Kenora Great War Project

 

Personal Details
Date of BirthNovember 21, 1896
Place of BirthKenora, Ontario
CountryCanada
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinArthur W. Morton (father), 530 - 14th Avenue East, Calgary, Alberta
Trade / CallingTeamster
ReligionRoman Catholic
Service Details
Regimental Number500802
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion1st Army Troops Company
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Engineers
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentCalgary, Alberta
Age at Enlistment18
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathApril 26, 2002
Age at Death105
Buried AtBriar Hill Cemetery, Sutton, Ontario

Morton, Herbert Laurence

Driver Herbert Laurence Morton enlisted with the Canadian Engineers in September 1915, at age 18. He went overseas a few months later and served in France and Belgium for two and a half years. In 1998, at age 101, he was awarded the Legion of Honour (Chevalier) at a ceremony in Vimy, France.

Laurence was the son of Arthur Wellesley Morton and his first wife Mary Abigail LaChapelle. Arthur was from North Gwillimbury Township in North York, Ontario and Mary grew up in a farming family in nearby Georgina Township. Their first child, Arthur Kingsley, was born in Georgina Township in June 1891. A short time later they moved to Rat Portage (later renamed Kenora) in northwestern Ontario. Three more sons were born there: Louis Milton (1894), Clarence Wellesley (1895) and Herbert Laurence (21 November 1896). Arthur had been a teacher but in Rat Portage he found work with the Canadian Pacific Railway and he was with the company for about forty years.

Laurence’s mother suffered from consumption and not long after he was born she returned to Georgina Township where her parents lived. She passed away there in May 1897, when Laurence was six months old. Clarence died four weeks later, at age 18 months. When the 1901 census was taken the two oldest boys were staying with their grandparents, Timothy and Sarah Morton, in Simcoe County. Laurence was four years old and living in Georgina Township with his maternal grandparents, Louis and Candace LaChapelle. Arthur had remarried by then and he was living in Calgary with his second wife, Martha Knight. Over the next 15 years he had seven more children with Martha: sons Graham, Paul, Wellesley and Blake, and daughters Muriel, Helen and Marjory.

By 1911 Louis and Candace LaChapelle had both passed away. When the census was taken that year Laurence was living in Virginia, Georgina Township with his uncle and aunt, Oliver and Catherine LaChapelle. Sometime after that he moved out west and joined his father in Calgary. His older brothers Arthur and Louis had moved there several years earlier. Laurence and Louis both enlisted in September 1915. Louis joined the 46th (South Saskatchewan) Battalion and went overseas in October. Laurence signed up in Calgary on 4 September with the Canadian Engineers Training Depot. His occupation was teamster and he gave his place of birth as Virginia, Ontario but he had actually moved there from Rat Portage as an infant.

Laurence went to the UK with the 5th reinforcing draft of the engineers training depot, sailing on the SS Metagama on 1 January 1916 and arriving in England ten days later. In March he contracted German measles and he spent two weeks in Moore Barracks Hospital, Two months after recovering he was transferred to the Mounted Company, Canadian Engineers Training Depot. At the end of September he was sent to France and attached to the 1st Army Troops Company, Canadian Engineers. He joined his new unit in the field in mid-October, just as their part in the Somme Offensive was ending. Army Troops worked with the engineers to construct and repair defences, buildings, roads, bridges and water supply systems. They set up and operated blacksmith, carpenter, painting and motorized vehicle repair shops. They also built heavy gun emplacements and helped to lay mines, often working close to the front line within range of artillery and machine gun fire.

Major battles for the Canadian Corps in 1917 were Vimy Ridge, Hill 70 and Passchendaele. In December 1917 Laurence had two weeks leave in the UK and he was back with his unit just after Christmas. The Canadians were heavily involved in the final period of the war, starting with the Battle of Amiens in August 1918. Laurence’s brother Louis Morton was killed in action on 1 September 1918, in the operations near the Drocourt-Quéant Line. The Armistice ended hostilities on 11 November and two weeks later Laurence had leave in the UK again. He returned to France on 10 December and served there for another three months. He was back in the UK with his unit in early March 1919 and he sailed for Canada on 16 April on the SS Belgic, arriving at Halifax a week later. He was discharged on demobilization on 30 April in Ottawa.

Laurence may have returned to his family in Calgary for awhile but by 1920 he had taken up farming in Stouffville, Ontario, not far from where he grew up. He was married in Toronto on 30 June 1920 to Margaret Short Kerr. Margaret (Madge) was born in Cambuslang, Scotland, the daughter of John Kerr and Margaret Short. She had immigrated to Canada in 1919 and she was about four years older than Laurence. When the 1921 census was taken they were living in Markham Township, north of Toronto, and Laurence was employed as a gardener. They had twins, Louis and Margaret, born in 1921 followed by five sons: Patrick, Neil, William, Laurence and Murray. Laurence and Madge lived in Toronto for many years.

In 1998 the French government honoured surviving veterans of the Great War who had served on French or Belgian soil by awarding them the Legion of Honour/Légion d’Honneur (Chevalier). Laurence was one of 17 Canadian veterans brought to France and Belgium by Veterans Affairs Canada in November that year. He was 101 years old at the time. The group left Canada on 4 November and the trip included visits to Lille, Le Quesnel, the Somme, Bourlon Wood, Ypres, and the Passchendaele and St. Julien monuments. They were in Mons, Belgium on 11 November, the 80th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice. The veterans received their Legion of Honour medals during a ceremony at Vimy. Laurence said he had been at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, working with the troops responsible for laying mines. He had vivid memories of ‘his best friends in the war, Boss and Charley Chaplin,’ the horses who drew the cart that he drove (Legion Magazine, 1 January 1999, ‘Solemn Moments in Mons’ by Ray Dick).

Just a few days after returning to Canada Laurence turned 102 years old. His last years were spent at Lee Manor in Owen Sound, Ontario. He passed away there on 26 April 2002, at age 105. His funeral was held in Sutton, Ontario and he’s buried in Sutton’s Briar Hill Cemetery, along with his mother and infant brother Clarence. Laurence was survived by three of his sons, Patrick, Neil and William, as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

By Becky Johnson

Grave marker photos courtesy of Bev Dowson on Findagrave.


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