Private John James Cowie served in France and Flanders with the Canadian Railway Troops and the 49th Infantry Battalion. He was wounded in the last weeks of the war and returned to Canada in January 1919.
James was the son of Andrew Grey Cowie Sr. and his wife Annie (née Gallagher) of Carnduff, Saskatchewan. Andrew was born in Ontario to Scottish parents and Annie was from Liverpool, England. They were married in 1890 in the town of Rat Portage in northwestern Ontario. Andrew and Annie had seven children, five sons all born in the Rat Portage area (William, Andrew, John James, Allen and Robert), and two daughters (Meada and Lillian). James, their third son, was born in March 1895 and he spent his early childhood in Rat Portage (later called Kenora). Around 1905 his family moved west and took up farming near the town of Carnduff. When the 1911 census was taken James was living at home, listed as age 16 with farming as his occupation.
When the war started James was the first of the Cowie brothers to enlist. He was living northwest of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan at the time, in the village of Eldred. He travelled to Winnipeg where he joined the 212th Overseas Battalion on 14 April 1916. A month later he was transferred to the 97th Battalion and in July he was transferred again, this time to the 4th Pioneer Battalion. He left for the UK with his unit that fall, embarking from Halifax on the SS Metagama on 13 September and arriving in England nine days later. In November his unit was renamed the 5th Canadian Pioneer Battalion and on 2 December James was transferred to the Canadian Pioneer Training Depot. On 19 December he was taken on strength with the 127th Battalion and a few days later he was admitted to the Isolation Hospital in Aldershot, suffering from German measles.
After his discharge from the hospital James spent a month with a construction battalion. At the end of January 1917 he was attached to the 4th Battalion, Canadian Railway Troops, a new unit that had just been organized at Purfleet, on the outskirts of London. James was sent to France with the 4th Battalion CRT in February and he served with them for the next 14 months. Canadian railway troops were involved in all aspects of the construction and maintenance of railways in France and Flanders. In 1917 the British and Canadians took part in the battles of Arras (Vimy Ridge), Messines, Hill 70 and Third Ypres (Passchendaele). Railways were essential for moving troops, ammunition and supplies and for evacuating the wounded.
In April 1918 James was transferred again, this time to an infantry unit - the 49th (Edmonton) Battalion. Over the summer the Canadians underwent intensive training in open warfare and they were heavily involved in the final months of the war, a period known now as the Hundred Days Offensive. In August 1918 the 49th Battalion took part in the battles of Amiens and Second Arras. In late September the Canadians crossed the Canal du Nord and the 49th was engaged in heavy fighting from 28 September to 1 October. The battalion suffered 320 casualties over the four days. James was one of the injured, with a gunshot or shell wound to his left thigh and foot. He was admitted to No. 26 Canadian General Hospital in Étaples on 30 September and a few days later he was evacuated to England.
James spent most of October at the Military Hospital in Aylesford then almost four weeks in Princess Patricia's Canadian Red Cross Hospital at Bexhill. He was discharged on 29 November and attached to the 21st Reserve Battalion, to await his return to Canada. He embarked from Liverpool on the SS Olympic and arrived at Halifax on 18 January. James had two weeks landing leave and he was discharged in Regina on 11 February due to medical unfitness (wound to foot). His older brother Andrew had also enlisted in the spring of 1916 and he died of wounds in France in August 1917. Their younger brother Allen served overseas with a cavalry unit and returned home in May 1919.
After the war James moved back to the area northwest of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. He took up farming and fishing and by 1934 he had settled in the community of Big River. Starting in the late 1930s he had a long career with the Department of Natural Resources as a forest ranger, field worker and manager of the local tree nursery. James passed away on 6 April 1956, at age 61, and he's buried in Big River Cemetery.
By Kenora Great War Project