James Begg was the third born child of James and Jemina (Muggaberg) Begg. Originally from Selkirk/St Andrews, Manitoba, the couple had married 27 August 1891 in Rat Portage (later named Kenora), Ontario. Father James had moved to the area in 1888, employed by the Hudson's Bay Company as a bookkeeper at the Northwest Angle. Jemina had moved to Rat Portage with her parents in the mid 1880s. By the 1901 Canada census, the family had grown and included James and Jemina, and children Hattie, James, Duncan, and Thomas. A child Arthur was born 06 August 1892 but had died on 24 October 1893. Father James' occupation was listed as teamster. By the 1911 Canada census, there were new additions to the family, Kathleen, Ada, Doris, Wilfred. Two more children were later born to the family, Ernest in 1913, and Isabel in 1915.
James Begg, known as Jake to family and friends, enlisted in Kenora on 29 February 1916. With other local lads with the 94th Battalion, he left Kenora by train in May 1916, destination Port Arthur, Ontario. "On May 25, 1916, the men of "C" an "D" Companies from Kenora and Fort Frances were moved to the Lakehead and on June 9, 1916, the Battalion left for Valcartier, Quebec for "Summer Camp" as it was called. The 94th trained at Valcartier for a period until June 13th when they sailed from Halifax for England on the RMS Olympic. Although the 94th remained a battalion on paper until July 27th, 1918, with an office at East Sandling, if actually ceased to exist on July 13th, 1916 when it was broken up and the men were transferred to the 17th and 32nd Reserve Battalions to be used as replacements for casualties in front line units."
Once overseas, James was transferred to the 17th Reserve Battalion, and then to the 43rd. A short time later, on 08 October 1916, Private James Begg was listed as Missing, Presumed Dead in the attack on Regina Trench, near Courcelette in France. The operation was part of the Battle of the Somme, a five-month long offensive in the summer and fall of 1916 that cost the Canadians 24,000 casualties. The Canadian Corps' assault on Regina Trench started on 1 October 1916 in pouring rain. The Canadians reached the objective but were pushed back by German counter-attacks. After a week's delay due to the rain a second unsuccessful attempt was made on 8 October.
From the War Diary for the 43rd Battalion: In the attack on Regina Trench 8 October 1916 there were 2 officers killed, 2 wounded, 4 missing; other ranks 8 killed, 224 wounded, 120 missing. From James's CEF burial register: "Previously reported missing, now for official purposes presumed to have died." Two other Kenora fellows with the 43rd Battalion, John McKechnie Francis and his nephew David Francis, were reported as missing/killed in action the same day. Inscribed on the ramparts of the Vimy Memorial are the names of over 11,000 Canadian soldiers who were posted as 'missing, presumed dead' in France. James Begg's name is among them.
James' mother Jemima died in Kenora on 17 August 1947 and his father on 02 June 1958. Both are buried in the family plot in Lake of the Woods Cemetery. Over the years his father had worked for Murphy Brothers in Kenora and in later life, farmed in the township of Melick. James' brother Duncan signed his recruitment papers on 10 January 1918 in Port Arthur although his medical was completed in Kenora on 30 November 1917. According to an article in the Port Arthur News Chronicle of 16 February 1918, he had just recently left for overseas; he survived, returning after the war. A cousin, Adolphus Begg of Kenora, also served during WW1 and was reported as Killed in Action on 4 September 1917 while with the 52nd Battalion.
Private James Begg is commemorated on page 52 of the First World War Book of Remembrance in Ottawa, on the Kenora Cenotaph, on the Kenora Legion War Memorial, and on a plaque in St Albans Cathedral in Kenora, Ontario.
By Kenora Great War Project