Joseph Thomas Kaeble (1893–1918) was born in Saint-Moïse, Quebec. When he enlisted in March 1916 he was living in nearby Sayabec and working as a mechanic. After basic training, he went to England with the 22nd Battalion, the only entirely francophone unit of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight at the front. He was wounded in the shoulder on April 30, 1917, and spent several weeks convalescing. Once healed, he returned to the field. On June 8, 1918, he vigorously defended the trench held by his battalion against an intense bombardment by German troops. Even as all of the other soldiers in his unit fell to the advancing enemy, being either wounded or killed, Kaeble continued to fire, and succeeded in causing the Germans to retreat. In the end, however, he himself was mortally wounded in that battle. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions, becoming the first French-Canadian soldier to receive the British Empire's highest military honour. Kaeble is commemorated in The Valiants Memorial in downtown Ottawa. The monument pays tribute to 14 men and women who served Canada heroically in times of war.
Service Record Details
Date of Birth: May 5, 1893 (Saint-Moïse, Quebec)
Date of Attestation: March 20, 1916
Age at Enlistment: 22 years
Height: 5 feet, 7 inches
Description: Dark complexion, black eyes, black hair. Roman Catholic.
Home Address: Sayabec, Quebec
Next of Kin: Mother—Mme. Joseph Kaeble, living in Sayabec, Matane County, Quebec.
Branch of Service: Infantry
Theatre of War: France
Casualties / Medical History
- April 30, 1917 – Kaeble receives a gunshot wound to the right shoulder near Vimy, France. (Page 15)
- June 9, 1918 – A "Form R" records the particulars of a London Field Ambulance report, which indicated that he had both shrapnel wounds and complex fractures in both legs, his left hand, his neck and both arms. A note indicates that he died of his wounds. (Page 19)
Interesting Details from the Service Record
- October 1916 – A separation allowance record indicates that his mother is a widow. (Pages 44-45)
- October 21, 1916 – In his military will he states: "In the event of death, I give everything I possess to my mother, Dame Joseph Kable, Sayabec, Co. Matane, Que, Canada." An official stamp indicates that his will was acted upon after his death. (Page 32)
- 1917 – In May he forfeits three days' pay for drunkenness when on active service. Then in August he is "sentenced to 28 days Field Punishment No.1 … for being outside his billeting area without a pass when on active service." (Page 29)
- December 1917 – He is granted 14 days' leave. (Page 29)
- May 18, 1918 – He is promoted to corporal. (Page 29)
- June 9, 1918 – A note indicates that he is buried in a communal cemetery. (Page 30)
- September 16, 1918 – A file card lists his military honours and quotes a long passage from The London Gazette describing the actions for which he received the Victoria Cross. The passage is reproduced below. (LG 30903) (Pages 6-7)
- October 7, 1918 – A passage is quoted from The London Gazette: "His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Military Medal for bravery in the Field". (LG 30940) (Page 5)
- Undated – A page from an unidentified publication states that his family name is misspelled in the service file; the proper spelling was Keable. It mentions that the Canadian War Museum has in its collection a pencil drawing of Kaeble by Alfred Bastien. (Page 8)
The London Gazette
The London Gazette—September 13, 1918, Supplement 30903, Page 11076
"For most conspicuous bravery and extraordinary devotion to duty when in charge of a Lewis gun section in the front line trenches, on which a strong enemy raid was attempted. During an intense bombardment Cpl. Kaeble remained at the parapet with his Lewis gun shouldered ready for action, the field of fire being very short. As soon as the barrage lifted from the front line, about fifty of the enemy advanced towards his post. By this time the whole of his section except one had become casualties. Cpl. Kaeble jumped over the parapet, and holding his Lewis gun at the hip, emptied one magazine after another into the advancing enemy, and, although wounded several times by fragments of shells and bombs, he continued to fire, and entirely blocked the enemy by his determined stand. Finally, firing all the time, he fell backwards into the trench, mortally wounded. While lying on his back in the trench he fired his last cartridges over the parapet at the retreating Germans, and before losing consciousness shouted to the wounded about him: ‘Keep it up, boys; do not let them get through! We must stop them!’ The complete repulse of the enemy attack at this point was due to the remarkable personal bravery and self-sacrifice of this gallant non-commissioned officer, who died of his wounds shortly afterwards."
The London Gazette—October 4, 1918, Supplement 30940, Page 11839
Military Medals Honours and Awards
In 1911, at age 19, Joseph Kaeble is living at home with his widowed mother, Marie Ducas (45), and his three siblings, Wilbrod (15) and Ursule (12) Kaeble, and Adrien Neveu (6). No other details are mentioned about the family, such as religious group or employment.