John Henry Foster Babcock (1900–2010) was the last surviving Canadian veteran of the First World War. As a 15-year-old boy from Frontenac County, near Kingston, Ontario, Babcock was inspired to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) after hearing recruiting officers quoting from the poem The Charge of the Light Brigade. He enlisted with the 146th Battalion on February 1, 1916. During Babcock’s medical examination at Valcartier, Quebec, physicians discovered he was underage and designated his status as A-4: physically fit, but underage. Nonetheless, he made it to Halifax with his unit before being stopped by a company commander. He worked for a period loading freight into army vehicles at Wellington Barracks in Halifax before answering the call for 50 men to volunteer with the Royal Canadian Regiment, claiming then that he was 18 years old. When it was discovered that he was only 16, officials placed him in the Boys Battalion, a special unit for young soldiers, in August 1917. He sailed for England that October on the SS California and was stationed with the 26th Reserve. The First World War ended before Babcock could be brought to the front lines; however, he had been promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal by the time he was discharged on January 11, 1919. Because Babcock never saw active service, he never felt that he was a “real soldier” and rarely spoke of his experiences until much later in life. Having returned to Canada after the war, he soon immigrated to the United States and served in the American military during the Second World War. At the age of 65, he became a pilot, and at 95 he earned his high-school diploma. When he was 100, he wrote his autobiography “Ten Decades of John Foster Babcock,” which he shared with friends and family. Babcock regained his Canadian citizenship in 2008, his request having been personally granted by Prime Minister Harper and the paperwork signed by then Governor General Michaëlle Jean. John H.F. Babcock was the last surviving Canadian veteran of the First World War when he died in Spokane, Washington on February 18, 2010. He was 109 years old.
Service Record Details
Date of Birth: July 23, 1900 (Loughborough Township, Frontenac County, Ontario)
Date of Attestation: February 1, 1916 (Sydenham, Ontario)
Age at Enlistment: 15 years old
Height: 1916 – 5 feet, 4½ inches
Weight: 1916 – 118 lbs
Description: Fair complexion, blue eyes, and fair hair. Missing part of a toe on left foot. Methodist, Wesleyan.
Home Address: Perth Roads, Hollowford, Ontario and Hartington, Ontario
Trade: Farmer, Labourer
Next of Kin: Brother, William James Babcock, living in Hollowford, Ontario. Mother, Annie Isabel Babcock, a widow, living in Regina, Saskatchewan. Father is deceased.
Theatre of War: Not applicable
- Only standard medical information taken at the time of enlistment.
Interesting Details from the Service Record
- Babcock is discharged based on medical grounds, being underage and undersize, and a notation in red ink recommends that he should not be shipped overseas until age 19. He is transferred to the Boys Battalion.
The London Gazette
No mentions found.
Military Medals, Honours and Awards (1812–1969)
No mentions found.
At age 1, John H.F. Babcock is living with his family in Addington, a Sub-District of Loughborough Township, in Ontario. His parents, James J. Babcock (38) and Anna E. Babcock (28), have eight children: Mary (15), William (13), Essie (10), Albert (8), Martha (7), Lara (3), Myrtle (2), and John H.F. (1). His father, a farmer, is of German descent, and his mother is of Irish ancestry. The family’s religion is listed as Methodist.