Meet Alexander Macdonald. He was the fourth child of my GG grandparents, Alexander R. Macdonald and Elizabeth Jane MacLeod of Westville (Pictou), Nova Scotia. According to his brother's obituary of 1950, Alexander served in the military and achieved rank of Major. Of course it doesn't say that his career had a rather interesting start.
According to his birth registration, Alexander was born on 16 Mar 1900 in Westville, Nova Scotia. Alexander's birth registration was delayed. Quite delayed, actually, since he didn't get to it until Feb 1954. By then, both parents and his doctor were dead, so an older cousin by the name Laura (MacLeod) McKay swore to his birthdate. As a backup, Alexander provided a certificate of baptism that confimed the 16 Mar 1900 date and also showed he was baptized on 20 Jul 1900.
We next see Alexander on the 1901 Canadian Census. He's living in Westville with his parents, his brothers Daniel L. and James W., and his sister Marion. This time his birthdate is given as 23 Mar 1899 and he's listed as being fourteen months old. Oops; that doesn't quite work since the census was taken on 26 or 27 Apr 1901. I wonder if the census-taker did the math himself? Anyway, in 1911 Alex has a March 1900 birthdate again.
Why all this fuss about Alexander's birthdate? Well, behold Alexander's next record:
Alexander's enlistment papers, signed on 30 Mar 1916. But wait, that makes Alexander....sixteen years old, doesn't it? Not quite old enough to be doing this. But lookie there: his birthdate here is 16 Mar 1898. Eighteen years old. And whoever filled out the back of the form (doctor? enlistement officer?) attested that Alexander appeared to be eighteen. Heh. Way to go, Alexander.
I've looked at many of these enlistment papers, looking for people on all over my tree, and I've never before seen two sets attached to one person (see here). Looks like Alexander got found out! (I wonder if his mother told them. I would have told them.)
13 Apr 2011 UPDATE: My Nana--Alexander's neice--read this post and answered my question. Her father, Alexander's brother, turned him in! My aunt typed up and emailed me Nana's update: "Nana’s father (Jim) was the one who reported Alec as being too young to have enlisted. Jim was injured and transferred to England to recover before being sent home. His injuries included the lost in the sight of both eyes (probably mustard gas). He had a 'batman' assigned to him as an escort. The two were in a pub and Jim heard his brother’s voice and reported him straight away. Nana feels that there was no resentment felt by Alec toward his brother for having the truth be told. According to Jim he felt that Alec had responsibilities at home and was wrong to have enlisted for that reason...seeing his brother blind was likely the overriding factor in Alec’s compliance with his brother’s wishes....Fortunately Jim’s sight returned in one of his eyes. His damaged eye required daily care which [his wife] provided for many years until he was provided the opportunity to have his eye removed. He went to Ottawa for the procedure. An artist was assigned to sketch his good eye (which was beautifully deep brown in color).The result was very successful. The new eye was attached to the muscles so it moved properly you couldn’t tell it was a false.
Now, back to the original post. (I love this stuff!)
Here is Alexander's second enlistment paper, dated 27 Oct 1917. Looks like he was discharged in March of 1917--a year later--for being underage, after serving with the 193rd batallion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. I wonder if he saw any action? Anyway, he's still not eighteen, and he's still lying about his age: his birthdate is now 16 Mar 1899. Oh, Alexander. But I guess it worked this time, because there is not a third set of documents!
Alexander was found out eventually. Look at the top right corner; someone wrote in the summer of 1918 (when Alexander really was eighteen), "Correct Date of Birth 16th March 1900."
That's all I know about Alexander's military career, save for that one little detail in his brother James' obituary of 1950. Alexander is referred to as "Major Alex Macdonald." I suppose that means his stint didn't go too badly in the end. And he also served long enough to have a handsome portrait taken!