Captain Thomas A. Morrow

Thomas Alvin Morrow, born October 13th, 1893 to mother Martha (Eakins) Morrow and father William George Morrow, enlisted in the Canadian military in 1915, serving in both the First and Second World War. Throughout his time in Europe fighting in the First World War, Thomas Morrow managed to keep a very detailed diary of his experiences, which was later developed into a memoir now kept at  the Trent Valley Archives. Born to mother Martha (Eakins) Morrow and father William George Morrow, Thomas Alvin was the sixth of ten children; with six brothers (Wilfred, Anson, Ormond, Melvin, Roy, and Orland), and three sisters (Velma, Lillie, and Hazel). Both his paternal, and maternal grandparents immigrated to Canada from Northern Ireland in the 1850s and started a family in Pontypool, Ontario. Thomas’ grandfather, Robert Morrow, financed the Morrow building which still resides on the corner of George Street and Brock Street in Peterborough. The building was constructed in 1878-1879 and was originally used as a post office. After spending the beginning of his life and school years in Pontypool,Ontario where his family owned a fifty-acre farm, the Morrow family
moved to Peterborough in hopes of finding more employment and educational opportunities for their growing children.

Portrait of Thomas Alvin Morrow. Archive Reference: Trent Valley Archives Fonds 397 Thomas Morrow. Used with permission from Trent Valley Archives.

Thomas’s father, William George, relocated his Blacksmith and Implement Repair Shop to 300 Water Street, with the family home situated right next to it at 302 Water Street. The Morrow family home and business has long since been replaced by Peterborough’s Ministry of Natural Resources.

After completing his elementary schooling, Thomas Morrow enrolled in classes at the local high school in Peterborough in 1907. He excelled in all of his classes, remaining on the honour roll every year. After completing high school, Thomas Morrow proceeded to work many different jobs. In 1910, he got his first job at the Peterborough Lock Works, where he was responsible for making locks often used in people’s homes. By 1911, he earned a job in the Coil winding department of the Canadian General Electric Company, where he made $1.50 per day. Later  he used his academic skills to become a teacher at lotus elementary school for a short period, then he took on a civil service job at the post office. His final job, however, was working at a pharmacy store set up by druggist Mr. J. Kent on the northeast corner of George Street and Hunter Street. It was while Thomas Morrow was working at the pharmacy that war was declared in 1914.

Thomas Morrow, regimental number 412503, enlisted in the Canadian armed forces on February 18th, 2015 after having watched his admired schoolmasters enlist as soon as the war broke out. Morrow was placed with the 39th Battalion - made up of one company from Peterborough, one from Lindsay, one from Port Hope, and one from Belleville. The 39th Battalion initially trained in Peterborough until the end of March 1915 when they relocated to Belleville. Morrow enlisted as a Corporal and was quickly promoted to Seargeant on June 1st, 1915. After spending approximately 3 months training at different locations around Belleville, the 39th Battalion was called to join the war in Europe. On June 24th, 1916, the 39th battalion left Belleville by train, arriving in the Montreal harbour the next day, where they boarded the C. P. R Steamship Missandbie. In his memoir, Thomas Morrow describes his excitement to be travelling by boat for the first time. He borrowed some binoculars from his Captain and was able to identify many historical and interesting sites as they cruised along the St. Lawrence River.

Upon arrival in England, they were escorted by a gunboat into the Portsmouth Harbour where they were quarantined for 24 hours before they boarded a train from London to Folkstone for further training. During his time training in England, Morrow was transferred to the 34th battalion, following his promotion to Lieutenant, and then again to the 4th battalion with whom he left with for France on December 14th, 1916.

Family portrait of the Morrow family, taken in 1898. From top left: Lillian Morrow, Anson Morrow. From bottom left: Ormand Morrow, Martha Eakins, Melvin Morrow, Thomas Alvin Morrow, William G. Morrow, Orland Morrow, Velma Morrow, Wilfred Morrow. Archive Reference: Trent Valley Archives Fonds 397 Thomas Morrow. Used with permission from Trent Valley Archives.

Lieutenant Morrow was assigned to B Company and took over No. 5 Platoon under the command of Lieutenant Greenwood. On March 29th, the 4th battalion relieved the 14th battalion in the Vimy area. During the battle of Vimy Ridge, Lieutenant Morrow led his men to the Hindenburg line with the objective of capturing the third line and consolidating their position while continuing to push forward into German territory. Their effort, along with the efforts of many other Canadian Battalions, aided in the capturing of Vimy Ridge on April 9th, 1917. Following Vimy, the 4th Battalion was assigned a mission at Arleux-en-Gohell, which was captured on April 28th and paved the way for a successful attack at Fresnoy on May 3rd. During the battle of Fresnoy, Lieutenant Morrow commanded B Company, which was successful in forcing the German troops to surrender. Being the highest ranking officer, the Germans approached Lieutenant Morrow with a note of surrender - which he later mailed to his sister Velma back in Peterborough - that read:
“Gentlemen, two officers, 40 men, German soldiers beg for pardon and are your prisoners. We have several blessed men for whom we beg for a medic. Have kindness to lead me to one of your officers”. - Czcucpindt, Lieutenant of the German Army 3rd
Following the success in Arleux and Fresnoy, Lieutenant Morrow attended Corps school in Pernes for three weeks where he specialised in Intelligence and Scouting work. Upon his return to the 4th Battalion, he was appointed Officer commanding the Scout section, in which his duty was to collect reports from the three scouting sections (Observer division, Sniper division and Patrolmen) and incorporate them into a Battalion Intelligence report which was given to Brigade Headquarters and, in addition of other Battalion Intelligence reports, used to construct maps of the area. These maps detailed enemy guns, batteries, machine gun posts, as well as vulnerable spots in the enemy’s defense. In his new position, Morrow organized the relief of the 5th Battalion during the battle of Hill 70 in Lens France on August 16th. He also mapped out much of the front lines which allowed the 4th Battalion to have the best line of defense possible along the northeast - southwest line. Morrow continued to play a similar role during the battles of Passchendaele Amiens (), Upton wood  and Canal-du-Nord (. On October 14th, 1918, Thomas Morrow was appointed Captain.

On Monday November 11th, 1918 the armistice was signed and the war was over. During this time, Captain Morrow was with the 4th Battalion in Pequencourt where they celebrated with fireworks. After a day of celebrating, the First Brigade began their march from Belgium to Germany, making several stops along the way where they were treated to drinks, food, and celebrations. On December 2nd, 1918, Captain Morrow was awarded the Military Cross for his scouting work during the battle of Amiens and was shortly after presented with a bar to his military cross for his actions in capturing Upton Wood. On December 29th, after having spent time on outpost duty in a few German villages, Captain Morrow was approved for a leave to England during which time he saw many shows and was able to catch up with old friends, some of which were also from Peterborough. On April 10th, Captain Morrow received a telegram from Lord Chamberlain requesting him to present himself at Buckingham Palace to receive the investiture of his decorations from King George V.
On April 14th, 1919 Captain Morrow boarded the Cunard liner Olympic, arriving to Toronto on April 23rd. Upon arrival, the soldiers were greeted by huge crowds of people as they marched down University Avenue. Morrow met up with his brother and was greeted by his sister and his mother.
After settling back into his life in Canada, Morrow considered going to pharmacy school to pursue his interest in chemistry, but eventually decided to follow in his brother’s footsteps and find a career in Chartered accountancy. He had many interviews and finally landed a position as a Chartered Accountant with the Edwards Morgan & Co. firm.

On August 9th, 1920, Thomas Morrow was married to Vera Natalee Reaman, with whom he had at least one daughter who became a physiotherapist in London, England. Thomas Morrow served in the Second World War as a reserve officer in the Irish Regiment of Canada and died a few years later on November 18, 1964. He is now buried alongside his wife in the York Cemetery in Toronto.

Although war is often thought of as being full of terrible atrocities, Captain Morrow does not speak of his experience of the First World War in such a negative light. He often writes about new experiences - such as riding a horse for the first time or his first trip in an airplane. In his memoir he mentions going to many shows in London and taking time to travel to Paris and the French Riviera during a 14 day leave. In June and July of 1955, Thomas Morrow returned to Europe with his wife to visit their daughter Joyce. During this time he returned to many of the battlefields he had served at during the First World War and was happy to find the cemeteries of his fallen comrades to be beautifully well kept.

Research by Erin Worral and Jesse Gillespie-Friesen
Sources Canada, Find a Grave Index, 1600’s-Current [database online]. Provo, Ut, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.

Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Registrations of Marriages, 1869-1928; Reel: 519

Library and Archives Canada. Morrow, Thomas Alvin (12503). RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 6421-39.

“Memoirs 2017 THE LIGHT OF OTHER DAYS AROUND ME”, Trent Valley Archives.           Archive Reference: Trent Valley Archives Fonds 397 Thomas Morrow.  

“Morrow Building”. Historic Places Canada –, 2004,

 "Soldiers of the First World War (1914-1918)." Record Group 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 4930 - 35. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.