Gordon E. MacFarlane

Private Gordon Elmer MacFarlane was born on May 2, 1896 in Peterborough, Ontario. He was the eldest child of Charles Duncan MacFarlane and Ella Violet Best. All together, he had five siblings: Alice, Florence, William, Hellen and Margaret. We was the only one of his siblings to enlist in the war. He was described upon his enlistment as standing at 5’2” and of dark complexion, brown hair and possessing hazel eyes.

Prior to the war, Pte. MacFarlane resided at 426 Donegal St. along with much of his family. However, the Presbyterian family were boarders and would continue to be throughout the war and for several years later.

Prior to the war, Pte. MacFarlane worked as an expert barrel straightener. His job job was to straighten small gun barrels to remove bends and crooks by placing the barrels into a straightening press. This kind of work was essential to the war effort. 

Gordon E. MacFarlane, age 20 years and 10 months, enlisted and was considered fit for duty to the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force on the Mar. 29 in Peterborough. He signed up for the Cyclist Platoon on Mar. 31, 1917. According to his regimental number, 542401, he was part of the M.D. 2 Depot Cyclist Platoon within the 247th Battalion, which was later absorbed into the 235th Battalion. This battalion sailed to England in early May of 1917, and later became absorbed into 3rd Reserve Battalion on May 14,1917. It is difficult to keep track of Pte. MacFarlane’s platoon because the 1st, 2nd and 3rd divisional cyclist companies were amalgamated by the Canadian Corp Cyclist Battalion. 

Private MacFarlane was sent to Chiseldon Camp, which was where the Reserve Cyclist Company was located. Training continued overseas as it did in Canada. Many posters were displayed promoting these platoons and their glory. The Cyclist Platoons were new to warfare, never used on this scale before. The Canadian military had a difficult time placing them; were they infantry or cavalry?​

Pte. Gordon Elmer MacFarlane in his Cyclist Uniform. 
Archival Reference Bio 18345-1. Credit: Peterborough Museum and Archives Balsilie Collection of Roy Studio Images.

Cyclist Platoon Posters just like this one, were posted all over Canada during the Great War attracting volunteers to join this prestigious branch of the Canadian army.
Online MIKAN no. 3667326. Credit: Library and Archives Canada.

There were 1,138 cyclists in the Canadian Army during the Great War. The establishment of each Canadian Garrison Regiment in 1917 contained a special service company, a cyclist platoon, a detachment of Canadian military police and a depot battalion. The cyclists were renowned for their extensive and varied training. Cyclists during the war were given instructions in signaling, trench warfare, anti-gas protocol, bayonet fighting and other techniques various branches of modern warfare instructions were given. Musketry courses and physical drills were also run.  

The Cyclist Platoons were equipped with a long Ross rifle and a B.S.A. push bicycle for each man. Platoons were also supplied with four Douglas motorcycles for training supervision and dispatch riding. 

The bicycle was an ideal form of transportation; it was lightweight and could be carried through obstructions. It could also be loaded with equipment and pushed. Cyclist platoons were used for conveying dispatches, guerrilla tactics, patrols and reconnaissance. 

Some bicycles were just modified civilian bikes with wider wheels and military fittings, like rear and front carriers, rifle clips, inflator pump and tool bag with tools. Motorbikes were used as well, but, although they were faster, they were not as quiet and lightweight as bicycles. 

The rising use of trench warfare made the cyclist units obsolete, thus soldiers from cyclist units were reassigned to infantry units. Private MacFarlane transferred to the First Eastern Ontario Depot Battalion on Sept 22, 1917, commanded by LCol R.W. Smart. The 1st Depot Battalion, Eastern Ontario Regiment, was authorized on Sept 1,1917 to reinforce the 2nd, 21st and 156th Battalions, through the 6th Canadian Reserve Battalion. 

In February 1918, the 6th Reserve Battalion was split into companies and were shipped overseas. Private MacFarlane would have been in Company B or C, which were composed of men from the 2nd, 21st and 38th Battalion. The 6th Reserve Battalion offered reinforcement to battles at Arras (1917 and 1918), Vimy Ridge (1917), Ypres (1917), Passchendaele, Amiens and many more. 

 The tombstone for the MacFarlane Family in Little Lake Cemetery in Peterborough.
​Photo Credit: Alessandra McMillan.

Private MacFarlane was taken on strength on June 7, 1919 to the Casualty Company Number Three District Depot for disposal. He was finally dismissed June 13, 1919. According to his discharge certificate, he was discharged from service in accordance with demobilization signed at Kingston, Ontario in Military District Three on the June 13, 1919.

Private MacFarlane returned from the war and was officially discharged at Kingston, Ontario, only 200 km from his home in Peterborough. He returned to Peterborough and continued to reside at his pre-war address. Then, in 1936 his family purchased the house.

Private MacFarlane remained in Peterborough for the rest of his life. However, he did not return to his pre-war career as an expert barrel straightener, instead he changed careers and companies several times. In 1923, Pte. MacFarlane worked as a draftsman at William Hamilton Manufacturing company, an iron machine factory nearby to his residence.

His house remains standing today, but the factory he worked at with this father is long gone. His father, Charles, worked with him as an engineer. The company worked primarily to make mechanical parts for machines. Parts from the William Hamilton Manufacturing company went towards hydroelectric damns, like those built along the Otonabee River in the 1920s.

His time at the company was short lived. After working at William Hamilton Manufacturing company, MacFarlane moved to Canadian Tire Corporation as a salesman in 1946. He continued to work there for the rest of his life. He primarily fluctuated between working as a salesman and as a mechanic amongst several other job titles. His father died the same year that he started at Canadian Tire.

Private MacFarlane married Hazel Elveda Miller, daughter of John Miller and Mary Frise, on May 8th, 1935. They were married in the United Church of Canada, which was a denomination of Presbyterianism - the same religion he practiced prior to the war. The couple married later in life; both were 39 and never had any children.

Gordon Elmer MacFarlane and his wife stayed married until Hazel’s death in 1951 at the age of 55. Gordon MacFarlane died eight years after his wife in 1959.

Private MacFarlane was interned at Little Lake Cemetery in Peterborough on Nov 23, 1959. He currently rests in a family plot alongside his parents and wife. Private MacFarlane was born, raised, worked and died in Peterborough and was one of the fortunate ones to survive World War One. 

Research by Alessandra Mcmillan and Kryn Gurney.

“Gordon Elmer MacFarlane” Ancestry® | Genealogy, Family Trees & Family History Records. Accessed through Trent Valley Archives. Accessed October, 2017.

Ancestry®. Marriage Certificate of Gordon Elmer MacFarlane and Hazel Elvida Miller. May 16, 1935. City of Peterborough, Peterborough County. Accessed October 7th, 2018.  

Library and Archives Canada, Digitized Service File, Gordon E MacFarlane. RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 6818-16, item number 151443 (CEF).

Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN no.2004732. War Diaries-Canadian Reserve Cyclist Company. Pages 1-5. From February 1915 to March 31st 1917, Vol.1.

Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN no. 2004674. War Diaries-6th Reserve Battalion. Jan 1917 Vol. 1-Nov 1918 Vol 11.

Library and Archives Canada, ArchaviaNet: Online Research Tool. War Diaries of 1st world war: View Regimental number list. Page 31. http://www.easybib.com/mla8-                               format/website-citation/new.

Library and Archives Canada. Guide to Sources Relating to Units of the Canadian                      Expeditionary Force:  Depot Battalions. Page 17. https://www.bac-                                                lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-                                                                          war/Documents/depot%20battalions.pdf.

Meek, John F. Over The Top! The Canadian Infantry in the 1st World War. Orangeville:              Private Publisher. 1971.

Peterborough Museum and Archives. Vernon’s City of Peterborough, ON: Miscellaneous,        Alphabetical, Street and Business. Directory for the year 1915- 58.