|Date of Birth||May 20, 1900|
|Place of Birth||Morris, Manitoba|
|Next of Kin||Mrs. Robert (Lizzie May) Limb (mother), Sandy Lake, Manitoba|
|Trade / Calling||Locomotive Fireman|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Battalion||Young Soldiers' Battalion|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Address at Enlistment||Brandon, Manitoba|
|Date of Enlistment||April 19, 1916|
|Age at Enlistment||15|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||October 8, 1992|
|Age at Death||92|
|Buried At||Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario|
Acting Lance Corporal Nelson Peter Gilchrist enlisted underage when he was 15 years old. He was wounded at the Somme at age 16 and he served in the UK for the rest of the war.
Nelson was the only child of Peter Gilchrist and Lizzie May Markle. His parents were both born in Ontario, Peter in Mara Township, Ontario County and Lizzie in Hamilton. They were married in 1899 in Thorah Township, Ontario County and they moved to Manitoba a short time later. Nelson was born on 20 May 1900 in Morris, Manitoba. When the 1901 census was taken the family was still living in Morris. Sadly, Peter passed away in Winnipeg in December 1904, at age 28, when Nelson was four years old. Lizzie remarried in Winnipeg in July 1909. Her second husband, Robert Limb, was born in Sheffield, England and came to Canada around 1903. He worked for the railway and he and Lizzie had one child, their son Franklin Robert who was born in Strathclair, Manitoba in 1910.
In August 1915 the war entered its second year and Nelson’s stepfather enlisted in October, signing up with the 79th Battalion in Brandon. He was 44 years old at the time and next of kin was his wife Lizzie May in Sandy Lake, Manitoba. Nelson enlisted in the same unit the following spring, on 19 April 1916. It was a month before his 16th birthday but he passed himself off as two years older. He’d been working for the railway for about a year and he said he had served with the 16th Light Horse, a militia unit. He was one of the last recruits for the 79th Battalion as they left Brandon by train on the night of 19-20 April. Along with the rest of the unit, Nelson and his stepfather embarked from Halifax on the SS Lapland on 24 April and arrived in the UK ten days later.
Nelson trained with the 79th Battalion for two months. In late June he was transferred to the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles and sent to France. The 1st CMR had started out as a mounted unit but they were converted to infantry in early 1916. The battalion suffered 80% casualties at the Battle of Mount Sorrel in June. When Nelson joined them in late August they were still in Belgium but a week later they began to move south to the Somme area. They arrived near the town of Albert on 11 September and carried out a large raid on the German lines on 15 September. Afterwards the battalion spent two weeks behind the lines, resting, training and supplying men for work parties.
On 27 September the battalion started a three-day rotation in the front line. While they were there they were put to work digging trenches and enemy machine gun and artillery fire were heavy at times. Some of the troops took part in another raid on 30 September and the unit was relieved late that night. Nine days later they were back in the trenches for another rotation. On 11 October the unit’s war diary reported intermittent shelling of their lines and considerable machine gun fire. Nelson was one of several casualties that day, suffering a wound to his groin and to his right leg, just above the knee. He was sent to a casualty clearing station then evacuated to the UK. On 18 October he was admitted to Richmond War Hospital in Dublin, Ireland, where he spent a month recovering. He was moved to Woodcote Park Convalescent Home in Epsom on 22 November and by the end of December he was fit for duty again.
For the next seven months Nelson served with several different units including the 19th Reserve Battalion, the Saskatchewan Regiment and the 2nd Canadian Corps Depot. By July his superiors had received his birth certificate and an affidavit from his mother confirming his age as just 17. He was transferred to the Young Soldiers’ Battalion at Bexhill where he trained until the end of the year, getting appointed Acting Lance Corporal in October. On 1 January 1918 Nelson was admitted to No. 12 General Hospital in Bramshott, suffering from influenza. He was released on 16 January and on 18 January he reverted to the rank of private by his own request. Two weeks later he embarked for Canada on the SS Olympic, arriving in Halifax via New York on 13 February. He was discharged on 4 March in Winnipeg by reason of ‘being a minor.’ His intended residence was Sandy Lake, Manitoba where his mother lived.
Nelson went back to working for the Canadian Pacific Railway and over the next few years he lived in Toronto, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the state of Washington. Eventually he settled in the town of Kenora in northwestern Ontario and by 1945 he was a conductor. He was a member of the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen. His mother died in Winnipeg in June 1924, at age 45. His stepfather Robert Limb survived the war but died in Saskatoon in 1925 of illness related to his service.
Nelson retired from the railway in May 1965 and enjoyed winter holidays in Hawaii. Known as ‘Gil’ he was an avid reader and regular patron of the Kenora Library. He also loved fishing, boating, swimming and going to Rabbit Lake beach. His home in Kenora was Room 303 at the Kenricia Hotel, where he lived for many years. He passed away there on 8 October 1992, at age 92. His funeral was held six days later and he’s buried in Treasure Hill Block at Lake of the Woods Cemetery.
By Becky Johnson