Silas Frederick Osmond: WWI Service

Silas's family.

Title: Silas's family.
Description: Silas and Emma with son Bert standing and twins Edgar and Edith. © Private Collection. by-nc

Silas Frederick Junior (born 20 November 1870) was the second son born to Silas Osmond and Charlotte Lang. The family lived at a number of addresses in Rotherhithe while the boys were young. Silas Junior married Emma Dight on 28 February 1897 and their first child Frederick was born on 24 April 1898 and baptised in Christ Church, Croydon, where the family was then living. Silas and his family emigrated to Canada about 1907 and settled in Winnipeg where they had three further children.

Silas had trained as an engineer (engine fitter) and enlisted in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in Winnipeg on 3 June 1915 (enlistment papers available at www.ancestry.co.uk). Silas sailed to the UK on the Cunard liner Aquitania. As he was in his mid-40s, he was not sent to the front line but served throughout the war as an instructor at signals school, being promoted to Sergeant. Silas’ regimental number – 505036 – is allocated to the Canadian Engineers Training Depot No. 2 (Cable Service) according to a list at http://regimentalrogue.com/misc/CEF_Service_Numbers.pdf. Visual signalling and telephony were the responsibility of the Signal Service throughout the war while telegraphy was a function of the Canadian Engineers. These were vital means of communication in France and Belgium and signal companies were increasingly occupied in the laying, maintenance and repair of air lines and cables. With his background as an engineer, Silas would have had the skills needed to train the front line troops in the operation, repair and maintenance of this vital equipment. Silas is back row, far left in the group picture below.

Signal School Instructors

Title: Signal School Instructors
Description: Silas and the other instructors. © Private Collection. by-nc

It is likely that Silas was part of the Canadian Engineer Training Division, which was initially based at Shorncliffe, Kent, from September 1915, but we know he spent some time at Seaford Camp, East Sussex. The camp was divided into two sections – North Camp and South or Chyngton Camp. Initially built in 1914/5 to house newly-recruited soldiers, by late autumn 1916, Chyngton Camp was used solely by the Canadians. We believe Silas was there from when it opened until he returned home. The camp was on the south coast, just outside the town of Seaford and near the port of Newhaven, a key departure point for France. Most of the site is now under a housing estate, but part of the Chyngton site can be seen on the local golf course.

Life at camp was better than on the front line, but still not easy, with few latrines and little access to home comforts, although there was a cinema and a YMCA hut providing food, drink and free writing paper and envelopes. According to some, the Canadian troops were regarded as somewhat rough-and-ready, perhaps rather undisciplined, and their performance at Vimy Ridge (see the related story of Silas’s son Frederick) marked them as “Shock Troops” of the allies. When the war ended, everyone looked forward to going home.

The Canadian army had a very complex system of determining the order of who went home first and so on. The Seaford troops’ departures were postponed several times; each time, their hopes were raised, then dashed (again). This was very frustrating and there was a lot of tension in the camp, so that a minor incident was all it took provoke a riot. The Times reported that, in May 1919, two thousand frustrated Canadian men stuck at Seaford rioted after one of their fellows was beaten and arrested by a camp guard or military policeman for walking with his hands in his pockets (May 12, p. 9). Shortly after this incident, the Canadians were shipped back to Canada and the camp was closed.

Click on their names to read about Silas Osmond’s nephews Benjamin John James Osmond and Albert Victor Osmond.

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