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Soldiers of the Great War; The Fredericton Soldier Biography History Initiative

All explanatory text, archival descriptions, narratives, database headings, and navigation assistance on the web site of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick are provided in both English and French. When content is extracted from a document for insertion in a database or to be presented as a facsimile, it is provided in the language of the original.

Merchant, Vernon Keith

Private 444652
55th Canadian Infantry Battalion
58th Canadian Infantry Battalion

Background

Private Vernon Keith Merchant was born on December 14, 1899 in Colchester, England. Vernon was raised by his father, William Merchant, and his mother, Annie Maria Merchant. Records indicate that he was the only son born to William and Annie. After moving to Canada from England, Vernon and his family lived on Queen Street in Fredericton, New Brunswick, which would have occupied the south side of downtown Fredericton.

According to records, Vernon stood five feet four and a half inches tall at the time of his enlistment. His hair was brown as were his eyes. Vernon belonged to the Church of England (Anglican) and his attestation papers indicate that he was 18 years of age when we he enlisted in Fredericton on April 5, 1915 with the 55th Canadian Infantry Battalion. According to his birth certificate obtained from the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, he may have only been 15 at the time. Newspapers confirm his age also confirm his premature age for service. Before he enlisted he had been working as a plumber. Vernon would never return home to his family, the only son to William and Annie-Maria Merchant.

Military Experience

According to his service files, Vernon sailed from Montreal, Quebec on October 30, 1915 to England on the SS. Corsican. He arrived in England November 9, 1915. Vernon spent the next five months training in England with the 55th Reserve Battalion until being transferred to a Western Canadian unit, the 58th Battalion, on April 12th, 1916. Two days after being transferred to join the 58th which was leaving for France, April 14, Vernon wrote his final will leaving everything to his mother.

He left England on April 15, 1916 with the 58th Reserve Battalion likely in preparation for the Somme offensive that was about to begin by the Allied Forces in July. Vernon arrived in Le Havre, France, the very same day before leaving the Canadian Base Depot for the field on May 7, 1916. After only being in the field for less than two months as reinforcement with his unit in Reninghelst, Belgium, Vernon was killed along with four others on June 6, a week before the Battle of Mount Sorrel would commence on July 13, where the 58th Battalion would actively participate near Sanctuary Wood. According to the war diary of the 58th Battalion, June 6 was “a warm, clear, and windy day” and Major J.D. Mackay stated that there had been significant “heavy enemy shelling all day”. Vernon passed away very young at the tender age of 16, just a few months short of his 17th birthday.

Lest We Forget

Vernon is buried in the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport farm) which, according to his certification of death records, is located 1 kilometer south-east of the Ypres town-centre off the Komenseweg Road, connecting Ypres to Komen. This is located in Zillebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, there are 2,029 identified casualties including Vernon buried in this cemetery.

*This biography was researched and written by Sam Marquis & Khamen Macpherson, Grade 8 students (2015-2016) at George Street Middle School located in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

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