This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the experiences of Private John Denholm of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) during the First World War. Articles will be published on the 100th anniversary of each event and will feature photos and ephemera from an amazing scrapbook that he compiled shortly after the war. In the first article I featured previously unpublished personal photographs of John and the 79th training at Sewell Camp in late June / early July 1914. This time I’m providing background on John’s early life in Scotland, his emigration to Winnipeg in 1912 and of his joining the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada.
John Denholm was born at Hydropathic Cottage in Moffat, Dumfriesshire, Scotland on August 19, 1890. His father James was a coachman for the Hydropathic Hotel, a luxurious retreat built in 1878 for those wishing to “take the waters” in this popular spa town. In 1911 John was working as a Railway Clerk at the Moffat Railway Station along with Robert, one of three younger brothers, who was employed as a ticket collector.
In 1912 John Denholm made the decision to begin a new life in Canada with the Canadian Pacific Railway. The pre-war years saw hundreds of thousands of immigrants settle in western Canada, the result of aggressive marketing overseas by the Canadian government and the Canadian Pacific Railway company. John landed a job as an accountant with the CPR in Winnipeg and according to a newspaper report he “immediately joined the Camerons”.
The 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada became western Canada’s first Highland regiment when it was formed on February 1, 1910. Winnipeg boasted a strong Scottish community that could supply both recruits and the funds necessary to raise a regiment. On January 31, 1911 the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada were officially affiliated with the 79th (Cameron Highlanders) Regiment of Foot in Scotland.
In 1913 bachelor John Denholm moved into St. Stephen’s House on Young Street. This brand-new four-storey brick building was built by St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church to accommodate up to fifty young single men. Reverend Gordon described the need for this new facility in an article that appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press:
“Here we have a big city with thousands of young men living in it, many miles from home and friends. They rent a room somewhere, eat their meals somewhere else, and in the search for amusement, too often fall in with bad company, and more through force of circumstances than anything else go wrong. This is an experiment, and so far as I know, has never been tried this way in Canada. What we are seeking to do, is to provide as many of these young men as possible with a clean wholesome place in which to live, and to give them amusements among good companions, which will not degrade them, but rather be of assistance to them morally and physically.”
For a single man like John, far from home and family, the 79th would have also provided the camaraderie and companionship of other men of Scottish birth or descent. I have yet to determine the exact date that John joined the 79th however the drill certificate pictured below is dated April 13, 1914. It bears the Colour Sergeant’s initials indicating he was issued with his uniform. I suspect the proud photo of John fully kitted out and standing on someone’s back porch was taken shortly thereafter.