Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthApril 26, 1890
Place of BirthMotherwell, Lanarkshire
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinAlexander Smith (father), Nelson, British Columbia
Trade / CallingFlour packer
Service Details
Regimental Number439233
Service RecordLink to Service Record
Battalion52nd Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentKeewatin, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentMay 21, 1915
Age at Enlistment25
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathNovember 26, 1962
Age at Death72
Buried AtLake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario
PlotHilly Haven, 18E

Smith, John Alexander

Corporal John Alexander Smith enlisted in May 1915 and served with the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion for almost four years. He returned to Canada in March 1919.

John was born on 26 April 1890 in Motherwell, Lanarkshire, Scotland. His parents were Alexander Smith, a tailor, and Helen Eadie. Alexander was from Lanarkshire and Helen was born and raised in Auchterarder, Perthshire. They were married in Auchterarder in 1888 and they had at least two children, Helen and John. John immigrated to Canada in 1911, at age 21, and settled in the town of Keewatin, Ontario where he found work at a local flour mill.

The war started in August 1914 and by December volunteers were being raised for a third overseas contingent. In Kenora the recruits became part of a new battalion, the 52nd, which was organized in March 1915.  John enlisted with the unit on 21 May, giving his father Alexander in Nelson, British Columbia as next of kin. In early June the Kenora lads were sent to Port Arthur to train with the rest of the battalion and they were given a huge sendoff by the citizens of Kenora and Keewatin. After five months of training the recruits headed to St. John, New Brunswick, embarking from there on 23 November on the SS California and arriving in England on 3 December.

John was sick with laryngitis in January 1916 and he spent a week in Hamilton Military Hospital in Scotland. He rejoined his unit later that month and on 20 February they left for France. They spent the first night in tents in a snowstorm before being moved to Belgium by train the next day. On 23 February the 52nd Battalion joined the Canadian Corps, becoming part of the 9th Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division. Except for his periods of leave John spent the next three years serving with the 52nd Battalion in France and Belgium. One of the fortunate few, his service file records no illnesses or injuries during that time.

In 1916 the 52nd Battalion was at the Battle of Mount Sorrel in June and the Somme Offensive in September and October. All four Canadian divisions took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 and in May John was awarded a good conduct badge for two years of service. In August, during the assault on Hill 70, he had ten days leave in the UK. Late that fall the Canadians were at the Battle of Passchendaele and over the winter they trained, had regular rotations in front line and carried out raids and patrols. In January 1918 John had two weeks leave in the UK and in June he was promoted to Corporal.

The final period of the war, known now as the Hundred Days Offensive, began in August 1918 with the Battle of Amiens and ended with the Armistice on 11 November. The Canadians were heavily involved in the operations and had some of their greatest victories during that time. Following the Armistice the 52nd Battalion stayed in Belgium for a few more months, leaving there by train on 5 February 1919. They embarked from Le Havre, France on 10 February and landed in England the next day. The men were sent to Bramshott Camp and most of them were immediately given leave. John left for Canada with his battalion on 17 March on the SS Olympic. There was a huge reception when the troops arrived back in Port Arthur and John was discharged there on 31 March.

John returned to Keewatin and a week later, on 9 April, he married a local girl, Mary Armour. Mary was one of ten children of Thomas and Jane Armour of Keewatin. She was born in Scotland and came to Canada with her family in May 1912, at age 16. Four of Mary’s brothers served overseas during the war: Robert, James, Thomas (Jr.) and William. Robert, James and Thomas were wounded but all four brothers survived the war.

John and his wife made their home in Keewatin and he had a long career with the Lake of the Woods Milling Company, working for them for more than forty years. They had at least two children, a son Armour Alexander who died in September 1920 at age seven months, and a daughter Helen. John passed away in the Kenora General Hospital on 26 November 1962, at age 72, and his funeral was held two days later. His wife died in 1971 and they are both buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery in Kenora.

John is commemorated on the Lake of the Woods Milling Company plaque, a Roll of Honour for staff and citizens of Keewatin who served in the Great War.

By Becky Johnson

52nd-1915-06-16 52nd-1915-06-19 52nd-1915-12-08 Smith-John-Alexander-98 Smith-John-A-9 Smith-John-Alexander-97

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