Reconciling Family Tradition with History
This photograph was filed away in my collection for many years simply because I had been unable to confirm the story that came with it when purchased in 2000. According to the information that accompanied the sale the great-great-granddaughter of this Highland sergeant stated that his name was William Henry Jenkins of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) and that he had been born in England in the 1870s. He supposedly stood over 6 feet tall and had served at some point as a member of Queen Victoria’s bodyguard. Additionally, she stated that he had married his 2nd cousin Mary Jenkins and that the couple had two sons: Stewart, born at Edinburgh Castle and James born at Sterling Castle. It was also said that the family moved to Canada sometime around 1905.
Unfortunately, at the time I had not been able to confirm or disprove any of this story. I always take any oral history that may be attached to a photograph (or any historical artifact for that matter) with a grain or two of salt not so much because I disbelieve the integrity of the teller but simply because I know how jumbled family history can become after the passage of 100 years. Recently I reopened the file on William Henry Jenkins and was able to confirm a greater part of the recollections of his great-great-granddaughter.
William Henry Jenkins was born at Hastings, Sussex on 8 March 1868 the son of Frederick and Sarah Jenkins.
Above: Like father, like son. An undated photograph depicting Sergeant William Henry Jenkins of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) with his eldest son Stewart. Photo: soldiersofthequeen.com/Edward T. Garcia collection.
He attested for short service with the Royal Highlanders (The Black Watch) as No. 4133 on 16 June 1890. He was 21 years, 3 months old at the time and was a stone mason. He was stated as standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall. This was not the “over six feet” that his great-great-granddaughter recalled but still rather tall for the time period.
Jenkin’s Statement of Service is rather brief and to the point. Posted with the 2nd Battalion he was appointed lance corporal in 1890 (some details of his records are difficult to make out) and promoted corporal in March 1892. Appointed lance sergeant on 24 October 1895 and promoted to sergeant on 18 December 1896. He was permitted to extend his service to 12 years on 4 May 1897.
He was posted as sergeant to the Depot, Royal Highlanders on 25 August 1898 and extended his term of service once again on 1 November 1902 to complete 21 years with the colours. Jenkins received a certificate of cooking from Aldershot on 13 September 1891 as well as one other qualification certificate at Aldershot the nature of which cannot be made out due to the low quality of the document image.
On 4 December 1902 Jenkins transferred to the Military Provost Staff Corps as No.1322. Sergeant William Henry Jenkins was discharged at his own request after 18 years of service on 11 June 1908.
Jenkin’s deployment history is equally short and to the point:
Home: 12 June 1891 – 21 October 1899
South Africa: 22 June 1899 – 21 August 1901
Home: 25 August 1901 -11 June 1908
According to his service papers, Jenkins was entitled to the Queen’s South Africa Medal with the single clasp “Cape Colony”. The medal rolls for the Queen’s South Africa Medal dated 10 June 1903 states that he was entitled to a pair of clasps: “Cape Colony” and “South Africa – 1901”. This same roll mentioned Jenkins being invalided home. His medical history sheet states that it was an attack of neuralgia that sent him home from South Africa.
His service records state that William Henry Jenkins married Miss Mary Hannah Jenkins in October 1897. With their surnames being that same it is quite possible that they were indeed cousins. Their two sons are also mentioned: Stewart William, born at Edinburgh Castle on 31 August 1902 and Frederick Norman on 25 August 1907 (the location is unreadable in the document).
The family arrived at Quebec, Canada on board the RMS Empress of Britain on 5 June 1908 (his retirement date from the army at stated in his service papers as 11 June, 1908 some six days after the family’s arrival in Canada so Jenkins must have received permission to depart Britain before his formal retirement date.) They lived in Quebec for several years where William took the time to join the (53rd) Sherbrooke Regiment. He served with that unit for a total of 3 years, 5 months. The family moved on to British Columbia sometime before World War One where William once more sought out the local regiment – this time the 30th British Columbia Horse – which he joined and in which he served 2 years, 11 months.
On 1 August 1918, the now 49-year-old William Henry Jenkins attested as No. 2706155 for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force at Vernon, British Columbia. Interestingly his gives his family’s address as the Internment Camp, Vernon, British Columbia. He was discharged on 11 April 1920 at Vernon, British Columbia.
This mentioned camp was one of many set up throughout Canada during World War One to house enemy aliens. The camp at Vernon held several thousand people of Ukrainian descent who were considered subjects of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Obviously, the Jenkins family were not internees but William must have been employed in some fashion at the camp. His attestation papers give his profession at this time as a wood carver.
Jenkin’s service papers state that he served with the 11th Battalion, Canadian Garrison Regiment, and he apparently remained in Canada during the duration of his enlistment. His discharge documents also list the medals he was entitled to for his combined military service. Here it is stated that he was entitled to the Queen’s South Africa Medal with four clasps, the King’s South Africa Medal (presumably with its usual two clasps), the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal and the Edward VII Coronation Medal. Since his entire enlistment during World War One was spent in Canada he was not entitled to any of usually awarded medals for that conflict.
Above: A page from William Henry Jenkins’ Canadian World War One discharge papers. His medal entitlements as listed here – The Edward VII Coronation Medal, the Queen’s South Africa Medal with four clasps, the King’s South Africa Medal and the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal – are at odds with his earlier British service papers and Anglo-Boer War medal rolls. My tendency is to assume that this latest document is correct simply because the discharge board could well have had access to additional documentation not readily available today. Photo: Library and Archives Canada.
William Henry Jenkins passed away at Naksup, British Columbia on 15 April 1943.
Note: Jenkins great-great-granddaughter related that he had once been appointed to serve as part of Queen Victoria’s bodyguard. I have found nothing in his service records to show he ever served in such a capacity while in England. His entitlement to the Edward VII Coronation Medal indicates that he was among the selected NCOs and other ranks of various regiments invited to take part in the coronation ceremonies in 1902. It is quite possible that Jenkin’s service in the coronation was translated years later to service with the previous reigning monarch.
Mounted Photograph (cut album page)
8 1/4 Inches x 5 3/4 Inches (21cm x14.5cm)
Unknown British Location