Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthMay 17, 1889
Place of BirthIndian Head, Saskatchewan
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMrs. Sarah Smith (mother), Dugald, Manitoba
Trade / CallingLocomotive fireman (CPR)
Service Details
Regimental Number199319
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion8th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentDryden, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentApril 15, 1916
Age at Enlistment27
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarNo
Death Details
Date of DeathApril 13, 1918
Age at Death29
Buried AtWimereux Communal Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France
PlotX. C. 14.

Breen, Joseph

Private Joseph Breen arrived in France in September 1917 and joined the 8th Battalion in the field a few weeks later. He was wounded twice, at Passchendaele in November 1917 and near Arras the following spring. He died in a hospital in Wimereux on 13 April 1918.

Joseph was born on 17 May 1889 in the small town of Indian Head, Saskatchewan, the son of William Breen and Sarah Jane McAllister. William and Sarah were married in 1880 in Lancashire, England and their four oldest children were born there (Catherine, May, Annie and John). They immigrated to Canada in the spring of 1887 and settled near Indian Head in what was then the North West Territories. Thomas took up farming and three more children were added to the family: Joseph (1889), Thomas (1891) and Louise (1893). Joseph’s father died when he was still very young and his mother was married again in July 1898 in the district of Springfield, Manitoba. She had three more children with her second husband, John Kennedy Smith. When the 1901 census was taken the Smith family was living near Selkirk, Manitoba where John was farming. Joseph, age 12, wasn’t in the household but was staying nearby with another family and employed as a farm labourer.

By the time Joseph enlisted in 1916 he was living in Kenora, Ontario and working as a locomotive fireman for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). He signed up in the nearby town of Dryden on 15 April, joining the 94th Battalion. The 94th was based in Port Arthur and recruited throughout northwestern Ontario. In May the volunteers from the Kenora area were sent to Port Arthur to join the rest of the unit. They left for Quebec on 9 June and spent a short time at the large military camp in Valcartier, northwest of Quebec City. The battalion embarked for England at the end of the month but Joseph was held back in Canada, probably due to illness. In June he was transferred to a new unit, the 141st Battalion, and in September he was back in Port Arthur where he spent over three weeks in the hospital, suffering from pleurisy. Joseph’s health improved and he was with the 141st when they embarked from Halifax on the SS Olympic on 28 April 1917. In England the recruits were absorbed into the 18th Reserve Battalion to be used as reinforcements for other units.

After four more months of training Joseph was sent to France in September and transferred to the 8th Battalion (90th Winnipeg Rifles). He spent a few weeks at the Canadian Base Depot then the Reinforcement Camp and he joined his new unit in the field on 8 October 1917. In August the 8th Battalion had been at the Battle of Hill 70 where they suffered 400 casualties out of a strength of 720 men (55%). Joseph arrived in a draft of 210 reinforcements. Later that month the Canadian Divisions were sent to the Ypres Salient in Belgium for the Battle of Passchendaele (26 October-10 November 1917). The 8th Battalion didn’t take part in the first phases of the battle but they were moved into the area on 6 November, arriving by train then marching through the ruined city of Ypres. On 8 November they took over a section of the front line and they were heavily shelled that night and the next day. The last phase of the battle, the capture of some high ground to the north of the village of Passchendaele, was planned for 10 November. It was raining heavily as the 8th Battalion advanced from their jumping off positions at 6 am that morning and they faced intense artillery and machine gun fire. Joseph was one of the casualties, suffering wounds to his face and arm. He spent three months recuperating in hospitals and convalescent centres in Rouen and Buchy and he rejoined the 8th Battalion in the field in late February 1918.

The 8th had several rotations in the front lines in March and at the end of the month they moved to a new camp at Dainville, about 5 km southwest of Arras. On 5 April the battalion went into Divisional Support, relieving another unit in the Ronville Caves. These were huge underground caves carved out of the limestone in and around Arras, capable of holding thousands of men. From the War Diary of the 8th Battalion, ‘On the way in [to the caves] a large congestion of Troops occurred outside one of the entrances, during which an enemy 3.0 H.E. landed in the centre of the road causing numerous casualties – the Battalion sustained 3 O.Rs. killed and 27 wounded from No. 7 Platoon ‘B’ Coy.’ Joseph was one of the soldiers seriously wounded by the large artillery shell. He was evacuated to a hospital on the coast of France and he died of his injuries eight days later, on 13 April 1918.

From the Circumstances of Death record for Joseph:  Died of Wounds (Shrapnel Wounds Back and Leg) at No. 2 Australian General Hospital, Wimereux, France.

Joseph is buried in Wimereux Communal Cemetery in the small town of Wimereux in France. He is commemorated on the WW1 Roll of Honour for the 8th Battalion (Royal Winnipeg Rifles) and on the Roll of Honour for the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. During the war over 11,000 CPR employees enlisted and 1,116 of them gave their lives. Joseph is also commemorated on the Springfield War Memorial in Dugald, Manitoba, where his mother lived, and on the Saskatchewan Virtual War Memorial here.

By Becky Johnson

Top photo of Springfield War Memorial courtesy of Gordon Goldsborough, Manitoba Historical Society.

94th-1916-06-10 Breen-Joseph-90 Breen-Joseph-91

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