Shattered Lives: British Home Children in Prince Albert

Photo from John’s mother, Sarah (Workman) Mcdonough, of Dover, Kent, England, circa 1900.

This is the fourteenth in a series of columns about the 70 British Home Children sent to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert between 1901 and 1907. While all orphanage records were destroyed in the terrible fire of 1947, every attempt has been made to trace the life stories of these dispossessedchildren through genealogy websites and newspaper databases

John Joseph McDonaugh: The Man Who Enlisted Three Times

“What all of these boys did was something so outrageously courageous that I stand in awe of them all the time, every day. They strapped on Canadian uniforms and they went back to the country that had sent them away. They went home to defend the land and the freedom of the very people that used them as slaves. They gave everything when they were given nothing. They had no reason to fight, and yet they stood for us. They died for us.”

  • Jennifer Layne, Head Researcher of the British Home Children Advocacy and Research
    Association’s First World War Project

John Joseph McDonaugh* (1890-1918) was so desperate to join the First World War effort that he enlisted three times. Each time his attestation papers record a slight variation of his name, and each time he had to undergo inoculations (plus two booster shots each round) for typhoid fever!

John was born at Shoeburyness, South Essex, England on 24 October 1890. His father Michael William McDonaugh (1847-1897), a gunner in the British Royal Army, died in July 1897 at Dover in Kent, His mother, Sarah (Workman) McDonaugh (1853-1934), was left to look after six children

In 1901, Sarah, her children and her two grandchildren (born out of wedlock to her eldest daughter Laura) were boarding in home of Harry Goodwin where Sarah worked as the housekeeper. She also served as a midwife and that year ran into serious legal trouble when a one-month-old baby died of malnutrition under her care. According to the Dover Express, Sarah was sentenced to six weeks’ hard labour on 26 December 1901 for neglecting the child.

It is not certain when Sarah sent her son John Joseph away, but he was at the Salesian School in Battersea, Surrey in 1903 before being shipped from Liverpool to St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan on board the Tunisian on 7 May 1903. He was 13 years old. Four years later, his family sent John Joseph’s niece, Georgina (1898-1993), daughter of Laura, to the same orphanage in Canada. She was seven years old.

Like many of the other young men who enlisted the military during World War One, McDonaugh may have been looking for acceptance and a way to overcome the stigma of being a British Home Child.

“Joining up to fight gave them a cause, a band of brothers,” writes Carrie Turansky, author of the novel No Journey Too Far (2021), “and for some, it provided a way to return to England so they could search for their family members on the way to and from the front.”

Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan. Boys outside St. Patrick’s Catholic Orphanage in Prince Albert, circa 1910.

McDonaugh provided his mother’s name and address in Dover, England on each of his three attestation forms.

His first enlistment took place in Prince Albert on 18 January 1915. His attestation paper records his name as “John Joseph Michael McDonaugh.” His service number was A-40725; his regiment was the 53rd Battalion. He is described as being 5 feet 5 inches tall with dark blue eyes and coarse brown hair, with a tattoo on his left forearm.

In September 1915, McDonaugh was A.W.L. (absent without leave). He was discharged the following month at Camp Hughes, Manitoba with the following note in red ink on his military record: “Discharged 15-10-15. Unlikely to become an efficient soldier.”

McDonaugh did not waste any time in signing up with the army a second time. He headed to Moose Jaw and enlisted there on 26 October 1915, just 16 days after he had been discharged in Manitoba.

“John Michael McDonaugh” was 5 feet five inches tall with grey eyes and light brown hair. His tattoo is not mentioned but a scar on his left side from a hernia rupture was noted on his attestation paper. His service number was 781205; he served first with the 68th Battalion then the 128th Battalion.

Things appear to have gone well for McDonaugh during the first months in the Canadian Army. He was promoted to Lieutenant Corporal then Corporal early in 1916, however he was reverted to the rank of private in June of that year and transferred to the Clearing Depot at Winnipeg. Then, for some reason, he deserted. He was struck of strength on 26 January 1917.

Perhaps the reason McDonaugh deserted had to do with his wife and infant son back in Saskatchewan. He had married Jeanne Marie Guedes (1866-1944) in Prince Albert sometime in 1916. By 22 June, Jeanne Marie and their two-month-old son James Henry were living in Moose Jaw.

The McDonaugh family moved to Regina where he enlisted for the third time on 22 January 1917 as “John Joseph McDonaugh,” service number 1069379. His height was five feet four and a half inches; he had blue eyes and brown hair. No scars or tattoos are listed. McDonaugh initially served in the 249th Battalion; he was transferred to 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles Battalion on 10 May 1918.

John Joseph McDonaugh embarked for overseas from Halifax on 18 February 1918. He was killed in action on 26 August 1918 by German machine gun fire while taking part in the Second Battle of Arras near Monchy-le Preux, a village in the department of the Pas de Calais. He is buried in Dury Crucifix Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France, Plot 2, Row A, Grave 44.

I have not been able to determine whether or not McDonaugh visited his mother Sarah while he was in England. His niece Georgina who had arrived St. Patrick’s Orphanage in Prince Albert in 1907, went on to attend Normal School in Saskatoon and, in 1915, became a teacher in a rural school near Watson, SK. Georgina married a farmer, John Hinderks, in 1920. They adopted one daughter, Blanche. Georgina died on 12 December 1993 in Saskatoon at age 94.

*Alternate spellings: McDonagh, McDonogh, McDonough

Thanks to Cynthia McDonagh for her assistance in the preparation of this article.