109209 Pte. John Frederick Balmer was born on July 5th, 1896, in Clapham, London, England, to John and Mary Summersgill Balmer. The young John was the eldest of three children (there was a younger brother, Arthur, born in 1901, and a sister, Mary, born in 1904).

Oddly, it was just John and his father who were noted as having sailed alone for Halifax, Nova Scotia, on March 26th, 1913, aboard the Allan Line ship, the S.S. Hersperian. They were listed as farm labourers.

John was living with his father on Lake Front, in Toronto, when he attested into the 4th CMR on April 8th, 1915. A pressman by trade, John was single when he signed on.

By then he had a little previous military experience with the Governor General's Body Guard, but, still, training time was short prior to the regiment's departure for the European battlegrounds. The 4th CMR sailed for the UK on July 18th, 1915, aboard the S.S. Hersperian, ironically the ship that had carried John and his father to Canada in 1913.

The 4th CMR trained in and around Dibgate Hill, Kent, undertook musketry practice at Hythe and continued final training outside Folkestone (on the hills above today's Eurotunnel rail terminus) in the months that followed. On October 25th, 1915, the regiment crossed to Boulogne, France, and thence entered the European battle theatre, finding themselves very quickly within the sound of the guns in the infamous Ypres Salient.

Under training attachment to the 1st Brigade Infantry, the regiment entered the front line trenches for the first time, at Messines, on November 3rd. Then alternate companies rotated through the trenches over the following days, with the first injuries occurring in that first week of November. Later in the month, on November 23rd, the battalion was deemed ready to take responsibility for a section of the front line, and moved into trenches near Hill 63, Ploegsteert.

Contrary to S. G. Bennett's Regimental History, written in 1926, the first serious casualties (losses) did not occur in the first week of December, but, as the War Diary confirms, in the last week of November, 1915, when 19 year old John Balmer, then with a machine gun section, was killed at 4:45pm, on November 25th, whilst forward, in Trench 131, mounting a machine gun on the Messines Road. As the regiment's first loss in action, he was buried with ceremony the following day (26th).

It is interesting to note that the War Diary and the original grave registration documents state his loss as the 25th, whilst his Service File and the CWGC record his loss as the 26th. [MK]

It is not known why the family did not travel out to Canada together in 1913, and we can only speculate why it was subsequently found that his mother, Mary, brother, Arthur and sister, Mary, did in fact travel to Canada (via Montreal) on September 15th, 1916, some ten months after John's loss.

Pte. John Frederick Balmer, 1896 - 1915, originally buried at Rosenberg Chateau Military Cemetery, now lies at rest in Berks Cemetery Extension, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut (north of Ploegsteert village), Belgium.

Biography credit: David Kavanagh