Soldier’s identity discovered through research for The Maple Leaf

Before and after photo of L/Cpl James Smart, 25th Bn Nova Scotia Rifles, winner of the light heavyweight wrestling championship at the Canadian Corps Championships, July 1, 1918.  Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-003505

When COBWFA member Rod Henderson turned in a story about the Canadian Corps Championships of 1918 for an upcoming edition of branch magazine The Maple Leaf, one of the photographs available to illustrate it was of an unnamed corporal of the 25th Battalion, Nova Scotia Rifles, who was described as the winner of the light heavyweight boxing title. As managing editor, I smelled a challenge and set about trying to identify the man whose striking photo I was marveling at for its sharpness and detail – along with his arresting gaze. There had to be a way to track him down.

So Rod and I began an email exchange. He couldn’t be a boxing champion, Rod pointed out, since no corporal was listed among the boxers in the souvenir event program we had both seen. I found a war diary entry listing the results of that day, and discovered there was a corporal from the 25th named elsewhere in the document. The notation included his service number and, hey, presto, he popped up immediately in a search of the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) service files attestation papers: he was Lance Corporal James Smart (67191) of Halifax, a member of the 25th Bn, who re-upped in 1919 – the same L/Cpl. Smart who was named as winner of the light heavyweight wrestling title that day. (His opponent was Hensall, Ontario’s Cpl. Charles A. Parker, 654074, of the 58th Bn.) Rod and I both agreed Smart had to be our man. He was the right weight, right unit – and he looked more wiry, like a wrestler, rather than a boxer. His nose also looked like it hadn’t been broken.

I then contacted LAC and informed them of our discovery (or rediscovery, as I’m sure his family knew it almost a century ago.) As per archival practice, the official caption for the photo, which came from the Canadian Official War Photographs publication (1926), would remain unchanged, but the added details were inserted into the “Scope and Content” field for the item entry: “Unofficial sources mention that the soldier might be James Smart and that the championship was for wrestling.” It all took just over a week to achieve this small act of remembrance for Cpl. Smart.

As the research unfolded, I turned my attention to the photograph, which was an excellent candidate for colourization due to the quality of the image. Using my newly updated version of Photoshop, the colour was added to the photo. Great fun was had and due care was paid to the accuracy of the 25th Bn insignia and uniform colours – even his eyes (hazel) and hair (black) are documented.

Rod’s report on the Corps Championships is a great read and is scheduled to appear in the Spring “Vimy” issue of The Maple Leaf, which is already in production and due out mid-March, just in time for our meeting with guest speaker Tim Cook and his talk on his new Vimy book on the 25th.

The winter edition of The Maple Leaf is due out in a couple of weeks and will feature a record number of stories by COBWFA members, as well as a feature by Susan Raby-Dunne on VC winner Sgt. Alex Brereton.

Watch for it at our next meeting, or in your mail box.

David Fuller is the Managing Editor of The Maple Leaf.

David Fuller

Writer, historian and baseball guy. Also managing editor of the branch magazine, The Maple Leaf