I have a new mystery to unravel and it involves a Staff Sergeant from the 50th Battalion CEF. Identifying”Jack” should have been relatively straight-forward but this has proven not to be the case.
I have a wonderful photograph of the 50th Battalion Sergeants and Staff Sergeants that shows Jack seated on the far right. This photo was likely taken just before they embarked for England in October 1915. The battalion was formed on July 1st, 1915 and so the insignia the men are wearing should reflect the changes introduced in May 1915, when a Company Sergeant Major became a Warrant Officer II and the chevrons were dropped in favour of a single crown worn on each forearm. There are at least 7 men in the photograph wearing three chevrons and a crown, four of whom are presumably Company Quarter-Master Sergeants and three who are Staff Sergeants.
For those of you doing similar insignia research you may find the following resources helpful:
- CEF Rank Insignia (Kaiser’s Bunker)
- Rank Insignia Of The British Army, 1914-1918 (The Western Front Association)
- Khaki: Uniforms of the Canadian Expeditionary Force by Clive M. Law (this book can be order through Service Publications)
The 50th Battalion CEF Nominal Roll, published on October 27, 1915, has not helped me to positively identify Jack. I’m assuming “Jack” was a nickname for John as there are no Sergeants with the Christian name “Jack”. There are three Sergeants whose first or second name is John however none are Company Quarter-Master or Staff Sergeants. I would expect that a Staff Sergeant’s rank would entitle him to a separate designation in the nominal roll but I may be wrong.
There is reason to believe that Jack did not survive the war and that he died at or around Vimy. Although one of the Sergeants, John McCall (#434233), died this was not until Feb. 11, 1919. There was a Company Quarter-Master Sergeant named Thomas Albert Narraway (#434567) who died on June 3, 1917 and is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. This would support the rank shown in the photograph and the rumour of his death but not the fact that he was named “Jack”.
Is it possible a Thomas was nicknamed “Jack”? One theory, but not a particularly good one, is that Thomas was nicknamed “Jack” because there was another relation or friend named “Tom”. The family photos that include Jack also include a Captain from the 50th named “Tom”. Tom was involved with the Pay Office and its possible Jack was a Staff Sergeant that worked with him. The Nominal Roll has no record of a Captain named Thomas but he could have joined once the Battalion was in England (all the photos I have of Tom were taken in Britain). Could the family have nicknamed CQMS Thomas “Jack” to avoid confusion? It seems like a long shot and so the research continues.
Categories: Photographs, Researching
There was a Sergeant Major Alex W Jack in the 54th Battalion. Is your Jack definitely 50th Bn?
I’m pretty sure Jack was in the 50th as he appears in a lot of photos, including the Staff Sergeant group photo that is identified as being the 50th. I don’t have the photos handy at the moment to double-check the back for notes but I’m pretty sure I did this when I wrote the article. I’ll have to have another look.
I wonder if Sgt-Major A W Jack of the 54th is in one of these photos?
Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!
My grandfather was the Regimental Sargent Major of the 50th Battalion CEF His name was John Richard Butt and was called jack by Victor wheeler and many of his close friends. He was the one that supplied that photograph and many others to Victor for his book.
I should have also noted that my grandfather is in the first row 4th from the left
Hi Roy, thanks very much for your comments on your grandfather and for pointing him out in the photograph … he is sporting an excellent moustache! I read Wheeler’s book several years ago but need to read it again. Cheers, Steve.
Hi Roy and Jakealoo,
Roy is my mom’s (Robbie) cousin, so John Butt is my great grandfather. I guess we did the same google search because I ended up here too. I was thinking of John because I have a chest in the garage with his name on it and 50th BTN CEF that he made. So, just saying hi and connecting some dots.
is william stirling donald in this picture?
Hi Maylie … I had a quick look and see that William Stirling Donald was a Private when he was killed in action on April 12, 1917. Unfortunately he would not be in the 50th Battalion photograph I’m referring to as it only shows Sergeants and Staff-Sergeants. All the best, Steve.