Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJanuary 18, 1894
Place of BirthWalsall, Staffordshire
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinWm H Sawkins, father, 144 Milton Street, Palfrey, Walsall, Stafford, England
Trade / CallingLabourer (CPR)
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number439072
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion15th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Date of EnlistmentJanuary 1, 1915
Age at Enlistment21
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Decorations and MedalsMilitary Medal
Death Details
Date of Death19640728
Age at Death70
Buried AtLake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario

Sawkins, Ernest Harold

Ernest Harold Sawkins, more commonly known as Harold,  was born on 18 January 1894 in Walsall, Staffordshire, England. His father William Henry Sawkins was born in St George, London while his mother Amelia Mary Clarke was from Upton, Worcestershire. The couple married during the last quarter of 1882 in the Registration District of King’s Norton, Worcestershire. Their first two surviving children were born in Birmingham, Amelia Caroline in 1884, and Frederick Frank in 1889.  The family eventually settled in Walsall, Staffordshire where William found employment as a Railway Guard.

Included  in the  1901 England census were parents William (age 40)  and Amelia (age 38), and children Amelia Caroline (age 17)  who was listed as a paper box worker, Frederick Frank (age 11), Clara Jane (age 9), Ernest Harold (age 7), Edith May (age 4), Sidney Arthur (age 3), and Herbert Victor (age 1). For the 1911 England census the family was living at 144 Milton Street, Walsall. Family members included parents William and Amelia, and children Frederick Frank  who was working as a groom domestic, Ernest Harold who was working as a railway porter, Edith May who was working as a tailor’s assistant, Herbert Victor who was attending school, and born since the last census, Albert Edward (age 9), Doris Eliza (age 4)  and Gwendolyn Elizabeth (age 1). Daughter Amelia was working as a  housemaid at Cottage Hospital, Sutton Ceofield and Arthur was living with relatives in St Aldate, Oxfordshire where he was listed as an apprentice to a Cycle Factor. The census noted that William and Amelia had given birth to 13 children although only 10 had survived childhood.  Harold had been found in the register of employees of the London and North Western Railway as early as 1908, job description as telephone signaler.

Following in the footsteps of his older brother Fred,  Harold was found on the passenger list of Empress of Ireland that arrived in Quebec on 23 May 1913. His destination was given as Kenora and intended occupation ‘Telephone’. Fred had immigrated to Canada in 1911, settling first in Hamilton before moving to Kenora in 1913.

Along with good friend Thomas Shirvell, Harold enlisted on 1 January 1915 in Kenora, giving his father back in Walsall as next of kin. Brown-eyed with dark brown hair, he was 21 years old and had been working as a labourer. The 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion had been raised in northern Ontario during the spring of 1915 with its headquarters in Port Arthur. Although the battalion was still training, Colonel Hay had been required to provide a draft of about 250 troops to act as reinforcements for the 1st and 2nd Divisions already in Europe. With the 2nd Reinforcing Draft of the 52nd Battalion, Privates Ernest Harold Sawkins and Thomas William Shirvell embarked from Montreal aboard the Missanabie on 4 September 1915. Once in England, Harold trained at Shorncliffe for a number of months.

In  February of 1916 Harold was transferred to the 15th Battalion, one of three battalions raised for service during WW1 by the 48th Highlanders of Canada.  He joined  the unit in the field on 11 March 1916. During his military career his name appeared twice on the wounded list. On 4 June 1916 he was admitted to the #18 General Hospital in Camiers suffering from a gun shot/shrapnel wound to the arm so severe it had fractured the bone.  Although the wound had appeared to heal  it became septic  and recovery was slow and difficult. He was eventually transferred to the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre in Folkestone, England, rejoining the 15th Battalion in April of 1917. On 2 September 1918 Harold was reported as missing  after action, later changed to wounded with multiple contusions.  He was admitted to the #2 Canadian Field Ambulance. Later that month  Harold was promoted to Lance Corporal and on 9 November 1918 he was awarded the Military Medal. King George V instituted the Military Medal in 1916 as WWI generated such a demand for medals. It is awarded to Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and men for individual or associated acts of bravery on the recommendation of a Commander-in-Chief in the field. The front of the medal shows the reigning monarch, while the reverse side shows FOR/BRAVERY/IN THE/FIELD in four lines, encircled by a laurel wreath and topped by the Royal Cypher and Crown. Canadians have received 13, 654 Military Medals.

In January of 1918 Harold had been granted a leave of absence to the UK for fourteen days, presumably to visit his family in Walsall. In July of the same year he was sent on a month long  Instructors Course at the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp. In January of 1919 he was again granted a fourteen day leave, returning 17 February. On 23 March he proceeded to  England and on 29 April he  embarked from Liverpool aboard the Baltic, disembarking in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His final discharge was on 10 May 1919.

After the war  Harold returned to  Kenora and worked for a while as a locomotive fireman for the CPR. He was found on a passenger list of the Montrose that arrived in England on 23 February 1924 as well as a returning one of the Montrose  arriving back in Canada 29 August 1924,  purpose of travel given as a vacation. On 6 August 1928, in Winnipeg, Harold married Kathleen Eunice Ridley. Kathleen, or Kit as she was more commonly known, was the daughter of Alfred and Kate (née Ashdown) Ridley who had immigrated to Canada in 1913 from England. The couple went on to have two children, Alfred and Millicent. Harold worked for the Ontario-Minnesota Pulp and Paper Company for 40 years, retiring as stationary fireman in 1963. He died on 28 July 1964 and is interred in the Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora. Kathleen (Kit) stayed in Kenora after his death and in her 94th year, she died on 9 April 1990. Two other of Harold’s siblings also found their way to Canada, Clara Jane in 1921 and Albert Edward in 1922.

Harold’s brother Frederick Frank enlisted in Winnipeg on 22 January 1916 and went overseas as a Driver with the 3rd Canadian Divisional  Ammunition Column, arriving back in Canada on 8 June 1919. Back in England, Harold’s brother Herbert Victor served during WW1 with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and was later awarded the RN Long Service and Good Conduct Medal on 13 December 1928. Having enlisting in Birmingham, Harold’s brother Arthur Sidney served as a Private with the 3rd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards and was reported as having died of his wounds on 9 October 1917 in France and Flanders. He is interred in the Etaples Military Cemetery about 27 kilometres south of Boulogne.

Harold and his family remained life long friends with Tom Shirvell and his wife Margaret, with Harold acting as best man/witness at their wedding in 1925. The Shirvells were met with tragedy in the form of early deaths of their children Mable, age 4 and Thomas at birth, so Tom became a favourite ‘uncle’ of Harold’s children.

Lance Corporal Ernest Harold Sawkins in commemorated on the St Albans Cathedral WW1 Roll of Honour in Kenora.

by Judy Stockham

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photographs of Harold and his medals courtesy of daughter Millicent Anderson

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