Uncovering the stories behind the names on the Rockwood cenotaph

Guelph-Eramosa heritage committee members spent two years researching and working to bring to light the lives of the soldiers listed on the Rockwood cenotaph.

Gordon Carothers, Dot Daynard and Joyce Blyth, with the help of other community members and township council, spent hundreds of hours gathering, researching and editing information to publish the book Remembering the Fallen: A tribute to the soldiers remembered on the Rockwood cenotaph.  

“One of the things was that we really wanted to know how they were connected to Eramosa Township and there are some neat stories about factories they worked in or farms they worked on before they went over,” Daynard said.

“I love those personal stories in it.”

Carothers added, “The idea was to bring it to life.”

The project began in September 2012 when a former principal of Rockwood Centennial Public School inquired about the lives of the 24 soldiers whose names were on the cenotaph.

It was former councillor John Scott who, “picked up on the idea that we needed more research on these names and it was he who sort of … had the ground work done and then he passed it over to the heritage committee,” Blyth said.

A military contact in Ottawa researched all the names on the cenotaph in military records and passed on his findings to the committee in point form notes, including some of his own comments as well.

However, the language was specific to the military and difficult for a layperson to understand.

“Unless you’re in it daily you have no idea what it’s saying, so we figured it had to be translated into plain ordinary English and also it told nothing about who the men were in the township,” Carothers explained.

“We thought we would go through and try to identify more about the men because when you read the initial point form stuff, they’re just a series of soldiers who happen to live in Eramosa Township or were connected to it.”

The committee used the military records as the seed to dig deeper and learn as much as possible about each of the soldiers and his connection to former Eramosa Township.

Carothers, the lead researcher on the project, said it was easier to track down the information for the First World War because all of the records are unsealed.     

“Because all the men are dead … the government sites do contain more information on them so you can go through Veterans Affairs and get information on them that’s more in line with their military activity,” he explained.

He had access to information like war diaries, which allowed him to “go in and see regiment-by-regiment, battalion-by-battalion, day-by-day, hour-by-hour” activities of the troops.

While this didn’t go into specifics about any one soldier, if Carothers knew the regiment or battalion of a soldier on the Rockwood cenotaph, he could track his movements throughout the war.

“And some of them, you find some very interesting, very detailed stories about how the men died,” he added.

In one case, Remembering the Fallen identifies two First World War soldiers on the cenotaph who enlisted on Oct. 8, 1915 in Rockwood and their ID numbers are consecutive. James Albert Gamble enlisted with the number 127203 and John Wilfred Oakes enlisted with the number 127204.

“So there’s a good chance they knew each other,” Carothers said. “They’re both in the line-up together and signing-up in Rockwood on the same day.” But he was unable to find any further information.

For the Second World War, it was a different situation altogether.

Many WWII veterans are still alive so the records are  sealed, meaning the heritage committee had to find alternative sources of information.  

For example, Carothers learned that Sergeant Donald Fraser Titt died on a plane that crashed in Cumbria in the Lake District of England. The location is now the most visited war plane crash site in Britain.

“You can find out about him specifically because he was a crew member of that plane or on that plane so he’s mentioned there without going into the sealed records that the government won’t let us see until everyone from World War Two is long dead,” Carothers said.

The committee also sent out an appeal for information to people in the township and four families responded.

Carothers also looked up the surnames of the soldiers in the phone book and called the phone numbers hoping for a connection, and he found information for one soldier.

Carothers also gained access to another soldier’s family letters and war information because the soldier was the uncle of an acquaintance.

In other cases, it was near impossible to gather any additional information beyond what was in the military record. Carothers said he searched through internet sites and the Wellington County Archives garnering whatever information he could.

In each case where Carothers researched and found new information about a soldier, he tried to confirm that information in at least two other records.

“I tried to find preferably three data sources for each item to confirm that that was what went on,” he explained.

“You’re trying to cross reference it to make sure it’s as good as you can get.”

Mark Hunt of the Guelph-Eramosa fire department has an extensive collection of photos from the Second World War.

He supplied the majority of the photos from that war for the booklet.

“They had a board made up there of the [soldier’s] names and their ranks and their photographs, so Mark gave me the originals that he had,” Carothers explained.

Even the book’s cover design was carefully thought out by the committee.

“I wanted a black border because traditionally in Victorian times and Edwardian times the black border was for a death notice, so that’s why the black line,” Carothers said.

Blyth suggested the bright red poppy to add a pop of colour and the deep symbology of the flower.

“We were also lucky and very proud of the council and township; you’ll notice in here there’s no names, no political statement, no politician writing anything, no mention of that and it was all funded by the township,” Carothers said.

Mayor Chris White added, “These men fought and died for our country and township, the least we can do is fund this book which brings their stories to life.”

Remembering the Fallen: A tribute to the soldiers remembered on the Rockwood cenotaph is available for free at the Guelph-Eramosa office in Brucedale.

(Robert) John Stumpf

Robert Stumpf was born in Milton in 1893, the son of Robert Reuben and Margaret Annie Stumpf (of Rockwood). The family later moved to Rockwood.

Prior to volunteering for overseas service, Stumpf worked as a clerk and had served three years in the Infantry. He volunteered for overseas service in Guelph in January 1915.

Private Stumpf was initially assigned to the 9th Reserve Battalion on Aug. 27, 1915 for basic training. He was subsequently transferred to the 34th Reserve Battalion and then the 10th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry (Alberta Regiment).

Records indicate he arrived in France at Le Havre on March 17, 1916 and on May 16 he was treated for influenza. After recovering, he rejoined the 10th Battalion.

On Sept. 27 Stumpf was admitted to a field ambulance station suffering from wounds. According to the Official Canadian War Diary he died the next day. He is buried in the Contay British Cemetery in Somme, France.

Gordon Earl Mack

Gordon Earl Mack was born in 1925 to George Ernest and Jennie May (nee Lillie) Mack of Eramosa Township.  In 1943 he enlisted with the 11th Field Regiment (Artillery) in Guelph. On June 26, 1944 he embarked for England from Halifax.

He was later assigned to the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Regiment which was involved for months in the liberation of the Netherlands. His letters home mentioned grim conditions at the front.

In the final days of Operation Veritable (Feb. 8 to 21, 1945), his regiment was involved in exceptionally heavy fighting.

Trooper Gordon Earl Mack was killed in action on Feb. 21, 1945 near the town of Keppelen, Germany.

In a letter to Mack’s parents, his Captain spoke highly of Mack and described how his four-man squad was advancing along the side of a road when they were hit by an artillery shell.

Mack was initially buried in the village of Louisendorf and later reburied in the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands.