|Date of Birth||February 28, 1882|
|Place of Birth||Shawville, Quebec|
|Next of Kin||Miss J. Brownlee (sister), Bromley Line, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Farmer|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Address at Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||August 14, 1914|
|Age at Enlistment||32|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||November 12, 1916|
|Age at Death||34|
|Buried At||Villers Station Cemetery, France|
|Plot||II. B. 19.|
Private Hugh Edward Brownlee came from a large farming family in Shawville, Quebec, a village about 60 km northwest of Ottawa. His grandparents had immigrated from Ireland and Scotland and his parents, Joseph and Sarah Jennett, were both born in Quebec. Joseph and Sarah had at least ten children between 1868 and 1886: Sarah, Mary, Joseph, Margaret, Emily, John, William, Samuel, Hugh and Jessie. Hugh, their youngest son, was born on 28 February 1882. When the 1891 census was taken he was living at home in Shawville with his parents and eight of his siblings.
Hugh left home when he was still in his teens and from April 1900 to October 1901 he was a constable with the North West Mounted Police in Regina, Saskatchewan and McLeod, Alberta. When the 1906 western census was taken he was living in the McLeod area but by 1911 he’d moved to Ontario and taken up farming near Sault Ste. Marie. In August 1914, when the war started, he was still a farmer but he’d relocated to the Kenora area in northwestern Ontario. Britain declared war on 4 August and five days later when recruiting in Kenora officially began Hugh was one of the early volunteers. Along with 43 other Kenora and Keewatin men he stepped forward when the local militia unit, the 98th Regiment, was given a directive to raise a group from its own ranks and from local volunteers.
On 23 August the 44 men boarded one of the trains heading east, bound for Valcartier, Quebec where Canada’s 1st Contingent was being gathered and trained. At Valcartier they underwent medical tests and inoculations and Hugh’s medical exam on 27 August tells us he was 5’11’ with blue eyes and brown hair. He was found fit for service and along with most of the other Kenora and Keewatin men he was assigned to the Winnipeg-based Royal Winnipeg Rifles, designated the 8th Battalion CEF. The battalion shipped overseas with the 1st Contingent in October 1914, embarking on the Franconia. They were part of a convoy of 32 transport ships protected by a Royal Navy escort because of the danger from German submarines. The convoy arrived safely in Plymouth on 14 October and the recruits were sent to Salisbury Plain in southern England where they trained for several months. The men were billeted in tents and huts and due to the cold, wet winter weather many of them became sick with severe colds and pneumonia. They were given a period of leave for the holiday season then after another month of training the 8th Battalion was sent to France in February 1915 as part of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division.
By April the men were in the Ypres Salient in Belgium and they took part in the extended Second Battle of Ypres. The unit suffered heavy casualties in the first large-scale use of poison gas by the Germans, at Gravenstafel Ridge, and in the fighting that followed around St. Julien. There were more losses for the battalion at the Battle of Givenchy in mid-June. In November Hugh was given leave in England and he became ill there and didn’t return to France until February 1916. Four weeks later he was admitted to a hospital in France, suffering from asthma, and he spent almost two months in a convalescent centre. He rejoined his unit in May in Belgium, where the Canadians were holding a section of the front lines in the Ypres Salient. The Battle of Mount Sorrel started on the morning of 2 June with an intense bombardment of the Canadian trenches followed by the explosion of underground mines. After the barrage German infantry advanced and captured Mount Sorrel and nearby areas. The 8th Battalion took part in the counter-attack on 13 June, when most of the lost areas were retaken, and they suffered about 260 casualties in two days, almost 50% of their strength.
Over the summer the unit received reinforcements and underwent an improved regimen of training introduced by General Byng, the new commander of the Canadian Corps. They also had regular rotations in the front lines and did other work including repairing trenches and dugouts. The Battle of the Somme started on 1 July and at the end of August and early in September the Canadians were moved from Belgium to the Somme area in France to take part in the offensive. The 8th Battalion arrived near Albert on 16 September and their first operation was the Battle of Thiepval Ridge (26-29 September 1916), where their losses were 450 men killed, wounded and missing. Over the next five weeks they received almost 400 reinforcements to bring them back up to strength and during that time they left the Somme area and moved north to take up a position between Lens and Arras, opposite Vimy.
Early in November the battalion had a four day rotation in the trenches then after a short rest they were sent back in on 10 November. Some of the men were put to work draining and rivetting the trenches while others formed wiring parties. The war diary for the 8th Battalion notes that two men were lost on 11/12 November 1916, one to a sniper and the other to a minenwerfer (mortar shell). Hugh was one of the casualties but neither the war diary nor his Circumstances of Death record indicates which enemy weapon took his life.
Private Hugh Edward Brownlee is interred in Villers Station Military Cemetery near the village of Villers-au-Bois, about 10 km northwest of Arras. He is commemorated on page 60 of Canada’s First World War Book of Remembrance.
By the time Hugh died both of his parents had also passed away. His 1914-15 Star, Memorial Plaque and Scroll were sent to his brother Joseph in Shawville.
By Bob Stewart