Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthMay 7, 1891
Place of BirthKeewatin, Ontario
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinJosephine Belanger, mother
Trade / CallingCarpenter
ReligionRoman Catholic
Service Details
Regimental Number199021
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion25th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at EnlistmentKeewatin, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentFebruary 25, 1916
Age at Enlistment24
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarNo
Decorations and MedalsMilitary Medal
Death Details
Date of DeathAugust 9, 1918
Age at Death27
Buried AtVrely Communal Cemetery Extension, France
PlotPlot 1, row A Grave 13

Desmarais, Rene

The son of Eusebe and Josephine (Belanger) Desmarais, Rene Desmarais was born in Keewatin, Ontario 7 May 1891.  According to his father’s obituary in the Kenora Miner and News of 6 August 1932, the family came to Keewatin with the first sawmill that was brought over the ice to Keewatin in the early pioneer days. Very much a Catholic French Canadian family, Rene’s father, whose occupation given as sawmill foreman, had married Marie Josephine Belanger 18 January 1888 in Gatineau, Quebec and had moved to Keewatin South by the 1891 Canada census. Children listed in the household at that time were Floride, Fernande, Napoleon, Ezymel, Alonzo and Ida. Both Eusebe and Josephine had been widowed prior to marrying each other.

By the 1901 Canada census, although the family still resided in Keewatin, Eusebe had become a farmer. Children in the household in this census were Napoleon, Ezymel, Alonzo, Ida, Rene, Eva, and Annie. The family also had a couple of boarders living with them: Fernanzo Charon and Mary Nadon. For  the 1911 Canada census, Rene’s still lived in Keewatin with his parents, and Ida, Eva, Annie, and Rhea. Rene’s occupation was given as teamster.

Rene enlisted on 25 February 1916 in Kenora, Ontario, originally with the 94th Battalion. Occupation listed as carpenter, he had 3 months previous experience with the 100th Grenadiers.

On May 25, 1916, the men of ‘C’ an ‘D’ Companies from Kenora and Fort Frances were moved to the Lakehead and on June 9, 1916, the Battalion left for Valcartier, Quebec for ‘Summer Camp’ as it was called. For two hundred and five of these men it was the last time they were to see their families and friends. The 94th trained at Valcartier for a period until June 13th when they sailed from Halifax for England on the RMS Olympic.  Although the 94th remained a battalion on paper until July 27th, 1918, with an office at East Sandling, if actually ceased to exist on July 13th, 1916 when it was broken up and the men were transferred to the 17th and 32nd Reserve Battalions to be used as replacements for casualties in front line units.

Rene Desmarais disembarked in Liverpool on 5 July 1916 and transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion 8 days later. He embarked for France on 7 September 1916. Rene was taken on strength a day later with the 25th Battalion, and joined the  unit in the field on 28 September 1916.

In October 1917, Rene was granted a 10 day leave in France. Upon rejoining the unit, he was appointed as Lance Corporal 11 November 1917. Rene Desmarais was promoted to Corporal on 1 February 1918. Later in the month  he was on course. He rejoined the unit in the field 25 March 1918 as Sergeant Desmarais, having been promoted once more on the 5th of March.

On 29 June 1918, Rene  attended Guards  Division as a Raid Instructor, rejoining the 25th on 5 July 1918.  Just over a month later, on 9 August 1918, Sergeant Rene Desmarais was reported as killed in action, shot by enemy machine gun bullet during an advance on Vrely.

Rene is interred in the Vrely Communal Cemetery Extension in Somme, France. Reports dated 15 October 1918 and 14 November 1918 state that, due to his bravery he not only earned the Military Medal (awarded 2 August 1918 in the field) but also a Bar.

Rene Desmarais is commemorated on page 397 of the First World War Book of Remembrance in Ottawa, on the Keewatin Cenotaph located in Beatty Park in Keewatin, Ontario, on the Lake of the Woods Milling Company Roll of Honour Plaque and the Municipality of Keewatin For King and Country plaque.

Sergeant Desmarais’ parents and some of his siblings remained in Keewatin. His father passed away in August of 1932 in Keewatin and his mother soon after in December of the same year in Winnipeg.

by Judy Stockham

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