Gunner John Francis Hughes

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

The grave of Gunner John Francis Hughes and his parents
The grave of Gunner John Francis Hughes and his parents

Sources vary in their detail about the early life of John Francis Hughes but it is probable that he was born in 1884 or 1885 in Cornwall, Ontario.[1] His father, Barney, was from Fort Covington, New York and his mother, Ellen, was Canadian.[2] His parent had married in Cornwall, Ontario in 1882 and Hughes and three of his siblings were born there. The family travelled to the United States in 1895 and settled in Manchester, New Hampshire.

When Hughes left school, he went to work as an ostler, like his father, and in Manchester on 13 January 1906 he married Catherine Elizabeth Coates.[3] The marriage did not last and the couple had no children; his wife died on 12 January 1912. By the time war broke out Hughes was working as a fireman.

Early in the war Hughes decided to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force and he enlisted on 22 September 1914. He joined 4th Battery, 2nd Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery and was allocated the number 41407. He embarked with the Battery on the SS Ivernia for England on 3 October. For some unknown administrative reason, he re-enlisted on 6 January 1915 just after his Battery relocated to Market Lavington in Wiltshire.

The 4th Battery had been re-designated as 7th Battery in November 1914 and it was with this unit that Gunner Hughes embarked for France on 11 February 1915. Over the next year he also served with 8th Battery and he was posted to 48th Howitzer Battery when it was formed in May 1916; it was with this unit that he would spend the remainder of his time in France.

On 21 May 1916 he was kicked in the head by a mule and was briefly admitted to 5th Canadian Field Ambulance.

In 1913 the top joints of the first and second fingers on his right hand had been amputated. One of these old wounds became infected, as did one of his other fingers, and on 20 April 1917 he was admitted to No. 1 Canadian General Hospital at Etaples. His injury was sufficiently severe for him to be evacuated to England where he was treated at a number of hospitals before being discharged to duty on 6 June. The following day he was given permission to marry—he and his new wife, Louisa Bella, were married on 16 June.[4]

On 24 July 1917 Hughes was admitted to Hastings Canadian Military Hospital and discharged on 3 September 1917, when he joined 2nd Canadian Casualty Depot at Bramshott. He was not out of hospital for long—his injured hand was causing problems and he was admitted to the Canadian Military Hospital at Bramshott on 19 September. Recovered, he rejoined 2nd Canadian Casualty Depot on 15 October. Hughes spent the rest of the war in England attached to the Depot at Bramshott and, later, to the Canadian Command Depot at Camp Witley in Surrey.

His wife sailed for Canada on the RMS Olympic in June 1918, arriving at Halifax, Nova Scotia on 4 July. She travelled to Cornwall, Ontario, where she stayed with Hughes’ aunt. She later moved to Lachine, Quebec. It is believed that she died in Canada later in 1918 or early 1919, probably during the influenza pandemic.

By the time that Hughes sailed for Canada he had been promoted to Acting Corporal. He sailed from Liverpool on RMS Grampian, arriving in St. John, New Brunswick on 2 February 1919. He was discharged on 11 March but was reenlisted at the end of the month for service with 4th Battalion, Canadian Garrison Regiment. He was finally discharged on 14 May 1919. After his discharge, on 21 July 1919 he married a Scottish immigrant, Flora Winchester.[5]

John Hughes died of acute endocarditis at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Montreal on 29 February 1920. His remains were returned to his family in New Hampshire and he was buried on 5 March in Saint Joseph’s New Cemetery, Bedford. His grave is located in the centre of the cemetery at Block G, Lot 36 and is marked with a large family memorial. Buried with him are his mother and father and two nephews. On 8 May 1920, his daughter, Joan Frances, was born in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce; she was baptized in St Philip’s Anglican Church. His wife and daughter left Canada in 1923 and visited her family in Scotland before returning to Canada the following year.

The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Gunner John Francis Hughes
The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Gunner John Francis Hughes

Gunner John Francis Hughes is commemorated on page 550 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 23 November. His service in France earned him the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal; these and the memorial plaque and scroll were sent to his wife Florence in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Montreal. She and his mother also received the Memorial Cross.

His brother, Harry, enlisted into the 1st New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry and served in France with 103rd Infantry Regiment, 52nd Infantry Brigade, 26th ‘Yankee’ Infantry Division.

1. (Back) Hughes’ marriage certificate shows his age as 22 in January 1906 and that he was born at Malone, New York. The 1900 census records his birth as being in December 1885 in New Hampshire. An early attestation paper records his birth as 4 December 1887, at Cornwall, Ontario. A later attestation records his birth as being on 4 August 1888 also at Cornwall. A medical record shows birth as 4 December 1889 at Cornwall, and the 1910 census records his birthplace as Canada. His appearance on the census always shows him between his elder sister Lena and younger brother Edward.
2. (Back) Bernard Francis ‘Barney’ Hughes (c1860-6 May 1924) married Ellen Bonneville (c1864-2 August 1928) on 20 February 1882 at St Columban Catholic Church, Cornwall, Ontario. Helen ‘Lena’ F. (later Chandonnet, later Darrah) (20 May 1882-NK); Edward Francis (June 1886-NK); Mabel (later Castagne) (June 1890-NK); Robert Albert (11 April 1892-NK); and Harold Joseph ‘Harry’ (24 May 1896-20 August 1949).
3. (Back) Catherine Elizabeth ‘Katie’ Coates (September 1885-12 January 1912).
4. (Back) Nothing is known of his second wife other than her forenames, Louisa Bella, that she was born around 1895, and that after her marriage she was recorded as living at 9 Herbert Road, Wimbledon prior to her departure for Canada.
5. (Back) Florence Marion (birth registered as Flora Mary) Winchester (16 June 1892-NK) was the daughter of George Winchester and Mary Alexander, who married in Perthshire on 1 June 1887. She had arrived in Canada on 26 March 1912. Their daughter, Joan Frances, was born on 8 May 1920. At the time of the 1921 census both mother and daughter were patients at a sanatorium in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts. In 1923, they sailed for Scotland in the SS Athenia, arriving on 26 May; they returned in April the following year.

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