Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthMay 30, 1883
Place of BirthMarylebone, London
Marital StatusMarried
Next of KinMrs. Florence Rosena Bircham (wife), 708 Henry Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Trade / CallingLabourer
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number622017
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion1st Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentWinnipeg, Manitoba
Address at Enlistment708 Henry Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Date of EnlistmentDecember 22, 1914
Age at Enlistment31
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarYes
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathJanuary 15, 1949
Age at Death65
Buried AtBrookside Cemetery, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Bircham, Philip

Private Philip Bircham was married and the father of three young children when he enlisted in December 1914. He was wounded and captured while serving in Belgium and was a German prisoner of war from June 1916 to January 1919.

Philip was born on 30 May 1883 in Marylebone, London, England, the son of Philip Bircham and Honora (Nora) Sullivan. His parents were married in Marylebone in 1878 and he had one older brother, William, who was born in 1879. Their father passed away in 1886 and Nora remarried three years later. She had at least three children with her second husband, Henry Bennett: Elizabeth (1889), Henry Jr. (1891) and Nora (1894). When the 1891 census was taken the family was living in Marylebone and Henry was employed as a builder’s labourer.

Philip’s brother William immigrated to Canada with his wife and children in the summer of 1906. They settled in Kenora, Ontario and Philip joined them there in February 1907. Later that same year his soon-to-be wife, Florence Rosena Drake, also immigrated to Canada. Their first child, Nora Drake, was born in Kenora in November 1907. Philip and Florence were married at St. Alban’s Pro-Cathedral in Kenora on 15 January 1908. The witnesses were William Edward Lodge and his wife Emily. Philip and Florence had a son, Maxwell Arthur, who was born in Kenora in November 1909. By 1911 they had moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba and another son, Philip Jr., was born there in November 1911.

The war started in August 1914 and Philip and his brother William Bircham enlisted together, signing up in Winnipeg on 22 December 1914 and joining the 44th Battalion. Philip gave his birth date as 30 May, his age as 29 (he was actually 31), and next of kin as his wife Rose. He said he had served for five years in the British army with the 5th Royal Fusiliers. Philip trained with the 44th Battalion for ten months and they spent the summer at Camp Hughes near Brandon. They embarked for the UK on 23 October 1915, sailing from Halifax on the SS Lapland and arriving in England about a week later. William had gone overseas the previous month with the 2nd reinforcing draft.

Philip was transferred to the 11th Reserve Battalion on 3 February 1916. Seven weeks later he was drafted to the 1st Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles and sent to France. He joined his new unit in the field in early April. The Canadians were in the Ypres Salient at the time, holding a section of the front line between St. Eloi and Hooge. The Battle of Mount Sorrel started on the morning of 2 June with an intense bombardment of the Canadian lines followed by the explosion of underground mines. After the barrage German infantry advanced and captured Mount Sorrel and nearby areas. Philip’s unit was in the front line at the time and they suffered 80% casualties. Philip was reported missing between 2 and 5 June and in August he was officially reported as wounded and a prisoner of war. The date of his capture was 2 June.

Philip spent the next two and a half years in several German prisoner of war camps including Duisburg, Friedrichsfeld, Cottbus and Frankfurt. Friedrichsfeld was a large camp holding 35,000 men. During that time Philip’s wife and children moved to England and lived in North Kensington, London. The Armistice ended hostilities on the Western Front in November 1918 and Philip was repatriated to the UK in January 1919. He and his family embarked for Canada about three months later, sailing on the SS Metagama on 23 April and arriving on 2 May. Philip was discharged on demobilization on 6 May in Quebec. His brother William arrived back in Canada a week later.

Philip and Florence returned to Winnipeg and they had one more daughter, Margaret Rosena, who was born in March 1920. Philip worked for a few years at a billiard hall then had a 22-year career in the freight department of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Their daughter Nora married Walter Neal in 1925 and Philip Jr. married Doris Heroux in 1927. Sadly, their son Maxwell died at Misericordia Hospital in 1928, at age 18, and he’s buried in Brookside Cemetery.

Philip passed away at home on 15 January 1949, at age 65. His funeral was held three days later and he’s buried in Brookside Cemetery. His brother William died the following year and he’s interred at Chapel Lawn Memorial Gardens. Philip’s daughter Margaret married John Brenko in 1952. John had served with the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers during the Second World War. Florence Rosena died in November 1973, at age 91, their daughter Nora in 1975, Philip Jr. in 1979 and Margaret in 2013. They are all interred in Brookside Cemetery along with other family members.

By Becky Johnson

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