Kenora Great War Project

 

Personal Details
Date of BirthMay 30, 1895
Place of BirthFort Willilam, Ontario
CountryCanada
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMrs. James Esselmont (mother), 51 24th Ave. West, Vancouver
Trade / CallingAssistant agent CPR
ReligionPresbyterian
Service Details
Regimental Number129983
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion72nd Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentVancouver, British Columbia
Date of EnlistmentSeptember 10, 1915
Age at Enlistment20
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathMay 12, 1970
Age at Death74
Buried AtMountain View Cemetery, Vancouver
PlotJONES/*/44/011/0010

Esselmont, John Wesley

Private John Wesley Esselmont enlisted in Vancouver in September 1915, at age 20. He was wounded at the Battle of Passchendaele in November 1917 and spent the remainder of the war in Great Britain.

John was born on 30 May 1895 in Fort William, Ontario. His father, James Esselmont, had immigrated to Canada from the Orkney Islands and his mother, Flora Ann McVicar, was born in Ontario. James and Flora had at least eight children: Robert John, Annie Mary, John Wesley, George, Charles William (died as an infant), James Stuart, William Thomas and Donald George. James worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway as a section foreman and became roadmaster around 1900. James Stuart was born in Fort William in 1902 and the family moved to Rat Portage (now called Kenora) about a year later. The two youngest boys were born in Kenora and sadly son George died there in an accident in 1906.

Around 1910 James and his family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia where he continued to work as roadmaster for the CPR. When the 1911 census was taken they were living in South Vancouver with the five youngest children at home. John, age 16, was working as a clerk in an office. The war started in August 1914 and John enlisted a year later, at age 20, signing up in Vancouver on 10 September 1915 with the 72nd Battalion (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada). His occupation was assistant agent for the CPR and next of kin was his mother. His unit trained in the Vancouver area over the winter. His father died at home after a brief illness on 29 January 1916, at age 54, and John was the informant on the death registration. The funeral was held three days later and James is buried in Mountain View Cemetery.

The 72nd Battalion left for the east coast that spring, on the first leg of their journey overseas. They embarked from Halifax on the Empress of Britain on 26 April and arrived at Liverpool about nine days later. After three more months of training the battalion was sent to France, disembarking there on 13 August, and they became part of the 12th Brigade in the new 4th Canadian Division. That fall they fought at the Somme Offensive and starting in mid-October John served as a cyclist orderly. When the Battle of the Somme ended his unit moved north to join the rest of the Canadian Corps in the Lens-Arras sector, across from Vimy.

In late December John developed an infected foot and furuncles (boils) and he spent almost six weeks recovering. He rejoined his unit in February 1917 and in April they took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. After capturing the ridge the Canadians stayed in the Vimy area holding the new front line. In early August they moved to the Lens area for the Battle of Hill 70 and afterwards John had a ten-day leave of absence, starting on 31 August.

In October all four divisions of the Canadian Corps moved to the Ypres Salient in Belgium for the Battle of Passchendaele (26 October-10 November 1917). Even before it began the battlefield was a wasteland of swamp, mud and water-filled craters and sometimes the men were knee-deep and even waist-deep in mud and water. The assault on the ridge was planned to take place in several stages and the 72nd Battalion was brought in for the second phase. They moved into position on 29 October and the assault started the next morning before dawn. They captured their objective, consolidating their position and helping to clear the battlefield on 1 November. They were relieved late the next day but John was one of the casualties, suffering poisoning from a gas shell. He was evacuated to a field ambulance and admitted to a casualty clearing station on 5 November, with damage to his throat and burns to both legs.

John was transferred to the 1st South African Hospital at Abbeville then evacuated to England on 17 November on the hospital ship Grantully Castle. He spent about two weeks recovering at the 3rd Western General Hospital in Cardiff followed by six weeks at the convalescent centre in Epsom. He was discharged on 21 January 1918 to the BC Regiment Depot but put on command to the 3rd Canadian Convalescent Depot. John was in the hospital from 16 April to 24 June, getting treatment for vd, and at the end of August he was transferred to the 1st Reserve Battalion. The Armistice ended hostilities in November and he returned to Canada two months later, sailing from Liverpool on the Empress of Asia and arriving at Victoria, BC on 25 January 1919. He was discharged on demobilization on 4 February in Vancouver.

When the next census was taken, in June 1921, John was living in Vancouver with his widowed mother and three of his brothers and working as a bookkeeper for a railway company. He was married the following month, on 6 July, to Gertrude Mary Chisholm. Gertrude was born in 1895 in New Westminster, British Columbia, the daughter of Archibald John Chisholm and Mary Agatha Dwyer. Her two older brothers, James Archibald and William Joseph, both served during the war. James enlisted in September 1915 and spent three years overseas. William was called up in October 1918 and served in Canada.

John and Gertrude made their home in Vancouver and had at least one child, their daughter Elizabeth (Mrs. Kalman Opre). John worked as an insurance and freight agent for several railway companies then had a 20-year career as a salesman with Investors Syndicate. His mother died in New Westminster in 1962, at age 96, and she’s buried in Mountain View Cemetery. John retired the following year and passed away at Vancouver General Hospital on 12 May 1970, a few weeks before his 75th birthday. Gertrude died on 13 April 1990, at age 94. They were both cremated and buried next to John’s parents in Mountain View Cemetery.

By Becky Johnson

Photo of John’s parents courtesy of Esselmont public family tree on ancestry.com.

Grave marker photo taken by cemetery staff and uploaded to findagrave.com by Islandergirl with permission.


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