Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJuly 26, 1886
Place of BirthKenora, Ontario
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinJames Armstrong (father), Woolchester, Alberta
Trade / CallingFarmer
Service Details
Regimental Number696086
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion50th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentMedicine Hat, Alberta
Address at EnlistmentWoolchester, Alberta
Date of EnlistmentJanuary 31, 1916
Age at Enlistment29
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathMarch 8, 1944
Age at Death57
Buried AtEdmonton Municipal Cemetery, Edmonton, Alberta
PlotK 53 08

Armstrong, Robert Wiggins

Acting Lance Sergeant Robert Wiggins Armstrong enlisted in January 1916 and served for three years in Canada, Great Britain and France. He was wounded in June 1917 and returned to Canada in December 1918.

Robert was the son of James Arthur Armstrong and Annie Webb of Woolchester, Alberta. James was born in Belleville, Ontario to William Armstrong and Jane Wiggins. He grew up in the town of Blairton, northwest of Belleville. His wife, Annie Webb, was born in Cornwall, England. Her family immigrated to Canada in the late 1860s and settled in Blairton. James and Annie were married in Blairton in 1878 and a daughter, Ann Jane, was born two years later. James worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway and as the railroad expanded his job took him west. Another daughter, Isabel Elizabeth, was born in 1883, possibly in Manitoba, and a son James Arthur was born in 1884 in Winnipeg.

By the summer of 1886 the family was living in the Rat Portage area, in northwestern Ontario, and Robert was born there on 26 July. His father was employed as a labourer for the CPR at the time and his birth was registered in Rat Portage (later renamed Kenora) by a local doctor, Dr. Simmons Scovil. By 1888 James and his family had moved to Medicine Hat in what would become the province of Alberta. James was promoted to roadmaster for the CPR and he and Annie had at least six more children: Frances Victoria (1888), Edith Maud (1890), Edna Vera (1894), Mary Catherine (1895), Wallace Hugh (1897) and Winnifred May (1900). Their son James died as a baby but the other children grew up and attended school in Medicine Hat.

Around 1904 James and Robert took out homesteads in Woolchester, which was south of Medicine Hat. They built a home on James’ property and the family moved there a few years later. In the summer of 1915 the war entered its second year and Robert and Wallace both enlisted that winter. Wallace signed up on 27 January 1916 but he was discharged after just five weeks due to having defective vision. Robert enlisted four days after his brother, on 31 January 1916, signing up in Medicine Hat and joining the 175th Battalion. His occupation was farmer and next of kin was his father James in Woolchester. His attestation paper and various pages in service file record his birth place as Horner, Ontario and Kalmar, Ontario. Both of them were railway stops located about 10-15 miles west of Rat Portage.

Robert was married in April 1916 to Mona Vera Johnston. Mona was born in Medicine Hat in 1894, the daughter of James Andrew Johnston and Helen Agnes Clark. James and his wife were both from Scotland and they farmed in the Medicine Hat and Woolchester area. After training over the summer Robert’s unit embarked for England in early October, sailing from Halifax on the SS Saxonia and arriving at Liverpool about ten days later. Robert was appointed Acting Corporal and transferred to the 21st Reserve Battalion. He trained in the UK for six months and in April 1917 he reverted to the ranks in order to go to France. He was transferred to a front line unit, the 50th Battalion (Calgary Regiment), which was in the 4th Canadian Division. He joined them in the field at the beginning of May.

After the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April the 4th Division took part in further operations in the Vimy area. Early in June they were ordered to capture several fortified positions between the town of Avion and the Souchez River. The 50th Battalion took part in an assault near the hamlet of La Coulotte. The operation began at midnight on 2-3 June and the battalion suffered about 200 casualties during the operation. Robert was one of the wounded, hit in the left thumb by a piece of shrapnel. He was admitted to No. 2 Australian Hospital in Wimereux on 4 June and two days later he was evacuated to England on the hospital ship Jan Breydel. He was a patient at the Auxiliary Military Hospital in Richmond, Surrey until 14 September then he spent two weeks at the Woodcote Park Convalescent Centre.

Robert was discharged to duty on 1 October and posted to the 21st Reserve Battalion again. He served with them in the UK for the remainder of the war. On 31 August 1918 he was appointed Acting Lance Sergeant and the Armistice ended hostilities on the Western Front in November. About a month later Robert was on his way home, embarking from Liverpool on the SS Carmania and arriving in Halifax on 30 December. He was given two weeks leave in January 1919 and discharged from service on 17 February in Calgary. His brother-in-law, James Andrew Johnston Jr., had been called up in May 1918 and he served in Canada for ten months.

After the war Robert and Mona farmed in Woolchester for about four years then moved back to Medicine Hat. They had four children: James, Gordon Johnston, Phyllis and Gertrude Mona. Robert worked as a clerk for Dominion Express for a few years then went on to have a long career with the Alberta Liquor Control Board. He was a member of the Canadian Legion in Medicine Hat. His job later took him to Macleod and then, in 1941, to Edmonton.

Robert passed away in Edmonton on 8 March 1944, at age 57, and his funeral was held three days later. Both of his sons were serving overseas at the time, James with the Calgary Highlanders and Gordon with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment. Mona died on 5 September 1964. Robert, Mona, their son Gordon (1920-2003) and Robert’s sister Edna (Mrs. Herbert Newby) are buried in Edmonton Municipal Cemetery. Robert’s parents, his brother Wallace and his sister Winnifred (Mrs. Fred Hulmes) are buried at Hillside Cemetery in Medicine Hat.

Robert is commemorated on the WW1 Honour Roll in the book Plains, Trains and Wagon Wheels (Dunsmore South History Book Society, Medicine Hat, 1994).

By Becky Johnson

Armstrong-Robert-Wiggins-90 Armstrong-Robert-Wiggins-91 Armstrong-Robert-Wiggins-92 Armstrong-Robert-Wiggins-93 Armstrong-Robert-Wiggins-94 Armstrong-Robert-Wiggins-95 Armstrong-Robert-Wiggins-96 Armstrong-Robert-Wiggins-97

Grave marker photos and obituaries courtesy of Alison Glass.

Armstrong family photos and some information courtesy of: Plains, Trains and Wagon Wheels (Dunsmore South History Book Society, Medicine Hat, 1994)

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