Son of George and Frances Swann of West End, Wetherby.
John was born on the 28th of June 1896 at Linton, near Wetherby to parents George, described as a Farmer (Own Account)
and Frances Kate Swann. The 1901 Census records the family as residing in premises adjacent to 'Linton Old Manor,'
this equating to a cottage located off Northgate Lane, the family at this juncture comprising of John, his parents, a sister,
Frances Ethel born in 1894 and George Henry born in 1899. The family had also taken in a Boarder, one Matthew Thorburn aged
22 years, a Domestic Groom and a native of Barnsley.
the baptism records of the aforementioned children, George Swann's occupation is described more accurately as that of
a Gardener or Market Gardener. With a growing family, Sarah Eleanor (Helena as she is recorded in the Birth Index) being born
in mid 1901, by the year of 1907, the family had relocated to Wetherby residing at first in premises located at Sandringham
Terrace and then at Number 9, West End in the Westgate area of the town. In September 1908, the birth of another child took
place, namely Christopher Neville, the 1911 Census recording that George was carrying on his profession as that of a Market
Gardener (Worker) whilst John, now aged 14 years had found employment as an Apprentice Painter.
Although the Yorkshire Market Town of Wetherby was flourishing during this
period, one may surmise that John was restless in spirit. To this end, with or without his parents consent it is unknown,
John made a decision to take a great leap of faith and emigrate to Canada. It is now that we will take up his story as he
crossed the Atlantic to commence a new life in what was perceived by many to be a golden land of opportunity.
Canada: A Journey Into The Unknown
In May 1913, John journeyed south, no doubt by railway to the Port of Southampton.
Embarking on the S.S. "Ascania," a ship owned and operated by the Cunard Line on the 8th of May 1913, he
stated that his intention to emigrate to Canada was to pursue an occupation of that of a Farm Labourer. Arriving at Quebec
on the 19th of May, the nature of his life and exact whereabouts until 1915 are unknown, that is until he attested for service
with the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on the 14th of August 1915 at Moosomin, Saskatchewan.
Attestation, Enlistment & Posting Overseas
A Following description of John appears on his
Attestation Papers, the Approving Officer being one Major Thomas Edwin Perret, a native of Regina, Saskatchewan.
"Apparent age, 19 years. Height, 5 feet 7 and a half inches. Chest
measurement, Girth when fully expanded, 33 and a half inches, Range of expansion, 3 and a half inches. Complexion, fair, eyes,
blue, hair, brown. Religion stated as Church of England."
Initially joining the ranks of the 68th Battalion (Regina), C.E.F., this battalion's formation had been authorised
in April 1915 and recruited men from Regina and the Moose Jaw Districts of Saskatchewan amongst others. Transferred to the
46th Battalion (South Skatchewan) in October 1915 by Army Authority, John numbered 427883 and the battalion, Officer Commanding
Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Snell, embarked at Halifax, Nova Scotia for England on the 23rd of October 1915 onboard the S.S.
"Lapland," a passenger ship formerly owned by the Red Star Line and commandeered as Troop Ship. Disembarking
at Devonport, England, on the 30th of October, the battalion, strength recorded as 36 officers and 1,115 Other Ranks then
proceeded to Bramshott Camp, Hampshire.
Camp, England: Origins, Command & Confusion
Established early in the war, the camp was located on a common between the villages of Bramshott and Liphook. Before
the provision of suitable accommodation however, the camp was primitive to say the least with the men being housed in tents
with little or no facilities for recreation until the construction of wooden huts began late in the winter of 1914. As recreational
facilities such as a number of Y.M.C.A. huts was added, one of these alone circa December 1914 was capable of holding 800
men standing for the provision of a Church Service. A large hospital was added capable of treating over 600 men, this being
expanded further in 1916 to a capacity of 1,200 beds.
late 1915, reinforcements arriving from Canada were duly sent to Bramshott as the established facility at Shorncliffe, Kent,
home to the Canadian Training Division, had reached full capacity. Placed under the command of Brigadier-General Lord Brooke,
late G.O.C. 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade in November 1915, the whole training of Canadian forces in Great Britain would and
had proved to be a complex issue. Two commands were now operating before and during this period at both Aldershot and Shorncliffe
and attempts were made to bring the former under the regulation of that of the Shorncliffe Command under Major-General Samuel
Steele. In effect, there were now two men who believed that they were in ultimate command of Canadian Forces in Britain, Steele
at Shorncliffe, and Brigadier-General James Charles MacDougall under the auspices of the Aldershot Command. As confusion reigned
still further, in early 1916 and after another visit to the War Office, Major-General John Wallace Carson attempted to clarify
the structure of the command of Canadian forces in England in a letter to Steele. The letter simply stated that MacDougall
was to remain the G.O.C. Canadians in England, a position that he had been appointed to by the Canadian Government and approved
by the British. Lord Brooke would remain in command of Bramshott subject to MacDougall's orders and that he would administer
the same training programme as that being conducted at Shornecliffe. As regards Steele himself, Carson stated that he (Steele),
would remain as G.O.C. of Shornecliffe and in addition to his duties in that command, he would also have authority in the
supervision of the men stationed at Bramshott.
is quite apparent although the above is just a fraction of the difficulties perpetuated by both politicians and those in the
Canadian military, that the structure and command in place to train Canadian troops arriving in England was far from satisfactory
from the outset. As a consequence, it was not until October 1916 and the formation of the Ministry of Overseas Military Forces
that the difficulties experienced over two years was finally addressed. For a more indepth reading of the subject, the reader
may wish to refer to the excellent Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914 - 1919, Official History of the Canadian Army in
the First World War by G.W.L. Nicholson, McGill-Queen's Press, 2015.
The Camp: 'Mud-larking'
Even the location of the camp it would seem was unsuitable. Drainage of the
common land on which the camp was sited proved to be most problematic as Bramshott developed, the camp itself turning into
a veritable quagmire.' Mud-larking' would appear to be the pre-occupation of most of the camps inhabitants but to
break the monotony of life in the most determinable of conditions, concerts were performed nearly every night from volunteers
from the local populace. Such was the condition of the camp, a parody on the refrain of the popular song "A Little
Bit of Heaven" was composed by a Private of the Royal Army Medical Corps:-
"Sure, a little drop of water fell from the sky one day,
And rested on the surface of a lump of mud and clay.
When the Government found it, it looked so wet and rare,
They said, "Suppose we leave it and
put a Camp right there."
So they dotted it with "Canuks,"
just to make the mud-pies grow,
It's the only place you'll find them, no
matter where you go.
Then they sprinkled it with rain-drops, just to make it nice and damp,
when they had it finished, sure, they called it Bramshott Camp."
Just as the 46th Battalion were settling into camp, a tragic accident involving
one man from the 40th Canadian Infantry Battalion occured on the 30th of October. Private James Joseph Smith, a native of
Halifax, Nova Scotia, was part of a party of about twenty men who were returning from Liphook to camp. Smith himself, apparently
the worse for wear through drink, attempted to board a passing lorry operated by the Army Service Corps but unfortunately
missed the vehicle and fell under the rear wheel. Initially admitted to Bramshott Camp Hospital, he was then transferred to
Frensham Hill Hospital but died from "shock" due to injuries received shortly after midnight on the 31st.
Aged only 19 years and being in England just over little than a week, James now lies in Bordon Military Cemetery.
A more sinister death occured during the month of December when one Canteen
Sergeant of the 9th Canadian Mounted Rifles was murdered in horrific circumstances at Grayshott by an officer of the 41st
Battalion C.E.F. Sentenced to death at the Hampshire Assizes, after an appeal the capital sentence was commuted to one of
penal servitude for life however the officer, despite overwhelming evidence, still maintained his innocence.
In 1916, instances of drunkeness were rife. One man committed suicide albeit
the man in question was certified insane, another man, also under the influence of drink after a heavy session, suffocated
due to a tight coat collar. The local populace by this stage it appears, had basically had enough. It was rumoured that the
town of Guildford had been placed "out of bounds" to some Canadian regiments quartered in the locality and it was
suggested in some quarters that this was instigated by the Mayor of the Borough himself. Harmful for trade however, the moral
high ground had been taken!
Although there is
virtually no information as regards the training of the battalion during their stay at Bramshott, one may surmise that this
consisted of various drills in musketry, bayonet and bomb as well as the conducting of route marches across the Hampshire
countryside. On the 19th of April 1916, John wrote a Will bequeathing all his personal estate to his mother. This Will was
witnessed by Private Edgar Hulme Henley, a former Bank Clerk of Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan, and Pay Sergeant Kenneth Sterling
Russell, a native of Osgoode Station, Ontario and a former Accountant. It is therefore possible that on this date, John was
aware or made aware of an imminent departure for service overseas.
On the 16th of June 1916, Private John William Swann proceeded overseas. Although the ports of embarkation and diembarkation
are not recorded in his service documents, he was taken on the strength of the 3rd Battalion, C.E.F. on the following day.
An annotation is then recorded as "O.C.C.B.D," this acronym referring to the Officer Commanding Canadian
Base Depot. At this juncture, the Depot administering reinforcements for all arms of the Canadian forces was located at Le
Havre until a move was made to Etaples the following year. Suffice to say, John's port of disembarkation was Le Havre
and it was from this place that he journeyed north by train to join his battalion, in the field, as part of a draft of 125
Other Ranks on the 19th of June.
The 3rd Battalion,
Officer Commanding, Lieutenant-Colonel William Donald Allan D.S.O. had just witnessed a heavy engagement in the Ypres Salient
at Mount Sorrell. Suffering 5 officers, killed, died of wounds or missing, in Other Ranks the battalion had suffered
339 casualties. Withdrawn from the line on the 14th, it was on the 19th when John and his associated draft arrived, that the
battalion was located in the Patricia Lines in Corps Reserve to the south of Poperinghe (Poperinge).
On the following day, John and his accompanying draft were inoculated, a
further draft numbering 224 men also being received by the battalion on the 21st. It was on the 24th at 7 p.m. that the battalion
moved into Brigade Reserve completing a relief of the 10th Canadian Infantry Battalion, 2nd Canadian Brigade, 1st Canadian
Division in the 2nd G.H.Q. Line at 12.15 a.m. on the 25th of June.
The G.H.Q. Line, originally constructed by the French, was a defensive line sited behind the front line
positions. The term, the 2nd G.H.Q. Line was in fact a misnomer as there did not exist a 1st Line. In this
sector, that occupied by the 3rd Battalion and in turn by the constituent units of the 1st Canadian Brigade, this defensive
line roughly ran along the road from Kruisstraahoek to the south-west, and then in a north-easterly direction towards Shrapnel
Corner. The position itself consisted of what one would describe as a series of redoubts, constructed in or in the vicinity
of farms or nearby chateaus such as the Chateau Segard to the south, Bellegoed Farm in the centre and
Swan Chateau to the north. It is in this sector that John, and his fellow drafts, had their first experience of life
in the trenches on the Western Front. It is at this juncture that we will now look at the formation and posting overseas of
the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry.