Although his attestation papers gave his birth as the 1st of July, Malberry Whittington (Whit) Primrose was born on 24 July 1894 in the township of Barrie, Frontenac, Ontario. His father George Henry Alexander Primrose was from London, England while his mother Emily Jane Haynes was from Kaladar, Ontario. The couple married in 1876 in the township of Barrie where George had been farming. Children born to the family in various places in southern Ontario were Henry (abt 1877-78), Walter (abt 1880), Rosena Captoria (1881), Hiram (about 1884-85), Corna Sylva (Flora)(1886), Elizabeth Mehallia (1889), Frederick Ausborne (1891), and Whit. By the 1901 census most of the family had moved to Rat Portage (later renamed Kenora) where George and the older boys found work in the sawmill/lumbering industries. Henry and Hiram stayed in the Kenora area as found in the 1911 census while Whit, his parents, and some of his siblings moved to the Birch River and Swan River Interlake areas of Manitoba to farm.
The 1916 census for District 7 Nelson of Manitoba (Birch River) found George and Emily farming in the area, with Whit listed as being at Camp Hughes. He had enlisted in Dauphin, Manitoba on 7 December 1915, occupation given as bushman. While in training at Camp Hughes, Whit met his future bride to be, Scottish immigrant Agnes Livingstone, daughter of Gavin and Robertha (Gillespie) Livingstone of Airdrie, Lanarkshire. At the time Agnes was working for the Edgar McLean family in Dauphin.
The 226th Battalion (Men of the North) had been organized in March of 1916 with recruitment in Portage la Prairie, Dauphin, Virden, Neepawa, Minnedosa, Russell, Gladstone, Shoal Lake, Glenboro, Souris, Carberry, Swan River, Birtle, and Rapid City. With the 226th battalion Private Malberry W Primrose embarked from Halifax on 20 December 1916 aboard the Olympic.
Once in England, Whit was transferred to the 14th Reserve Battalion in April of 1917, and then on to the 78th Battalion that May, joining the unit in the field in late June. In early February of 1918 he was granted a 14 day leave to the UK. On 1 October 1918 at Cambrai, Malberry sustained very serious machine gun bullet wounds to the elbow, entering below and exiting above the joint, and also to his hip/thigh. He underwent at least two surgeries in France and England, and another in Canada after being invalided home in August of 1919. The surgery in Canada involved the removal of the head and neck of the femur and Whit was in very poor condition following the operation. Recovery was slow but he graduated from crutches, to a cane, to an orthopaedic boot that compensated for the 3 inches of bone loss. Final discharge was not until March of 1920.
On 23 December 1919, in Winnipeg, Whit married Agnes. The couple settled in Birch River where their first two children were born. Around 1925 the family moved to Muriel Lake near Kenora, Ontario. Over the years the family grew to include three sons, Roy, Alfred, and Earl, and two daughters, Bertha and Muriel.
Predeceased by his mother Emily in 1917 in Birch River, his father George in 1931 in the RM of Swan River, Whit died on 25 November 1958 in St Joseph's Hospital in Kenora. He is interred in the Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora. Agnes died in 1993 in Kenora, residing at the homestead on Muriel Lake until the time of her passing.
Whit's brother Hiram enlisted in Winnipeg in July of 1917 and served overseas with the Canadian Forestry Corps in France. Returning to Canada in 1919, he married and worked as a trapper and guide in nearby Minaki.
As told by Whit’s granddaughter Darlene Frenette, before he left for overseas Agnes gave Whit a gold ring with a blue stone to keep him safe and return home from battle. Then at the beginning of WW2 Whit passed the ring to his son Roy to bring him home safely from that war as well. Although the stone was lost, Roy continued to wear the ring for many years. For their 60th wedding anniversary Roy had a diamond put in the ring for his wife Julie, with Julie wearing the ring until her 90th year when she passed it on to their daughter Darlene.
By Kenora Great War Project