This is the path of that was taken to track the military service of
George Van Wyck Laughton, M.C. as he passed through the CEF and the BEF
during the Great War. In addition to being the story of my
grandfather, it is also an explanation of the process to search for
information about a relative during that period.
Tracking the military service of Grandfather Laughton
has not been an easy task, even after 10 years of following the path (actually
it was 20 years but I disappeared for 10 years to raise a family and run
the business), research of every available record and even
with the expert review of his file by Chris Baker of the Great
War Forum and the Long, Long Trail.
It was a result of this long trek that I ended up back searching
Canadian records to find the root of his military service after I had
clearly established his service in the British Imperial Army. From
there I diverted to the development of the Matrix
Project with the Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group (CEFSG). The
has become a wealth of information for Canadians researching their
relatives in the Great War. Great grandchildren as well as
grandchildren and even children are now avid users of the site. The CESG
is now also available in Wiki
The Early Beginnings:
George Van Wyck Laughton's military service record started with the
Militia in June 1911 when he joined the 26th Middlesex
he reached the rank of Sergeant, prior to his departure in June 1914.
The background on the Militia Units is provided in the link to this page
for Grandfather Laughton's Militia Experience.
December 1915, George joined the 7th Regiment Fusiliers in London,
Ontario, where he advanced to the rank of Lieutenant. The records
show that the 7th Fusiliers was attached to the 142nd Overseas Battalion, where he was
a Lieutenant (Supernumerary). His medical records from the UK (see
Baker Report) indicated his service with the 142nd Battalion was
from August 15, 1915 to November 15,1915. The same record lists his
time with the University of Toronto C.O.T.C. as November 15, 1915 to
August 15, 1916, at which time it says his service with the 26th
Northumberland Fusiliers commenced. Obviously we have some issues with
all the dates.
Time with the 142nd Battalion is
recorded from February 1916 to March 1916, after which he was attached
to the 32nd Battalion (redesignated a Reserve Battalion), for what
appears to be no more than 10 days, as that was then absorbed by the
15th Reserve Battalion. His application to enter the Officer Cadet
program is dated May 19, 1916 - apparently an Imperial application but
completed and filed in Canada. This would agree with the
"Recommendation for Admission to an Officer Cadet Program"
that is signed and dated in Toronto on May 18, 1916. Clearly all
of these plans were in place prior to his attestation at Shorncliffe in
July 1916. Perhaps it was protocol that he had to attest in the CEF,
prior to being transferred to the Imperial Army officer cadet training
The Attestation Paper Puzzle:
|Update January 2013: The complete
service record of Grandfather Laughton is now available in
digital format from the site of Library and Archives Canada. You
can retrieve that from this link: G.
V. Laughton #82130
We have now also added a direct link from this page (see
left side panel) to the complete report prepared by Chris Baker.
The report was always here, just without this link.
Laughton does not have a record of his Attestation Papers on the site of
Library and Archives Canada, but he does exist there under his name
George Van Wyck". You will also note that his Regimental
Number 82130 does not exist in that record, although the link does show
that there are records
in the archives. We have since retrieved all those records and
reviewed them to try and fill in all the details. Every few months
some new bit of information arises that leads me back to search again
for the missing link or links. For example, why does
Grandfather Laughton have a service number for the 32nd Battalion
when in fact he was first with the 142nd Overseas Battalion?
I suspect it was because Grandfather Laughton was always and officer
with the 142nd Battalion and therefore was not assigned a regimental
number and did not attest at the time of the war. It was different
with the 32nd Battalion, as he had already been struck-off-strength from
the 142nd and was now joining the 32nd as a Private -they already
had all their Officers - perhaps even too many.
Part of the solution lays in the fact that he attested into
the 32nd Battalion at Shorncliffe and not in Canada. I suspect,
but have not yet proven, that he may in fact have an earlier set of
attestation papers with a different regimental or service number.
George clearly was attested at Shorncliffe on July
7, 1916. We know that in 1915 he was already in the 7th
Regiment Fusiliers, attached to the 142nd Overseas Battalion, and then
in the University of Toronto OTC. It is possible, that during this
time he was never assigned a service number as he was only "attached
to the 142nd" through the Militia and never actually in
(attested to) the 142nd Battalion. Grandfather Laughton was listed
as a "Supernumerary Lieutenant" (an extra) for 5 months, due I
presume to the reorganization of the CEF and the reduction of Junior
Officers from 8 to 4 2nd Lieutenants. It is at this time that the
family records says George got "fed up" and found his own way
to England, at which time he may have then signed on with the 32nd
Battalion as "they were hiring". The 32nd Battalion was
from Calgary and had no geographic link to Grandfather Laughton.
|Later in this study, information was uncovered
that related to Grandfather Laughton and the large pack of COTC
Students from the University of Toronto that attested to the
32nd Battalion at Shorncliffe in the summer of 1917. That has
been assembled and recorded on this web site here: COTC
University of Toronto.
analysis helped me to make sense of one of the Discharge Certificates
that I had in the file that I had not yet used on the web site or in his
history. Due to the old 1960's Xerox copy, which deteriorated over
time, it is barely legible unless held to a backlight and read with a
magnifying glass. But it did reveal the information that he was in
fact discharged from the 32nd Battalion at Shorncliffe on 7th day of
July 1916, that he had served the CEF in Canada and England, and that he
was being discharged to accept a commission in the Imperial Army.
The discharge is recorded as December (I think the 8th) in 1916 in
London England, however the document is actually dated in February (3rd
Training in England:
Once attested into the CEF at Shorncliffe
it appears that Grandfather Laughton moved quickly to complete his
application for Officer Training in the Imperial Army. The records
show that his application was accepted and he was admitted to the No. 6
Officer Cadet Battalion at Bailliol, Oxford. Chris Baker's report
indicates that he was scheduled to start this four and one-half month
training program on September 5, 1916.
After a short bout with
influenza, he graduated the course and was posted as a 2nd Lieutenant
with the Imperial Army. At that same time he was discharged from the 32nd Battalion
CEF to accept his new commission. He was attached to the British 3rd Army, 134th Division,
26th Northumberland Fusiliers as a 2nd Lieutenant. Grandfather
Laughton was granted a temporary commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the
Northumberland Fusiliers on December 19, 1916. On his medical
records it is shown that he joined the 26th Northumberland Fusiliers on
August 15, 1916, perhaps an indication that he was being
"sponsored" by the 26th N.F. thus he knew where he was going
when he graduated.
Service in France:
Laughton reportedly joined his regiment (26th Northumberland Fusiliers)
in the field during the first week of March 1917. George was
active in the Battle of Arras in the Roclincourt area south of Vimy, in
particular in the great battle to capture Vimy Ridge on April
9,1917. He was, as such one of the "other Canadians"
involved in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, although he himself did not storm
the ridge. During the period of April 9th and April 14th 1917, the
details of which are still unclear, Grandfather Laughton was awarded the
Military Cross for his valour in battle. There are two conflicting
reports, including even the War Diary of the 26th N.F. of April 9, 1917
which lists him as being awarded the D.S.O.
On or about April 27,
1917, Grandfather Laughton was on patrol with his Sergeant when an
artillery shell landed. His Sergeant was killed instantly and
Grandfather Laughton was buried alive for 5 days, without food or
water. He survived the battle but left the war, the details of
which are provided in his medical records. He left Calais on May
1, 1917 and disembarked in Dover. He was declared medically unfit
for further service and after 4 weeks in hospital in England (4th London
General Hospital) he was sent to Canada for rehabilitation (Category
E). The records show that he was a patient at the Officer's
Convalescent Hospital in Toronto from September 8, 1917 to January 22,
1918, at which time he was recommended for discharge. He
relinquished his commission from the Northumberland Fusiliers on April
Records of the Imperial Army in February 1918 show that he
was at that time still listed as in a Reserve Unit, the 3rd
After the War:
As time goes by the records start to make more sense, particularly as
one learns more-and-more about the structure and operation of the
CEF. Now knowing how the system worked, I see that Grandfather
Laughton has a Discharge Certificate from the 15th Reserve Battalion,
that being the battalion that initially absorbed the 32nd
Battalion. So in fact when he left the Imperial Army, by resigning
his commission with the 26th Northumberland Fusiliers, he immediately
went back to being with the CEF 15th reserve Battalion, as a Private and
with no record of his awards. This document as shown below is
dated the 3rd day of February 1920. (Note: the original copy
was made by my father, George's son, on a 1960's era Xerox copier with a
paper that lost quality over time - the wording is barely readable).
Service in WWI:
This is all that I have at the present.
While apparently working with the C.O.T.C. at the University of Toronto
he was now a Captain in the Canadian Army (no longer the militia).
Family history says that when he went for his medical the same doctor
saw him that discharged him after WWI and his comments were of the
nature "Laughton, what are you doing here - you should be dead
may not be the end of the analysis, for every once in a while -
sometimes years apart - a new piece of information surfaces!