Staff Sergeant Gilbert Charles Gordon Dodds enlisted with the 12th Field Ambulance in March 1916. He left for England in June and served overseas for three years, returning to Canada in June 1919. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and the Military Medal.
Gilbert, also known as Gordon, was the only son of Reverend Francis Thomas Dodds and his wife Alice Elizabeth Barron. Francis was born in 1850 in the Oshawa area in Ontario and moved to Winnipeg around 1871. By the mid-1880s he and his brother James had both settled in Dugald, Manitoba and taken up farming. Francis' wife Alice was from St. Mary's, Perth County, Ontario. She moved to Manitoba after the death of her widowed mother in the early 1880s. Francis and Alice were married in 1886. Gilbert was born in Dugald, Manitoba on 9 August 1888 and followed by a daughter, Ann Ethel, in 1890.
In 1897 Francis accepted a position as missionary at the Moose Mountain Reserve in what is now southeastern Saskatchewan (the North-West Territories at the time). He did missionary work in that area for ten years. Around 1898 his brother James moved to Rat Portage (now called Kenora) in northwestern Ontario. In 1907 Frances became the principal at Cecilia Jeffrey School on Shoal Lake, about forty miles southwest of Kenora. His duties included overseeing the school's operation, supervision of staff, record keeping and managing the farm. He also did missionary work on nearby reserves when time allowed. His family lived in a house near the school and his wife was the school matron for a few years. In the summer the school was accessible only by boat and Francis served as the steamboat captain to bring in mail and supplies.
In 1906, when Gilbert and his family were at Moose Mountain, Miss Violet May Willoughby was also living in that area near the village of Carlyle, Saskatchewan. She was boarding with a farming family and likely teaching in a local school. Violet was born in 1881 in Smiths Falls, Leeds and Grenville County, Ontario, one of at least eight children of Abraham Willoughby and Mary Newman. Three of their daughters became teachers, Violet and her sisters Bertha and Lillie. By 1908 the three of them were living together in Saskatoon and all teaching. They were also members of the Third Avenue Methodist Church.
Gilbert and Violet were married in 1915 and Gilbert enlisted the following spring. He and his cousin Francis Wilfred Ferguson Dodds signed up in Winnipeg on 2 March 1916, joining the 12th Field Ambulance in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. Gilbert was 27 years old, a pharmacist and next of kin was his wife in Winnipeg. His unit sailed from Montreal on 23 June on the SS Scandinavian, arriving at Liverpool on 3 July. A week after arriving he was promoted to Sergeant and on 12 August his unit was sent to France, where they became part of the 4th Canadian Division. Field ambulances operated advanced and main dressing stations, which were located just behind the front lines. They provided short term medical care, collecting casualties, treating them and evacuating them to the clearing stations and hospitals as needed. They also operated rest stations and provided stretcher bearers for moving the wounded.
The Canadians were at the Battle of the Somme in the fall of 1916 and in April 1917 they captured Vimy Ridge. Gilbert had a ten-day leave of absence in July 1917 and he was appointed Staff Sergeant on 1 October. In March 1918 he attended the Royal Army Medical Corps School of Instruction and after a period of leave he rejoined his unit in early April. The Canadians were heavily involved in the last three months of the war. The Armistice ended hostilities in November but the 12th Field Ambulance stayed in France and Belgium for another six months. In January 1919 Gilbert was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. His unit returned to the UK on 7 May 1919 and he embarked for Canada at the end of the month, sailing with his cousin Sergeant Wilfred Dodds on the SS Adriatic and arriving at Halifax on 7 June. They were discharged on 12 June 1919 in Winnipeg. They were both awarded the Military Medal.
While Gilbert was overseas Violet's address was Winnipeg, Cecilia Jeffrey School/Kenora and later Saskatoon, where she taught school for at least two years. The names of her and her sisters Bertha and Lillie are on a Red Cross signature quilt made around 1918 by the Third Avenue Methodist Church in Saskatoon. The quilt is now held by the Imperial War Museum in London, England.
After the war Gilbert and Violet settled in Winnipeg and owned and operated two drugstores, one downtown and one in St. Vital. Violet studied pharmacy at the University of Manitoba and graduated in 1932. Gilbert served with the army reserves, becoming Major-Quartermaster of the Third Field Ambulance. They had one son, Ronald Barron, who was born in 1922. Ronald joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and served as an aircraft technician during the Second World War. Afterwards he became a pharmacist and took over Dodds Drugs in St. Vital from his parents.
Gilbert passed away at Deer Lodge Hospital on 3 August 1946, shortly before his 58th birthday. Violet retired around the same time, due to ill health, and she died on 20 April 1948. They are both buried in Elmwood Cemetery along with Gilbert's parents. Ronald passed away in Qualicum Beach, British Columbia in 2015.
By Kenora Great War Project