Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthAugust 29, 1886
Place of BirthBletchley, Buckinghamshire
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMrs A Spicer, mother, 449 Lisgar St, Ottawa, Ontario
Trade / CallingEngineer
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number2124814
Service Record Link to Service Record
BattalionNo 58 Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Railway Troops
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at Enlistment449 Lisgar St, Ottawa, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentJanuary 6, 1917
Age at Enlistment30
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathMay 20, 1953
Age at Death66
Buried AtBrookside Cemetery, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Britten, Herbert Thomas

According to his attestation papers Herbert Thomas Britten was born on 29 August 1886 in Bletchley, Buckingham, England. Elsewhere in his service record his birth place was given as Fenny Stratford, a small community on the outskirts of Bletchley. His father Edward Britten was from Lechampstead in Buckingham, while his mother Ada Maria Herbert was from Banbury in Oxford. The couple had married in 1885 in Christ Church, Doncaster, Yorkshire. The 1891 England census found the family living in Fenny Stratford, with Edward’s occupation given as railway engine driver. Sadly, Herbert’s father died in June of 1897. The next year his mother Ada married widower Stephen Walter Spicer, with the couple giving birth to three children, Ivy (1900), Dorothea (1902), and Iris (1903). Stephen had three children by his first marriage, Ellen, Walter, and Charles.

Herbert was found on the passenger list of the SS Southwark that arrived in Montreal on the 1st of July 1905. His occupation was given as farmer and his destination as Winnipeg. At some point before the 1911 Canada census he had moved to Kenora in northwestern Ontario and found work with the Canadian Pacific Railway. At the time of the census he was boarding with the Charles Fraser family, Charles also working for the railway.

Herbert’s mother and her new family immigrated to Canada in 1914, living in Ottawa where Stephen’s son Charles was living and working as a painter. With occupation given as engineer and his mother Ada as next of kin, Herbert signed his attestation papers in Ottawa on 6 January 1917. A Kenora newspaper article of the seventh of February spoke of Herbert, along with 31 other Kenora men that had signed up for overseas service with the No 1 Skilled Railway Operators, passing through Kenora from Winnipeg, heading east on the first leg of the journey to the front.

Listed as a Private on the nominal rolls of the No 1 Section, Skilled Railway Employees, Herbert embarked from Halifax aboard the SS Ausonia on 4 March 1917. Once in England he was promoted to Corporal on the 12th of March and to Sergeant on April 13. First redesignated as the 12th (Canadian) Light Railway Operating Company, Royal Engineers that March, the unit was changed to the No 58 Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company (Canadians) Royal Engineers on April 7th; the battalion arrived in France on April 19th. ‘This unit was operating lines in the immediate rear of active operations and hauled troops, ammunition, supplies, material, ambulance trains, refugees for the battles of Messines Ridge, June 1917, and the Lys, April 1918.’ (Library and Archives Canada). A description of some of the activities of the 58th Broad Gauge Operation Company was summarized in the Canadian Rail’s November December 1993 edition that marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the war:   ‘The Canadian Railway Troops on World War 1’

Herbert was granted two leaves during his service, the first for a week to Paris in July of 1918 and the second for two weeks to France that September. In mid April of 1919 he proceeded to England and on the 18th of  May he embarked from Southampton aboard the SS Aquitania on the first leg of his journey back to Canada.

Herbert resumed work with the Canadian Pacific Railway after the war, eventually retiring in 1951. On 10 August 1920, in Winchester, Manitoba, Herbert married Minnie Olive Pearl Mooney. Born in 1888 in Brussels, Ontario, Olive was the daughter of Gordon and Rebecca (née Crawford) Mooney. She had moved to Manitoba around 1910. Herbert and Olive were to make Winnipeg their home and gave birth to a son James Edward in 1926. Herbert was a member of the Masonic Order, the IOOF, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen. At some point after his retirement, Herbert and Olive moved to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Herbert died on 20 May 1953 in the Shaughnessy Hospital in Vancouver. His Veteran Death Card listed his wife Olive of Vancouver as his next of kin. He is interred in Brookside Cemetery in Winnipeg. At the time of his death he was survived by his wife Olive, son James, and sisters Mrs A Thurston and Mrs Ivy McGaffin. Olive died in February of 1977 and is interred with Herbert.

by Judy Stockham