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Commemorating the Waterloo Regions War Dead

The purpose of this website is to examine how the Waterloo Region experienced the First World War. A significant part of this experience was the loss of regional men therefore, discussing the lives of the region’s war dead is an essential section of this website. In 2014, The Record created the “Remembering The Great War” database containing basic information on the 469 local men and one woman who died in the First World War. In order to avoid simply restating this information we have attempted to breathe life into the lives of these soldiers by constructing short biographies of each with a focus on the their lives prior to enlistment. This project is ongoing; therefore, at this time the section contains stories on the region’s soldiers killed in 1915.

This project can only be crafted thanks to the hard work of various organizations dedicated to commemorating Canadian war dead. Through archives around the world undertaking the long process of digitizing and releasing their holdings online, projects such as these can exist. Below are the major resources used to bring these soldier’s stories to life. If you are interested in conducting research on your own ancestors, click on the pictures below, and they will direct you to in your search.

We hope that these stories will help to humanize and localize the First World War experience. Thank you.

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Lieutenant Ross Dickinson Briscoe

Ross Dickinson Briscoe was born on June 20th, 1891 in Dunville, Ontario to Reuben Alfred Briscoe and Florence Alexander Root. Ross’ father worked as a dry goods merchant who owned R.A. Briscoe Limited, which allowed him to provide a comfortable life for the family. Reuben and Florence had a daughter named Marjorie in 1900, before Ross’ mother’s untimely death from pneumonia. His father later remarried and had another daughter. Ross was an educated young man who worked as a blank clerk as well as was a member of the Galt Cadet Corps.

When war broke out in August 1914, Ross was one of the first from the Waterloo Region to volunteer to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight for the 9th Reserve Infantry Battalion. He was quickly promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, likely as a result of his military experience with the Cadet Corps, his middle class standing, and his education. After completing the first stage of training at Valcartier Camp in Quebec, the soldiers were sent overseas to participate in more training prior to being put into active duty in the trenches. Then on January 6th, 1915 Ross was accidentally shot on a rifle range during training on the Salisbury Plain in England. Lieutenant Ross Dickinson Briscoe was the first from the Waterloo region to die during the First World War, and he is buried at Bulford Church Cemetery in England.

Service number: N/A


Jeff Outhit, “Galt soldier died but never faced the enemy,” The Record, last modified September 26, 2014,
“Canadian Virtual War Memorial: Ross Dickinson Briscoe,” Veterans Affairs Canada, accessed Feb 17, 2015,


Corporal John Thomas McMaster

John Thomas McMaster was born on September 8th, 1880 in Hespeler, Ontario to Anne Flynn and Thomas McMaster. John’s father worked as a spinner when John was born, later joining the police force and eventually was promoted to Police Inspector. John’s mother stayed home and looked after John and his siblings, as he was the 7th of nine children. John was a weaver by trade, but also spent 15 years with the 29th Waterloo Regiment (later the Highland Light Infantry of Canada).

Upon declaration of war in August 1914, John as an active military member joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force at the age of 34. During training at Valcartier in Quebec John was promoted up to the rank of Corporal. After arriving in France, John was killed in a traffic accident. His Circumstances of Death Registers card read,

“His battalion had entered at Nantes, at 6.46 PM, on February 11th, 1915, and just as the train was leaving the station Corporal McMaster attempted to get on but missed his footing and fell under the train sustaining a crushed thigh and arms. He was taken to hospital at Nantes where he died.”

Corporal John Thomas McMaster is buried at the Nantes (La Bouteillerie) Cemetery.

Service number: 7057

 325776_2325776_1 325776_4

“Canadian Virtual War Memorial: John Thomas McMaster,” Veterans Affairs Canada, accessed March 21, 2015,


Bugler Edward Callan

Edward Callan was born on August 14th 1888 in St. James, London, England to John and Julia Callan. Edward was a part of the Royal Marines in the United Kingdom prior to immigrating to Canada where he worked as a carpenter for the Waterworks Department in Preston, Ontario. Following the death of his parents, Edward joined his older brothers Thomas and Frederick in Canada on July 2nd, 1913 at the age of 24. He arrived on the SS Laurentic, a White Star Line ocean liner.

Just over a year later, following the outbreak of war, Edward signed his Attestation Papers volunteering to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force. All three brothers fought for the CEF. Edward worked as a bugler for the 1st Battalion in France. He was shot and killed on February 20th, 1915 in the vicinity of Armentieres, France. Frederick, an engineer operator, enlisted in February 1916 and survived the duration of the war. He returned to the Waterloo region and married a woman named Lillian Rose. Thomas returned home from the war to his wife Nellie and three children: Elizabeth, Thomas and Julia. Bugler Edward Callan is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial alongside 11,000 other Canadian servicemen who died in France during the First World War.

Service number: 7129


“Canadian Virtual War Memorial: Edward Callan,” Veterans Affairs Canada, accessed March 22, 2015,


Private Peter Nelson

Peter Nelson was born on June 14th, 1889 in Scotland. After moving to Canada, Peter worked as a stove mounter, and for two years he worked at the Waterloo County Golf and Country Club. When war was declared in the summer of 1914, Peter volunteered to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Peter fought with the 1st Battalion in France and was killed in action at 25 years old, in the trenches at Bois Grenier southeast of Fleurbaix on March 2nd, 1915. Peter was one of the first men from the Waterloo region to be killed during the First World War. Private Peter Nelson is buried in the Y Farm Military Cemetery, Brois-Grenier, France.

Service number: 7060


“Canadian Virtual War Memorial: Peter Nelson,” Veterans Affairs Canada, accessed March 21, 2015,


Private John Edward Gahagan

John Edward Gahagan was born on April 18th, 1884 to John and Margaret Gahagan in Hamilton, Ontario. John worked as a painter in Dundas until volunteering to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Galt (Cambridge) on January 19th, 1915. Then suddenly on March 4th, 1915, before departing Canada for Europe, John and a fellow soldier named Percy Walloy were struck by a streetcar in Guelph and killed instantly. The details of the death, which are quite graphic, can be read in the newspaper clipping attached. Private John Edward Gahagan is buried at St Augustine’s Cemetery in Dundas. On March 3rd 2015, The Record’s Jeff Outhit wrote,

“After spending the day drinking in bars, the pair returned to Guelph. Just after 8 p.m. they drove their sleigh down the wrong side of Waterloo Avenue, in the dark. A streetcar approached at about 30 km/h, its headlights broken. The motorman, seeing the sleigh, clanged a bell. At the last moment, the sleigh turned directly in front of the streetcar… What happened next is heartbreaking. The streetcar stopped. The horse took off, sleigh attached. The streetcar’s motorman and conductor dismounted. They detached a bent fender, which they left beside the road. With one passenger on board, they started up the streetcar again — unaware that the unconscious soldiers were lodged beneath it. For almost 200 metres, the streetcar continued on, grinding the soldiers to death beneath its wheels. Their body parts finally threw the streetcar off its track, where Waterloo Avenue meets Edinburgh Road. The streetcar crew later explained that they saw someone running down the street after the horse. They figured it was the sleigh driver.”

Service number: A2085


Jeff Outhit, “Death by streetcar too horrible to contemplate,” The Record, March 3, 2015,


Private Percy Walley

Percy Walley was born in 1892 to John and Charlotte Annie Walley. Percy married a young woman named Sadie Weeks and they lived together in her hometown of Galt (Cambridge), Ontario. Together they welcomed a little boy named Harry in 1910. Percy worked as a core maker at a local company called Brass Works. Percy volunteered to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the 34th Battalion. Then suddenly on March 4th, 1915, before departing Canada for Europe, Percy and a fellow soldier named John Gahagan were struck by a streetcar in Guelph and killed instantly. The details of the death, which are quite graphic, can be read in the newspaper clipping attached. Private Percy Walley is buried at Cambridge (Trinity Church) Cemetery.

Service number: A/2216

Berlin Daily Telegraph-1915-03-04-Two Soldiers Ground to Pieces beneath Street Car in Guelph

“Two Soldiers Ground to Pieces beneath Street Car in Guelph,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, 4 March 1915.


Private John Robert Jeffs

John Robert Jeffs was born in either 1883 or 1884 to Charles and Jane Jeffs in Leicester, England. John later immigrated to Canada at some point before 1914, settling in the Waterloo region. John volunteered to join the 34th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Before departing for the Western Front, John became sick. He was admitted to Galt General Hospital on March 14th, 1915 with a cold that then developed into pneumonia. Despite being given adequate care and medical attention, John succumbed to pneumonia on March 17th, 1915. Private John Robert Jeffs is buried in the Cambridge (Trinity Church) Cemetery.

Service number: A/2117


“John Jeffs,” Find A Grave, accessed March 20, 2015,


Private Alexander Ralph Eby

Alexander Ralph Eby was the first son of Alexander and Ada Eby born in Berlin (Kitchener), Ontario on August 3rd 1890/. Alexander Jr. was the great-great-grandson of Bishop Benjamin Eby, an particularly prominent figure in the Mennonite community within the Berlin area during the early nineteenth century. Alexander Jr. moved to Saskatchewan in 1909 where he worked as a farmer, while his father worked in Berlin as a glove maker.

Unlike his Mennonite ancestors who did not fight during the War of 1812, when war was declared in the summer of 1914, Alexander volunteered to join the Saskatchewan Regiment of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. On March 21st, 1914 Alexander Jr. became the first soldier from the Waterloo Region to be ‘Killed in Action’ during the First World War. Private Alexander Ralph Eby is buried at the Rude-David Military Cemetery in Fleurbaix, France. Being the first Waterloo Region soldier to fall victim to the First World War, Alexander Jr. has been commemorated in various books and museum exhibits throughout the region.

Service number: 13627


“Canadian Virtual War Memorial: Alexander Ralph Eby,” Veterans Affairs Canada, accessed March 20, 2015,
“Was Killed By a Sniper,” Berlin Daily Telegraph, April 19, 1915.
“Eby, Benjamin,” Canadian Dictionary of Biography, accessed March 24, 2015,


Private George Barker

George Charles Barker was just 18 years old when he volunteered to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force on September 22nd 1914. He was born to Mary Ann Barker (father was not listed) on January 12th 1896 in Brentwood Essex Co, England. He and his family later immigrated to Canada, where George spent a year with the 29th Regiment in Canada and worked as a buffer and polisher in Galt (Cambridge), Ontario. When war broke out in the summer of 1914, George volunteered with the first batch of Canadians to go off and fight. On or before April 22nd 1915 during the 2nd Battle of Ypres, George was reported as wounded and missing, and was later presumed dead. Private George Barker is commemorated at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

Service number: 7120


“Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial,” Commonwealth War Graves Commission, accessed March 24, 2015,