My ancestor Robert Dent was born on 17 July 1882 in London to Richard Dent and Sarah Ann Cottrell. As a child, Richard emigrated to Ontario, Canada only to return to London in his early twenties where he married Sarah Ann. He found employment at London Docks and on the ships that sailed into those docks. In 1883 his ship, Stadacona, foundered with all hands. You can read Richard’s story here https://hannah-howe.com/ancestry/dent-yorkshire-canada-london/dent-yorkshire-canada-london-4/
In the early 1900s Richard’s son, Robert, followed his sister, Eliza, to Ontario, Canada. On 17 November 1909 in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada, Robert married Edith Eugenia Mollett, a woman of French descent. Between 1910 and 1914 the couple produced three daughters: Caroline (named after Edith’s mother), Edith and Jessie. Then the First World War broke out.
Given their British and French backgrounds, Robert and Edith must have discussed the war and its unfolding events in some detail and those discussions led to Robert enlisting in the Royal Canadian Dragoons (1st Armoured Regiment) on 21 January 1916.
Most of what follows was recorded in Robert’s official war record.
At the time of his marriage to Edith, Robert was a railway assistant. He was still working on the railways when his daughter Caroline was born. Remarkably, we know the exact time of her birth: 8.40 pm on 20 September 1910. When Robert signed up he was a farmer. In common with the vast majority of men who signed up he had no military experience.
Robert’s personal details. Height: five foot five and three-quarter inches. Weight: 135 lbs. Girth: 37 inches when resting, 41 inches when expanded. Complexion: fair. Eyes: grey. Hair: light brown. He had no smallpox scars, but his skin did reveal four vaccination marks. His habits were considered ‘good.’ On 21 January 1916 the medical officer considered Robert ‘fit for active service.’
After training, Robert left Halifax, Canada on 15 August 1916. By ship he arrived in Liverpool, England on 24 August 1916 and was transferred to the 11th Reserves Battalion at Shorecliffe. On 27 October 1916 he was transferred to the 8th Battalion to serve overseas.
The 8th Battalion was authorized on 10 August 1914 and embarked for Britain on 1 October 1914. It disembarked in France on 13 February 1915, where it fought as part of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division in France and Flanders until the end of the war. The battalion was disbanded on 15 September 1920. During the Great War the battalion saw action on a number of key battlefields including Ypres, Passchendaele and the Somme.
Robert’s war record reveals that he was ‘accidentally slightly wounded’ on 7 February 1917. These ‘slight’ wounds included gunshots to the right knee, thigh, leg, forearm and face, and they necessitated a thirty-two day stay at Clapton Military Hospital, from 3 March 1917 to 4 April 1917.
How did Robert sustain his wounds? It would appear that he was present in a brigade bombing area, attending a bombing instructional course. The safely at the course must have been lax resulting in a accident. Robert’s medical record states that he sustained ‘gunshot wounds’ and not ‘shrapnel wounds’ so maybe he was hit by bullets during the exercise and not shrapnel from an exploding bomb.
On 4 April 1917 medics moved Robert to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital in Bromley, Kent, where he remained until 17 April 1917 when he was discharged with limited movement in his right knee.
Robert’s disability was of ‘a serious nature’ and would ‘interfere with his future efficiency as a soldier.’ On 27 July 1917 he made a will, leaving all his worldly possessions to his wife, Edith. Then, despite his injuries, he returned to the frontline.
Back on the frontline, Robert suffered from trench foot, a common malady during the First World War. On 13 December 1917 he was transferred to the Canadian General Hospital in Shorecliffe where he remained until 12 March 1918, forty-eight days. During his stay surgeons removed his toenails.
Despite his injuries, Robert survived the Great War. However, he then faced another twist of fate.
From February 1918 mankind had been engaged in another ‘war’, against the ‘Spanish Flu.’ While in England waiting to return to his family in Canada, Robert became ill. On 15 January 1919 he was admitted to the Mile End Military Hospital. A week later, on 21 January 1919, he died.
Trooper Robert Dent, service number 225554, survived the horrors of the Great War only to succumb to an unseen enemy. This suggests an irony and tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. However, this was no play; it was life, and death. Edith lost her husband. In return she received a gratuity of $180, her husband’s life valued at £4,000 in today’s money.