Two men reading

Honouring David Jellett Barker

Honouring David Jellett Barker

The First World War was unprecedented in its size and destruction. It was one of the first times Canada was recognized internationally as an independent country because of the great sacrifice given by so many of its young men and women. BMO was actively involved in supporting the nation through the sale of bonds. Additionally, more than 1,400 BMO employees enlisted to serve the war effort.

Image: Photograph from Memorial of the Great War of D.J. Barker.

The HR ledgers, which are digitized and browsable on our website, recorded the BMO employees who took their leave to serve “King and Empire”. Generally, “Imperial Service” is marked in the personnel entry and, for those who did not return, their fate is often noted here.

In these entries is an especially poignant example. David Jellett Barker was one promising BMO employee whose life was cut short by WWI. His HR ledger entry includes letters written by his superiors at the bank who were shocked and saddened by the news of his death.

David’s HR entry puts a face to the losses inflicted by the Great War – losses so hard to imagine that we run the risk of getting caught up in the numbers and statistics that surround this event. On this Remembrance Day it is important to take time to reflect and acknowledge the lives behind the numbers.

Image: Imperial Service entry on Barker’s HR ledger page.

Letter 1 reads:

29th September, 1917

Dear Sir Frederick,

You will probably have heard to-day of the death in action of Jellett Barker, and knowing you will be anxious to learn the details, I am writing to you personally.
Mr. Barker was on duty with his platoon in the front line when during a heavy bombardment he was struck by a trench mortar shell and killed instantly. There was nothing whatever that could be done for him, and at least under the circumstances, we are glad that he did not have to suffer.

We were able to get his body out to a military cemetery well back of the line, and as the Battalion is out of the line now, we had his funeral this morning at which the G.O.C. of the brigade and many of the Officers and men of the battalion, as well as friends, were able to attend.

Although Barker had not been with us long, I had known him while in civil life, and the way in which he reverted to come out and notwithstanding opportunities for different employment, came up and took command of a platoon in the line, is a wonderful example to us here, and must be to those at home. He put the same effort and attention to detail and thoroughness into his work as he had always done, and we had looked forward after he had gained sufficient experience to employing him on a work, which would give the opportunity for his ability to be made the most use of.
Not only have we lost a fine chap as a brother Officer, but he will be a distinct loss to the Canadian Corps in France, and to Canada a citizen of the highest principles.

(Sgd) J.V. O’Donahoe,
Lt. Colonel.
O.C. 87th Battalion Canadian Infantry

Letter 2 reads:

6th October, 1917

My dear Oliver,

Yesterday I answered your wire asking for information concerning the death of Lieut. D. J. Barker. I had already wired you on the 28th of September, the day after we came out of the trenches.

I saw Barker on the afternoon of the 28th in the Front Line trench and we had a long chat there. He had been doing exceedingly good work and everybody spoke very highly of him. He took his duties exceedingly seriously. I was struck, as were others, by his bearing which indicated a natural ability to command and a full knowledge of what he was trying to do. In conversation with him on that occasion I told him what I had in mind and asked him to report to me at Brigade H.Q. two days later when the Brigade would be out of the line. This he promised to do. I had arranged to take him on Brigade Headquarters as a staff learner providing his Battalion Commander would consent. There was some doubt about this for Colonel O’Donahoe wanted to utilize him in his own Orderly Room as Assistant Adjutant. Moreover, I had talked to General Watson and had told him what my plans were, namely that I wanted to utilize Barker for a certain period myself and then to place him at the disposal of the Division.

The relief of the Brigade had already commenced when Barker was killed. He had got his men ready to bring out but the relieving unit had not reached him at the time. The area was on where Trench Mortars were active and a heavy Trench Mortar shell fell near him, a large splinter entering his stomach and killing him instantly. He was not conscious after he was struck. His body was brought out and was buried next day in the Villers Au Bois cemetery, where it will be easily located in the future. I attended the funeral.

You can have no idea how severely I feel Barker’s loss. In view of my conversation with him I had counted much on his assistance in the future and had planned for the things he would do to help General Watson out. Moreover, in view of my urgent application for him I feel a certain amount of responsibility for the fact that he was in France.

I understand Barker was a bachelor. If he has any relatives and friends to whom you would like me to write I will do so gladly. If there is any further information you want, do not hesitate to ask me for it.

I understand that Barker was one of your very personal friends and under these circumstances I extend you my personal sympathy.

With kindest regards,

Yours sincerely,

(Signed) Victor Odlum