2420 World War I regiment (probably RMR) possibly at the CPR station with school children in background.

WW1: John Boyle — too young to serve?

John Boyle may have been too young when he enlisted in the army; he died on April 24, 1915, during the second battle of Ypres .

  • Oct. 3, 2014 4:00 p.m.

This is the fourth article in an ongoing collaboration between the Revelstoke Museum & Archives and the Times Review to mark the centennial of the First World War.

When war was declared in August of 1914, recruiting in Revelstoke commenced immediately, with 69 men enlisting within the first week. One of those men was John Boyle, who gave his age as 18 years and seven months, stating that he was born January 11, 1896, in Manchester, England. The minimum age for enlistment was 18. According to the 1911 census, he was born in 1897, which would have made him too young for active service. After his death in April of 1915, the Revelstoke Review claimed that he had just turned 17 in January of that year, which if true, would mean that his birth year was 1898. It was not uncommon for young men to lie about their ages in order to serve, and it is also not uncommon to see these discrepancies in dates throughout records.

John Boyle had come to Revelstoke with his mother Annie and older brother Allan in 1910 to join their father, also named John, who had come here in 1908. John Sr. built a house and bakery at the corner of Victoria Road and Boyle Avenue, where the 7-11 is now located. In the 1911 census, son Allan, at the age of 16, was listed as a baker’s apprentice, while 14-year-old son John was working as an apprentice at the Union Cigar Factory. By 1914, young John was apprenticing as an electrician with Bert Duck. He was a member of the YMCA Orchestra, where he played the violin.

We will never know what caused John Boyle to sign up at such a young age. It could have been a quest for adventure, or patriotic feelings toward his country of birth, or perhaps a combination of these and other reasons. In any case, he was selected to be part of the First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and was one of the men cheered on from the Revelstoke CPR Station at the end of August.

John Boyle signed his enlistment papers on Sept. 18, 1914, at Valcartier, Quebec, the assembly point for the First Contingent. On his forms, his height is listed as 5’6.5”, and his chest width as 35”. He had a fair complexion, brown hair and brown eyes, and a burn scar on his right arm under the elbow.

He was signed off as being fit for active service, and sailed for England with the rest of the contingent, arriving there in October. He spent a cold, muddy winter in training at Salisbury Plains, and in the spring travelled across the channel to the battlegrounds.

In April of 1915, John Boyle was a private with the 7th Battalion, Canadian Infantry (British Columbia) Regiment. He was present during the Second Battle of Ypres, where, on the April 22, the first three battle fatalities from Revelstoke occurred with the deaths of Walter Robinson, James Forbes and Leonard Carver. Two days later, on April 24, John Boyle died after being hit by shrapnel.

His family back in Revelstoke first heard of his death almost a month later, when Mrs. Boyle received a letter from Private Lawson, who had been working in Revelstoke as a CPR lineman before enlisting. Lawson informed Mrs. Boyle that he had been with John when he was hit at 10 a.m. on April 24.

Lawson said that John had lived for about an hour before succumbing to his injuries. He was buried where he fell, and Lawson stated that he would erect a cross over his grave at the earliest opportunity. This may not have happened, because John Boyle is memorialized on the Menin Gate (Ypres) Memorial, meaning that his body was never recovered or identified.

We can only image the shock that the family would have experienced after receiving this news. John Boyle’s death had not been announced by the war office at Ottawa at that time, so the family desperately tried to find more information and confirmation of this sad news. In a letter published in the Mail-Herald of July 3, 1915, Joe Howson, a Revelstoke man who was serving overseas explained how this could have happened: “…In reference to Johnnie Boyle’s death, I can easily see how Lawson’s letter got there first, for the casualty list has to go to Ottawa first, then back to England to be rechecked before news is sent out of anyone killed, so that takes some time, especially when we had so many at Ypres.” The official casualty list announcing the death of John Boyle did not reach Revelstoke until July 27, 1915.

John Boyle’s older brother Allan enlisted in the fall of 1915, and returned safely in September of 1919, bringing with him his English war bride, Susan Ann Dorothy Seaman Boyle. Allan continued working as a baker, eventually opening Boyle’s Bakery on First Street West, the current location of Twisted Annie’s Café. Allan was active in the community, serving as an alderman for 17 years before moving to Victoria. Allan and Susan’s son, Douglas Seaman Boyle, began a distinguished naval career during World War II, eventually rising to the rank of Vice-Admiral, culminating in an appointment as Commander Marine Command in 1973.

With research from Ken English.

 

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