Putting Research Skills to Use

Well, its been some time since my last post. As the title indicates, I have been researching up a storm over the last two weeks here at Banting House (hence the radio silence). I have been looking for information on those who served or were treated by Banting during the First World War – a task which is not as easy as it sounds. My first area of clues came from a package that was sent to our curator back in 2012. In this package was a hand written letter (shocking!) from a woman whose father was an English soldier and remembers being treated by Banting at the Second Battle of Arras in August of 1918. The details I had from the letter were the soldiers name, regiment number, who he served with, some photographs and a personal anecdote that his stretcher was carried by German prisoners of war. My job then was to track down this soldier’s service records and find evidence to support that he and Banting were indeed in the same place at the same time.

In order to do this, I searched the Forces War Records website which has digitized thousands of UK war records and found the soldier’s service files. After confirming his rank and unit, I went further to see if his unit was at the Battle of Arras at the correct time and if it coincided with Banting’s recorded movement as a medic. After confirming that both men would have been at the same battle, I found a digitized book called Stretcher Bearers at the Double! History of the Fifth Canadian Field Ambulance Which Served Overseas During the Great War of 1914-1918. This book describes the route the stretcher bearers took, particulars of the battle of Arras and backed up the anecdote about German prisoners being used to help carry injured allied soldiers. All in all, everything lines up and it looks as though Banting might very well have treated the soldier!

Other research leads I have followed come from a biography on Sir Frederick Banting written by Lloyd Stevenson. In this biography Stevenson mentions two people who were said to be important friends to Banting; L.C. Palmer and the mysterious Kels. All that I knew about these gentlemen was that L.C. Palmer served in the 13th Canadian Filed Ambulance with Banting and that Kels was from British Columbia. So, I went back to the Library and Archives Canada military database and imputed L.C. Palmer. As you might imagine, there are many men by those initials. After a long bout of clicking through files, I found an L.C. Palmer who served in the 13th. I was then able to look through the digitized war diary excerpts from that time and found mention of both Banting and Palmer going on scouting rounds together. Then, going back once again to the database,  I began the search Kels.

Not so much luck. Kels did not return any hits and I had no first name to help me. Leaving it for the day and returning to it today, I searched the database for a Kells (note the additional ‘l’) by accident. This returned a long list of soldiers, one of which was a Frederick Kells who was from B.C. and served in the 13th. Hurray! To be on the safe side, I also decided to search Kels* which brought back anything with ‘kels’ in the name. So, to be thorough and accurate, I looked through all 80 service files to make sure that the Kells I found was indeed the right one, since all other accounts spell the name with only one ‘l’.

On one last note, I was also looking for a soldier who served with Banting named Francis William Wheatley. Without going into details about the similar search process, I will share one interesting tidbit: it looks as though the witness who signed Wheatley’s attestation papers is none other than the famous A.Y. Jackson! Though unable to verify that without a doubt it is indeed Jackson, the signature looks almost identical and was signed in Montreal during the time that A.Y. Jackson is known to have lived there. Who would have thought!

That’s all for now,

Julia

 

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