Local News Links:... .........................

Monday 1 April 2024

The Purcer Brothers of Wardlaw Avenue in World War I

 © 2024, Christian Cassidy

May 16, 1914, Winnipeg Tribune

I've written many stories about those who died in the First World War. Here is the story of the Purcer family whose three sons all served and survived.

Charles and Fannie Purcer and their three grown sons, William, John "Jack", and Garson, lived together at 388 Wardlaw Street at the start of the war. Charles and his brother Watson co-owned a local building company where William and John worked as bricklayers. Garson was a steamfitter.

The three Purcer boys were involved in the war effort. William, (born 1883), was the first to enlist in September 1915, followed by Jack, (born 1885), who enlisted in February 1916. Garson, (born 1888), was drafted into service near the end of the war in May 1918.

Garson Purcer recruitment papers

The family left the Wardlaw Avenue home after William and Jack enlisted. It appears that the parents moved back to the Ottawa area where they were originally from.

Garson moved in with his married sister, Mrs. Margaret Buttler of 5 Acadia Court, and it was from there that he was drafted. The brothers already in the service changed their home addresses with the war office to Acadia Apartments. 590 Victor Street.

Jack was wounded on two occasions with shrapnel to the eye and a gunshot wound to his left side. Both times he was treated and returned to action. Garson was drafted so late in the war that he only made it as far as England and suffered no injuries or illness.

The brother who paid the heaviest price was William Purcer.

According to a brief Winnipeg Tribune story a few days after he enlisted, William was on his way to his job as a maintenance man at a department store one morning when he read about the mass rape and murder of Armenian women by the Turks in what is referred to today as the Armenian Genocide. He was so moved that by the time he arrived at work he informed his boss that he was enlisting, picked up his tools, and went to a recruitment office.

Purcer did his basic training at Camp Hughes near Brandon, Manitoba. He arrived in England in October 1915 and was in France by April 1916. He was wounded three times during his service.

In September 1916 Purcer received a gunshot wound to the head at the Battle of the Somme, Belgium, and spent months recovering in a British hospital before being discharged back to service in November with "small metallic fragments" in his scalp.  In May 1917 he was back in hospital with a gunshot wound to the chest and again recovered and was sent back to the front.

Purcel spent five days in hospital in September 1917 with a case of scabies. The following month, he "reported sick in France with severe pains in his knees, ankles, hips and shin bones" that was later determined to be rheumatism. While in England receiving treatment for that condition he came down with a case of the bacterial infection trench fever.

Purcell spent the next eight months or so in various hospitals and convalescent homes in England. In May 1918, he was transferred to No. 5 Canadian Hospital in Liverpool and the decision was made on June 26, 1918 to invalid him back to Canada.

The only high points in Purcer's military file is that he was awarded two gold bars for his injuries and three weeks before the decision to discharge him he went AWOL for a day and got drunk. (He was penalized two days of pay but was later admonished.)

Purcer's discharge forms listed suite 5 of Acadia Court as the address he would settle at, but he first made a stop at Ottawa to visit his recently widowed mother and to hopefully see Garson who was in basic training at Brockville, Ontario.

By September, Purcell was back in Winnipeg as he received his medical board exam on September 18th. It found no lingering effects with the head or chest injuries, just the rheumatism and a case of flat feet, the latter was something he had before the war but were made worse during is time in service.

The report concluded that though he could only return to his previous occupation "to a limited extent", Purcer was fit enough for light military duty back in Canada should the need arise. As the end of the war was just weeks away, he was never called on.

May 25, 1939 Winnipeg Tribune and Find a Grave

The Purcer family split up after the war.

Neither Jack nor Garson appear in Winnipeg street directories after the war. Jack died at Toronto in 1935 at the age of 49. Garson lived for a time in Detroit and died at Ottawa in 1949 at the age of 60.

William Purcer only appears in one edition of a Winnipeg street directory after the war; in 1930 as a bricklayer living in a rooming house at 370 Langside Street. He died at Deer Lodge Hospital, Winnipeg's military convalescent hospital, on May 23, 1939 at the age of 55 and is buried in the Field of Honour at Brookside Cemetery.


Buchanan said...

I must say it is very informative blog as well as interesting. Many thanks

Jacobson said...

Such a clever blog work, Keep doing this kind of post, I support you

Raelynn said...

I’ve been following this web site. Thank you for providing a fine content!!!

Stephens said...

Continue for sharing such a excellent post here. Keep on sharing, Thanks

Ophelia said...

This is a tremendous post Keep up the great work. Sharing is nice keep it up