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Archives provinciales du Nouveau-Brunswick

Les soldats de la Grande Guerre : Projet de biographies historiques sur les soldats de Fredericton

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Webster, Lawrence Fitzgerald

Lieutenant 70041
26th Battalion, New Brunswick
5th Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles

Background

Lieutenant Lawrence Fitzgerald Webster was born on November 24, 1885 in Fulbourn, Cambridge, England. According to the Census of England and of Wales, 1911, Lawrence had a younger sister named Jessie Florence Webster, who was just fifteen years of age at the time, ten years younger than Lawrence who was listed as being twenty five. His mother was Martha Ellen Webster, from London, and his father was Harris Webster, from Cambridge. While little is known of his early life prior to coming to Canada, documents show that Lawrence was a short man, standing approximately five foot five inches tall, and had spent time working for his great uncle as a student. It is also noted in records that he was described as having a dark complexion, hazel eyes, and brown hair. His family belonged to the Church of England.

Lawrence arrived by himself in Saint John, New Brunswick on April 26, 1913 aboard the ship called the Empress of Britain. Ship documents reveal that he was coming to Canada to work in the farming industry after spending time working as a merchant in Cambridge. His father had worked as a clerk. Saint John newspapers point out that he became quite well known in the province over a very short period of time after arriving in 1913, working as a poultry expert in Fredericton at the Experimental Farm. Prior to enlisting in Saint John on November 4, 1914 with the 26th Battalion, Lawrence had five years of service with a British cavalry regiment from England called the Imperial Yeomanry, a unit that had served in South Africa during the Boer War. In the fall of 1914, Lawrence likely felt the pull of serving again for his home country. At the mature age of 29, experienced and unmarried, he began training with the 26th Battalion over the winter of 1914-1915.

Wartime Experience

Lawrence would not sail with his unit from Saint John until June 13, 1915 for Halifax where they continued on the S.S Caledonia June 15 for the long trip overseas to England. According to his service record, the 26th arrived in England on June 24 where Lawrence would be confirmed the rank of Sergeant three months later on September 3. The 26th Battalion would go to France in September, disembarking at Boulogne, at a time when Canadians had just experienced the use of chlorine gas on the Western Front. Over the next two years while in service with the 26th and 5th CMR, perhaps most interesting about his service documents is that at no time was Lawrence ever noted as being admitted to hospital for any illness or injury. Despite this, newspapers stated that he had been wounded in 1916 and came back to England in September where he received a commission as Lieutenant with the 5th, Canadian Mounted Rifles. Three months later, on December 1, 1916, Lieutenant Webster, would be back in France with the 5th, Canadian Mounted Rifles, according to newspapers, one of the last few remaining from the original 26th Battalion.

After arriving in the winter of 1916-1917 with the 5th CMR, Lawrence would eventually be part of the Vimy Ridge assault by Canadians and their allies in April, 1917, although his unit would be held in reserve throughout the attack. After the success of Vimy, Lawrence had been granted time away from the front line for approximately ten days, returning July 21, 1917, just prior to a series of assaults that were to begin in Belgium and northern France. After leading men of the 5th, CMR, 8th Brigade, throughout a series of attacks in and around Ypres and beyond to Passchendaele, Lieutenant Webster was killed on October 30, 1917 never to be found again. The attack itself began the morning of October 30 at 5:50 a.m. in what was described as “clear but very cold and windy weather which blew up rain in the afternoon” as his unit pushed into a forward position on the left flank, a place where the best progress along the front was being made. While the 5th would advance the furthest holding its ground until being taken over by other units, Lawrence would not survive and his body would never be found. Lieutenant Lawrence F. Webster was thirty-one years of age. Lawrence died fighting for Canada. We will always remember him.

Lest We Forget

Lieutenant Lawrence F. Webster is honoured on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium. It is one of the many memorials in Belgium to missing soldiers in the Ypres Salient. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through on their way to battlefields. Today, the Ypres, Menin Gate, Memorial has more than 54, 000 names of individuals whose graves are not known.

*This biography was researched and written by Mwape Benaya & Shalleen Dixon, Grade 8 students (2015-2016) at George Street Middle School located in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

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