My Foley Cousin – A War Hero! (Part 1)

As I grew up, my mother would regale me with stories about her Irish roots, family members and ancestors. There were of course the O’Neill’s and Foley’s, the Fitzgerald’s and Boland’s. But never was there a mention that I can recall of the name Shaughnessy.

You can imagine my surprise then when, as a result of researching the siblings of my great grandfather John Foley, that I discovered John Foley’s younger sister Catherine Foley had married a man named William Shaughnessy and that William and Catherine had a son whom they named William D’Arcy Shaughnessy, my first cousin twice removed.

I was even more surprised when I learned through my research that William D’Arcy Shaughnessy had married Margaret Beatrice O’Leary and that both of them were buried in an out-of-place little cemetery only about a mile and half from my home.

St. Francis de Sales Cemetery is located on Notion Road in Pickering, Ontario, at the intersection of two streets that terminate at the cemetery. It is in what is now a primarily industrial, almost forgotten part of the city. The cemetery appears to have been established as part of St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church (now a municipal community centre) which is located across Duffins Creek, just a few hundred yards away.

I don’t know if William D’Arcy Shaughnessy was aware that his grandfather William Foley had been a founding member of St. Francis Church when the Foley family farmed in the area of what is now Ajax, Ontario. So I also don’t know why they chose to be interred at St. Francis; maybe William did know the connection or maybe it was because Margaret was born in Pickering, Ontario and the little cemetery represented for her the only Catholic cemetery in her hometown.

Several days ago, I paid a visit to the cemetery and found their grave marked by a very nice monument.

SHAUGHNESSY William DArcy Catherine and son gravestone St Francis Cemetery Ajax

Gravestone of William D’Arcy Shaughnessy, Senior and his wife Margaret Beatrice (O’Leary) Shaughnessy, St. Francis de Sales Cemetery, Pickering, Ontario (Photo by Ian Hadden, 2016)

Immediately on seeing the gravestone, I noted the name of their son “Tpr. [Trooper] D’Arcy” listed on the stone as being killed in Holland on 13 April 1945. That suggested only one thing to me, Trooper D’Arcy Shaughnessy, my second cousin once removed, died a war hero in World War 2. I was a bit incredulous as I had certainly never heard any stories about any family members having fought and given their lives in either of the 20th century World Wars.

The records uncovered to date however tell the heartbreaking story of this Shaughnessy family.

William D’Arcy Shaughnessy was born on 21 Dec 1883 in Barrie, Ontario, the son of William Shaughnessy and Catherine ‘Kate’ Foley. As you can see, the current Royal Family is not the first to lay claim to having a William and Kate and my family’s William and Kate added a bit to talk about given that they had been married only a month before the birth of their son.

Margaret Beatrice O’Leary on the other hand was born a little over four months prior to her future husband on 15 Aug 1883 in Pickering, Ontario, the daughter of Louis O’Leary and Catherine Cassidy.

The Shaughnessy family moved to Toronto by 1887 and William began working as a teamster, likely with or at least in association with his brother-in-law John Foley. While it is not yet known how William and Margaret met, it is known that William enlisted for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force going to battle in World War I. At the time of his enlistment in 1915, William listed his occupation as bookkeeper. William and Margaret were married in Toronto, Ontario on 12 Oct 1921.

Two and one half years later, on 13 May 1924, William and Margaret welcomed their first child, a son, into their family. This son was named William D’Arcy Shaughnessy, Junior after his father.

In the 1940s, the Shaughnessy family could be found living at 9 Bales Avenue in Lansing, Ontario, a small community in the vicinity of Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue for those familiar with the city of Toronto (Lansing was eventually assumed by Willowdale, then North York, and finally as it is currently, the city of Toronto).

It was from this address that 19-year old D’Arcy headed out and enlisted in the Canadian Army. He had completed high school and had plans to go to university but those plans would have to wait until after he had served King and country. D’Arcy’s military service file records that he was five feet, seven inches tall and was a Roman Catholic office clerk who, as fate would have it, held two life insurance policies for a total amount of $3,000.

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