In hindsight it’s easy to forget that not every soldier who wanted to do his bit in the First World War had the opportunity to do so. In 1914, and in sharp contrast to later in the war, the authorities didn’t hesitate to turn aside recruits who didn’t measure up. It must have been both humiliating and frustrating for those who were. This is the story of one young cadet who may have been passed by.
Eustace Ruyter A’Beckett Shearman was born in Brantford Ontario on January 12, 1895. His family moved west in 1903 and settled in Vancouver where his grandparents also resided. His grandmother (pictured above) was Jane Rees Shearman (nee Evans). She was born in Chester in 1832, emigrated to Canada in 1863 and lived to be one month shy of 91. Jane was married to Thomas Stinton Shearman who reportedly became Vancouver’s very first weatherman. Their son Eustace Beckett Shearman would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a weatherman in 1918.
Eustace R A Beckett attended King Edward High School and joined the 101st Vancouver High School Cadets. It had been formed in 1903 (see the photo gallery for an article on their history) and by 1910 was considered to be one of the finest cadet corps in Canada. The 101st toured Australia in July 1912 and it is very possible, likely in fact, that Eustace made the journey. The City of Vancouver Archives contains some wonderful photographs of the cadets drilling at King Edward High School and on the C.P.R. docks prior to boarding their ship to Australia.
After leaving school Eustace joined the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders’ Cadets and by January 1913 was the “A” Company Cadet Leader. That same year his family moved to Victoria where Eustace enrolled in Victoria College, an extension of Victoria High School which offered first and second year courses at Montreal’s McGill University. In November Company Leader Shearman of the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders’ Cadets was attached to the Victoria High School’s No. 112 Cadet Battalion for the year and given command of “B” Company. In April 1914 the British Colonist newspaper reported that Eustace had won the “B” Class shooting competition.
An album he compiled during that period also included two photographs taken at the 1914 cadet camp on Macaulay Plains in Victoria. The camp took place between July 6 and 11 and was attended by 800 cadets from Vancouver and Vancouver Island. The Victoria High School Cadets did not attend but Eustace must have rejoined the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders’ cadets who were there in numbers. The camp commandant was Lt-Col. Leckie who within months would assume command of the 16th Battalion (The Canadian Scottish). For more information on the cadet camp I highly recommend you visit History of Work Point Barracks by Jack Bates, a fantastic resource for researchers.
Within weeks War had been declared and in November an issue of The Camosun, the Victoria High School student magazine, reported that Shearman and Richard Wallis (another prominent member of the Victoria High School Cadet Battalion), were “… at present with the first Canadian Contingent at Salisbury Plain“. On February 26, 1915 the British Colonist listed Shearman and Wallis as two of the two dozen former cadets who were at or who were about to go to the front.
However a search of Canadian attestation papers and both British and Australian military records uncovered no trace of Eustace Shearman joining the colours. I subsequently found him listed in the 1915 Vancouver City Directory as a teacher living with his parents. What could have prevented this promising young cadet from going overseas?
It’s likely Eustace made the journey to Valcartier with fellow cadet Captain Richard Wallis. On September 23rd Wallis attested and less than one week later sailed to England as a Lieutenant in the 16th Battalion (The Canadian Scottish). You would think that Shearman, a 19-year old with several years experience in the cadet corps would make the cut, especially one who met the minimum height requirement and was a good shot. A medical condition may have been uncovered or bad teeth could have held him back. Or perhaps the fact that Valcartier had a surplus of soldiers, especially young officers, meant it was simply a numbers game. He may have aspired to be an officer like his friend Wallis and chose not to trade pips for stripes had they been on offer. It’s likely we’ll never know for sure but while he may have been bitter at the time the fact that these wonderful photos have survived suggests he remained proud of his days as a west coast cadet.