Three Men on the Grass: Exploring a Photograph

This photograph was contributed to the 18th Battalion Facebook Group and is the basis of this post.

Three men lie causally on the grass. The photo is pixelated but one can derive a certain youthfulness from the photograph. Two of the men hold knobbed ended batons or swagger sticks and the man on the left side of the photograph is a Lance-Corporal. It appears they are lying on grass with a row of mixed deciduous and coniferous trees behind them.

Who are these men? When was this photograph taken?

The photograph has three names with regimental numbers which should make finding these men a cinch but one of the regimental numbers does not match the name on the photograph, making a clear determination difficult. Regrettably, regimental number 928698 is assigned to a Private James McConachie, not the Private Charlie Wilson as annotated on the image.

Checking for a “Charlie Wilson” with the same regimental number set (928xxx per the 135th Overseas Battalion) finds the following soldiers: John Albert Wilson (928334) and Rupert Arnold Wilson (928433). A check of the nominal roll of the 153rd Battalion nets a Charles Alexander Wilson with the regimental number of 928963. Thus, we have determined that the regimental number was transposed incorrectly and we can investigate further as to the origin of this photograph.

We now have three men captured at one moment in time. What can one deduce from their service experience to tighten down on where and when this photograph was taken?

A review of their service record shows that they would all of been serving with the 153rd Battalion when Privates James and Jones enlisted with the Battalion at London, Ontario on 18 June 1916. The both were British born motorcycle mechanics and their regimental numbers, 928905 and 928906 respectively, indicates they joined together and were probably friends and/or co-workers as they had the same trade.

Private Wilson, however, enlisted earlier than this men on 9 March 1916 at Mount Forest, Ontario.

There was an age difference with James (23) and Jones (20) being older than Wilson who was 16-years old upon attestation.

However, if the photograph is correct then they at the very least acquaintances, if not friends after they began their mutual service with the 153rd.

There is one detail of the photograph that may date this photograph timeframe and possibly indicated that the soldiers are, in fact, misidentified.

A review of the rank of Lance-Corporal for each of these me determines the following:

Albert James: This soldier served as a Private until he was appointed an Acting Lance-Corporal on 9 January 1919 while serving with the 18th Battalion as part of the Canadian Corps occupation forces in Germany.

Alfred Jones: served as a private during his entire service.

Charles (Charlie) Alexander Wilson: served as a private until he was killed in action 29 September 1918. Sadly, he was the only son of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Wilson of Mount Forest. He is commemorated at the Vimy Memorial.

Reg. No.928905928906928698
NameJames, AlbertJones, AlfredWilson, Charlie
Date/Place of Attestation18 June 1916 at London, Ontario18 June 1916 at London, Ontario9 March 1916 at Mount Forest, Ontario
Apparent Age2320-years, 7-months16
BornBirmingham, EnglandDover, EnglandMount Forest, Ontario
Trade or CallingMotorcycle MechanicMotorcycle MechanicFarmer
Battalion(s)153rd OS153rd OS153rd OS
Arrives England7 May 19177 May 19177 May 1917
Units Served in England25 and 4th Reserve Battalions until TOS 18th Battalion 29 August 1918.25 and 4th Reserve Battalions until TOS 8th Battalion 14 August 1918.25 and 4th Reserve Battalions until TOS 8th Battalion 28 March 1918. Transferred to 8th Battalion before arriving at 18th.
This matrix helps define dates and relationships between the men.

If the only soldier to be appointed as Lance-Corporal then the names of the men on the photograph may not be accurate. With the current information this photograph, assuming that the only one of the names on the photograph are correct would indicate the photograph was taken after 9 January 1919.

There is another problem with the dating of the photograph.

The men appear to be wearing 1903 Canadian Service Pattern Dress. This uniform would have been replaced overtime by the rigors of service by either the British Pattern Service Dress or the “Kitchener Pattern” both with 5 buttons. The soldier on the right clearly has six buttons.

With the information at hand and assuming that one of the two privates is Albert James, then the photograph was taken between his enlistment on 18 June 1916 and some time prior to his transfer to the 18th Battalion on 29 August 1918. As Charlie Wilson had been transferred out of their unit on 28 March 1918 one can bracket the time frame as being from June 1916 to March 1918, the time in which all three men were present.

The problem is the issue of rank and the format of the uniform.

One could contend that the photograph had to be taken between a time in which the men of the 153rd Battalion wore the Canadian Pattern of service dress. The likelihood of determining this with any accuracy is very low and, barring conclusive proof, it is estimated that this photograph may be on Private Albert James and two of his companions. Since we cannot see the unit badges on the men it is possible that these men may come from different units.

Without greater ground and tree detail or information regarding the aspect of the sun it is estimated that this photograph was taken in the mid-part of 1916 or shortly before the 153rd Battalion left for England 29 April 1917.

An inquiry to the person who contributed this photograph shared that the photograph was taken in Egremont Township some time in 1916. This township included the village of Holstein where Privates James and Jones were from. This photograph was probably taken on a weekend leave after they enlisted. Their 153rd Battalion service cards note no placement or leaves for tasking such as being assigned to help with the fall harvest.

The photograph is a wonderful capture of three men of the ranks. The annotation initially gives hope to the origin of the photograph but the inaccurate service number of one of the soldiers coupled with the man on the left holding the rank of Lance-Corporal serves to call into question the connection between the three men in the photograph.

We do know that Privates James and Jones had the same trade and joined on the same day and have consecutive regimental numbers, a strong indication of them knowing each other, but the man with the rank of Lance-Corporal, coupled with the design of their uniforms and James’ obtaining this rank in 1919 after he was separated from the two other men during his service makes the likelihood of this photo including these three men impossible.

Postwar, Private Albert James moved to Holstein, Ontario and lived until 12 February 1971. He married Ethel Wilson on 31 March 1920. He is interred at the Mount Forest Cemetery, Southgate Township, Ontario.

Private Alfred Jones returned to Canada and lived at Holstein, Ontario. He died on 24 January 1960 and may be interred at Pine Hills Cemetery, Scarborough, Ontatio.

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