Sometimes a story takes on a life of its own.
When it does, it may send you down paths that you never expected, and show you things you never thought you’d see.
For Remembrance Day in 2015, I told the story of a young soldier called Frederick Quickfall, who had named Williamsburg as his home town when he enlisted in the 154th Battalion in late 1915. However, Quickfall was not a local name: I discovered that no one seemed to know about him, though he appears on all our cenotaphs.
He died of wounds suffered in battle in May, 1917.
Even digging into old archives and tracking down any and all internet leads turned up very little information about the short life of this young man. But he had paid the ultimate price for Canada.
My original 2015 Remembrance Day story went online.
In British Columbia, in June of 2016, Sandy D’Angelo, who had undertaken the huge task of investigating the history of her family, suddenly came across my Leader story during an internet search of the Quickfall name.
She got in touch with me: we’ve shared a lot of information since.
Sandy D’Angelo is Fred Quickfall’s great-niece. She is a descendent of his older brother, Frank Quickfall.
The family photos and the research documents about Fred that Sandy sent to me are revealing. They paint the picture of a frightened 14-year-old boy, ward of the Barnardo Agency in Hanover Square, who was shipped, as were hundreds of Britain’s poor children, into the unknown in Canada in 1907.
He stares fearfully at the camera in that 1907 identity photo.
The documents also reveal a young man who rose above the hard hand life had dealt him and fell in love with his new country.
From Sandy, I learned that Fred’s story is like the stories of many of those destitute British children who were gathered off the streets of London, and sent across the ocean to Canadian families at the turn of the century.
There were happy endings for some.
Not for others.
This is the rest of the story of Fred Quickfall of Williamsburg, Barnardo Boy, waif, and finally proud Canadian soldier.
There were five Quickfall children. William and Alice were older, and weren’t sent to Canada with Frank, Fred and Annie. The Quickfall family had fallen on hard times when their father died in London. It was the Workhouse and poor Parish schools for his children until the Barnardo Agency stepped in.
The Canadian branch of the Barnardo Agency was run out of Toronto in the 1900s. Mostly farm families applied to take the British children. Barnardo’s paid these families for the children’s clothes, food and board.
Fred was sent to a Dixon’s Corners family, who reported in 1908 that he was not very well or strong when he arrived, but if he “continued to be a good boy, they would like to adopt him.”
The Barnardo report of 1907 described young Fred as “a very interesting child, smart, willing, obedient and polite.”
The Dixon’ Corners family received its $65 stipend.
The next series of reports given to the Barnardo agent suddenly started to change in tone and nature.
The boy’s habits were “uncleanly”. “The farmer does not consider the lad worth the wages.” The boy was “untruthful.”
Anonymous neighbours in Dixon’s began to send letters to the Barnardo agency claiming the boy was being “badly abused,” although the farm family denied this and angrily claimed that Fred was “not at all satisfactory. He would not do as he was told.” He was “defiant,” they stated.
Barnardo’s eventually stepped in.
In December of 1909 Fred was given to the Jacob Barkley family, who brought in a doctor to treat “an ulcer” under Fred’s eye.
In February of 1910, Isaiah Loucks of Williamsburg took Fred in, promising to hire him for a year and pay him “$65 if he gives satisfaction.” The Loucks’ family later reported that the teen was “getting along well, although he is troubled by sore eyes.”
For a brief time, in 1912, Fred, now over 16, moved to live with his brother Frank, who had been sent to Strathroy. It was during this time that Fred, his words misspelled, his letters written in an unschooled hand, began to look for the rest of his scattered family.
Could Barnardos find Annie?
“Please would you tell me where Annie is. She moved away from the place where she was working when I was with Frank…I don’t know where she is or all about it.”
Sandy D’Angelo wrote that Annie had also suffered misfortune with the local Dundas family where she was placed. Fred eventually learned she had gone into service in Toronto but he could never re-unite with her, as he desperately wanted to.
Sister Alice came to Canada on her own in 1914, but she did not join her brother, Fred. Oldest brother William stayed in England: he signed up in 1914, and was killed in service in India.
Fred never saw him again after 1907.
Fred seemed to dream of having his family together again, but that did not happen. Too much time passed, distances were too great, circumstances were too difficult.
From Strathroy Fred came back to Williamsburg. By 1915, he was happily farming with the Jason Whitteker family.
“Canada was better for Fred than the English workhouse,” his great-niece Sandy D’Angelo wrote. “He especially loved the area around Williamsburg and Iroquois. At one point he went to live with Frank, but he came back to Williamsburg.”
He was putting a little money into the Williamsburg Bank, and even making small donations to the Barnardo Agency in Toronto.
One needs only to read between the lines of this letter (corrected for understanding) which Fred wrote to Mr. Owen of the Barnardo Agency in June of 1914, to see that he was hopeful and content.
“I hope you are quite well and happy as I am now…I have a nice place to work. We are going to stand hay now. My boss is going to take 3 pigs to Morrisburg. Frank sent me one of his pictures. Our Alice is coming over this fall from the old country. My brother in India is getting along fine.
We are going out to milk now. We have 14 cows, 2 horses, 14 pigs. We will not pick many apples this fall. It has been very dry. But it is to rain today. I have got a place for another year. I will get $150 for a year.
So goodbye for this time,
I remain one of your boys, Fred Quickfall.”
A Mr. Rogers of Barnardos visited Fred and wrote “He reports himself in good health and is happy and content. He is working for first class people and in surroundings second to none.”
In 1915, Fred left the farm where he was happy, the community where he finally felt at home, to go to war.
Robert Bruce of the Barnardo Agency still tried to keep track of “their boy”.
Fred “trained till August at Barriefield and went overseas with his battalion in September. Later reports from him said he was still at Bramshott, England, but as his battalion was being broken up, he might any day be included in a draft being sent to the Front.”
Ironically, a great-grandmother in England had unexpectedly left her great-grandchildren, including Fred, some money.
Once again, Barnardo agents tried to find Fred.
Robert Bruce wrote, “I have made enquiries around Winchester and Chesterville, but they failed to reveal anything about this young man’s present whereabouts. I also enquired in Morrisburg but no one could tell me anything of him.”
Sandy sent one other Barnardo file. In his own hand, agent John Kidney noted in February, 1919.
“When making enquiries to brother Frank in Melbourne, he has told me that Frederick had been killed in action.”
A document dated 1921, from the Department of Militia and Defense in Ottawa, in response to a request from English relatives for information about Fred Quickfall, was sent to me. The signature is illegible.
“Our file includes a report that he enlisted in the 154th Battalion in the year 1915 and trained at Barriefield, went overseas and was encamped at Bramshott, England. The next reference to him says that he was killed in action, but we could learn no particulars of date or place, neither have we his regimental number…”
Fred Quickfall wanted to come back to Williamsburg and Morrisburg. He had hopes of family, and maybe his own farm one day.
He never got the chance to come ‘home.’
War took him away.
This Remembrance Day, November 11, 2016, it may be worth thinking about the hundreds of thousands of boys just like Fred Quickfall who “dreamed dreams” and never got to live them.
“He was proud to be here,” Sandy D’Angelo said. “He wanted to fight for Canada.”