ROBERT OSBORNE DORMAN
1900-1962/3

From "A Dorman Arrangement"
By Karl A. Sack


Robert Dorman was born on the 6th of January 1900, in Montreal, son of  James William Dorman and Isabella Marriah Fackrell.  He  never advanced further in school than grade three, and by the age of nine he was working full time at Borden’s Dairy. In the early 1900’s milk was delivered to the customers by horse drawn carriages. Working at the dairy allowed him to be around horses that he loved so much.

The Great War
Canada joined the war on the 14th of August 1914 to aid England and its Allies to fight against the Central powers of Germany and its allies. Canada was asking for volunteers to help our “mother country” and as a result, there were recruiting centres all over the country persuading young men to go and fight for country and honour.

When young Robert saw the headline “Borden’s men ready to fight” splattered on the front page of the local Montreal newspaper, he knew that he had to help his fellow workers fight in the war. Not realizing that the  ‘Borden’ mentioned in the headline had nothing to do with the dairy but rather the Prime Minister of Canada and not wanting to be branded a coward by his co-workers, he joined the army on the 14th of November 1914.

His mother Isabella was so horrified with the idea that her son was only 14 years old and would go off to fight in the war, that she managed to have him discharged. To save some face, the army wrote on young Robert’s discharge papers that he was “Sleeping at post while on guard duty” and as a result, was officially discharged on the 15th of February 1915. 

For Valour and Honour
After what must have been a battle of its own, Robert went against the advice of his mother and re-enlisted in the army (Serial #457712). He signed his Attestation papers on the 30th of June 1915 and had a week to say good bye before he had to report to his unit at Camp Valcartier, Quebec. The war was thought to be a short one and would certainly be over by Christmas then Robert could return to his home on Nobert Blvd in Jacques Cartier (Longueuil), Quebec. The legal age for the army was 18 or 17 with your parent’s consent.
 

THE ARGUMENT

Hello Mother, what do you know
I enlisted to day I said I’d go
Yes, I mean to do my little bit
Afraid why Mum never thought of it
Oh I know it’s true all that you say
Only fifteen and going away
But age don’t count it’s the heart within
The courage to lose the faith to win
So come now Mother you mustn’t cry
Other boys have joined so why not I
It wont last long please understand
Then I’ll come Home to the things we planned
Remember Mum, what you have often said
The little house all painted red
A garden filled with lovely flowers
Where we planned to spend such happy hours
I know how much it all means to you dear
But really I couldn’t be happy here
When I know that every Mother’s son
Is badly needed to man the guns
So cheer up Mother don’t take it so hard
You wouldn’t have your son branded a coward
Come smile thru your tears and think of the day
When I’ll return to be with you always

Valcartier
He arrived at Camp Valcartier, just north of Quebec City, on July 7th under the command of Infantry Unit Officer, Lt.-Col. F. A. Gascoigne commander of the 60th Battalion. The 60th, nicknamed the “Silent Sixtieth”, was part of the Victoria Rifles of Canada, and had a unit strength of 1024 men and 40 Officers including a bugle band! While Robert was on parade one day, an officer came to him and looked him over for inspection. The officer looked at his polished boots in front but noticed that his heels were not “spit and polished”. When asked why his boots were not as shiny in the back as they were in the front, Robert replied “A good soldier never looks behind, Sir!” The inspecting officer just moved on. Valcartier was one of the main training camps for the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) along with Camp Borden in Ontario. Training included marching, hand to hand combat, shooting, physical exercise, and lots of bayonet training (which proved to be of no use at the front).

Off to England
After 5 months of rigorous training at Valcartier, Robert was shipped across the Atlantic with the rest of the 60th Battalion on the 6th of November 1915, aboard the SS Scandinavian. The Scandinavian was a transport ship, which also carried the 10th Battalion from the Prairies. The 60th battalion, on arrival in the United Kingdom, was assigned to the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Division. The Officer in Command was Major-General M. S. Mercer, formerly of the 1st Brigade. In England Robert had to endure another 3 months of training with the 60th, including more bayonet training, before he could fight on the front lines of France. He finally arrived in France on the 22nd of February 1916. The other units of the 9th Brigade (Brig-Gen. F. W. Hill), which joined the division in February 1916 in France, were the 43rd, 52nd, and 58th Battalions. They came from Winnipeg, Port Arthur, and the Niagara area, respectively.

Canadian Operations, 1916
By the end of January there were 50,000 Canadian troops in the field. The Canadian Corps, as part of General Sir Hubert Plumber’s Second Army, was holding a six-mile front immediately south of the Ypres Salient, extending from Polegsteert to north of Kemmel. For the first three months, the newly formed 3rd Division relieved the 1st and 2nd Division on a brigade or battalion basis. The Canadian’s first winter in Flanders exposed them to the twin miseries of waterlogged trenches and bitterly cold winds. In general, the units served six-day tours successively in the support trenches, in the front line, and in the reserve.

Between the 27th of March and the 16th of April, the 3rd Division was engaged in trench warfare during the actions of St. Eloi Craters. May was relatively quiet with only 2,000 Canadian casualties. During the first half of June (2 -13) they participated in the Battle of Mount Sorrel. It was during the Battle of Mount Sorrel that Robert was hit with some shrapnel. The following poem reflects the action that Robert was engaged in.
 

JUST A LITTLE BIT OF SHRAPNEL

Just a little bit of shrapnel
Fell from out the sky one day
And it nestled on my shoulder
In a kind and gentle way
And when the M.O. saw it
Sure it looked so sweet and fair
He said I’ll send you home to Blighty
And they’ll fix you jake there
So he painted it with iodine
To keep the germs away
It’s the only thing that stops ‘em
No matter what you say
But before I left his office
Sure he changed his fickle mind
And he marked me fit for duty
So they shipped me up the line

Summer in the Salient
The Canadian Corps remained in the Ypres Salient until the beginning of September – its role “stationary yet aggressive”. Though thinly holding their positions, the Canadians continued to harry the enemy with bombardment, mining and raids. One of their objectives was Hill 60 located at the southeast corner of the Salient.

Hill 60
Hill 60 was not really a hill at all, in the natural sense of the word. When the railway came to Ypres (pronounced E-pray not WIPERS like a lot of the English soldiers did during the war) in the 1860’s, a short railway cutting was made to ease the gradient on the line to Comines. The spoil from these excavations was dumped into two mounds, one on either side of the cutting at its highest point. Neither of them had proper names, although the larger of the two, 230 meters long by 190 meters wide, was given the local name “Cote des Amants” – Lovers Knoll – in the honour of the clandestine nocturnal activities which took place there. In its later notoriety as Hill 60, it was to become the scene of undreamed of nocturnal horrors. The summit stood 60 meters above sea level and it was marked on the British maps as HILL-60. And this became its name to the soldiers of 1914-18. In that flat countryside it offered an eminence which was invaluable as an observation point. For the British, the most important feature of possession of the hill was probably the denial of this open view to their enemies. Hill 60 was never quiet. It was always a place of danger and sudden death.

Robert got his blighty
To the soldiers fighting in the front lines, England, just across the English Channel, presented a dream of escape. Unfortunately, the only way to get there was to be wounded badly enough to require prolonged hospitalization. Before long “Blighty” (British army slang for England) and wound were almost synonymous. On the 10th of August the 60th Battalion, whose “steadiness and tenacity” brought commendation from the Army Commander, repulsed an enemy attack in company strength at Hill 60. Robert was “blown up” by one of many explosions that went on that day at Hill 60. Robert got his “Blighty”! He was diagnosed with D.A.H (Disordered Action of the Heart), and ‘Shell shock’.

Disordered Action of the Heart
D.A.H became a major problem during World War I: Soldiers had to be evacuated to England because of shortness of breath, palpitations, and chest pain. Affected soldiers also commonly reported fatigue, headache, dizziness, confusion, concentration problems, forgetfulness, and nightmares. This complex of symptoms became known as soldier's heart or the effort syndrome because symptoms were exacerbated by effort. It was also called the Da Costa syndrome, and Disordered Action of the Heart (D.A.H). 

At the beginning of World War I, the effort syndrome was frequently attributed to cardiac hypertrophy caused by heavy marching packs compressing the chest. However, as the war progressed, the effort syndrome was believed to encompass a mixed group of illnesses and causes, including constitutional nervous weakness and physical weakness; an infectious disease or debility from previous infections; exhaustion from lack of sleep and exertion in the trenches; the effects of poison gas; malingering; and, rarely, heart disease. In some cases, onset of symptoms was also associated with acute stress resulting from combat or burial duties.

Digitalis and other drugs did not benefit patients with the effort syndrome, but a structured rehabilitation program with a graduated exercise regimen and encouragement from a supervising medical staff were effective. It was also found that if symptoms of the effort syndrome were attributed to heart disease, recovery and return to duty were hindered. As a result, physicians were advised not to tell soldiers that they had a heart condition so that the soldiers would not think of themselves as patients who required evacuation from the front.

A concerted clinical and research program was developed during World War I to determine the causes and most effective treatment of the effort syndrome. This program involved clinical care and empirical observations in two specialized hospitals in England and a specialized referral center in the United States. After the war, the Medical Research Council continued to oversee clinical evaluation and additional studies for the British government. Further investigations were given high priority because the effort syndrome was the third most common reason for disability and compensation assessment in England; 44,000 veterans eventually received pensions for this condition.

Although clinical studies published at the end of the war indicated that the effort syndrome was caused by psychological factors, there was little agreement on what specific symptoms constituted the effort syndrome, whether it was primarily a physiological or psychological illness, and even what the official name of the condition should be. However, there was a consensus that the effort syndrome was not caused exclusively by unique wartime exposures, because many soldiers that were exported, had similar symptoms before the war.

In addition to the effort syndrome, an acute illness attributed to combat stress (which was called shell shock or trench neurosis) was investigated during World War I. This acute combat stress reaction was first attributed to a strange new disease, possibly caused by concussion from modern weapons; however, a psychological cause was soon determined. Typical manifestations of acute combat stress reaction included breakdown in battle, dazed or detached manner, exaggerated startled response, and severe anxiety. 

During World War I, it was determined that soldiers with shell shock could be rapidly rehabilitated if they were cared for near the front, expecting a quick recovery. After soldiers with shell shock were taken away from their comrades and treated as patients in a hospital, they were much less likely to return to combat. Also, the British used the nonspecific term "not yet diagnosed, nervous (NYD)" for the initial designation of possible victims of shell shock; this designation prevented soldiers from concluding that they had a medical condition that required hospitalization.

A Royal Visit
On the 14th of August the Canadian Corps played host to King George V and the Prince of Wales. While the royal visitors looked on from Scherpenberg Hill, near Kemmel, 6-inch howitzers of the Corps Heavy Artillery and field guns of the 2nd Divisional Artillery and a Belgian unit under the command of the 3rd Divisional Artillery bombarded the St. Eloi craters. Four days later Canada’s Minister of Militia and Defense, Sir Sam Hughes, visited Corps Headquarters and the 3rd Division. Robert stayed at Clearing Station #19, behind the front line, until August 22nd when he was transported to England. 

The Victory Rifles of Canada
The 60th Battalion CEF was removed from the 9th Infantry Brigade and replaced by the 116th Battalion, CEF in April 1917. Unit personnel of the 60th Bn CEF were used as reinforcements for other French-speaking battalions within the CEF. The policy of the Canadian Government regarding the CEF battalions in the field was such that “A Province can only have as many battalions in the Order of Battle at the front as it can support with reinforcements”. Several established regiments, like the VRC, after sending one battalion (in this case the 24th) raised another, which became the 60th. They also raised a third, the 244th. The 24th lasted the war. The 60th ended up being broken up to feed existing units and the 244th never made it into the trenches as a unit, being broken up in England and the men sent off to reinforce existing but badly depleted battalions. So, they were all Vics (as the VRC call themselves) but in different operational units. The 60th Battalion was disbanded on the 28th of July 1917.

Canadian convalescent camp
Lady Koseberg’s Estate near the famous Epsom Downs was used during the war as a convalescent camp for most Canadian soldiers. When soldiers were well enough to walk around on their own, they were usually granted 7 days leave. Some Canadians were known to get a couple more days added on to their time off. The nurses liked the Canadian soldiers. In Shorncliffe, the final sorting was done and the decision was made for each wounded soldier: ‘Fit for duty’ or ‘Continued hospitalization’. If the soldiers stayed, it usually meant that they would not be sent back to the front and were on their way back home to Canada.

While recuperating in a private home, from his war injuries, Robert was playing the piano and singing when a knock came to the door.  There was a young man standing at the doorway asking to see his brother! Robert’s brother Bill recognized his voice while walking past the house.

The name Epsom derives from Ebbi’s ham, Ebbi being a Saxon lady about whom nothing is known. There were a string of settlements, many ending in –ham, along the northern slopes of the Downs. The early history of the area is bound up with the Abbey of Chertsey, whose ownership of Ebbisham was confirmed by King Athelstan in 933.

Meeting by chance
It was a cold and rainy day in the town of Epsom, England where Robert would meet his future bride, Florence Hilda Cowley. A beautiful young girl was standing under a doorway trying desperately to keep dry from the downpour, when Robert ran for shelter under the same passageway. The conversation started about the weather but after awhile, they talked about themselves. Robert introduced himself and told her that he was on leave for a few days and asked Florence if she would like to go for a walk after the rain stopped. Florence said that she would but wasn’t sure when the rain would stop. No sooner had the last words left her lips; the rain stopped and Florence started walking beside Robert down the street. Unknowingly to her, this walk would turn into a journey of a lifetime. 

Florence Hilda Cowley
Florence Cowley was born on the 6th of April 1901, in Epsom, Surrey County, England. Her father was William H. Cowley an Irish builder’s Forman, and her mother Ellen Emma Carpenter was English. William Cowley was born in Epsom England. He died in England, 3 months before his daughter Florence was born, in 1899 of Coronary Thrombosis. Ellen Carpenter was born in Croyden, England. She was a scullery maid (downstairs cook and then upstairs maid). Being a single parent and living near Epsom Downs, she placed her daughter into the nearby convent, just outside of London, England. She was afraid the Gypsies would steal her only child while she was at work. Ellen died in Canada in 1958 of Coronary Thrombosis. Florence had grown up in an Anglican Church Convent that she had been placed into at the age of six. She would not leave until she was married, ten years later. All of her stories of the convent were happy ones.

Permission to marry
Robert was very sick from his war wounds, which he received during his time of duty. When he told his commanding officer that he was going to get married, they told him that he should not marry, as he didn’t have long to live. He fooled them! He finally convinced them otherwise and on the 29th of May 1917, he was given permission to marry. Reverend John Vernon Hayes married Robert and Florence on The 8th of August 1917 at the parish church, in Epsom. The marriage certificate states that Robert was 21 and Florence was 19 but in reality he was 17 and she was 16.

Wars end
Robert stayed in various hospitals in the UK for 164 days. After Robert was discharged from the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) on October 19, 1919. Robert was awarded the British War Medal; Victory Medal; and Class “A” Badge. Robert and Florence continued to live in England at 5 Woodcote End Cottage in the town of Epsom, Surrey. There they had two daughters, Isobel and Hilda. A few weeks later they decided to move to Canada. They left Liverpool, England aboard the S. S. Scandinavian (Sailing No 54). Robert had come full circle for it was the SS Scandinavian on which he embarked almost 4 years prior for overseas duty. 

Family life in Canada
Robert and Florence took their two kids and Florence’s mother to Canada. After crossing the Atlantic Ocean; traveling up the St. Lawrence River to Montreal, they finally settled in the city of Verdun on the outskirts of Montreal’s downtown core. At the time of this writing, Robert and Florence have 103 descendants. 

Jack of all trades
After the war ended, Robert held many jobs in Canada. One of them was a cook for Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) aboard one of their coast-to-coast runs. His commanding officer during the war was head of the CPR and offered Robert, and many other soldiers, employment after wars end. Robert loved the Canada’s beautiful landscape but his true love was for England where he met and married Florence. At one point in their lives, Robert and Florence were owners of a fish and chip shop, called ‘Hickey and Obit’, in Cote St. Paul.

In 1933, with never more than a grade three education, Robert began working for Canadian Immigration (CI) as Deportation Officer and Chief Guard until he retired with full honor in 1949. An article appeared on September 13, 1947 in the Montreal Standard; dealing with his many exploits. The article explains how he chased a British seaman deserter along the top of a speeding train.

Robert’s task was to pick-up the seaman at Edmunston, NB and get him aboard a British-bound ship at Halifax. Near Chipman, a whistle stop 60 miles from Moncton, the prisoner bolted for the door at the end of the coach. He jumped onto the passing freight. Crawling along the catwalk atop the hunch-backed freight cars, Robert cornered the fugitive between two cars. Desperate, the seaman jumped. Robert followed him, spraining his ankle and breaking a front tooth in the jump. He crawled a ¼ mile to the nearest farmhouse to turn in the alarm. A few hours later, they caught him. Then they both went off to the hospital together. After he retired from CI, Robert worked for the Corps of Commissioners.

Some of the addresses that they lived at were:
61 St. Peter Street, St. Josephat, Quebec; 2041 Belgrave Ave., N.D.G., Mtl., Que. (telephone: Elmwood 5869); Gouivin Blvd., Ste. Genevieve de Pierefonds, Quebec; St. Andrews East, Argenteuil County, Quebec; 5425 Chabot St. Rosemont, Quebec; 1076 4th Ave (later changed to Nobert Blvd.) Lonqueuil – telephone: Orleans 7472). All were rentals except Longueuil. It was bought as a shell and finished over a period of years by uncles, brothers-in-law and brothers.

Despite the tragedies of war and the death of their oldest daughter, Robert and Florence’s life together was full of love. They adored each other immensely. The family grew large in Canada. A son Robert was born followed by a daughter Grace, another son Lawrence, and then daughters WinnifredNora and Frances (the twins), and finally their last child Ruth. The family was not rich, but they were happy, and they were loved. They would sit around the piano singing songs from ages past.

Robert Dorman was brash at times. He used coarse language, loved to sing, write poetry, and tell stories. Although he never went to church, he was very religious. He loved horse racing. One of Roberts saying was “Never put your money to win, always to place and show”. He was a very big man in stature & voice but was as gentle and loving as a lamb. He would often be seen wearing a Players cap, which he probably got from Grace who worked at Imperial Tobacco. When it would rain hard, Florence would make Robert stand over the flowers in the back with a huge umbrella so that the flowers would not get damaged from the downpour. Whenever the horses passed by the house and there was poop in front, Robert would have to go out with a shovel and put the manure in Florence’s garden.

In 1962 [or August 63], Robert died of an aortic embolism. Florence died on the 6th of May 1965 of Coronary Thrombosis.

For more of  Robert Dorman's  poems written during the war, see  Writings about WWI by Montrealers


See also............
Bill Dorman (brother)
Charlie Dorman (brother)
Merton Dorman (nephew)
Laurie Dorman (son)
Bob Dorman (son)
 

Submitted by Karl Sack....................grandson (From his book "A Dorman Arrangement")

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