Bedales 1905-1906, Private in Canadian Overseas Contingent, 3rd Battalion (1st Toronto Regiment)

Sadly I failed to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Henry Kelleher’s death.  He has proved to be so far the most elusive of the OBs who died in World War 1.  I had little information about him, apart from what Mr. Badley wrote in The Bedales Record for 1915 – 1916. H. KELLEHER came to us from Denmark, and was at the School for a short time in 1905 and 1906, and then returned to school in his own country. Later he entered Christ's College, Cambridge, and joined the Canadian Overseas Contingent from the College as a private.  He was killed in France, October 1915.”  In three major respects Mr Badley was misinformed: (they are underlined).

I spent a long time looking for Henry Kelleher but all I came up with was a CWGC posting which recorded that a Henry Kelleher had died in April, not October, and was fighting in a Canadian Regiment; he was the only Kelleher I could find.  Christ’s College, Cambridge was unable to help me as many of their records for that period had been destroyed by fire.  However, through Forces Reunited website, I managed to confirm that Henry Kelleher had matriculated and studied at Christ’s from 1910.  The CWGC casualty details said he was the son of Mrs M. C Kelleher of Ontario and the late James Kelleher Esq. of Bengal.  Pursuing James, I discovered details of pensions for the Indian Civil Service on findmypast.  The actual image provided dates for the births and marriage of James and his wife, Mary Caroline, and the birthdates and places of birth for their four children.  (The actual documents can be checked in the British Library).

James Kelleher was born in 1846 in Co. Cork and in 1866 joined the British Civil Service.  I’ve only found confirmation of two dates when he was in India (1873 and 1881) but he must have spent many years there until he retired on 4th August 1894.  His only daughter Mary was born in India in 1887 but, for the birth of her next child, Mary Caroline was in Eastbourne.  Mortimer Sebastian was born on the 17th September 1889 and his birth was announced in the Eastbourne Gazette on the 25th.  The Kellehers must have returned to Ireland as, on 26th December 1890, Henry himself was born in Dalkey, just south of Dublin.  The family was completed by the birth of James in Dublin city on 25th March 1895.  James senior did not have long to enjoy his retirement; he died on 2nd December 1895 when his youngest child was only eight months old.  Mary Caroline and the four children were still in Dublin on census day 1901, she living on an annuity and the children in receipt of India Office pensions.

For an unknown reason the family did move to Denmark; certainly Henry was at Ordrup College, in the smart Copenhagen suburb of Charlottenlund from 1906 – 1908, after he had spent two terms (Autumn 1905 and Spring 1906) at Bedales and he may have been there earlier as Mr. Badley implied.  I haven’t been able to pin him down over the next two years but in 1910 he did enter Christ’s College and on census day 1911 he was visiting in Dublin, described as “Cambridge Undergraduate”.  Already the rest of his family had moved to Canada.

Mortimer was the first to go, sailing from Liverpool in September 1910; he was described as an “Agricultural Student” in the passenger manifest and gave his mother’s address as Charlottenlund, Denmark.  On 3rd August 1911 Mary Caroline, with daughter Mary and youngest son James aged 16, set sail from Liverpool for Canada, destined for Toronto.  In 1912 Henry went to Canada for the summer vacation; he arrived in Québec on 23rd June and sailed back, arriving in Liverpool on 5th October for his last year at Cambridge.  On 16th August 1913 Henry arrived back in Québec (recording in the manifest that the previous year he had visited his mother and brother who was an Electrical Engineer).

I don’t know where Henry was studying but when he signed his Attestation Paper on 22nd September 1914 he described himself as “Student at Law”.  He signed to join the 3rd Battalion of Canadian Infantry, the Canadian Overseas Contingent, at Valcartier Camp in Québec Province, having already passed his medical there on August 29th; he was aged 23 years and 8 months.  We have no photograph of Henry but now I know he was 5 feet 6 inches tall, had a dark complexion, blue eyes and black hair, with a “mole on the left side body: scar over left eye”.  The Battalion was formed during that month from three existing Toronto units and the new volunteers.

Within a fortnight of joining the Battalion, on 3rd October Henry was on board S.S. Tunisian and, on arrival in England, the Canadian detachment found themselves under canvas on Salisbury Plain for three months intensive training.  The majority of the Battalion, possibly including Henry, embarked for France landing at St. Nazaire on 11th February 1915.  After some support work for other battalions and general training the 3rd found themselves in the front line trenches near Fleurbaix on 4th March.  Towards the end of the month they were moved south, then re-directed to the Ypres Salient.  By the 22nd April they were in the thick of the conflict and were slightly affected by the first German gas attack of the war; it shattered the neighbouring French Brigades, leaving the Canadians exposed.  On the morning of 23rd April C & D Companies of the 3rd Battalion, under Major Kirkpatrick, were stationed between “Kitchener’s Wood” and St. Julien and ordered to hold the line at all costs, which they managed to do successfully for that day.

The Canadian & British artillery had been withdrawn (as apparently HQ believed the line was bound to fail) leaving C & D companies completely unprotected and exposed to heavy German artillery; on 24th April C & D Companies were wiped out.  In the long list of casualties – killed and missing – added as Appendix 1 to the April War Diary of the Battalion, Pte. H. Kelleher is listed as killed.  His body was never recovered but he is commemorated, with thousands of others, on the Menin Gate.

In October of 1915 Henry’s elder brother Mortimer also volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, but he survived the War; he is named (with brother James) as executor of their mother’s will when she died in Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia in 1930.  James was listed after conscription was introduced in 1917 but so far as I can see was never called up.

This has been a fascinating search which could never have been completed without the internet: unlike previous searches I haven’t touched a single original document.  I have used the websites of Forces-Reunited; ancestry; findmypast; MyHeritage (for some of the Canadian material) and a range of Canadian sources found through Google.