I consider it both an honour and a privilege to have been able to bring a little bit of life back to another soldier of the Great War, S/Maj. Edward McAdams. —Jim LaBossiere.
Last year I told you how antiques collector Bob Pearce, a volunteer at the Sassy Lion thrift store, found a certificate issued to Sgt. Major Edward McAdams, regimental number 13340 of the 5th Canadian Infantry Battalion.
Dated March 23, 1918, more than eight months before Armistice, and signed by His Majesty King George V, the certificate recognizes McAdams for having served with honour and for having been honourably discharged after being disabled in the Great War.
It was tightly rolled up but otherwise in perfect condition, some family member (perhaps even S/Maj. McAdams himself) having tucked it away rather than framing it as was intended.
Bob took the trouble to frame the certificate which is now in my possession, and it made me want to know more about the sergeant major.
I did go so far as to check out a capsule history of the 5th Canadian Infantry Battalion on Wikipedia. Also known as the Western Cavalry and Tuxford’s Dandys (since known as the North Saskatchewan Regiment) of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, it recruited in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and as far west as Vernon, B.C. It was authorized within a week of the outbreak of war, on Aug. 10, 1914, and after mobilization at Camp Valcartier, Que., embarked for the United Kingdom the following month.
It first saw action in mid-February 1915 as part of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division, and fought in France and Flanders under five commanding officers until the end of the war. The battalion has a Victoria Cross to its credit, that of Sgt. Raphael Zengel, VC, MM, August 1918.
Name a famous battle of the First World War and the 5th Bn. was there, in the thick of the fighting. S/Maj. McAdams was there, too; at least, up until he was wounded badly enough to be invalided. This is where the real research comes in; research that I simply couldn’t give him at that time.
Which prompted me to challenge Chronicles readers: Was there someone out there who had the time, the inclination, the patience and the sleuthing skills to make the sergeant major a research project?
Well, I’m pleased to report that a volunteer was forthcoming. And Jim LaBossiere more than fulfilled my hopes!
With the instincts of a natural born detective and, I might add, literary skill, he has compiled a 3,000-word history of S/Maj. McAdams. He even solved the mystery of how the certificate ended up at the Sassy Lion!
Here then, in his own words and just lightly edited, is the harvest of Jim’s detailed research into S/Maj. Edward McAdams (1886 – 1967):
Edward McAdams was born on Aug. 31 , 1886, probably to Ellen Quinn and James McAdams at Chapel Hall, Scotland near Glasgow (based on Scottish census records.) Edward already had four older brothers and he would soon have two younger sisters, but, sadly, by the 1891 U.K. census, it appears that his father had passed away. Edward’s mother, Helen, at only 33 years of age was the head of the household with seven young children between eight months and 12 years and was also working at a paper mill.
In 1901, Edward was still living at home, but working as a coal drawer. (Wikipedia: A child or woman employed by a collier to transport the coal that they had mined.) The family still lived near Chapel Hall at an area called Holytown in Bothwell, on Boness Road, a place that Edward would come back close to in 1916 as an invalided soldier. One of Edward’s older brothers and his two younger sisters were also still at home. His mother appears to have had a new man in her life as the head of the household was a chap some 20 years her senior, but given that she was a young widow with seven small children, she probably had few options.
By 1908, Edward had gone abroad to seek his fortune and there’s a record of him in his emigration from Glasgow, embarking on the S.S. Ionian on Aug. 22,1908 bound for Quebec City and Montreal. He was 22 years old and listed as a miner and his final destination was recorded as Fernie, B.C. No doubt he’d heard of the wealth to be had in Western Canada. The Ionian could only do 14 knots and Edward arrived at Quebec City eight days later on Aug. 30. It must have been quite the adventure for the young Scot who’d travelled third-class, so no frills.
The next paper trail for Edward is a bit of a puzzle which is often the way with these searches. (The more one finds, often the more questions there are.) An Allen Shipping line manifest page appears to have been used by Canada Customs at the Eastport, Idaho – Kingsgate, B.C. border crossing on Feb. 1909. It’s not exactly clear if Edward was entering Canada or leaving since part of the document is cut off, but as it’s a Canadian document, it seems likely that he was returning to Canada from the U.S. On the border document, Edward had listed a next of kin in Scotland as, “F: James McAdams, Burbank, Scotland.” Now Edward appears to have had an older brother James from the 1881 and 1891 Scotland census records, but what does the F: mean? It’s believed his father had died much earlier.
Here’s another mystery. Even though the document lists the U.S. residence as if Edward was leaving Canada, it appears he’d been at Bear Creek, Montana. He’s listed as a miner and his Canadian residence as Fernie, B.C. As the Canadian and U.S. censuses are taken a year apart, in 1910 and 1911 respectively, one would expect to find Edward in at least one if not both of them. But Edward doesn’t appear to be in either census. Was he a transient worker at the time, wandering from mining camp to mining camp, looking for a better job? Wikipedia states that Bear Creek, Montana developed rich coal mines in 1906, so it seems to be coal he was chasing, but how did he miss the enumerators of both countries in two different years?
We now come to the part of Edward’s story that ultimately led to him being awarded the certificate that turned up at the thrift store in Duncan so many years later. We are fortunate in Canada that, generally, the records of our First World War soldiers have been completely preserved by Library and Archives Canada, (LAC). They’re now in the process of completely digitizing these records and we’re in luck, because they’ve completed beyond the M’s, so Edward’s complete WWI records are available to download for free from our national archives. (Previously, one had to order them by mail and you only got part of them).
Edward’s complete WWI records are 96 pages in colour of the old, worn paper documents. Some of it’s boring but some of it’s fascinating. Besides his WWI records, I’ve also accessed the digitized war diaries of his unit, the 5th Battalion (Bn.). These are also available from LAC and I also accessed the Nominal Roll or the sailing manifest of the 5th Bn. when they sailed from Quebec to England in the fall of 1914. This last document is also from LAC.
At the end of July and into early August of 1914, when war broke out in Europe, Edward appears to have been working as a miner at Merritt, B.C. He enlisted at Merritt on Aug. 12, 1914, only ONE WEEK after Canada followed Great Britain’s lead in declaring a war on Germany. Edward was signed into the 31st B.C. Horse and assigned his permanent regimental number of 13340 then shipped off to Valcartier, Quebec to begin training. He was immediately re-assigned to the 5th Infantry Battalion and remained with that unit for the rest of his service.
After some very quick and basic training, Edward was shipped off to England, leaving from Quebec City on Sept. 30, 1914 only a little more than six years after he ‘d arrived from Scotland. No doubt, he’d never dreamt he’d be returning under such circumstances.
They arrived at Plymouth, Devonport, England on Oct. 20, and were soon en route to their camp on Salisbury Plain. (There’s no explanation as to why the crossing took three weeks; perhaps they were in convoy and trying to avoid German submarines.) At Salisbury, the soldiers endured a winter of rain, mud and snow in deplorable conditions although not nearly as bad as they were to face in the trenches. One highlight at Salisbury may have been on Nov. 4, 1914, when they were inspected by HRH King George V.
By mid February 1915 they were ready to go into action and were sent by train to Avonmouth and boarded His Majesty’s Troopship Lake Michigan. They disembarked at St. Nazaire, France on Feb. 13, and boarded trains for Hazebrouck near the Belgium border close to Ypres where they arrived on Feb. 16. On Feb. 22, they were moved to North Armentieres, right on the border of Belgium and directly south of Ypres and they went into billets. The next day, they had their first taste of the trenches.
I’m now able to address one of T.W.’s main questions regarding S/Major McAdams. Tom listed many of the major WWI battles that the 5th Bn. was in and he wondered how many did Sgt. Major Edward McAdams take part in. By carefully going through both his WWI records and the war diaries of his unit, I’m able to answer this.
(To be continued)