Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthAugust 18, 1886
Place of BirthMattawa, Ontario
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinFred Gilbert, Father, Kenora, Ontario
Trade / CallingLocomotive Fireman
ReligionRoman Catholic
Service Details
Regimental Number437539
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion44th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Date of EnlistmentAugust 14, 1915
Age at Enlistment29
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details

Gilbert, Joseph Richard

Joseph Richard Gilbert was born on 18 August 1886 in Mattawa, Ontario, date and place confirmed by his baptism record. He was the son of Frederick Gilbert and Margaret Sheehan who had married on 5 April 1874 in Quyon, Pontiac, Quebec. The couple farmed in the area for a few years where children Mary (1875), George (1877), and Edward (1879) were born. In the early 1880’s the family moved to Mattawa where Fred worked on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway and later as a carpenter. Children born in Mattawa were Frederick (1882), Margaret (1884), Joseph, and David (1888). In the late 1890’s the family moved to Rat Portage (later renamed Kenora) where son William was born (abt 1898). Sadly Joseph’s mother Margaret died in 1900. Fred married widow Isabella Farris (née Sinclair) in 1906. Isabella and her first husband John Farris were from the Maritimes, married in 1888 in Amherst, Cumberland County, Nova Scotia. Their first two sons, Angus Sinclair and John Edward, were born in Nova Scotia. Sometime after the 1891 census they moved to northwestern Ontario and son Laughlin was born in Keewatin in December of 1898. John Farris had passed away in November 1900. By the 1911 census only Fred, Isabella, Mary and Laughlin were left in the household. Over the years Fred worked as a carpenter/contractor with a number of buildings erected in Kenora under his supervision. Daughter Mary died in Kenora in March of 1912.

With occupation given as locomotive fireman and his father Fred back in Kenora as next of kin, Joseph signed his attestation papers in Edmonton on 14 August 1915. For reasons unknown he gave his date and place of birth as 18 May 1887 in Kenora. He trained in Edmonton and at Sarcee Camp near Calgary with the 51st Battalion but due to illness (grippe and tonsillitis) he was unable to leave for overseas with the battalion.

Joseph arrived in England on 29 April 1916 aboard the SS Missanabie. In August he was attached to the 51st Battalion for base duty and then transferred to the 11th Reserve Battalion in September. In late November he arrived in France, joining the 44th (Manitoba) Battalion in the field on December 12th. Just a short time later, on 7 January 1917, Joseph sustained shrapnel contusions to his right arm and back and was admitted to the No 11 Canadian Field Ambulance and then on to the No 13 CFA the next day, discharged on the 25th. Not long back at duty, Joseph was readmitted to the No 13 CFA on February 7th with influenza, discharged on the 17th. In May he was to spend another 10 days at the No 11 Canadian Field Ambulance due to indigestion.

In August of 1917 Joseph attended a Light Machine Gun course at the 4th Divisional School for ten days and was awarded a Good Conduct Badge. On the 1st of September he was appointed Lance Corporal and was granted a two week leave to the UK in mid November. In early January of 1918 he attended a Lewis Machine Gun course but shortly after his return he became ill. First diagnosed as PUO, fever of unknown origin, by the end of the month he was evacuated to England, diagnosis of trench fever. Joseph was to spend the duration of the war in England, recovering from trench fever and then out of service for a couple of months (vdg) later in the year. On 7 December 1918 he embarked for Canada aboard the SS Olympic and was discharged from service as medically unfit in Winnipeg on 23 January 1919.

Joseph’s brother David enlisted in May of 1915 in Kenora and went overseas with the 52nd Battalion. Shortly after arriving in Belgium in the spring of 1916 David was wounded at Zillebeke and was invalided to England where he remained until returning to Canada in March of 1919. Joseph’s step brother Laughlin Farris, age 16, signed up in Kenora on 1 September 1915, joining the 61st Battalion and passing himself off as 18. He served for about five weeks and was discharged at Camp Hughes on 9 October due to being medically unfit.

It is likely that Joseph returned to the Kenora area after the war. Well known and respected, his father Fred died in March of 1922 in Kenora. At that time Joseph, along with his brother David, were living in nearby Vermilion Bay. At some point he moved back to Kenora, joining the Kenora Branch of the Canadian Legion in December of 1927, finding work doing the night shift at the power plant. In November of 1932 Joseph, thinking his life was in danger as what he thought was an intruder entering his house, shot Lawrence Phillips. Along with a few others, the men had been drinking at Joseph’s house, parting on good terms later in the evening. Around 4 am Lawrence returned to the house and the shooting occurred, Lawrence later passing away at the hospital. At his trial the following spring, Joseph was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to two years less a day at the industrial prison farm in Fort William, sentencing dating back to the previous November. It was noted at the trial that since the war Joseph had been suffering from neurasthenia, a chronic functional defect of the nervous system, also known as shell shock. ‘When the man had stepped toward him (Gilbert) after entering the back door, Gilbert had gone to pieces, his nerves were shattered and he had fired.’ (Kenora Miner and News, 8 April 1933).

After Joseph’s release from the industrial prison farm in Fort William his whereabouts are unknown. He was alive at the time of his brother George’s death in 1945 but was listed as predeceasing his brother David at the time of David’s death in 1982.

by Judy Stockham