Who Goes There? 54th Kootenay Battalion at Vernon Camp

These three 8″ x 19.5″ panoramic photos are of the 54th Kootenay Battalion at Vernon Camp and were taken in the summer of 1915 by Harold Smith, a Vancouver-based photographer. They are of exceptional quality and I encourage you to click on the images to view them in detail.

The 54th Battalion was organized in May 1915 and drew recruits from throughout rural British Columbia. The Battalion was mobilized at Vernon Camp in June 1915. Two drafts of 250 men and 5 officers proceeded to England on July 21 and October 23 before the rest of the battalion sailed aboard the Saxonia on November 22nd, arriving in England eight days later. The 54th joined the 4th Canadian Division, 11th Infantry Brigade in France on August 13, 1916.

54th Battalion, CEF at Vernon Camp in the summer of 1915

54th Battalion, CEF at Vernon Camp in the summer of 1915 (Click to Enlarge)

The first photograph shows the entire battalion (1111 men and 36 officers) and includes the brass band and the battalion mascot “Koots“, a black bear cub who can be seen just above the word “C.E.F.”. The two “X”‘s mark the location of two soldiers referred to on the back of the photo as “Dad” and “Sid”. My research is in the early stages but there is a chance that “Sid” refers to Private Sidney James McDonald, a 17-year old Drummer who worked in the Printing department of the Nelson Daily News. Sidney’s 52-year old father Thomas also served in the 54th and both appear in the nominal roll as having sailed in November. One of the soldiers marked in the photo is a drummer however I must admit that the other solider looks too young to be his father Thomas.

The second photograph shows the men who formed the 2nd Overseas Draft that sailed to England in October. The third photograph is of the 3rd Platoon from “A” Company, a Company which I understand was made up of men from Nelson.

If you are able to identify any of the men in these photos please contact me and I will feature them in a future article. [Update: Three members of the 54th Battalion positively identified]

For more information on the 54th Battalion you should visit 54th Canadian Infantry Battalion in the Great War and 54th Kootenay Battalion Honours and Awards.

54th Battalion 2nd Overseas Draft

54th Battalion 2nd Overseas Draft (Click to Enlarge)

54th Battalion 3rd Platoon "A" Company

54th Battalion 3rd Platoon “A” Company (Click to Enlarge)

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38 replies

  1. Thank you for this post. I know of Walter Forbes Sharpe who was in this Battalion that owned property in Mission, BC. Hopefully I’ll find a picture of him and be able to find in your pictures here. I’ll let you know if I do.

  2. Thanks Samantha, please do! I just heard from the grandson of a soldier pictured here and I plan to post an update on this story within the next couple of weeks. I’d be happy to include Walter Forbes Sharpe should you be able to identify him. Thanks again, Steve.

  3. Has these photos every had names ID’s to them? My Great uncle was in the 54th at this time and we have no photo of him for our family geneology.

    • Hi Cathy. So far only 3 of the soldiers have been positively identified and I highlighted these in a follow-up article. I’m hopeful that others will come forward to identify other soldiers. What was your great uncle’s name?


  4. My great-great-grandfather John Helmer Widmark is probably in the 1st photo. He was born in Häverö, Sweden. At the outbreak of the war he lived in Notch Hill, B.C., and enlisted at Vernon in July 1915 and sailed on the Saxonia as part of the 3rd group that arrived in England in December 1915.

    I do not have a photo of him on his own yet, but am still searching. I post this in the hopes that someone else might have more information on him.

    I do have John’s war record, which is an excellent resource. He was wounded twice, but survived and later settled in Coos, Oregon, United States. He died there in 1956.

    • Hello Tammy,

      Thanks very much for leaving your comment. You are the second person today to contact me regarding soldiers in the first photo. Do you have any photo of your great-great-grandfather from around that time period? I ask because I may be able to pick him out of the photo if I knew what he looked like (I have a slightly higher resolution image I can refer to).

      It’s definitely worthwhile posting his name on my site in case someone else googles his name in the future. If so they could very well end up on this page.


  5. I’m afraid I have no photos of him. I should also mention that his brother Peter August Widmark also enlisted at Kamloops for the 242nd Forestry Battalion in September 1916. I do not have photos of Peter.

    • Have you checked “Camp Vernon : a Century of Canadian Military History” by Hugh Rayment & Patrick Sherlock on the off chance that there is a reference to him? It’s a long shot but you never know … I don’t own a copy but I do have access to one.

  6. My great uncle Lewis Hartland joined up at Vernon,B,C, on Sept, 17,1915 and was
    killed in action at he Battle of the Somme north of Courcellettes,France on Nov.18,1916. He is buried at Vimy France, and his name is on the memorial there.
    I do have a picture of him in uniform with the rest of the men from Edgewood,BC
    who signed up with him. Kathy

    • Hi Kathy,

      Thanks very much for the information on your great uncle Lewis. If you’d like to share the photograph with others I’d be happy to feature it on my blog. I expect there may be other descendants of those Edgewood men who haven’t seen the image before. I’ll drop you a separate note by email. Thanks again for taking the time to comment.


    • Kathy, my Great Uncle Robert C. Bell was wounded (shot several times) on Nov. 18, 1916 at the Somme. That morning the 54th advanced in the “Battle of Ancre” (at the Somme). The first snowfall of the year came down the night before, causing many soldiers to become disorientated. For more information check out: “Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War,” edited by Colonel G.W.L. Nicholson (see pages 160 ff.). Sorry your Great Uncle didn’t make it.

  7. Fantastic photos. My Great Great Uncle (Lieutenant John Llewellyn Evans) was 54th Bn but didn’t join up with them until 1916 (he was 188th before then).

    Kathy – John was injured (shrapnel wound) 18th November when your relative was killed.

    Sadly he died 1st March 1917 at Vimy Ridge along with nearly 100 of the battalion.

    Do you have any other photos of the battalion? The only photo I have of John is one from The Sphere newspaper when his death was announced.


    • Thanks Tom. I don’t have any other panoramic photographs of the 54th and I don’t *think* I have any other smaller images but I will double-check.

      I’ve exchanged emails with Kathy since she posted her comment and she has sent me some information on other soldiers from the 54th. Her relatives last name was Murton and not Hartland as originally posted. I don’t have the information to hand but I will look it over to see if there is a mention of your great-great uncle.


      • Hi Tom,

        I didn’t find a mention of your great-great uncle in the information I referred to last week but I will keep looking for photographs!


  8. I have the same large panoramic photo at home. My great uncle, Private Andrew “Cameron” Landreth was in the 54th Kootenay. He enlisted in Nelson, BC but was from Lauder, Manitoba. He was killed on April 9, 1917 at Vimy Ridge and he is buried in one of the many graveyards there. His name is on the cenotaph in Nelson. I haven’t been able to identify where he is in this photograph.

    • Hi Jan,

      Thanks for your comment. Do you have a photo of your great uncle in uniform? If you are interested in sharing it perhaps someone else will be able to pick him out. Sometimes all it takes is a second (or more) set of eyes.


  9. My great uncle was a member of the 54th Kootenays and was mortally wounded in the trench raid carried out on March 1/17. He died 5 days later and was supposedly buried at Barlin. He transferred to the 54th from the 71st Battalion while in England. His rank was Private. I would appreciate any information on his place of burial. I cannot find any mention of Barlin in any of the webb sites I have visited. I will be going to Vimy for the 100 year memorial in April, and would like to have this info before I go. His name is Hugh LLoyd Hughes, born in Drayton, Ontario Aug. 4, 1887.

  10. I have an uncle Ernest Swannell Hall that was in the 54th. I do have a picture of him………..so will try to find a way to look at the pictures up close to see if I can identify him. The big group though might be very hard…………….they are all so small.


    • Hi Heather … if you click on a photo it will open up in a separate window. If you click on it again it will zoom in. They were scanned at a fairly high resolution so you should be able to make out the faces. Good luck! Cheers, Steve.

  11. I don’t have any relative involved in this fantastic Battalion but as a military collector I just found one of the rare Ross WW! bayonet with the 54th. unit marking in the walnut grip

  12. I have a German 1918 Field Cannon, that has the 54Th Cdn carved ito the Barrel, which I beleive was doe by Capturing Units.Would there be any information available on this Gun.

    • “Cinquante-Quatre: Being a Short History of the 54th Canadian Infantry Battalion” includes a very brief summary in Appendix D “Some of the Trophies Captured” (p42) that lists “Heavy Guns 4, Machine Guns 64, Trench Mortars 7” but that’s the extent of the information. There’s a small chance that specific trophies may have been mentioned in local newspapers, especially if they were displayed in public places. Large pieces of artillery were sometimes displayed in parks or in front of institutions, Legions, etc.. Cheers, Steve.

  13. Thanks for this interactive website, Jakealoo. My Great Uncle Robert C. Bell was with the 54th Battalion. On Nov. 18, 1916 he was wounded at the Battle of Ancre (part of the Somme offensive). He survived and rejoined the battalion in 1918 for the “October Offensive”, which ended WWI. During this major push to end it, the Germans sabotaged the field and he was injured by a “booby trap”. He met a pretty nurse in a Hospital in England who had lost her husband in the War. They married (her two children became his) and they spent their lives together.

    • Hi Del … thanks very much for sharing your Great Uncle Robert’s story and for the feedback, it’s much appreciated. I have several “autograph” books kept by FWW nurses and they all contain drawings, poems and jokes written by convalescing soldiers. I could tell that more than a few were smitten with their nurse but unlike most your great uncle managed to spend the rest of his life with his. Thanks again, Steve.

  14. Many years ago I bought a picture frame from a second hand shop and behind the photo in the frame was another photo. It was the 2nd overseas draft of the 54th!

  15. I’m researching John Hugh Ellis, born UK 1892 and who signed up with the 54th on 20th August 1915. His war records show that he embarked for the UK on 22-11-1915. A long shot, but I’m wondering if he might be included in the third photo maybe?

    • Hi Jill … I think it’s safe to assume John Hugh Ellis is in the first photo showing the entire 54th Battalion. I’m quite confident that Sidney James McDonald is in that photograph and he enlisted on the same day as John Hugh Ellis. Unless you have documentation that indicates John was in A Company’s B Platoon then the chances are low that he is pictured in the 3rd photo. I did have a quick look at his service file and didn’t find any clues as to the Company or Platoon he served in. In my experience it’s very rare for it to be noted although the Nominal Rolls for First Canadian Contingent units that departed in 1914 usually did organize the lists by company and/or platoon. Sadly this is not the case for the 54th Nominal Roll. Good luck with your research! Steve.

  16. Thanks so much for this great information! I believe I have 2 relatives in the 1st photo since both of them signed up in July of that year:
    Mother’s side – GG Uncle Ambrose Thompson Bateson, Private, killed Nov 18, 2016, Battle of the Somme. He was from Kamloops and is memorialized on the Cenotaph there. I have no picture of him.
    Father’s side – Great Uncle Walter John Belcher, Private, originally from England, but settled in Penticton. He passed in 1951. His tombstone has the 54th noted and his rank. I do have a grainy picture of him.

    • Hi Stephen … thanks for posting your comment. I agree that it is quite likely that both your relatives are in this photograph. Although I can’t date the photo exactly I believe it was taken between July 21 and October 23, 1915. According to their service files Walter was at Vernon Camp by July 14 and Ambrose by August 21. Both men sailed aboard HMT Saxonia, arriving in the UK on December 2. Thanks again, Steve.

  17. I can’t identify him in any photos, but my great grandfather, James William Nuttall, is in there somewhere. Killed during the attack on Desire Trench (The last engagement of the Somme) according to records. Thank you for this.

    • You’re welcome Jeremy and thanks for your comment. Yes, James should be in the photo somewhere. I see that he was in camp by August 13 and that he sailed with the battalion to England (aboard HMT Saxonia) on November 22, arriving in England on December 2. Thanks again, Steve.

      • Funny enough, I didn’t put it together until I spoke to my mom today but my great uncle on her side, William (WA) Curran was in the same battalion. He made it home, thankfully.

  18. I have a copy of this photograph, my grandfather George Arthur Palmer is in the photo somewhere. I believe he is either number 7 or 11 in the back row. Would love to be able to identify him. I do have a photo of him in his uniform but still cannot identify.

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