|Date of Birth||December 2, 1891|
|Place of Birth||Littleport, Cambridgeshire|
|Next of Kin||Thomas Thorpe, father, Box 271, Wilkie, Saskatchewan|
|Trade / Calling||Locomotive Fireman|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Battalion||No 58 Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Branch||Canadian Railway Troops|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Address at Enlistment||YMCA, Kenora, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||January 30, 1917|
|Age at Enlistment||25|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||August 1, 1979|
|Age at Death||87|
|Buried At||Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario|
Although he gave his birth year as 1892 on his attestation papers, Thomas Thorpe was born on 2 December 1891 in Littleport, Cambridgeshire, England. Littleport is located about 60 kms southeast of Peterborough. His parents were Thomas and Sarah Elizabeth (née Pope) Thorpe, both born in Littleport. The couple had married in 1889. Over the years Thomas Sr worked as an agricultural labourer, a brick layer, and brick yard worker. A second son, James William, was born to the family in 1909. By the 1911 England census Thomas Sr, Sarah, and James had moved to the outskirts of Peterborough.
Although Thomas’ year of immigration was given as 1903 in his obituary, a passenger list record could not be found and it is unlikely that the year is correct due to his young age. By the 1911 Canada census Thomas was boarding at the YMCA in Kenora, Ontario along with a number of other young men that worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway, station located across the street. Age 19, he was working as a wiper. Also boarding at the YMCA were a group of recent immigrants from the Peterborough area that called themselves the ‘Peterborough Boys’; Thomas was a part of the group. Built by the CPR and then turned over to the YMCA, the building had two full floors of rooms capable of housing 65 men. It had a restaurant, billiard room, a reading and writing room, and in the basement a two lane bowling alley, a gym area for boxing, washrooms, and showers. Outside there was an area for lawn bowling as well as tennis courts.
Along with nineteen fellow railroaders from Kenora, Thomas signed his attestation paper on 30 January 1917 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, occupation given as railway fireman. He listed his father Thomas in Wilkie, Saskatchewan as next of kin as Thomas Sr, Sarah, and James had immigrated in 1912 to farm in the area near North Battleford. The No 1 Section, Skilled Railway Employees had been organized in December of 1916 and recruited amongst railway men in all military districts east of Winnipeg and mobilized at Montreal. By the time the train passed through Kenora heading east on the first leg of the journey overseas, the local numbers had grown to thirty-two men. A large crowd gathered at the station in Kenora to wish them well and a safe return.
The No 1 Section, Skilled Railway Employees embarked from Halifax on 4 March 1917 aboard the Ausonia. Once in England the unit was redesignated as 12th (Canadian) Light Railway Operating Company, Royal Engineers on the 17th, and then as No 58 Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company (Canadians) Royal Engineers on the 7th of April. By the 19th of April, the men were in France. ‘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’ .
Thomas received a promotion to 2nd Corporal just before leaving for France. In August of 1917 he was granted working pay at the rate of $.80/day, and was given a fourteen days leave of absence to the UK later that month. According to his service record, in August of 1918 Thomas was admitted to the No 22 General Hospital in Camiers suffering from a gunshot wound contusion to the hip although a local newspaper article in Kenora in November reported he had fractured his hip and had been scalded during an accident.
Thomas was invalided to England ten days later, admitted first to the Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol followed by a transfer to the Military Convalescent Hospital in Epsom. Released in December Thomas embarked from Liverpool on 18 January 1919 aboard the Aquitania on his way back to Canada. He was discharged from service on demobilization on 28 February 1919 in Winnipeg, rank of Lance Corporal.
Back in Canada Thomas resumed working for the Canadian Pacific Railway, eventually retiring in 1957 as locomotive engineer. On 6 July 1926, in Kenora, Thomas married Mary Edith Allan. The daughter of Robert Cecil and Mary Susanna (née Lapp) Allan, Edith had been born in Cobourg, Ontario in 1900. Edith had moved to Kenora in 1919, likely to accept a teaching position. Thomas and Edith were long time members of Knox United Church, with Edith being a member of the choir and the Ladies Guild. Thomas was very active in the Oddfellows movement and served as treasurer of the Locomotive Firemen and Engineers Union. He was a member of the Kenora Branch of the Canadian Legion.
Predeceased by his parents Thomas and Sarah in Wilkie, Saskatchewan, and his wife Edith in 1978 in Kenora, Thomas died in the Lake of the Woods Hospital in Kenora on 1 August 1979. Along with Edith, he is interred in the Lake of the Woods Cemetery. He was survived by his brother James and family in White Rock. James later died in 1987.
by Judy Stockham
photograph of the Peterborough boys from the Lake of the Woods Museum Archives