|Date of Birth||August 31, 1889|
|Place of Birth||New Hamburg, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Mrs. Bessie Cromwell (wife), Box 306, Keewatin, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Cooper|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Battalion||16th Brigade, North Russia Expeditionary Force|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Branch||Canadian Field Artillery|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Address at Enlistment||Box 306, Keewatin, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||March 8, 1917|
|Age at Enlistment||27|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||19660725|
|Age at Death||76|
|Buried At||Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario|
|Plot||Peaceful Hollow Block, 16E-4-1|
Gunner Frank Wellington Cromwell enlisted in March 1917 and served for more than two years in England, France, Belgium and North Russia. He survived the war and returned home to Canada in July 1919.
Frank was the son of William Wellington Cromwell and Annie Ellena Hopf of Keewatin, Ontario. William was a cooper like his father and he married his first wife, Elizabeth Simpson, in Kilbride, Ontario in 1883. Their son Allan Henry was born in 1885 and Elizabeth died of pneumonia that same year. Two years later, in May 1887, William married Annie Hopf in Perth County, Ontario. Frank was born on 31 August 1889 in the village of New Hamburg, Waterloo County. When he was still a baby his parents moved to Akron, Ohio and two more children were born there, a son Louis and a daughter Ogaretta (Greeta). The family lived in Akron for about twenty years. They returned to Canada in 1910 and settled in the town of Keewatin in northwestern Ontario.
When the 1911 census was taken Frank was living with his parents on Wharf Street in Keewatin and working as a wiper at a local flour mill. The war started in August 1914 and his brother Louis Cromwell enlisted in the spring of 1915. Later that year, on 8 December, Frank married Bessie Catherine Nenicka in the neighbouring town of Kenora. Bessie was born in Chicago and moved to Canada with her family as a young girl. By the time they were married Frank was employed as a cooper and he was training with the local militia, the 98th Regiment. In March 1917 he went to Winnipeg to enlist, signing up with No. 4 Section Divisional Ammunition Column, a depot unit that sent drafts of recruits overseas as needed. A month later Frank was on his way to the east coast and he embarked for the UK on 17 April on the SS Northland.
In England Frank was transferred to the Reserve Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, and he trained with them for just over two months. In May a 4th Divisional Ammunition Column was organized and he was transferred to the new unit in July and sent to France. Massive amounts of artillery were used in the war and ammunition columns were responsible for bringing artillery shells and other supplies to the batteries in the forward areas. On return trips they brought back unused ammunition and salvageable material like spent shell casings. Horses and mules were the main means of transport and much of the work was done at night. The men also did other work as needed. The war diary of the 4th Divisional Column for August to October 1917 mentioned rebuilding a headquarters destroyed by shellfire, transporting infantry, hauling material to a hospital dump and working on winter shelters for the horses. On 12 October Frank’s unit moved from France to Vlamertinghe, Belgium, just west of Ypres, in preparation for the Battle of Passchendaele. They arrived at their new camp on 15 October and the area was bombed by German aircraft that night.
Over the next two weeks the unit suffered two dozen casualties from artillery fire and aerial bombing. From the war diary, 30 October 1917: Vicinity of waggon lines bombed from 10 pm. to 2:30 am – & at 4 am. Frank was a driver and he was injured that night, 30 October, suffering a contusion to his left foot. His medical report says he was loading ammunition onto mules when they were spooked by gun fire. He was pushed into the path of a motor-lorry that was carrying soldiers from the front, and the rear tire of the lorry ran over his foot. He was admitted to a field ambulance, transferred from there to a hospital in Abbeville, France then evacuated to England. He spent the next eight months being treated in several hospitals and convalescent centres.
When Frank was fully recovered, in June 1918, he was transferred to a composite brigade in the Canadian Field Artillery, based at Witley Camp in southern England. That summer the Allied Forces started sending troops to North Russia and Siberia. Their goals were to help the anti-Bolsheviks organize their own military force, to protect the sea ports, and to keep large stockpiles of Russian weapons and supplies from falling into German hands. A Canadian North Russia Expeditionary Force was formed, made up of almost 600 officers and men mainly in two batteries of the 16th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. Most of the men had experience at the Western Front.
Frank volunteered with the CNREF and he was transferred to the 16th Brigade in August 1918. He left the UK with his unit in September and on 1 October they arrived at Archangel, a coastal town on the White Sea. The Canadians were involved in several battles and skirmishes over the next seven months, some of it to protect the railway lines south of Archangel. Many of the soldiers were experienced at snowshoeing and skiing which was very useful but a plan to use huskies as sled dogs failed. Instead reindeer became the main mobile force, hauling supplies on specially made sleighs. The final action for the Canadians was in May 1919 and later that month the troops were ordered to withdraw and return to the UK. A farewell parade for the 16th Brigade was held in Archangel on 11 June and they embarked for England the same day. Frank left Liverpool for Canada on 5 July on the SS Carmania, arriving in Halifax a week later. He was discharged in Montreal on 15 July 1919.
After the war Frank returned to Keewatin and he was honoured at a ceremony there in August, when medals and badges were awarded to returned veterans and the families of fallen soldiers. His medal was inscribed: ‘Presented to F. Cromwell for gallant service in the Great War 1914-1918, Keewatin Aug.4, 1919.’ Also honoured were his brother Louis, who had served overseas for three years, and his sister Greeta’s husband, veteran Harry Cecil Warder.
By the time of the 1921 census Frank and Bessie were living in Winnipeg and Frank was working as a cooper for the CNR. They made their home in Winnipeg and he worked for the CNR for 33 years, retiring in 1954. He was a member of St. Alban’s Men’s Club, the CNR Veterans Club and the Ft. Rouge Legion. Frank and Bessie had a cottage on Nutimik Lake in the Whiteshell and he passed away there on 25 July 1966, at age 76. Bessie died in 1982, just before her 88th birthday. They are both buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery in Kenora. Also buried there are Frank’s father, his brother Louis and other relatives. His mother and sister Greeta Warder are buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Winnipeg.
Frank is commemorated on the Municipality of Keewatin For King and Country 1914-1918 Roll of Honour, the Lake of the Woods Milling Company plaque and the Honour Roll for St. James Church in Keewatin.
By Becky Johnson
Photos of Frank provided by Lake of the Woods Museum.