|Date of Birth||March 5, 1879|
|Place of Birth||Colchester, Vermont|
|Next of Kin||Mrs. Emile Hepell (aunt), Kenora, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Teamster|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Dauphin, Manitoba|
|Date of Enlistment||September 20, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||36|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||September 15, 1916|
|Age at Death||37|
|Buried At||No known grave; commemorated on the Vimy Memorial in France|
Private Alphonse Derry was 36 years old and a widower when he enlisted in September 1915. He was killed in action a year later at the Battle of the Somme.
Alphonse was the youngest son of Norbert Déry and his first wife Jane Rancourt. Norbert and Jane (also known as Jeanne) were from Saint-Stanislas, a small town northeast of Trois-Rivières in Quebec. They were married in 1875 and their two oldest children were born in Saint-Stanislas, Joseph Arthur in April 1876 and Antoinette in January 1878. A short time later the Déry family moved to the town of Colchester, Vermont, which is 100 km south of Montreal on Lake Champlain. Jane’s parents were already living in that area and her father was working at a lumber yard. Alphonse was born in Colchester on 5 March 1879 and his mother died five days later. At the time of the 1880 US census, at age one, he was living with his grandparents Joseph and Flora Rancourt in Winooski, a small village near Colchester. His sister Antoinette was living with an aunt and uncle back in Saint-Stanislas. After being widowed their father returned to Quebec, married again in 1882 and had at least ten more children.
Alphonse moved to northwestern Ontario with his grandparents in 1890 and his grandfather died in March 1891. When the census was taken that year Alphonse was living in Rat Portage (later called Kenora) with his grandmother, two aunts and an uncle. At the time of the 1901 census he was listed in Rat Portage as a lodger, born in the US and employed as a teamster. His grandmother Flora passed away in August 1904 and she’s buried with her husband in Lake of the Woods Cemetery. Alphonse married Alexandrine Porlier in August 1907 in Kenora and sadly she died just eight months later. Alexandrine was from the Gaspé region of eastern Quebec and she had come to Rat Portage with her brothers Andrew and Napoleon Porlier. Alexandrine and Alphonse had no children.
Alphonse enlisted with the 53rd Battalion on 20 September 1915 in Dauphin, Manitoba. He was 36 years old, widowed, working as a teamster and next of kin was his aunt Pamela Rancourt (Mrs. Emile Hepell) of Kenora. The 53rd had been organized that spring and it was recruited in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. After training in Canada over the winter the battalion embarked for the UK on 29 March 1916 on the Empress of Britain. In England the men were absorbed into reserve battalions to be used as reinforcements for other units.
After two more months of training Alphonse was sent to France on 8 June and transferred to the 28th (North West) Battalion. The 28th was in the 6th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division. They had just been at the Battle of Mount Sorrel, which started with a German assault on 2 June. On 6 June the 28th had faced ‘the blackest day in the history of the unit’ when the Germans blew up four mines under their trenches near the village of Hooge. The battalion suffered very high casualties and two companies were almost wiped out. Alphonse was in a draft of 250 men sent as reinforcements.
The Somme Offensive started later that summer and the first major battle for the Canadian Corps was at Flers-Courcelette (15-22 September 1916), where the British launched their new secret weapon – the tank. The 28th Battalion moved into the trenches on 14 September and the assault began at 6 am the next morning. The 28th was on the left flank of the 6th Brigade’s position, supported by a number of tanks as they advanced on the village of Courcelette. Alphonse was killed in action that day, 15 September, along with 103 other men in his unit.
Alphonse’s body was not recovered and his final resting place is unknown. He is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial, which bears the names of 11,000 Canadians who died in France and have no known grave. He is also commemorated on the Kenora Cenotaph, the Kenora Legion War Memorial and the Notre Dame du Portage Roman Catholic Church WW1 memorial plaque (as A. Dery).
By Becky Johnson
Photo at the top is the Vimy Memorial in France.