Part 10- Samuel Melville Greenlaw
Special Dedication: This article is dedicated to the memory of Virginia Greenlaw without whose gracious assistance and knowledge it would not be possible to produce. I was very fortunate and privileged to meet her, Sam and Sharon only two weeks before her death to discuss her husband’s experiences in the war and life in California. She left us on May on May 22nd last. Virginia was a very special lady and will be sorely missed.
It seems that Samuel Melville Greenlaw was always unconventional and so it was when he joined the Kilties or 236th Battalion on October 13, 1916 in Fredericton at age nineteen. Within two months the unit was on its way to Valcartier, the major training camp in Quebec before shipping out for England. Following further training many reserve battalions were broken up to reinforce depleted infantry battalions fighting in France. As a consequence Sam was reassigned to the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada) Black Watch and for the next two years was exposed to some of the hardest fighting of the war.
Born on Sept. 25th, 1898, to Melvin and Susan (Cronk) Greenlaw, Sam came to know hardship and independent resilience at a very early age. By the time he was three, his father died leaving a widow to care for Sam and his two infant brothers, Angus and Nelson. Family stories suggest Melvin was lost in a shipwreck. With no support system other than family at that time, they found it necessary to reside with her father, Samuel Cronk, a widower, in North Head along with his other children, Josephine and Nellie. Sam’s father, Melvin, was a very recent arrival to Grand Manan from his mainland home of L’Etete near St.George where we know he was living in 1896. According to family members, he and Samuel Cronk knew each other before Melvin went to the island and eventually met their daughter, Susan. In fact, when they married it took place in Bayside where many of Melvin’s relatives still resided. Moreover, Susan’s older sister, Cordelia (Katie) had married James Russell McLean from St. George in 1883. A year later, Melvin’s sister, Gertrude, wedded Herbert Hamilton McLean, brother to James. Therefore, there were strong existing family ties between the Cronks and Greenlaws prior to their marriage more than a decade later. He had resided as early as 1884 with his parents in L’Etete near St. George where in 1887 Melvin married his first wife, Ella McKenzie, of the same place, and, who unfortunately died two years later. The Greenlaws were well known Loyalist stock who descended from Ebenezer Greenlaw of Bayside near St. Andrews. Sam’s grandfather, Angus, followed a trade as a carpenter which skills were passed on to Melvin and his son. Angus or “Angtom” as he was nicknamed became a master carpenter in the building of the Algonquin Hotel in St. Andrews. His skills must have drawn attention because he later worked for Canadian Pacific on hotel sites in Western Canada.
Camp Valcartier , Mascots and Battle
As I wrote in my previous installment, it was not uncommon for soldiers to have mascots or pets attached to their units in addition to a regimental mascot. It was no different in Sam’s battalion but he took it to a new level. It seems while at training camp in Valcartier, Quebec, he and his fellow soldiers came across two abandoned cub bears. Without hesitation he adopted one of the cubs which became so attached to him that he was photographed with it in 1916. Unfortunately, his superiors decided he could not take the bear with him overseas. While on furlong before his departure for England, Sam and the bear cub made a trip to Boston where he presented the animal to then Mayor James Michael Curley for a permanent home in the Boston Zoo. It is said Sam’s mascot lived out his days in that location. We don’t know if he had a nickname like his more famous cousin in the Great War, Winnie the Pooh. Lieutenant Harry Colebourn of Winnipeg bought a black cub bear in a northern Ontario community on his way to be shipped out of Quebec for overseas duty. Attached to the Veterinary Corps, he attended mainly to the horses for the unit but now included “Winnie”. After his arrival at Salisbury Plains in England and then receiving orders to head to France, Lt. Colebourn was compelled to leave Winnie at the London Zoo where he became a major attraction. It was here that A.A. Milne brought his son, Christopher, who was a great admirer of the bear and inspired Milne to create the world of Winnie the Pooh and all its memorable characters.
After being attached to the 42nd Sam was elevated from infantry soldier to that of a sniper which must have recognized his superior sharpshooting talents. His daughter-in-law, Sharon Greenlaw, recalls in conversation with him before his death in 1976, that the battalion faced a dire situation when ammunition was running low and had to be rationed. He and fellow snipers in the battalion were issued a challenge to score as many enemy kills as possible with only three bullets apiece. Away they went into No Man’s Land where Sam eventually emerged victorious. Whether it was this event or not, on Sept. 13, 1918 he came to earn the Military Medal, one of the highest honours bestowed in the field of battle for acts of bravery. Virginia, his wife, also recounted various events told to her about close fighting among the trenches during Passchendaele. While both humourous and tragic at the same, one event demonstrated the circumstances facing soldiers “at the sharp end” of battle. It seems Sam was sent out on night patrol which was not uncommon for sniper teams. When crossing through No Man’s Land between the combatants, he and others came under devastating machine gun fire. In his effort to make it back to friendly lines, he entangled himself in barbed wire tearing away his clothes and forcing him to cut himself loose from his kilt- which the Black Watch were famous for wearing without anything underneath – and racing in the darkness towards the protection of his trench. Unfortunately, a diligent Canadian sentry called into question his identity when a nearly naked soldier came running towards him in a shower of mud and challenged Sam for a password which he could not recall. It was not unknown for Germans to pretend to be a friendly ally in order to penetrate their lines. Luckily, the guard accepted his identity because no one could imagine an enemy would come running towards them naked in the night.
As one can image, these young soldiers yearned for remembrances of home especially after the terrific battles that Canadian battalions faced in the trenches across Belgium and France, exposure to gas warfare, and witnessing the loss of countless comrades. Sam, his family reports, carried two photos close to his person at all times throughout the war – one of his family including his mother and siblings, and, one of Swallowtail Light to remind of his island home.
Return Home and Beyond
Following the armistice in Nov. 1918, Sam boarded the S.S. Olympic, a converted Star Line ocean liner and sister ship to the Titanic, for an eleven day transatlantic voyage from Southampton, England, to Halifax, arriving on Dec.14th. By Christmas he was back home on the island living with his mother, aunt Josephine, and brother, Angus, where he pursued carpentry.
However, by 1922, Sam and his brother had boarded the “harvest train” to Saskatchewan and Alberta seeking work. Apparently, their venture west was a seasonal affair because Sam returned to Grand Manan and soon after married Vienna Frankland, daughter of Henry and Beatrice (Cossaboom) Frankland of White Head. By October, 1923, once again Sam and Angus sought work in western Canada. Leaving behind his wife on White Head, the two brothers along with Waverley Kent, son of Manual and Mabel (Guptill), owners of the Marathon Hotel, eventually took passage on a steamboat from Vancouver to Seattle. Sam gave his local contact address as Calgary. The three young men succeeded in getting a work permit for the United States. We know that Angus and Wave returned to Grand Manan but the records do not reveal if Sam joined them. However, it is certain that within two years, he, his wife Vienna and daughter, Helena, were ensconced in Los Angeles, California. Why he chose that location in which to settle may have had something to do with his wife’s family. Since 1891, Vienna’s grandparents had lived in the United States; first in Malden, Massachusetts, and then by 1910, in Los Angeles. Paren Frankland, his wife, Ann; his son, Burton and daughter, Cora Frances Newcomb were well established where father and son were employed as house carpenters. Perhaps Sam saw this connection as a useful entry point for employment as a fellow carpenter. Whatever the motivation, we know Vienna, employed as a clerk in an office building, and her daughter resided in a boarding house run by her Aunt Cora as recorded in the census for 1930 near the present campus of the University of Southern California. Meanwhile, Sam lived in another boarding house just north of their location near Wilshire Boulevard. Obviously they had already decided to separate but were still officially married. Within four years Sam divorced and re-married to Catherine Gertrude McRaven, born in Arkansas in 1899. By this marriage they had Angus John on Sept. 19, 1934. Sam continued his carpentry work and was employed by 1939 as a millman with the Salinas Planing Mill in Santa Cruz. Throughout the 1940s and early 50s Sam continued to work in building construction supplemented by fishing off Santa Barbara for halibut and tuna and operating a boatyard. By this time he had parted company with Catherine. Sometime after 1954 he accidentally met Vera Virginia Senn, born March 31, 1928, in Hollywood, California. She was the daughter of the Joseph and Anna (Ruf) Senn who like many American immigrants were part of that huge migration from Europe in the 1920s. Virginia was raised in a hard working immigrant family whose father arrived from Brunnen, Switzerland, and; her mother from Nodhalban, Germany, in the 1920s to the west coast. The family operated a delicatessen store in Venice in the 1930s where her father could use his skills as a butcher. After a brief period in San Francisco during the war years, her family returned to Los Angeles. Influenced probably by her father’s love for halibut and tuna fishing, it eventually led to her being captain of an albacore trawler off Catalina Island. Virginia recalled that it was that event which presented the opportunity to meet her future husband, Sam, when she came to his rescue when his boat encountered engine problems and had to be towed into port. They married on Nov. 18th, 1956 in Los Angeles. At the time she was a nurse at the Los Angeles General Hospital. Following the birth of their fourth child in 1962 Virginia convinced her husband to sell his boat yard operation and return to his island birth place, Grand Manan. Returning to the family homestead located on the Dock Hill Road, Sam continued carpentry and general farming until his death on Sept. 28th, 1976. I can be reached directly through the Island Times or readers can visit my recently launched web site to commemorate Grand Manan and the Great War at; www.grandmananfundyhistory.com , or, at email@example.com. Sources: Library and Archives Canada New Brunswick Provincial Archives Vital Statistics Ancestry.com St. Croix Courier, St. Stephen http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/005/f2/005-1142.29.014-e.pdf http://www.warmuseum.ca http://www.ancestry.ca