One of the Lucky Ones: Private Kenneth Foster

Saanich teen used false birthdate to enlist and was seriously wounded at the Battle of the Somme

Saanich resident Kenneth Walter Foster served overseas during the First World War.

Saanich resident Kenneth Walter Foster served overseas during the First World War.

Kenneth Walter Foster was 16 when war erupted in Europe in August 1914.  Like other young men in Saanich he was anxious to enlist, and in 1915, using a false birthdate on his attestation papers, he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force and left for England with the 62nd Battalion.

Saanich was a rural community of 5,000 at the start of the First World War and the majority of residents, like the Fosters, were recent immigrants. The family had settled in Saanich in 1906, the year the municipality was incorporated.

On his arrival in England, Private Foster trained as a gunner before being sent to the Western Front in 1916.  He was seriously wounded at the Battle of the Somme and evacuated to England where he spent several months at the Frodsham Military Hospital near Chester. The hospital, a converted skating rink, treated soldiers from around the Empire. Under the excellent care of the nurses there, Foster recovered.

Considered fit for active duty in 1917, he was again sent to the Front.  Following intense fighting at Hill 70 near the French city of Lens, Foster was one of only five men from his platoon of 40 to survive.  He was recommended for the Military Medal for bravery and later recalled, “I was one of the lucky ones.”

Foster made it through the war and in 1919 returned to Saanich. He married Jessie Thorpe and the couple built a house on Pipeline Road where they raised their two children, Barbara and Daryl. During the Second World War Foster once again served, this time working tirelessly for the Salvation Army raising morale at military bases on Vancouver Island. Son Daryl recalls the Foster tradition of welcoming servicemen for a home-cooked meal.

Throughout his life, Kenneth Foster suffered from the gunshot wounds he had received at the Somme and he died at an early age in 1947. His military service is commemorated on the Saanich WWI honour roll, a document drawn up by the municipality a century ago to ensure the sacrifices of Saanich residents during the Great War would never be forgotten.

Today, the honour roll is on display at Saanich Archives and is the focus of the Saanich Remembers project. Launched in August 2014 to mark the centenary of the First World War, the project aims – with the help of volunteers – to research each of the 355 names inscribed on the honour roll.

It was through the Saanich Remembers project that the story of Kenneth Foster came to the attention of Saanich Archives. Hearing about the initiative, Daryl Foster shared his father’s memoirs and photographs, as well as his family’s previous connection with the honour roll. It was, in fact, the Foster family who had helped preserve this important document, depositing it with Saanich Archives 30 years ago.

Caroline Duncan is the archivist at Saanich Archives. To learn more about the Saanich Remembers World War One project visit saanicharchives.ca.

 

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