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Soldier Stories: Goodbye Rosie (4 photos)

Michael Fallon and his new wife were only married for a short time when he set sail from Halifax to England to fight in the Great War

Michael Fallon was a blacksmith’s son. Born in 1887 to John Fallon, a child of Irish immigrants, and French-Canadian Sophie LaChapelle, Michael spent his young life in Whitby, Ont.

Perhaps his father’s trade inspired him. Michael also began to work with metal and became a plumber and metal plater. This line of work brought him to St. Catharines, Ont., around the time that the massive Welland Canal project was begun.

Soon, the young man was on his way. Feeling established and earning a decent living, Michael Fallon felt secure enough to marry his sweetheart, Rose.

When Rose Burton was 13 years old, her father died after a short stay in an asylum in Nottingham, England. Soon afterwards, Rose’s mother took her children back to her birthplace in Derbyshire and eventually remarried.

In 1910, a year after their mother’s remarriage, Rose’s sister, Lottie, married their stepfather’s younger brother who was a night soil man, or collector of outhouse waste in other words.

About this time, Rose went into domestic service and began to keep house for a family who ran pub in their village. Seeing little future for her life in this place, Rose joined a group of domestic servants who were being recruited for work in fast growing Canada.

Rose Burton arrived in Canada in June 1913 aboard the Teutonic and made her way to St. Catharines to find work. She also found Michael Fallon.

The young pair wed on May 24, 1915. What would normally have been a bright beginning was overshadowed by the spectre of the Great War raging in Europe. Men were exiting from Canadian towns in large numbers, bound for the battlefields, and St. Catharines was no exception. In fact, the lack of workforce shut down the canal construction for several years.

Three months into their marriage, Michael signed up with the 76th Overseas Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. In November 1915, it was decided that the troops would winter in some more northerly towns to hone their skills. Some were sent to Collingwood, others to Orillia and Michael Fallon found himself in Barrie.

On Nov. 10, 1915, Michael arrived by train at the Allandale Station. After welcome greetings from Mayor Craig, Member of Parliament Boys and other dignitaries, Michael and his brother soldiers marched to the Armouries at Queen’s Park.

The 76th Battalion, when not training or marching to places such as Midhurst, were involved in local sports. They played hockey with the Ontario Hockey Association that winter and enjoyed baseball in the warmer months.

When Rose managed to follow Michael to Barrie, she took a room in a house on Collier Street, owned by Cliff Carley. The newlyweds were together again.

The reunion was brief. The battalion was given their orders in the spring of 1916 and departed from the Barrie railway station on an April day. There must have been many tears as Michael said goodbye to Rose.

Michael left from Halifax aboard the Empress of Britain on April 25, 1916 and arrived in England on May 5. The strength of some one thousand men was almost immediately broken up to supply other units. Michael Fallon became part of the 21st Battalion.

Michael had barely landed in Britain when sad news was reported in the May 18 edition of the Northern Advance.

“Mrs. Fallon died after a day's illness. On Sunday, she was taken ill and when medical aide was called the case was pronounced erysipelas; so fast did the trouble spread that the woman died on Monday night, being unconscious the greater part of the day.”

In the days before antibiotics, this now curable infection, quickly overcame Rose Fallon’s system. The Carleys undertook a search to find who to notify and how. Eventually, they found a letter in Rose’s rented room addressed to John Fallon, Whitby, Michael’s father.

Instructions were forwarded to the Carleys and Rose’s funeral was held at St. Mary’s Church and her burial at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery.

How soon did the news reach Pte. Michael Fallon? We do not know, but it must have been a crushing blow to the young man so far from home.

Michael did the only thing that he could – he threw himself into the task at hand, so much so that he seemed to have little fear for his own safety. His military records show a brave man frequently in hospital but never for very long.

He suffered from influenza, gastralgia (stomach issues), suspected tuberculosis and foot problems. At different times, he survived gunshot wounds, once to the legs and back and another time to his face. He spent mere days convalescing and was back in his unit.

As I trawled through his war records, I wondered what he did with his life after the war, how he carried on without Rose. I was actually jolted when these words, scrawled in red pen, appeared in front of me.

Killed in Action. I hadn’t expected that outcome.

The Circumstances of Casualty section of his service records briefly describes what happened on Aug. 7, 1918.

“During Military operations at Bois L’Abbe he was wounded and after he proceeded to the Ration Dump to catch the transport to Rear Headquarters, an enemy shell exploded nearby, instantly killing him.”

Pte. Michael John Fallon of the 21st Battalion rests at Longueau British Cemetery, just south of the City of Amiens in the Somme region.

Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.

Mary Harris

About the Author: Mary Harris

Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. The Barrie Historical Archive is a free, online archive that centralizes Barrie's historical content.
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