Oshawa’s Fallen: Stories from WWI

To commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the armistice that ended WWI in 1918, Samantha George, Parkwood Estate National Historic Site’s Curator, has been leading a group to research the stories of  Oshawa’s War Fallen.

Here are just a few of the many poignant and courageous tales from the men and women who served…

Sarah Ellen Garbutt, Nursing Sister 1875-1917

Sarah Ellen Garbutt was born in England on May 14, 1875, coming to Canada and settling at 52 Simcoe St. S, Oshawa with her brother, the Rev John Gabutt and sister Esther. The house still stands today, directly beside Simcoe Street United Church, looking much like it would have when Sarah lived there.

Sarah would become a professional nurse graduating from the Royal Memorial Hospital in Lindsay before joining the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Forces in Kingston on April 3, 1917 as a Nursing Sister.

She left Halifax, disembarking in Liverpool on June 8, 1917.  Tragically, just over two months after arriving in England, Sarah would be admitted to the Q.A.I.M. N.S. Hospital, 71 Vincent Square with suspected sciatica. The diagnosis was changed to Cancer of Abdomen, and at age 42, Sarah Ellen Garbutt would succumb to the disease on August 20, 1917.

Nursing Sister Sarah Garbutt was not long in service, but her legacy with Oshawa is forever. When her brother Rev John Garbutt returned from fighting in the same war, he wanted her name added to the Oshawa Cenotaph. It has been added, and it has been placed on a memorial plaque at Queen’s Park outside the Legislative Chamber. The tablet is of brass, mounted on an ebony frame and is inscribed:

“To the Undying Memory of the Nursing Sisters of the Ontario Military Hospital who gave their lives in the service of their Country during the Great War, 1914-1918”

Private William James Garrow 

William was born to William and Mary in Oshawa on May 16, 1894. He had a brother who died in infancy and two sisters who, remarkably, both lived into the 100s. William was an upholster by trade, 5’ 5 1/4” tall with a medium complexion, blue eyes and brown hair a Methodist and eager to fight for King and Country.

Curiously, William enlisted on August 30, 1915 in Montreal, when he was 21. We’ll never know why he enlisted in Montreal rather than in Ontario, but William became a Princess Patricia Light Infantry, Eastern Ontario Regiment private. He shipped over seas November 24, 1915. He arrived in France five days later reporting to the Canadian Base Depot. He would be Taken On Strength (TOS) December 9 to the Field, receiving $1.00 per day as a private.

Private William James Garrow would be killed in action in the field during the Attack at Sanctuary Wood. His body was never recovered but his name has been etched in the stone of the the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing – a war memorial in Ypres, Belgium, dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown.  He was 22 years old.

After his death, his father received a Scroll, Plaque, 1914-1915 Star, a Victory Medal, and British War Medal.

Private James Webster Garrow

Cousin of Private William James Garrow, James was one of three brothers who fought during WWI. A butcher by trade, he was born December 20, 1895 in Oshawa to Robert and Mettebell. There were six children –  two girls and four boys.

James enlisted on November 15, 1915 in Oshawa. At the time he lived at 20 Brock St E, was single, 5’ 5” tall and 130 lbs. He would become known as Pte J.W. Garrow of the 116th Battalion, 2nd Canadian Infantry, Canadian Expeditionary Force. Leaving Halifax June 23, 1916 aboard the SS “Olympic” he sailed for England, arriving in Bramshott. From there to France and on October 26 to the “Field”, the French Front.

During the attack and capture of the enemy’s positions in the village of Fresay, he was killed instantly by shell fire. His remains where never found but his name will forever be remembered on the Vimy Memorial.

James’ parents would receive seven medals, including the Memorial Cross. He was not eligible for the 1914-1915 Star, but Scroll and Plaque were sent.

As mentioned James was one of three brothers, Spr Robert Alexander Garrow of the 4th Canadian Engineers was ultimately “Invalided” back to England then Canada in 1919, and Pte George Wallace Garrow of the 116th O.S.B. CEF who was SOS on being wounded to Canada in 1917.

Robert Henry Croyston

Robert Henry Croyston was born on March 4, 1892, one of six children born to Arthur and Clara, in London England. Robert came to Canada via Portland Maine in 1906, but the family ended up settling in Picton.  Robert would eventually come to Cedardale, Oshawa, along the shores of Lake Ontario.

Ethel Millicent Hudson became Robert’s wife on 30th October 1913.  She was 19 and he 21, a labourer and member of the Church of England. Within less than 2 years they would have a son, Albert Robert and Robert Henry will have enlisted to fight for King and Country in Europe.

At the onset of WWI, Robert had eight years experience with the Canadian Militia, so he enlisted at Niagara Camp on June 12, 1915. He was listed as 23 yrs old, 5’7” tall, 150 lbs having a medium complexion, grey eyes and dark hair. He would be taken by the 37th O.S.Bn, CEF. He left Halifax aboard the S.S. Lapland on November 27, 1915, arriving in Shorncliff. He was promoted to Sergeant and Taken On Strength to the 17th Reserve Battalion.

In March 1916, Robert became a member of the 13th Battalion Canadian Infantry, Quebec Regiment and was sent to the Front in France. The October 8, 1916 Casualty Report A5404, lists Robert as missing during the Battle of the Somme. This would later be changed to Killed in Action, as Sgt Robert Coyston’s body would be buried N.E. of Bapaume. After the war Sgt Coyston’s body was exhumed and reburied in Adanac Military Cemetery, with a cross to mark his final resting place.

As mentioned above, Robert had an infant son, Albert Robert Coyston, who would become a lieutenant in the Special Service Battalion. Albert was killed in action during the liberation of Holland, April 28, 1945.  Father and son, both fighting for their country, thirty years apart.