You Asked, We Answered: The Bracey Headstones

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

While on tour, our Visitor Hosts are often asked questions that they may not be able to answer in that moment. However, we take note of the questions and try to find the answers afterwards. While on our Autumn Union Cemetery Tour, we were asked about the headstones for C.A. Bracey in the First World War Section.

The headstones in the World War sections of Union Cemetery all have a certain uniformity to them; when there is a stone or plot that deviates from those around it, it typically raises questions. This is what happened when we were asked about the headstone for C. A. Bracey. At the top of the plot, there is the headstone which is typical for soldiers, but in the middle of the plot, there is a separate marker.

Tour participant, Tom, was also curious about these markers and how similar the names were, so he undertook research about Bracey. We shared his write-up a few weeks ago. Thanks once again Tom for sharing what you found!

First, let’s answer one part of the question, why do some plots have more than one marker? At one point Union Cemetery allowed for two interments and four cremations in one plot (this has since changed to one interment and four cremations, as per the Cemetery’s website). When there are two markers seen on these veteran’s plots, more often than not, they are commemorating two individuals interred in the plot. A look at the names and dates helps to determine or assume the relationship. For example, just west of Bracey’s plot is a plot for the Brown family. There is a headstone for FW Brown (c. 1870 – 1932) and another marker for Leonard George Brown (1915-1997). By looking at the dates, it might be a safe assumption that there is a father and son buried in this plot.

Rows of headstones laying flat in the grass
First World War Soldier section of Union Cemetery; The headstones for Charles Bracey are near the bottom of the image; note, in the row above is another example of two markers for one plot

Looking at the Bracey plot raised some questions as the names on the two markers were very similar, served with the same regiment, but there was a five year discrepancy with the birth year. Having to make a quick assumption, I wondered if it was two brothers buried together, two brothers who served together and happened to die in the same year.

To learn more, and to confirm/disprove my suspicions, I started to research. I had some information to start my search, thanks to the headstones:

Large headstone:

  • Charles A Bracey
  • WWI Regimental Number: 814065
  • Served with the 139th Battalion of the CEF
  • Born 1867 (as per age of death), died December 22, 1933

Smaller Footstone:

  • C.A. Bracey
  • Served with the 5th Middlesex Regiment
  • Also served with the 139th Battalion of the CEF
  • Born 1872, died 1933

The regimental number provided what I needed to find his service file, made available through Library and Archives Canada. This is the information Tom used when he set out to research Bracey. You can also use this database to search by Surname and/or Given Name. There were 14 entries for Bracey; Charles was one result, and Cecil Bracey was another. A look at Cecil’s file seemed to indicate he wasn’t related to Charles. Nothing seemed to line up, so I very highly doubted the ‘C. A. Bracey’ was Cecil. I set him aside and looked at Charles’s service file.

Charles Bracey was born in Portsmouth, England, and when he enlisted in 1915, he was living in Cobourg, working as a Labourer, and his next of kin was ‘Mrs. Francis,’ his wife. When asked if he had ever served in any military force, his reply was ’11 years in Middlesex Reg’t.’

Interesting – remember, the footstone also indicated service with Middlesex. Also, his birth date, on the Attestation Paper, was September 21, 1871.

There are two attestation papers for Charles in his military file (one in September 1915 and one in November 1915) and therefore two Regimental numbers. He initially enlisted in September but was found medically unfit on November 5 and discharged. His second attestation papers were signed and dated three days later. A second casualty form appears in the file, dated August 25, 1916, and Charles was, once again, found medically unfit and discharged. On his medical papers, stating he was discharged due to a heart condition, it reads, “Man acknowledges 48 but looks older.”

After looking through the file, we’ve learned that Charles enlisted twice, was discharged twice due to being medically unfit, and there seems to be a discrepancy with his age, as per the medical papers. So, I went to ancestry.ca to see what else I could find.

Charles Augustus Bracey was born around 1868 (as per the 1871 and 1881 England Census). On November 16, 1891, Charles enlisted for the army – his British military service files were available for review on Ancestry.ca. He would serve 18 years with the Middlesex Regiment, where it appears he served for 12 years in India (recorded as ‘East Indies’ on the military records). He was discharged in 1909.

He was married to a woman named Frances, and together, they had eight children. By 1911, they immigrated to Canada and were living in Cobourg, later Oshawa. It was while in Cobourg that Charles tried twice to enlist for the First World War. By 1921, the family had moved to Oshawa and were residing in one of the Olive Avenue Rowhouses – these townhouses are still standing today.

Charles died in Oshawa in 1933 – by this time, the family was living on Nassau Street. His death certificate states he was born in 1867, and this is the date reflected on the large headstone. The smaller headstone, likely placed at some point by the family, has a different birth year and makes a point to commemorate his involvement with the Middlesex Regiment, a military career that lasted 18 years. Unlike other plots where two grave markers might commemorate two different people, with the plot for Bracey, there are two markers commemorating one person, Charles Augustus Bracey.

Finally, the last mystery we were left with was Charles’s birth year. If we’re looking at Censuses, the 1871 and 1881 England Census indicates a birth year of c. 1868/1869, while the 1921 Canadian Census reflects a birth year of 1869/1870. Military records give birth years of 1872 (as per enlistment with Middlesex Regiment in 1891) and 1871 (as per enlistment with the CEF, where it was later noted he looked older than his reported age). Finally, upon his death, the year of his birth is recorded as 1867, which is what appears on the military headstone. After sharing the Tom’s blog post a few weeks ago, one of Charles’s grandchildren left a comment, stating his birth year was 1868! It appears the Censuses taken closest to his birth were the most accurate for this information.

2 thoughts on “You Asked, We Answered: The Bracey Headstones”

  1. As always you have done a fabulous job researching this burial site. It is terrific getting to read your process to determine the answer. Thanks for the hard work.

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