Finances and the Private

On October 29, 1914, a 27-year-old labourer[i] enlisted with the 18th Battalion. He had 1-year experience with the 30th Wellington Rifles. He had previously enlisted with the 6th London Battery (Independent), Canadian Field Artillery (CFA), but that enlistment, for some reason, only lasted from August 12 to 29 of 1914.

Now, he had permission to enlist, were possibly he did not when he joined the CFA. We have evidence of this from the following from his regimental card from the 6th London Battery and a note in his service file from his second enlistment. It states:

“London, Ont. Oct. 29th, 1914

I William A. Davis leave to my wife Bertha M. Davis, 104 Tecumseh Ave. London, Ont. the sum of five ($5.00) out of my wages every week, while in Military Service.

[Signed] W.A. Davis.


I, Bertha Mae Davis consent to let my husband William Arthur Davis go for active Service with the overseas contingent with the 7th Regiment.

[Signed] Bertha M. Davis.”

Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 2360 – 22

A husband required his wife’s permission to enlist, hence this note. Of interest, if you look at the writing in the note, the author of the note is one person. But which one? Was it Private Davis or his wife that wrote both portions of the note? Both portions of the note have almost exact pattern of letter formation and the signatures are the same.

106-years later an answer can be found.

It was Mrs. Davis that wrote that note, not her husband.

Mrs. Bertha Davis saved her husband’s post cards and added notes to some of them. The writing on these cards is an exact match. Which leads to the question, why did she write both notes? Was her husband illiterate?

He was not, as he did sign his own attestation papers and her card collection included a postcard written to his daughter later in the war.

It also, when viewed within the context of his service record regarding “Assigned Pay” creates some interesting questions. The first one that comes to mind is the necessity of Private Davis’ wife specifying $5.00 every week of his pay. A private in the Canadian Expeditionary Force earned $1.00 per day while stationed in Canada. Thus, she was requesting 71% of his wages outright. This is not unusual when one considers that many husbands assigned up $20.00 per month of Assigned Pay when they went overseas, but it is unusual to see a request like this at enlistment. In all cases to the author’s knowledge, Assigned Pay was not designated by a serving soldier until the unit he served in departure to England was imminent. Most Assigned Pay was designated 1 to 4 weeks prior to embarkation and did not start until the soldier was overseas.

His documented Assigned Pay that started effective May 1915 was designated by him at $15.00. His wife also was receiving a “Separation Allowance” of $20.00 per month. Apparently, this amount of Assigned Pay was not satisfactory as there were payments at an increased rate. One payment of $35.00 for February 1916, and $25.00 payments for the months of March and April 1916. The service records show that the Assigned Pay was going to be going forward of $25.00, but some negotiation or compromise was made as the Assigned Payments stabilized at $20.00 a month. A private overseas earned, while they were on active duty, $1.10 per day.

Some readers would note that the payment in February was unsustainable, but the ledger shows a payment of $35.00 for a month where Private Davis earned a total of $31.90. His pay was higher that month as it was a leap year (April had 29-days). At this rate he would owe the Canadian Army $18.50 during a non-leap year if the rate of pay remained at $35.00 per month. Even when the pay was reduced to $25.00, he now was assigning 75% of his pay to his wife. Not that he should not support is wife, but the average Assigned Pay was the aforementioned $20.00 per month for the vast majority of married soldiers.

This financial glimpse of Assigned Pay and some of the mechanics of it give a hint of the financial situation in the Davis household. It is interesting to note that on the outset of Private Davis’ military service his wife specifically requests $5.00 a week from his pay. The fact this request is made on the same document and in the same handwriting, his wife’s, indicate that part of the condition of his service was predicated on proper and consistent financial support when he was in the Army.

Then, when the formalized Assigned Pay is designated by Private Davis, perhaps without consulting his wife, to $15.00, thereby establishing some monetary relief for him as this allows him to keep over 50% of his pay when he is overseas, we see a notation changing the pay to $35.00, an amount that was unsustainable by a private earning a maximum of $34.10 per 31-day month. He would run a deficit averaging $1.54 per month. The assigned pay is eventually reduced to the average rate most other soldiers are paying. One wonders of contents of all the correspondence was going back and forth across the Atlantic between Private and Mrs. Davis and the Canadian Army Pay Corps to establish an agreed upon value of assignment of pay.

Whatever the case or circumstances this small note expresses an intonation of the social and economic realm and pressures in which this couple lived. A wife concerned for the well-being and economic security of herself and her children in competition with the needs of her husband to “do his duty” is given some voice with the note. The family had three children, all from Bertha’s previous marriage, so Private Dave, at the age of 27-years had the familial responsibilities of a much older man (Bertha’s eldest daughter, was 13-years old when Private Davis enlisted). The service file expands on this theme with those entries showing the initial value of Assigned Pay and the subsequent adjustments made to that pay in relation to some form of tension or conflict between husband and wife over finances. For most married soldiers the Assigned Pay was set at a value and remained consistent during their service. Rarely did it increase and when it did change It usually was a decrease.

It is curious why that note was not written in two different handwriting styles. One can deduce that one possible reason was Mrs. Davis wanted there to be know doubt in her husband’s mind and that of the military authorities that he was going to be formally supporting his wife financially before he went overseas. As to the motivation one cannot get a sense of the why. It does appear he enlisted with a 1st Contingent artillery unit, but his service card gives no hint as to why he was discharged. Only a short time passed, and Citizen Davis was able to convince his wife he had to enlist and become Private Davis. The notes where the terms of his participation in the war so he could do his bit. From viewing the signature on the post card in contrast to the signatures on the note there is no doubt that they are different. Once you compare the writing on the post cards this is confirmed absolutely.

Private Davis got his wish and was to serve overseas. First, with the 18th Battalion from his enlistment until June 16, 1916, when he is transferred to the Canadian Army Service Corp with the 2nd Divisional Train. He then serves in a series of medical units, is ill for a spell and recovers in England, where he spends the rest of the war. He was not the best provider as he pay was docked several times for being Absent Without Leave and while recovering from a social disease.

Private Davis, left, with unidentified soldiers. Circa 1914-15. Via Jeff Simpson.

Returning to Canada, his is discharged at London, Ontario on May 23, 1919. At some point the relationship between Private Davis and his wife ends and he dies of diabetes mellitus on June 29, 1929. His death certificate and Veterans Death Card both list his mother as his next of kin. He is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery (London, Ontario) in an unmarked grave.

Years later, Jeff Simpson, indirectly related to Bertha, the woman so concerned about money and who seems to have found Davis wanting as she married again, finds his place of interment and through The Last Post Fund has a proper marker set where he lies at rest.

With thanks for Jeff Simpson for making this story possible and helping remember one of our soldiers.

[i] Private William Arthur Davis, reg. no. 53103.

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