159693 Pte Rowland (Roland) Thomas Aston was born on 9th January 1895 in Comer Garden, Worcester, UK, to William and Annie Aston. William died of peritonitis in 1901, leaving his widow with six children to care for, including a one-month old infant. Annie was forced to place her two eldest sons, Rowland and Walter, in a Barnardo's home, whilst placing some of the other children with relatives until she could get back on her feet.

Walter was returned to Annie in April 1903, but Rowland was shipped out to Canada in 1902 at the age of 7 as a "home child", without Annie's prior knowledge. The letter from Barnardo's informing Annie of this was sent to the wrong address. She had (probably unknowingly) signed away both Rowland and Walter when she placed them with Barnardo's, through the infamous "Canada clause", that gave Barnardo's the right to send a child to Canada and place him or her according to where there was need.

After initial placements in Bracebridge, Ontario, Rowland was formally placed with the Overholt family in Glenella, Manitoba. Unlike many British Home Children who had to endure cruel and inhumane conditions at the hands of their foster families, Rowland was treated well by the Overholts. He eventually moved with them to Toronto, where he started working for the Candian Pacific Railroad (CPR) as a locomotive fireman. In 1914 he married Mary Foltas in Fort Weller, Ontario, and they welcomed a son, Raymond, in 1915.

In January 1916 Rowland enlisted at St Catharines, Ontario, in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force and was assigned to the 81st Reserve Battalion. He shipped out from Halifax to Liverpool on the SS Olympic on 1st May 1916. At the time he left Canada, Mary was 2 months pregnant.

Rowland was transferred to the 4th CMR on 29th June 1916 to rebuild the regiment after their huge losses in the 'Battle for Mount Sorrel' on June 2nd. The reinforcements were sent to France and joined the 4th CMR in the field in early July.

As part of the offensive to capture Regina Trench, the 4th CMR were holding the line at Mouquet Farm, near Pozièrs, on October 1st, 1916. Rowland was killed during this action and sadly his body was not recovered for burial. Seventy-one men of the regiment perished there that day. Rowland died after serving only three months on the front. He was 21 years old.

Although Rowland had kept in touch with his family in England during his years in Canada, it is unlikely he ever saw them again, unless they were able to arrange a visit while he was in training in England. No record exists of such a visit. And he never saw his second son Roland Thomas, who was born two months after Rowland Sr died, and who was named in his memory.

His widow, Mary, received the memorial plaque known as the "Dead Man's Penny", and as Rowland's body wasn't recovered his name was inscribed on the Vimy Memorial in France, and on the War Memorial in Port Dalhousie, Ontario.

Biography and image credit: Karen Aston.