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.
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
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.