|Date of Birth||May 16, 1885|
|Place of Birth||Smolentz (Smolensk)|
|Next of Kin||Mrs Annie Rosen (sister), Box 376, Kenora, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Labourer|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Date of Enlistment||September 23, 1914|
|Age at Enlistment||29|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Decorations and Medals||Military Medal|
|Date of Death||January 23, 1923|
|Age at Death||37|
|Buried At||Hebrew Sick Benefit Cemetery, McPhillips Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba|
Private Simon Gourevitch enlisted in August 1914 and served with the 8th Battalion (Royal Winnipeg Rifles). He survived four years of war and returned to Canada in the spring of 1919.
According to his attestation Simon was born on 16 May 1885 in Smolensk, Russia, a city in the western part of the country near the present-day border with Belarus. He immigrated to Canada around 1909 and by 1914 when the war started he was living in the town of Kenora in northwestern Ontario, where he worked as a labourer.
Britain declared war on 4 August 1914 and three days later mobilization orders were issued in Canada. Officers and volunteers were told to enroll with their local militia then proceed to Valcartier, an area about 20 miles northwest of Quebec City that would become the site of a large military camp. Simon was one of the first to sign up in Kenora and he left by train on 23 August, heading to Quebec along with about 40 other volunteers. The local newspaper said that thousands of people turned out to cheer and support the men as they left. At Valcartier they underwent training, medical tests and inoculations. Simon’s medical exam on 27 August tells us he was 5’6″ tall with hazel eyes and dark brown hair. He was found fit for overseas service and on 23 September 1914 he enlisted with the 8th Canadian Infantry Battalion, a new unit made up of recruits from Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. He was listed as single and next of kin was his sister Mrs. Annie Rosen of Kenora. In October the 8th Battalion embarked for England, leaving from Quebec City on the SS Franconia. They were part of a convoy of 32 transport ships protected by a Royal Navy escort because of the danger from German submarines. The convoy arrived safely in Plymouth, England on 14 October.
The 8th Battalion was sent to Salisbury Plain in southern England where they trained for several months. The men were billeted in tents and huts and due to the cold, wet winter weather many of them became sick with severe colds and pneumonia. They were given a period of leave for the holiday season and after another month of training the men were sent to France in February 1915 as part of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Canadian Division. The battalion spent a few weeks in the area between Hazebrouck and Armentières. In early April they were moved north to the Ypres Salient in Belgium and on 19 April they went into the front trenches near Gravenstafel. Chlorine gas was first used by the Germans on a large scale on 22 April 1915 at Gravenstafel Ridge and the 8th Battalion was hit by it during a second gas attack two days later. They suffered heavy casualties from the poison and in the fighting that followed – the Battle of St. Julien – when German infantry advanced behind the cloud of gas. From the War Diary of the 8th Battalion, 24-25 April 1915, Gravenstafel: ‘The trenches were all attacked at night, and all the men in the trenches except the reserves were weak from fumes – in fact some men had already died from fumes.’
The Canadians held the line for three crucial days, at times engaging in hand to hand combat, until they were relieved by British units. Simon suffered gas poisoning and a bayonet wound to his leg but he managed to make it back to the battalion headquarters along with the remnants of his platoon. He was admitted to No. 9 General Hospital in Rouen, France on 2 May. By early June he was well enough to rejoin his unit.
Over the next 3-1/2 years the 8th Battalion took part in all the major battles that involved the Canadian Corps, including the Somme Offensive, Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Passchendaele and the great victories in the Hundred Days Offensive. Simon had ten days leave in December 1915 and January 1917. Sometime before the assault on Vimy (April 1917) he was assigned to the battalion’s transport section, where he worked with teams of horses to haul supplies. He had leave again in December 1917. The details are not known but in October 1918, during the last months of the war, he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field. The Armistice ended hostilities on 11 November but the Canadians stayed in Europe for several more months. The 8th Battalion took part in the March to the Rhine and spent four weeks as an occupying force in Germany, from 6 December 1918 to 6 January 1919. During that time Simon had his final leave and when he rejoined his unit they were back in Belgium.
The battalion returned to England in March and arrived back in Canada on 4 May 1919 on the Empress of Britain. They were demobilized four days later. An article in the Kenora newspaper on 14 May mentioned that Simon was home and said, ‘He was wounded in the early part of the war, but subsequently was very fortunate.‘ By the time of the 1921 census Simon was married, living on Second Street North and operating a second hand store with his nephew Saul Daiter. His wife Genendal (Gertrude) Daiter was born in Russia and immigrated to Canada with her family a few years before the war. Her parents settled in the Bird’s Hill area near Winnipeg.
Simon and Gertrude had a daughter, Amy Nellie, born in Kenora on 31 December 1922. Gertrude also had a son Frank Ashkin, born in October 1913, with her first husband Louis Ashkin. In addition to operating his store Simon also worked part time as a teamster, hauling pulpwood out of the bush. Sadly, he was killed on 23 January 1923 near Black Sturgeon Lake when a load of pulpwood tipped over and landed on him. He is buried in Hebrew Sick Benefit Cemetery in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was survived by his wife, their daughter Nellie, just three weeks old, and Gertrude’s son Frank. Gertrude passed away in Winnipeg in 1979, at age 88.
Frank Ashkin served with the Canadian Forces in Europe during the Second World War. He married a war bride, Sylvia Waterman, in June 1945 in Middlesex, England and they lived in Kenora and later in Calgary. Frank died in 2006 and he’s buried at Beth Tzedec Memorial Park in Calgary.
Nellie graduated from the University of Toronto and married Joseph Hornstein in June 1947. Joseph was also a graduate of the U of T and he’d served for five years with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Joseph and Nellie lived in Montreal and later made their home in the U.S. Nellie passed away in California in June 1998, at age 75.
Note: Simon’s surname is spelled different ways in various records: Gorevitch, Gourvitch, Gourvich, Gurevitch, Gurvitch, Gurvich, Gorovitch, etc.
By Becky Johnson
Photo of grave marker courtesy of Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Manitoba.