Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthDecember 28, 1892
Place of BirthBrantford, Ontario
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinRobert B. Orr (father), East P.O., London, Ontario
Trade / CallingStenographer
Service Details
Regimental Number439090
Service RecordLink to Service Record
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Army Pay Corps
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentKeewatin, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentFebruary 3, 1915
Age at Enlistment22
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathApril 14, 1979
Age at Death86

Orr, James Walker

Acting Sergeant James Walker Orr enlisted in March 1915 and served overseas for three years. He was wounded at Vimy Ridge in April 1917 but he survived the war and returned home with a war bride.

James was the son of Robert Barclay Orr and Margaret Walker Bryce of London, Ontario. Robert was born in Glasgow, Scotland and immigrated to Canada around 1879. His wife was born in Hamilton, Ontario. They were married in 1887 in Point Edward, a small community on the outskirts of Sarnia, Ontario. They settled in the town of Brantford and Robert worked as a timekeeper for the railway and later as a carpenter. He and his wife had five sons, all born in Brantford: John Gray (1888), William Bryce (January 1892, died as an infant), James Walker (28 December 1892), Robert Bruce (1897) and Norman Barclay (1899).

When the 1911 census was taken the family was living in London, Ontario and James was working as a bookkeeper. His oldest brother John had moved to Detroit, Michigan two years earlier. The war started in August 1914 and by December volunteers were being recruited for a third overseas contingent. James was living in Keewatin, Ontario at the time, where he was employed as a stenographer for the Lake of the Woods Milling Company. He enlisted in the neighbouring town of Kenora on 3 February 1915 and full time training with pay started a month later. The men were briefly attached to the 44th Battalion but when the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion was organized in mid-March they were transferred to the new unit. It was based in Port Arthur and the Kenora lads were sent there in June to join the rest of the battalion.

While they were training the 1st Canadian Division was fighting in France and Belgium. Men were needed to replace casualties in front line units and battalions in Canada were asked to send reinforcements. James was sent to England with the 2nd Reinforcing Draft in September 1915, one of 250 men from the 52nd Battalion. They embarked from Montreal on 4 September on the SS Missanabie and arrived in England nine days later. James was assigned to the 12th Reserve Battalion and he served in England for the next five months, some of that time with the sub-staff of the Assistant Director of Medical Services.

The 52nd Battalion arrived in England in early December and James was transferred back to the unit in January 1916. They were sent to France on 20 February and three days later the battalion joined the Canadian Corps, becoming part of the 9th Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division. In March the Canadians took up positions in the south part of the Ypres Salient and James’ unit was moved there on 1 April. Two months later the Battle of Mount Sorrel started with a massive bombardment of the Canadian lines followed by the explosion of underground mines. After the barrage German infantry advanced and captured Mount Sorrel and nearby areas. The 52nd was involved in heavy fighting several times over the next ten days. Most of the lost ground was recaptured and the battle ended on 13 June with little change to the front lines but at a cost of 8,000 Canadian casualties.

The Somme Offensive began later that summer and the first major battle for the Canadian Corps was in mid-September. The 52nd Battalion boarded trains on 7 September and a week later they were in the Somme area. On 16 September they took part in an attack near the village of Courcelette. During the advance the unit faced heavy machine gun and rifle fire and they suffered over 200 casualties while crossing open ground to reach their objective. The battalion was involved in further operations over the next few weeks. James had a two week leave of absence at the end of October and when he rejoined his unit they had been moved north to a quieter sector near Arras.

The next major operation for the Canadians was the assault on Vimy Ridge (9-14 April 1917). During the initial attack the 52nd Battalion was kept in reserve but following the capture of the ridge they were moved forward to help consolidate the new position. On the night of 16-17 April the men relieved another battalion in the front line and during the move they were hit with a barrage of shells. They suffered heavy casualties and James was reported as missing and believed killed. He had been wounded, with multiple shell or gunshot wounds to his left arm, left hip and right leg. He was able to walk to a field ambulance and from there he was taken to No. 1 Casualty Clearing Station where he underwent an operation. Afterwards he was evacuated to a hospital in Etaples and by 24 April he was back in England. James spent three months at Kitchener War Hospital in Brighton followed by several weeks in a convalescent centre. When he recovered he was posted to the Canadian Army Pay Corps in London. In April 1918 he was placed on command with the Canadian Convalescent Hospital in Epsom, for duty with the paymaster, and he served there for the rest of his time in England.

James was promoted to Acting Sergeant on 1 June 1919 and four days later he was given permission to marry. He was married in Horsham, Sussex on 28 June to a widow, Matilda Annie Edwards (née Luxford). Matilda was born in Horsham in March 1888, the oldest daughter of James Luxford, a farmer, and his wife Annie. She had married her first husband, Harry Frank Edwards, in 1911 and he was killed in France in 1917 while serving with the Royal Fusiliers.

James and Matilda both embarked for Canada on the SS Baltic on 13 August 1919, arriving in Halifax eight days later. James was discharged in Halifax on 26 August, with his intended residence listed as London, Ontario. His brother Bruce had enlisted in June 1916 and he returned home two months before James.

James and his wife spent only a short time in London before moving to Detroit, where his brother John still lived. When the 1920 U.S. census was taken his brothers Bruce and Norman were living with them. James worked in real estate and became a building contractor, and he and his wife had four children: Robert, Mary, Dorothy and Ella. Matilda died in 1972, at age 84, and James passed away in Detroit on 14 April 1979, at age 86.

James is commemorated on two plaques in the town of Keewatin: The Lake of the Woods Milling Company plaque and the Municipality of Keewatin ‘For King and Country’ 1914-1918 Honour Roll.

By Becky Johnson

52nd-1915-02-13 52nd-1915-04-24 52nd-1915-09-22 Orr-James-Walker-90 Orr-James-7 LOW-milling-image

Photo of Matilda courtesy of family tree on

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