172238 Private John Mash was born to Eliza Mash in 1895 in East End London. The identity of his father is unknown. The 1901 census shows Eliza Mash, servant, as a visitor to the home of Mary Milford, laundress, in Bethnal Green. Both women are listed as widows and Eliza’s six-year-old son John is also listed as a visitor.
Starting in 1869 and into the 1930s, more than 100,000 poor or orphaned children were sent from Great Britain to British colonies. John Mash was one such child. Although not an orphan, it would seem that his mother did not have the means to care for him. He was taken into the care of W.C. Fegan who founded a society to assist destitute boys. Fegan established an educational farm in Goudhurst, taught the boys Canadian farming methods, and in 1884 commenced to send boys to Canada to start a new life.
After a short time in Toronto, John Mash was sent to live with the family of William Walker, his wife Ann, and son Gerald in Brock Township, Ontario near Lake Simcoe. The Walker’s were a farming family and John Mash was a servant and presumably a farm hand. The 1911 census lists his occupation as a labourer, making seventy-five dollars in the last year.
On August 30th, 1915 he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His Attestation Paper describes him as 5’ 1/4” with blue eyes, brown hair and a “fresh complexion”. Declared fit for the CEF, Lieutenant Colonel Reg Pellatt (son of Sir Henry Pellatt of Casa Loma fame) signed his attestation paper and John Mash became a soldier in the 83rd Battalion, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada.
On April 28th, 1916 the unit sailed on the R.M.S. Olympic (a converted troop ship and sister to the Titanic), and on May 7th, 1916 landed in Liverpool, England. John Mash was back in his native land. Whether he had the opportunity to have a short visit with his mother, whom he had last seen as a ten-year-old boy, is unknown. His Attestation Papers list his next of kin as his mother, Mrs. Lizzie Barker of Bethnal Green, London. It would appear she had remarried.
He was transferred to the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles (5 CMR), 8th Infantry Brigade on June 6th, 1916. That same day, he landed in France. On June 10th he joined the unit in the field.
The 5th Canadian Mounted Rifle Battalion was organized initially as a regiment in November 1914 under authorization published in General Order 36 of 15 March 1915. The regiment was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel G.H. Baker. It was mobilized in Sherbrooke and recruited in the Eastern Townships. i The Battalion is perpetuated by the Sherbrooke Hussars.
Presumably, Mash was well suited to the mounted battalion due to his farm work in Brock Township. He would have joined them shortly after the unit had been so sorely tested at Mount Sorrel. Their Commanding Officer, LCol G.H. Baker, was killed in that action at Sanctuary Wood. Baker had been the Member of Parliament for Brome County, Quebec and appears to be the only M.P. [Member of Parliament] to have been killed in action in the war. He had led the battalion since it was first raised.
In the days following, based out of Steenvoorde, Norde-Pas-du-Calais, France, the unit would practice gas helmet drill, instruction in bomb throwing, bayonet fighting, wire cutting and sniping. At night “the battalion practised inter-battalion reliefs as carried out in the trenches”.
Training would carry on into July, interspersed with Church Parades and inspections and inspection by the Corps Commander, Lieutenant General Hon Sir Julian Byng.
On the evening of July 17th, the battalion proceeded through Ypres and Zillebeke to take up position on the front line, relieving the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) in the right sub-sector. They would stay in the trenches for the next six days.
The balance of July would be spent supplying working parties for the front-line trenches. On the first of August, they were relieved by The Royal Canadian Regiment and retired to the infantry barracks at Ypres, Camp Erie.
After a period of rest, the battalion moved to an area called “The Bluff”, near Zillebeke. “On the northern embankment of the canal, a curious mound – a spoil-heap, created when the canal was excavated – gave the British front an unusual observation advantage over the enemy. If the enemy held it, the view across the rear areas of the Salient to Hill 60, towards Ypres and down to Voormezele would have made the Salient very difficult to hold.”
John would continue to fight with his regiment until the Battle of the Somme.
According to his service records, there was some confusion as to the actual day of his death. Initially, it was between September 14 -16, and it was later confirmed as September 15th, 1916.
Records from the Archives of Canada describe the circumstances – “Whilst with the Battalion bombers during the attack South West of Courcelette, he was killed by enemy shell fire.”
The Battalion war diary says: “The Bombing sections bombed down the communication trenches. Considerable opposition on the part of the enemy’s bombers was met with in the left communication trench, our first bombing section of the left company being practically wiped out. The second section which had been held in readiness for such a contingency immediately continued the attack and very quickly overcame the enemy’s bombers, all of whom were killed.”
Enemy reinforcements who were on their way up retired in disorder. Our Bombers went on and put in a “Block” at R.28.0.H.4.4 1/2.”
Did John Mash fall in this initial assault, or did he fall later “during the heavy bombardment of the afternoon and throughout the night”?
The Vimy Memorial near Lens, France lists the names of over 11,000 men who fell in France but have no known grave. John Mash’s name is on a panel of the monument that faces Courcelette.
A note on his file from 1929 says that the burial registration form could not be sent. His next of kin, his mother Lizzie, could not be located.
Excerpted from research done by Kim Fotheringham.