September 2, 1915 – Birth of the Battalion

161st Battalion Diary – December 2, 1915

Battalion Beginnings

On December 2nd, 1915,  the 161st Huron Battalion was officially authorized by ‘Privy Council Orders’ (from the Ministry of Militia at Ottawa), although as attestation papers show, the Battalion had been enlisting recruits into the 161st Huron Battalion since as early as November 22, 1915.

Each major town or village in Huron County had local recruiting offices. In Goderich, the recruiting station was in the former Town Hall building on East St., then later to moved to book store. In Wingham, the centre for military activities was the Wingham Armouries. For each area it was different, and it changed as need required.

Within the 161st Huron Battalion, there were four companies.

“A” Company

This section of the Battalion encompassed the Wingham, Brussels, Gorrie, Wroxeter and Blyth area. Their headquarters was located at the Wingham Armouries building.

“B” Company

This company was made up of enlisted men from the Goderich area. Their first headquarters was the Town Hall building on East Street. Later the headquarters moved to a Goderich bookstore.

“C” Company

This Battalion section was made up of enlisted men from the Clinton & Bayfield area. The Bayfield part of “C” Company operated out of a store on Bayfield Main Street, formerly owned and operated by Mrs. Lottie (Martin) Campbell. This location later became Walter Johnson’s bakery, which burned down in October 1935. According to Lucy Diehl, the commander of the Bayfield company was Lieutenant Knox Mair.

The Bayfield company drilled each day in Clan Gregor Square and in the Bayfield Town Hall, when the weather was inclement.

“D” Company

This Battalion company was made up of enlisted men from Hensall, Zurich, Exeter & Seaforth areas.

Within each Company, there evolved groups based upon the enlisted men’s birthplace, such as Blyth’s Own, Goderich’s Own, Hensall’s Own, which are referenced throughout the history of the 161st Huron Battalion. These groups and the titles came to light, mainly through photographs taken before the 161st Hurons left Canada. Once in England, the local distinctions became less of an issue, as the Battalion settled into its role as a reserve battalion, supplying trained troops to reinforce Canadian battalions already on the front lines. The local loyalties disappeared as the Canadians fought to distinguish themselves and their country on the foreign soil of the European battlefields.

Enlistments – December 2, 1915

Three enlistments were received at Wingham in the 161st Huron Battalion. Two of these three soldiers did not survive the war.

654001, AITCHISON, (Pte.) Wallace, “A” Company enlisted and accepted for military duty on December 2, 1915 in Wingham on December 2, 1915. His next of kin was his mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Aitchison, of Wingham, ON.

Wallace Aitchison was born in Teeswater, ON on March 27, 1897. Prior to enlistment he was an 18 year-old single butcher with no military experience. He stood 7’ 7.5” with a fair complexion, blue eyes and light-coloured hair. He was Presbyterian by faith.

While training with ‘The 161’ at camps in London and Camp Borden, he participated in the battalion’s entertainment by taking part in a ‘male quartette.’ This information came from the late 161st member, Dr. F.G. Thompson, former Clinton medical doctor.

654010, CAMERON, (Pte.) Malcolm C., “A” Company enlisted on December 2, 1915 in Wingham. Malcolm Cameron lived at R.R. 2 Lucknow in St. Helens, prior to WWI with his mother, Ms. Josephine Cameron.

He was born on December 25, 1896. Prior to enlistment he was an unmarried farmer who was 18 years, 11 months old and stood 5’ 11” with a dark complexion, blue eyes and dark hair. He was of Presbyterian faith.

654077, PENROSE, (Pte.) James Ledran, “A” Company was enlisted on December 2, 1915 in Wingham. James Ledran Penrose was the one of two sons of a former Methodist minister, Reverand James William Penrose at Whitechurch, but who was now living at West Lorne, Ontario.

Private James Penrose was employed as a salesman in a general store before his enlistment and was living in Whitechurch, ON, but had been born in Hull, England on January 27, 1896. James Penrose was 5’ 10” with a dark complexion, grey eye and dark hair. He was a member of the Methodist Church.

Huron Homefront News – December 2, 1915

Enlisted Huron Residents

J. Wilburn and his son, Ernest, who enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, crossed the ocean. Mr. Wilburn wrote from Montreal as the boat was leaving – “We went away smiling and hope to come back the same.”

John Dearlove, employed with Robert Harrison of Belgrave area for a number of years, visited from London last week. He has been training for overseas service. On his return to London, he was moved to Quebec for further training before setting sail for England.

The Brussels Post wrote that Will Mayberry enlisted and was in training in Galt.

In the Walton section of the Brussels Post was the following news: “The Canadian Pacific Railway at Vancouver organized an Engineering Corps and Louis McDonald, son of Mrs. L. McDonald of Seaforth, formerly of Walton, was selected to accompany this Corps as head engineer. The company left Vancouver for the front. Previous to leaving, Mr. McDonald was entertained by the Seaforth boys in Vancouver and their friends at a complimentary banquet and was given a right good send off.”

War Front News & Letters

The Brussels Post of December 2, 1915 included the following letter from Private Alfred Ennis of the 34th Battalion. He wrote it from Bramshott Camp, Hampshire, England.

“I got across to this side safe and am feeling fine. I had a fairly good time coming over. Was sea-sick for 5 days but got over that. We are into the real business now, there is no fooling about it. You have to work like a nigger and the more you do the keener you are to get to the front. I would go tomorrow if they gave me a chance but they won’t do it as I haven’t been drilled enough, but will try my best to go when the rest go, that will be sometime this Winter. Will ask some more of the boys around there to enlist. Tell them to come and help. There is lots of room for more. You do not know over there what the people have suffered but you can see for yourself as soon as you land here. I can you it makes a fellow feel that he is doing right when he looks on the street and sees the poor little children left homeless and fatherless through the war. I am going to fight as long as I have the strength to pull the spring of a gun and I happen to one of the lucky ones and get through I will come back to Bluevale for a while. I miss the place more than you can think but I mean to stick fast. I am not training for the fun of it for we all know what lies before us in France, so we are doing our best to do our duty for freedom.”

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