Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthFebruary 2, 1885
Place of BirthDeptford, London
Marital StatusMarried
Next of KinMrs. Lucy Wood (wife), Brewery Road, Box 279, Kenora, Ontario
Trade / CallingRailroad Brakeman
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number2125140
Service RecordLink to Service Record
BattalionNo. 13 Light Railway Operating Company
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Railway Troops
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentWinnipeg, Manitoba
Address at EnlistmentBrewery Road, Kenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentFebruary 10, 1917
Age at Enlistment32
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathJuly 31, 1948
Age at Death63
Buried AtLake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario
PlotElmwood Circle, 46E-16-2

Wood, Sydney Ernest

Sapper Sydney Ernest Wood was married and the father of a young son when he enlisted with a railway unit in February 1917. Five months later he was severely wounded in Belgium and he was invalided home to Canada in December 1917.

Sydney was born on 2 February 1885 in Deptford, London, England. His parents, William James Wood and Elizabeth Cottenden, were married in the parish of St. Paul Deptford in June 1882 and he was the oldest of their four children. He had a sister Frances Rose and two brothers, Charles Alfred and James Neptune. His father was born in Ashford, Kent and he was a bricklayer by trade. By the time of the 1901 census Sydney’s mother had passed away and the family was living in Tunbridge, Kent. Sydney, age 16, was working as a bricklayer labourer and his brother Charles was a carter.

In 1907 Sydney’s father immigrated to Canada, spending a year in Ottawa before settling in the small town of Kenora in northwestern Ontario. Sydney joined him in 1908, arriving in May on the Lake Erie. He was 23 years old with his occupation listed as railwayman. In the 1911 census he and his father were both recorded as lodgers in a rooming house on Third Street South in Kenora and Sydney was working in a flour mill. The following year he was taken on as a trainman with the Canadian Pacific Railway. In August 1913 his fiancĂ© Miss Lucy Annie Rabbitt arrived from England and they were married in Kenora a week later, on 21 August. Lucy was the same age as Sydney and she’d grown up in Tunbridge, Kent. Their first child, son Norman William, was born in 1914 or 1915.

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. Sydney enlisted in Winnipeg on 10 February 1917, in answer to a call for brakemen and conductors. He signed up with No. 1 Section Skilled Railway Employees but he was transferred to No. 2 Section, which had just been organized and was being recruited across Canada. A week after enlisting he was on his way to the east coast along with six other local volunteers, and a large crowd gathered at the Kenora train station to see them on their way. Sydney embarked from Halifax on the SS Grampian on 18 April and landed at Liverpool at the end of the month. In England No. 2 Section was re-designated as No. 13 Light Railway Operating Company, Royal Engineers and after a few weeks of training the new unit was sent to France.

Light railway operating companies had been formed in early 1917 to move men and supplies from railheads to the front line. They were meant to ease the dependence on horses and to reduce the considerable amount of labour needed to maintain roads. Operating companies consisted of about 200 men including brakesmen, drivers, guards, repair shop engineers, traffic controllers and storesmen. From their main pickup points they moved supplies, ammunition, troops and timber to the forward areas and on return trips they brought back troops, wounded men and salvage material. Because they operated near the front lines they were within range of German artillery.

Sydney’s company arrived in Le Havre, France on 10 June 1917 and five weeks later, on 13 July, he was seriously wounded. He was in charge of a train near Nieuwpoort, Belgium that day when a high explosive shell landed nearby. Sydney was hit in the head by a large fragment of the shell, suffering a fractured skull and jaw. He was evacuated to a casualty clearing station and from there to No. 2 Canadian General Hospital in Le TrĂ©port, France. On 28 July he was invalided to England and he spent five months recovering in hospitals and convalescent centres in Liverpool and Epsom. Sydney suffered permanent damage to the right side of face, his jaw and his right ear, including hearing loss. In December he was invalided to Canada for further treatment. He arrived in St. John, New Brunswick on 28 December on the hospital ship Braemar Castle and on 4 January he was assigned to No. 10 District Depot in Winnipeg. He was officially discharged six weeks later, on 15 February 1918.

After his service Sydney returned to Kenora and to his job with the CPR, working for them for another 30 years and retiring as a conductor. He and his wife Lucy Annie had a second child in 1926, their son Harold, and they made their home on Brewery Road and later on River Street. Sydney was a member of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen and the Kenora branch of the Canadian Legion. He was known for his kind and generous contributions to local humanitarian projects. As a bricklayer his father William worked on several prominent buildings in Kenora including the library, the fire hall and Mount Carmel School. William was also an avid horticulturalist and his flower and vegetable gardens were among the showplaces of the town. He passed away in November 1939 at age 83. Sydney retired from the CPR in March 1948, at age 63, and he died four months later, on 31 July. He was survived by his wife Lucy Annie, his sons Norman of Winnipeg and Harold of Dryden, and his brother James and sister Frances (Mrs. James Powling), both in England. William, Sydney and Lucy Annie (1884-1980) are all buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery in Kenora.

Sydney is commemorated on the Roll of Honour for the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. During the First World War more than 11,000 of their employees enlisted for service. Every year at 11 am on November 11th the CPR stops all of its trains in North America for two minutes of silence, to pay tribute to those who served their country in war.

By Becky Johnson

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