|Date of Birth||January 13, 1889|
|Place of Birth||Kingsbury, Richmond County, Quebec|
|Next of Kin||Mrs. Janie Gay (wife), 2 Clifton Place, Falmouth, Cornwall|
|Trade / Calling||Driver|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Battalion||13th Division Signal Company|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Falmouth, Cornwall, England|
|Address at Enlistment||2 Clifton Place, Falmouth, Cornwall, England|
|Date of Enlistment||21/10/1915|
|Age at Enlistment||26|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||21/07/1916|
|Age at Death||27|
|Buried At||Amara War Cemetery, Iraq|
|Plot||XIII. D. 19.|
Britain’s Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force faced harsh conditions very different from those on the Western Front: a desert climate, extreme heat, spring flooding and hordes of flies and insects. During the war they suffered almost 100,000 casualties of which 11,000 were men killed and over 12,000 were deaths from illness and disease. Driver Richard Josiah Gay was serving in Mesopotamia with the Royal Engineers when he died of heat exhaustion in 1916.
Richard was the son of Josiah Gay and Elizabeth Mary Hawken of Falmouth, a coastal town in the county of Cornwall in southwest England. Josiah and Elizabeth were married in Falmouth in 1883 and their first child Petro Nell (Ella) was born in 1885. Two years later they immigrated to Canada, arriving in June 1887 on the SS Nestorian and going to friends in Richmond County, Quebec. They settled in Kingsbury, Richmond County and two sons were born there: Richard Josiah in 1889 and James Thomas in 1891. James died at age 15 months and he is buried in the cemetery at St. Anne’s Anglican Church in the nearby town of Richmond. Richard’s family moved back to Cornwall in October 1894 and the youngest child, daughter Ida Jane, was born in Falmouth a few months later. Richard’s mother passed away in December 1904, a week before Christmas, at age 43. Richard was 15 at the time.
When the 1911 census was taken Richard was working as a driver and living at home in Falmouth with his widowed father and two sisters. He returned to Canada on his own in May 1912 and spent some time in Keewatin, Ontario where his aunt and cousins were living. While he was there he worked for the Lake of the Woods Milling Company. By the fall of 1915 he was back in England and on 25 September he married Janie Noye Allen in Redruth, Cornwall. He enlisted with the Royal Engineers the following month, on 21 October. He was posted to the Signal Depot and transferred to Haynes Park in Bedfordshire. Richard was sent to Mesopotamia in April 1916, embarking on the HT Nile and landing at Busra. He joined his unit on 6 June and he died of heat exhaustion seven weeks later, on 21 July, at the 41st Field Ambulance.
Richard is buried in Amara War Cemetery on the banks of the Tigris River in present-day Iraq. The town of Amara was a hospital centre during the war and the cemetery has over 4,600 First World War burials. Due to the political situation the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has produced a Roll of Honour listing all casualties buried and commemorated in Iraq, and they have it on display at their head office in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England.
Richard is commemorated on the War Memorial in Falmouth, Cornwall. In Canada he’s commemorated on the St. James Anglican Church plaque, the Lake of the Woods Milling Company plaque and the cenotaph in Keewatin, Ontario. The milling company plaque is in memory of staff and citizens who served in the Great War. At a ceremony in Keewatin on 4 August 1919 Richard’s relatives were presented with a medal in honour of his war service. It was inscribed: He fought for freedom and honour. In commemoration of R. Gay who made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War 1914-1918. Presented Aug. 4/19.
Richard and Janie had one child, their daughter Winifred who was born on 26 May 1916. She was two months old when Richard died. Janie was married again in March 1919 to Joseph Henry Jewell, a farmer from the village of Carnkie in Cornwall.
In 1913 Richard’s cousin Clara Gay of Keewatin married William Freeman. They lived in Kenora where they raised three daughters and one son. Clara’s sister Mary (Mrs. William Blight) also lived there with her husband and children and Richard’s family still has distant relatives in the Kenora/Keewatin area.
By Becky Johnson (2x-gt-niece of William Freeman)
Photos of the War Memorial in Falmouth, Cornwall are courtesy of Cornwall Family History Society/Cornwall’s War History Project. Photo at the top: St. James Anglican Church, Keewatin, Ontario.