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Henry Shepard, MBE

During black history month, there has been quite a bit of attention paid to No. 2 Construction Battalion from Nova Scotia during the first world war. The Peel Museum has an exhibit that highlights their story. The battalion was formed, because black volunteers in Nova Scotia were not being accepted into the other units being raised at the time. What’s not generally known is that at least three black soldiers from Halton country served during the first world war, and two of them have links to the Lorne Scots.

One of those men was Henry Thomas Shepherd (1895-1960). Henry was born in Stewarttown, and attended public school there. Like his father, he worked in Fleck’s paper mill. He joined the Halton Rifles in 1911, and in 1915 enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. He went to England in August, was transferred to the 58th Battalion, and served with them for a year in France and Belgium. He was wounded twice, and in March 1918 the Georgetown Herald reported that he was in hospital in England, convalescing from his wounds. His younger brother Johnnie, who had fought with the 123rd Battalion, was in another English hospital at the same time, also recovering from wounds. Henry was awarded the 1914-18 Star, the General Service Medal and the Victory Medal. He came back to Canada, and to his job at the paper mill. In 1923 he married Maude Cox. They raised seven daughters; their one son, John Henry Shepherd Jr, died as a child. Henry stayed on with the Halton Rifles.

Henry Shepherd (left) at camp in Niagara, 1928.

He was RSM with the Lorne Rifles (Scottish) and the Lorne Scots, 1935-9, and when George VI became king in 1937, he received the coronation medal. In civilian life, he was appointed chief of the Georgetown fire department in 1938. In 1928, Henry was one of the founding members of the Georgetown Legion. His wife sometimes threatened to send his bed there, since he spent so much time there.

Three former mayors of Georgetown look on as Henry Shepherd receives the gold bar to his Legion medal.

At the outbreak of the second world war, he enlisted as a private, 2 September 1939. He trained at the University Armouries in Toronto, then was sent to the Newmarket Training Centre, as a Company Sergeant Major. He was put in the Service Corps, and sent to Montieth at Deputy Fire Marshall, all the time somehow maintaining his connection with the Lorne Scots. In 1944 he was on the King’s Honour List and made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

The Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Albert Matthews, presents the MBE to CSM Shepherd at a ceremony in Toronto.

John R. Barber took colour movies when they were still a novelty. This still shows Henry Shepherd at a Lorne Rifles (Scottish) parade.

The connection with the regiment may go back even further. Henry’s father was John Henry Shepherd, who was born in the United States, and brought to Canada West when he was very young. John’s mother worked in Stewarttown, keeping house for John Murray, who organized the militia company in Stewarttown, and who commanded the 20th Halton Battalion of Infantry 1871-81 (it became the 20th Halton Battalion of Rifles in 1872). When his mother died, John Shepherd stayed in the Murray household, living as one of the family. The Murrays hired a young English girl, Sarah Hartley, to keep house in place of John’s mother. John Shepherd married Sarah, and Henry was one of their children.

John Henry Shepherd

Between 1868 and 1876 there was a Private John Shepherd who went to summer camp with Captain Barber’s Georgetown company of the 20th, and our John Shepherd seems to have been the only one living in the township at the time. His birthdate is usually given as 1859, which would make him very young to go to camp in 1868. But people at the time could be very uncertain about how old they were, and that would be particularly true for an orphan, with no family to remind him.

It seems that John may have been older than he thought. Family lore did not pass on a first name for John’s mother, but they thought that she had married a Mr Bell later in life. I think we’ve just found her, in the 1861 Toronto township census: William and Mary Ann Bell, and young John Shepherd.

1861 Toronto township census

Here his age is given as ten, so that would make him about 17 at the time of the first camp John Shepherd attended in 1868. So we may have two black soldier pioneers: Private John Shepherd in the 1860s and RSM Henry Shepherd in the 1930s.

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