b 1881), Claude Ellery (b 1882), Marion Louise (b 1884), Jessie Amelia (b 1886), Amy Alice (b 1888), May Edith (b 1889), Ray Ellerton (b 1890), Ralph Spencer (b 1895), and Elsie Randall (b 1899)*. It appears that Claude and May did not survive childhood.
The Binns children could be found on numerous passenger lists to Canada as they were sent for schooling. The boys attended the preparatory school of Woodstock College before going on to the University of Toronto. Percy graduated from University of Toronto in April of 1914 with a degree in Civil Engineering. He found employment with the Hydro-Electric Power Commission, stationed in Kenora, Ontario.
Percy Binns returned to Toronto to enlist and in November 1915 was appointed to the Canadian Engineers, signing his Officers Papers on 19 January 1916. He joined the 1st Field Company at the front the following June. He was wounded on 8 September 1916 during the Somme Campaign and awarded the Military Cross on 1 January 1917 for ‘valuable service rendered in the construction of jumping off trenches before Courcelette’. ‘The Military Cross is awarded to commissioned officers of the substantive rank of Captain or below or Warrant Officers for distinguished and meritorious services in battle. The MC was established in December, 1915. In 1920, the terms were altered to clearly state the award was for gallant and distinguished services in action and that naval and air force officers could be awarded the cross for gallant and distinguished services on the ground. Canadians have been awarded a total of 3,727 MCs, with 324 first bars and 18 second bars.’ In September 1917 Percy was made Assistant Adjutant to the 1st Divisional Engineers at Passchendaele and appointed Staff Captain in May 1918.
After serving through the Battle of Amiens, Captain Percy Vere Binns was killed by a shell near Arras on 28 August 1918. He was only 25. From the CEF burial register for Percy: ‘Killed in Action’ This officer was proceeding forward on his motor-cycle for the purpose of making arrangements for the establishment of a forward Engineer Dump and, when in Rue St. Quentin, Arras, he was hit by pieces of an enemy shell and was also badly burnt by the engine of the motor-cycle bursting. He died from the effects shortly afterward. Captain Percy Vere Binns is interred in the Dainville British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. It is located on the western outskirts of Arras.
All three of Percy’s brothers served during WW1. Dr Edward Ellis Binns, who had graduated from University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Medicine degree in 1904, was a Corporal with the Canadian Army Medical Corps although it is not known if he went overseas. Ray Ellerton Binns enlisted in Montreal in 1915 and served with Borden’s Motor Machine Gun Battery, Canadian Machine Gun Corps. Ralph Spencer Binns, living in Detroit and working for the National Bank of Commerce, signed his US WW1 Draft registration Card on 5 June 1917, and according to a newspaper clipping from Kingston, Jamaica, was a Lieutenant with the US Army. All three survived.
Percy’s parents Ellis and Amelia were found in the 1910 United States Federal Census as lodgers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ellis’ occupation given as fruit grower/exporter. They eventually moved to Lee, Lewisham, London. Ellis died on 21st February 1942. At some point after his death Amelia moved to Edinburgh to live with her daughter Jessie who had married David Clapperton during the fourth quarter of 1917 in Lewisham. Amelia died on 13 September 1949 in Edinburgh. Jessie was listed as widow at the time of her father’s death.
Percy’s brother Dr Edward Ellis Binns practiced medicine in Welland, Ontario and had married Mary Moore on 11 August 1906 in the County of York. He died on 7 August 1946 and it appears from his obituary that he did not have any children. Percy’s sister Marion Louise was found listed in the 1911 Canada census in Toronto with her barrister husband John Bogart Bartram and children John and Marjorie. Brother Ray was also living with the family. Percy’s sister Amy Alice Binns was found on a number of passenger lists over the years from Jamaica to England. It is unlikely that she married. Percy’s brother Ray pursued a career in the mining industry, at one time employed with the Mountain Copper Company in San Francisco. He married the widow Florence Beesley on 25 March 1919 in Langham, Westminster, and in 1934 married his second wife Winnifred Barnes. Ray Ellerton Binns died during the first quarter of 1974 in Warminster, Wiltshire, England. Percy’s youngest brother Ralph married Mildred Emmons on 28 November 1917 in Detroit, Michigan. By the 1920 US Federal Census, Ralph was living with Mildred’s parents and was listed as a widower. By 1938 he was married to his second wife Verena as found on a passenger list to Southampton, occupation given as lawyer. Ralph Spence Binns died in November 1971 in Aiken, South Carolina. Percy’s youngest sister Elsie Randall Binns published a book entitled Giving Hands. She was found on a 1958 passenger list returning to the UK from New York, occupation given as tutor. She died during the second quarter of 1997 in the District of Reading and Wokingham, Berkshire, England.
Captain Percy Vere Binns is commemorated on the Christ Church War Memorial in the London Borough of Lewisham (Lee). Although the church was destroyed during WW2, the plaque is part of the Lewisham Museum Collection. He is commemorated on the University of Toronto Roll of Service, and on a plaque hanging in St Alban’s Cathedral in Kenora, Ontario.
by Judy Stockham
University of Toronto photos: LT. P. V. Binns, Applied Science, University of Toronto, from The Varsity Magazine Supplement published by The Students Administrative Council, University of Toronto 1916. Submitted for the Soldiers’ Tower Committee, University of Toronto, by Operation Picture Me.
Christ Church, Lee War Memorial: Lewisham Local History and Archives
Research notes: *mother’s name given as Amy on birth registration for Edward Ellis but Amelia was also listed as Amy on a passenger list; birth registration not found for Amy Alice; most accounts of Percy’s life give his birth as 08 February 1893 but the birth registration gives the date as 09 February (‘Jamaica, Civil Birth Registration,’ index and images, FamilySearch)