It started back in 1892 when John was born in Newfoundland. By the age of 2 he'd moved away from home to the Cape Breton area of Nova Scotia. But don't worry...he took his parents with him. He got his formal education there and then at age 14 would get a job in the coal mines to help out with financing at home. By 19 he'd leave... without parents this time, and take up work in the wheat fields of Western Canada, but within a few years he would be back closer to home... in Sussex New Brunswick.
Perhaps it was a poster like the one at left from Montreal advertising for recruits for the Royal Highlanders that caught John's attention. But regardless, he soon became a private in a French contingency of the Black Watch known as the 55th battalion. From then on he was known as Private John Croak. It is not known why he chose the spelling of his surname, and it stuck to him for life, despite the fact that his birth certificate clearly has the name spelt CROKE. A few years later he would be transferred to 13th Battalion, collar dogs of both are shown above.
On 7 August 1915 John signed attestation papers at Sussex NB and committed to serving in the army for the duration of the Great War. After a few months of training on Canadian soil he would board the Canadian Pacific's SS Corsican for the trip across the Atlantic. After several days at sea in very dangerous waters patrolled by German U Boats the soldiers arrived in England on 9 November. Like thousands more, he would never see the shores of Canada again!
The SS Corsican, shown here, had been chartered for years by the CPR who would years later eventually purchase it from the Allen Lines. It was used as a troop carrier during the war.
In its earlier days it was taking a run to North America and got caught up for 3 days in the ice fields off Atlantic Canada. The same ice, and the same night being one of them, that sank the famed Titanic. It however had no damage because it had slowed down to less than 5 knots whilst the Titanic apparently kept up a speed of about 26 MPH before it plowed into the iceberg that took so many lives.
John would get some basic training in Canada and then on arrival in Britain would be sent off for further training at Camp Bramshott, about 50 miles South West of London and close to the English Channel. Either military or just camp life was probably very difficult for John. Over his years of service was often in trouble with his superiors. Here is a partial list of some of his difficulties before leaving England for France...
This is a portion of a document that came out of his service file held by the Canadian government. It only covers some 17 months of soldiering but shows a clear discipline problem. Besides drunkenness and insubordination it includes two times when he was actually AWOL. This is an offence that could well have led a soldier to being shot, depending on circumstances. At the bottom of the card there is a note that he was finally transferred out of the 55th and sent of to the battlefields of France with the 13th Battalion. (Note the spelling error of the ship at top of document.)
While with the 55th and then with the 13th John filled out a military wills, now found in the files at Ottawa and seen below. Note that while serving with the 13th Bn., he indicated his first given name was JACK.
NOTE... I am being called away from computer for several hours so will return tomorrow to finish this blog....