Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Place of BirthLeicester, Leicestershire
Marital StatusMarried
Next of KinBertha Harper, wife, 3 Seventh Avenue South, Kenora, Ontario
Trade / CallingBrakeman
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number439065
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion52nd Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at Enlistment3 Seventh Avenue South, Kenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentDecember 28, 1914
Age at Enlistment35
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathAugust 26, 1954
Age at Death75
Buried AtChapel Lawn Memorial Gardens, Winnipeg, Manitoba
PlotLast Supper Lot 112 Grave B1

Harper, John English

John English Harper was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth (née Knott/Nutt) Harper. A birth record was not found for John and various birth dates were given in his attestation papers and service files as well as other records: December 1876, November 1878, 18 February 1879 (obituary), 18 February 1881, 28 February 1881 and 18 February 1886. He consistently gave Leicester, Leicestershire as his place of birth although it is possible he was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire. His father Thomas was from Darlaston, Staffordshire, while his mother Elizabeth was from Leicester where the couple had married in 1869. Over the years the family lived in Leicester, Darlaston, and Birmingham as evidenced by censuses and the children’s births. Father Thomas worked as a whitesmith, blacksmith, and labourer. Known children born to the family were Maria, Agnes, Joseph, Jemima, John, and Wallace. After the death of mother Elizabeth in 1890 in Birmingham, the family unit disintegrated, with some of the children going to live with relatives. It appears that John was sent to the Birmingham Industrial School.

In February of 1897, in Birmingham, John signed attestation papers with the Imperial Army, age given as 18 years, 3 months and occupation as stamper. He served in the UK until late February of 1899 with the 7th Queen’s Own Hussars when he was posted to India, on command to the 20th Hussars. While there he injured his leg in a gymnasium. He returned to England in 1901 and would spend time in hospitals for surgeries for his leg, found on the 1901 England census as a patient at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Hound, New Hampshire.

On 1 July 1901, in Leicester, John married Bertha Sarah Burton. Born in 1880 in Sileby, Barrow on Soar in Leicestershire, Bertha was the daughter of Alfred and Eliza (née Ward) Burton. Her mother died in 1884 and Bertha was raised by her uncle and aunt, Joseph and Sarah (née Meadows) Pearson. It is likely that John and Bertha gave birth to their first child, John Joseph (Jack) during the second quarter of 1905 in Leicester. By 1909 the young family was living Kenora, Ontario where John found work with the Canadian Pacific Railway. That year they gave birth to son Robert Arland, followed by daughter Bertha Christina in 1911 and son Joseph in 1914.

John signed his attestation papers in Kenora on 28 December 1914, occupation given as trainman and his wife Bertha in Kenora as next of kin. There are two copies of the papers in his service file, the original giving his birthday as 28 February 1881 and military experience as 7 years colours and 5 years reserve with the 7th Queen’s Own Hussars. The second set gives his birthday as 28 December 1881 and military experience with the 9th Queen’s Own Hussars.

The 52nd Battalion was organized in March 1915 and mobilized in Port Arthur, Ontario with recruitment throughout northwestern Ontario. Along with a number of other local fellows John left for training in Port Arthur that June, home for a furlough weekend in early July. In error, the local newspaper reported that John went overseas with the 2nd Draft of the 52nd battalion in early September. Private John Harper embarked from St John, New Brunswick with the 52nd Battalion aboard the California on the 23rd of November.

John arrived in France in February of 1916 but his service was to be very limited. His old injury combined with rheumatism was aggravated by active service conditions and he was returned to England that October. In early February of 1917, at Hastings, it was decided that he would be returned to Canada, embarking from Liverpool on the 17th aboard the  Scandinavian. Upon his return he spent time at the Manitoba Military Convalescent Hospital in Winnipeg, discharged as medically unfit on the 26th of July.

John signed another set of attestation papers in Winnipeg on 27 April 1918, occupation given as brakeman and date of birth as 18 February 1876. He joined the G Unit of the Manitoba Military Convalescent Hospital where he received further medical treatment. He was discharged as medically unfit on 12 March 1919.

Upon discharge John returned to Kenora, retiring from the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1924 due to ill health. He died on 26 August 1954 in the St Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg. At the time he was survived by his wife Bertha in Kenora, son Jack of Winnipeg, son Joseph and daughter Bertha Wilson of Vancouver, son Robert of Kenora as well as two brothers and a sister in England. Bertha died on 30 October 1957 in Kenora. John and Bertha are interred in the Chapel Lawn Memorial Gardens in Winnipeg.

by Judy Stockham

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