Remembering Jutland and a Lost ‘Little’ Cousin

I have been away from my genealogy blog for a few months because, well, life happens. Events interfere and life gets unavoidably busy – even for someone like me whose current day job is to live a life of retired leisure.

Today however is special. Today, May 31st, marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland, the largest (I would be very hesitant to use the term greatest to describe it)  of the naval battles during World War I. It is also, subsequently, the 100th anniversary of my first cousin, twice removed James Little Triggs’ date of death, a casualty of that battle.

James’ grandparents were James Little and Dorothea (Dorothy) Carson of Greenock, Scotland. James and Dorothea were my 2X great grandparents.

This story starts somewhat romantically in Greenock, Scotland where a young Janet Little meets and falls in love with a sailor. John William Triggs was no doubt a strapping young man when he met Janet in Greenock, likely at a time when his ship was in the Greenock dockyard. John and Janet married at 64 Finnart Street in Greenock on December 2, 1898.

Well, almost nine months to the day later, on August 28, 1899, John and Janet welcomed twin boys into their family! The babies were Philip Triggs, named after his paternal grandfather, and James  Little Triggs, named after his maternal grandfather.

There was no time to settle for the family however and John Triggs’ work had them move to Devonport in the southwest of England where in the 1901 Census of England, James can be found living with his parents and Philip is found living, not too far away, with his paternal grandparents, the split likely an attempt to ease the burden of rearing the twins.

It wouldn’t take too long before both boys were eager to follow in their father’s footsteps. In due course, both of the twins joined the Royal Navy as Cabin Boys, at the age of sixteen.


H.M.S. Queen Mary (Photo courtesy of

And so it was that on May 31, 1916, Cabin Boy 1 James Little Triggs was performing his duties aboard the H.M.S. Queen Mary, a relatively new ship, built and launched in 1912. His twin brother Philip was performing his duties on the same day aboard the H.M.S. Iron Duke, a similarly new ship. Both brothers were also in the middle of the Battle of Jutland.

H.M.S. Queen Mary took two direct hits which caused her magazine of ammunition to explode. James Little Triggs, 16-year old Cabin Boy was lost in that explosion along with 1,265 of his shipmates. The body of James was never recovered for burial but he is memorialized at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Plymouth Naval Memorial.

Philip Triggs survived the Battle of Jutland and World War I. Philip later emigrated to Australia where he died in 1967.


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.


Lest We Forget – The Bullet

A single bullet.

Well, technically, it is a shell casing and not a bullet.

The bullet, the destructive projectile, is missing. Long since having left the protective embrace of its casing.

One hundred or so years ago, the bullet left this casing which was subsequently and unceremoniously ejected from a rifle to land at the feet of a German soldier in a field in France.


The markings, worn now with time, tell me that the bullet and casing were manufactured in a German munitions factory in 1915.

Some years ago, a friend had the opportunity to help on an archaeological battlefield dig in France. Using wit and resources, a site for the dig was chosen in what is now a farmer’s field. Eventually, the team unearthed a crude trench where they found the remains of several soldiers, covered literally by the sands of time.

Among the relics found was my ‘bullet,’ one of many rifle shell casings discharged by the German soldiers on the advancing allied forces. My friend was permitted to keep a few casings from the dig, one of which he gifted to me.


What haunts though is what I don’t know about the bullet that once resided in this casing.

It is clear the the bullet was fired at the advancing Canadian, British or American soldiers. But what I don’t know is whether or not that bullet hit it’s mark. I don’t know if a frightened, cold and wet young man lost his life as a result of having been struck the fatal blow of my bullet.

And I think of the German soldier who fired the rifle and ejected this shell casing to his feet. He too was young and cold and wet and scared. Most of all scared. He would not see his family again.

And I am haunted by knowing that I will never know.

This shell casing, filled by and buried deep in the dirt of that farmer’s field in France, now sits on my desk, a daily reminder that we can never forget the sacrifices made by those unknown to us so long ago.

The Service File Of Peter Gammie

Each month I would check and find nothing but the attestation (enlistment) form for my great granduncle Peter Gammie.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) had a much publicized project underway to digitize and post the full service files for the Canadian Soldiers of the First World War (according to the website, they are about one-third of the way through the digitization project). As batches of these digitized files were completed, they were posted on the LAC website. Available for free for all who were interested.

Long ago, I had paid LAC to photocopy and send me the service file of James Gammie, Peter’s brother. I had great interest in James’, or ‘Jimmie’s, file because his death in the 1918 from injuries sustained in France during combat had triggered the events that lead to my great grandfather, and Jimmie’s half brother, to move the Hadden family to Canada. The move had been at the invitation of my great grandfather and the Gammie brother’s mother Helen.

A distant cousin had once informed me in an email that while James had died in combat, Peter had not seen action in the war. But there was no explanation.

Peter Gammie

Peter Gammie

What was known was that Peter, aged 23, and his younger brother James, aged 21, had enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force together on May 17, 1916 in the village of Aneroid, Saskatchewan. Together, they completed the enlistment form giving their names, dates and places of birth, as well as listing their next of kin. Both brothers listed their mother Mrs. Helen (Shand) Gammie (my 2X great grandmother) as next of kin.

The brothers stated they were farmers willing to serve overseas. They swore oaths to King and Country. They were assigned consecutive regimental service numbers; the younger Jimmie becoming #1010103 and Peter becoming #1010104. Both were found to be medically fit to serve. Both were sent off for training.

For Jimmie, time would see him sent to the front lines in France where he was injured by shrapnel. He spent time in a hospital, recovered from his injuries and was sent back to the front lines. He wasn’t so lucky the next time. On September 28, 1918, Jimmie was killed in action. He was buried in France where an iconic maple leaf adorned gravestone marks his final resting place.

James Gammie gravestone, Bucquoy Road Cemetery, Arras, France

James Gammie gravestone, Bucquoy Road Cemetery, Arras, France

The mystery that surrounded Peter’s military career has now been cleared up.

His service file has now been posted and reiterates what was known. He enlisted with his younger brother and assigned to artillery training with the 229th Battalion. As all soldiers were required to do, on October 20th, 1916 he completed his pro-forma last will and testament, leaving all his possessions to his mother, “Mrs. A. Gammie.”

His medical record indicates that he received his required inoculations and all five feet, nine inches and one hundred and fifty-two pounds of him seemed well and fit. At least until February 1, 1917 when he was diagnosed and hospitalized for 29 days with a severe case of the mumps.

Two months later, on April 24th, 1917 he was again medically examined and was found to have “defective vision and varicose veins,” dating back, although never previously noted, to his pre-enlistment days.

To quote the examining doctor, Peter was “practically blind in right eye – left eye subnormal – varicose veins in right leg below knee.” The vision of the left eye was tested at 20/80 vision.

It is puzzling how a young man, an eager soldier recruit, could be medically examined numerous times by various medical personnel, spend a month in hospital and then, after six months of military service, be found to have pre-existing condition of near blindness in one eye and very poor sight with the other. But, apparently that was the case for Peter Gammie.

The doctor recommended a medical discharge. The medical board agreed and so, on June 7, 1917 Peter Gammie was medically discharged from the army and sent back home to the family farm. Never to see action in the war. Never to see his younger brother again.

Lest We Forget: Remembering Carl William Filkin

They were best friends.

Two kids from Longford Mills, Ontario. That’s where they met, likely sometime around 1910, when they were both in their early teens.

Alex and Carl were always up for adventure. Friday, October 1, 1915 was to be the start of their greatest adventure. They were going to defeat the army of the German Kaiser.

Alex was Alexander Smith Morton whom the records show was a couple of years older and a couple of inches shorter than his best friend Carl. Alex, born on May 21, 1895, was 20-years old on that Friday in 1915 at the volunteer enlistment centre in Toronto, Ontario. Carl, whose birth name is recorded as William Carl Filkin, born March 14, 1897, was the eldest son of William Mark Filkin and his wife Alma Maud Armstrong.

Extract from Provisional County of Haliburton birth register, page 145

Alex and Carl joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force, although, perhaps neither could understand why they just didn’t call it ‘the army.’ They were among the 640,000 Canadians who would serve King and Country in The Great War.

Carl and Alex enlisted in the 92nd Highlanders Battalion and were even assigned consecutive regimental numbers. Carl was number 192913 and Alex was number 192914.

As privates, Carl and Alex first trained in Toronto before being shipped to England in April 1916 for further training. Once in England, they were both first transferred as reinforcements to the 15th Battalion, a unit of the Toronto 48th Highlanders.

Finally, around the middle of September 1916, they went on their last great adventure together; they went to war in France. They joined the British-led Battle of Arras.

I suspect that their weeks in the trenches of France were not quite the adventure they thought they had signed on for. 

Wet, muddy, cold and terrifying. This was not drill work anymore. Real bullets were being shot at them. Real bombs were exploding near them. Real soldiers, young men just like them, on both sides of the battle line, were dying in front of them, the screams keeping them awake at night.

Then on October 28, 1916, Alex was hit. As Carl would later write to Alex’s brother Robert, “Alex was hit with a piece of shrapnel in the right arm and the missile pierced his chest.” It was Carl who, while still under enemy fire, carried his best friend to the field hospital where the severe wound was dressed. It was Carl who watched his best friend die on that October day.

The war wasn’t finished with Carl Filkin. He kept on fighting and according to Carl’s recollections of his time in war, shared with his son William, he and a Major Mavery would often sneak across ‘No Man’s Land’ only to return to their trenches later with a kidnapped German prisoner in tow whom they would interrogate.

In early April of 1917, as the Canadian troops readied themselves for their greatest battle at Vimy Ridge, Carl was shot in the left arm. For the better part of two days, Carl lay in a field, taken for dead before finally being rescued and removed to a field hospital where the first of numerous surgeries removed part of his left arm.

Information traveled slowly in those days, almost 100 years ago, and so it wasn’t until November 15, 1917 that the Orillia Times reported that “Private Carl Filkin, son of Mr. Harry Filkin, Longford Mills, and who went overseas a year ago, last May with the Highlanders, was wounded in the left arm by gun shot. He was taken to England, where his arm was removed. He is feeling fine now, and hopes to be home for Christmas.” The newspaper got the name of his father wrong, but Carl did eventually come home, minus his left arm and his best friend.

Carl took a course in accounting, saw a pretty girl playing the piano at a party and declared to a friend that he was going to marry the girl. True to his word, on May 21, 1921, Carl married that piano-playing pretty girl, Hazel Hicks. The marriage was officiated by Carl’s brother-in-law Rev. Albert C. Hie.

Carl worked as an accountant while Hazel worked at home, raising their sons. They lived in Calgary, Alberta for a while when Carl was President of the Prest-O-Lite battery plant located in that city. Eventually, they returned to the Toronto area and lived in Mississauga, Ontario where Hazel passed away in 1965 and Carl in 1976.

Alex Morton never returned to Canada. He was buried in the Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France, joined by more than 7,650 other brave heroes of the First World War.

The gravestone for Alex Morton, Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France (photo from Canadian Virtual War Memorial, Veteran Affairs Canada)

Two young heroes went to war. One did not come home; the other came home forever changed. Lest we forget!

Lest We Forget – The Hadden – Wagner Families Wall Of Honour

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we pause to reflect and remember those who went before us, bravely sacrificing their youth and in too many cases their lives, for our freedom.

The following is the list of those known brave ancestors, some from my family and some from Ellen’s, who gave so much. Today especially, we remember them. They shall not be forgotten.

World War I

GAMMIE, James (1895-1918), Private, Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force, killed in action

GAMMIE, Peter (1893-1984), Private, Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force

GORDON, Alexander Garrow Duncan (1891-1917), Private, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, killed in action

MERNER, Albert Edward ‘Herbert’ (1897-1917), killed in action

TRIGGS, James Little (1899-1916), Cabin Boy, Royal Navy, killed in action

TRIGGS, Phillip (1899-1967), Cabin Boy, Royal Navy

FINDLATER, William (1880-1918), British Army, died at home from wounds

World War II

SENATO, Nicola F. (1913-1945), U.S. Army, killed in action, Japan

NUSBICKEL, Thomas Raymond (1923-2002), U.S. Army

GAULL, George Leonard ‘Lenny’ (1920-2013), Canadian Armed Forces

MORGAN, Bruce Evan, M.D. (1924-2007), Navigator, Canadian Air Force

WAGNER, Carl Francis (1917-1993), Canadian Armed Forces

WAGNER, Gordon Gilbert Henry (1914-1994), Canadian Armed Forces 

We Remember

Most were just boys, really. They enlisted with the enthusiasm of youth, proud and invincible in their new uniforms. Their parents likely were frightened enough for them but proud of the young men they had raised. They were off to conquer a faceless enemy and save the world.

The training was tough and the discipline sometimes a difficult adjustment. Both were hopefully thorough in the manufacturing of these young soldiers. For the most part, none had chosen this profession, rather they were farmers, students, apprentices at a trade who would soon enough experience the terror of war.

On May 17, 1916 young Jimmy Gammie left his farm to enlist in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force. Maybe he had seen the posters stating, “Your Chums are Fighting, Why Aren’t You?” All of 5 feet, 8 inches in height, Jimmy, who joined with his brother Peter, would fight in France with the 46th Battalion. He would know what it was like to hear bullets whistle as they closely passed, he would know the sound and vibrations of bombs exploding, he would know the pain of being wounded, and after recovering, he would know the fear of returning to the front lines. He would know what it feels like to die for his country. 

Jimmy never returned to his farm, there was no repatriation ceremony for him. Jimmy is buried in France, with too many of his comrades, not far from the bridge he was fighting to gain. His grave, pictured above right, marked for all to remember him.

James Little Triggs was even younger, only 15 years of age and just under 5 feet in height, when he and his twin brother Phillip, followed in their father’s footsteps and joined the Royal Navy as cabin boys. On May 31, 1916, James toiled away below deck so likely would not have seen the shells coming that would sink his mighty battleship and end his young life.

Today at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we remember them, along with those who did survive but who have had lives filled with memories of the terrors of war. And we remember those still fighting and sacrificing their lives in the name of freedom.

The Hadden family motto is ‘n’oublie’ – never forget. I, for one, will not.