|Date of Birth||November 20, 1864|
|Place of Birth||Stirling, Stirling County|
|Next of Kin||Mrs. Catherine Francis (wife), Kenora, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Stationary Engineer|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Address at Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||March 15, 1916|
|Age at Enlistment||51|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||October 8, 1916|
|Age at Death||51|
|Buried At||Regina Trench Cemetery, France|
|Plot||IV. C. 23.|
The Battle of the Somme was a five-month long offensive that began in July 1916. The Canadian Corps arrived at the Somme in late August and in less than three months they suffered 24,000 casualties. One of the fallen was Private John McKechnie Francis of Kenora, Ontario.
John was born on 20 November 1864 in the town of Stirling in Stirlingshire, Scotland. His parents were David Francis, a wood sawyer from Belfast, Ireland, and Agnes McKechnie of Glasgow, Scotland. David and Agnes were married in Glasgow in 1855 and over the next 24 years they had 13 children, five daughters and eight sons. The first two children, Isabella and Jane, were born in Glasgow. Around 1860 the family moved to Stirling where the rest of the children were born: Thomas, Martha, John, Agnes, David, Margaret, Thomas, Peter, James, Walter and William. Margaret and the first Thomas died as infants, and David died at age 3. John’s mother passed away in 1882, when he was 18, and his father was remarried the following spring to Margaret Cameron (née Turner). David had one more son with Margaret, David Jr. in 1884. Sadly Margaret died a month after he was born. David married a third time in September 1885 and two days after his marriage his youngest son David Jr. died at age 10 months.
John enlisted in the British army in January 1883, joining the 1st Royal Scots Regiment. He was 18 years old and he signed up for eight years with the regulars followed by four years in the reserves. He served in the West Indies for ten months in 1884 then in South Africa for six years, from October 1884 until October 1890. He returned home at the end of 1890 and spent his remaining years of service in the reserves. When the 1891 census was taken he was living at home with his father, his stepmother Christina (née Stewart), and his brothers James, William and Walter. The following year, on 30 December 1892, he married Catherine (Kate) Walls in Grangemouth, a small village about 20 km southeast of Stirling. John and Kate had one child, their daughter Jessie who was born in 1897 in Falkirk, a neighbouring town to Grangemouth. At the time of the 1901 census they were living in Falkirk and John was working as a fireman. His father was still living in Stirling and he passed away there later that same year, in September 1901.
Three of John’s sisters had immigrated to Canada in the 1880s, Isabella, Jane and Agnes. In 1905 his brother James moved there too. Walter immigrated next, in 1907, and John followed in 1912, arriving in May on the SS Pretorian and going to Kenora, Ontario where his brother lived. He found work in a flour mill and Kate and their daughter Jessie joined him three months later, sailing in August on the SS Grampian. At some point John’s youngest brother William also moved to Kenora. His other two brothers, Thomas and Peter, stayed in Scotland and his sister Martha had died in Scotland in 1909.
The war started in August 1914 and by late 1915, with enlistments beginning to lag, there was a push on for more volunteers. New battalions were being raised and one of them was the 94th Battalion, which was based in Port Arthur and recruited in towns throughout northwestern Ontario. John signed up with the 94th on 15 March 1916 in Kenora, at age 51, passing himself off as seven years younger. His nephew David Francis (James’ son) had enlisted in the same unit two months earlier. The Kenora recruits were sent to Port Arthur on 25 May to join the rest of the battalion and on 9 June the men left for Quebec. They spent a short time at Valcartier, a military camp northwest of Quebec City, before embarking from Halifax on 28 June 1916 on the SS Olympic. In England the men were absorbed into reserve battalions to be used as reinforcements for other units.
On 13 July John and his nephew David were both assigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion. Six weeks later they were transferred to the 43rd Battalion (Cameron Highlanders) and sent to France. They joined the battalion in the field at the end of September during the Battle of the Somme. The Somme Offensive had started in July and the Canadians were moved to the Somme area starting in late August. On 20 September the 43rd attacked the Zollern Graben Trench, suffering 150 casualties in the operation. They were relieved on 21 September for two weeks of rest and refitting and it was during that time that John and David joined them in a draft of 90 reinforcements.
Early in October the battalion had a two day rotation in the front trenches then on 8 October they were back in action, taking part in the assault on Regina Trench, northwest of the village of Courcelette. They ran into problems during the early morning advance when they encountered uncut barbed wire and strong German counter-attacks. The unit suffered 360 casualties and John and his nephew David were both reported missing in action.
From the Circumstances of Death record for John: Previously reported missing, now killed in action. Location of unit at time of casualty: Attack near Courcelette.
At the time John went missing his wife and daughter were staying in North Bay, Ontario where Jessie was attending Normal School, training to be teacher. Eight months later, in June 1917, they were told he was officially killed in action. John’s body was recovered and he was buried about 3/4 mile north of Courcelette. After the war he was exhumed and interred in Regina Trench Cemetery where his nephew David is also buried. Regina Trench Cemetery was started in 1916 but many of the graves there were brought in from the surrounding battlefields after the Armistice.
John is commemorated on the Kenora Cenotaph and the Kenora Legion War Memorial. His wife Kate died in August 1939 and she’s buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery in Kenora. Also buried there are his brothers James and William and his daughter Jessie, who passed away in August 1978.
By Becky Johnson
Photo at the top is the Kenora Legion War Memorial.