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Rare photos of 44 Toronto First World War soldiers discovered


Dozens of remarkably well-preserved photos of Toronto-area soldiers from the First World War have been found after more than 100 years, showing in sharp detail the days before these young men travelled to the front lines.

CTV News Investigates connected these men to the records of their service and sacrifice, and to a west Toronto community and church that was deeply affected by the war. A monument to the men in the group who lost their lives still stands today.

“These are unseen pieces. A lot of these photographs have not been seen before,” said Juan Jose Besteiro, the VP of the Canadian Society for Military Medals and Insignia, in an interview.

Besteiro said the glass photographic plates were discovered in the estate of Corporal Bob French of the Queen’s Own Rifles, who requested Besteiro sell the collection under a consignment arrangement.

The images survived on lantern slides, where an emulsion sandwiched between two glass plates was illuminated by a precursor to a slide projector.

Once lit up, the photos show in sharp relief portraits of young men, mostly from Toronto, wearing uniforms before they shipped out for service in the First World War.

None had seen combat, with their bravado showing through in expressions and nicknames: Frank Ball is captioned with a line that translates to “Breaker of Rocks.”

Among the men are Frank and Sydney Raven, two brothers who listed themselves as doctors.

In another photo, four men sit together on the porch of a west-end Toronto home, smiling at the camera while a little girl plays on the porch.

“It’s very poignant to see some of those last meals at home, some of those last goodbyes to the families,” said Besteiro.

Some of the photographs are marked with an address and a photographer that can be traced back to a photography studio that once sat next to the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre on Yonge Street.

Maggie Arbour of the Canadian War Museum told CTV News Toronto that soldiers would want a picture to have or to send to loved ones.

“I think it was a question of leaving behind a memento, a souvenir, maybe with family, the girlfriend, when they were photographed in Canada,” she said.

“They just wanted to send someone a quick reminder of themselves and hope they are not forgotten,” she said.

Four Canadian soldiers are seen in this undated image. (Canadian Society for Military Medals and Insignia)

Once in the field, the reality of war set in. Records show that Frederick Kirkwood’s leg was amputated after an injury. William Partidge’s arm was lacerated by shrapnel.

Of the 44 photos, CTV News Toronto made connections with 21 different sets of military records that are made public by the Government of Canada.

Most lived in west Toronto. Just under a third were killed in action, the records show. Just over a third were wounded or medically discharged. Just over a third survived without physical injuries.

Canadian First World War soldier Fred Kirkwood is seen in this undated image. (Canadian Society for Military Medals and Insignia)

Among the dead included Sgt. Frank Shrubshall, who was given a field promotion and a distinguished conduct medal before he was killed in action by a machine gun bullet in 1918 during the battle of Drocourt-Quéant Line.

Private Arthur Rawlinson was killed in action in 1916 when he was 36. Records show he lived on Clendenan Avenue, and just a few blocks away is a memorial panel that still shows his name, that of Shrubshall, and about 10 others whose pictures appear in the discovered collection.

In all, the Anglican Church of St. John’s in Toronto’s west end lost 40 of its congregation in the First World War, according to the plaque. The caption on their memorial reads: “They died that we might live.”

In an interview, Pastor Alexandra Stone said it’s important to remember the sacrifice made by people in the hope for a more peaceful world.

She said the photos will be incorporated into research for the church’s centenary project.

A plaque at the Anglican Church of St. John’s in Toronto's west end is seen here.

“It’s really fascinating to see their faces and helps us remember them as real people as opposed to a list of names,” she said. “It’s moving to see the photographs, to put faces to the names that we remember every year.”

Besteiro said he hopes that the slides connect Canadians to their history.

“It’s so important that we take care of them, that we research them, and we know the story about them for future generations,” he said. Top Stories

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