Soldier Spotlight: Private Thomas Tingle

Image: Thomas’s POW record, courtesy of International Committee of the Red Cross

Regimental Number: 18251
Rank: Private
Branch: 3rd Battalion

Thomas was born in Leytonstone, England on January 11, 1888. In 1913, he filed on a homestead at SE 12-74-5-W6. When war broke out in 1914, Thomas was among the first men to enlist in the Canadian Army – he signed up at Valcartier on September 23, 1914. Thomas was captured by the Germans in May of 1915 at Ypres, only one month after arriving in France. He had mild influenza in June and November of 1918. Thomas also suffered from kidney problems and nervousness when he was repatriated in 1919, “no doubt due to prolonged confinement and rough handling.” He returned to the South Peace after the war, and filed on SW 24-70-9-W6 in 1920. Thomas died in Victoria, British Columbia on November 3, 1961, leaving behind his widow, Sarah.

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.

Soldier Spotlight: Sergeant Air Gunner Henry Robert “Bob” Bessent

Image: Bessent twins, Bill and Bob, with parents in August 1943. (SPRA 2005.073.04)

Regiment: 405 Pathfinder Squadron
Regimental Number: R/198740
Rank: Sergeant Air Gunner
Force: Royal Canadian Air Force

Bob Bessent was born in Windsor, ON on April 17, 1925 to parents Herbert Bessent and Elsie May Roberts Bessent. He had a twin brother, Bill, who also served in the RCAF. In 1927 the family moved to Grande Prairie AB where the twins eventually started school and were involved in various sports. At age 17 Bob and his brother joined the Air Force, first training in Edmonton, then Manitoba, and then in Quebec for gunnery training. They joined the 405 Pathfinder Squadron in England in 1943. Bob was killed in action in the early morning of December 17, 1943 when his Lancaster bomber crashed because it encountered heavy fog and ran out of fuel looking for a place to land. His mother became the Silver Cross Mother that year. In July 1946 Bob was posthumously awarded Operational Wings from the RCAF “in recognition of gallant service in action against the enemy.” Bob is buried in the Cambridge City (England) Cemetery. Grave Ref: 14558A

Source: Legion Album
Commonwealth War Graves – website
Grande Prairie Herald Tribune – September 23, 1987 – Obituary of Elsie May Roberts Bessent
SPRA Family and Personal Life Reference Files – newspaper articles, photos

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.

Soldier Spotlight: Private Rene Gicquel

Image: Trapper and his dog team coming through the bush on the banks of the Wapiti, ca. 1930 (SPRA 177.084)

Regimental Number: 437843
Rank: Private
Branch: 7th Battalion

Rene was born in Ploërmel, France on February 17, 1894. In 1913, he emigrated to Canada. He enlisted in the Canadian Army in November of 1915.

On September 7, 1916 at the Somme, Rene was buried by a shell explosion. He was deaf and dumb for three months afterward due to shell shock. Rene also suffered from weakness and palpitations afterward, and had tremors in his hand that went away when he was alone. Rene was discharged on February 18, 1918, having been found medically unfit due to shell shock.

After the war, Rene worked for the Forestry Department and ran a trap line in the Fort Vermilion area. Rene married Marie C. Bourgault (Lizotte?) on January 7, 1931. They were transferred to Hythe in 1945 and remained there until 1967, when they retired to Vernon, BC. Rene died on January 7, 1975.

Sources: surname file; Pioneer Round Up p. 82a

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.

Soldier Spotlight: Leonhart Beck

Image: A bird’s-eye view of several buildings, including “H” huts on the Grande Prairie Army Training Centre grounds, ca. 1941 (SPRA 2011.44.40, Fonds 478)

Regiment: Canadian Armoured Corps
Postings: England, France, Germany, Holland
Rank: Sergeant

Born in Saskatchewan on October 26, 1920, Leonhart Beck was the son of Emil and Barbara Beck, and he had 2 brothers and 2 sisters. The family moved to Sexsmith AB a few years later, and in 1929 they settled in Bay Tree AB where Leonhart took his education by correspondence. In the 1930s he worked odd jobs, and in the early 1940s he enlisted with the Canadian Armoured Corps in WWII. First he trained in Grande Prairie, then he took a course on tank warfare in Ontario. Posted in London, England, he was in the Second Canadian Division, where he worked in armoured reconnaissance. He was wounded in action in September 1944 while in France, and returned to the front lines a month later. Then in Germany he was wounded again in February 1945, and returned to fight before the war was over. For six more months Leonhart was in Holland in postwar service. Back in Canada he returned to Bay Tree and purchased a quarter of land and built a house in 1947. In 1950 Leonhart married Caroline Sutherland, and they had 3 children: Bryan, Barbara, and Yvonne. They bought a half section of land in 1960. Leonhart was active in community affairs in Bay Tree, and with the school district of Many Creeks. Leonhart and Caroline moved to Sidney BC (Vancouver Island) to retire in 1975.
Source: Homesteader’s Heritage pp. 32-33
Photos pp. 32 and 33

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.

Soldier Spotlight: Private Merlin Rae

Image: a letter from Merlin to his parents, printed in the 24 October 1916 Grande Prairie Herald

Regimental Number: 101357
Rank: Private
Branch: 31st Battalion

Merlin was born in Grand Forks, British Columbia on April 27, 1901. In September of 1915, he enlisted in the Canadian Army, giving his date of birth 1899. This would still have been considered underage, but he was accepted. Merlin was killed in action at Courcelette on September 24, 1916. According to Bill Hannigan, he “died like the man that he was.” He was severely wounded in the leg and thigh at 11:00 AM, making him unable to walk. At 4:00 that afternoon a shell landed near Merlin and he died from the concussion.

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.

Soldier Spotlight: Flight Lieutenant John Archer

Image: John and Jessamy Archer, Jim Carlisle and Bill Archer after an afternoon bird hunting, 1941 (SPRA 399.12.30)

Regiment: RCAF
Rank: Flight Lieutenant

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:
Manning Pool in Brandon ON Jan. 9, 1941
Swift Current , SK Feb. 15, 1941 no. 36 SFTS
Regina, SK March 26, 1941 no. 2 Initial Training School – posted to aircrew as pilot
Boundary Bay (Vancouver) BC no. 18 EFTS
Claresholm, AB July 2, 1941 – became flying instructor
Calgary AB no. 3 SFTS
Gimili MB no. 1 SFTS
Souris MB no. 18 SFTS
He married Jessamy Smith August 10, 1942 in Edmonton, and they lived in Claresholm. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant June 19, 1943. John’s main job was flight instructor, and he gave armament tests. In 1945 he was discharged. John and Jessamy moved to Beaverlodge, where John owned the Marshall-Wells hardware store until 1976. He was also the mayor for 7 years. 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.

Source:
Memoirs of John C. Archer (autobiography- unpublished)
Beaverlodge to the Rockies pp. 81-82
Along the Wapiti pp. 412, 332-333
Saskatoon Lake Reflections p. 98

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.

Soldier Spotlight: Ralph Anderson

Image: Building of the Grande Prairie Creamery, with the ice house in the background. The creamery started operations in the fall of 1920. (SPRA 024.01.09.58)

Regiment: Army Princess Louise Dragoon Guards

Ralph Anderson (brother of Henry Anderson) was born in Starkweather, North Dakota. He moved to Alberta with his parents and siblings in May 1918. After going to school in Beaverlodge, Ralph went to the School of Agriculture in Vermillion. Then he worked at the Grande Prairie creamery. In 1939 he joined the army and was posted overseas. He was wounded in Italy. While in England he married Audrey Prescott, and he was discharged in 1945. After the war Ralph farmed and also worked at the Canadian Forces Base in Beaverlodge. The family moved to Grande Prairie, and then to Prince Rupert BC. They had 3 girls and 1 boy.
Source: Pioneer Round-Up pp. 1-2

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.

Soldier Spotlight: Gunner George Vowden

Image: An excerpt from George’s military service file with details about his injury (Library & Archives Canada)

Regimental Number: 1258073
Rank: Gunner
Branch: Canadian Garrison Artillery

George was born in Wiltshire, England on August 20, 1890. While working as a clerk for a shipping firm in London, a job opening came up in an office in British Guyana. George took the job, and worked his way up to overseer on the sugar cane plantation. At the time of his enlistment in 1916, George was living in Halifax. He injured his left foot and ankle in July of 1918 while unloading ammunition; a shell rolled onto his foot. After the war, George decided to immigrate to Canada. He settled in the Falher area and filed on the following homesteads: SE 3-76-21-W5, SW 2-76-21-W5, NE 35-75-21-W5, SW 34-75-21-W5, NE 34-75-21-W5. George died on May 1, 1955 and was buried in the McLennan Cemetery.

Sources: Guy p. 578; homestead records

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.

Soldier Spotlight: Private Robert Beavins Tilt

Image: Newspaper clipping from the Grande Prairie Herald, 5 December 1916.

Regimental Number: 1251121
Rank: Private
Branch: Canadian Forestry Corps

Robert was born in Pelee, Ontario in November of 1874. He owned a livery and restaurant in Lake Saskatoon village before the war. Robert enlisted in the Canadian Army in November of 1916, a decision he made based on the outcome of a coin toss (see December 5, 1916 news clipping). After the war, he filed on homesteads at NW 5-72-8-W6, SW 12-72-9-W6, and SW 8-72-8-W6. Robert dyed his hair in an attempt to look younger so he could enlist in World War II, but was sent home. He died on August 10, 1948 and was buried in the Lake Saskatoon Cemetery.

Sources: Pioneers of the Peace p. 66; Lake Saskatoon Reflections p. 30, 33, 225; GP Herald Sept 2, 1913 p. 1 c. 3; Aug. 19 1948 p. 3 c. 3; Jan 25 1916 p. 1 c. 5

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.

Soldier Spotlight: Sergeant Joseph Hill

Image: Notes from Joseph’s military service file, with details about having been buried by a shell explosion (Library & Archives Canada)

Regimental Number: 446638
Rank: Sergeant
Branch: 49th Battalion; Canadian Military Police

*Note: Joseph’s obituary indicates that he was born in London, England. The service file linked to his Veterans Death Card states that he was born in Toronto, Ontario.

Joseph was born on December 18, 1878. He first enlisted in the Canadian Army in May of 1915. After a heavy attack on his regiment in June of 1916, Joseph began to suffer from tremors, twitches, nightmares, and loss of speech. He was buried by a shell explosion on August 1, 1916, which caused the condition to worsen. Joseph spent a great deal of time in English hospitals throughout 1916 and 1917 as a result of his shell shock. On August 8, 1917, he was discharged, having been found medically unfit. He had been granted permission to marry Mary Margaret Bowles in March of 1917; it is possible they met while Joseph was in hospital.

Joseph once again enlisted in September of 1917 and served with the Canadian Military Police until March of 1919.

In 1922, Joseph was living in High River, according to a present address card in his service file. However, he and his family eventually settled in Hythe. Joseph died in the Beaverlodge Hospital on March 18, 1956 and was buried in the Hythe Cemetery.

*View page 83 of Joseph’s service file for more detailed information about Joseph’s experiences in the military.

Sources: Cemetery Records; see HT March 30, 1956

Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.