Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthApril 8, 1881
Place of BirthNorwich, Norfolk
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMrs. Hannah Dawson (mother), Green Hills Road, Norwich, England
Trade / CallingRailroad Conductor
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number2125002
Service Record Link to Service Record
BattalionCanadian Railway Troops Depot
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Railway Troops
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at EnlistmentYMCA, Kenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentFebruary 2, 1917
Age at Enlistment35
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of Death19650627
Age at Death84
Buried AtOcean View Burial Park, Burnaby, British Columbia

Dawson, Harry

Acting Corporal Harry Dawson was a CPR conductor in Kenora, Ontario when he enlisted with a railway unit in February 1917. He served in France and Belgium for two years and returned to Canada in July 1919.

Harry was the son of Jonathan William Dawson and Hannah Scatley Hinde of Norwich, Norfolk, England. Jonathan was born in Norwich and his wife was from Cambridgeshire. They were married in 1871 and they had ten children, seven sons and three daughters. Harry, the fifth child, was born in Norwich on 8 April 1881. His father worked as a butcher, farmer and cattle dealer. When the 1901 census was taken Harry was living in Beccles, Suffolk, where he was working as an engineer’s fitter. His family was still in Norwich at the time and his father passed away there later that same year, at age 50.

Over the next few years Harry and his brothers Arthur and Jonathan all immigrated to Canada. At the time of the 1911 census Harry was living in Kenora, Ontario with Arthur and his wife. He found work with the Canadian Pacific Railway and by the time he enlisted he was a conductor. Like a lot of the single men employed by the CPR he lived at the Railway YMCA, which was 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.

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. Harry enlisted in Winnipeg on 2 February 1917, signing up with No. 1 Section Skilled Railway Employees. Five days later he left Winnipeg with the other volunteers 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. The men continued on their way to Montreal, where the unit had been mobilized, and they embarked for the UK on 4 March on the SS Ausonia. In England No. 1 Section became No. 58 Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company (Canadians), Royal Engineers.

Harry was in England for just a month, from mid-March to mid-April, but during that time he got married. His wife was 32-year-old Janet Firman, the daughter of William and Agnes Firman, and they were married in Colchester, Essex. Harry was promoted to Second Corporal on 13 April and his unit was sent to France a few 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 July 1918 Harry was given 14 days leave in the UK 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 line. On 11 November the Armistice ended hostilities on the Western Front 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.

On 30 January 1919 Harry had another 14 day leave in the UK. He returned to England with his unit on 17 April, two years after they had first arrived in France. No. 58 Company was disbanded later that month and Harry was transferred to the Canadian Railway Troops Depot. He embarked for Canada with Janet on 11 July on the SS Melita, arriving in Quebec a week later. He was discharged on 20 July in Quebec with his intended address listed as Kenora. His brothers Arthur Ernest and Jonathan William and his nephew Ernest had also enlisted and they all survived the war.

Harry and Janet made their home in Kenora and he had a long career as a conductor with the CPR. They had at least one child, their daughter Muriel who was born in Kenora in 1922. They lived in Lakeside and Harry joined the Kenora branch of the Canadian Legion. After he retired around 1946 they moved to British Columbia and settled in Vancouver. Harry passed away at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver on 27 June 1965, at age 84. He was survived by his wife, their daughter Muriel (Mrs. William George Fryatt) and three brothers. His wife died in Burnaby in January 1981, at age 96. They are both buried at Ocean View Burial Park in Burnaby.

Harry is commemorated in Kenora on the St. Alban’s Pro-Cathedral First World War Roll of Honour.

By Becky Johnson

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Obituary courtesy of Mike Melen.

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