The Lone Canadian

His grave can be found near the top of the small village churchyard in the shade of the old trees. It stands out from all the other ancient and modern monuments to the village dead, because the headstone is instantly recognisable as military.It is perfectly shaped, a desert stone colour, with a carefully and expertly carved maple leaf heading the words ‘140188 Private E Smith, 3rd Bn Canadian Inf, 6th October 1916’. Below that is a cross etched into the stone followed by one of the standard, most likely family selected ephitats ‘ A life laid down for friends’.

He died at 18 Shorncliffe Road Folkestone, one of the many private homes provided by the people of the town and turned into small support hospitals staffed by Canadian or voluntary aid personnel.

During the First World War Shorncliffe was the home of several Canadian military establishments. Up to 50 000 Canadians were housed in transit camps, or were trained in specialist skills such as gunnery at the Machine Gun School. The Canadian Army Medical Corps Training Depot was based here during almost the whole of the war.

Wounded soldiers were evacuated from the front to be treated at either of the two main hospitals, Shorncliffe Military Hospital and Moore Barracks Military Hospital (later Nos. 9 and 11 Canadian General).

These were supplemented by many smaller institutions, with varying capacities from 25 to 125 beds and paid for by the Canadian government on a daily rate of 2 to 4 shillings.

It was into one of these that Edward Smith was transferred in late August 1916.

Immigrants arriving in Canada

He is not one of the Canadians remembered every 1st July by the people of Folkestone. The Canadian Flower Service at Shorncliffe Military Cemetery is a tradition began in 1919. The children of the town lay flowers on each one of the more than 300 Canadian soldiers’ graves as other wreaths are laid at the central memorial.

Canada is a vast country. At the beginning of the 20th Century it was a vast empty country and the government actively sought immigrants to boost the economy. New Canadians were encouraged to move to the west to settle and farm the wide tracts of the Prairies.

The official preferred profile of an immigrant was white and British; and described by The Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton, as "a stalwart peasant in a sheepskin coat, born to the soil, whose forefathers have been farmers for ten generations, with a stout wife and a half dozen children…".

The lure of a new life and new opportunities resulted in a million and a half British people arriving in Canada in the early 1900s. They represented 40% of all immigrants and Edward Smith was one of these.

Special immigrant ships were laid on and in some cases certain shipping lines specialized in transporting the vast numbers to their chosen new country.

Certainly for the Smith family employed in the declining cloth industry of the Stroud valleys, raising the passage fee for Edward would likely to have been a major undertaking.

Edward was born in 1878 in Randwick at the Laager, being the fourth son of Levi and Prudence Smith. His father was a cloth worker and as the boys grew up they were also employed in the industry as gig drivers and cutters.

At only 13 years old Edward was apprenticed as a tailor, while his younger brother remained at school.

Obviously by 1905 or 1906 Edward felt that his future lay elsewhere and in what must have been a tumultuous decision he emigrated to Canada.

It would seem that he continued work in the cloth industry, after all he probably pocessed few other skills and it is possible he lived in the Toronto area. It was here that he signed on to join the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force on 26 July 1915.

However he recorded his birth date as 12 Nov 1884, making him six years younger than he actually was. He was a small slight man, only 5’ 71/2” tall, with a fair complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. His apparent age was noted as 30 years and 8 months and he passed the rudimentary medical examination without any issues being noted.

He went through 6 to 7 months training before being shipped to join 3rd Battalion on 19 March 1916, being held in readiness near Norwich.

Within 2 months it became clear he was unwell. He was evaluated at two military hospitals before he was sent to Lakenham Military Hospital on 17 June 1916. This was an institution opened in November 1914, and staffed entirely by voluntary nurses until the end of 1916, when more formal arrangements were made.

He was transferred to Folkestone where the main Canadian medical facilities were situated. By the end of August he was signed off as an overseas casualty as a result of valvular disease of the heart. 18 Shorncliffe Road was reserved for officers so it is interesting that Edward Smith was sent there.

Possibly his true age had been revealed during the medical examinations and being older he was permitted to be housed with officers. He was under orders to ‘rest and recover and await a 3 monthly check up.

He never made it; dying on 6 October 1916. The medical connection has been maintained over the years as there is now a dental surgery in next door to the old Canadian hospital.

Edward Smith's heart condition was attributed to the strains of active service. Was he too old for active service? Had his no doubt, hard childhood left him with a weak heart?

Why did he understate his age? Was it a way to get back to see his family, or a need for a job? Or more likely that Edward Smith signed up to fight for his old country through service to his new and then his epitaph makes a great deal of sense.

18 Shorncliffe Road as it is today

Edward Smiths Grave randwick Gloucestershire


Sue Francis of the Randwick Historical Society

Peter Perry who wrote ‘The Canadian Connection’ for the RHA newsletter

Christine Warren

For more on Canadians in the First World War please visit The Canadian Great War Project