Love And War: Winnifred Jarvis and Frederick Frost
In every generation of my family, there is always a person whose story stands out. Elsewhere on this site you can read about the sad and tragic story of Maria Hopps' efforts to have children - that touched me deeply. But in the generation that followed Maria Hopps - the generation of my great grandfather's children - it is the story of my great aunt Winnifred Marion Jarvis, and the man whom she married, that stands out.
Winnifred was born on February 6th 1887 in Middlesbrough. She was the first child of my great grandfather Frederick William Jarvis, and his wife Margaret Hannah Jarvis (nee Robinson) who had married in February 1885. Frederick William Jarvis was an East Ender but had moved to Middlesbrough with his father after leaving the Royal Navy as an engineer.
Winifred's name clearly confused the registrar, as her birth certificate is registered as Winifred Marain Jarvis and to add further confusion, she was baptized (shown below) as Winifred Miriam Jarvis on July 25th 1887.
In 1891, she pops up in the census living at 29 Pine Street in Middlesbrough, aged four. By then, she had a sister, Margaret aged 2, and a brother Frederick who was 11 months old. At this time her father is working as an engine fitter and her mother, as was typical for the time, is engaged in domestic duties.
Ten years later in 1901, the census shows her as 14 years old, still living at 29 Pine Street (location shown below). By now, she has four more siblings - Charles Robert Owen Jarvis (my grandfather), who was born in 1894; Catherine Terry Jarvis, born in 1897; Thomas Vaughan Jarvis, born in 1898 and baby Florence May Jarvis born in February 1901. She also has two dead sisters - May Vaughan and Ada Catherine.
In the first years of the 20th century, the family moved to 23 Gloucester Street in Middlesbrough - a street that does not exist on today's maps. In that first decade, Winifred visited Lewisham in London to see her grandmother, Maria Jarvis, whom was now widowed from my great great grandfather Charles Robert Owen Jarvis. It was possibly during one of those visits, that she became acquainted with a man named Frederick William Frost, who by pure co-incidence had the same first names as her father.
Frederick William Frost was born on August 6th 1887 in Lewisham, London, the youngest son of John Frost, a blacksmith, and his wife Harriet. The Frost family were originally from Suffolk, but had moved around the country. At one point, from 1874 through 1879, they lived in Middlesbrough, but moved to Cambridgeshire around 1880 before settling in Lewisham in London around 1883. By 1901 they were living in Hornsey, Middlesex and some time in the first decade of the 20th century, John Frost died leaving his wife a widow with six children still at home. By 1911, Harriet and her family were back living in Middlesbrough so it is entirely possible that Frederick William Frost met Winnifred Marion Jarvis there rather than London.
Frederick William Frost started his career working with his father as an iron moulder and it isn't clear when he became romantically involved with Winnifred Marion Jarvis, but a romance blossomed. But the Frost's were a traveling family with big ambitions - Frederick's brother James had emigrated to Canada in 1907, his brother John had followed him in 1908, and Frederick planned the same journey. Together with 1,075 other passengers, he boarded the Empress Of Ireland in Liverpool on 11th February 1910 and sailed the North Atlantic, arriving in St. John, New Brunswick on February 19th 1910 (passenger list shown below). He immediately found a job as a plumber working for the Toronto Consumer Gas Company.
As a side note, the Empress of Ireland (shown below) suffered a collision in thick fog on the St Lawrence seaway four years later, on May 29th 1914, killing more than a 1,000 of the 1,477 people aboard. The sinking has been the subject of numerous films and documentaries and the site of the wreck is protected.
Following Frederick William Frost's departure for Canada, Winnifred remained in Middlesbrough but she must have continued correspondence with Frederick because her romance with him didn't die. By 1911, Winnifred is 24 years old, still living at home with her family in Gloucester Street, and working as a shirtmaker at the Co-Op (shown below) at Victoria Hall in Middlesbrough.
But love called, and on May 19th 1911, Winnifred left Liverpool together with 1,429 other passengers on the same ill-fated Empress of Ireland ship, bound for Quebec in Canada (passenger manifest shown below).
On her arrival, she stated that her intention to emigrate to Canada (shown below) was so that she could be the wife of Frederick William Frost. The customs officer added a written entry stating such.
At the age of 24, Winnifred married Frederick William Frost on September 4th 1911 at St. Jude's Church in Toronto (shown below - it no longer exists), the wedding witnessed by Frederick's older brother John (license shown below). It was a wedding conducted under the auspices of the Church Of England. Winnifred's signature on the marriage register (shown above) indicates she was left-handed.
With the wedding over, the newly weds settled into their home at 14 Madeira Place (shown below and circled in red on map - it no longer exists) in Toronto, paying $13 a month in rent. After just over a year of marriage, their first daughter was born on October 24th 1912. They named her Winnifred Mabel Frost. The only Mabel in the family at that time was Frederick's younger sister, Mabel Frost, so perhaps she was named after her.
A year later, on November 7th 1913, Margaret Harriett Frost was delivered. The child was named after Winnifred's mother, Margaret, and Frederick's mother, Harriet.
Life was good. Winifred had a growing family and Fred was doing well as a plumber working for the gas company in Toronto, earning $67 per week. But dark clouds were on the horizon. In July 1914, war broke out in Europe and when Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4th 1914, Canada was automatically brought into the war due to its status as a British dominion. With so much immigration into Canada from Great Britain, the Canadian public had a surge of patriotic men wanting to serve their adopted country as well as their birthplace, so Canada formed the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force and looked to the local volunteer militias in Canada for men. It was in July 1915 that Frederick Frost signed up and joined the local Toronto 109th Battalion Militia.
The war papers that document the armed forces of Canada make for amazing reading because they are comprehensive and copious. Every single detail of every man is recorded and retained to this day. I have in my possession more than 70 pages of Frederick Frost's war records. To contrast that to the records of Great Britain, my maternal great great grandfather fought in World War One too - I have only two small cards that represent his service - his regiment number card and his medal card - they are frankly useless. The British War records tell you nothing about where a soldier was located, which regiment he fought with, or what his injuries were. It is frustrating and disappointing.
Frederick Frost's records have enabled me to pinpoint what he did and where he was throughout the war years, so let's leave Winnifred and the children in Toronto, where they would remain at 14 Madeira Place, and focus on Frederick Frost's war. In Toronto, time stood still for Winifred, but for Frederick the horror was about to begin.
It was on September 3rd 1915 that Frederick Frost signed up for the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in Toronto (see papers on the left). He was assigned to the 84th Overseas battalion with regimental number 164241 and immediately began his training. His medical was conducted on September 5th 1915 and showed him to be 5' 2.5" tall with a 32" chest, weighed 105.5 pounds and was in good physical health. He is described as being of dark complexion, with blue eyes and black hair. He had no smallpox marks but had four vaccination marks on his left arm, and one distinguishing mark - a scald mark on his right breast. The doctor states he had no physical defects, no sign of disease and no "congenital peculiarities". His dental examination similarly found no major issues.
In early 1911, the entire family went to the local photographer and posed for a family photograph. As far as I know, there is only one single photograph in existence that shows the whole family together, and you can see it below. Both Winnifred and Frederick were 29 years old, with young Winnifred Mabel, aged 3, holding onto her father and Margaret, aged 2, holding her sister's hand.
After 7 months of basic training in Canada, Frederick Frost boarded the Empress of Britain - the sister ship of the Empress of Ireland which he had used to emigrate to Canada - and crossed the Atlantic Ocean, arriving in England on June 28th 1916. There he was barracked in a temporary army camp set up on Bramshott Common in Hampshire. Five days later, on July 3rd 1915, he was re-assigned to the 75th light infantry brigade, also known as the "Mississauga". He was destined to fight in Flanders as part of the 11th Infantry Brigade of the 4th Canadian Division.
There are a number of celebrated British war poets, perhaps Wilfred Owen being the most famous, but Canada also had its fair share of great war poets. Canadian war poetry tended to focus on the patriotism and fearfulness that the Canadians inflicted on the Germans. Here is a poem by B. Winton which perhaps sums up the mood:
Many centuries ago on Salisbury Plain, A terrible battle was fought, The men on both sides strove with might and main, But dearly was victory bought.
Their duty they did and to martial strains Died thousands of brave men and true; And now are encamped on the same ancient plain The Empire’s Canadian Boys — True Blue.
Real British sons, steadfast and brave, As their Fathers were of yore; Each fond of a ‘gal’ and true to a ‘pal,’ Earnest in play or war.
Though short is the time since the Empire’s Call, You hastened at once to obey; You are doing your “bit” for the dear homeland Each minute you work or play.
You’re anxious to get to the Front at the Foe, And sure — you’re fine lads and true; Might proud was His Majesty when saw the fire In the eyes of his troops on review.
You have come up like men to play a man’s part, (For slackers the Empire’s no use); And when the dare-devil CANADIANS get to the front, KAISER BILL will think HELL’S been let loose.
On August 10th, Frederick Frost embarked for France, landing in Le Havre on August 12th. The 75th Battalion were destined to spend their next three years in a tiny corner of north-eastern France and north-Western Belgium, where many of their comrades still lie. From Le Havre, Frederick was transferred to the Somme valley, between the villages of Thiepval and Courcelette (shown below).
If there ever was a place for the British and French armies not to launch an offensive, it was the valley of the Somme River. From its source northeast of St-Quentin, through Péronne and Amiens to the sea, the valley held surprisingly little of military importance. There were no communications centres or vital resources. About the only thing of significance was enemy soldiers; thousands of them. Earlier in 1916, the Germans had attacked the French fortress at Verdun causing the allied French and British armies to look for a way of diverting the Germans away from Verdun. As the Somme was where the British and French armies met, it was agreed to create an offensive in the Somme.
The Battle Of The Somme (map below) took place between July 1st and November 18th 1916 in the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. The battle was intended to hasten the victory of the allies and would ultimately be known as the largest battle of the First World War. In the first hour of the battle, 30,000 British soldiers died, with another 28,000 perishing before nightfall. In the 141 days that followed July 1st, more than 3 million men fought it and one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.
World War One will be remembered for the horrors of trench warfare, so let's pause for a moment and understand the trenches. The Germans had occupied the area of the Somme since 1914 and the intervening months provided them with ample time to prepare strong defences in depth, on high ground overlooking the Somme Valley. Their extensive positions consisted of three well-sited trench lines, which contained strong dugouts, deep shellproof bunkers and fortified villages. All positions were behind thick barbed wire entanglements and connected by a network of communication trenches. From these protected locations, the soldiers of General Fritz von Below’s Second Army could pour heavy fire onto any attacker. Similarly, the British and French had dug themselves into defensive positions across a no-mans land that was mined, covered in barbed wire and perfect for snipers. The trenches, many of them miles long, were each given names, similar to how we would name streets on a map of a town. An entire battalion would deploy into the trench and remain their until relieved by another battalion. So the trenches became Frederick Frost's home - it was what he defended and where he slept, ate, washed, went to the toilet, and relaxed. Lice, ticks and mites were an everyday problem, compounded by the mud and the Northern European weather. Nowadays it is impossible to comprehend the hardship and suffering that the troops underwent in northern France.
To add to the misery of the battlefield, the Somme regularly witnessed chemical weapons used in anger. Both sides had to regularly fend themselves from Phosgene gas - a heavier-than-air gas which always dropped into the trenches and choked its victims, or chlorine gas, or mustard gas. I say "both sides" because neither the releaser of the gas nor the intended recipient could predict what the wind would do with the gas. Thus, there were occasions when a gas attack killed or maimed the side that released it. As a result of the use of gas, soldiers had to maintain and quickly deploy gas masks whenever they were needed - another added discomfort.
The final military push of the Battle Of The Somme became known as a Battle Of Ancre Heights (shown in map below), and took place on November 18th 1916. It was a day that would be referred to in history as The Last Day Of The Somme. The allies plan involved an attack on the German front line at the point where it crossed the Ancre River, a sector which had seen action on the first day of the Battle Of The Somme but without success. The attack had originally been planned for October 15th but was repeatedly postponed due to bad weather - rain, sleet and snow. By November, the original plan had been scaled back from an attempt to push the Germans back five miles to a more conservative effort to push them back two miles.
In the run up to the Last Day Of The Somme, the British had successfully advanced 800 yards and captured three lines of trenches and the town of Beaucourt. This success had spurred the allies to a more ambitious offensive, which began in snow and sleet on November 18th and swiftly descended into chaos. The weather, and particularly the mud, prevented the use of tanks, which had just been introduced to the battlefield, forcing the allies to rely on their infantry going "over the top" and storming forward onto the battlefield and directly into the German front line and their machine guns.
Norm Christie, in his book The Canadians on the Somme, explains "On November 18th 1916, the 4th Division's 38th Battalion (Eastern Ontario), 87th (Montreal), 54th (Kootenay), 75th (Mississauga Horse) and 50th (Alberta) succeeded in capturing Desire Trench, 800 meters north of the obliterated Regina Trench. The 38th and 87th even broke through to the Grancourt Trench (not their objective) but were forced to withdraw. The Battle Of The Somme was over. The Canadians had suffered more than 8,000 dead for a gain of 2.5 kilometers of mutilated chalky Somme farmland. But the battle had been a bigger catastrophe for the British Army - they lost 500,000 men."
Frederick Frost was woken early on November 18th 1916 to snow that would turn to rain as the day progressed. He probably didn't register that it was his 100th day in France. But it was to be a significant day on several fronts - it was to be the final day of the Battle Of The Somme, it would ultimately be his final day of combat, and what was to unfold would change his life forever.
His battalion commander explains the day in a dispatch (actual dispatch is shown below) as follows: "On the morning of the 18th at 6.10am a successful attack was made on DESIRE TRENCH by this battalion, with the 54th on the left and the 50th on the right. The 50th battalion on the right failed to capture their objective and consequently our battalion was exposed to a heavy enfilade fire and continuous sniping from enemy trench on our right. We established a block in DESIRE TRENCH a few yards west of PYS ROAD and dug a new trench parallel to and about 100 yards north of DESIRE TRENCH. This position was held by us until relieved at 5am on the 20th November by the 102nd battalion. Casualties during this attack are shown on the sheet attached".
75th Battalion made quick work of their objective to capture Desire Trench - by 10am they were holding a new line on the Western Front, 250 yards further than they had been the day prior, but they were exposed. As they dug in, they experiences snipers and fire from the right because 50th Battalion had failed to achieve its objective. With machine gun fire rat-a-tatting all around him, suddenly Frederick felt a pull to his right arm and then the warm sensation of blood flow before he passed out.
Frederick had been hit in the right arm and the right thigh, with shrapnel severing the brachial artery in his right arm. It is unclear what Frederick was doing at the time, but metal - either shrapnel or bullet, or both - penetrated the back of his right arm approximately six inches below his shoulder, close to his chest, and then splintered as it exited out of the front in three places, tearing through his bicep and tricep muscles as it went, causing some irreparable nerve damage. The exit wound, 5 inches long, suggests that he may have had his forearm at 90 degrees at the elbow when he was hit. The fact that it penetrated him from the back means that he was most likely hit by German sniper fire from the right flank, as described in the dispatches, but it could also have been shrapnel from a shell - or both. If he had been standing six inches further to the right, he would have been killed instantly.
As the Last Day Of The Somme came to an end, Frederick remained on the battlefield with medics fighting through the night in sleet and snow to save his life - his blood loss from the severed artery, which was so close to his pumping heart, was severe. His medical record indicates that he was given aspirin, which would have thinned the blood, making his situation even more perilous. It was on the day he was shot - 18th November - that the Canadian 75th Battalion declared him S.O.S - an abbreviation for Struck Off Strength. It was an understated admission that he was no longer capable of combat. Frederick was one of 625 Canadians killed or wounded at Ancre on November 18th 1916.
As the 18th November came to a close, the weather turned for the worse and the mud build-up called an end to the offensive - the day was officially determined to be the start of winter conditions. Frederick endured a second day of blood loss and pain in the trenches until on November 20th, he was transferred from the Western Front to No. 3 field hospital in Rouen, 15 miles away, where he underwent emergency surgery to stop the blood loss and stabilize his right arm. On the 26th he was put aboard a hospital ship and transferred to a Canadian Casualty Assembly Center (CCAC) in Hastings, England, where he was medically assessed and then dispatched to 3 West General Hospital in Newport, Wales.
Further medical examination (shown right, which also illustrates his entry and exit wounds) and surgery in Wales revealed that Frederick's thigh wound wasn't too severe - merely a flesh wound four inches long and an inch wide - and he was expected to make a full recovery from it. But there was concern for his right arm, with doctors reporting nerve damage and loss of sensation in his hand. His medical record indicates that they thought his arm may be septic. The doctors debated whether to amputate his arm in order to prevent death.
Back in Toronto, Winnifred was unaware of her husband's life-threatening condition until late November when representatives of the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force paid a visit to her home and informed her of her husbands situation. In the days following, his injury was reported in the Toronto Star newspaper on December 1st 1916 (shown below). I should pause at this point to contrast the handling of casualties by the Canadian and the British forces. With high efficiency, the Canadians tended to report death or injury to the next of kin within a week to ten days of the event, whereas the British sometimes took months to report a similar situation. Canada's administration of the war was exemplary compared to the British.
Ultimately, the decision was taken to try and save Frederick's arm so he remained in hospital as they worked to stabilize and rehabilitate him. He had a second operation on his arm, and then a further operation to suture the brachial artery. His medical records show that he suffered many incidents of nausea and vomiting during this period, but remarkably, his mental condition was undiminished and doctors reported no signs of shell-shock.
Frederick spent two months in hospital in Newport, Wales, and then on January 17th 1917 was transferred to a recovery centre in Woodcote Park, Epsom, where he continued his treatment for trench foot. He was finally discharged from the recovery centre on March 22nd. From there he returned to Canada on the Canadian Hospital Ship named Esequibeau, and was placed in a convalescent home in Toronto. Winifred and the children saw Frederick on his return, on April 6th 1917. All in all, Frederick had spent 7 days in hospital in France, 5 months in hospital in England and then 17 months in a convalescent home in Toronto. He brought one souvenir of France back with him - he'd had a tattoo of a cross put onto his left forearm.
Ten months after being wounded on the Somme, Frederick underwent a further operation to remove a buried stitch which doctors had determined was causing a random tic in his right arm. That was his final surgery and then he continued his convalescense.
Frederick's war had lasted less than a year before he was returned to Canada. He had spent the majority of his time in Europe lying in a hospital bed. He was formally discharged from the army on August 30th 1917, two years and 330 days after he had signed up (his signature on those papers is shown below). His discharge papers state that he received no victory medal, no badges for good conduct and no medals or decorations, although they state that his conduct was very good.
His discharge papers document his enduring injuries as follows: "A healthy man who was wounded in right arm and right thigh. There are scars of healed wounds. The brachial artery was severed and tied. Right radial is much smaller than left. There is much atrophy of muscles, especially flexor, of forearm. Flexion at elbow is normal but extension is not quite full. Wrist can be fully flexed but only extended to plane. Supination and precaution are normal. The fingers are all very stiff and can only be flexed 28%. There is some flattening of the thenor and hypothenor and of dorsal interesci and the sensation of little finger is lessened. Irritation of ulner nerve causes no tingling in the fingers. There is probably some injury of ulner nerve but treatment should improve function of hand. He has no disability from the wound of the thigh. His feet are tender but will recover." Frederick would suffer from those injuries for the rest of his life.
Frederick Frost was paid a dollar per day for his service in the army, with an extra 10 cents per day once he was on the Western Front. Back in Canada, Winnifred was given a $20 per month stipend while her husband fought in France. At his discharge, he was given a further $35 for clothing and $17 for his disability plus a pair of special boots for his flat feet. Per standard practice, he was then paid a further three months of pay and allowances following his discharge - a total of $175. Having walked out of the army discharge office, he immediately rejoined the Toronto consumer gas company as a gas inspector.
The Canadian troops in World War One gained a reputation as being a formidable assault force - they fought bravely and were feared by the enemy. British Prime Minister Lloyd George wrote "The Canadians played a part of such distinction that thenceforward they were marked out as shock troops; for the remainder of the war they were brought along to head the assault in one great battle after another. Whenever the Germans found the Canadian Corps coming into the line they prepared for the worst.". All in all, 620,000 Canadian men were mobilized, 67,000 were killed and 250,000 were wounded - giving each man a 39% chance of injury or death. The Battle of the Somme was responsible for 24,029 of those Canadian casualties.
My great uncle Frederick Frost had done his duty for Canada. He had suffered the horrors of the Western Front, taken a bullet for his country and lived to tell the tale. His war is a remarkable story of courage and bravery. I am very proud of him.
The war was not kind to the Frost family. Frederick's younger brother George Gilbert Frost was killed on August 21st 1915 in Gallipoli but his older brother Wilfred Joseph Frost also served in the Infantry in France and survived.
It would be great to say that the drama of Winnifred and Frederick Frost's life ended with his discharge, but it was only the beginning. Two months after Frederick's discharge, as the Frost family were re-adjusting to life together, Winnifred was diagnosed with pneumonia on October 14th 1918. The Spanish Flu had been brought back from Europe with returning troops, and it reached Toronto on September 29th 1918. Within a month, half the population of Toronto was infected.
Five days after her diagnosis, Winnifred died at home, aged 31 years, on October 19 1918.
Winnifred and Frederick's youngest daughter Margaret was also diagnosed with pneumonia on October 14th 1918. She died four days after the death of her mother, on October 23rd 1918. In the space of nine days, Frederick had gone from a happy family with a wife and two children to being a widower with a five year old.
All in all, the Spanish Flu killed 1,750 people in Toronto in the closing months of 1918, creating high demand for coffins. The shortage resulted in the decision to bury Winnifred and her daughter in the same coffin - which I find rather touching. Frederick purchased a plot at St. John's Norway cemetery in Toronto, at a cost of $18, and Winnifred and Margaret were buried on October 23rd 1918 in plot 6-11-60.
The burial records for the week around October 23rd make for sober reading. Virtually every death was attributed to pneumonia or influenza.
With Winnifred gone, Frederick Frost brought up his sole surviving daughter Winnifred by himself until June 30th 1925, when at the age of 37 he married Rosamund "Rose" Stewart, a spinster from Aberdeen, Scotland who had emigrated to Canada in the aftermath of the war, in 1920. Frederick rose through the ranks of the gas company, ultimately becoming a Vice President, working well past his retirement age. He continued to receive a war-time disability pension from his war service until it was deemed that he could stretch his arm straight. After a visit from Veterans Affairs, the government cut off his pension. Frederick Frost died on April 12th 1959. He was cremated at St. James Cemetery in Toronto, where his ashes remain to this day.
Winifred Marion Frost's sole surviving daughter grew up and became a hat maker, working in the millinery department of Simpson's department store in Toronto. She is remembered as a determined woman who didn't mind creating waves and spoke her mind. She was fired from her job when, in the peak of the hot Toronto summer, she suggested that the workers need a union in order to get better working conditions in the sweaty workshop where she plied her trade. She married an immigrant Englishman named Peter Signal and produced three boys, two of which are still alive today. She died aged 65 on October 13th 1978 and in her typical style, donated her body to science. When her ashes were returned to the family, they were buried at the same location as her father, in St. James Cemetery.
It was the war poet Rupert Brooke in his poem The Soldier, who referred to his possible death as "there's some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England". The same applies to St. John's Norway Cemetery, where Winnifred Marion lies - a place that will forever be England. Winnifred Marion Frost and her daughter's grave is unmarked but they both rest in a peaceful and tranquil part of Toronto, surrounded by graves of others who also died in the spanish flu outbreak of 1918. As far as I know, not a single member of her family from England have ever visited her grave. I intend to be the first.
It is virtually 100 years since this story came to its sorry conclusion, yet I still think of Winnifred and her family's suffering. If you would like to visit her grave, let me know and I will give you detailed maps to it. If you get there before I do, I would love to get a photograph of it.