The Foley Brothers in WWI

Gerald and Clarence Foley, two brothers and my mother’s only uncles. They were the only sons of John Foley and Mary Jane Fitzgerald. My mother’s mother was their only sister.

Gerald, born in 1895, was the oldest by one and a half years. Gerald was also my mother’s favourite uncle and I am one of his namesakes (more on the names of the brothers in a future post).

My mother always loved to tell the story of her wedding day when she and my father stood, following the wedding, on the sidewalk in front of the church and were greeted by their many guests. My parents received congratulations and best wishes and then my mother spotted her two uncles sobbing, with tears running down their cheeks. The two brothers grabbed and hugged my father, blurting out “You poor bastard!”

In my journey to learn more about Gerald and Clarence, and frankly about my namesake Uncle Gerald, years ago I was able to obtain both of their World War I attestation, or enlistment, papers. Now, at long last, Library and Archives Canada has digitized and posted their full service files from that war.

Gerald was the first of the brothers to enlist for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Although he was living in Toronto, Ontario, Gerald chose to enlist in Niagara Falls, Ontario on August 8, 1915. He made the required oaths and passed his medical examination. He was noted as standing five feet, five inches in height, had blue eyes and dark brown hair. He became Private Gerald Foley in the 74th Battalion, ‘A’ Company.

FOLEY Gerald WWI oath with signature 1915

Gerald’s service file records that his conduct and character were “good” during his time in the army but on December 21st, 1915, after 134 days of service and training, Private Gerald Foley, regimental number 451984, was paid what was owing and honourably discharged in Toronto, Ontario from the army with the assessment that he was “not likely to become an efficient soldier.” No other details are offered in his 14-page service file. Gerald returned to the family home and working as a teamster with his father’s company.

Clarence on the hand had different circumstances. in 1917, at the age of 21-years, Clarence had married a young lady from his neighborhood named Elizabeth Blunt. Clarence and Elizabeth Foley then set up house one street away from both their respective parents. Like his older brother, Clarence also worked as a teamster in the family business.

After one year of marriage, Clarence was drafted into the army and reported for his enlistment in Toronto, Ontario on October 29, 1918.  Clarence went through the standard medical examination which found that he was five feet, six and one-quarter inches in height, weighed 127 pounds but was temporarily unfit for duty as he was suffering from, well, er, um, a venereal disease.

FOLEY Clarence WWI oath 1918

Timing being what it was, Private Clarence Foley, regimental number 619550 became a short lived soldier in the 1st Depot Battalion, 1st Central Ontario Regiment. On December 22, 1918, Clarence was honourably discharged from the army because the war was over and the army was demobilizing. Clarence was home with his wife Elizabeth for Christmas.

I didn’t know Uncle Clarence as he passed away in October 1954, just months before I was born. I have some memories of Uncle Gerald, my namesake, but unfortunately the most vivid of those memories was attending his funeral with my mother in February 1968. At least, their WWI service files help fill in the broader picture of these important men in my family.

 

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