Kenora Great War Project

 

Personal Details
Date of BirthAugust 7, 1888
Place of BirthGlasgow, Lanarkshire
CountryScotland
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMother: Margaret Dempster - Stirling, Scotland
Trade / CallingShipper
ReligionPresbyterian
Service Details
Regimental Number199171
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion28th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentKeewatin, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentMarch 18, 1916
Age at Enlistment27
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathJanuary 8, 1969
Age at Death80
Buried AtVancouver Crematorium, Vancouver, British Columbia

Dempster, Robert McLay

Robert McLay Dempster was one of two sons of William and Margaret Dempster of Stirling Scotland to enlist during the war.

Robert and his brother William came to Canada in 1912 and settled in Keewatin where their uncle James and his wife Anne lived. All the men worked for the Keewatin flour mill, Robert as a shipper.

In March of 1916 Robert enlisted with the 94th Battalion. The second of three regional battalions to be formed from volunteers in Northwestern Ontario. The battalion had been authorized in late December of 1915, and recruiting began in earnest in January of 1916. Kenora was to provide a company of men, ‘D’ Company, to the new battalion.

After training in Kenora for two months, on May 25, 1916, Robert Dempster, along with the other Kenora men moved to the battalion’s barracks in a converted steel plant at Fort William where training continued. On June 9 the battalion moved to the Valcartier, Quebec training camp prior to shipping to England on June 13 aboard the RMS Olympic.

By this point in the war almost all new battalions arriving in England were being disbanded and the men used as replacements for Canadian battalions already in the field. Robert Dempster was transferred to the 17th Reserve battalion and a month later was on his way to France to serve with the 28th (Saskatchewan) Battalion.

He arrived at Havre on Aug 25, 1916 and after a further month of training joined the 28th in the frontlines on Sept. 22, 1916.

He would be there barely a week. On Oct. 2, 1916, while the battalion was replacing another unit in the trenches in the Courcelette area, the 28th came under heavy shell fire. Robert was knocked unconscious when a shell exploded near him, and when he awoke a week later he was at the Western General military hospital in Manchester back in England. At first he could neither speak nor hear, however he was slowly recovering when he began experiencing fits in December of 1916.

He told doctors he had suffered from fits as child and there was a history of epilepsy on mother’s side of the family, but he had not had ‘fits’ as an adult.

A medical review board determined the shell shock incident had re-activated his childhood condition and deemed him unfit for further military service. He was returned to Canada in June 1917 and discharged from the army on July 20, 1917.

Robert Dempster returned to work at the flour mill and by the 1921 census was living with his wife Susan on Government Road. They would have one child, a son Gordon. Robert worked at the flour mill until he retired in 1953. In 1961 he and Susan moved west to Vancouver to be near their son and his family.

Robert Dempster died in Vancouver at age 81 on January 8, 1969. His wife Susan passed away there on Jan. 28, 1983 at age 93. He is commemorated on the Town of Keewatin Plaque and the Lake of the Woods Milling Company Plaque.

by Bob Stewart
obituary: courtesy of Mike Melen

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