Kenora Great War Project

 

Personal Details
Date of BirthMarch 29, 1897
Place of BirthKenora, Ontario
CountryCanada
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMrs. Lottie McVeigh (mother), Kenora, Ontario, address later changed to Winnipeg, Manitoba
Trade / CallingTrain Clerk (CPR)
ReligionRoman Catholic
Service Details
Regimental Number199222
Service RecordLink to Service Record
Battalion16th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of Enlistment21/03/1916
Age at Enlistment19
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of Death07/05/1984
Age at Death87
Buried AtWayne County, Michigan, USA

McVeigh, Charles Henry

Private Charles Henry McVeigh enlisted in March 1916, at age 19, and spent almost three years in England, France and Belgium. He was wounded at Vimy Ridge on 9 April 1917 while serving with the 16th.Battalion. After the war he had a successful career as a professional hockey player then as an official with the NHL.

Early life

Charles grew up in Kenora, Ontario, the second oldest son of William McVeigh and his wife Charlotte Maria McGinnis. William was born in Belfast, Ireland and he immigrated to Canada as a child. By 1890 he had settled in Kenora, known as Rat Portage at the time, where he found work with the Canadian Pacific Railway. He married Charlotte (Lottie) in 1893 and between 1895 and 1905 they had six children: William, Charles, Laura, Daniel, Eleanor and Robert. The youngest son Robert died of pneumonia in 1906, at age one. William left the CPR around 1897 and got involved in several local business ventures. Over an 18-year period he owned a liquor store, constructed a commercial building, owned and operated a hotel and manufactured soft drinks.

Hockey was a popular sport in Kenora and Charles became interested at an early age. When the Kenora Thistles won the Stanley Cup in January 1907 nine-year-old ‘Charley’ was the team mascot. As a teen he played for the Thistles, travelling with them to games in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba, and his brother William played for the Kenora CPR hockey team. Tragedy hit the family in July 1915 when their father passed away after a short illness. The war was about to enter its second year by then. Charles enlisted the following spring, on 21 March 1916, a week before his 19th birthday. He was working as a clerk for the CPR at the time and he signed up with the 94th Battalion, which was based in Port Arthur and recruited throughout northwestern Ontario. In May the Kenora volunteers were sent to Port Arthur to join the rest of the unit and they left for Quebec two weeks later. After spending a short time at Valcartier, a large military camp northwest of Quebec City, they embarked from Halifax on 28 June on the SS Olympic. In England the recruits were absorbed into reserve battalions to be used as reinforcements for other units.

The war

Charles trained with the 17th Reserve Battalion for two months. On 21 September he was attached to a front line unit, the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish), and sent to France. He left the Canadian Base Depot on 5 October and joined his new unit four days later during the Somme Offensive. The 16th had just taken part in the assault on Regina Trench, suffering heavy losses, and in mid-October they left the Somme and moved north to a quieter sector across from Vimy. Later that month Charles sprained his ankle and he was out of action for two weeks. In January 1917 plans were underway for the attack on Vimy Ridge, set to take place in early April, and all four Canadian Divisions underwent intensive training over the next few months. On 8 April the 16th Battalion moved into position for the operation, which started at 5:30 the next morning in a snow and sleet storm. They were on the left flank of the 3rd Brigade, advancing towards the town of Thélus, and the unit suffered 330 men killed, wounded or missing that first day. Charles was one of the casualties, with a shell or gunshot wound to the left side of his back. He was evacuated to a hospital in Chatham, Kent then recovered at a convalescent centre in Uxbridge. After several months with two reserve battalions he was sent back to France in November 1917, rejoining the 16th Battalion as the Battle of Passchendaele was ending.

The Canadians spent another winter in the Vimy sector and in March 1918 Charles became ill with trench fever. He was treated for several weeks in convalescent hospitals in France then sent to a divisional rest camp before rejoining his unit in May. The final period of the war, known now as the Hundred Days Offensive, began in August with the Battle of Amiens and ended on 11 November with the Armistice. Along with the rest of the Canadian units the 16th Battalion was heavily involved in the operations in those last three months. Following the Armistice they took part in the March to the Rhine, crossing into Germany on 6 December and staying there as an occupying force until 6 January 1919. After a few more months in Belgium the 16th Battalion left for Le Havre on 22 March and embarked for England on 26 March on the King Edward. Charles’ final medical exam at Bramshott noted that he had hearing loss in his right ear, a result of his service. At the end of April he left for Canada and he was discharged on 8 May in Winnipeg. His brother William also enlisted and he served in Canada for three months before being found medically unfit.

Hockey career

Charles’ family had moved to Winnipeg while he was overseas and he settled there after the war, working as a yardman and playing senior hockey with the Winnipeg Victorias. About a year later he moved to Moose Jaw to play for the Maple Leafs and he boarded with a widow, Mrs. Annie Upex. He married her daughter, 19 year old Grace Lillian Upex, on 28 November 1922 in Winnipeg. By then Charles was playing for the Regina Capitals and in 1924 he left for Portland, Oregon when the franchise relocated there. That same year his mother passed away in Winnipeg and her funeral was held in Kenora.

The Portland team became the Chicago Black Hawks. In 1926 Charles joined the NHL with the Black Hawks then spent seven seasons (1928-1935) with the New York Americans. He was known as ‘the Rabbit’ because of his speed and agility and he was a consistent and popular player during his nearly 400 career games. Following a stint playing in the IHL he became an official with the AHL then the NHL, serving as a linesman and referee into his 60s.

Charles passed away in Trenton, Wayne County, Michigan on 7 May 1984, at the age of 87. He was survived by his wife Grace and their daughter Eleanor (Mrs. M. Zamesnik). Another daughter, Charleen, had died in 1983. Charles’ funeral was held in Trenton on 9 May. Grace passed away in Novi, Oakland County, Michigan in June 1993, a few days after her 90th birthday.

In 1993 Charlie ‘Rabbit’ McVeigh was inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.

By Becky Johnson

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