Capt. John A. Harstone

Growing up in Peterborough John A. Harstone was born April 5th, 1893 to Robert and Phoebe Harstone. They lived at 565 Water Street in what is now known as the McWilliams-Harstone House, the former location of the Peterborough chapter of the Canadian Red Cross. The house is a beautiful example of a Victorian home in the Queen Anne style. He was educated in Peterborough and went on to study law at University College (University of Toronto) and Osgoode Hall Law School. Prior to the Great War, he was active in the Peterborough unit of the Militia, the 57th Peterborough Rangers. Harstone did not enlist at the beginning of the war in 1914.The attestation papers of John Archibald Harstone show that he originally enlisted as a Lieutenant and signed up in Ottawa rather than Peterborough on August 24th, 1915. He was enlisted into the 77th Battalion C.E.F. on September 13th, 1915 at the age of 22. After almost a year of training and medical examinations, Harstone sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia on June 11, 1916, for England. From his arrival in England he was quickly deployed to France by October, just a few months of preparation before facing the horrors the Great War. On the 30th of September, just five days before he was sent to France, Harstone was transferred to the 51st Battalion, but interestingly he leaves for France associated with the 19th Battalion on the 5th of October. Through his war records, Harstone is connected most frequently with the 19th Battalion with some other minor associations such as the 3rd Reserve Battalion.

Lieut. J.A. Harstone. Peterborough Museum and Archives. Balsillie Collection Of Roy Studio Images. Biographical Series #15925-1, 1915.

Given Harstone's medical records from the war and his two periods convalescence in England as well as the role the 19th Battalion played in crucial battles throughout the war, we can piece together the probable battles Harstone would have actively participated in. Harstone would have fought either in the Battle of Le Transloy or the Battle of Ancre Heights which occur for a time simultaneously. This would have been within the first few weeks of his deployment to France. Within the new year Harstone was wounded by a gunshot to the right leg, His medical record states this gunshot wound occurred on the 24th of March 1917, being sent to the Duchess of Westminster Hospital in France and then to London on the 1st of April. It is not clear where Harstone was fighting when he was shot, but this serves as his first brush with death on the Western Front. Through records from his pathological laboratory reports, Harstone was declared as unfit to serve and stamped with “disabled officer” upon his initial records for check-ups. This declaration left him unfit for service for three weeks, due to complications with the bullet wound. It was not until April of 1917 that his records for a second pathological report were written, that Harstone was medically approved and placed in category A of commending, resulting in his availability to be discharged.

In 1917 Harstone was appointed and commissioned as a Captain and it is possible that he fought in the Battle of Hill 70 and Passchendaele with the 19th Battalion. It is also possible that he fought in the First Battle of the Somme, 1916 and Drocourt-Queant Line. Our findings from his medical reports, examinations, and declarations, place his last injury to be on the On the 8th of April 1918. Harstone was shot in the chest, most likely on duty. It was found through two sets of x-rays, that the bullet punctured through his chest, wounding his left lung and lodging into his diaphragm. The lack of an exit wound, coming from the gunshot, left Harstone's organs and systems slowly declining. The Medical Board report, issued on the 10th of April placed great importance on the removal of the bullet and the success in surgery, as well as recovery soon after. Though his medical examinations prior faltered in issuing his location between April 8th and 9th, there was a brief time period where Harstone was declared dead. In a Nature of Casualty Report, his records listed off his wounds found throughout his services and on April 9th; a physician had crossed out a statement declaring that Harstone “died of wounds, [on] April 8th, 1918” before having an edited written account below that entry on the same day, issuing his admission into St John’s Hospital from his gunshot wound. This slow recovery, after surgery, left Harstone to be issued as a “disabled officer” once again and thus placing him on a six-month declaration of being unfit for duty, being his longest leave of service during the war.

Lieut. J.A. Harstone. Peterborough Museum and Archives. Balsillie Collection Of Roy Studio Images. Biographical Series #15925-2, 1915.

The records largely omit what battles Harstone actively participated in, but what we do know definitively from entries in the London Gazette in 1919 is that Harstone was present and active during the Hundred Days Offensive, specifically near Mons:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty south of Mons, on 10th November, 1918. When the left flank was held up by heavy machine-gun fire, he rushed forward and established a series of machine-gun posts in the neighbouring houses. He then made his way to the right flank, under continuous fire, and the two companies were able to co-operate in alternate rushes, resulting in the capture of two enemy posts, which were holding up the attack.”                       
               LONDON GAZETTE 9 DECEMBER 1919. SUPPLEMENT 31680. PAGE 15383.
For Harstone’s valiant effort and courage throughout the war, he was honoured with the Military Cross at Buckingham Palace by King George V on April 2nd, 1919 and left the 19th Battalion officially on May 25th, 1919.
After the First World War Harstone became a leading member of the Peterborough community. He would go on to practice law in Toronto as well as in Peterborough. He was appointed as the Registrar for the Supreme Court of Ontario in 1934 and would become Sheriff in that same year and would hold the position until 1962. He would later serve in the Second World War as a Colonel and leave his duties as Sheriff to his sister Marion. On his return, he lived out the rest of his days at 565 Water Street until his death on August 8th, 1981 at the age of 88.

Research by Alexander Mackenzie and Farhiya Mohamed

Library and Archives Canada, John A. Harstone, RG 150, Accession 1992093/166, Boc
4116 - 6. Canadian Expeditionary Force: 446033.
Lieut. J.A. Harstone. Peterborough Museum and Archives. Balsillie Collection Of Roy Studio
Images. Biographical Series #15925-1, 1915.
Lieut. J.A. Harstone. Peterborough Museum and Archives. Balsillie Collection Of Roy Studio
Images. Biographical Series #15925-2, 1915.
Trent Valley Archives. File 656 Water Street. Water Street, West Side. Williamson Harstone
House. By-law 1982-182. Dec. 6, 1982.
Unknown. “Supplement to the London Gazette.” The London Gazette. Accessed October 23,
2017. Supplement: 31670