The Mysteries of Percy Barr

When gathering information about soldiers from one hundred years ago, information can be scarce and sometimes there is not much one can find.  Percy Gladstone Barr was one of those people, until now.

My research partner last year, Andrea, possessed a keen interest in him; however, her reasoning is unknown to me.  Of course when the information required eventually materialized after a years time, the first email was sent to my coffee war opponent and partner, because she of all people would most appreciate the information.

Five months shy of 18, Percy enlisted on January 3rd of 1916.  At the time, he still attended high school but joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force anyway.

Percy Barrr

Courtesy of Collections Canada

There are few mentions of Percy Barr in The Camosun, but through my process of researching him, I realized that perhaps external sources are the richest source of information.

The local news paper of the time, The Colonist, courtesy of the University of Victoria added editions from 1911 onward online and luckily, for both Andrea and I, there were specific details about him and his family.  I learned that his father died in Hamilton, Ontario when he was a boy and had an older brother and two sisters.

Percy’s mother, Rose-Anne, left with her four children for British Columbia between 1912-1914 and resided in Colwood, British Columbia for many years afterward.  During Percy’s years spent at the high school, peers recognized him as a boy who was exceedingly popular and bright, an active member in his church and Captain of the Church’s intermediate basketball team.


Courtesy of Faith Reimer Archives

Percy left with the 103rd Battalion, otherwise known as the “Vancouver Island Timberwolves”, but later in his service, transferred to the 29th “Tobin’s Tigers”.  After his original enlistment, his eldest brother, Willis F. Barr was serving overseas in England with the Royal Army Medical Corps (yes, there will be information on him coming later once I find some) and Percy was determined to join him.

Barr carried out his dangerous duties as a sniper close to the German lines, but on December 20th, 1916, Percy Barr was killed in action.



Bravery in Blayney Scott

In Victoria Blayney was an established athlete in boxing, and attended Victoria High School in the early 1900’s, approximately between 1902-1906.  Although there are no annuals to gain insight into his activities, there is The Colonist, our local newspaper, as well as class registration, in today’s terminology is known as attendance records.  The books of class registrations are incomplete, with only so few surviving from one hundred years ago.

Upon the outbreak of the First World War, Blayney enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the age of 25, along with his two brothers Matthew and Gilling Scott.  I would deduce that the boys enlisted out of nationalism for their country to defend and protect the nation they knew and loved.

Scott, B attestation1

Courtesy of Collections Canada

His service with the CEF is unknown to me; however, I do know that over the duration of his time overseas, Blayney wrote home and the Scott family still possesses those letters.  Unfortunately, the letters remain at a relatives home and I have viewed them once only.

At home, Blayney was revered, and I know from my search in the archives that girls from my high school sent parcels to the men overseas.  I am certain that Blayney and his brothers would have received letters, perhaps even treats as well.

After two years of service, in 1916 Blayney transferred to the Royal Air Force/Royal Flying Corps as an Officer.

Scott, B officer attestation1

Courtesy of the National Archives of Britain

As an Officer in the RFC/RAF, Blayney was involved in patrols over enemy territory.  At 4:35am on July 5th, 1918, Blayney joined pilot Dunlop on another patrol; however, it differed significantly from the others.  Although still extremely dangerous, their petrol tank was shot, and a leak was created.

Despite being 1,500 feet in the air, Blayney left the plane, climbed out onto the right wing of the plane and attempted to plug the petrol leak.  However, this attempt was unsuccessful, so Blayney climbed back into the plane, and looked for his spare “cloche”.  During this event, although the aircraft was under heavy fire, Blayney climbed out onto the right wing once again, in attempts to plug the leak.  This attempt was successful.  Pilot Dunlop decided to continue with the patrol and gained valuable information.  However, Scott was injured in their crash landing behind British lines, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts.

Blayney returned home in February of 1918, and joined a surveying party up north, but the strain proved too great and he returned home.  However, due to his war wounds, he was bedridden for six weeks and  died November 9th, 1919.

Passchendaele Patriot: Harry Cross

I’ve completed most of the research on Harry Cross; however, he is still one of my favorite topics.   I could talk all day about him.

It’s been approximately ninety years since his death in 1922 at the age of 23.  I began looking at his file (which is massive) downstairs in the Faith Reimer Archives, but it wasn’t until the images from his personal scrapbook were loaned to us that I really began my search for him in the annuals and on the internet.


Courtesy of Collections Canada

As a student, Harry distinguished himself by “unequalled success in his studies” according to his obituary and The Camosun. Early on, Harry displayed leadership qualities in literary, dramatic and debating activities.  He joined the debate team known as Beta Delta, took advantage of public speaking opportunities, and fell in love with photography.  Among the student body, Harry Cross became famous for his public speaking and the Society, as students called it then, awarding him a gold pin for “proficiency in various stated lines of speaking.”

Harry formed a group of friends widely known as the “House of H.”  The name was coined when the boys realized that each member had the letter ‘H’ in their given names.  Included in this group were Douglas Scott, Frank Stevens, and Frank McNamee, but also, Earl Ledingham, James McNamee, and William McKinnon.


Courtesy of Perry Family, Victoria, B.C.

Harry held his family and friends in the highest regard, valuing his fellow members of the House of H, his parents and younger sister, Lily, to whom he referred as “Cinderella.” The photograph of his family and himself at Dallas Road Beach bearing the caption, “I fear we waxed excessively convivial” displays his love for family and his vibrant personality.

These photographs reveal that Harry’s short life was filled with memories: some positive, others not.  When the Great War began in 1914, initially thousands of men enlisted.  However, Harry enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1916, at the age of eighteen, exhibiting his bravery and leadership.


Courtesy of the Perry Family, Victoria, B.C.

In training from December of 1916 to February of the following year, his infectious personality earned not only comrades – but also friendships.  And from what I have learned about Harry, his friendships were long-lasting because even after high school, the House of H members remained in contact.  During training at Willows, he captured many memories in photographs, including the training facility and comrades around him.


Courtesy of the Perry Family, Victoria, B.C.

In March 1917, Harry left Canada for the war overseas, unaware of the atrocities and dangers ahead.  Threatened by bombs soaring above, numerous comrades perishing, and the longing for a reminder of home – Harry remained resilient.  The soldiers attacked their adversary in waves, but few returned.

Gas masks were not issued and when soldiers questioned this omission, the generals responded with “up and over lads, use your handkerchiefs.”  Even without the proper protection from gas, Harry’s bravery and leadership prevailed.  He fought on the lines in Passchendaele and the young man full of life, humor and possibilities I’ve come to know faced an unspeakable fate.  In efforts to save fellow comrades from imminent danger and death, Harry crawled from the trench onto the land and met the perils of gas.

Following the gassing, Harry was hospitalized in Kent, England where family members visited often.  Harry still retained his humor and love of photography despite the effects of his injuries.  After being discharged from Pembroke Hospital in England, Harry began the journey home to his mother, father, and younger sister who anxiously awaited his return.


Courtesy of Perry Family, Victoria, B.C.

Harry’s health never improved after the gassing in Passchendaele.  The Cross family in a cozy home, with a small garden he referred to as “the Cabbage Patch” until shortly after his return from overseas.  His family was forced to sell this home since Harry’s coughing, a direct result of the gassing, kept everyone awake throughout the night, resulting in the family’s relocation to a larger home.

Harry attended Normal School, also known as Camosun College, for a teaching degree allowing him to teach at North Ward until his health deteriorated further when he contracted pneumonia in the summer of 1921.  Harry Cross succumbed to his war injuries on January 30th, 1922 at the age of twenty-three

Without the help of the Internet, the Faith Reimer Archives, and his family’s cooperation, all of this information would have been unknown.  I spent several hours sorting through the information, in attempts to decipher the key qualities of a man I’ve come to know so well.


Courtesy of Perry Family, Victoria, B.C.

Something A Little Out of the Usual:

Since Christmas is around the corner, and in my English class we’re working on poetry.  I thought I’d share this with you.  My school, as you know, has a Great War Project and of course yours truly has been a part of it for almost a year and a half now.  This is the trailer I created, but I thought it would be well fit to place on here as well.  It is not specifically about one soldier, making it out of the ordinary, but I figure this site needs a little more multimedia and what better than its own trailer?

The men in the video are as follows: Jack Dowler, Herbert Boggs, and Harry Cross.  Also, Master John A. MacDonald, MC., the Cross family, and James Pottinger and features a soldier that Harry Cross met in training camp, his friend William McKinnon, Blayney Scott, DFC., and Paul King.

So, I hope you enjoy it and my next entry will come up soon.

The Hunt for Jimmy Pottinger: the Patriotic Pottinger Boys

It is time for part two of my Pottinger fascination!  I have perused Collections Canada (Yes, I’m Canadian) and have collected the digital files of their attestation papers.

Attestation papers are an excellent way of discovering small details.  One can locate a soldiers religion, height and home town, all details one could find out by meeting someone.  However, two of the Pottinger boys (there were 3) fought in World War One, James, whom I’ve already written an entry about, and Claude, who returned home from the war.

I’ve discovered that Attestation Papers from the First World War are a useful resource, one without I couldn’t conduct my research.  Collecting Attestation Papers has become one of the first resources that I tap into – because I know that I’ll find useful information.


Courtesy of Collections Canada

Let’s talk about Claude Pottinger a bit.  From his attestation papers, I’ve realized not only am I envious of his beautiful handwriting, but also, that he worked with Sheet Metal here in Victoria and spent time with the 50th Gordon Highlanders and the 48th Highlanders of Canada.  You are probably wondering how it’s useful.  Well, it allows me to deduce that the concept of fighting for one’s country was important to Claude.

Claude, as one may read in his attestation papers, he was born in 1890, which puts his graduation year from my school between 1906 and 1910.  However, if he graduated at eighteen, his graduation year would be the median, in 1908.  Based on estimated graduation years and the small size of the community a hundred years ago, I would assume that Claude may have known Jack Dowler.

Claude, unlike James, returned home, married in 1929 and had one child, who lives today.

James Pottinger attestation

Courtesy of Collections Canada

When James Pottinger enlisted, he was nineteen.  From both Jimmy and Claude’s letters, it is clear that the youngest and eldest brothers of the Pottinger Family were not only brothers, but also close friends.  Unfortunately, I cannot quote these letters, but I can say that James’ death dramatically affected Claude.

The brothers enlisted the same day, on April 13th, 1916.  It is unclear if they enlisted the same day to support one another, or if Claude influenced James’ decision to join the fight in World War One.  I would assume because of the date of their enlistment, they left around the same time and trained in the same basic training camp, then together, left for their destination in Europe where they would fight.

James' Death Report

Courtesy of Veterans Canada (Virtual War Memorial)

However, both Pottinger boys served in an active militia before they enlisted with the Army; however their destinies split when Claude returned home from the war, and James perished 10 days before the Armistice of 1918 at the age of 21.

Discovering Dowler: The Blue Eyed Soldier


Courtesy of Faith Reimer Archives

John Wilton Douglas Dowler, otherwise known as Jack Dowler is one of the most cherished soldiers in the Archives, but also one of my main crushes. I mean, who wouldn’t have a crush on him once they see those pretty blue eyes?

I must admit, my fascination began with him on an aesthetic level.  The photograph above in his uniform, his narrow face, and those beautiful blue eyes sparked my interest about him.  Of course I am only in the beginning stages of research, as I am with Pottinger.  When reading the annuals that my school has kept since 1912, the first time his name surfaces in the annual is in 1912 when the “cornerstone” of my school was laid.  He was in charge of the Cadets of my school, leading them in a demonstration for people of importance to the province.   His name continues throughout the annuals until he enlists in CEF in June of 1916 with the McGill Regiment.

Of course, I’m sure as they wrote about him then, they weren’t illustrating that he made a girl’s heart thud in her chest, or made her giddy just looking at his handsome face.  No, for Jack Dowler, they were illuminating his influence within the walls of the school

During my time researching him, I’ve come to realize that people in this city loved him, as well as his family. Jack Dowler died in 1917, overseas in France at Vimy.  He unfortunately succumbed to the wounds received in the battle – and the name Dowler in my city died with him as the only son of his parents.  His family’s influence was virtually unparalleled.   Following his death at Vimy Ridge, our annual published an “In Memoriam” for him and went as far as stating, “No one knew but to love him.”  My deductions from that are if he was as loved as it seems then he must have been a caring, funny, and kind man.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much online about his family, or him.  I’ve located his attestation papers, which I’ll include below.


Courtesy of Collections Canada

Of course, these papers are useful for small bits of information.  I find that the attestation papers usually lead to larger information.   It helps when you have small details such as where they lived, their birth date, and even their death date because it makes it easier to identify if a piece of information one finds is about the correct person.  In this case, his attestation papers have yet to lead me anywhere, but I’ll look forward to whatever information they reveal for me.

The Hunt for Jimmy Pottinger: Part One

Driver James McNaughton Pottinger1


Courtesy of Faith Reimer Archives

Gathering information from over one hundred years ago proved challenging.  However, I lucked out in my search for information on Jimmy Pottinger, a local world war one veteran, who died ten days before the Armistice of 1918.

I’m fortunate enough to have access to in-house information on these men, however sometimes there is nothing at all.  In the file designated to James Pottinger there was only a postcard, where he died, and a photograph.  I plan on digging through the school registry and see which years he attended the school.

With very little information in my school archives, I knew I had to sort out other avenues to gather research.  When one is searching for information, its best to search in-house first, then proceed to the Internet, which saved me on numerous occasions!

The search online for James Pottinger, due to his uncommon last name, proved easier to research than perhaps searching someone with the last name Smith.  I found bread crumbs of information, his mother, Clara Pottinger, belonged to the Cameron family, his father, James Sr., was born in Scotland, and immigrated to Canada.  The date is unknown to me, but I know it was before 1886, when he married local Clara Cameron.  Together they had seven children, three boys, and four girls.  Don’t get me wrong, genealogy is important.  However, personality, experiences, and character of the people I research are of the utmost importance to highlight.

My first outing to gather information was to the local Archives.  I figured that if anyone possessed information on the family, it would be there.  I was right, a researcher’s paradise!  If I could’ve stayed there all day I would have.  We luckily gathered articles, a picture or two, and his obituary from 1918.  With the information we gathered, there wasn’t any way to showcase who James Pottinger was on our website dedicated to World War One veterans from our school.

In this search, however, I decided to try emailing one of the experts working on the Great War Project. Luckily for me, she gathered more information than I, and has a surprise in store.  She had transcripts of James Pottinger letters, I can’t disclose anything that he wrote because we don’t have the permissions to use them, they are only for referencing.  Nonetheless, it was excellent just to read them and understand his character and what mattered most to him.

Great War Project

I’m a student involved in the Great War Project about my school’s involvement in the First World War.  This blog is dedicated to my journey, not only in my quest for information on each person, but also my personal journey in becoming “the finder”.  

I may as well give you a bit of background.  This project began last year and is continuing this year.  However, this year I’m looking for information on people other than teacher, Arthur Yates, student, Robin Gray, and student, Harold Eustace Whyte.  Instead, I’m looking at a broader scope, I’m interested in finding information on all five hundred students who went off and fought for my country.

So, without further or due, this is where my cataloged journey begins.