In this year that marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, I would like to pay tribute to some members of my extended family who served in that horrific conflict. There may be others, but these are the ones I know about. Here is the first in a series of four articles.
Robert Edgar Stobo was a private in the 16th Battalion, Manitoba Regiment of Canadian Infantry. He signed up with the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on Nov. 9, 1914, and died at Ypres on June 13, 1916, age 36.
Born in 1880 in Scarborough, Ontario, Robert was doubly related to me. His father, farmer Isaac Stobo, was the nephew of my two-times great-grandmother Elizabeth (Stobo) Hamilton; his mother, Jane (Glendenning) Stobo, was the sister of my great-grandmother Isabella (Glendenning) Hamilton.
The first members of the Stobo family immigrated to Scarborough from Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1824, and they prospered as timber merchants and farmers. By Robert’s generation, the young men were beginning to move west. Robert was listed as a boarder in Kamloops, B.C., in the 1911 Census of Canada, and when he enlisted, he gave his occupation as stationary engineer.
Robert’s cousin Isaac Albert Stobo also died in the war. Born in 1883, he was the son of Margaret (Secor) Stobo and Robert Hamilton Stobo. Isaac was a farmer, unmarried, living in Edmonton, Alberta when he signed up in June, 1916. A private with the 49th Battalion, Canadian Infantry, he also died at Ypres, on Oct. 30, 1917, age 34.
Robert’s younger brother Isaac Archibald Stobo was an electrician living in Toronto when he signed up in September, 1914. He served with the 9th Battery and survived the war, returning to Canada in May, 1919, but he may have continued to suffer from his experiences. Census and voting records show he never married, but lived with his sister Frances for many years and worked as a caretaker. He died in 1948, age 63.
In late summer or early autumn, 1915, Susan Glendenning Gibson wrote to John Stobo Hamilton, passing along snippets of news from the front:
“… Isaac Stobo…seems to be in good spirits. He says he gets plenty to eat and plenty of clothing. He came through the battle of Langemark without being injured. He is in Belgium now. He says very little about the war as his letters are all censored. He gives a good description of the country and there old fashioned ways of working. It seems the women do the most of the Agriculture work. Edgar was in France when he wrote last. Isaac had not seen since he left his home in Scarboro. When he had a few spare days he went to the trenches and found him. He had seen some hard fighting, He was well. We expect word from him before long again.
Jane is well but feeling very anxious, there has been so many of our young Canadian men killed in action. She does not know what hour a message of bad news will come but we hope to see them home again. Isaac always speaks of when he comes home. …”
Robert Edgar Stobo and Isaac Albert Stobo were buried in Belgium. Robert’s name is also on the monument that marks his parents’ grave at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Scarborough.
I found the attestation papers, or enlistment records, of members of the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/first-world-war-1914-1918-cef/Pages/canadian-expeditionary-force.aspx. The first page indicates the name, date of birth, address, occupation and next of kin and the second page includes a brief physical description of the individual. LAC has begun to digitize all Canadian Expeditionary Force personnel files. The service files of some 650,000 Canadian soldiers of the First World War should be available for free download by the end of 2015. Until they are available digitally, you can order them by mail, but I did not do that.
If your ancestor died in either the First or Second World War, go to www.cwgc.org, the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This organization cares for cemeteries and memorials at 23,000 locations in 153 countries and looks after the graves and memorials of almost 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died in the two world wars. These include the graves of more than 935,000 identified casualties and almost 212,000 unidentified individuals. The names of almost 760,000 people can be found on memorials to the missing. You can search for your ancestor’s record on this website.
There is additional information on the database of Canadian Commonwealth War Graves Registers, First World War, at http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/mass-digitized-archives/commonwealth-war-graves-registers/Pages/commonwealth-war-graves-registers.aspx