A Family Hero

The story of


John Michael Tourangeau came from Buckingham, Quebec, which is a rural community east of Ottawa, Ontario. He eventually settled in Ottawa and married Catherine Cook. Together they had four children. John worked as a labourer in the early 1900s. As a result of his bravery and sacrifice John was wounded in France during the First World War. John passed away from complications associated with his wounds on the 29th of October 1916.

This is the story of the last months of the life of John Michael Tourangeau.

John was born into a family of thirteen brothers and sisters on October 24th 1877 in the small village of Buckingham, Quebec. Sometime during his youth he migrated to Ottawa looking for new opportunities. At the age of 23 he met, and then married Catherine Cook (1881-1974) on June 29th 1900. They had four children May Viola, (1906-2001), Vanessa Josephine (1908-1972), Irene Minota ( 1912-1998) and Frederick Milton William (1914-?)

Map of 1919

In 1915 John and his family lived at 76 Forest street in Ottawa’s Hintonburg area. Located just west of Parliament hill and LeBreton flats near the old Bay-view train yards.

Today’s Forest Street in Hintonburg is now called Hinchey Ave.

It was a time of great patriotism in Canada as the world plunged into war during 1914. Canada being a colony of Great Britain, had no choice but to be part of a war effort to stop the German aggression in Europe. The pressure was now on the shoulders of every able bodied Canadian to do their part in the war effort.

Although conscription was not introduced until 1917, everyone you knew was enlisting or contributing somehow to the war effort.  In 1915, men of all ages enlisted for the opportunity to travel to Europe and fight the Germans. John’s reasons for enlisting was not that different than most. The one obvious difference is that John was 38 years old in 1915 with a very young family and may not have been after any adventure that enlisting would bring. John seems to have enlisted to simply fulfill his duty as a Canadian, like so many.

Heroes are not always in the spotlight for their sacrifices, in Johns case, like so many others, they were heroes before they arrived in France.

The propaganda encouraging men to enlist came in a variety of ways like posters on every wall, daily news papers and peoples personal belief in duty to your country. The general atmosphere of everyday people in 1915 made it difficult to ignore the recruiting efforts when rallies were held by enlisted men that would march up and down the streets of Ottawa singing “It’s a long way to Tipperary”. Military recruiting officers would walk down your street and stop you to ask why you hadn’t enlisted. There was the white feather campaign where women would walk up to able bodied men and hand them a white feather known as the “Cowards Feather”. Employers promised your job back when you returned which only added to the already urgent need to enlist.

John stood 6’ 3” in 1915, a tall man for the military when the average height for a Canadian soldier was 5’ 7”. He weighed approximately 175 pounds with a chest girth of 39 inches. John was slim with grey eyes , brown hair and a fair complexion. This made for an odd contrast in height when standing beside his wife Catherine as she stood barley 5 feet tall.

Here is a picture of Johns wife Catherine, with her daughter to the right Irene Tourangeau (Harris), her granddaughter Catherine Harris (Lee) and great grandson David Lee in Dec 1969. She was a small woman but she was a strong person that brought up four children on her own, which was no small feat during the early 1900s. At the time that John enlisted the children ranged in age from 2 to 10 years old.

Through the years the family would say that Catherine was a good mother, fun loving and very witty. She loved to gamble on the horse races and was known to be very tricky in a friendly game of poker. She was once known to have quit smoking for over 20 years and then sometime in her late 70’s she said “I think that’s long enough” and took up smoking again till shortly before her passing at the age of 93.

The date was November 4th, 1915  and we can only imagine the conflict in John’s heart knowing he had to do something for his country. The decision to sign up for war and leave his wife and four children behind was not an easy one. So at the age of 38 John walked into the Le Régiment de Hull (Today’s Hull armory or Salaberry Armory) and enlisted with the 43rd regiment unit. Upon signing his attestation John was given a service ID145351 with the rank of Private.

Hull Armory

When the First World War began, the 43rd regiment unit was mobilized for action. However, the unit did not go overseas as a formed unit, instead, the unit was used to recruit and train soldiers. In 1902, the regiment so impressed the Duke of Cornwall (who would be later known as King George V) that he became the Cameron’s first honorary colonel and allowed the regiment to bear his name. The regiment was then known as the 43rd Regiment, Duke of Cornwall’s Own Rifles. It is garrisoned in Hull at Le Régiment de Hull and has been since 1870.

His stay with the 43rd Regiment, was short lived because on November 8th 1915 he was transferred to the 77th Battalion (Ottawa), known as the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) .

The 77th Battalion was authorized on July 10th  1915 and embarked for Great Britain on June 19th  1916. It provided reinforcements for the Canadian corps until September 22nd  1916, when its personnel was absorbed by the 47th Battalion (British Columbia), CEF , 73rd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada), CEF. The battalion was then disbanded and is now known as the Governor General’s Foot Guards.

Canadian Expeditionary Force, 77th Battalion Rockliffe, Oct. 1915. 77th Battalion are now the current day Governor General’s Foot Guards

John was stationed at Rockcliffe Ottawa military base where he underwent training for approximately six months. The training he received was a little on the “soft side” based on British military standards as some men where often late for roll call in the morning. Although attendance was sometimes an inconvenience the battalion did accomplish a lot during their long months of training. Then, in early June 1916 the battalion found itself  in Halifax, Nova Scotia. While in Halifax on June 16th 1916 John Tourangeau was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal (provisionally).

Then three days later on June 19th 1916 John and the 77th Battalion, CEF boarded a ship called S.S.Missanabie and sailed to England.


After spending 10 days crossing the Atlantic Ocean the S.S.Missanabie and the 77th Battalion disembarked at Liverpool, England on the June 29th 1916.

John spent five days getting his land legs back when he was immediately transferred to The 87th Battalion Canadian Grenadier Guards on July 4th 1916.

The 87th Battalion, CEF was based in Montreal, Quebec. The unit began recruiting in September 1915 in Montreal, the surrounding districts, and also in mining districts elsewhere in the province. After sailing to England in April 1916, the battalion was stationed there as part of the 12th Infantry Brigade (until June) and then 11th Infantry Brigade of the 4th Canadian Infantry Division until August of the same year. On August 11th 1916 , the battalion crossed over to France and served the duration of the war as part of the 11th Infantry Brigade, 4th Canadian Infantry Division. The battalion returned to Canada at the end of the war in June of 1919.

John arrived at the Bramshott military camp on July 4th 1916. Bramshott military camp is about an hour’s drive southwest of London. It is not clear how many from the 77th Battalion filled the ranks of the 87th Battalions 800 men in Bramshott. The camp was home to many other Canadian Battalions before going over to France during the war.

The very same day John arrived at the Bramshott military camp on July 4th 1916 he was formally informed that he was now a full Lance Corporal. For the next month John and the 87th Battalion would train vigorously for the coming deployment to France. During this time John would write his final will on July 21st 1916.

Bramshott camp

On August 11th 1916, leaving Bramshott camp, John and the 87th Battalion headed to the Southampton docks. The battalion now in Southampton would board a ship called S.S.Archangel. That evening the ship would make the very dangerous crossing to southern France.

The S.S.Archangel, with the 87th Battalion aboard, landed at the port of Le Havre France at 7:15 a.m. on August 12th 1916. Upon disembarking the S.S.Archangel John and the battalion marched to No. 4 Rest Camp near the docks which is about a 2 mile march.

After camping for three days near the port of Le Havre the 87th Battalion, on August 15th  1916 ,boarded a train at 7:30 a.m. and traveled north to a region south-west of the city of Ypres, Belgium. The 87th Battalion arrived at a location known as Houptre Camp near Reningelst, Belgium. The 87th Battalion then proceeded to march to camp Connaught, arriving at 9 a.m. on August 16th 1916.

After three days in Connaught Camp on August 18th  1916 the 87th Battalion was on the move again. They where ordered to move closer to the front line trenches to a camp called Alberta Camp near the village of Voormezeele.

This is similar to what 87th would have seen on there march to Alberta camp
The ruins of a Church in Voormezeele near Ypres 30th April 1916
The road leading through the ruined village of Voormezeele to St Eloi in Belgium as it appeared at the end of August 1917 had shattered buildings and debris on the road. Germans would shell well to the rear of the enemy lines.

On August 23rd 1916 John and the 87th Battalion, for the first time manned the front line trenches. They were placed with the 23rd Battalion, CEF for instruction, training and battle. The battalion was positioned in trenches that were north east of the village of Voormezeele and would see a considerable amount of action.

The 87th Battalion was divided up by company’s (A,B,C,D) and placed in two trench systems that were numbered 24 through 28. The trenches were in and around a place called Spoil Bank.

Spoil Bank was a very large mound of excavated dirt from the construction of the Ypres-Comines Canal before the war. The bank was used by the men for protection and tunneling operations. The bank had an adjacent path and small rail line.

The 55th Australian Siege Battery in action with 9.2 inch howitzer near Voormezeele
Solders in trenches near Ypres area 1916
Shrapnel bombs over trenches near Ypres area 1916

John and the 87th Battalion would rotate out of the front lines for the next twenty five days from the August 24th  1916 to September 17th 1916. During this time the battalion would have many causalities. Two men were wounded by gun shot on the 25th, One man was killed by sniper fire on the 26th, One man was wounded by shrapnel bomb on the 27th. There was a poison gas alarm at 10:45 p.m. on the 28th with no reported casualties.

More Shrapnel bombs over trenches near Ypres area 1916

In September 1916, and still on the front lines ,the battalion would continue to incur causalities. On September 1st two men were wounded by overhead shrapnel bombs, on the 2nd three men were wounded by gun fire exchange and one killed. On the 4th one man was wounded by gun fire. On the 5th three men were killed by shrapnel bombs. On the 6th two men were wounded and two other men were killed. On the 8th six men were killed and sixteen were wounded. On the 9th one man was killed and one wounded. On the 10th one man was wounded. On the 12th two men were wounded by shrapnel bombs. On the 15th one man was killed and on the 16th a scout was killed. This war diary excerpt shows the daily stress of being in the frontline trenches as men are being wounded and killed day after day.

Lots of make shift trenches Ypres area 1916
Men moving in and out of the front lines Ypres area 1916
Men lived in muddy conditions while at the front Ypres area 1916
This was a common scene viewed for miles leading to the front lines Ypres area 1916

On September 17th 1916 the 87th Battalion launched a midnight raid on enemy trenches which started at exactly 12:15 a.m. There was one hundred and twenty five men that volunteered to be part of the raid. Eighteen men were killed during the raid. It is unknown if John was part of this raid.

Raiding Party 1916
Raid report

On September 17th 1916 the 87th Battalion was replaced in the trenches by  the 16th Battalion from Australia. The battalion then marched to Ontario Camp as they headed out of the area for a well deserved rest. The next day on the September 18th 1916 the battalion moved to Victoria Camp near Reningelst, Belgium.

On September 20th 1916 the 87th Battalion would leave Belgium and march to Hazbrouk, France. The next day, on September 21st 1916 the battalion would march to Arques, France. Then on  September 22nd 1916, the battalion would march to Zouafques, France. The battalion would remain in Zouafques, France until October 3rd 1916. On October 3rd 1916 the 87th Battalion was ordered to move towards the Somme and marched back to Arques arriving at 1:30 a.m.

They then boarded a train at 5:30 a.m. that same morning and headed south to Doullens, France Arriving at 2:30 p.m. The battalion then immediately marched to a small village outside of Doullens called Hem-Hardinval arriving at 4:30 p.m on the October 4th 1916.


The following morning on October 5th 1916 at 8:30 a.m. the battalion marched from Hem-Hardinval through Gézaincourt and Beauval to La Vicogne, France arriving at 1:00 pm. The battalion rested here for two days.

Then, on  October 7th 1916 at 8:30 a.m the battalion was on the march again heading to a military junction point called Contay. John and the 87th Battalion started the day by marching through a large sect of farm land called Rosel Farms to reach a more favourable direct route and continued on through the villages of Val de Maison and Herissart arriving in Contay, France at 1:15 p.m. The battalion remained in Contay for two days before marching to Albert on October 10th 1916.  The battalion left Contay at 1:00 p.m. and arrived in Albert at 5:00 p.m. The battalion bivouacked at the  Brick Fields in Albert, France.

Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebières Oct 1916

The Brick Fields was the name allotted to a huge camp occupying flat fields of clay beside the road from Albert to Bousincourt. The month of September and most of October was a very wet affair in the Somme region making sleeping on the ground under a tarp in a clay field a condition of unimaginable proportions.

The following day on October 11th 1916 the 87th Battalion moved to Tara Hill to be closer to the front lines and bivouacked. Although the move was to higher ground the conditions at this location were no better than the wet and mud infested Brick Fields, which also left the men completely open to the rain and frost.

Between October 11th 1916 through to October 20th 1916 John and the 87th Battalion would remain at Tara Hill and perform preparation work for an attack on the German front line trenches. The Tara Hill Camp was also a staging and resting location for other men fighting on the front lines in the area.

Tara Hill Camp was a gruelling 4 mile walk to the front line trenches. The front line trenches for John and the 87th Battalion was just outside of the small village of Courcelette, France near the German held Regina Trench’s. The trench was a very strong holdout that the allies had been trying to capture during the battles in the Somme area.

Regina Trench 1916

By the middle of October 1916 , conditions behind the lines and on the battle fields were so bad that merely trying to exist was a trial for the body and spirit. The ground was so deep in mud that the infantry were often left to struggle painfully forward through it under heavy fire and against objectives vaguely defined and difficult to recognize.

The conditions in the Somme were truly awful. Mud in the trenches was often up to the hips and it was not an uncommon sight to find men stuck in the mud and having to be dug out. The weather was very bad and men were often so tired when coming out from the front lines that they would lay down in shelled out holes and sleep until morning. In addition to all this, was having to come back to the rest area at Tara Hill, which provided  more hardship and discomfort.

The 87th Battalion was set to start operations and would be called on to attack the German front lines at Regina Trenches.

The long, dreary stretch of the Albert- Courcelette road seemed like a nightmare

On the October 17th the 87th Battalion replaced the 54th Battalion, CEF and took over the right sector of trenches outside of Courcelette facing the Regina Trench, with nothing between them but no man’s land and the German front line guns. Then two days later, on October 19th 1916 the battalion left the front line trench due to bad weather and moved back to Tara Hill Camp and bivouacked. During this time part of the 75th Battalion, CEF moved to the front lines as replacements while the 54th Battalion moved into a reserve trench called “sugar trench” just behind the main 75th Battalion.

Reina Trench

After days of continuous rain the skies finally cleared up just enough to begin the advancement and attack on Regina Trenches. On the morning of the October 21st  1916 the 87th Battalion moved back to the front line trenches and replaced the 75th Battalion and the 54th Battalion. It was a clear, very cold, wet and heavily frosted morning as John and the 87th Battalion took its position in the trenches. Then at exactly 12:06 p.m. the attack commenced with a very intensive bombardment of the German held Regina Trench. The 87th Battalion, on a frontage that stretched 375 yards wide, went over the parapet in three waves slowly creeping towards the bombardment barrage on Regina Trench.

In fewer than 15 minutes the 87th Battalion had accomplished its objective. The 87th Battalion was now in the German held Regina Trench. The barbwire over no mans land had been completely shattered by the systematic bombardments. Also the effective use of the bombardment barrage, killed many Germans in their front line positions and in the Regina Trench. The German survivors had little fight remaining and were eager to surrender to the 87th Battalion. One hundred and sixty Germans were taken prisoner and the 87th Battalion successfully established a block in Regina Trench about 200 yards east of the Courcelette-Pys road.

For the rest of the day ,and the following day, the battalion had to fight off numerous counterattacks by the Germans. The counterattacks and shellfire took a heavy toll on the 87th Battalion as the majority of the casualties were from these attacks. The 87th Battalion had sustained two hundred and eighty three casualties during, and after, the objective had been reached. Weather also had been a contributing factor to the casualty list with dying and wounded being stranded for hours and even days. The two days action cost the battalion one hundred and fourteen killed in action and one hundred and sixty nine wounded.

Attack on Regina Trench October 1916
battle of the Somme 1916
John on the wounded list of the 87th Battalion on 21 -22 of October 1916 at Regina Trench

John Tourangeau was wounded in the right hip and back by a gunshot.  The injury happened between 12:06 p.m on  October 21st 1916 through to when the 87th Battalion was replaced on the evening of the October 22nd 1916 at 10:30 p.m.

Mud was a killer

Johns wounding during this time could have taken a few scenarios, ranging from being shot early in the attack or while defending the newly captured Regina Trench from bombardment and counterattacks. There is no evidence, yet, as to when, during the attack, John was wounded. John may have been lying in mud for several hours, or even days waiting for a stretcher bearer to recover him, taking into consideration  the conditions in which the attack took place.

Regina Trench remained a very dangerous area and the task of simply recovering the wounded and dead was not an easy task

John would have received first aid medical attention at an aid posts situated in or close behind the front line position. Here he would have found medical officers, orderlies and men trained as stretcher bearers. A field ambulance would provide relays of stretcher bearers and men skilled in first aid, at a series of “bearer posts” along the route of his evacuation from the trenches.

First aid post very close to the front lines
Men of the 87th battalion moving from Regina Trench October 1916

The 87th Battalion was replaced by the 75th Battalion on the October 23rd  1916. The 87th Battalion marched from Regina Trench to Pozieres. Wet, muddied, and completely exhausted they spent the night in dugouts at Pozieres about 2 miles from Tera Hill. The 87th Battalion would go on to fight for the remainder of the war minus one hero.

After John was evacuated from the first aid station he was then transferred  by field ambulance to the No.9 Casualty Clearing Station (C.C.S) back at Contay.

The journey to the No.9 C.C.S. was a long and painful trip for all the wounded. The roads were clogged with other wounded soldiers, moving to the rear ,and thousands of soldiers with equipment and supplies moving to the front. The road conditions were extremely rough and unbearable for a wounded soldier. Field ambulances often had to stop and relay the wounded to other ambulances to continue the trip to casualty clearing stations. These further, long delays ,only added more pain and discomfort to an already horrible journey.

John arrived and survived the long journey to the Contay and the No.9 C.C.S. some time after October 21st  1916. Here John would receive advanced medical attention in the form of a major operation to stabilize him with advanced wound dressings. This would also be the location where doctors would decide if John could be transferred  to a major hospital and, if so ,would prepare him for his journey. Contay was a jump on point for the transfer of patients to major hospitals due to the proximity of the rail road.

John would have been admitted to a casualty clearing station similar to this one in Contay Oct 1916 .

John Tourangeau was wounded by a gunshot to the right hip and back that damaged his right side. The gunshot wound also punctured his bowels which only made a bad situation a fatal one with the onset of infection and other complications. In most cases during World War One when involving a serious wound like Johns he was more than likely just made comfortable on a cot and given morphine to ease any pain until he passed away. To move John would have probably caused him more pain and likely killed him. When exactly did John arrive at the No.9 C.C.S. in Contay is still not clear as more research is needed to answer this question.

On the October 29th  1916 John Michael Tourangeau, father of four passed away from his wounds while on a cot inside the No.9 C.C.S. John was buried some time after at the British Contay Cemetery outside of the small town of Contay, France.

Contay British Cemetery Entrance
Plot #4 – Row “C” – Grave #31
Johns will three months before his passing
Catherine Tourangeau (Cook) after almost 65 years after Johns passing made a trip to Contay, France to visit John for one last time. Catherine would pass away a few years later.
To all that suffered during these times may you rest in peace