|Date of Birth||June 1, 1890|
|Place of Birth||Gravesend, Kent|
|Next of Kin||Ernest Owen (father), Southam, Warwickshire, England|
|Trade / Calling||Miller|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Address at Enlistment||Keewatin, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||May 10, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||24|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||June 3, 1916|
|Age at Death||26|
|Buried At||No known grave; commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres|
Lance Corporal Ernest Clinch Owen enlisted in the 52nd Battalion in May 1915 and a year later he was killed at the Battle of Mount Sorrel.
Ernest was the only child of Ernest Clinch Owen Sr. and Dora Elizabeth Alice Davies of Gravesend, Kent, England. Ernest Sr. and Dora were married in Gravesend in January 1890 and Ernest was born later that same year. Dora died in childbirth in June 1898, along with an infant daughter, and she’s buried at St. Margaret’s Church in Ifield, Gravesend, Kent. Ernest was eight years old at the time. Three years later, when the 1901 census was taken, he was living with an aunt and uncle in the town of Martley, Worcestershire. His father remarried in 1905 and had at least five more children with his second wife Emma Louisa Cureton (née Johnson).
By the time of the 1911 census Ernest had moved to Wales and he was boarding with a family in the village of Penygraig in Glamorgan County. The head of the family was employed below ground as a timberman in the collieries and Ernest was working in the collieries as a timberman’s assistant. The following year, at age 21, he immigrated to Canada, arriving in Halifax via Portland, Maine in March 1912 on the SS Dominion. His occupation was coal miner and his destination was Keewatin, Ontario where his uncle Charles Jones lived. Charles and his wife Lillian had immigrated to Canada in 1907 and Charles was working at a flour mill in Keewatin. Ernest planned to go to the town of Fernie in British Columbia to look for work in the nearby coal mines. He may have spent some time out west but by the spring of 1915 he was back in Keewatin.
Ernest enlisted in the neighbouring town of Kenora on 10 May 1915, signing up with the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion. He was working as a miller at the time and he named his next of kin as his father Ernest Owen of Southam, Warwickshire. The 52nd Battalion was based in Port Arthur and recruited in towns throughout northwestern Ontario. On 17 June the local lads were sent to Port Arthur to join the rest of the battalion. From there they left for the east coast on 4 November 1915 and on their way through Ottawa they were inspected by the Governor-General of Canada, the Duke of Connaught. The recruits embarked for England on 23 November, leaving from St. John, New Brunswick on the SS California. They spent two months training at Witley Camp in Surrey and Bramshott Camp in Hampshire. Ernest was promoted to Lance Corporal on 16 February and four days later the battalion was sent to France, arriving there on 21 February. The men spent that night in tents in a snowstorm before being moved to Belgium by train the following day.
In the first week of March the 52nd went into the trenches for orientation and they suffered their first combat fatality on the night of 11-12 March. Later that month the Canadian Corps took up positions in the south part of the Ypres Salient, between St. Eloi and Hooge, and the 52nd was moved into the area on 1 April. There were no major battles at the time but the men faced daily rifle, machine gun and artillery fire and there were casualties from German snipers. The battalion did several rotations in the front trenches, including a long one from 23 May to 1 June when their positions were heavily shelled. From the War Diary of the 52nd Battalion, 31 May 1916, ‘Men becoming in critical condition owing to prolonged period under constant and heavy shell fire and relief very much needed. 8 day tour under these conditions very much too trying.’
The exhausted men were relieved on 1 June and went into reserve trenches then on to the town of Poperinghe the next day, but their rest was a very short one. The Battle of Mount Sorrel started on the morning of 2 June with an intense bombardment of the Canadian lines followed by the explosion of underground mines. After the barrage German infantry advanced and captured Mount Sorrel and nearby areas. A counter-attack was planned for 3 June and additional units were brought in, including all four companies of the 52nd Battalion. The men left Ypres around midnight and on their way to the front lines near Sanctuary Wood they faced heavy rifle, machine gun and artillery fire. Some trenches had been destroyed in the initial barrage and others were congested with troops and equipment. Despite the confusion and a lack of guides many of the men made it to Sanctuary Wood but it was well after dawn on 3 June, and two companies were caught in the open with little protection. The entire area was heavily shelled that day causing numerous casualties in the battalion. Ernest was one of the men killed in action.
From the Circumstances of Death record for Ernest, ‘While on duty in the front line trenches at Sanctuary Wood, he was instantly killed when an enemy shell exploded close to where he was standing.’
Ernest’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 St. James Anglican Church plaque and the Lake of the Woods Milling Company plaque, both in Keewatin. The milling company plaque honours staff and citizens who gave their lives in the Great War. At a ceremony in Keewatin on 4 August 1919 his relatives were presented with a medal in honour of his war service. It was inscribed: He fought for freedom and honour. In commemoration of E.C. Owen who made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War 1914-1918. Presented Aug. 4/19.
Ernest’s father passed away in Southam, Warwickshire on 5 October 1919, at age 51. He’d worked as a plumber and tinsmith but at the time of his death he was operating the Dun Cow Inn on Daventry Road in Southam. The Inn had been left to his wife Emma by her father. Ernest’s oldest half-brother Victor Clinch Owen immigrated to Canada in 1920 and lived in Alberta and BC. He was married in Nelson, BC in 1935 and he passed away there in 1975.
By Becky Johnson
Photo at the top: St. James Anglican Church, Keewatin