Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthApril 3, 1891
Place of BirthIllogan, Cornwall
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinJohn Blight (father), 9 River Street, Truro, Cornwall, England
Trade / CallingLocomotive Fireman
Service Details
Regimental Number2125000
Service Record Link to Service Record
BattalionNo. 58 Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Railway Troops
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentWinnipeg, Manitoba
Address at EnlistmentYMCA, Kenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentFebruary 1, 1917
Age at Enlistment25
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathOctober 12, 1956
Age at Death65
Buried AtLake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario

Blight, Marcus Joseph

Throughout the war railroads were essential for evacuating the wounded and moving troops, equipment and supplies, and skilled workers were needed for their construction, maintenance and operation. Second Corporal Marcus Joseph Blight, a CPR employee from Kenora, Ontario, enlisted with a railway unit in February 1917 and served in France and Belgium for two years.

Marcus grew up in the county of Cornwall in southwest England, the middle of nine children born to John Blight and Mary Brown. John and Mary were married in Cornwall in 1877 and they had five sons and four daughters born between 1878 and 1900: Mary Jane, Rosina, William, James, Marcus, Evelyn, Augustus, Henry and Eva. At the time of the 1881 census John was a farmer of 50 acres in the small village of Illogan, near the northeast coast of Cornwall. Marcus, born on 3 April 1891, was their fifth child and the last one to be born in Illogan. By 1896 the family was living in Truro, a large town about 15 km to the west. John had apparently come into an inheritance from his father and he owned and ran a confectionery shop in Truro. At the time of the 1911 census Marcus was 19 years old, living at home with his parents and working in a brewery.

In February 1910 Marcus enlisted with the British Territorial Force, a volunteer reserve that was similar to the militia in Canada. He signed up for four years, joining the Royal Garrison Artillery, and he trained with them in July 1910 and July 1911. The following spring, on 31 March 1912, he was discharged after just two years of service, the reason being he was going abroad. His oldest brother William had immigrated to Canada with his wife and children in 1907 and they were living in Kenora, Ontario. Marcus joined them in Canada, leaving from Liverpool on the SS Montrose on 4 April 1912 and arriving in St. John, New Brunswick two weeks later, his destination listed as Kenora. Marcus found work in Kenora as a locomotive fireman with the Canadian Pacific Railway and like a lot of the single working men he lived at the Railway YMCA across from the train station. The large brick building had a restaurant, games room, library and lounge area on the main floor and sleeping quarters for 50 to 60 men on the second and third floors. In the basement were a bowling alley and gym and outside there were lawn bowling greens and tennis courts. William Blight lived on River Street with his wife and children and like Marcus he was a fireman for the CPR.

During the war Canada played a major role in providing skilled workers for the construction and operation of railways in France and Belgium. In 1916 rail transportation was being expanded and more recruits were needed. Marcus enlisted in Winnipeg on 1 February 1917, signing up with No. 1 Section Skilled Railway Employees. Six days later he left Winnipeg by train with the other volunteers, on the first leg of their journey overseas, and they had a short stop in Kenora on the way through. The recruits included 32 local men and a large crowd gathered at the Kenora train station to see them off and say their goodbyes. Among the well wishers were the principal and students of Central School. The men continued on their way to Montreal, where the unit had been mobilized, and early in March they embarked for England on the SS Ausonia. In England No. 1 Section became the 12th (Canadian) Light Railway Operating Company, Royal Engineers and three weeks later they were re-designated as No. 58 Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company (Canadians), Royal Engineers.

Marcus’s unit stayed in England for only a month. He was promoted to Acting Second Corporal on 13 April 1917 and No. 58 Company arrived in France six days later. During two major battles – Messines Ridge in June 1917 and Lys in April 1918 – No. 58 Company operated just behind the combat areas where trains were needed to haul troops, ammunition, supplies, ambulance units and refugees. In June 1918 Marcus was given two weeks leave and he returned at the end of the month for the final period of the war. The fighting moved into a more open phase and roads and rails were essential for maintaining supplies to the front units. On 11 November the Armistice ended hostilities but it would be months before most of the Canadian troops returned to England. The 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions occupied parts of Germany while the other two divisions remained in Belgium, and the railway troops were kept busy until the spring. In January 1919 Marcus had ten days leave in Paris then another 14-day leave in England in March. Three weeks later he returned to England with his unit, exactly two years after they had first arrived in France. No. 58 Company was disbanded in April 1919 and Marcus returned to Canada the following month, arriving in Halifax on the SS Aquitania on 25 May 1919. He was discharged on 27 May in Montreal and his intended residence was the YMCA in Kenora.

Marcus returned to his job with the CPR and on 8 May 1922 he married 19 year old Nellie Florence Coppard. Nellie was born in Kenora and three of her brothers served in the First World War. William and George both survived and returned home but Richard Coppard, the oldest of the boys, died of wounds in England in May 1918.

Marcus and Nellie raised their family in Kenora, where they lived on Sixth Avenue South in Lakeside. Marcus became an engineer with the CPR and he retired in 1955. He died in the Kenora General Hospital after a lengthy illness on 12 October 1956, at age 65. He was survived by his son Robert and three daughters, Bernice (Mrs. Neal Winacott), Shirley (Mrs. Don Webb) and Marjorie (Mrs. Ed Davis), all of Kenora. Nellie survived her husband by almost forty years, passing away in June 1995 at age 91. They are both buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery in Kenora.

By Becky Johnson

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