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Bay Roberts soldier long gone, but not forgotten


Pte. Graham Crosbie lied about age to enlist in 1915, died a year later at age 17

BAY ROBERTS, N.L.

Remembrance Day 2018 coincides with the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. 

Pte. Graham Crosbie of Bay Roberts lied about his age in order to sign up with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in 1915. - Contributed
Pte. Graham Crosbie of Bay Roberts lied about his age in order to sign up with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in 1915. - Contributed

While it would have been a relief for many in Newfoundland and Labrador to see the war conclude, it proved all too costly for families. The conflict claimed many lives, with the staggering death toll resulting from the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel nearly wiping out the entire Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Among the casualties of that conflict was Pte. George Graham Crosbie of Bay Roberts. The young solider, who went by his middle name, was wounded in the battle on July 1, 1916 and succumbed to his injuries two days later. Crosbie had lied a year earlier about his age (an article on The Rooms website said he declared his age to be 19) in order to enlist and was only 17 when he died.

Though his life may have ended in France, the young man’s memory has lived on over the years. Harold Crosbie is Graham’s nephew. He is the son of Graham’s youngest brother Bill.

Having recently turned 76, Harold has carried on a tradition that originated with Graham’s mother Mary, who would cut fresh flowers to lay in remembrance for her son on Memorial Day. 

Pte. Graham Crosbie was awarded the Victory Medal, left, and the British War Medal for his service in the First World War. - Andrew Robinson
Pte. Graham Crosbie was awarded the Victory Medal, left, and the British War Medal for his service in the First World War. - Andrew Robinson

“Every July 1, even before the roads were paved there, she’d cut flowers out of her garden,” said Harold, who also visits the cenotaph in Bay Roberts on Remembrance Day each year to honour his uncle. “She would walk down over the potholed roads and everything else and she’d go down and lay (the flowers).

“My father continued doing that, and for some reason or other, while I was growing up, (Graham’s death) didn’t affect me that much. I guess you’re young and foolish and everything else and things don’t sink in. But as we get older and time starts to run out, this stuff becomes very important to you … Now I do the same thing,” he said. “My wife will go out and cut fresh flowers and make up a bouquet, and every July 1st we’ll go down and place them on the war memorial.”

Graham’s parents, Walter and Mary Crosbie, died when Harold was quite young, so the only information he could really get about his uncle came from his father Bill. 

Pte. Graham Crosbie in uniform with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. - Contributed
Pte. Graham Crosbie in uniform with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. - Contributed

Harold has in his possession several keepsakes from his uncle’s service, including medals, photos and regiment pay book. Looking at a picture of Graham in a uniform, he’s still struck by how young his uncle looked.

“You can tell they were only boys,” he said. “When I look at my own grandkids — I’ve got two past 16 years of age — it came to my mind so often, my uncle (their) age was in a foreign land fighting. I think that when they went off, they thought it was something exciting. They did not realize what they were getting themselves into.”

Last November, Harold finally travelled to France to visit his uncle’s grave (there’s also a family memorial for him at the St. John the Evangelist Cemetery in Coley’s Point). Accompanied by his wife Barbara, it was an emotional experience. 

Pte. Graham Crosbie’s pay book. He signed up for a daily private soldier’s rate of $1.10. - Andrew Robinson
Pte. Graham Crosbie’s pay book. He signed up for a daily private soldier’s rate of $1.10. - Andrew Robinson

“It was humbling,” he said. “And just to know I was able to get there and fulfill a lifelong dream that I wanted to do.”

Harold also appreciates the ongoing effort put in by different groups to ensure younger generations continue to reflect on what people like his uncle did.

“They’re doing a great job through the schools,” he said, noting multiple grandchildren in his family have completed projects on Pte. Graham Crosbie.

About Pte. George Graham Crosbie

Hometown — Bay Roberts (born in Spaniard’s Bay)

Enlistment date — April 19, 1915

Service number — 1447

Unit — Royal Newfoundland Regiment

Date of death — July 3, 1916 (age 17)

Site of interment — St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, France

editor@cbncompass.ca

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