Use of Aliases In the RMR In 1915

Use of Aliases In the RMR In 1915

Wednesday, June 2, 1915

Rest billets, Oblenghem

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day:  “Resting and refitting.”[1]

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: A close examination of the records for soldiers whose names appear in the 1914 Establishment/Sailing List of the 14th Battalion indicates that at least thirteen soldiers enlisted under assumed names. We may never know their reasons for doing so, but in one case the alias was simply an Anglicisation of a French surname. It is suspected that in several cases the adoption of an alias was to hide the fact that the soldier was underage at the time of enlistment. Several of these men were American citizens who came to Canada to enlist for service before the United States officially entered the war, and presumably they used aliases to avoid potential problems with the American authorities. It may be noted that of these thirteen men every single one of them was a casualty, eight killed in action, three missing in action and two died of wounds.

02 June 15

MATTHEW HENRY TODD, No. 26168: Matthew Henry Todd was one of the 14th Battalion soldiers who served under an assumed name. He enlisted as “John Burt.” He was born in 1899 in Low Morseley, Co. Durham, England, and had apparently come to Canada with his parents before the War. He signed his enlistment papers with the 14th Battalion at Valcartier on September 22nd, 1914. In addition to changing his name, he gave a false birthdate of May 17th, 1895, to increase his age above 18 yrs for enlistment. His occupation was listed as “farmer.” He accompanied the Battalion to England for training at Salisbury, and then onward to France. “Private John Burt” suffered serious shrapnel wounds to the buttocks during the Second Battle of Ypres, from which he never recovered. He was evacuated to England, and was hospitalized at the Cambridge Military Hospital, at Aldershot, Hampshire, where he died of his wounds on June 2nd, 1915, less than four months after arriving in France. He is buried in the Aldershot Military Cemetery at Aldershot, where his headstone reads “Matthew Henry Todd served as 26168 Pte. J. Burt, 14th Bn. Canadian Inf., 2nd June 1916, Age 16.” In The Book of Remembrance in the Peace Tower, Ottawa, he appears twice, on page 7 as Pte. John Burt, and then on page 39 as Pte. Matthew Henry Todd.

[1]  War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, June 2, 1915.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa

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