William Goldie was born in Greenock, Scotland on February 24, 1892. At the time of his enlistment in July of 1915, William was living Grande Prairie; his homestead was located at 4-74-4-W6. While on his way to North Bay with his regiment in spring of 1916, William left the train and the army assumed he had deserted.
However, in June the true story was discovered. William had been attempting to pass from one coach to another when he slipped from the step and fell into a lake. He managed to swim ashore, but there was no shelter available and because of his exposure to the elements, he developed frostbite. Both his feet had to be amputated at Haileybury Hospital in Ontario. William was in a hospital in Toronto because of the ulceration of the stump of his right foot when the army located him in June. By that time he had been “supplied with artificial apparatus which is satisfactory.” In September of 1917, William was discharged from the army. He never made it to the front lines and for a time was considered a deserter, yet he bore the scars of the war for the rest of his life.
While sorting through some long untouched boxes in the Archives, we discovered a display that had been created to tell the story of Ernie Nelson using photographs donated by and research material compiled by Jane Pilling-Cormick, PhD, in 2005. The story and photographs were too interesting not to be shared!
Ernie as a young teen in Grande Prairie (photo taken in the Forbes House)
Robert Ernest (Ernie) Nelson was born on March 4, 1925 in Grande Prairie and had four brothers; two older and two younger. The Nelson family lived in the Forbes House, a provincial historic site in Grande Prairie, from 1936 to 1947. Ernie’s father, Isaac Nelson, co-owned the Nelson & Archibald General Store where Ernie spent some of his summers working. As a child, he attended Montrose Elementary Public School and then went on to attend the Grande Prairie High School.
At the age of 17, Ernie Nelson (R212423) decided to join the Air Force and trained to become a rear gunner. Once overseas, he had advanced training. He was posted to 429 (Canadian) Squadron, stationed at Leeming, Yorkshire.
Ernie at 17 in 1942 when he joined the Air Force
Ernie in 1944 on the base in Leeming
Just before leaving on his last operation, on November 20, 1944, Ernie received his promotion to Pilot Officer (J92597). The next day, Halifax #MZ377 left the base in Leeming, England, at 15.46 hours for a raid on Castrop-Rauxel, located in the Ruhr Valley, five miles northwest of Dortmund, Germany. The target was the oil refinery. After climbing to 18,000 feet, they set course, went over London, crossed the channel and French coast. Two minutes from the target, at 19.30 hours, over Langenburg, Germany, they were illuminated by a single searchlight. A night fighter, directly underneath, spotted them and opened fire.
Ernie, the rear gunner, opened fire and the enemy aircraft, a JU-88, burst into flames above and to starboard. They continued on to the target. After releasing the bombs, the pilot gave the order to bail out. Ernie turned in his seat, opened the door, and jumped out. The aircraft went completely out of control. The port wing dropped off at the root. The pilot, hearing no response from the crew, looked into the nose to see an opened parachute. The crew could not get out. At 400 to 500 feet, the aircraft went onto its back.
The pilot was thrown out and landed less than 50 feet from the plane, badly burned. The plane exploded over a house in Langenberg, Germany and landed in the garden. The house is still standing today, in 2005. The bomber burned fiercely upon impact, killing the remaining crew members trapped inside. Ernie broke a bone in his foot when he landed. He became a Prisoner of War (POW no. 1254) at Stalag Luft VII (Bankau) and remained a POW until the end of the war. Ernie returned to Grande Prairie and died in Edmonton on October 15, 2004.
James Archibald Foote was born in Perth, Ontario to David and Catherine Foote. His service files show some conflict regarding his date of birth, with his initial Attestation Paper stating July 23, 1880 and subsequent documents stating July 20, 1887. In August of 1914, at the onset of the First World War, James enlisted in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and shipped overseas to serve on the Western Front.
The Princess Patricia’s fought at the Second Battle of Ypres, which lasted from April 22 until May 25, 1915. It was the first mass use of German poison gas, and also the battle during which Lt. John McCrae penned “In Flanders Fields.” In the days preceding the battle, James was digging communication trenches at Polygon Wood, near Ypres. On April 11, he “got a rifle bullet through left thigh, about 8 inches above the knee.” He spent eleven weeks in hospitals in France and England, but the wound had been a severe one and after leaving the hospital James still walked with a limp and experienced pain in his leg. He was discharged from the army and returned to Canada in January of 1916.
But James by no means left army life behind him. He was influential in recruiting for the 257th Railway Construction & Forestry Battalion; his forceful public speaking skills made him successful at securing men. On January 1, 1917 he reenlisted in the 256th Railway Construction Battalion. This time he left behind a wife; on March 22, 1917, four days before his departure, James married Nellie Alice Mason in Toronto.
James was a dedicated and courageous officer. On August 16, 1918, he was awarded the Military Cross “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while engaged in the maintenance of light railways. The area where he was working was subjected to intense shell fire, and the line was broken in six places. He repeatedly reorganised his working parties, who had suffered casualties, and by his example and encouragement kept his men at work under most difficult conditions. By his efforts the line was kept open, and the supply of ammunition was ensured.”
When he returned from overseas in 1919, James and Nellie moved to Sexsmith. James passed away in Edmonton on August 14, 1949 and was buried in the Soldiers’ Plot at Beechmount Cemetery.
At the very young age of nineteen, Bill Bessent of Grande Prairie had completed twenty-nine missions as a mid-upper gunner, and became a night vision flying instructor in England. He was promoted to Pilot Officer, and received the Distinguished Flying Medal. He returned to Grande Prairie after the war, and has lived here ever since.
At the outbreak of World War I, Canadians eagerly stepped forward to show their support for Britain. In a matter of weeks, more than 32,000 men had amassed at Valcartier, Quebec, and soon the First Contingent, CEF, was headed to England.
Some complained that the men in rural areas were not such keen volunteers, although Britain was encouraging the farmers to plant even bigger crops in order to feed both soldiers and civilians, in Britain and Canada alike . But the men of the South Peace did not shirk their military duty in any way. Hundreds of men from the area (which was quite remote at the time) joined the army, and quite a number were either killed or left with injuries and memories to haunt them.
Harold Hugh Black was born in Fergus, Ontario in 1891. Along with his brother Hubert John Black, he came to the Peace country in 1913, and they settled in Halcourt. In September of 1915, Harold, Hubert, and their neighbour Gordon Moyer walked more than forty kilometers from their homesteads to Lake Saskatoon to enlist. Out of the three men, only Harry was accepted at the time. Hubert was too slender and Gordon had flat feet (it is interesting that they were declared unfit for service, considering the distance they had just walked); however, both were drafted in the 1917 conscription.
Harry embarked for England on April 28, 1916 and arrived there on May 7. In June, he was transferred from the 66th Battalion to the 31st, and shortly thereafter landed in France. In October he was promoted to Corporal. About a year after his promotion, Corporal Black was granted leave in England, and shortly after returning to action, he sustained a gun shot wound to the scalp at Passchendaele. He remained in the hospital for twelve weeks before being discharged to duty on January 28, 1918. Harry returned to France in May and it wasn’t long before he took another bullet, this one in his right shoulder and in the midst of a valiant act that earned him a Military Medal. The citation in his battalion’s war diary reads like this:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at Rosieres on the morning of August 9th, 1918 – This N.C.O. utterly regardless of personal danger, rushed a machine gun post which was holding up his section, killing two of the enemy and making several prisoners. Later was wounded, not being able to reach the post he crawled up close and succeeded in dropping several bombs into the post, putting it out of action, thus allowing his platoon to move forward.”
Following this act of bravery, Corporal Black spent about five weeks in the Military Convalescent Hospital at Epsom. The war ended not long after he had recovered from the wound, but before returning home he was also briefly posted to a concentration camp in England.
Corporal Harold Black was discharged in London, Ontario on January 30, 1919. He did not arrive in Canada in good health, and as a result of having been severely gassed during the war, he took up residence at the Central Alberta Sanitarium (now Baker Park) in Calgary. Harry died in Calgary on April 10, 1923 at 31 years of age. He is buried in the family plot at Belsyde Cemetery in Fergus, Ontario.
The letter in this article is from a bereaved mother in Quebec, writing to the mother of a soldier mentioned in her son’s diary. It is a moving reminder of war’s far reaching effect, even on strangers, united only by their concern for their sons. The mother in Quebec is hoping to find someone to talk to her about her son; the mother in Rycroft is awaiting news of her son who had appeared in casualty lists.
John Archer was born on August 21, 1918 in Lake Saskatoon to Ruth and Joseph Archer. He grew up in Wembley, and he attended U of A for one year. On January 8, 1941 he joined the Air Force in Edmonton, and he was posted in various locations in Western Canada.
L.A.C. John Archer R.C.A.F. married Jessamy Smith Aug 10, 1942. The wedding party included Bill Archer, Mavis Smith, and Ruth Woodsworth. The wedding took place at the United Church’s Indian Residential School in Edmonton where Jessamy’s father was the farm instructor. Here they are ready to board the train after the wedding. Location: 0399.12.27-.28
John married Jessamy Smith August 10, 1942 in Edmonton, and they lived in Claresholm. In 1943 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and his main job was flight instructor, and armament testing. In 1945 he was discharged and he and his wife Jessamy moved to Beaverlodge. In Beaverlodge the Archer’s owned the Marshall-Wells hardware store until 1976. John also served as the mayor for 7 years.
The Archers had 6 children: Fred, Bill, Joe, Mavis, Robert, and David. In 1986 John and Jessamy moved to Qualicum Beach BC. Jessamy died in 1999. John remarried to Mary Peters February. 3, 2001. He died September 10, 2010 in Victoria, and is buried in Beaverlodge.
John Chipman “Chip” Kerr (Grande Prairie Herald, Historical Edition ~1934)
There are several articles about John “Chip” Kerr of Spirit River, who won the Victoria Cross in World War I. This is the first one I saw some time ago, and of course wound up doing more digging until I found his story. I especially like this item; he certainly had a sense of humor. He served again in World War II, becoming a service policeman at Sea Island in BC. He retired in Port Moody, where there is a Legion Auditorium and a park named for him, and his home was declared a Heritage Site. There is also a mountain in Alberta named after him. It is splendid that ten years after the war when he was invited to London for an Armistice Dinner with the Prince of Wales, there was so much support to enable him and his wife to make the trip.
Some material from an account by Al Sholund on the Port Moody website