The firstborn son of Archibald James Jacob McPhail (1870-1941) and Cecelia (née Garrow) (1876-1941) was John James Joseph McPhail, born January 13, 1893. His father was 22 when he was born, and his mother was only 16. He had five brothers and four sisters.
It appears that Jack enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Brantford, Ontario on January 16, 1918. Given the late date of his enlistment and the fact that he would have been of age in 1911, it appears likely that he was conscripted. Jack’s medical records indicate that he had some vision issues—a convergent squint and amblyopia (a lazy eye)—that could not be corrected with glasses.
On enlistment, Jack is living at 125 John Street South, but I have to wonder if his vision issues mean that he was also unable to read and write. I believe that 125 John has been a railway line since prior to the war). It also shows 145 Johnson Street South (there is no Johnson Street in Hamilton) and his likely address, 145 John Street South (the current business occupant at the time of writing is an insurance company, Jack likely had one of the upper-level apartments if this is the correct address).
Upon enlistment, Jack was spent three months at Whitley Camp in Surrey, England for training. His physique is described as “robust”, but Jack returned to Canada aboard the Olympic on December 7, 1918, and was discharged almost a year to the day after his enlistment as “medically unfit”. The records suggest that he had an Inguinal Hernia and that combined with his defective vision were reasons to discharge.
It appears that at the time although the hernia was treatable with surgery, Jack chose to wait as it wasn’t causing him pain or discomfort. The military’s medical board came to the conclusion that the injury may have predated his enlistment. The records also suggest that like his father, Jack was an engineer—a physical job that likely wouldn’t have required him to read.
After his discharge, there aren’t many records to trace Jack. There is a February 1919 border crossing document suggesting that Jack went to Niagara Falls, New York for a visit.
There is a 1921 Canadian Census record of a labourer named Jack McPhail living in a boarding house in Sarnia, Ontario who is the right age, but at this time, there’s no way to know for sure if this is the same man.
On December 18, 1923, Jack married Annie George, a widow. According to the marriage certificate, Annie was born in Manchester, England and her parents were William George and Margaret (née Hopkins). Both the bride and the groom were 30 years of age.
Annie had previously been married to a man named David Atkinson. David died suddenly on May 7, 1922, of acute heart failure. Annie and David had one son, George. David’s death certificate suggests that the family was living at 24 Harrison Avenue in Hamilton at the time of his death. A shipping manifest suggests that George and Annie went overseas (no record has been found suggesting that Jack also went), possibly to visit Annie’s family in 1924 (after the marriage). George and Annie’s home address listed is also 24 Harrison Avenue, so it is presumed that Jack moved into Annie’s home after the marriage at least for a time.
The couple had at least one child together, Dennis William McPhail, born September 15, 1925. He died at the age of 4 1/2 on January 30, 1930, of bronchopneumonia. The couple were still living on Harrison Avenue at the time of his death.
City directories suggest the couple moved to 61 Harrison Street by 1935.
No further documents have been discovered related to Jack, Annie or George. Several Ancestry users have made the mistaken assumption that Annie’s birth name was Atkinson, so presumably, they do not have a specific link to or knowledge of this family.
Several Ancestry users suggest that Jack and Annie had two children, and point to a death of a John McPhail in Oliver, British Columbia on January 1, 1982. But after writing to the local library in BC, I’ve been sent a death certificate which indicates that the John McPhail who died in January 1982 was born in Chiliwack, BC and his father’s name was Donald. Although oddly, his birthdate is one year and one day before my John, so possibly this is where the mistaken link was made.
Main image: Witley Camp 1917/1918 (image via Wikimedia)