|Date of Birth||October 27, 1875|
|Trade / Calling||Sawmill Manager|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Battalion||3rd Infantry Regiment|
|Force||South African Army|
|Branch||South African Overseas Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Address at Enlistment||South Africa|
|Date of Enlistment||October 19, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||40|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
Herbert Alexander Hodgins spent much of his life in Africa, however he always considered Kenora, Ontario, where he’d spent a decade or so working in the timber business, his first home. Hodgins also served in several different army forces during his lifetime fighting for Queen and country.
He first volunteered for service in 1899 as part of Canada’s troop contingents sent to South Africa as part of the British forces fighting the Boers. A lumber scaler at the time, he was one of the early volunteers from Kenora, then Rat Portage, to make the rail trip from Kenora to Winnipeg to enlist in the Royal Canadian Regiment which was raising a force in various cities across the country. He was later transferred to the artillery and went overseas in February 1900 as part of Canada’s 2nd contingent as a member of D Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery. While in training, and later in the field, he became a regular writer to the local newspaper – the Rat Portage Miner and Rainy Lake Journal – keeping the people back home appraised of events with report on local men he’d met and detailed descriptions of the various actions he took part in. The paper took to referring to him as ‘our correspondent’.
Hodgins, slightly wounded, returned home at the end of his one-year enlistment and was honoured at a town dinner. Hodgins received the Queen’s South Africa service medal with three clasps for his time in uniform. After a year back home, this time working as a clerk, he re-enlisted for the third contingent Canada was raising, this time joining the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles. The units of the 3rd Contingent didn’t take part in any fighting, arriving in South Africa shortly after the war ended in May of 1902.
After returning to Kenora after his second time in uniform, Hodgins decided he’d enjoyed his time in Africa and emigrated there around 1906/1907. When the First World War broke out he was working as a sawmill manager in Rhodesia. In a letter to the Kenora newspaper he noted his employers had been two German brothers, and with the outbreak of fighting, he’d quit his job in September of 1914, and left Rhodesia in October, joining the Rand Rifles on Oct 21. The Rand Rifles were a civilian volunteer force raised from time to time when armed troops were needed in Rhodesia. He’d served with the Rifles on a previous occasion, and was immediately promoted to Sergeant.
The Rifles were attached to the South Africa forces fighting in German South West Africa, present day Namibia. Hodgins kept Kenora readers well informed of the fighting taking place with several lengthy letters. When that campaign wrapped up in the early summer of 1915 the Rand Rifles transferred almost en mass to the South Africa Overseas Expeditionary Force which was being funded and equipped by the British Army. Hodgins was assigned to the 3rd Regiment, South Africa Infantry Brigade. The Brigade, shipped to England for training and then saw action with the British Army in Egypt, before being transferred to the Western Front in France in April of 1916.
Hodgins’ letters to the Kenora paper ended with his move to the overseas force, the paper learned in late 1916 he’d been wounded at the Battle of the Somme earlier in the year.
In a lengthy letter to the paper in February of 1917, Hodgins noted he’d received a shrapnel wound to the shoulder at the Somme the previous October and been evacuated to hospital in England. A shrapnel fragment remaining in his shoulder had greatly reduced his ability to use his arm and write. As well, he’d contracted pneumonia while in hospital, further impacting his health and delaying surgery needed to remove the piece of shrapnel which was affecting a nerve.
His British Army medical records indicated he was discharged as unfit for service effective March 26, 1918 after spending over a year in hospital. The record file records he’d lost about 30 per cent use of his arm as a result of the wound, however it was not considered serious to warrant a permanent disability pension. Instead he was given a lump sump pension award equal to 39 weeks pay.
For his war service Hodgins would have been eligible for the 1914-15 Star, the War medal and Victory medal, however his British War Medal index card only notes a form had been sent, with no record of the medals ever being issued to him.
Following his discharge Hodgins returned to Africa where he passed away in the fall of 1941. While a lot is known about his war service from his letters to the Kenora paper, almost nothing is known of Herbert’s family. He never mentioned family in his letters and there is no record of his ever marrying. His place of birth varies on various documents, with the only consistent entry being his date of birth, Oct. 26/27 1875.
On his two sets of Boer War enlistment forms signed in Winnipeg he said he was born at sea, on a second form, signed in Kingston for his transfer to the artillery, he said he was born in Brighton, England and had a brother, Lt. George Hodgins, serving in the Scots Guards. On his South Africa enlistment form, he listed Kenora as his place of birth and gave a friend’s name for next of kin contact.
His Rhodesia death registry entry is blank except for his name, not even listing a place or date of death, the registration number the only indication the death took place in October of 1941.
Canadian censuses only list him once, in 1901 in Rat Portage, lodging with the Wright family. On that census he said was born in England and had immigrated to Canada in 1882.
by Bob Stewart
newspaper articles: Kenora Miner and News