Private William Baxter Franklin

This essay is about the single First World War casualty commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in North Carolina.

Private Baxter Franklin
Private Baxter Franklin

William Baxter Franklin was born on 11 November 1896 at Pigeon Township, near Canton, North Carolina. He was the fifth of the six children of John Baxter Franklin, a farmer, and Minnie Francis (née Penland).[1] A few days after his third birthday, Baxter Franklin’s father died. Minnie was unable to provide for the children and they went to live with her parents, Reed and Lavonia Penland. The young family moved with their grandparents to Medicine Hat, Alberta in 1902.[2]

By 1910 Baxter had returned to North Carolina and was working as a farm hand on a property at Pigeon. On 23 May 1912 he moved back to Canada and went to work as a teamster near the hamlet of Old Wives in Saskatchewan, where his brother Charles had bought land.

He enlisted very early in the war, on 27 September 1914, at Valcartier in Quebec, the primary training base for the First Canadian Contingent. He was only 17 and lied about his age, adding two years and giving his year of birth as 1894. He joined the 10th Battalion (Canadians) and was allocated the regimental number 20023. Baxter was one of 35 men born in the United States who appear on the Battalion’s nominal roll.

Something of the training at Valcartier may be seen at this on-line exhibition by the Canadian War Museum.

The 43 officers and 1,051 other ranks of 10th (Canadians) sailed for  England from Quebec City on 29 September 1914 aboard SS Scandinavian; they arrived in the United Kingdom on 14 October. With the other units of 1st Canadian Division, the Battalion trained at Shorncliffe in Kent—men of the Battalion can be seen training in this film clip produced by the Canadian War Records Office.

10th Battalion (Canadians) - Stonehenge
10th Battalion (Canadians) – Stonehenge

The Battalion landed in France on 7 February 1915 and, after a period of training, went into the line east of Ypres on 15 April. A week later, on 22 April the Germans launched the first gas attack of the war. French Colonial troops bore the brunt of the attack and withdrew in confusion. When the attack began, 10th (Canadians) was in reserve in Ypres and was sent forward. At 10.45pm 10th (Canadians), with 16th (Canadian Scottish) in support, attacked St. Julien Wood. For six hours the Canadians fought in and around the wood and casualties were heavy—19 officers and nearly six hundred other ranks, out of a strength of a little over eight hundred, were killed and wounded. The next day was spent under fire and without rations holding the ground that had been taken. On the morning of 24 April the meagre remnants of the Battalion were ordered onto Gravenstafel Ridge. Here the remaining men were subject to heavy artillery and machine gun fire and, for the first time these men experienced a gas attack. At noon on 24 April the survivors were ordered to withdraw. This was not to be the end of their trial. Ordered forward again that night, 10th (Canadians) held on for another two days before being ordered to withdraw to Vlamertinghe on the morning of 29 April, when a little over 100 men marched into billets.

A short history of the Battalion may be found here.

Baxter’s role in this attack and in the actions that followed are not known. What is known is that he fell ill with septicemia and was evacuated to hospital in England in 1916. On 20 November 1916, he arrived back in Quebec onboard the SS Grampian. He travelled to Toronto, where he attended hospital and was held on the strength of No. 2 District Depot. At this stage his illness was serious but not life-threatening. In April 1917 he was transferred to the Military Hospital Commission, which was responsible for the treatment of repatriated sick soldiers, and admitted to St. Chad’s Military Convalescent Hospital at Regina. The following month he was transferred to Ross Military Hospital, Moose Jaw. Over the next eight months he spent time as an in-patient at both hospitals.

Baxter Franklin was admitted to Davisville Military Hospital in Toronto, which specialized in orthopaedic surgery, in January 1918 with severe osteomyelitis—bone infection. His illnesses had also left him deaf. He was treated and sent to the School for the Deaf in Balleville, Ontario to learn lip-reading but returned to Toronto in worse and emaciated condition. In an operation on 4 November he had infected bone removed from his left hip. Although seeming to improve in the next few weeks, he succumbed to his illness at 7.00pm on 10 December 1918, aged 22.

His body was returned home and he was buried in the family plot on the western side of Sunburst Cemetery, also known as Lake Logan Cemetery. The cemetery sits on a hillside at the south-western part of Lake Logan in Haywood County, 13 miles south of Canton, North Carolina.[3] His grave is marked by a CWGC headstone and a private, family marker.

The grave of Private Baxter Franklin
The grave of Private Baxter Franklin

Private William Baxter Franklin is commemorated on page 410 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 4 September.

The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private William Baxter Franklin
The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private William Baxter Franklin

His medals group comprises the 1914-15 Star; British War Medal 1914-20; and Victory Medal. His mother was also entitled to the Memorial Cross, and the Memorial Plaque and Scroll.

Shirley Rogers Neiswanger for the photograph of her great-uncle Baxter Franklin.
Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group for the nominal roll of 10th Battalion (Canadians).

1. (Back) John Baxter Franklin (1 August 1866 – 13 November 1899); Minnie Francis (née Penland) (4 July 1870 – 18 February 1935); Mary Evelyn (1 September 1888 – 14 December 1973); Charles Edward (24 February 1890 – 6 October 1946); James Arthur (26 March 1892 – 26 May 1918); Robert Roy (9 April 1894 – 25 January 1903); and Henry Reid. (14 August 1898 – 4 October 1980).
2. (Back) His mother later married Joseph P. Reece and the couple had a son, J. Howard Reece, in 1902.
3. (Back) The CWGC incorrectly records the cemetery name as ‘Sunsburst’.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.