The O'Leary Collection—Medals of The Royal Canadian Regiment

261556 Pte Joseph Robert Morton

The Royal Canadian Regiment

By: Capt (ret'd) Michael M. O'Leary, CD, The RCR

Joseph Robert Morton was born in Motherwell, Lanarkshire, Scotland, on 12 Jan 1890. He was the fourth of nine children born to parents Joseph Robert and Mary (nee Wood) Morton.

Morton emigrated at Canada at the age of 21. He landed at Quebec on 22 May 1911 after crossing the Atlantic from Liverpool, Eng., aboard the Canadian Pacific Line steamship S.S. Lake Manitoba. Morton's intended place of residence was Winnipeg, Man. Three of Joseph's sisters, Christina (23), Emma (20), and Edith (18), came to Canada on the same ship. All three young ladies were sponsored emigrants heading for Winnipeg via Mrs. Helen Sanford's Girls Home of Welcome which placed them in domestic employment in the city.

On 7 Feb 1913, Joseph Morton married Mary Mitchell Cameron at Winnipeg. The couple's first child, a daughter, Christina Elizabeth, was born six months later on 4 Aug 1913. A second child, son Joseph Robert, followed two years later on 7 Jun 1915.

The Mortons appear in the 1916 Canadian Census of the prairie provinces. Living at 584 Ebby St., Winnipeg, Man., are Joseph (26), Mary (22), Christina (3), and Joseph (1). In the census data, Morton's employer is listed as "Railroad."

Morton attested for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) with the 212th Overseas Battalion at Winnipeg, Man., on 24 Jun 1916. A 26-year-old labourer, Morton was described on his attestation paper as 5 feet 2 3/4 inches tall, weighing 140 pounds, with a 36 1/2-inch chest, a fair complexion, blue eyes, and brown hair. His religious denomination was Presbyterian. Morton identified his wife, Mrs. R.J. Morton, 684 Ebby St., Winnipeg, Nan., as his next of kin. On attesting with the 212th Battalion, Morton was given the regimental number 261556.

The 212th Battalion (American Legion), C.E.F., was formed in Winnipeg, Man., and recruited throughout the province beginning in early 1916. After failing to attract sufficient recruits to train as a full battalion, the 212th Battalion was disbanded in Canada and the men it had recruited were transferred to the 97th Battalion, C.E.F., at Toronto, Ont.

In August, 1916, Mary Morton began receiving a monthly Separation Allowance of $20. Morton completed a Military Will form on 11 Aug 1916. In filling out the standard form, he bequeathed all of his personal estate to his wife Mary.

Morton was transferred to the 97th Battalion, C.E.F., on 15 Sep 1916. The 97th Battalion (American Legion), C.E.F., was authorized on 22 Dec 1915 and was recruited in and mobilized at Toronto, Ontario. The unit embarked for Britain on 19 Sep 1916, where its personnel were absorbed by the R.C.R. & P.P.C.L.I. Depot to provide reinforcements for the Canadian Corps in the field.

The 97th Battalion, with Morton in its ranks, embarked Halifax, N.S., on 18 Sep 1916. Crossing the Atlantic aboard the S.S. Olympic, the battalion disembarked at Liverpool, Eng., on 25 Sep 1916.

In addition to the Separation Allowance she received, Morton established a monthly pay assignment of $20 to go home to his wife. As a Private in the C.E.F., Morton was paid $1.00 per day plus an additional ten cents daily field allowance. His pay assignment represented about two-thirds of his monthly pay.

Morton was transferred to the R.C.R. & P.P.C.L.I. Depot at Seaford on 31 Oct 1916. The Depot was a short-lived depot unit that supported those two named regiments with drafts of reinforcements. It was created on 13 Feb 1916 by separating it from the 11th Reserve Battalion, and it was disbanded on 20 Jan 1917 when it was absorbed into the 7th and 26th Reserve Battalions.

After a month at the R.C.R. & P.P.C.L.I. Depot, Morton proceeding overseas to The RCR. He landed in France and was taken on the strength of the Regiment on 30 Nov 1916. Having crossed the Channel, he remained at the Canadian Base Depot (C.B.D.) while awaiting orders to proceed to the Regiment. Two weeks later, on 12 Dec 1916, Morton left the C.B.D. en route to join the Regiment but he did not proceed directly to the unit.

It was not until 18 Feb 1917 that Morton joined The RCR in the field as a reinforcement. On that date, while the unit was in billets at Bruay, the Regiment's War Diary reported "112 Other Ranks joined from Training Battalion." The next two weeks was a period of reorganization and training for the Regiment. It began with the regrouping of platoons and companies on 19 Feb 1917, progressed through the a variety refresher training, and concluded with training in the assault of enemy strong points on 28 Feb 1917. It would have been a thorough introduction for the newly joined soldiers before the Regiment returned to the front lines and was one stage in the Regiment's preparations for the upcoming assault on Vimy Ridge.

Throughout 1917, The RCR and the rest of the Canadian Corps contested the sectors of the Western Front they occupied. The Regiment's list of Battle Honours for the year attest to the challenges facing Canadian soldiers in the trenches:

During the last of these, the Regiment's "Battle Bar Document" (prepared after the war by the Militia Department in anticipation of the possibility of clasps for the British War Medal) summarizes the actions of 29-31 Oct 1917:

Battle of Passchendaele Ridge

Joseph Morton was killed in action on 31 Oct 1917 at Passchendaele. His circumstances of death record sheet offers no specific details for the manner of his death, and provides the location as "Trenches South West of Passchendaele."

Morton's body was not recovered from the field of battle. With no known grave, he is commemorated on the Menin Gate (Ypres) Memorial, Belgium. Morton's entry on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission registry for the Menin Gate reads:

"MORTON, Pte. Joseph Robert, 261556. Royal Canadian Regt. 31st Oct., 1917. Age 27. Son of Joseph and Mary Morton, of Motherwell, Scotland; husband of Mary Morton, of Waskada, Manitoba."

For his service, Morton was entitled to receive a War Service Gratuity of $180. This was reduced by $80, the amount of a Special Pension Bonus previously paid to his widow. The remaining balance of $100 was issued by cheque to Mary Morton on 23 Jul 1920.

On the website Historic Sites of Manitoba, Morton is identified as a parishioner killed in the Great War of the Augustine Presbyterian Church (now the Augustine United Church). In front of the church stands the Augustine War Memorial, a carved stone memorial commemorating members of the congregation who died in the First World War. The memorial was dedicated on 10 October 1920.

For his service in the C.E.F., Morton was entitled to receive the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. These were sent to his wife in 1921. Mary Morton, living at 636 Walker Ave., Winnipeg, Man. would also receive the Memorial Plaque and Scroll and a silver Memorial Cross. Morton's mother, Mary Morrison, Green Ave., East Kildonan, Winnipeg, Man., also received a silver Memorial Cross. The plaque and crosses were despatched in 1921.

Pro Patria

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