|Date of Birth||July 30, 1888|
|Place of Birth||Port Arthur, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||John Insley, father, 370 Dufferin Street, Port Arthur, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Marine Engineer|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Date of Enlistment||October 23, 1914|
|Age at Enlistment||26|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||Yes|
|Date of Death||November 9, 1963|
|Age at Death||77|
|Buried At||Riverside Cemetery, Thunder Bay, Ontario|
John Leslie Insley was born on 30 July 1888 in Port Arthur, Ontario. His father John Insley was from Brimington, Derbyshire in England, immigrating to Canada in 1882, while his mother Mary Jane Kittle was from Ontario. The couple married on 8 December 1886 in Port Arthur. By the time of the 1891 census the family was living in Virden, Manitoba with John’s occupation given as engineer. At some point after the birth of son Morris Edgar in 1892 in Virden, the family relocated to Rat Portage (later renamed Kenora), giving birth to children Clifford Arthur (1894), Cecil Ross (1898), Annie Adella (1902), and Lillias Margaret (1905). The 1901 Rat Portage census gave John’s occupation as ice dealer. By the time of the 1911 census the family was living in Port Arthur, with daughter Marion joining the family in 1908. Once again John Sr was working as an engineer.
Along with his brother Clifford, John signed his attestation papers on 23 October 1914 in Port Arthur. His occupation was given as marine engineer, his year of birth as 1886, and his father John in Port Arthur as next of kin. The 28th Battalion originally recruited in Saskatoon, Regina, Moose Jaw and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and Fort William and Port Arthur, Ontario and was mobilized at Winnipeg, Manitoba. As Privates with A Company, 3rd Platoon of the 28th Battalion, the brothers embarked from Montreal aboard the Northland on 29 May 1915 and by the end of September were in France. The 28th Battalion fought as part of the 6th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division in France and Flanders until the end of the war.
In December of 1915 John was appointed Lance Corporal. The following April of 1916 he was employed as Brigade Armourer and graded for purposes of pay only as Regimental Corporal. In May he was granted a week leave. That June the 28th Battalion was involved in the Battle of Mont Sorrel, starting on the 2nd. During the second German attack, the Germans sprung a surprise on the Canadians by exploding four large mines under trenches of the 2nd Canadian Division covering the spur at the eastern outskirts of the ruins of Hooge and a company of the 28th Battalion was almost completely wiped out in the explosions.
From the 28th Battalion website:
June 6, 1916
‘A very heavy artillery barrage on the front and support lines started at 7:00 AM, and continued until 2:00PM. At 3:05 PM, the Germans explode 4 enormous mines under 200 yards of the Battalion’s frontline trenches (covering the eastern outskirts of Hooge) at Trenches 70, 71 & 72 which it is believed, with the serious bombardment, practically wiped out the garrison. Trenches 73-75 also suffered heavily. The men in the frontline and bombing posts suffered heavy casualties, including the men from ‘A’ Company who were almost wiped out. ‘A’ Company’s men came from the twin ports area at the head of the lakes in Ontario (Port Arthur and Fort William). As there were now no units in the battalion from Ontario, all future reinforcements for the Battalion were to come from Saskatchewan.
Private Fraser of the 31st Battalion recorded in his diary:
‘It was raining continuously where my unit lay, contained only one dugout, which sheltered an officer. The trench by this time was filled up with water, there being over a foot, and behind was a swamp. Everything became saturated with wet, the bread in the ration bags became a pulp, all eatables, except canned goods, were completely destroyed. Clothes and equipment weighed as heavy as lead. Shells were exploding all around sending up showers of mud and water. The wounded lay where they fell on the poisonous ground of Flanders. The attack came; the first rush was easily squashed by the’Imperials’ (British) troops on the Canadian left; but they overran the 28th Battalion, ‘who in the front line were wallowing in death’. The 31st Managed to fight them off, ‘notwithstanding the difficulties we were in, encumbered with the dead and wounded; the firing step smashed in places; in mud and wet; rifles half clogged; and though dazed and crazed we pull ourselves together, line the serviceable part of the parapet and blaze into the advancing enemy, who recoils in confusion. All we accomplished was to penetrate down to our old communication trench into Zouave Wood’. (from Sanctuary Wood & Hooge by Nigel Cave)
The Germans quickly captured the front lines but were stopped by fire from the 28th’s men in the support line and the 31st on the right flank in Zouave Wood. They held on to the support trenches along side the Menin Road and had repulsed the German assault with rifle & machine gun fire by 3:30 PM. This was accomplished, despite significant jamming problems with their Ross rifles. ‘B’ Company had few remaining men and ‘C&D’ Companies suffered many casualties. The effective strength of battalion was reduced to about 50%.’
Although both boys were in the decimated A Company, Clifford survived unscathed. First reported missing after action on the 6th, by July John was unofficially reported as a prisoner of war at Dulmen. There for a couple of months, he was transferred to PreuГџisch Holland, a town founded by settlers imported from Holland in the 13th century. Part of the Prussian province of East Prussia, it became part of the German Empire in 1871. The camp held 15 000 POW though up to 35 000 registered there in various work camps. In June of 1917 John was transferred to the nearby Ayrs POW camp but was soon transferred back to PreuГџisch Holland where he was to stay until the end of the war. As later reported in a medical examination, at some point he had surgery on his knee. For stating a falsehood to an officer, John was severely reprimanded in late July of 1918. Shortly after the signing of the Armistice, John was repatriated to England. He arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia aboard the Olympic on 17 January 1919 and was discharged from service on 10 March.
John’s brother Clifford served with the 28th Battalion for the duration of the war, latterly as a clerk, and arrived back in Canada in May of 1919.
John returned to Port Arthur after the war, marrying Mabel Primrose Milne on 10 March 1919, day of his discharge. Born on 28 July 1894 in Boston, Massachusetts, Mabel was the daughter of Frank Milne and Laura Hannah Killam, both originally from New Brunswick. By 1921 John had found work with the Canadian National Railway, eventually retiring in 1953. The couple gave birth to three children, Leslie Earl (1919-1971), Ralph Cecil (1921-1946) and Laurie Roderick (1925-2011). John was a member of the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen, Trinity United Church, and the No 5 Branch of the Canadian Legion.
John died on 9 November 1963 in the Port Arthur General Hospital. He was predeceased by his mother Mary Jane in 1942, brother Cecil in 1945, his son Ralph in 1946, his sister Lillias in 1950, and his father John in 1952. Mabel died on 2 May 1985 and is interred with John in the Riverside Cemetery in Thunder Bay.
By Judy Stockham
Photographs of John and A Company, 3rd Platoon: 28th Battalion website
John’s obituary: courtesy of the Thunder Bay Public Library
Gravemarker photos: courtesy of Lynda Piilo