Write to a Canadian Soldier in Afghanistan
The Olive Tree Genealogy has a webpage hosted here where anyone
who wishes to can write a note to our soldiers in the PPCLI (Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry) in Afghanistan. Take a minute to say hello, send a thumb's up, or
just tell them how proud we are of their efforts. Let them
know we haven't forgotten them!
The Canadian Military Heritage Project
James Kay1880 ~ 1919
By Jane Sherris
James Kay, my great-grandfather, was born Feb. 19, 1880 in Torhead Croft in the Pluscarden Valley
near Elgin, Moray, Scotland. He was an only child of Helen Smith and
Alexander Kay and lived with his grandparents John and Mary Smith of
Torhead, Pluscarden, Elgin, Scotland.
In 1900 at the age of 19 he joined the 2nd Battalion of the
Seaforth Highlanders in Glasgow, Scotland. He spent 12 years with the
Seaforths and served 8 years abroad in Egypt, India, Somaliland and fought
in South Africa in the Boer War. During this time he received the Queen's
South Africa Medal (Somaliland) and the Africa General Service Medal (Boer
He moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada about 1908 and was one of the first
to join the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada when the militia formed in
1910. He was still serving with the Seaforths at the time. The 79th Cameron
Highlanders officially became the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada
in Nov., 1923
In 1911 he was among the Special Coronation Company who visited the Queen's
Own Cameron Highlanders (Imperial Army) at Aldershot, England and attended
the ceremonies in connection with the coronation of His Majesty King George
the Fifth on June 22, 1911.
On Nov 23, 1911 James Kay married Annie Amelia Clark of Tranmere,
Cheshire, England. They had a small ceremony at Point Douglas Presbyterian
Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
On July 9, 1912 they were blessed with their first child whom they named
Annie Patricia Kay.
In 1914 at the breakout of WW1 he immediately enlisted (even though his
wife was pregnant with her second child) and became part of the No 4
Company of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) Canadian Expeditionary
Force, 3rd Brigade, First Canadian Division. They proceeded to Valcartier
camp Aug. 23, 1914 and on Sept. 30, 1914 left Quebec for England. They
spent the winter of 1914-1915 at Salisbury Plain and arrived in France Feb.
Letters Sent Home During WW1
He sent the first, of several letters that were saved by his wife, while on
leave Nov. 8, 1914
in Elgin, Moray, Scotland.
His second letter dated Dec. 10, 1914 he was at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain
in England. He still has not heard about the birth of the baby.
His third letter dated Jan. 22, 1915 expresses his joy at his daughter's
arrival on Nov.24, 1914 and with his wife for naming the baby Doris Cameron
Kay in honor of his regiment.
His next communication was a form postcard dated March 29, 1915 in which
the soldiers were not allowed to add anything except the date and a
His next letter is written from Belgium on July 15, 1915. He has just
come out of the trenches in Belgium and has received a promotion to
Regimental Sergeant Major due to the previous RSM being wounded and sent
On Aug. 24, 1915 he writes after just having had a short 2 day leave at
home in Elgin (a little hungover by the sound of it!)
In March 1916 he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The citation
" For Conspicuous gallantry since the formation of the battalion,
in all the actions in which it has been engaged. He has invariably
exhibited bravery and skill in the performance of his duties,
and given a fine example of devotion to all ranks."
At this point I am uncertain where he went. I know that he was
wounded and sent home for a two month furlough. He was able to see his
children and there are a few pictures of the family together.
Newspaper articles state that he was offered a commission several times but
that he turned them down. He was also offered inducements to accept Staff
positions in Canada but he said that his place was at the front where he
was needed most.
He returned to the trenches in Aug. with his arm in a sling.
The Armistice Day, November 11, 1918 did not bring an immediate end to army
maneuvers. The company was on the western outskirts of Mons and they
paraded through the town full of welcoming inhabitants who saw them as the
final sign of freedom and final victory.
On Dec. 13, 1918 they marched into Germany and crossed the Rhine. They were
quartered in the locality of Cologne until Jan. 5, 1919.
The next letter from Germany is dated Dec. 28, 1918 and he has just had his
quietest Xmas ever. Soldiers are starting to come back to Canada. He is
glad to be missing the cold Winnipeg weather but he says he is looking
forward to coming home in the near future.
Still in Germany a few days later, Jan. 2, 1919 he writes home to say that
he was wounded in Cambrai and was given the Military Medal for it and had
now heard he will get the Military Cross as well. At the end of it he says
"no more wars for me".
Jan 5, 1919 they left Germany for Belgium where they remained in Anthiet, a
village some 30 kilometres from Brussels.
By Feb. 1, 1919 he has had enough of the war and talks of what his life
will be like when he gets home and tells his wife to prepare for lots of
visitors as many war buddies may stay with them. They are 6 weeks away from
leaving for home. Although he has had enough of the war he says he will
still remain with the company "until the next war". He also had the honour
of leading the company in a parade as Brigade Sergeant Major as he was the
oldest member in France at the time.
His last letter dated Feb. 15, 1919 brings about a sad and unexpected end
to a remarkable career and man. He is in the town of Anthiet, Belgium and
has contracted the flu. Refusing to report sick he is finally ordered to go
to the hospital where he died about 12 hours later. His letter reveals his
sickness but not the severity of it and he tells his wife they are leaving
in 3 days time to head for down the line and still hope to be in Canada by
Death of a War Hero
James Kay died Feb. 18, 1919 of influenza and was buried the day after his
39th birthday in the village of Antheit, Liege, Belgium, only a few weeks
before his company returned home to Canada
Annie Kay's next letter came from the Officer in Command of the 16th
Battalion on Feb 20th, 1919 informing her of James death. Condolences were
sent by the mayor of Anthiet who vowed to take care of the cemetery plot
donated by the town for him. The family who cared for James just before his
death also wrote with details of his death talking about how he refused to
stay in bed and insisted on parading.
Annie Kay never remarried and on May 8, 1935 she was given the honour of
unveiling a cross, which was brought from the battle field at Arras,
honouring the men of the 16th Canadian Scottish who died there. The cross
stands on the grounds of the First Presbyterian Church in Winnipeg,
Annie Kay died in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1976 at the age of 84.
R.S.M. James Kay M.C.,D.C.M., M.M., M.I.D. medals and a few of his army
artifacts have been donated to the Cameron Highlander Museum at Minto
Barracks, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
"Throughout the long career of the 16th the survivors of the company
fought on; the further Cameron reinforcements brought men of their
kind, and when in February, 1919, R.S.M. Jimmie Kay during the
return march of the Battalion from Germany died from Influenza,
practically on parade, having refused to report sick, he closed the
chapter of heroism, his name being the last on the roll of these great
souls who were perfectly willing to give up their lives to uphold a
which pride of race forbade them betray"
Quoted from: The Queens Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada
Twenty-fifth Anniversary Souvenir, 1935
The Canadian Great War Homepage would like to thank Jane Sherris for her generousity in allowing the use of her great-grandfather's story, photos, and all sections of the memorial she has to James on her webpage at http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Meadows/9402
Please visit Jane's site for more information
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