Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJune 15, 1884
Place of BirthCombermere, Renfrew County, Ontario
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMrs. Mary Ann Towns (mother), Kenora, Ontario
Trade / CallingLocomotive Engineer
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number2125028
Service RecordLink to Service Record
BattalionCanadian Railway Troops Depot
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Railway Troops
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentWinnipeg, Manitoba
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentJanuary 30, 1917
Age at Enlistment32
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathJuly 28, 1952
Age at Death68
Buried AtCremation (Vancouver Crematorium)

Towns, Sirastin

Lance Corporal Sirastin Towns signed up with a railway unit in January 1917. He served overseas for two years and returned to Canada in January 1919 due to illness.

Sirastin was the oldest son of Calvin Towns and Mary Ann Bandy of Kenora, Ontario. Calvin and Mary Ann were married in 1883 in the town of Combermere, about 100 km west of Ottawa. Calvin was a blacksmith and farmer. Sirastin was born in Combermere on 15 June 1884 and by 1891 his family had moved to the nearby township of Mayo in North Hastings County. Calvin’s brother Andrew lived in Mayo and he was married to Mary Ann’s sister, Susan Bandy.

By the mid-1890s Sirastin and his family had moved again, this time to the RM of Turtle Mountain in southwestern Manitoba. Two children were born there: George Andrew in 1895 and Mary Jeanetta (Nettie) in 1898. At the time of the 1901 census they were living in the nearby RM of Riverside and Sirastin was working as a farm labourer. The youngest son, Wilbert Minor, was born in Riverside in 1900. From there the family moved to Rat Portage (Kenora), in northwestern Ontario, and Calvin found work with the Canadian Pacific Railway. He died in Kenora in April 1906, at age 56, and he’s buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery.

When the 1911 census was taken Sirastin was living at home with his widowed mother and working as an engineer for the CPR. The war started in August 1914 and Canada played a major role in providing skilled workers for the construction and operation of railways in France and Belgium. Sirastin enlisted in Winnipeg on 30 January 1917, signing up with No. 1 Section Skilled Railway Employees. A week 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 wish them well. The men continued on their way to Montreal, where the unit had its headquarters, and on 4 March they embarked for the U.K. on the SS Ausonia. In England No. 1 Section became No. 58 Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company (Canadians), Royal Engineers.

Sirastin’s unit stayed in England for only a month. He was promoted to Second Corporal on 23 March and No. 58 Company arrived in France three weeks later, on 17 April. 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 May 1918 Sirastin became ill, suffering from back pain and headaches. His unit was based at Armentières in France at the time and he was admitted to No. 2 Canadian Stationary Hospital in Outeau, near the coast. He was diagnosed with a kidney ailment and transferred to Lord Derby War Hospital in Warrington, Lancashire, England. He was treated there until mid-July then moved to King’s Canadian Red Cross Special Hospital in Bushy Park, London. He was suffering from nephritis, a kidney disease, and King’s had a nephritic clinic. During his time there the patients were entertained with regular concerts and boat trips on the Thames, and those who were able could participate in team sports like baseball.

Sirastin was discharged from King’s on 28 August and assigned to the Canadian Railway Troops Depot as a Lance Corporal. The Armistice ended hostilities on 11 November and a week later he was admitted to Purfleet Military Hospital for nephritis again. Following his discharge at the end of December he was sent to Kinmel Park in Wales to await his return to Canada. He embarked from Liverpool on 29 January 1919 on the SS Baltic and arrived in Halifax on 5 February. He had two weeks landing leave before reporting to District 10 headquarters in Winnipeg. A medical exam on 4 March found him to be medically unfit for further service to due chronic nephritis and he was discharged in Winnipeg on 18 March. His brother George Towns had moved to Michigan and he served with the U.S. Army during the war.

After his discharge Sirastin returned to Kenora and to his job with the CPR. When the 1921 census was taken he was living in the north ward with his mother and brother Wilbert, and working as a railway engineer. He was married in Winnipeg on 22 February 1922 to Adah Irene Conn. Adah was born in Winnipeg and she was three years younger than Sirastin. Her parents were James Conn, a farmer, and Margaret Link, and she had at least eight brothers and sisters.

In 1932 when his mother died Sirastin was living in Ottawa. Not long after that he and his wife moved to British Columbia and they settled in Burnaby, just east of Vancouver. Sirastin continued to work for the CPR, as an engineer and later as an inspector. He retired in 1946 and he and his wife moved to New Westminster around that time. He passed away in Shaughnessy Veterans Hospital in Vancouver on 28 July 1952, at age 68. Adah survived him by 23 years. She died in New Westminster in 1975. Sirastin’s father, mother and sister Nettie (Mrs. Alfred George Banks) are all buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery in Kenora. His brother George died in Michigan in 1970 and Wilbert passed away in Thunder Bay in 1981.

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

By Becky Johnson

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