|Date of Birth||August 28, 1882|
|Place of Birth||Norwich, Norfolk|
|Next of Kin||George Blake (father), Lower Hellesdon, Norfolk, England|
|Trade / Calling||Railroader|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Battalion||1st Army Troops Company|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Address at Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||February 25, 1916|
|Age at Enlistment||33|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||April 3, 1972|
|Age at Death||89|
|Buried At||Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario|
|Plot||Elmwood Circle Block, 31E-9-1|
Sapper Alfred Blake enlisted in February 1916 and served for three years in England, France and Belgium. He survived the war and returned to Canada in April 1919.
Alfred was the son of George Blake and Emma Sanham of Hellesdon, Norwich, Norfolk County, England. George and Emma were married in Norwich in 1869 and they had 13 children, nine sons (James William, George, Stephen, Thomas, Edward, Alfred, twins Ernest and Arthur, and another Edward) and four daughters (Honor, Emma, Jessie and Elsie). Alfred, the eighth child, was born on 28 August 1882 in Hellesdon, a small village where his father worked as a farm labourer. When the 1901 census was taken he was 18, living at home and employed as a gardener. His older brother Thomas, age 22, was also working as a gardener and by then their father was a steward on a farm.
Six years later Alfred immigrated to Canada, arriving in April 1907 on the SS Virginian, age 24, his destination listed as Winnipeg, Manitoba. The following year he moved east to the town of Kenora in northwestern Ontario, where he was taken on by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Thomas also immigrated to Canada, arriving in Kenora in 1912, and his wife and two children joined him a year later. Like his brother he found work with the CPR.
The war started in August 1914 and Alfred and Thomas Blake both enlisted early in 1916. Thomas signed up in Kenora, joining the local 94th Battalion on 16 March 1916. Three weeks earlier Alfred had gone to Winnipeg where he enlisted with the 61st Battalion on 25 February. John Poole, another CPR employee from Kenora, enlisted with the 61st in Winnipeg that same day. A month later they were on their way to the east coast with the battalion. A few other local lads were on the train and during the brief stop in Kenora on 27 March friends and relatives gathered at the station to see them on their way. They embarked from Halifax on 1 April 1916 aboard the SS Olympic, arriving in England eleven days later.
Alfred spent four months with the Canadian Engineers Training Depot at Shorncliffe Camp, which was near the coast in southeast England. At the end of September 1916 he was transferred to the 1st Army Troops Company Canadian Engineers and sent to France to join his new unit. The Army Troops worked closely with the engineers building and repairing roads, working on trenches and drainage systems, constructing and maintaining water supply systems, doing electrical work, building huts and stables and carrying out patrols.
Alfred served in France and Belgium for 2-1/2 years. During that time he was temporarily attached to other units, spending a few months with a railway company and working at a Casualty Clearing Station. In December 1917 he had two weeks leave in the UK, returning just before Christmas. The Armistice ended hostilities on 11 November 1918 but the Canadians remained in France and Belgium for several more months. Alfred had another two-week leave in December 1918 and he returned to England with his unit in March 1919. The following month they embarked for Canada, arriving in Halifax on the SS Belgic on 23 April, and two days later Alfred was discharged in Ottawa. His brother Thomas had been discharged in December 1916 as medically unfit, after serving for a few months in England.
After the war Alfred returned to Kenora, his intended residence listed as the Railway YMCA on McLellan Avenue. A lot of single CPR employees lived at the YMCA, which was in a large brick building across from the train station. It had a restaurant, games room, library and lounge area on the main floor and sleeping quarters for 50 to 60 men on the second and third floors. In the basement were a bowling alley and gym and outside were lawn bowling greens and tennis courts.
Alfred worked for the CPR for another 29 years, retiring as an engineer in 1948 at age 65. He was a life member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, a Mason and Pequonga Lodge member, and he belonged to the Kenora Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. In the fall of 1965 he moved into Pinecrest Home for the Aged and he passed away there on 3 April 1972, at age 89. He was survived by several nieces and nephews and his youngest sister Elsie (Mrs. William Benington) in England. His mother had passed away in 1908, a year after he emigrated, and his father in 1923.
Alfred is buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery in Kenora. He’s commemorated on the St. Alban’s Pro-Cathedral First World War Roll of Honour.
By Becky Johnson