|Date of Birth||December 8, 1896|
|Place of Birth||Toronto, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Mrs. W.M. Rochester (mother), 22 De Lisle Ave., Toronto|
|Trade / Calling||Scholar|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Branch||Canadian Field Artillery|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Toronto, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||August 6, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||18|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Decorations and Medals||Military Medal|
|Date of Death||November 26, 1917|
|Age at Death||20|
|Buried At||Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium|
|Plot||XI. A. 3.|
The Germans used massive amounts of artillery in the First World War and more than half of Allied casualties were the result of artillery fire. Gun batteries were a frequent target, to put them out of action, and both sides developed methods to locate and destroy batteries. Sergeant Ernest Marshall Rochester served with the 30th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery and he was killed by a large artillery shell in November 1917.
Ernest was the son of Reverend William Marshall Rochester and Minnie May Cubley of Toronto, Ontario. William was born in Burnstown, Ontario and his wife Minnie was from New York. They had four sons: Herbert Cubley, George Harvey, Ernest Marshall and Reginald Baillie. When the 1891 census was taken William and Minnie were living in Prince Albert in the North West Territories where William was a preacher, and their first two sons were born there in 1892 and 1895. Ernest, the third child, was born on 8 December 1896 in Toronto. By the time of the 1901 census the family had moved to Rat Portage (later called Kenora) in northwestern Ontario and Reverend Rochester was the minister at Knox Presbyterian Church. Their youngest son was born in Rat Portage in June 1902. By 1906 the family had moved again, this time to Selkirk, Manitoba, and by 1915 Reverend Rochester and his wife were living back in Toronto where he was the General Secretary of the Lord’s Day Alliance. The three oldest boys served in the First World War. George Harvey and Ernest were officers in the army and they both died in Europe. Herbert Cubley served with the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force and he was seriously injured while training in Canada.
Ernest was the first of the boys to sign up, enlisting in Toronto on 6 August 1915 at age 18. He joined the 30th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, which had been organized that summer in Toronto. Most of the volunteers, like Ernest, had served in the militia with the 9th (Toronto) Battery. The recruits left for England in February 1916, embarking from St. John, New Brunswick on the SS Metagama. They arrived at Bramshott Camp in Hampshire on 14 February and that same day Ernest was appointed Acting Corporal. After five months of training his unit embarked for France on 13 July, as part of the 8th Brigade, 3rd Canadian Divisional Artillery. Ernest was promoted to Corporal on their arrival in France and the following month, in August 1916, he became a Sergeant. In late August and early September the Canadian units were moved to the Somme area where they took part in several operations including the capture of Regina Trench. The Battle of the Somme ended on 18 November 1916 and in less than three months there the Canadian Corps suffered over 24,000 casualties. Over the winter of 1916-17 the battalions received reinforcements to bring them back up to strength and early in the new year they began to prepare for their next big assault, the Battle of Vimy Ridge (9-14 April 1917). A few weeks after it ended Ernest was granted a three-week leave of absence.
In August 1917 the Canadians took part in the assault on Hill 70 and their next major operation was the Battle of Passchendaele (26 October-10 November 1917) in the Ypres Salient in Belgium. Artillery shells and heavy rains had turned the battlefield into a wasteland of mud, swamp and water-filled craters. The Canadians suffered 15,000 casualties at Passchendaele with over 3,000 men killed and 1,000 missing and presumed dead, many of them lost in the mud. During the operation Ernest earned a Military Medal for his actions in early November: ‘This N.C.O. during a severe enemy bombardment displayed great courage and devotion to duty. When his own gun was put out of action and its crew made casualties, he took charge of another gun, the N.C.O of which had been killed a minute before. Sgt ROCHESTER fought with this gun under very heavy fire until the bombardment ceased one hour later. He then assisted in carrying out the wounded and killed from an adjoining battery position.’ (From the War Diary of the 8th Brigade, November 1917)
Following the capture of Passchendaele Ridge the 8th Brigade remained in the Ypres area. They were heavily shelled by German artillery over the next few weeks and on 26 November one of the guns of the 30th Battery was hit. Four men were killed including Ernest. It was two weeks before his 21st birthday. From his Circumstances of Death record: ‘He was in a small splinter proof shelter with several other men when it received a direct hit by a 5.9 high explosive shell, killing him instantly.’
From the War Diary of the 8th Brigade, C.F.A., 26 November 1917: ‘One gun of 30th Battery hit. Casualties – Sergt. E.M. Rochester, Bdr. J. Jones, Gnr. J. Fletcher, Gnr. A. Allan of the 30th Battery killed in action. One Gunner 30th Battery, one N.C.O. and three other ranks of 24th Battery wounded, result of area shoot on Battery positions in the morning. Two Hun planes flew over 24th and 30th Battery at an altitude of 100 feet. Our planes are offering very little fight on this front.‘
Ernest is buried Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery near Ypres in Belgium. Ten months after he was killed his brother Harvey died of wounds and he’s buried near Arras in France. They are both commemorated on the Cenotaph in Kenora and on the Kenora Legion War Memorial.
Their oldest brother Herbert was married in Vancouver on 26 November 1917, the same day Ernest was killed. Herbert survived an aircraft accident in May 1918 at Camp Borden in Ontario. He left the Royal Air Force in 1919 and in civilian life he had a long career with the Canadian National Railway. Herbert passed away in Guelph, Ontario in 1975 at the age of 83. Their youngest brother Reginald became a mechanical engineer. He spent some time living and working in the U.S. and he died in California in 1986, at the age of 84.
By Becky Johnson
Grave marker photo courtesy of Marg Liessens, Canadian Virtual War Memorial.