|Date of Birth||January 1, 1884|
|Place of Birth||Dontocher, Dunbartonshire|
|Next of Kin||Helen Hughes (wife), Empress, Alberta|
|Trade / Calling||Shoemaker|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Address at Enlistment||Empress, Alberta|
|Date of Enlistment||October 9, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||31|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||July 3, 1923|
|Age at Death||39|
|Buried At||Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario|
Acting Corporal James Hughes was married and the father of three young daughters when he enlisted in 1915. He was wounded at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 and he served in Great Britain for the rest of the war, returning to Canada in July 1919.
James was born in Duntocher, Dunbartonshire, Scotland on 1 January 1884. His parents were Josiah Wilson Hughes and Isabella Gorman. James had two sisters, Sarah and Isabella (both born in Ireland), and two brothers, William and Wilson (both born in Dontocher). Their father died in 1893 when the youngest child, Wilson, was just a year old. James became a shoemaker by trade and he married Helen Grace Gray, a young woman he met in his shoemaker’s shop. Helen was from Lanarkshire and they had three daughters, all born in Lanarkshire: Janet Hunter (b. 1909), Isabella Gorman (b. 1911) and Elaine Gray (b. 1912). Both Helen and Elaine sometimes used the name Nell or Nellie. James immigrated to Canada in the spring of 1913 and his wife and children joined him that fall, arriving in Quebec from Glasgow on 9 September on the SS Hesperian, their destination listed as Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Wilson Hughes had also immigrated and he was farming in the Saskatoon area. Their sister Isabella came to Canada later and settled in Winnipeg.
By the time he enlisted James and his family were living in the village of Empress, Alberta, which was north of Medicine Hat and beside the Saskatchewan border. He signed up in Bassano, Alberta on 9 October 1915, joining the 82nd Battalion. He was 31 years old at the time and next of kin was his wife Helen in Empress. The 82nd Battalion had been mobilized three months earlier in Calgary and after training over the winter the recruits headed overseas in the spring of 1916. James embarked with his unit from Halifax on 20 May on the Empress of Britain and arrived in Liverpool nine days later. His brother Wilson Hughes had enlisted with the 85th Battalion in November 1915 and he arrived in England in June 1916. Their other brother, William Hughes, joined the British army early in the war. He and his mother were living in Belfast, Ireland at the time. William served with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and he was killed in action in Flanders on 27 January 1915, just a few weeks after arriving at the front.
On 8 July 1916 James was transferred to the 9th Reserve Battalion, which was based at Shorncliffe in Kent. At the end of August he was drafted to the 102nd Battalion and sent to France, joining his new unit in the field in early September. The 102nd Battalion was in the 11th Brigade in the newly-organized 4th Canadian Division. The other three Canadian Divisions suffered heavy casualties at the Somme that fall and they were relieved by the 4th Division in October. James was ill in late October, with weakness and general debility, and he spent a week recovering at a field ambulance and casualty clearing station. When the Somme Offensive ended in November his unit joined the rest of the Canadian Corps in the Lens-Arras sector, across from Vimy.
Early in 1917 plans were underway for the attack on Vimy Ridge, set to start in April, and all four Canadian divisions underwent intensive training over the next few months. On 8 April the 102nd Battalion moved into position for the operation, which started at 5:30 the next morning in a snow and sleet storm. Their objective was Hill 145, a high point on the ridge, but the initial assault was unsuccessful and Canadian casualties were high. James was wounded on 9 April, suffering a gunshot or shell wound to his left leg and a fractured fibula. He lay on the battlefield for a day and a half before being evacuated by the stretcher-bearers.
James was taken to No. 11 Canadian Field Ambulance then to No. 6 Casualty Clearing Station. From there he was moved by ambulance train to No. 13 General Hospital in Boulogne, where he was admitted on 14 April. He was listed as dangerously ill and suffering from gas gangrene. A week later he was well enough to be evacuated to England. He embarked on the hospital ship St. Matthew and recovered for two months at Northumberland War Hospital in Gosforth. Helen had been informed of his injuries on 23 April by telegram. In May she received a cheerful letter from an army chaplain, telling her that James was on the mend. At the end of June he was moved to the Bearwood convalescent hospital then, a week later, to Woodcote Park. Late in July he was admitted to Princess Patricia’s Canadian Red Cross Hospital in Ramsgate. During his time overseas James regularly sent home postcards to his wife and daughters, some of them showing the hospitals and convalescent centres where he was a patient.
On 30 August 1917 James returned to Woodcote Park and he was considered well enough for light duty. He was entitled to wear one gold (casualty) stripe. He returned to active duty on 2 November and over the next few months he served with the 1st Reserve Battalion, the BC Regiment Depot and the Canadian Army Medical Corps Depot. His left leg continued to bother him and he complained of a lack of feeling in his left foot. He was appointed Acting Corporal in May 1918 and in July he had six days leave. For the next year he continued to serve with the Canadian Army Medical Corps at several hospitals, where his shoemaking skills were put to use. James embarked for Canada on HMT Royal George in mid-July 1919. serving on escort duty on the ship. He arrived in Halifax about a week later and he was discharged on demobilization on 27 July in Halifax. His brother Wilson had been wounded twice, in May 1915 and more seriously in August 1918 at Amiens. He was invalided to Canada in January 1919.
James returned home to Empress after the war. He spent the winter of 1920-21 in Kenora, Ontario where he worked at a shoe repair shop for Owen Charles Groves, who was also a war veteran. While he was away Helen spent four months at the hospital in Swift Current, undergoing surgery and recovering. James was back in Empress in the spring of 1921, shortly after Helen was released from the hospital. He returned to Kenora and his wife and children followed in September 1921. They settled into a home on First Avenue South in Lakeside and James worked at the O.K. shoe repair shop. Sadly, he died in a drowning accident on 3 July 1923, at age 39. An article in the Kenora Miner and News noted that he had left home to go for a short walk down to the lake shore that evening. He apparently got onto a barge and ended up in the water entangled in some chains. His body was recovered around 10:15 that night. His funeral was held three days later and his brother Wilson came from Saskatchewan for it. James is buried in Liberty View Block in Lake of the Woods Cemetery.
Helen stayed in Kenora and in the late 1920s she became the supervisor of the Children’s Shelter for the local Children’s Aid Society. She also operated the shelter as a day care for working mothers. Her work in taking in and caring for orphaned and homeless children was highly praised and she adopted the first child who came into her care, a boy named James William (‘Sandy’), who was born in 1928. On New Year’s Day in 1930 a baby was found abandoned on a passenger train that arrived in Kenora from Winnipeg. He was about three months old and he was taken to Helen’s shelter. Baby Victor died of pneumonia on 9 January and his funeral was held the following day. Helen had him laid to rest beside her husband in the Hughes family plot at Lake of the Woods Cemetery. (The grave marker has his death date as 1931 but it was 1930. A few weeks after Victor’s death his parents were identified as Vladas and Viranka Zukaukas.) Sadly, Helen passed away in the Kenora General Hospital on 21 November 1931, at age 49. She’s buried next to James and Baby Victor.
James and Helen’s daughter Janet married Ernest William Ackroyd and they had two sons and a daughter. They lived in Winnipeg and Janet died there in 2002, at age 93. Isabella lived in Kenora for many years and she was married twice, to Benjamin Archler and Holly Sharpe. She had three children. Elaine (Nell) also stayed in Kenora and had a son and daughter with her husband Frederick Lachapelle. Their son died as a baby in 1944 and he’s buried in the Hughes family plot with his grandparents, James and Helen. Elaine passed away in 1962, at age 50, and she’s intered in the Catholic section at Lake of the Woods Cemetery.
Sandy was about three years old when Helen died and he was raised in Kenora by either Isabella or Elaine. He went on to have a lifelong career in the Canadian military, at one point serving with the Black Watch Regiment. He passed away in 1987 survived by his wife, two sons and their families. He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Kentville, Nova Scotia.
By Becky Johnson
Articles from the Empress Express courtesy of ‘Our Future Our Past: The Alberta Heritage Digitization Project.’
Family information and photos kindly provided by James’ great-granddaughter.