John Babcock, the last surviving Canadian veteran of the First World War, pictured in 2006.
Prepared by: Capt M.M. O'Leary, Regimental Adjutant
(Reproduced from Pro Patria, Issue No. 88, 2006)
In the recent exchanges in the media concerning the last surviving veterans of the First World war, it was identified in a Globe and Mail article (11 Nov 2006) that one of these veterans, John Babcock, was a Royal Canadian. Since the Regiment has not maintained a comprehensive roll of those soldiers who served with the Regiment in the Great War, it was necessary to confirm this statement by examining John Babcock's CEF service records. Consequently, the service record of 835571 Acting Lance Corporal John Babcock was acquired by the Regimental Adjutant. The following is a brief summary of information from that file.
John Henry Foster Babcock attested for overseas service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 1 February 1916. He originally attested for the 146th Overseas Battalion, which was recruiting at Kingston, Ontario, at that time. Five foot, four and one-half inches in height, with blue eyes and fair hair, Babcock gave his date of birth as 23 July 1900. The medical examiner stated his "apparent age" at the time was 18 years and on 4 February 1916 he was pronounced fit for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force.
With his file annotated "Not to be sent overseas until 19 years of age", John Babcock did not sail to England until October, 1916. On the 18th of October he arrived in England aboard the S.S. CALIFORNIA as a designated reinforcement for The Royal Canadian Regiment. He was taken on strength the R.C.R. & P.P.C.L.I. Depot at Caesar's Camp effective the 13th October 1917. This period of service with the R.C.R. & P.P.C.L.I. Depot, and being identified as a reinforcement for The RCR in France, confirms the John Babcock was, and remains, a Royal Canadian.
John Babcock was with the Depot until 1 January 1917 when he was transferred to the 7th Reserve Battalion, located at Seaford, near Newhaven on the southern coast of England. He was subsequently transferred to the 26th Reserve Battalion at Bramshott on 7 February 1917 and then was transferred again, this time to a "Boys", or "Young Soldiers", Battalion at Bexhill. Apparently throughout this period, Babcock's youth was catching up to him and he continued to be transferred 'away' from front line service, at least until he was of age.
Serving in the Young Soldier's battalion, John Babcock was promoted to the rank of Acting Lance Corporal (with pay) in September 1917, and then Acting Corporal (with pay) in October. In March 1918 he lost his stripes, being reduced to Private for "Neglect of Duty", although he did regain a promotion to Acting Lance Corporal again in October 1918.
John Babcock was repatriated to Canada from the Young Soldier's Battalion in November 1918. He arrived back in Canada aboard the S.S. AQUITANIA on 28 November 1918. His processing through the demobilization and release system lasted until his final discharge on 1 January 1919 at Kingston, Ontario.
At the age of 18 years, 7 months (in accordance with his Discharge Certificate), Acting Lance Corporal John Henry Foster Babcock returned to civilian life after 2 years and 11 months of service. Accepting the age recorded at Discharge as correct means that John Babcock attested for service at the age of 15 years, 8 months.