Each year as November 11th approaches, I can’t help but think of my great-great grandmother – Ann Jane Lockhart.
Ann was born in the early 1860s, in Innisfil on the shores of Lake Simcoe. She was the second of eight children born to Joseph and Lydia Lockhart, Irish immigrants from County Tyrone. In 1883 in Gravenhurst, she married my great-great grandfather Henry John Cook, a logger and farmer. Henry had been born around 1861 in Tirschtiegel, in what was then Prussia but is now part of Poland. Henry had arrived with his parents, August Koch and Henrietta Simsch in Canada in 1864 when he was only 2 years of age.
Ann and Henry lived first in a houseboat on Kahshe Lake and then in a house at Housey’s Rapids, near Gravenhurst. Together they raised 13 children – five daughters and eight sons. And it’s unlikely that either Ann or Henry would’ve guessed that three of their sons would return to the continent that Ann’s parents and Henry himself had left.
Their eldest son, William John Cook, was born in 1884 and as a young man, William became a carpenter. But on the 22nd of September 1914, when he was 30 years of age, William enlisted in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force (less than 2 months after the start of WWI) at Valcartier in the Province of Quebec. He indicated on his Attestation Paper that although he had never served in a military force, he did belong to an Active Militia. His "Description on Enlistment" states that he was 5'9" tall, with a fresh complexion, blue eyes, and light hair.
His unit sailed on October 3, 1914, bound for England. He's first found on the Muster Roll in France on July 31, 1915. In August he was appointed Lance Corporal and was to be a Sergeant "whilst on sanitary duty". The records become more complicated after that but it appears due to illness and injury he was moved back to England in November 1916 and again in early 1917, returning to France once recovered.
And, as a mother, I can’t imagine the worry Ann must have felt. But as it turns out, her worries would soon multiply…by three.
Ann’s son Harry Cook, born in 1894, (making him about 10 years younger than William) was the next to enlist, at the age of 21. Trained as a blacksmith he joined the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force at Orillia on the 14th of March, 1916. According to his Description of Enlistment, Harry stood at 5’11” and had a dark complexion with blue eyes and black hair. His unit sailed for England on the 17th of October, 1916 arriving on the 28th of October. Before arriving in France in June of 2017, Harry, probably as a result of his logging background, became part of the Canadian Forestry Corps working his way from Private to Corporal to Sergeant.
It’s hard to say what spurred William and Harry’s younger brother, Stanley to also enlist. And it’s even harder to say what Ann’s reaction might have been to the news.
Stanley Cook, born in 1897, enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Toronto on the 13th of May, 1918. He was a farmer, 21 years of age and stood 5’3” tall with a fair complexion, blue eyes, and dark hair. He served first in Canada, then set sail from Montreal for England, arriving in London on the 8th of August, 1918.
With three sons overseas, I can only imagine the relief my great-great grandmother must have felt when on the 11th of November, 1918 the war was declared to be over. Because, perhaps against the odds, all three of Ann’s sons were still alive. She must have imagined that sweet moment when they all would return. She certainly couldn’t have imagined that something even deadlier than the war would put her sons – and people around the world – at risk.
Stanley, the youngest of her sons overseas, was the first to fall ill with influenza – or, as it was more commonly known – the Spanish flu. He was hospitalized in England in January of 1919 with complications from influenza. And it wasn’t until three and a half months later that he was finally well enough to be discharged. After surviving the war and the Spanish influenza, on the 7th of July, 1919 he set sail from England to Canada and was discharged from His Majesty’s Service on the 15th of July, 1919. Stanley made the best of his third chance at life - marrying Clara Marie Crigger in 1925 when he was 28 years old. They went on to have 10 children together – six boys and four girls. After a full life he died on the 8th of February, 1979 in Matheson, Ontario - just shy of his 82nd birthday.
Harry, Ann’s 2nd son to enlist, survived the war and the outbreak of influenza relatively unscathed, with one notable exception. In January of 1917, Harry found himself in hospital in Aldershot, England for nearly a month with the mumps, but fortunately made a full recovery. After serving in France, he made it back to Canada a few months earlier than his brother Stanley – arriving on the 19th of March and was discharged from His Majesty’s Service on the 29th of March, 1919. Just over two months later on the 2nd of June, 1919 he married Elma May Allan in Orillia. He returned to the blacksmith profession, working in his shop in Washago (near Housey’s Rapids) for the next 63 years. Harry and Elma had four children together, three sons and a daughter. He died at the age of 89 years on the 23rd of July, 1983 in Gravenhurst.
William, the eldest brother and the first to enlist, survived his service in England and France until the war's end. But before he could make his voyage home, he was admitted to military hospital in England on the 4th of February 1919, listed as "dangerously ill". Sadly, William died at the age of 34 years on the 8th of February 1919 of "influenza pneumonia". He is buried in Seaford Cemetery, Seaford, Lewes District, East Sussex, England.
It breaks my heart to think of Ann receiving the news of William’s death. She experienced the joy of having two sons return safely home but endured the sorrow of the one who never made it back. I’m sure she never forgot. And neither will I.
Stanley Perry Cook
Harry Ray Cook
William John Cook
Lest we forget.