Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthMay 31, 1891
Place of BirthHalifax, Nova Scotia
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMrs Ellen Stawell (mother), 313 12th Avenue East, Calgary, Alberta
Trade / CallingButcher
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number15182
Service Record Link to Service Record
BattalionRoyal Canadian Dragoons
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Cavalry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentValcartier, Quebec
Address at EnlistmentGlen Ewen, Saskatchewan
Date of EnlistmentSeptember 24, 1914
Age at Enlistment23
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathDecember 12, 1957
Age at Death66
Buried AtBrookside Cemetery, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Stawell, Ralph Eustace

When the war started Sergeant Ralph Eustace Stawell was one of the early volunteers, enlisting with the 1st Canadian Contingent in September 1914 and serving overseas for more than four years, most of that time with the Royal Canadian Dragoons. He was wounded twice but he survived the war and returned to Canada in January 1919.

Ralph was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His parents, Henry Stawell and Ellen McDonald, were married in 1880 and Ralph was born on 31 May 1891. He had several siblings including his brother Arthur Francis, who was three years younger than him. In 1908 at age 17 Ralph began training with a local militia unit, the 63rd Regiment ‘Halifax Rifles.’ His father died sometime before 1911 and his mother left Halifax and moved to Calgary, Alberta. Ralph went west too and in the summer of 1914, at age 23, he was living in Glen Ewen, Saskatchewan and working on a ranch.

Britain declared war on 4 August 1914 and three days later mobilization orders were issued in Canada. Volunteers were told to enroll with their local militia then go to Valcartier, an area northwest of Quebec City that would become the site of a large military camp. Ralph joined the 20th Border Horse on 14 August and travelled to Quebec by train with the other recruits. At Valcartier they underwent training, medical tests and inoculations. Ralph’s medical exam on 9 September tells us he was 5′ 9″ and 180 lb with brown eyes and black hair. His occupation was listed as butcher and next of kin was his mother Ellen in Calgary. He was found fit for service and on 24 September he enlisted with the 6th Battalion, which was made up of cavalry units from the western provinces. The battalion embarked for the UK in October, leaving from Quebec City on the SS Lapland as part of the 1st Canadian Contingent. The convoy of ships arrived in Plymouth, England on 14 October.

After training for eight months Ralph was sent to France and transferred to the Royal Canadian Dragoons, joining them in the field in June 1915. The Dragoons had arrived in France just a month earlier and they were stationed near the Belgian border at the time, south of Armentières. Ralph spent the next 14 months with them. In 1915 they served as dismounted infantry reinforcing the 1st Canadian Division, after its heavy losses at the 2nd Battle of Ypres. In June the Dragoons fought in the operations at Givenchy and for the rest of the year they helped hold a section of the front line in the Ypres Salient. In January 1916 the troops remounted as part of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. They moved to the Somme area in the summer and took part in the attack on Bazentin Ridge (14-17 July). Due to battlefield conditions at the Somme there was little further need for cavalry and the Dragoons served as dismounted infantry in the trenches. Ralph suffered his first wound on 11 or 12 August 1916, when he was hit in the back by a fragment from a bomb. He was evacuated to No. 11 General Hospital in Camiers then transferred to a convalescent depot in Etaples. At the end of August he was well enough to be discharged but he was classified as Permanent Base. In October he had 14 days leave and two months later he was fit for front line service again.

Ralph rejoined the Dragoons in January 1917 and served with them for the next 14 months. That spring they were in the Somme valley again where they took part in the capture of several villages. The summer was spent back in the trenches and in October the unit moved to the Passchendaele area. The mud there made it impossible to use cavalry and before the ridge was captured the troops were moved south for the Battle of Cambrai, where they played a key role in supporting the British Fifth Army. Early in 1918 they were again dismounted, based near St. Quentin, and in February they carried out a very successful raid that involved almost the entire unit. In March the Germans began their big spring offensive, aimed at breaking through the Allied lines and ending the war. On 21 March British units near St. Quentin were hit by a massive artillery bombardment and an assault by German infantry. The Dragoons took part in the fighting as both mounted and dismounted troops. Ralph was wounded sometime during the three-day battle when an artillery shell exploded near him, hitting him in the left hip and back. He was sent to No. 5 General Hospital and evacuated from there to England, where he spent the rest of the war.

Ralph was in a hospital in Basingstoke, Hampshire for all of April followed by two months recuperating at Woodcote Park Convalescent Camp. He was discharged in May and posted to the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Depot. In September he became an instructor at the Canadian Training School in Bexhill and he was appointed Acting Sergeant with pay. When his instructor’s duty ended he reverted to being a private in the Canadian Reserve Cavalry Regiment. Ralph embarked for Canada early in the new year, arriving in his old hometown of Halifax on 18 January 1919. He proceeded to Calgary where he was assigned to the Casualty Company and given leave, which he intended to spend in Glen Ewen, Saskatchewan. He was officially discharged due to demobilization on 18 February. His brother Arthur Francis had enlisted in Calgary in November 1915. He served overseas with a machine gun unit and returned to Canada in May 1919.

When the 1921 census was taken Ralph was living in Winnipeg with his occupation listed as brakeman for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He had a long career with the CPR, working for them for the next 36 years. He married sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s and by 1933 he had moved to Kenora, Ontario, where he joined the local branch of the Canadian Legion. He worked as an agent for the CPR and he and his wife Jennie lived at the Kenora train station. Around 1940 they returned to Winnipeg and Jennie died there in September 1946, at age 55.

Ralph passed away in Deer Lodge Veterans Hospital on 12 December 1957, at age 66. He’s buried in the Field of Honour at Brookside Cemetery.

By Becky Johnson

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