Manitoba History: An Interview With World War I Veteran, Evan Wales Morgan
by Robert Coutts
Raised on a farm near Swan River, Evan Wales Morgan, who will turn one hundred years of age in September, is one of the last of a handful of surviving Canadian veterans of World War I. Recalling his long and eventful life, Mr. Morgan spoke to Manitoba History this past February at his residence in Winnipeg.
Evan Wales Morgan was born in 1897 in the closing years of the nineteenth century and looks forward to life in the twenty-first century. Over almost a century of living, Mr.Morgan has memories of events that for most of us are found only in history texts. The son of William and Mary Morgan, who emigrated to Canada from Wales in 1893, and one of nine brothers and sisters (two of whom died at a very young age), Evan Morgan spoke of his early childhood in Manitoba. “I was born in Treherne where my parents first settled,” recalled Mr. Morgan, “and in 1901, at the age of four, we moved to a farm about twelve miles south of Swan River.” One of his earliest memories, he said, is of travelling in 1901 with his parents to Portage la Prairie where they stopped briefly at a Dakota encampment. He still remembers a young Native boy who “came in carrying a couple of rabbits.”
Evan Morgan worked on the family farm throughout his childhood and teen years. In the Fall of 1916, after the harvest had been completed and “with winter coming on and not much to keep me in Swan River”, he and his younger brother Stanley (who was under age) enlisted in the army. They joined the 200th Battalion, and when it was disbanded a short time later Evan was transferred to the 107th, a pioneer battalion known as the ‘Timberwolves’. “Everywhere the battalion went we were accompanied by a pipe band”, he recalled. Morgan and his fellow recruits left Winnipeg by rail in April of 1917, bound for Halifax where they embarked on a troop ship for England. Not knowing just what he was getting himself into, Morgan spent time during the Atlantic crossing on submarine watch and it was then, he said, that “I started to realize that I really was in a war!”
After training for a brief period in England, the 107th landed in France in June of 1917 as replacements for the Canadian casualties at Vimy Ridge. A short time later Morgan found himself at Passchendaele where the Timberwolves were employed constructing roads over the mud. “Our main job”, he said, “was to keep the roads open so that they could bring in supplies and artillery during the Battle of Passchendaele. We worked at night on the roads and hid out during the day from the shells they called ‘whizbangs’ that the Germans dropped all around us.... We lived in pup tents”, Morgan added, “that were close to the ground so that the Germans couldn’t spot you”.
In late 1917 the battalion was moved to Lens and it was here, on 6 December, that Morgan was wounded. “They had sent us back to Lens for a rest”, he recalled, “and it was there that I got hit by shrapnel from a shell that landed near the top of my trench”. With a badly injured hand Morgan walked three kilometres to a field hospital where the hand was amputated. Sent back to England, he spent some time recuperating at a hospital in Devon and left in the Spring of 1918 for Canada from Liverpool aboard a hospital ship.
Upon his arrival in Winnipeg Morgan began looking for a new career and with a number of other veterans he registered for training at the Manitoba Agricultural College. “On the top floor of the college”, he recollected, “was a small room where a fellow was teaching telegraphy.” Morgan trained as a telegraph operator at the College for six months and when he learned that Canadian National Railways was looking to hire telegraphers he went to work for the company in the Fall of 1918. Sent first to Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Morgan moved in 1926 to nearby Hudson, a major shipping point to the community of Red Lake during the gold rush that occurred in the 1920s near that northwestern Ontario town. In 1944 Morgan moved to Winnipeg and worked out of Union Station until his retirement from CN in 1962.
Evan Morgan married his first wife, Lempie Josephine Johnston, on 3 June 1925. Born in Finland in 1901, Lempie Kuusisto had emigrated with her family to Port Arthur, Ontario in 1910 where they changed their last name to Johnston. Evan and “Josie”, as she was known, had four children, including three boys; Gordon (who is now seventy years of age), Donald, and Arthur, and one daughter; Victoria. There are also fourteen grandchildren and nineteen great grandchildren. Mrs. Morgan died in June of 1976, and in February of 1978 Evan, at the age of eighty-one, married Elsie Arnold of Winnipeg. In 1985 Evan and Elsie moved to Saskatoon where Elsie died on 20 July 1991. Mr. Morgan moved back to Winnipeg in April of 1996 where the family is planning a reunion to mark Evan’s one-hundredth birthday on 28 September of this year.
Page revised: 26 September 2012Back to top of page