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'It's just amazing': Family reunited with Toronto soldier's photo more than 100 years later

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The discovery of dozens of well-preserved glass plate negatives of Toronto-area soldiers from the First World War has given a family a new link to their past through a photo they have never seen before.

Sgt. Frank Shrubshall was killed in action in one of the last battles of the war, and his two young daughters Helen and Violet grew up in Toronto without their dad, remembering him through a grainy photo published in a newspaper.

But an image of the sergeant was in a collection of dozens of negatives discovered recently, showing him in detail standing in a new uniform, about to go to the front lines.

CTV News Investigates got in touch with Shrubshall’s descendants and shared the photo with them in an emotional reunion.

“It’s just amazing,” said Shrubshall’s grandson, Charles Pipe, in an interview with CTV News. “It’s really hard to describe anything like that. It brings such a moment, especially coming up to Remembrance Day.”

Shrubshall’s photo was among dozens of glass photographic plates that were taken over 100 years ago, and were recently discovered in the estate of Corporal Bob French of the Queen’s Own Rifles.

Sgt. Frank Shrubshall is seen in this undated image. (Canadian Society for Military Medals and Insignia)

French requested they be sold on a consignment arrangement by the Canadian Society for Military Medals and Insignia, said the society’s Juan Jose Besteiro, who said he believed they have immense historical value.

“It’s definitely not something you see every day,” Besteiro said. “These are the last vestiges of some people who fought for Canada, sacrificed their lives for our country. This is a great way to honour them and remember them.”

It wasn’t initially clear how the men were related, but CTV News traced many of them to an area in west Toronto around the Anglican Church of St. John’s, where a memorial to at least 10 of them still stands.

Despite using Canadian military records and other clues, about half of the men depicted could not be uniquely identified, meaning there may be more to discover.

Besteiro was overjoyed that Shrubshall’s descendants could see the photo and remember their ancestor’s service and sacrifice.

“This is great we were able to bring such joy and connect historically to see a face they had not seen in such a long time,” he said.

Pipe said his mother and aunt grew up in Toronto knowing their father through medals he left behind as a corporal and then a sergeant in the 126th Peel Regiment.

Charles Pipe, the grandson of Sgt. Frank Shrubshall, is seen in this image.

His attestation papers show he was born in England in 1861 and lived on Medland Street in Toronto’s west end, where he worked as a CPR locomotive engineer.

He enlisted at 34 and was declared fit for duty on March 13, 1916, the records say. He received a field promotion to Sergeant and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal as he fought with the 126th Peel Regiment in many of the battles that forged Canada’s identity more than 100 years ago.

“It would have included Vimy Ridge and Passchendale as well as the final push, the last 100 days, when he would have died,” said Teresa Iacobelli of the Canadian War Museum, who looked up Shrubshall’s records.

Records show Shrubshall was killed in action, “killed instantly by a machine gun bullet during the advance on the Drocourt-Quéant Line on the morning of September 2, 1918.”

The armistice that ended the First World War was signed on November 11, 1918.

“The battle was a great success but it came at a high cost,” Iacobelli said. “During that battle, 5,600 Canadian soldiers were killed or wounded, including men from Shrubshall’s battalion. Thirty-nine from that battalion themselves were killed.”

The records show that Shrubshall lived with his wife Edith on Medland Street in the city’s Junction neighbourhood. A family photo shared by Pipe shows Edith and her two children -- and not Frank Shrubshall.

Edith Shrubshall is seen in this undated image alongside here children. (supplied)

Looking at details in the recently discovered photo, Pipe said the face he sees feels familiar.

“I look at it and see my brother in it. His name was Frank as well. He was named after him. He’s no longer with us,” he said. 

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