Who Goes There? 158th Battalion Regimental Band

Image Courtesy: Vernon Museum and Archives, Photo #: 18340.

John “Jack” Grears and the 158th Battalion Band at the Vernon courthouse (click to zoom in).
Image Courtesy: Vernon Museum and Archives, Photo #: 18340.

This impressive panoramic photograph was donated to the Vernon Museum and Archives by Louise Karlsson, the granddaughter of Private John Grears. “Jack” Grears was born in Whitehaven, Cumberland in 1881 and emigrated to Canada in 1906. After a brief return to England he made his way back to Canada in 1913 and settled in Vancouver.

DCOR-Band

158th Overseas Battalion, The Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles on parade at the Cambie Street Grounds, City of Vancouver Archives: AM54-S4-: Mil P229

Jack Grears was a member of Vancouver’s 6th Regiment, Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles and on January 16, 1916 he enlisted with the 158th Battalion (The Duke of Connaught’s Own). In early June the Battalion moved to Vernon Camp and were inspected by the Duke of Connaught on his visit in July. The panoramic photo at the top of the page was taken by Vancouver photographer Harold Smith at the  Vernon courthouse. When Jack Grears enlisted he stated his occupation as “Musician” and he can be seen with his trombone in the back row, standing to the left of the sousaphone player.

On November 14th they sailed for England aboard the Olympic but the Battalion’s days were numbered. On January 17th, 1917 the 158th was absorbed into the 1st Canadian Reserve Battalion and almost immediately men were sent to reinforce the 7th Battalion (1st British Columbia) and the 29th Battalion (Vancouver).

Jack remained with the Band and did not head to France. His exact movements are unknown but by 1918 he was stationed in Hastings and so it’s likely he was attached to the Canadian Headquarters which was established there in early April 1917. According to the Canadian Headquarters, HastingsWar Diary, three Bands were assigned to the area in May:

“Three Brass Bands were assigned to this Area, one being attached to each of the three Command Depots. The three Bands massed rendered a musical programme at the Command Sports held on the Cricket Ground on Whit Monday; and, during their period of service are assigned to play at Hospitals, etc., for the entertainment of the patients.”
Photo courtesy Louise Karlsson

“Monday Noons for Mens Mess October 14th 1918”
Photo courtesy of Louise Karlsson

Photographs from the Whit Monday Sports day, as well as the Hastings Pier fire (also mentioned in the diary) are included in a photo gallery at the end of this article. The postcard on the right was sent by Jack Grears and shows the band in Hastings in 1918. On the back is written  “Monday Noons for Mens Mess October 14th 1918“.

In August 1918 Jack Grears married widow Emily Ballard (nee Truluck) in Hastings. At the time Emily was raising three children on her own after losing her first husband Charley at the Battle of the Somme. In August 1919 Jack, Emily and her three children sailed for Canada aboard the  Scotian.  They settled briefly in Vancouver before moving to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island where Jack worked in the coal mines. Jack and Emily had three children of their own before Emily’s untimely death in 1926. Jack remained on Vancouver Island until his death in 1958.

A very special thank you to Louise Karlsson for paying the licensing fee required to publish the 158th Battalion panoramic photo on my website. We hope that by doing so other band members will be identified and further information on the Battalion will come to light.

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