Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthMarch 12, 1873
Place of BirthBengal
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinCatherine Mary Wilcox, mother, 79 Ashburnham Road, Bedford, England
Trade / CallingLabourer
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number319
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion8th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at EnlistmentKenora
Date of EnlistmentAugust 11, 1914
Age at Enlistment41
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathSeptember 8, 1940
Age at Death67

Wilcox, Richard Percival Cumberland

Along with 43 other Kenora and Keewatin men, Richard Percival Cumberland Wilcox stepped forward when the local militia unit, the 98th Regiment, was given a directive to raise a local group of men for the war effort from its own ranks and local volunteers.

Richard had come to Canada in 1913, following two of his brothers, Alfred who’d arrived in 1906 and Frederick, 1911.

While his brothers had settled in Fort William, now Thunder Bay, Richard settled in Kenora, working as a farmer.

War was declared Aug. 5, 1914 and recruiting in Kenora officially began Aug. 9. Within two weeks the local allotment of 24 men with one officer had nearly doubled with initial enlistment and training beginning in Kenora on Aug. 14.

Richard signed his initial enlistment papers with the 98th Regiment on Aug. 11.

Like many of the other volunteers, Wilcox was a trained soldier. And like some other older men, he was 41 at the time, he shaved a few years off his birth date, giving 1876 as his year of birth in order not to be rejected on grounds of age.

His family had a strong history of military service.

His father, Edward Richard Cumberland Wilcox (1830-1888) had served with the British India Army, retiring as a major-general with the Bengal Staff Corps. Richard was one of 10 children born to Edward and his wife Catherine Mary Keily. William Cosmo Cumberland Wilcox (1868-1919); Bessie Mariel (1869-1942); Edward Alexander Cumberland (1870-1921; Richard Percival Cumberland (1873-1940); Catherine Mary (1874-1943); James Edward Cumberland (1875-1903); Alfred George Cumberland (1876-1924); Edith Helen (1879-1948); John Theodore Cumberland (1885-1915); Frederick Herbert Cumberland (1889-1917).

Most of the men had military service prior to the war.

Eldest brother William served 22 years with the Royal Irish Fusiliers (1882-1904), retiring as a colour sergeant; Edward was an officer with the Royal Scots and Royal Irish Fusiliers and with the West African Frontier Force; John Theodore was an officer with the 39th Garhwal Rifles in the India Army (1905-1914); while Richard himself served 12 years with the York and Lancaster Regiment (1900-1912).

All except William, due to his age, also volunteered to serve in the Great War, including youngest brother Frederick.

On Aug. 23, 44 local men including Richard boarded one of the trains taking western reservists and volunteers east at the Kenora CP Rail station bound for Valcartier, Quebec where Canada’s 1st Contingent was being gathered and trained.

In Valcartier the men signed attestation forms for overseas duty, and along with most of the Kenora/Keewatin men,Wilcox was assigned to the Winnipeg-based Royal Winnipeg Rifles, designated the 8th Battalion CEF for service overseas.

The men shipped to England on Oct. 3 and arrived in France in mid-February 1915 as part of Canada’s 1st Division attached to the British Army.

While Richard escaped serious injury or wounds during his time with the 8th Battalion in France, two years of frontline service for a man of his age took its toll. In early 1917 he reported to a medical aid station after dropping out of a route march while the battalion was moving from one frontline position to another. He told medical authorities he ‘went to pieces’ on the march. His medical file noted he ‘is very broken down by service and age’.

He was diagnosed as suffering from ‘general debility’ with shortness of breath and a weak heart rate noted.

Richard was returned to England and transferred to the 18th Reserve Battalion, which served as training and recuperation unit for western Canada battalions, and limited to light duties for the balance of the war. But his health didn’t not improve. On his discharge in 1919 the medical doctor reviewing his case noted ‘says he is 46, looks 60’.

Richard was not the only member of his family to pay a price for his war service.

His brother John was killed in action in France in 1915 while serving with the British Army and brother Frederick in 1917 in Mesopotamia (Iraq).

His brother Edward was commissioned as a Lieutenant with Kenora’s 98th Regiment in March 1915 and then signed attestation papers in Fort William in late April with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He served with the 52nd Battalion in France, was gassed in 1916, but continued to serve with the 52nd until 1918 when he was transferred to England. He was assigned to the 18th Reserve battalion where he served as second in command. In 1919 he was taken gravely ill with pneumonia related to his gassing and given a medical, rather than a general demobilization discharge. He passed away in 1921 in Victoria, British Columbia from complications from his 1916 gassing.

Richard’s nephew, Edward’s son Frederick Alexander Wilcox, was also Killed In Action. He had enlisted in Winnipeg and joined the 16th Battalion CEF going overseas in October 1914. He received a commission in the British Army in December 1914 with the Northamptonshire Regiment and died in July 1916 while serving with the them in France.

Following his release from service in 1919 Richard moved to his sister Bessie and brother-in-law Arthur Steinmetz’s home in Bedford, where many of his brothers’ spouses had spent the war years and his widowed mother still lived.

Richard never married and passed away in Lambeth, England in 1940.

By Bob Stewart

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