Every so often, we come across an item that raises more questions than answers. For example, this painting apparently depicts a soldier in the 29th Battalion (Vancouver) Canadian Expeditionary Force training in Hastings Park, Vancouver, in early 1915. It shows the soldier wearing a khaki woollen 7-button tunic with stand-up collar without insignia or cloth badges and a Service Dress cap with unit badge. In addition, he has a backpack with rolled-up Great coat, an unusual water bottle, a Ross rifle, khaki woollen trousers with putties and brown leather ankle boots.
An associated note from the original purchaser, Ida Mary Burnett (nee Hinge), states: “This picture was purchased by me in 1915 in Vancouver. It is painted on a shingle, posed by a member of the Batt. [Battalion Ed.] The artist (unknown to me), wishing to provide some ready cash for his young family, painted quite a few before going overseas. The Manager of the Montreal Bank disposed of them for him.” A search online found that Ida was married to Captain James Henry Burnett, who was in the Canadian Army Veterinarian Corps.
The artist’s initials E.V. may point to Private Ernest James Keith Vincent, 76154 of the 29th, who died of wounds in October 1916, since he is the only person on the nominal roll at the time of embarkation with those initials. He was a single man working as a machinist whose mother and sister lived in the Nelson, BC, area.
Written in pencil on the back of the board is “#377 Pte I Williamson 3 6 Lonsdale Ave.” Perhaps the notation #377 indicates a prolific production of artwork, possibly of many different topics of interest, prior to the artist’s enrollment and deployment overseas. He may have been an art student or hobbyist with time and means, or medically or vocationally exempt from service, but probably not a serving recruit.
377 does not appear to be a service number as service numbers issued by the 29th ranged from 75001 to 77000, and nobody with 75377 or 76377 fits. Edward Irving Williamson 790016 of the 131st Battalion C.E.F., who lived in New Westminster with his wife and daughter, and worked as a street car conductor, may be the noted Private I. Williamson. The name might refer to Pte Robert Buchannan Williamson 76335 in the 29th from Vancouver, who may have posed for this painting. On the other hand, someone may have made an unrelated note of convenience on the back of the board, just like the equation written in pencil between the soldier’s feet.
The unit’s nickname, Tobin’s Tigers, was named after the Vancouver industrialist, lawyer, and Royal Military College graduate, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Seymour Tobin. He was a surveyor on the first overland route survey from Edmonton, Alberta, to Dawson Creek, Yukon Territory; a member of the Royal Canadian Northwest Mounted Police there; and a Boer War veteran.
Tobin commanded the unit when it formed in March 1915 with recruits from Vancouver and New Westminster. The 29th sailed to England from Montreal PQ in May with 37 officers and 1,090 men. They served in the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division in France and Belgium until disbanding in September 1920 in Vancouver. Its history is perpetuated by the British Columbia Regiment (DCOR) in the Canadian Army, Reserve. He died in Vancouver on August 8, 1956, at 78 years of age.
Note, I.M. Burnet, no date; OMM-P-369b
W.K. Cross, 1st Ed. The Charlton Price Guide to First World War Infantry Badges (Toronto: The Charlton Press, 1991,)
David W. Love, A Call to Arms – Organization and Administration of Canada’s Military in WW I (Calgary: Bunker to Bunker Books, 1999,)
Ancestry.ca; accessed Jan. 4, 2023; https://www.ancestry.ca/
Personnel Service Records of the First World War, Library and Archives Canada; accessed Jan. 4, 2023; https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/personnel-records/Pages/item.aspx?IdNumber=291377
29th Battalion (Vancouver), CEF, Wikipedia.Org; accessed Jan. 4, 2023; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/29th_Battalion,_(Vancouver),_CEF
Clipping, Col. H.S. Tobin dies at Coast, unknown newspaper, ~ Aug. 1956, OMM-P-369a