Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Manitoba's WWI Fallen: Jack Smellie of Russell

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, I am working on a series of blog posts and radio shows that will look at some of the Manitobans who died in action. For more about this project and links to other posts, follow this link.

(Source) No photo available

In the official records, John Brown "Jack" Smellie survived the First World War. You won't find his name on Russell's war memorial or at the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, though the physical and mental damaged caused by battle led to his death in 1924.


The Smellies were a prominent retailing family in Russell, Manitoba. Smellie Bros. and Company's interests included dry goods, creameries and a car dealership. (The Smellie Block is a municipal heritage building.)

There were seven children in the family and three of the four sons enlisted. Jack, 19 and a student at the time, signed on with the 44th Expeditionary Force. 

All three Smellie boys were were injured in 1916, Jack's was announced in the June 26, 1916 newspapers, (Vancouver World). His injuries, however, went deeper than physical. This February 1917 Toronto Star article, (transcribed by the Canadian Great War Project), describes how Jack was in a bunker with three other men when a shell hit, killing two of them. The third man was thrown onto his chest, immobilizing him. It took six hours for the soldier to die and another 28 until someone came across Jack to rescue him.

Jack spent months in a British institution suffering from severe shell shock, which included loss of memory, paralysis and speech. He returned to Canada and in 1917 was traveling through New York when a sudden noise brought about a relapse of his memory and muteness. He was found wandering the streets and institutionalized in a Brooklyn hospital. (Note that this story was not reprinted in Manitoba newspapers.)

February 25, 1924, Winnipeg Tribune

Jack returned to Manitoba and worked at the family store in Russell. On February 23, 1924 he went into the basement where he "suddenly lost consciousness" and died. No direct cause of death was given. An article in the Tribune noted that he never recovered from the effects of his shell shock and that “....his sudden death at the age of 27 may be directly attributed to them.

Additional Sources:
Attestation Papers Library and Archives Canada
Manitoba Vital Statistics Database

 This soldier's history has been pieced together using a number of sources. If you have additional information or would like to point out a factual error, please do so in the comments below or by email at cassidy-at-mts.net.

© Christian Cassidy 2014

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