Saturday, December 27, 2008

Private Alfred James Lapham

Alfred Lapham Joins the CEF

Private Lapham was a unique soldier in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) when he listed his age at 44 years 3 months at attestation in Hamilton Ontario on September 1, 1915. At that time, the minimum age for enlistment was 18 and the maximum was 45. Many men lied about their age, making themselves older or younger, depending on their need. The service record of Alfred Lapham shows that he took 5 years off his age, as his true date of birth may have been June 3, 1866 not 1871 (as shown on his "Attestation Papers"). As such, he was 5 years older than the maximum allowable age for enlistment. An alternate birth date is also provided on his service card as June 3, 1869. There is no record of Albert James Lapham in the 1911 Canadian Census (the most recently released under the "90 year rule").

Compared to many of the Canadian soldiers who served in the Great War, Alfred was a big man, at 5 feet 11 inches and 176 pounds.

Alfred was originally from Fochabers, Scotland where he had a prior military service record serving with both the 16th Lancers for 9.5 years and the Seaforth Highlanders for 2.5 years. The 16th ("The Queen's") Lancers were a British Cavalry Unit and the Seaforth Highlanders were a British Regular Army Infantry. It is possible that in those units, Lapham may have served in India prior to his move to Canada.

At the time of his enlistment, Alfred Lapham was married to Catherine Kerr. They were stationed at the Armories in Hamilton, Ontario where he listed his occupation as a "Laborer". Other records show that he may have also been a "Steward" and an "Insurance Agent". The reference to the position as a Steward is confirmed as "Steward of 91st Officer's Mess, Hamilton".

We know from his papers and his Regimental Number (174743) that he attested in Hamilton (Military District No. 2) to the 86th Infantry Battalion. His pay records show that he was in "B Company". The 86th was often referred to as the "86th Machine Gun Battalion" which was organized on August 15, 1915. The 86th was amalgamated in England with the Canadian Machine Gun School (established at Napier and Riseborough Barracks) and then reorganized on June 2, 1916 as the "Machine Gun Depot".

Service Record of Alfred James Lapham

The complete "Service Record" of Alfred Lapham was retrieved from Library and Archives Canada, from which this summary was assembled for his granddaughter Joyce Kowalchuk. There are numerous indications that as a soldier of the 86th Machine Gun Battalion he served with the Military Police (No. 2 Detachment).

After joining the CEF in 1915, Alfred would have received infantry training for a month at Camp Niagara (September-October 1915). The 86th returned to the Hamilton Armories on James Street in early November 1915, however they did not receive their allotment of Machine Guns until March 0f 1916. In the meantime, the lads were kept busy with route marches and drills.

The "Troopship Records" show that on May 19, 1916 the 86th shipped out of Halifax on board the S. S. Adriatic, arriving in Liverpool on May 30, 1916. At the time of the units departure, the 86th "Machine Gun" Battalion was re-designated as the "Machine Gun Depot". Here as part of the "Machine Gun Corps" of the CEF Army Troops, the 86th served as a depot and training school for machine gunners, transferring out men as needed to the active units in France and Flanders.

There is no reference to Private Lapham being promoted to the rank of Sergeant in his service record. There is however a reference on his pay sheets of 1916 to his rank being that of a Sergeant. This is later changed back to Private, with a noted pay reduction, suggesting that at some time he may be been made an "Acting Sergeant" or he may have forfeited his promotion.

The "Casualty Form - Active Service" records of Private Lapham show that he remained with the Machine Gun Depot (Canadian Machine Gun Brigade) in England until he was struck-off-strength (SOS) to the Canadian Discharge Depot (CDD) at Baxton on February 7, 1917. On February 27, 1917 he was transferred to the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre (CCAC), for his return to Canada on March 5, 1917. Pay records show that Alfred Lapham was shipped home on March 5, 1917 on board the S. S. Metagama, arriving back in Canada on March 13, 917.

Upon arrival back in Canada, he was transferred to Convalescent Home No. 2 in Toronto on March 16, 1917 . It is apparent that Alfred Lapham's age and poor health prevented his placement on active service in France or Flanders. The opinion of the Medical Board at the Spadina Military Hospital on April 18, 1917 was that he be "discharged as medically unfit".

Upon his arrival back in Hamilton, Alfred Lapham re-enlisted in the army on October 30, 1917. At that time it is reported that he served with the Garrison Military Police, most probably in relation to the Hamilton Armories. He was discharged from this position on March 20, 1918 due to his medical condition. It was noted that his age was "very apparent" and he was advised not to have further surgery because of his age.

The extensive Medical History of Alfred Lapham shows that he had a pre-existing medical problem prior to his enlistment in 1915 that plagued him throughout his time in the CEF. The poor fellow suffered from hemorrhoids and chronic rheumatism. He had a partial haemorrhoidectomy in January 1918, prior to his discharge from the Military Police.

Private Lapham's "Service Card" of February 6, 1922 shows his address as 136 Forest Avenue, Hamilton, Ontario. That address was shown earlier, at the time of his medical examination on October 30, 1917. His pay records note that his wife Catherine may have resided at 157 Elgin Street in Hamilton while he was in England.

He was formally discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) on April 11, 1918 at Exhibition Camp in Toronto with a C-3 medical status (Canada Only, not fit for service). He is reported as "deceased" as of August 6, 1934, which would put him at 68 years of age based on the 1866 birth date. His post-service medical supports the alternate birth year of 1869, as he is reported to be 48 years old at that time.

86th Infantry Battalion (Machine Gun Depot)

The following summarized history of the 86th Machine Gun Battalion was published in the Hamilton Spectator:

In mid-August 1915, it was announced that a new unit, the 86th Machine Gun Battalion--"the first of its kind in the British Empire"--would be raised and based in Hamilton, Ontario. Shortly afterwards, the prominent Hamilton architect and Major in the local 91st Highland Regiment, Walter Wilson Stewart, was appointed to command the unit.

Recruiting commenced on August 28. Initially, Lt. Col. Stewart, along with several of the battalion's officers, inspected men from local depot regiments--the 13th Regiment, 91st Highlanders, 2nd Dragoons and 1st Field Engineers--and "hand picked" men who met the battalion's "high standards". Men were also selected from the 77th Regiment in Dundas and the 44th Regiment in Welland, the men from the latter forming the battalion's Company D.

Therefore, in the matter of a week or so, the 86th Machine Gun Battalion consisted of over 600 men. Over the course of the next month, recruiting continued at a fairly moderate pace, and by the time the battalion departed for Camp Niagara on September 23, its strength was approximately 1000 men (250 of which were in Welland).

The men of the 86th Machine Gun Battalion were stationed at Camp Niagara for just over a month. During this time they were issued rifles and underwent infantry training.

Upon its return to Hamilton on November 9, the battalion was stationed at the Old Armouries on James St., which had been renovated during their time at Camp Niagara. The men were kept busy with numerous drills and lectures, as well as route marches (when weather permitted) to Rosedale in the city's east end, Ancaster, or other outlying areas.

Much to Lt. Col. Stewart's displeasure, however, the 86th Machine Gun Battalion did not receive machine guns until well into the new year, so it was not until March 1916 that the battalion's men began training in this respect.

The 86th Machine Gun Battalion was finally sent to England in May 1916 and was stationed at the Risborough Barracks, Shorncliffe, where training was completed. On May 22, 1916, the 86th Machine Gun Battalion was re-designated the Canadian Machine Gun Depot, and the men were transferred to various machine gun units as they were needed.

Lt. Col. W. W. Stewart remained in command of the unit until March 16, 1917, when he took a temporary leave of absence to tour the Front. And so it was that on April 11, 1917, while with the 1st Motor Machine Gun Brigade, that he was killed. Lt. Col. W. M. Balfour, who had taken over command of the Canadian Machine Gun Depot, therefore remained in command. On October 8, 1917, Lt. Col. Balfour and Lt. Col. W. N. Moorehouse of the 3rd Machine Gun Battalion replaced each other as the officer commanding of their respective units. On March 18, 1919, Lt. Col. Balfour resumed command of the Canadian Machine Gun Depot and remained its commander until it was demobilized.


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