My Great Granduncle John ‘Jack’ Jamison
John was born in 1877 in Parkgate, Doagh, Belfast. He had older sisters Elizabeth, Jane ‘Jean’, and Hess, an older brother brother Tom and a younger sister Maud. John emigrated to Canada in November 1907 to join his brother Tom who had emigrated in 1893 who lived on Ballyhamage Ranch, Calgary, Alberta. By 1909 John had a homestead close to his brothers.
On 4th January 1915 Jack signed an Attestation Paper to join the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force (to go to the First World War), giving his occupation as Rancher, not married and his next of kin his youngest sister Maud. She was not then married and was living with her mother in Belfast. By September 1915, Private J.Jamison, D Squadron, was in training in the Canadian Cavalry Depot, Somerset Barracks, Shorncliffe, England. He got leave at Halloween to visit home, Parkgate, which he did from 30 October – 1 November . By 11th December 1915 he was still in Shorncliffe but by 26th December 1915 he was attached to the Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) and had just arrived in France.
John’s letters from the trenches which were transcribed by his relatives The Baird’s (in Belfast) many years later. They are a grim insight into the reality of the First World War from a family member.
He was posted missing, presumed dead in Ypres, Belgium June 2-5, 1916
No.117070, Private J. Jamison , 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles
LETTERS FROM THE TRENCHES
12th February 1916 (Belfast) there was a Field Service Post Card to his sister Hess but it was blank.
15th March 1916. (Belfast) Dear Hessy, Your letter received tonight. If you have not sent Trench Boots don’t send them as we get them issued out in the Trenches every time we are in, they don’t leave the Trenches, we couldn’t pack them with us so don’t send them if this arrives in time. The Boots I meant was High Boot laced up high and 3 straps to buckle on top – the trench boots would be no good for marching in so don’t bother about boots. The weather has been fine this last 2 or 3 days, quite a welcome change. If you can get some small tins of salmon and chicken paste to spread on bread it would be nice for a change. Hoping all are well, Love to all. In haste. Your lov. Bro. Jack. Hoping Dessa’s cold is keeping Better.
25th March 1916. Saturday. (Belfast) Dear Hessy, Jane , Liz and Maud. Your parcel arrived at a very opportune moment as we had no rations that night. The Regt has just come out of the Trenches and we lost our way going to our Billets. It was snowing all night. Officers and men were all in when we got there. We had our issue of Rum as we were pretty wet and just flopped down anywhere, we were in a pretty warm corner this time and fortunately had very few casualties. Trenches just 35 yards apart. We go in again Monday night. I received Boots last night too, they come in very handy.We have long Rubber Boots for the trenches but they are no good for marching. I marched out in mine last time and had sore feet for 2 or 3 days afterwards. These Boots were just the very kind I wanted, a little too big but that’s a good fault. Tell Maud to give you the next Payment she receives from War Office that will help to pay for them £3. The balance I can pay when I see you. In your next parcel a little paste, chicken or Bloater paste to spread on bread would be a nice change, a tin of MaConachies Beans or Sausages or Sardines would go good instead of cake. I have just received Jane’s and Dessa’s letter as I am writing this in Dugout. There is a Bunch round the Brazier boiling water for Tea. We can’t make too much smoke as Fritz’s aeroplanes are always hovering overhead and if he sees much smoke he goes back and Fritz’s big Guns start shelling us. Some of the big shells come too near to be pleasant sometimes. Tell Betty I received her box of shamrock all right it was a bit late but I gave the Boys a bit for their Caps.
They are starting sending over shells again. Please make this letter go the rounds. I was sorry to hear of Ferguson Wilsons death. It’s funny you haven’t heard from Tom. Write him another letter. There is a lot of Canadian Mail missing. I’m afraid a lot of it is under the Atlantic as there were a lot of parcels sent over to the Boys here which they haven’t got. I wouldn’t send any butter as the parcels are always a bit squashed when they get here. A magazine would be very acceptable now and again. Remember me to everybody and hope all are well. Send this letter the rounds please. Your Lov. Bro. Jack.
11th April 1916. To Mrs (Hess)Dr Kennedy, 305 Grosvenor Street, Belfast, Ireland.
Field Service Postcard franked Field Post Office.
Printed lines 2 of which have been filled in – I HAVE RECEIVED YOUR LETTER DATED 10th April
“ “ “ PARCEL “ “ “.
Signed only J. Jamison 11th April 1916.
26 April 1916. Belgium. On Active Service, Soldiers Institute, Canadian Corps
Dear Tom and Grace (Ballyhamage, Calgary).
Hessy sent me your letter to read. I was sorry to hear you had such a severe winter and that you’ve all been ill with colds but I hope you will all be better by now. We had a very wet and cold winter too, in the Trenches. You feel the cold more when in wet trenches and can’t walk about. As you know our Draft reinforced the 1st CMR. I’ve had 3 month’s experience in the Trench and so far our Regt. has been very lucky only between 20 + 60 casualties since we joined – about 20 killed, rest wounded. I’ve escaped unscathed so far but had some pretty close chances. I don’t mind the bullets, you get used to them, but when you see the Jack Johnsons and Coal Bores coming over and making Holes that would bury a Team and Wagon you begin to wish you were back in Canada again – we are at present in one of the hottest places on the British Front, you can have a fair guess where it is. We have just come out of the Front Line Trenches for 8 days rest. I had my Boots on for 9 days and was glad to get them off. As for my Breeches I haven’t had them off for nearly 2 months, except to have a bath twice. The trenches now are a lot better tho’than what they were first winter. Hall of the 31st got rather badly wounded lately , and Jamie Rodgers is still in England yet in Convalescent Home. I saw Brudwell Freeman the other day. You remember Candy who used to be Butter Maker at the Creamery, he joined the Princess Pats when they first mobilised, he has been all through it since the start. I saw him lately. There are very few of the Old Princess Pats left, not 100 all told. There are a lot of the Old 12th Boys that left after our Draft reinforcing the 2nd CMR. Landale is still with the Fort Garry Horse somewhere south of France training as Cavalry. They might use them later on, but they haven’t seen any fighting as yet. Rex Young is Lieut. in Strathcona’s Horse, all our Old 12th Officers are all split up 3 of them with the 2nd CMR. I have fixed about Homestead so that if I don’t go back it will be alright anyway. Have you got the Patents yet, you should get that fixed up if you haven’t done so. Did you have many losses last winter. Write and let me know all the news. We are in Reserve here and were called out to the Front Line last night as there was a Heavy Bombardment on which lasted till morning. We heard Fritz was going to attack, he did attack but not our Trenches, a bit further up. He was easily Repulsed and had to retire back with Heavy Losses. These attacks occur pretty often at different parts of the Line, but nothing has occurred lately, except as you know with the French at Verdun. We see Aeroplane battles in the Air nearly every day. I think about August or early Fall ought to see it through. I hope so anyway as I don’t think the Germans will stand another Winter Campaign. This last two days has been very warm. My health is pretty good. We have about 2 casualties in my Old Regt., none killed, just wounded. 2 crazy with Shellfire, but I think its only temporary with them. I hope Grace’s cold is better. Give my love to all the kiddies, not forgetting Grace and yourself. I sent you a paper that is edited here ½ a mile behind the trenches. There are an awful lot of Machine Guns used in this War, they send from 600 to 650 bullets a minute and can just sweep up and down the Parapets. Harklett Hervey is in England. I hear he has got some kind of a Staff job, looking after wounded soldiers or something like that. I haven’t heard anything about Ralph Lloyd, I don’t think he has left England yet but not sure. Must close. Write soon. Your Lov. Bro Jack. 117070 Pte J. Jamison, B Coy, 1st CMR, BE Force, France.
26 May 1916. (Belfast) (On YMCA stationery). My Dear Hessy and Jane. Your parcel received 2 or 3 days ago. Many thanks. I would like you to send some strong Lice Powder, as the last Dug Out I was in I got them all over my clothes. We all have to take off our shirts and have a good Hunt every afternoon. I’ve got accustomed to Rats crawling over us and sometimes biting those who haven’t covered their heads. I can stand them better than the other Crawlies. I threw my Drawers and Inside Shirt away, but I got a clean Outfit when at the Baths. I have written to Bunty Wilson thanking them for parcel, those small tins of Cream were good. Some of the chaps have got a Belt with camphor or something in it which they say keeps them away – sorry for giving you so much trouble. Hoping all are keeping well at home. We don’t get parcel when in trenches but get them as we come out. We go in again in 3 days for 8 days and then out for 3 weeks or a months Rest. Remember me to the Dr and all at home. I will have to write to Maud next. With love. Your loving Bro, Jack.
(26 May + 3 days = 29 May + 8 days = 6 June)
20th June 1916. From Canadian Record Office, 7 Millbank, London SW to Miss Maud Jamison, Parkgate, Ireland.
Madam, I regret to inform you that a report has this day been received to the effect that No.117070, Private J. Jamison , 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles has been posted as missing 2 -5th June 1916.
Should he subsequently rejoin, or any other information be received concerning him , such information will be at once communicated to you.
I am Madam, Your obedient servant, ? ? ,For Lt. colonel in charge of Records
A cutting from a Canadian paper refers to ‘ The Battle of St. Eloi’.
In Jean’s Album there was a newspaper report by the Press Association Special Correspondent which basically said:
“British Headquarters, France, June 8. Two facts emerge from details of first days fighting in great German attack upon Ypres salient …..epic heroism of the Canadians in most furious onslaught they have yet been called on to oppose ……..Germans opened their bombardment at 8.30 on morning of June 2…..exceptionally heavy concentration of guns …high explosive shells, presumably from long range naval guns…..the Germans in their sweep towards the sea secured much higher ground…the attack had been preceded by a spell of comparative calm……the bombardment was divided between direct fire on the trenches themselves and a deadly barrage of the ground behind…for nearly 5 hours the bombardment continued…..At about one o’clock the occupants of what could no longer be called the trenches saw the German infantry charging…..the Canadians put up a magnificent resistance…..until order to retire ….to the comparative shelter beyond Armagh Wood….deeds of supreme valour during this opening day of the battle would fill a stout volume..In one open emplacement out in the trenchwork a party of the Canadian Mounted Rifles under Lt.Col A.E.Shaw were surrounded…but fought until they had beaten off their enemies by which time the Colonel was killed and but a mere handful of survivors remained……it was not until 11 o’clock at night that the enemy lifted his barrage. I cannot at present carry my story beyond what at the time of writing looks it may develop into the third Battle of Ypres.”
For many years the family hung on to the hope that Jack would be found wandering somewhere in Europe, having lost his memory or something. His picture sat on the sideboard in Belfast.