Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthMay 28, 1888
Place of BirthSevern Bridge, Muskoka, Ontario
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinFather: Charles Smith of Keewatin, Ontario
Trade / CallingPacker
Service Details
Regimental Number820651
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion52nd Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at EnlistmentKeewatin, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentApril 24, 1916
Age at Enlistment28
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathJuly 20, 1944
Age at Death56
Buried AtLake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario

Smith, John Wesley

Jack and Jessie Smith

John Wesley (Jack) Smith was one of three brothers, the oldest of seven sons of Charles Alexander Smith of Keewatin, to enlist during the Great War. John Wesley and his brother Leonard Edward served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, while son Charles Henry Smith served with the U.S. Army

John Wesley Smith arrived in Keewatin just prior to the 1911 census where the family entry noted he was a ‘recent arrival’, and took a job at the Lake of the Woods Milling Company mill where his father was employed. Born May 24, 1888 in Severn Bridge, in the Muskoka area of central Ontario to Charles Smith’s first wife Margaret Canning, Jack spent his early years there where Charles was a farmer. Margaret died when Jack was just an infant and Charles soon after remarried, to Orvina Etler in 1890. Ten more children followed — Charles Henry (1891), Hannah (1892), Leonard (1895), Wellington (1900), Edward (1903), Gladys (1905), Frank (1906), Florence (1908), Mathew (1909) and Andrew. When Charles moved his growing family to Keewatin in the late-1890s and took a job at the local flour mill, Jack stayed behind to help his mother’s parents, John and Jane Canning, with their farm. He also trained as a blacksmith.

John Wesley Smith signed attestation papers with 141st (New Ontario) Battalion on April 24, 1916 in Kenora and trained with the battalion, the third infantry battalion to be raised in the region, before sailing overseas with them in May 1917. On arrival in England the battalion was used to provide replacement troops for front line battalions in France and John Wesley Smith was assigned to the 52nd Battalion, the first battalion to be raised in the region and one of 48 Canadian infantry battalions serving in France. Smith arrived in France on June 21, 1917 and joined the 52nd on the front lines.

In the fall he was wounded at the Battle of Passchendaele. One of over 10,000 soldiers to be injured in the two-week battle, Smith was wounded by shrapnel in the left hand and face on the second day of the battle, Oct. 27. While not life threatening, the wound ended Smith’s war. After two weeks in hospital in France he was shipped to England on Nov. 8, 1917 and spent the next eight months in and out of hospital. His wound required the amputation of part of his third finger. Damage to the first and fourth fingers of his left hand, as well as a scar on his left cheek, remained with him for the rest of his life as reminders of his war. He was deemed fit for service, but only as a Class 3C soldier, in Canada and with the war’s ending was one of the first on the returning soldiers, returning to Canada on Dec. 26, 1918 aboard the the Northland and being discharged in Winnipeg on Feb. 4, 1919.

Smith’s service from 1916-1919 was possibly the second time he’d served overseas with the Canadian Army. Newspaper articles from the first month’s of the war listing earlier volunteers record a J.W. Smith of Keewatin as among 44 men from Kenora and Keewatin to enlist for Canada’s 1st contingent and a February 1915 article includes a J.W. Smith among some 30 local men serving in France with Canada’s 1st Division which had arrived in France that month. Ship’s passenger lists for later that year record a Smith, JW, age 27, among a group of returning soldiers arriving aboard the Scandanavian on Sept. 26 at Quebec City. It was not uncommon for those wounded, or discharged due to injury or illness to re-enlist later in the war and sometimes they did not mention their earlier service for fear they would be rejected.

Following the war John Wesley Smith returned to Keewatin, resumed work at the flour mill, and married. Jack and his wife Jessie had no children of their own but played an important part in their niece, Doreen Graveline’s life.  She remembers being 3 years old when Jessie and Jack took her to their home on station hill in Keewatin to live with them while her parents settled in Winnipeg.    She lived with them until 4 1/2 years old before her parents could take her back.   After that they arranged that Jessie and Jack would have her for summer vacation and go back to school in Winnipeg with her parents.   For 13 years she looked forward to spending summer holidays in Keewatin with Jack and Jessie.    They were more like parents and she was very fortunate to be able to spend summer vacations in Keewatin.   They were very good to her and she felt loved and secure with them.  During all those years living with Jack and Jessie, Doreen never heard Jack talk about his war experiences, but did know he was wounded during the war and lost an eye.  She remembers that Jack was the only family member who always had a car – in fact he traded it in every three years.  Jack and Jessie also raised a nephew from England, Tom Johnston, who attended school in Keewatin and who joined the army in 1939 and became a Captain.   Jack and Jessie helped other children who needed help or guidance.

Jack was a very kind man, strong, dependable, a good citizen and volunteer with many organizations in Keewatin.    After his death on July 20, 1944, his obituary notice cited his strong community involvement including the United Church, the IOOF lodge and the Keewatin Curling Club. He is buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario. Jack is commemorated for his WW1 service on the Lake of the Woods Milling Company Roll of Honour, the Municipality of Keewatin for King and Country plaque, and on the Town of Keewatin Roll of Honour.

by Bob Stewart

photograph of Jack and Jessie courtesy of the family

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