A recent article in a local newspaper told the story of a 17-year old Canadian soldier killed in action during the First World War and his name, Marc Edward Berton, was one I was familiar with. In 2016 I visited Marc’s grave in Ypres in conjunction with the Saanich Remembers WWI project.
The newspaper article highlights the efforts of Martijn Wouters from Belgium who has been regularly visiting Marc’s grave and was looking for help in locating the soldier’s family, now believed to be in the US. I had done some preliminary research in 2016 and decided to look further into Marc’s family history. I discovered they left Victoria for the United States in 1920 and after a bit more digging I located Marc’s niece who is now in corresponding with Martijn.
Marc was born in Pontoise, France on May 10, 1899 and emigrated to Canada with his parents and three sisters in 1906. The family initially settled in Alberta but were living in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island by 1911 and moved to Victoria in 1913 where Marc attended Victoria High School. In December 1914 he joined the 88th Victoria Fusiliers, five months shy of his 16th birthday, and in March 1915 he enlisted for overseas service, claiming he was born on May 10, 1896. However census records and the fact that he had an older sister born in November 1896 show this was not the case.
On enlisting for overseas service Marc was transferred to the 48th Battalion which sailed for England on July 1, 1915. Marc was transferred to the 10th Battalion on October 26, 1915, joining his new unit in the water-logged trenches south of Ypres on November 8. With the exception of two weeks spent recovering from influenza in January 1916 Marc remained with his unit throughout the wet and windy winter as they rotated between front-line trenches, support trenches and reserve camps.
In early April 1916 the 10th Battalion relocated to trenches located near a railway line immediately west of Hill 60. Both the British and Germans were secretly preparing for major operations (the Germans would strike first on June 2, 1916) however the 10th Battalion’s War Diary shows that April and May were relatively quiet, characterized by persistent sniping and sporadic shelling. Nonetheless life in the trenches remained perilous and the diary’s “Remarks” column neatly documents the names of 18 men killed and 74 wounded during these two months. The entry for May 30, 1916 includes the note: “Killed 430702 M.E. Burton“.
At 9pm on May 30, 1916 the 10th Battalion was ordered to hand off their position, a series of trenches running from “The Dump” to “Trench 38”, to the 3rd Battalion and then relieve the 7th Battalion from “Trench 45” to “Leicester Square” (also known as “Square Wood” and “Fosse Wood”). Relief operations were particularly dangerous but it is not known whether Marc was killed during this move or at some point earlier in the day. He was buried a short distance away in Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm), the final resting place of three other soldiers from Victoria, BC.
Marc’s mother and three sisters, including two of whom were born in Victoria, left the city for the United States in 1920 and were joined by a fourth sister in 1921. Sadly, one Victoria-born sister was destined to lose both a brother and a son to war. My next article will remember Marc’s nephew, George Skakel, who died on another battlefield far from home half a century later.