I first came to know the fallen of 1944 and 1945 through the veterans who provided critical assistance to the Black yesterdays project. My friend Pte John “Mac” MacKenzie left me with lasting impressions of some of his friends in D Coy who had died overseas. Chris Jenkinson was one of them and his story is a haunting one.
Death in battle is different, Sam Chapman thought:
“He is cut down in an instant with all his future a page now to remain forever blank.
There is an end but no conclusion.”
– Capt Sam Chapman, C and D Coys
Chris Jenkinson was romantic, poetic, and ironic, something of a puzzle for non-Regimental army officers conducting personnel interviews. Soldiers’ entries in their service books were rare and usually prosaic, but not Chris’s! In his service book, he scribbled these words from the “Skye Boat Song” on a blank page after the section on wills:
Sing me a song of a lad that is gone
Say! Could that lad be I
Merry of soul, he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye
Give me again all that was there
Give me the sun that shone
Give me the eyes, give me the soul
Give me the lad that is gone.
Chris was born in Arklow, Wicklow, Ireland, on 30 June 1908. His father died in 1910, and Chris was raised by his mother and stepfather; he had three brothers and two sisters. He left school at age 13 after 8 years and moved to Canada in 1925. He trained as a barber and hairdresser in Toronto, working at various shops in Ontario, B.C., and Quebec for more than 17 years, probably for the CPR chain of hotels, including the Royal York. At the time of his marriage to Monica Ford (1908-89) in 1937, he was living on a rented farm in Orangeville. The wedding took place in St Michael’s Cathedral, Toronto. Monica’s mother took off her glasses for the wedding picture: the “proud look is for her new son-in-law. He is a good educated Irish Catholic and that’s something.”
Chris’s favourite sports were water polo, softball, and volleyball; his favourite pastimes were “attending shows and reading magazines.” On 1 January 1940, he enlisted in Hamilton with the Argylls “for adventure.” He was 5’, 7½”, 126 lb, with blue eyes and light brown hair. He started as a rifleman and remained one during his time with the Argylls and D Coy. There were a few minor infractions: AWOL once in 1941 in Niagara, three times in Jamaica, and one charge of drunkenness in Jamaica. His personnel record notes that his attitude to the service was “resigned.” In 01/44, an officer commented on his “soft-spoken and decisive manner.” He appeared “physically fit but complained of lack of stamina due to age. Says he cannot keep up to the young men on battle drill, running etc but is not overly concerned…. Seems rather “browned off” and may be inclined to irresponsibility on that account.” Jenkinson was clearly somewhat of an enigma to such officers. On the one hand, they were impressed by his “keen, active mind and … above average intelligence.” His work history suggested a “yearn for travel” that demonstrated an inability to settle down. On the other hand, in spite of the obvious intelligence, “there is something inadequate about him. It was a hesitant judgement because he was “not mentally dull by any means.” The officer concluded that Jenkinson was “just an example of misdirected effort.” There seemed as well something amiss in the objective picture of Chris’s home life: his son, Walter Forrest, was born in 1930 to Monica. He was “illegitimate”; they married in 1937, and Chris adopted him in 1940.
The officer recommended Chris to be the regimental barber; he had other ideas, however, and remained a rifleman with D Coy. He fought in the minor engagements of early 08/44 – Hill 195, Igoville, and Hill 95 – and met his fate in the grim, costly battle for Moerbrugge from 8 to 10 September. During the battle, the under-strength Argylls had 75 casualties. D Coy suffered heavy losses; Chris Jenkinson was the unit’s only KIA on the last day.
Chris’s Regimental family never forgot him. Pte Mac MacKenzie, D Coy, remembered: “Moose [Pte J.J. Murie] and I carried him out. He died, I think either on the way in or there. And I can still see him laying on the cobblestones outside…. You know, you’d known him since 1940. A married man, kid. Yeah, I can see him laying on his back, one leg bent, his … head fallen back … Moose Murie was on his knees and I was standing there. I don’t know why that sticks in my memory but it does.”
What was a vivid memory for Mac MacKenzie was a seering one for Monica Jenkinson. The last line of the poem proved to be the epitaph for her life after Chris’ death – “Give me the lad that is gone.” She was stricken by the news. The Argyll Women’s Auxiliary tried to console her; one member recalled how she “wept and wailed.” His niece notes that “when the news came she spent a year in an institution because of shock … He never left her; she carried on and worked at Eaton’s.” Chris Jenkinson “was a living memory as if he was never killed and he never, ever left her.” Niece Monica Christine (named after both of them) heard the stories about him, his love of poetry: “he was talked about almost daily”; she felt she “knew him.” Chris was “the love of her [Monica’s] life and she never remarried.”
About 1984, a CBC broadcast on D-Day and the battle for Normandy “triggered a severe response and she lost it.” Monica was found “wandering the streets looking for shelter from the bombs.” She never recuperated and died in Whitby Hospital in 1989 from Alzheimer’s. Son Walter, “who adored the man,” had six sons, one of whom is named Christopher.
With respect – Ancaster Minor Hockey League
Note: Note: Pte Chris Jenkinson’s poppy will be mounted on the virtual Argyll Field of Remembrance in the near future. The Argyll Regimental Foundation (ARF) commissioned Lorraine M. DeGroote to paint the Argyll Poppy (at top and below) for the Field of Remembrance.
Between 2 and 10 September, 14 Argylls were killed in action (or died from wounds), 48 were wounded, and 12 were POWs.
“a history bought by blood” – Capt Sam Chapman, C and D Coys
Pte Christopher Dennis Jenkinson
Chris, Monica, and Walter, 1940