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Colson Family

by Christine Kowbuz

Philip Colson is my great great uncle. He was my Grandfather’s uncle and I imagine when Grandpa went to spend his summers as a child in Stanley he got to be close with him. My Grandpa passed away when I was 9 and there is not a day that goes by where I don’t think of him. He was a very quiet and kind man and I miss him very much. I would have loved to ask him about the Colson’s, especially Philip (his namesake). It is Philip’s tragic story that started me on my search for answers. From wanting to find out the truth of his life, I uncovered more and more stories. I like to compare family history with panning for gold. You pan and swirl the clouds of time away until you finally uncover a little flake or nugget of golden information that gives you a fever to continue looking for more wealth of knowledge.

I found my first piece of information on the “Collections Canada” website where I found Philip’s service papers (1). I started looking for his war diary. A war diary is an official document created to record the day-to-day activities of a unit throughout the war. As Philip was drafted into the 1st Depot Battalion of the Manitoba regiment, I started researching that unit, but after Jude Mitchell kindly found Philip’s obituary, I realized he served in the 52nd Battalion, New Ontario Order.

After, a new soldier was drafted and arrived in England it was at a desperate point in the war. The draft was put into place in Canada to replace men who had died at the front, and so to reinforce weakened units, draftees were sent wherever they were needed. Thus, Philip was sent to the 52nd Battalion.

The 52nd Battalion was an expeditionary force formed in 1915, as the first complete overseas battalion from Northwestern Ontario.

Aboriginal enlistees from local reserves in Ontario and Manitoba played an important role in the 52nd as well, as brave and decorated soldiers. The 52nd participated in such monumental theaters such as Mount Sorrel, Flers-Courcelette, Ancre Heights, Vimy Ridge, Avion, Hill 70, Passchendale, Amiens, Damery, Scarpe, Droucourt-Qeant, Canal du Nord, Cambrai, and Valenciennes. The 52nd Battalion obtained 380 decorations including the most prestigious, the Victoria Cross won by Christopher John Patrick O’Kelly at Passchendale in 1915(2). The following is a timeline of events in John Philip’s life at the age of 27.

• Drafted into the 1st Manitoba Depot Battalion on January 21st 1918. He was called up as part of the third draft of soldiers to go overseas to reinforce weakened regiments.

• He took the train to Halifax and embarked on the S.S.Tunisian(3) on April 8th 1918

• Philip arrived in Liverpool on April 19th 1918 and was sent to Seaford, England.

• There he was T.O.S. (Taken on Strength) on arrival, into the 18th Reserve Battalion. Here in Seaford, he drilled and trained for eventual service in France.

• On August 15, 1918, Philip was S.O.S. (Struck off Strength) from the 18th and drafted into the 52nd Battalion (4). The 52nd Battalion was raised by the Port Arthur militia and later formed a part of the Lake Superior Regiment. The 52nd battalion comprised part of the 9th Brigade, which joined the 3rd Division of the Canadian Army Corps in February 1916.

• On August 16, 1918 Philip landed in France and left for the 52ND Battalion. On August 24, he arrived for duty.

• Philip was in position with his Battalion outside of the French village of Boiry on August 28th, 1918. Orders were received for the attack of “Artillery Hill and Boiry”. It was during this offensive that Philip was shot in the upper thigh.

• John Philip was first admitted to a Stationary hospital in Wimereux France, on August 28th. The Canadian Cross Society reported he convalesced in Boulogne France on September 15th. On September 20th he was transferred to convalesce in Escault and then on October 8th, he was discharged to St. Martin's.

• He was transferred from the field hospital to two stationary hospitals in France. Philip was in convalescence until October 16, 1918 when he joined the C.C.R.C. (the Canadian Corp.’s Reinforcement Camp)(5) until he returned to the 52nd Battalion on Oct. 28th 1918.

This is what could have happened to Philip

1. Nickel-pointed bullet with high velocity penetrates bone; small wound of entrance; very little destruction of tissue; wound of exit almost as small as wound of entrance.

2. Nickel-pointed bullet with less velocity fractures bone, and forcing fragments forwards causes destruction of tissue, wound of exit in consequence considerably larger than wound of entrance.

3. Reversed bullet; fair-sized wound at entrance; the soft metal of body of bullet mushrooms against the bone (as shown at x), causes great shattering of bone, and as the metal spreads it brings about great laceration and destruction of the soft parts, with gaping wound of exit This is a diagram of the casualty stations and hospitals on the Western Front

This is a diagram of the casualty stations and hospitals on the Western Front

Boulonge France in January 1918

• The war ended 14 days later.

• Philip was S.O.S. (Struck Off Strength) from the O.F.C. (Overseas Militia Force) of C.E.F. (Canadian Expeditionary Force) on March 15, 1919.

• He embarked the S.S. Olympic (one of the sister ships to the Titanic)(6) in Southampton on March 17, 1919 and left for home in Stanley Ontario on March 31, 1919.

This was a postcard issued to returning soldiers in 1919

And that was that. All that time and stress Philip endured a huge upheaval in his world. He left for France knowing in 1918 that the War in Europe was a bloodbath. What must have gone through his head? How did he feel, leaving a tiny place like Stanley to fight in a war, not knowing if he’d come home or not? Then two days in the field, he’s thrown into a bloody battle and his leg gets shattered sending him to hospital. Then home he goes seven months later.

After all that, John Philip returned to his normal life. By the way, I’ve heard that Grandpa Paske, Philip’s namesake, was only a teen when Philip passed through Schreiber on his way to Stanley on the train in uniform. Grandpa missed his Uncle Philip’s homecoming as he was playing hockey. When Philip came home it was rumoured he got engaged and resumed working as a Sectionman on the railway in Stanley.

Only two years after returning from WW1, at 30 years old, Philip was killed in a railroad accident. On a foggy Saturday morning, he was on a handcar with another man when a train hit them. The other man survived but John was thrown into the front of the engine.

I found his grave in the 1990's in a mostly forgotten cemetery, and it was from there I started my research. I still have questions to answer but am so happy I have learned this much so that I can share his life with others.

(1) They have the enlistment papers of every soldier from Canada who fought in WWI.
(2)Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, Lake Superior Regiment http://www.thunderbay


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