Kenora Great War Project

 

Personal Details
Date of BirthMay 16, 1888
Place of BirthPeterborough
CountryEngland
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinFrederick Gray (father), 54 Clarence Road, Peterborough, England
Trade / CallingRailroad Fireman
ReligionMethodist
Service Details
Regimental Number700732
Service RecordLink to Service Record
Battalion43rd Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentWinnipeg, Manitoba
Address at EnlistmentYMCA, Kenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentJanuary 11, 1916
Age at Enlistment27
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathApril 27, 1948
Age at Death59
Buried AtLake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario
PlotChapel Grounds West, Grave 2, Plot 2, Lot 3

Gray, Fred

Private Fred Gray enlisted with the 101st Battalion in January 1916 and served overseas for three years in England, France and Belgium. He returned to Canada in March 1919.

Fred was the son of Fred (Sr.) and Elizabeth Gray of Peterborough, Northamptonshire, England. Peterborough was an industrial city on the main rail line between London and York and Fred’s father worked for the Great Northern Railway, one of the city’s major employers. Fred Sr. and Elizabeth were married in 1888 and Fred was the oldest of their six children. He was born and raised in Peterborough and he had two brothers (William and Harry) and three sisters (Elizabeth, Sarah and Mary). After finishing school he worked as a post office messenger, street car conductor and railway engine cleaner.

In 1910 several young men from Peterborough decided to immigrate to Canada. They settled in the town of Kenora in northwestern Ontario where they found work with the Canadian Pacific Railway. They all lived at the Railway YMCA, located across from the station, and they became known locally as the Peterborough Boys. Over the next couple of years a few more lads joined them including Fred Gray, who arrived in Kenora in the spring of 1911 when he was 23 years old. Fred was hired as a wiper for the CPR and he moved into the YMCA too. The large building had a restaurant, games room, library and lounge area on the main floor and sleeping quarters for 50 to 60 men on the upper floors. In the basement were a bowling alley and gym and outside were lawn bowling greens and tennis courts. When they weren’t working the Peterborough Boys kept busy with sports and went hiking and boating to explore the beautiful Lake of the Woods area. During the war they all enlisted and served overseas.

Fred signed up in Winnipeg on 11 January 1916, joining the 101st Battalion, one of several units recruited in and around Winnipeg. The men trained in the city during the winter and at the end of May they moved to Camp Hughes, a military camp just east of Brandon. On 23 June they boarded trains bound for the east coast and during the stopover in Winnipeg about 5,000 people gathered at the station to wish them well and see them on their way. A week later the battalion embarked from Halifax on the SS Olympic. Shortly after arriving in England the recruits were absorbed into the 17th Reserve Battalion, to be used as reinforcements for other units. After two more months of training Fred was transferred to the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders) and sent to France. He joined his new unit in the field during the Battle of the Somme. He arrived on 7 October in a draft of 75 reinforcements and they were put to work right away as a water carrying party. The next day the battalion took part in the assault on Regina Trench, suffering heavy casualties. Later that month they were relieved and moved north to a quieter sector of the front across from Vimy, where they spent the winter.

Getting messages from the front line to headquarters during battles was vital but difficult with the technology available at the time. Carrier pigeons were one of the more reliable methods and several men in each battalion were trained to care for and work with pigeons. In December 1916 Fred was sent on a pigeon course and he became one of the pigeon handlers for the 43rd Battalion. The birds were brought into the trenches during battles and messages were attached to their legs before they were released to home to their lofts. The pigeons could be confused by the noise and smoke of battle and sometimes they were casualties of artillery fire or poison gas but it’s estimated that 95% of the messages they carried got through.

In 1917 the Canadian Corps took part in the Battles of Vimy Ridge (April), Hill 70 (August) and Passchendaele (October-November). During the assault on Passchendaele Fred had a ten-day leave of absence in the UK and he rejoined his battalion as the battle was ending. Afterwards they returned north to a section of the line near Arras in France and over the winter and spring the battalion rested, trained, carried out raids and patrols and provided men for work parties. The final period of war began in August 1918 and the Canadians were heavily involved in the operations in those last three months. Fred had another leave of absence in October and when he rejoined his unit they were advancing northeast of Cambrai. On 9 November they crossed into Belgium and two days later when the Armistice came into effect they were in the town of Mons.

The 43rd Battalion was part of the 3rd Canadian Division and both the 3rd and 4th Divisions spent the next three months in Belgium. Fred’s unit entrained for Le Havre on the coast of France on 5 February 1919 and five days later they were back in England. After a month there the 43rd embarked for Canada on 12 March on the SS Baltic. They arrived in Winnipeg on the morning of 24 March and despite heavy rain there was a huge homecoming celebration for them and for one other unit that returned the same day. The men marched from the railway station to the Board of Trade Building where a Thanksgiving service was held. Following the service they continued on to Minto Barracks to be officially discharged.

After the war Fred returned to Kenora, like most of the Peterborough Boys, and he moved back into the YMCA for awhile. He became very involved in veterans affairs and served as president of the local Great War Veterans Association from 1919 to 1926, then as president of the Kenora Legion from 1926 to 1932. He was made a life member of the Legion and awarded their meritorious medal. He worked at the post office for sixteen years, retiring in 1939 due to ill health.

Fred passed away in Kenora on 27 April 1948, at age 60, and he’s buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery. His mother had died in 1915 and he was survived by his father, his brother Harry and his sister Mary (Mrs. Henry Bradley), all of Boston, Lincolnshire, England.

Fred is commemorated on the St. Alban’s Pro-Cathedral First World War Roll of Honour.

By Becky Johnson

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