Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthSeptember 26, 1878
Place of BirthOdessa
Marital StatusMarried
Next of KinMrs. Fomin (wife), 8 Ekaterinovski St., Odessa, Russia
Trade / CallingJanitor
ReligionRussian Orthodox
Service Details
Regimental Number234976
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion52nd Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at Enlistment448 King Street, Winnipeg Manitoba
Date of EnlistmentMay 10, 1916
Age at Enlistment37
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathJune 13, 1926
Age at Death47
Buried AtLake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario
Plot36E-33-1, Liberty View Block

Fomin, John

Private John Fomin enlisted in May 1916 and served for three years in Canada, England and France. He was wounded in March 1917 and invalided to Canada in December 1918 due to illness.

According to his attestation John was born on 26 September 1878 in Odessa, a large city on the northern tip of the Black Sea. Today Odessa is part of the Ukraine but at that time it was in the Russian Empire. John immigrated to Canada around 1912, when he was about 34 years old. He was married but his wife stayed behind in Russia. Like a lot of immigrants he probably planned to get settled, find work and save enough money to bring her to Canada. The war started in 1914 and when he enlisted in the spring of 1916 he was living on King Street in Winnipeg and working as a janitor.

John signed up in Winnipeg on 10 May 1916, joining the 203rd Overseas Battalion. The 203rd was a temperance unit that called themselves the ‘Hard and Dry Battalion.’ It had been organized in Winnipeg and was being recruited in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. From the Brandon Daily Sun, 29 April 1916, ‘The 203rd has met with remarkable success since its organization last February and is one of the most popular battalions in Military District No. 10. Great emphasis is placed upon sport and it is the aim of the Commanding Officer and all those under him to give the men every opportunity to develop the best that is within them.’ By May the unit was affiliated with the 90th Winnipeg Rifles and was being called the 203rd Overseas Battalion Canadian Rifles. Over the summer and fall the men trained with other units at Camp Hughes, which was just east of Brandon, Manitoba.

In late October the battalion left for England, embarking from Halifax on the SS Grampian and landing at Liverpool nine days later. A letter from the commanding officer dated 14 November said the men had settled into their quarters at Bramshott Camp and training was well underway. In January 1917 the unit was absorbed into the 18th Reserve Battalion and the following month John was drafted to the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion and sent to France. The 52nd Battalion had arrived in France a year earlier and it was originally recruited in towns throughout northwestern Ontario, including Kenora.

Over the winter of 1916-17 the Canadians were holding a section of the front line across from Vimy in France. In February they started training for their next big operation, the Battle of Vimy Ridge. By March John had joined his new unit in the field and already suffered an injury, a shrapnel wound to his left foot that put him out of action for ten days.  On 1 April the 52nd Battalion went into the trenches for a five day rotation, carrying out a raid on the German lines while they were there. The Battle of Vimy Ridge started on the morning of 9 April and the 52nd was kept in reserve during the six-day operation but they suffered more than 80 casualties from enemy fire.

Over the next two months the battalion remained in the area between Vimy Ridge and the village of Avion to the north. The men had regular rotations in the front trenches, carried on with training and supplied work parties as needed. On 21 June they began to prepare for another assault, this one involving the capture of Avion. The attack was planned for 28 June but John’s service as a front line soldier ended four days before that. On 24 June he reported sick and he was ill enough to be sent to a hospital on the coast of France. Diagnosed with nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys), he was evacuated to England and treated for several months in three different hospitals and a convalescent centre. By the end of October his health had improved and he spent the next eight months serving with the Manitoba Regiment Depot and the Canadian Army Medical Corps Depot.

In June 1918 John was transferred to the Canadian Forestry Corps, serving with them for six months at their Base Depot in Sunningdale and in No. 52 District in Carlisle, near the Scottish border. That fall he turned 40 years old and he still hadn’t fully recovered from his illness. On 13 December 1918 he was invalided to Canada and he arrived in Halifax on the SS Northland the day after Christmas. He was discharged in Winnipeg on 6 February, listed as no longer fit for service due to debility following nephritis. Discharge documents recorded his next of kin as his wife Mrs. Domick Fomin in Odessa, Russia. They also mentioned that he had no children, his mother was living in Odessa and his father was deceased.

After the war John returned to Winnipeg and found employment as a barber with the City Barber Shop on Main Street. He later transferred to their Kenora location and in the spring of 1926 he began working for S.J. Donnelly. Sadly, John died in a drowning accident that summer while he was camping with a friend in Rideout Bay. A passerby had stopped at their camp one evening and when John took the man’s canoe out on the lake for a short ride it capsized. He was unable to swim and his friend’s efforts to save him were unsuccessful. John died on 13 June and his funeral was held in Kenora four days later. Many local veterans attended to pay their respects and John was laid to rest in the veterans’ section of Lake of the Woods Cemetery.

By Becky Johnson

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