Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJuly 20, 1896
Place of BirthRoundham, Somerset
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMrs. Frank Barrett (sister-in-law), Cardiff, South Wales
Trade / CallingMechanic
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number1078378
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion5th Battalion, Canadian Engineers
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Engineers
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentSherbrooke, Quebec
Address at EnlistmentLennoxville, Quebec
Date of EnlistmentJuly 11, 1916
Age at Enlistment20
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathNovember 6, 1974
Age at Death78
Buried AtLake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario
Plot33 East, Grave 4, Lot 6

Barrett, Thomas

Sapper Thomas Barrett came to Canada as a home child in June 1910, at age 14. He enlisted with a pioneer battalion in 1916 and served overseas for more than two years, returning to Canada in March 1919.

On his attestation Thomas gave his place of birth as Abedare, Wales but he was born on 20 July 1896 in Roundham, Somerset, England. His father, Job Barrett, was an agricultural labourer who was also born in Roundham and his mother, Eliza Phillips, was from Dorset. Job and Eliza were married in 1877 and Thomas had at least three brothers and two sisters, all older than him: Ellen, Frank, Fred, William and Minnie.

At the time of the 1901 census Thomas was living in Crewkerne, Somerset with his parents and his brothers William and Frank. When his mother died the following year he ended up in the care of the Waifs and Strays Society and he was sent to Canada as a home child. He left England on 10 June 1910 on the SS Victorian, at age 14, and arrived in Quebec a week later. Thomas and the other boys in the group were sent to Gibbs’ Receiving Home in Sherbrooke, Quebec and most of them were placed on nearby farms. When the 1911 census was taken Thomas was working as a farm labourer for an elderly widow, Mrs. Rebecca Smiley, in a small village about 10 km northeast of Sherbrooke. Five years later when he enlisted he was living in Lennoxville, on the outskirts of Sherbrooke.

Thomas signed up in Sherbrooke on 11 July 1916, joining the 5th Overseas Pioneer Battalion. He was 20 years old at the time, almost 5′ 6″ tall, 140 lb. with blue eyes and fair hair. His occupation was mechanic and next-of-kin was his sister-in-law Mrs. Frank Barrett in Cardiff, South Wales. The 5th Pioneer Battalion had been mobilized that spring in Montreal and recruits came from across Quebec. They embarked from Halifax on 27 November on the SS Metagama and arrived in Liverpool on 6 December. In February 1917 the unit was absorbed by the 5th Divisional Engineers and Thomas trained at Witley Camp in Surrey for the next eight months. In October 1917 he became ill while he was on leave, suffering from gastritis and severe rheumatism. He was admitted to the 2nd Western General Hospital in Manchester where he spent five weeks recovering. After another two weeks at the convalescent centre in Epsom he was fit for duty again and posted to the Canadian Engineer Training Depot. At the end of January 1918 he was transferred to the 13th Field Company, Canadian Engineers and on 16 March he was sent to France. He spent three months with the Canadian Engineer Reserve Pool before being transferred to the 5th Battalion, Canadian Engineers. He joined his new unit in the field in late June.

That summer the Canadians were given several weeks of intensive training in open warfare and they were heavily involved in the last three months of the war. This final period, known now as the Hundred Days Offensive, started on 8 August 1918 with the Battle of Amiens. Following the successful operation at Amiens the Canadians were moved north for the 2nd Battle of Arras and the assault on the Drocourt-Quéant Line. Thomas’ unit was based southeast of Arras, near Neuville-Vitasse, and on 2 September most of the troops were working on road repairs. Thomas was one of eight casualties in his unit that day, all from artillery fire. He was taken to No. 46 Casualty Clearing Station with wounds to his right thigh and back. A week later he was evacuated to England where he recovered at Nell Lane Military Hospital in Manchester.

On 19 October Thomas was released from the hospital and moved to the convalescent centre in Epsom. While he was there he had a furlough, which he spent with his sister Mrs. Ellen Minty in Manchester. At the end of October he was posted to the Canadian Engineer Training Depot and in December, a month after the Armistice, he was transferred to the 2nd Canadian Engineer Reserve Battalion. He embarked for Canada in March 1919, sailing on the SS Cretic and arriving in Halifax on 22 March. He was discharged four days later in Montreal, with his intended residence listed as Sawyerville, Quebec.

Thomas moved several times in the 1920s, working as a miner and a lumber camp labourer in northwestern Ontario, then going west to Winnipeg. In the early 1930s he spent some time in Saskatchewan but he was back in northwestern Ontario by 1937. He made his home in Minaki, working in construction, harvesting and bushwork and living in a log cabin a few miles from town. In 1956 he broke his leg when he fell from a ladder at his cabin. As his health declined over the years he wasn’t able to manage on his own and in the late 1960s he roomed at a few different boarding houses in Kenora and Winnipeg. He was also in and out of Winnipeg’s Deer Lodge Hospital numerous times, as well as the Kenora General Hospital. He suffered from arthritis and a degenerative spine condition, partly the result of his war wounds. Thomas was admitted to Deer Lodge Hospital again in October 1972. When he was released in February 1973 he returned to Minaki and stayed with friends. He passed away there on 6 November 1974, at age 78. He is buried in Honour Lane at Lake of the Woods Cemetery in Kenora.

More than four hundred boys from Gibbs’ Home served in the First World War. They are commemorated on a plaque at the former Gibbs’ Home building in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

By Becky Johnson

Row 33E Barrett, Thomas

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