| Nov 08, 2007

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In Remembrance - November 8, 2007

Canada's Last WWI Veteran Born at Hollefordby Wilma Kenny

"Old men declare war, but it’s the youth who must fight and die." Herbert Hoover

John Foster "Jack" Babcock didn’t expect to become a national symbol, but that’s how it’s turned out. At 107, he’s the last surviving Canadian veteran of WWI, and has been featured in numerous articles and documentaries.

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Jack Babcock was born at Holleford, in the house that is now Ralph and Doreen Abrams’ home, in 1900. By the winter of 1916 his father was dead, crushed by a tree ten years earlier, and his mother was working in Saskatchewan. Jack was living with relatives in Perth Road, cutting wood in return for room and board when an army recruiter came by to enlist men for the Canadian army.

The recruiter described the glory of the charge of the Light Brigade, and 15-year-old Jack signed on. He drilled for most of that year, first in Sydenham at the town hall, later in Kingston and Valcartier. He made it all the way to Halifax, only to be turned back at the gangplank as underage. Two weeks later he gave his age as eighteen, and sailed for Britain, where he was sidelined into the Young Soldiers Battalion. "There were 1300 of us and a wilder bunch I have never seen. About one quarter had seen service in France and many had been wounded." In the spring of 1918 he was part of a demonstration company for an officer’s training school: bathing facilities were very basic. "Every morning about 6 am we would form ranks, clad only in our great coats and gym shoes, and were marched through town to the ocean where we went swimming stark naked. Fortunately, few Englishmen were around at that early hour."

Before Jack turned 18 the war was over and he shipped home, "full of self confidence and ready for something else."

Always willing to try something new, he was 65 when he earned his pilot’s license, and he completed his high school diploma at 95. Although he has lived in the US for many years (that’s where he could find work as a young man), he has returned to Holleford several times to visit the homestead and family members. Jack Babcock has lived a long life, full of adventure and travel: no wonder he’s a bit bemused by all the fuss being made over those two early years so long ago.

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