Private Thomas Camp

This is part of a series of three essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Tennessee.

The grave of Private Thomas Camp in Chattanooga National Cemetery
The grave of Private Thomas Camp in Chattanooga National Cemetery

Thomas Camp was an American of British descent born at Madisonville, Tennessee on 24 January 1896, the son of Charlie and Annie (née Arp) Camp. Little is known of his wider family but he worked as a baker and lived in Shooks Gap, a small settlement south-east of Knoxville.

He enlisted at Montreal on 6 February 1918 for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and joined the 1st Depot Battalion, Quebec Regiment, where he was allocated the number 3081869. Camp’s early service was spent in hospital until 15 May, when he was posted to Valcartier, the site of the largest training camp in Canada, to be employed as a baker.

Private Camp was not happy with this state of affairs and in September 1918 he made plans to get to England under his own arrangements. He left Valcartier in late September/early October and worked his passage to England as a stoker on SS Northland, which sailed from Montreal on 4 October, arriving in Liverpool two weeks later. In Canada, on 29 October, following a regimental court of inquiry, Camp was declared a deserter and struck off strength.

As soon as he arrived in England he reported himself as a deserter to the nearest Canadian unit—No. 5 Canadian General Hospital at Kirkdale. He was subsequently sent to Bramshott, where he was taken on strength of 23rd Reserve Battalion later in the month.[1]  Private Camp did not get to France or Flanders before the war ended and in December he began to show symptoms of serious illness.

He first noticed a cough in November and by December was coughing blood. 23rd Reserve Battalion moved to Ripon in Yorkshire on 2 February 1919 and Private Camp reported sick on 8 February. He was admitted first to Ripon Military Hospital and then to the Canadian Special War Hospital at Lenham in Kent, which specialized in tubercular cases, on 19 March. There the diagnosis of tuberculosis was confirmed. At a medical board in early April, it was reported that he had probably been suffering from the early stages of the disease when he enlisted.

He sailed for Canada on board the hospital ship SS Araguaya on 14 April, arriving in Canada on 25 April. He was admitted to the Vancouver General Hospital Military Annex, where he was examined and treated for a month before being discharged, when he became the responsibility of the Invalided Soldiers Commission.[2] When he was discharged on 21 May his condition was described as ‘quiescent ’, ‘improving daily’ and that he was ‘increasing in strength’.  It was recommended that he continue to be treated in a sanatorium.

Camp spent three months in hospital in Vancouver before being sent to Balfour Sanatorium in British Columbia. This former hotel in the Rocky Mountains had been taken over for use as a sanatorium in 1917. Camp did not like it there, however, and after a short time left and went to live with relatives in St Paul, Alberta. After a short stay he returned to Vancouver General Hospital. The night after he arrived, while he was staying at a local YMCA, his clothes were stolen. He was issued uniform and in that guise he travelled east from Vancouver. On that journey he again coughed blood and, having reported to a representative of the Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-Establishment, he was duly admitted to the Military Hospital, at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan on 14 November 1919. His disease was active again but he was discharged from hospital at the end of the month and told that he needed further treatment in a sanatorium.

The details of his subsequent movements are unclear but by the summer of 1920 he had returned to Tennessee. On 4 August 1920, he married Alice Blankinship in Hamilton County.[3]

Some time thereafter, the couple moved to Prescott, Arizona, presumably to continue treatment for Camp’s tuberculosis. In early 1921, his disease worsened again and he was admitted to United States Public Health Service Hospital No. 50 at Whipple Barracks on 3 February.[4] He died there on 2 May. His body was returned to Tennessee and he was buried in Chattanooga National Cemetery on 6 May. His grave (Section S, Grave 14112) is marked by a United States Government headstone, which is inscribed, inexplicably, that he hailed from Washington. The cemetery was established in 1863, primarily for Union soldiers who died on the battlefields in the region. It now has over 52,000 burials, including 78 German First World War internees and prisoners of war.[5]

Chattanooga National Cemetery and the memorial to the German internees and prisoners of war buried there
Chattanooga National Cemetery and the memorial to the German internees and prisoners of war buried there

Private Thomas Camp is commemorated on page 555 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance, which records him as serving with 23rd Reserve Battalion; that page is displayed on 25, 26 and 27 November.

The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private Thomas Camp
The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private Thomas Camp

His service in England entitled him to the British War Medal 1914-20 only.

Scott Wilson for the photograph of Chattanooga National Cemetery.
Wanda Bonamarte for the photograph of the grave of Thomas Camp.

1. (Back) Formed in April 1915 from the reorganised 23rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry, which had sailed from Quebec in February 1915, the Battalion provided drafts of men to battalions of the CEF in France and Flanders. It was renamed 23rd Canadian Reserve Battalion (199th Duchess of Connaught’s Own Irish Canadian Rangers) in May 1917.
2. (Back) The Invalided Soldiers’ Commission was part of the Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-Establishment. Upon discharge all officers and soldiers passed to the control of the Commission if they required ‘medical treatment on account of their suffering from tuberculosis, epilepsy, paralysis or other diseases likely to be of long duration or incurable, or on account of their being mentally deficient or insane’. See: Department of Soldiers’ Civil Re-Establishment. (May 1918). Report of the Work of the Invalided Soldiers’ Commission. Ottawa: J De L Taché.
3. (Back) Alice Blankinship was born in 1894, the daughter of John Frazier and Victoria Blankinship.
4. (Back) This now the Northern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care Complex.
5. (Back) Fifty-six of these internees and prisoners of war died at the PW camp at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia, just south of Chatanooga. Twenty two were German sailors previously interred at Hot Springs, North Carolina re-interred here in 1933.

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