Alexander Bernard Preston

Alexander Bernard Preston 1895 – 1987 : his World War 1 Experience

The Conscription Act of Aug. 29, 1917 resulted in thousands of new recruits being drafted into the Canadian Army, to replenish the losses. And to this, there was a now only a trickle of volunteers. The dead and the images of the carnage in war, had choked off the enthusiasm, sense of adventure and duty to Britain that had fueled the first recruits. Bernard Preston volunteered for the Canadian Army in late 1917, as he felt it was now time to do so. There was still an expectation to serve the Allied efforts against the hated “Hun”, despite the terrible toll of lives lost. To serve, was righteous and those who did, were respected. So, he left his father’s farm in Bethany, age 23, to join the other late arrivals, draftees and volunteers: farmers’ sons, factory workers, the unemployed.

BP1 1918

Private Preston’s military number was #3060298. (attestation stamping – 1st Depot Sq E D Reg.  C.E.F.) He was a member of the 6th Canadian Reserve Battalion recruited from Eastern Ontario. They were based in Seaford England (County Sussex) from March 1917 until mod 1919.

Bernard travelled to Kingston for basic training. His official signing of attestation papers was June 1, 1918 in Kingston. He left Montreal June 28, 1918 with 1400 troops and boat crew on the 471 foot long, 4700 ton steamer, the City of Vienna, bound for England. For some reason it had to make a stop in Halifax, possibly for more supplies. The City of Vienna missed the Halifax harbour entrance, in dense fog, travelling too far west, hitting a reef 7:00 a.m. July 2. Bernard saw the ship lurch to one side, food trays flying in the kitchen while he and his mates awaited breakfast. Local fishing boats, its own life boats and a nearby US ship, rescued all aboard. Half an hour after the completed rescue, the City of Vienna, sank, fully loaded with munitions. Today it is still a hazard at the sea bottom, not far from Peggy’s Cove, 2.6 km from shore near Sambro Island.


City of Vienna

Upon arriving England, possibly Brighton, the troops were assigned huts in the Seaford military base camp, just 130 km from Dieppe France. Here, they underwent training in trench warfare, machine guns, rifles, gas prevention, parade duties etc. Bernard trained as a machine gunner. The camp population was 24,000 surpassing that of Seaford. The locals were overrun by Canucks and other foreigners speaking with varied accents.


Bernard Preston (8th from left – back row) and the old 6th Battalion,

Bernard’s WWI experience was bad luck which turned into good luck. He never served at the front. The Spanish flu, brought to England by returning soldiers, swept through the military camps and local communities. Sixty Canadian soldiers at Seaford base died of the flu in October 1918, and were buried at Seaford cemetery. Bernard too was hit by the virus, but survived. Because he was weakened, he was not fit for action at the front. When he did recover, the war was almost over, new recruits no longer being sent to the front. By this time, some of his mates from Eastern Ontario had returned to England, wounded.


Bernard Preston on left with buddies at Seaford, 1919


Following Armistice, the decision was made that the first troops to depart for home, would be the ones with the longest service. The 1918 arrivals staying until last. This afforded a relaxed camp atmosphere with time off for travel. Bernard and mates made it to Wales, Scotland and all over England. One of Bernard’s favourite stories, was an evening in London on leave when the boys went to the theatre. It was possibly a production at the Royal Alex. Bernard was seated at the aisle. To his surprise, King George V, and Queen Mary proceeded past him to their seats. If Bernard had reached out, he could have touched the King.

Bernard was assigned to KP duty much of the time. Masses of food. Mutton, mutton, mutton. Potatoes, endless potatoes to peel. And bread. That was prepared for the masses by melting butter and spreading it thinly on hundreds of slices at a time with a paint brush! My grandfather hated mutton.

Bernard and the last of the now 7th Battalion, returned to Canada July 1, 1919, to a much different country.

Bernard was my grandfather, who I knew longer than my own father. Spending 1:1 time with him on the farm, in summers, gave me an insight into the Preston mindset, to get a hint at their values, morals, beliefs and weaknesses. (Isaac, Bernard and I all shared a desire for fairness, a stubbornness and a temper if provoked).

He was my conduit to the Prestons in “Loyalty”.

Lt. Col J A V Preston

John Alexander Victor Preston 1863 – 1950

Summary: Orangeman, community volunteer, church devotee, Mason, husband, father, grandfather, militiaman, Lt. Colonel.


Jack was born on the family farm in Manvers Township to Young Isaac Preston and his wife, Mary Anne Hannah. As the first born, he was given the family responsibilities ahead of his five siblings. He was a leader.

Jack’s grandfather Alexander died when he was only nine months old, so his elder tutelage was from old Isaac, his great grandfather who delighted in instruction of the children in his large family of the basics: mathematics, reading, grammar, proper decorum, loyalty, responsibility and all things of the Orange Order. Jack was 86 years his junior.

Jack’s first school teacher, was the intense young man; Sam Hughes. Ambitious Sam, eventually became Sir Samuel Hughes, the Minister of Militia and Defense under Prime Minister Robert Borden during the first two years of World War 1.

Jack studied at U of T, earning a B.A. in 1885 and LL.B. in 1888. After studying at Osgoode Hall, he was called to the bar in 1888. His first practise was in Millbrook Ontario, not far from his home. In 1892 he located to Dufferin County and in 1906 moved into Orangeville Ontario to continue his law practice. He was a registrar of the Surrogate Court in Ontario in 1906. He took leave to serve in WW1. In 1928 he was created King’s Counsel.  He was appointed County Sheriff in 1944.

Charlotte Fitzgerald married Jack in 1892, in Millbrook. They had three children.

Jack served in the military as was the expectation of the Preston family for generations, first joining at age 13. He was a Lieutenant in the Riel Rebellion, with the Midland Battalion in 1885. Although he did not see direct fire, his unit was guarding a North Saskatchewan River crossing point while the Battle of Batoche was fought. His diary is part of the record of the times and archives of Saskatchewan. As most Anglos of that time, he thought poorly of the Metis and First Nations peoples, but was impressed with the leadership and courage of Poundmaker.


In 1914, he was appointed command of the 39th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. The unit departed from Belleville Ontario in June 1915 for England and the front. The unit served at Mount Sorrel, Somme, Arras, and Ypres. In 1917 it was reabsorbed into other units. Jack then was Commanding Officer of the 6th Infantry Brigade until the war’s end.


Above – the 39th Battalion in Belleville Ontario, June 1915 – departing for England and the same unit with Lt. Col Preston in front

His service to his community following the war, included chairing the hospital board, school board, Cadets, Board of Trade, Masonic Order, Orange Order.

Jack was my grandfather’s first cousin.

For me, jack’s legacy is also one of history. He chronicled the Preston stories and without that and the work of Wallace MacAlpine, the book “Loyalty” would not have been written.