Kenora Great War Project

 

Personal Details
Date of BirthOctober 11, 1890
Place of BirthFalmouth, Cornwall
CountryEngland
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinHilda Gray (sister), 7 Florence Terrace, Falmouth, England
Trade / CallingFireman
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number198978
Service RecordLink to Service Record
Battalion85th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of Enlistment17/02/1916
Age at Enlistment25
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of Death17/07/1983
Age at Death92

Gray, Norman

Private Norman Gray immigrated to Canada from England in May 1914, three months before the war started. He enlisted in February 1916 and served with the 85th Battalion in France and Belgium.

Norman was born on 11 October 1890 in Falmouth, Cornwall, England. His father William James Gray was a carpenter from Chatham, Kent and his mother Mary Jane Richards was born in Cornwall. William and Mary were married in Falmouth in 1889 and Norman was the oldest of their four children. He had three younger sisters – Hilda, Gladys and Eliza – all born in Falmouth. Eliza was born in 1898 and their mother died the following year, at age 40. When the 1901 census was taken the four children were living with their widowed father and a housekeeper, Mary Moore. When Norman was about 14 years old he started working as a carter. At the time of the 1911 census he was a servant in the household of William Peters, a carrier, with his occupation listed as driver.

Norman immigrated to Canada in 1914, sailing from London on the SS Sicilian and arriving in Quebec on 5 May, with Keewatin, Ontario as his destination. The war started just three months later. Norman settled in Kenora, a neighbouring town to Keewatin, and he found work as a locomotive fireman with the Canadian Pacific Railway. He enlisted in Kenora on 17 February 1916, joining the 94th Overseas Battalion. He said he had served for two years with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, a regiment in the British army, and he listed his sister Hilda in Falmouth as next of kin.

The 94th Battalion was based in Port Arthur and the Kenora recruits were sent there on 25 May to train with the rest of the unit. The men had a huge sendoff from family and friends when they left the Kenora train station that day. The troops headed to Quebec on 9 June and spent a short time at Valcartier Camp in Quebec before embarking from Halifax on 28 June on the SS Olympic. In the UK the recruits were absorbed into reserve battalions to be used as reinforcements for other units.

A week after arriving in England Norman was transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion and he trained with them for the next eight months. On 16 March 1917 he was drafted to the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) and sent to France. He spent some time at the Canadian Base Depot and with an entrenching battalion before joining his new unit in early April, a few days before the Battle of Vimy Ridge. After the successful operation at Vimy the Canadians stayed in that area for the summer, holding the new front line, and in October they moved to Belgium for the Battle of Passchendaele. The winter of 1917-18 was spent near Lens in France.

In January 1918 Norman had two weeks leave in the UK. While he was there he married 25-year-old Lily Evelyn Hitchens on 19 January in the parish church in Devoran, Cornwall. Evelyn was the daughter of James Henry Hitchens, a steamship mariner, and Mary Leverton Nicholls. Her brother Able Seaman James Edwin Hitchens had died in April 1917 while serving with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

Norman returned to France and in February he was awarded his good conduct badge for two years of service. That summer the Canadian Corps had several weeks of intensive training in open warfare and they were heavily involved in the last three months of the war, a period known now as the Hundred Days Offensive. In August the 85th Battalion took part in the first operation, the Battle of Amiens, but their heaviest fighting would be in September. Early in the month they suffered 30% casualties in the assault on the Drocourt-Quéant Line. The middle of September was spent resting, refitting and training and the unit received several drafts of reinforcements.

On 25 September the battalion moved to Arras for the next major operation, the crossing of the Canal du Nord and the capture of Bourlon Wood. On the morning of 28 September the unit was in position at Inchy-en-Artois, just west of the canal, and for the next four days the troops were engaged in almost continuous combat. Norman was wounded on 30 September, suffering mustard gas poisoning. He was sent to a casualty clearing station and on 2 October he was admitted to No. 3 Canadian General Hospital in Boulogne. He recovered there for five days followed by another five days at a convalescent depot. Afterwards he spent a month at the base depot at Etaples and two weeks at the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp. He rejoined the 85th Battalion on 23 December in a draft of 115 reinforcements. By then the Armistice had ended hostilities and the troops were in Belgium.

From the War Diary of the 85th Battalion, 25 December 1918: ‘A gloriously fine day, with weather most appropriate for our first PEACE Christmas. The dinner went splendidly, everyone had as much as they could eat, and it was exceedingly well and tastefully cooked. Dances were held in the evening for the men at Huppaye and ENINES.’

The battalion stayed in Belgium for another four months and Norman had a two-week leave in the UK in January 1919. On 25 April the troops entrained for Le Havre on the French coast. Norman embarked for England with part of his unit on 28 April and the others arrived a few days later. The next month was spent at Bramshott Camp. The battalion embarked for Canada on 31 May but Norman chose to stay in England. He was discharged that same day in London, with his intended address listed as Carclew Terrace, Devoran, Cornwall, where his wife’s parents lived.

Lily Evelyn died in Redruth, Cornwall in July 1973, at age 81. Norman survived his wife by ten years, passing away in Truro, Cornwall on 17 July 1983, at age 92. He is commemorated on the Canadian Pacific Railway Company Roll of Honour.

By Becky Johnson

Gray-Norman-90 94th-1916-03-15 94th-1916-05-27b 94th-1916-06-10 Gray-Norman-91 Gray-Norman-92


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