Archives provinciales du Nouveau-Brunswick

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

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Colwell, George Stanley

Private 742948
115th Battalion, New Brunswick
26th Battalion, New Brunswick


Private George Stanley Colwell was born November 24, 1896 in Jemseg, Queens County, New Brunswick to James A. Colwell and Margaret Isabelle Currie. Stanley, as he was often referred to in records, grew up with his family in Upper Jemseg (Cambridge Narrows) where his father owned a farm. His father would also spend time in the port of Saint John managing steamboats at different points to help the family. Altogether the Colwell family included three sons and two daughters, Albert, George Stanley, Frank, Ida, and Louise. As a result of his father’s connection to Saint John, Stanley would become employed on a tugboat as a cook once he was of age to work in his early teens. In addition to Stanley, other members of the family would build working ties to Saint John through their father as his sister, Ida, would go to work as a stenographer and Albert would work as an engineer on the Valley Road. According to records, Frank and Louise, the two youngest, would stay at home working the farm just prior to the war.

When Stanley did have a chance to formally enlist, he did so March 13, 1916 in Saint John, New Brunswick with the 115th Battalion. While newspapers report him enlisting a year earlier his service record shows that this happened in early 1916. According to his attestation papers, Stanley was nineteen years of age, unmarried, and had no military training or experience. He was described as standing five feet six inches tall with a dark complexion, blue eyes, and black hair. In the spirited emotion of the time, newspapers speak of his choice to leave home for Europe “not in any adventurous spirit, but with a firm and deep conviction that he should respond to his country’s call”. While we may never know his true intentions, regardless of what they were, Private Colwell would never return home to his family and friends.

Wartime Experience

Private Colwell would train with the 115th Battalion in Saint John briefly before being sent off to Camp Valcartier in early June. Before leaving for Quebec with his unit, Stanley would spend time in a Saint John Military Hospital treating a case of tonsillitis. After only being in Valcartier for about a month, the 115th would leave Quebec for Halifax before sailing to England on July 23, 1916 aboard the S.S. Olympic. They would arrive at Liverpool, England on July 31, an eight day journey across the Atlantic Ocean. Private Colwell would spend the next year in England training with a variety of units including the 115th, 112th, and 13th Battalions primarily at Bramshott Camp.

In the winter of 1916-1917, his medical history sheet reveals that he would be admitted to hospital to treat a fractured ankle on January 26, 1917. After investigating the incident doctors found out that Stanley had injured himself while involved in a wrestling match with a friend, signs of young men still trying to enjoy themselves while they waited their turn to head to the front. He would spend almost three months in hospital before being discharged and taken on by the 26th Battalion from Saint John as they left for the front the summer of 1917.

After landing in France with the 26th Battalion, Private Colwell would head to the north French Belgian border where the “Fighting 26th” had been involved in the battles of Hill 70 and Lens. The 26th would then shift north to Ypres where they would relieve other units that had been a part of the Passchendaele attacks since it began in October. According to the 26th war diaries, on November 3, they would go into line replacing the 28th Battalion near Potijze and then to Passchendaele. It is here on November 6, 1917, where Stanley’s circumstances of death shows that during the operations at Passchendaele, while he was in a line of support on the last day before he was to be relieved of duty, Private Colwell was hit in the head by a piece of shell and died instantly.

Only one week earlier on October 30, Stanley had written home to his sister, Ida, sharing news that he believed his unit would be part of an important movement by Canadians and that he likely wouldn’t be able to write again for a while. Unfortunately, his letter proved to be ultimately true as news would begin to reach home of his death. A community memorial service would be held at the Baptist Jemseg Church soon afterwards where Rev. A. W. Brown would lead a sermon opening with the text, “Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Private George Stanley Colwell was 21 years old. His body would never be found.

Lest We Forget

Private Colwell is remembered with honour at the Menin Gate (Ypres) Memorial in Ypres, Belgium. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, there are approximately 54, 399 names of officers and men whose graves are not known in Belgium.

*This biography was researched and written by Cole Dakiv & Corey McDonough, Grade 8 students (2015-2016) at George Street Middle School located in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.