|Date of Birth||January 22, 1895|
|Place of Birth||Datchet, Buckinghamshire|
|Next of Kin||William Neale (father), Tatsfield, Surrey, England|
|Trade / Calling||Teamster|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Address at Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||April 1, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||20|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||June 15, 1934|
|Age at Death||39|
|Buried At||Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario|
Private Robert Ernest Neale joined the 52nd Battalion in April 1915 and served for four years in Canada, the UK, France and Belgium. He returned home in March 1919 with a war bride.
Robert was the son of William Neale and Emily Fry of Tatsfield, Surrey, England. His parents were both born in Tetbury, Gloucestershire and they were married there in 1888. By the time of the 1891 census they had moved to Datchet, Buckinghamshire. William worked as a groom and coachman and he and his wife had nine children: William, George, Robert, Gladys, Doris, Cecily and three others who died as infants. Robert was born in Datchet on 22 January 1895. In the early 1900s his family moved to Tatsfield, Surrey and his father became a news agent. When the 1911 census was taken Robert was 16 years old, living at home in Tatsfield and working in his father’s business.
Robert’s uncle John Neale had immigrated to Canada in 1890. He settled in Kenora, Ontario and worked as a grocery clerk then started his own grocery business. Robert joined him there in 1913, arriving on 2 July on the SS Laurentic, listed as age 18, a butcher by trade and going to his uncle in Kenora. Three weeks later Robert’s cousin Percival Gascoigne also arrived from England to work for John. Percival was the son of Herbert Gascoigne and Elizabeth Neale and he was sixteen months younger than Robert. The war started a year after the two lads came to Canada and they both enlisted and served overseas.
Robert signed up in Kenora on 1 April 1915, joining the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion. He was 20 years old, working as a teamster for his uncle, and next of kin was his father William in Tatsfield. The 52nd Battalion was based in Port Arthur and the Kenora recruits were sent there in June to join the rest of the unit. They trained in Port Arthur over the summer and fall and left for the east coast in early November, embarking from St. John, New Brunswick on 23 November on the SS California. The men trained in England for 2-1/2 months before being sent to France on 20 February 1916, as part of the new 3rd Canadian Division.
In June the 52nd Battalion took part in their first major operation, the Battle of Mount Sorrel. It ended on 13 June and afterwards Robert spent about three weeks at the divisional rest station, due to ill health. In the fall the Canadians were sent to the Somme for the major offensive there and in 1917 they took part in the battles of Vimy Ridge, Hill 70 and Passchendaele. Robert had two weeks leave in the UK starting on 26 January 1918 and during that time he got married. His wife, 20-year-old Nellie Streets, was the daughter of Henry and Fanny Streets. She was born and raised in Tatsfield, Surrey, where Robert’s parents lived, and the wedding took place there.
The final period of the war started with the Battle of Amiens in August 1918 and ended with the Armistice. The Canadians were heavily involved in the operations during those last three months, known now as the Hundred Days Offensive. A few days after the Armistice Robert became ill and he was sent to a casualty clearing station then to a hospital in Camiers, where he was diagnosed with bronchitis. After a further two weeks at a convalescent centre he was discharged on 23 December and transferred to the Canadian Infantry Base Depot. At the end of December he was sent back to England and posted to the 18th Reserve Battalion.
Two months later Robert and Nellie left for Canada together, embarking from Liverpool on the RMS Minnedosa and arriving at St. John, New Brunswick on 17 March. Robert was discharged on demobilization on 21 March. His oldest brother William John Neale had enlisted in the British army in 1908. He served with the West Yorkshire Regiment for seven years in England, Malta, Albania and France. He was discharged in 1915 when he became ill with tuberculosis.
Robert and Nellie settled in Kenora and they had two children, Godfrey (1920-2003) and Shirley Joan (1927-1975). Robert worked at the Thistles hockey rink in the winter and as a gardener in the summer. He was a member of the Kenora branch of the Canadian Legion. He passed away in St. Joseph’s Hospital on 15 June 1934, at age 39. His uncle John Neale died in Kenora later that same year and they are both buried in Teardrop Block at Lake of the Woods Cemetery.
Nellie’s second husband, Harry Hives, was also a war veteran and he’d spent two years as a German prisoner of war. He had four daughters with his first wife, Ethel Annie Reid, and she died in 1942 at age 47. Harry and Nellie continued to make their home in Kenora and he passed away there in 1976. Nellie died in April 1991 and she’s buried in the Neale family plot in Lake of the Woods Cemetery.
Robert is commemorated on the First World War Roll of Honour for St. Alban’s Pro-Cathedral in Kenora.
By Becky Johnson