|Date of Birth||March 11, 1893|
|Place of Birth||Blackrock, County Leith|
|Next of Kin||Patrick Joseph Murphy (father), Blackrock, County Louth, Ireland|
|Trade / Calling||Clerk for CPR|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Address at Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||January 6, 1916|
|Age at Enlistment||22|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||November 10, 1917|
|Age at Death||24|
|Buried At||No known grave; commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres|
In October 1917 the Canadian Corps moved to the Ypres Salient in Belgium for the assault on Passchendaele. Artillery shells and heavy rains had turned the battlefield into a wasteland of mud, swamp and water-filled shell holes. The Canadians suffered 15,000 casualties in the operation with over 3,000 men killed and 1,000 missing and presumed dead, many of them lost in the mud. One of the missing was Private James Anthony Murphy from Kenora, Ontario.
James, or Jim as he was known, was the son of Patrick Joseph Murphy and Rosa Carney of Blackrock, County Louth, Ireland, a small village on the east coast, north of Dublin. Jim was born in Blackrock on 11 March 1893. When the 1901 census was taken he was living with his father (a retired farmer), his mother, his older brother Philip (age 9) and his sisters Rita (age 2) and May (10 months). There were also two servants in the household. By the time Jim finished school at age 18 his family had already made plans for him to emigrate. His father had connections in Canada and there was a chance he could find work with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He embarked from Belfast on 14 October 1911 on the Lake Champlain, bound for Montreal, his destination listed as Winnipeg.
Shortly after arriving in Winnipeg Jim was hired as a record clerk for the CPR. The following year he became a checker, a job that involved being outdoors a good part of each day. When winter set in Jim said he really needed an indoor position or he would be obliged to leave the railway and find work elsewhere. His boss said there was an immediate opening in Kenora, Ontario and Jim took the new job, moving there on 8 December 1912. He wasn’t aware that there was a railway strike in town and the strikers of course saw him as a strike breaker. He worked indoors, sometimes under the protection of a policeman, but luckily when the strike ended the locals seemed to forgive and forget. Jim loved the natural beauty of the Kenora area and he settled very happily into his new home. His job kept him busy and during the harvest season, when trainloads of grain were being shipped east, he often worked 12 hour days. In the winter he enjoyed skating on the lake and in the summer he swam as often as possible. When he first arrived he boarded with the McCauley family and in 1913 he had a narrow escape when their house burned down early in the morning on Good Friday. After that he lodged with the Hilliard family then the Gledhills.
Enlistment and Training
The war started in August 1914 and over the next few months Jim saw thousands of recruits pass through the railway yard in Kenora. In letters home he assured his mother he wouldn’t enlist but by late 1915, as a young, healthy, single man, he said his conscience forced him to do his duty. He decided he would enlist in Winnipeg and he attested there on 6 January 1916, joining the 144th Battalion. The unit had been organized just two weeks earlier and it was based in Winnipeg. Over the summer the men trained at Camp Hughes in Manitoba and on 18 September they embarked for England from Halifax on the SS Olympic. In October Jim was given eight days leave to visit his family in Ireland; it was the last time they would see him. In January 1917 he contracted German measles and he spent ten days in a military hospital in Seaford, Sussex. That same month he was transferred to the 18th Reserve Battalion. After a few more weeks of training he was drafted to the 8th Battalion (90th Winnipeg Rifles) on 5 March 1917 and sent to France. His unit was at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April but Jim was temporarily with the 1st Entrenching Battalion at the time, helping to dig tunnels, and he joined the 8th just as the Vimy operation was ending. Later that month they took part in the attack at Arleux, his first time in combat.
Over the summer the 8th Battalion had their share of rotations in the front trenches and in August they were at the Battle of Hill 70 near Lens in France. The men moved into position on 13 August and the assault began early in the morning on the 15th. The Canadian units advanced up the hill against formidable defences – deep trenches, thick barbed wire, concrete pill boxes and entrenched machine guns. The Germans made heavy use of high explosives and their new mustard gas shells. It was a hot day and the men were encumbered with gas masks and weighed down with their full uniforms and equipment but they were able to reach and hold the objectives. During the attack the 8th Battalion suffered 400 casualties out of a strength of 720 men (55%) and Jim was wounded in the arm. After treatment at No. 3 General Hospital in Le Tréport, France he was sent to a convalescent centre then, on 7 September, to the Canadian Corps Base Depot.
Jim rejoined the 8th Battalion in the field in early October and a short time later they were sent to the Ypres Salient for the assault on Passchendaele (26 October – 10 November 1917). The operation took place in several stages and by 6 November the village of Passchendaele was in Canadian hands. The last phase of the battle, the capture of some high ground to the north of the village, was planned for 10 November. It was raining heavily as the 8th Battalion advanced from their jumping off positions at 6 am that morning and they faced intense artillery and machine gun fire. The Canadian units suffered over 1,000 casualties on that final day of the assault, including 420 men killed. Jim was among those missing and presumed to have died.
Jim’s final resting place is unknown. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium, which bears the names of more than 54,000 men who died in the Ypres Salient and have no known grave. He is also commemorated on the Cenotaph in Kenora, the Kenora Legion War Memorial and the Rolls of Honour for the 8th Battalion (Royal Winnipeg Rifles) and the Canadian Pacific Railway. During the war over 11,000 CPR employees enlisted and 1,116 of them gave their lives. Every year at 11 am on November 11th the CPR stops all of its trains in North America for two minutes of silence, to pay tribute to those who served their country.
By Becky Johnson
Information and photos provided by Lake of the Woods Museum and Shane Murphy.