|Date of Birth||April 15, 1899|
|Place of Birth||Kenora, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Mrs. Catherine Robertson (mother), 152 Strachan Ave., Toronto, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Labourer|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Niagara camp, Ontario|
|Address at Enlistment||Niagara-on-the-Lake,Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||04/07/1916|
|Age at Enlistment||17|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||28/08/1918|
|Age at Death||19|
|Buried At||Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery, Haucourt, Pas de Calais, France|
|Plot||II. A. 6.|
Private James Edgerton Phillips enlisted in July 1916, at age 17, and served in France with the 20th (Central Ontario) Battalion. He was killed in action in August 1918, at age 19.
James was the second of three sons of William Henry Phillips and Catherine Frances McNamara. William and Catherine were both born in Toronto and they were married there in 1897. A short time later they moved to the small town of Rat Portage (later called Kenora) in northwestern Ontario. William worked as a house builder and carpenter and their first two sons were born in Rat Portage: William Henry Jr. in March 1898 and James Edgerton on 15 April 1899. When the 1901 census was taken the two boys were living in Toronto with their mother while their father was working in Port Arthur. The youngest son, Thomas Ernest, was born in Port Arthur in January 1902. The family moved back to Toronto and James’ father died there in the spring of 1910, when he was eleven. Catherine stayed in Toronto with the three boys and in June 1915 she married Alexander Beattie Robertson, who was also a widow. The war had started the previous year and Alexander was a Sergeant with the Canadian Army Pay Corps, based at Niagara-on-the-Lake. Sadly he died of bronchitis in May 1916, at age 40.
Two months after the death of his stepfather James enlisted at Niagara-on-the-Lake, signing up with the Royal Canadian Dragoons Depot Squadron on 4 July 1916. He was found fit for overseas service although regulations at the time required soldiers to be 19 years old before they served in a front line unit. The Depot Squadron was a reinforcement unit that sent drafts of men overseas as needed and just a week after enlisting James was on his way to the east coast. He embarked on the Empress of Britain on 15 July as part of No. 5 Draft for the Royal Canadian Dragoons. In England he was transferred to the Royal Canadian Dragoons Reserve Regiment, which was based at Shorncliffe Camp in Kent. In March 1917 during a re-organization he was transferred to the Canadian Reserve Cavalry Regiment. The reserve regiment provided men for several of the Canadian cavalry units and James served with them as a trumpeter.
In late August 1917 Trumpeter James Edgerton Phillips faced a court martial for taking part in a riot on the evening of 12 August at Folkstone, Kent. The riot involved about 500 soldiers and civilians who vandalized a guard room and demanded the release of some prisoners. James was found guilty of taking part in a mutiny, endeavoring to persuade others to take part in a mutiny and conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. He was 18 years old at the time and he served four months of his sentence.
On 11 January 1918 James was transferred to the 12th Reserve Battalion and the remaining portion of his sentence was remitted on his proceeding overseas. He was given four months of infantry training and a few weeks after his 19th birthday he was drafted to the 20th (Central Ontario) Infantry Battalion and sent to France. He spent some time at the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp and joined his new unit in the field at the end of July. They were based west of Arras at the time and a few days later they moved to a small village near Amiens.
The final period of the war, known now as the Hundred Days Offensive, began on 8 August 1918 with the Battle of Amiens. The operation was spearheaded by the Canadians and they advanced a remarkable 11 km on the first day. The 20th Battalion served as support, following behind the front line units to ‘mop up’ and they suffered about 150 casualties from artillery, rifle and machine gun fire. After a few days rest they were back in action, taking part in another advance southeast of Amiens. Following that the unit was moved north with the rest of their brigade for what would be the Battle of the Scarpe (26-30 August). The men were kept very busy with preparations on 25 August and by midnight they were in their assembly position for the assault. Zero hour was at 3 a.m. on 26 August and it was the start of three days of intense fighting for the battalion. They suffered heavy casualties on 28 August when they were held up by thick barbed wire and German artillery and machine gun fire. Their positions were also bombed by enemy airplanes. The unit’s losses in the three-day operation were 437 missing, wounded and killed. James was reported missing on 28 August and later declared killed in action. His body was recovered and he is buried in Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery in Hancourt, a village just east of Arras.
After the war James’ service medals, plaque, scroll and memorial cross were sent to his mother in Toronto. She had married again and she was living with her husband Frank McDonald and her two sons, William and Thomas.
James is commemorated on page 485 of Canada’s First World War Book of Remembrance, on display in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
By Becky Johnson
Photo at the top is Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery.