|Date of Birth||October 12, 1881|
|Place of Birth||Wyebridge, Simcoe County, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Mrs. Eleanor C. Brash (wife), General Delivery, Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Trade / Calling||Railroad man|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Address at Enlistment||General Delivery, Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Date of Enlistment||April 15, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||33|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||March 31, 1944|
|Age at Death||62|
|Buried At||Park Lawn Cemetery, Sudbury, Ontario|
Private Robert Earl Brash enlisted in Winnipeg in April 1915 and arrived in France three months later. He served for almost a year with the scout section of the 8th Battalion (Winnipeg Rifles). After being wounded at Mount Sorrel he was invalided to Canada in 1917.
Robert was born on 12 October 1881 in Wyebridge, Simcoe County, Ontario. His parents were Robert Alexander Brash, a lumberman, and Henrietta Gardiner. Robert’s mother died in November 1885, when he was four years old, and his father remarried two years later. His second wife was Hannah Copeland and they had at least four children: John Harold (1891), Elsie Kathleen (1893), Frederick (1896) and Mary (born 1903, died 1905).
When the 1891 census was taken Robert was nine years old and living in Tiny Township, Simcoe County with his grandparents James and Nancy Gardiner. He was still in Tiny ten years later for the 1901 census, listed as 19 years old and working as a fireman on a boat and in a mill. His father had moved to Rat Portage in northwestern Ontario where he was employed as a lumber foreman. In the early 1900s Robert joined his family in Rat Portage (later called Kenora) and he found work there on the railroad.
Robert was married in Kenora on 21 January 1908. His wife, Christy Ann Matheson, was born in Quebec around 1882 to Malcolm Matheson, a trader, and Margaret Buchanan. Robert and Christy had one child, their daughter Margaret Arita, born in Kenora in September 1908. Sadly, Christy passed away two years later. She died of tuberculosis in November 1910 at a sanatorium in Tranquille, British Columbia. Robert was married again on 16 November 1914 in Kenora. His second wife was an Irish girl, 23-year-old Eleanor Constance Donovan. The war had started that August and Robert enlisted in Winnipeg on 15 April 1915. He signed up with the 44th Battalion and six weeks later he was on his way overseas, embarking from Montreal on 1 June on the SS Grampian. He was part of the 1st Reinforcing Draft, which was sent to England before the rest of the battalion and used to replace casualties in front line units. While he was away his wife moved to Selkirk, Manitoba and worked as an attendant at the hospital for the insane.
In England Robert was transferred to the 32nd Reserve Battalion and he trained with them for five weeks. He attested a second time on 16 July and the next day he was drafted to the 8th Battalion and sent to France. He joined his new unit in the field about a week later. The 8th Battalion was in Belgium at the time, where the Canadians would spend almost a year holding a section of the front line south of Ypres. Frank Iriam, who was also from Kenora, had organized a scout section for the 8th Battalion and Robert became part of the group. In his memoirs Frank referred to him as ‘R.E. Brash Alias Steamboat Brash late of Kenora.’ Robert served as a scout for the next eleven months. Nights were spent patrolling no man’s land and days were used for observation, map making and sniping. Scouts also served as runners to deliver messages and as guides to bring battalions in and out of the trenches. There were no major operations for the Canadian Corps that fall and winter but the policy was one of aggressive activity against the Germans, including raids on their trenches. The scouts were kept very busy and information gathered on their patrols was essential for planning successful raids.
At the end of May 1916 Robert’s unit took over a section of the front line near Mount Sorrel in the Ypres Salient. The Battle of Mount Sorrel started on the morning of 2 June with a massive bombardment by the Germans followed by the explosion of underground mines. German infantry attacked and captured the hill and nearby areas. The 8th Battalion was relieved from the line on the night of 5-6 June then went back in on 12 June to take part in the final counter-attack, when most of the lost areas were recaptured. On 13 June Robert was guiding a party of men across an open field when an artillery shell burst nearby. Later that same day two more shells exploded close to him. He suffered a concussion, a bruised back and shell shock. On 16 June he was admitted to No. 3 General Hospital in Boulogne, where he spent six days. He was discharged to base details on 22 June but he wasn’t well and in early July he was evacuated to England.
Over the next three months Robert recovered at hospitals and convalescent centres. By October he was considered fit for light work and he was assigned to garrison duty in Shoreham, on the Sussex coast. His health continued to be a problem, however, and in March 1917 he was transferred to the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre, to await his return to Canada. He embarked from Liverpool on the SS Olympic on 14 April and arrived in Halifax a week later. He had three more months of treatment at a convalescent home in Toronto. He was discharged as medically unfit on 10 July 1917, with his intended residence listed as Winnipeg. The following spring his half-brother Frederick Brash was called up and he served in Canada for a year.
By 1919 Robert and his wife were living in Copper Cliff, Ontario, on the outskirts of Sudbury. They had at least one child, their son Kenneth (1921-1982). In the early 1920s they moved to the small village of Willisville, southwest of Sudbury. Some of Robert’s family lived in Copper Cliff and his father died there in 1924, at age 61. Sadly, Robert’s only daughter Margaret Arita died of tuberculosis in July 1927, at age 18. She was a patient in the Mountain Sanatorium near Hamilton, Ontario at the time.
Robert lived in Willisville for about twenty years. He passed away at the Red Cross Hospital in the nearby town of Espanola on 31 March 1944, at age 63. He was survived by his sister, Mrs. Charles (Elsie) Cummings of Copper Cliff and his brother John Harold Brash of Toronto. Robert is buried in Park Lawn Cemetery in Sudbury.
By Becky Johnson
Photo of Robert fishing is courtesy of the Willisville 1930s photo gallery at www.willisville.ca.
Grave marker photo used with permission.