Benjamin Clayton: Home Child & WWI Telegrapher

Photograph of Benjamin Clayton (1892-1962), taken at the studio of A. Thawley, Leeds. Image courtesy of Gary Clayton.

When I first posted about Benjamin Clayton, I made reference to a military record (a WWI attestation paper) which I thought might belong to the Benjamin Clayton who is found in the household of Michael Moran (son of Francis Moran and Anne Galligan) in the 1911 census of Fitzroy township. Thanks to an email communication from one of Benjamin Clayton’s grandsons, I can now confirm that this was indeed the same person. He was born in Leeds, England on 16 September 1892; and he died at North Bay, Ontario, Canada on 1 February 1962.

In 1905, the orphaned Benjamin Clayton was sent to Canada (to St. George’s Home, in Hintonburg, Ottawa, one of the main receiving centres for Catholic Home Children from 1895 to 1930) with a party of boys from the Catholic Emigration Association.

Page from the war diary of Benjamin Clayton (1892-1962). Image courtesy of Gary Clayton.

In the 1911 census (Fitzroy township, Carleton Co., Ontario), his occupation is listed as “Operator” for the G.T.R. (Grand Trunk Railway), and the census enumerator notes that he is “Studying Telegraphy.” Benjamin Clayton went on to serve as a telegraph operator during World War I, serving in Canada, England and France from June 1916 to July 1919. He kept a diary during the war, where he recorded details of his travels. In the page shown to the right, he notes that he had visited Vimy Ridge on Dec. 5/17.

Benjamin Clayton returned to Canada after the war, settling in North Bay, Ontario, and working as a telegrapher and operator for the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway). It was in North Bay that Benjamin Clayton married Dora Mildred Popkie not once but twice.

On 8 February 1926, Benjamin Clayton married Dora Mildred Popkie at the United Church in North Bay, Nipissing District, Ontario. The Ontario civil registration of this marriage lists Benjamin’s parents as Joseph Clayton and Jane Cheevers, and gives Dora Mildred’s parents as Henry Popkie and Annie Lisk. Benjamin Clayton’s religion is recorded as Roman Catholic, Dora Mildred Popkie’s as United Church. The minister was a J.M. Pritchard of the United Church.

On 2 June 1933, the couple married again, this time at the Roman Catholic Pro-Cathedral of the Assumption in North Bay. The priest noted that the couple had received a dispensation for mixtae religionis (mixed religion), and also recorded that the couple had married on Feb. 8, 1926 in the presence of Mr. Pritchard of the United Church. This RC record also supplies the names of Benjamin Clayton’s deceased English parents, Joseph Clayton and Jane Cheevers. Dora Mildred Popkie was baptized a Catholic at this same cathedral on 1 October 1937, where the priest listed her as a convert from the Anglican Church.

The couple had four children, with two sons following in their father’s footsteps to work for the railway.

From Leeds, Yorkshire, England to Ottawa and Fitzroy township (Carleton Co.), to North Bay, Ontario: the remarkable journey of a Home Child and World War I veteran.