W Clair and HJ Leitch, “Leitch Brothers in Khaki”


When my great-aunt passed away we were sent several boxes of photos and things which her nephew had retrieved.  He had determined that these items were Leitch photos, and not his side of the family, so he sent them our way.  This stuff was great!


My father was not very sentimental, and had not kept most of the family photos after his parents had died in the sixties.  So growing up my brother and I had not seen many images of the Leitches, including pictures of my dad as a child, or his parents as children.  These boxes finally gave us a glimpse at our father’s early life, and the life of his father and his family.  But of course with these new items comes more questions, questions that Dad couldn’t or wouldn’t necessarily answer.


So here was one of the sets of questions that came from these boxes: what did my grandfather do during the first and second World Wars?  There were two clues present.  The first was a picture of my grandfather and his brother in uniform.  Entitled “Leitch Brothers in Khaki” the picture dated from the period of the First World War.  The second was an undated newspaper clipping that said “HJ Leitch takes Munitions Post.” So the research began.


First World War


First off, I knew my great-uncle Clair did serve during the First World War.  Among the things in the boxes we received were tons, and I mean tons of photos he took at Shorncliffe Camp in England, and the postcards and letters he sent home to his family. [They have since been donated to the CanadianWarMuseum: William Clair Leitch http://www.warmuseum.ca/military-history-research-centre].  If you go online to the Library and Archives Canada website you can see his enlistment papers. [RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166,Box   5560 – 42] You go on the same site and look up my grandfather’s name, and there is nothing.  But I have a picture of him in uniform, the above photograph.  He is the one on the right, in the darker uniform.


So I start out by going to Library and Archives Canada and I talk to an archivist (Back in the day when this was possible).  Maybe he was in the militia?  The archivist couldn’t think of another reason for him not to be in the records.  After all my grandfather was born in 1900, so he turned 18 just when the war was ending.  So I had to make a formal request for information from the Archives for access to his records there, providing proof of his death.  While I was making the one request I decided to see if they had information about his service during the Second World War (more further on).


Here was the response:

From the information you provided, we have been unable to positively identify the above-named individual as having served in the Canadian Armed Forces after the First World War nor having been employed with the Federal Government of Canada.

“If Mr Leitch served with the Militia, we would have no records.  The records of former members of the Reserve Forces are destroyed under the authority of PAC 60/014 (DNDP II) when the person reaches the age of 70. [Letter, from Alena Duffault, 24 Nov 1994]

So there it is, a bit of a brick wall.


Second World War


HJ Leitch Takes Munitions Post

Ottawa, Feb 24—(CP)- Munitions Minister Howe announced last night appointment of HJ Leitch of the Algoma Steel Corporation as assistant to the Director-General of the Shipbuilding Branch of the Munitions Department.

Born in Westmount, Que., he graduated as a civil engineer from McGill University.  He is on loan from his firm. [Montreal Daily Star, 24 Feb 1942, page 9]


The above is the article I found.  I have since found out what paper and date it came from, but when I started my research it was not known.  So back to the Archives.  The archivist suggested a history of the Munitions Department in the National Library, which should help find out when this all happened.  History of the Department of Munitions and Supply: Canada in the Second World War by John de N. Kennedy (Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1950) is the book that was suggested.  And in a sense it is great, after all he lists everyone who worked for the department for the War.  Problem, while he lists the Assistant Director Generals, he does not list my grandfather.  Grandfather is there though, listed as an “employee” at the back of the book (page 579).


So this is where you have a crisis in faith, sources, etc.  Who is right, who is wrong?  I felt that while the book was probably well researched, he missed out on my grandfather.  The newspaper article felt more valid because it was of the moment, not five years after the war.  So I went back to the archivist, and we had a great discussion.  First of all we talked about how my grandfather must have gotten the job, and I was told a lot of these appointments during the war were made by order in council.  So there was my next step.  Off to the Privy Council Records.  Thank goodness for indexes!


5 Feb 1942, PC#902: Date of appointment January 26, 1942, per diem allowance, Nil expenses. Living expenses except in Montreal, his normal place of residence, salary Nil, salary reimbursed to company, Nil. Branch shipbuilding, date of termination of appointment December 2, 1942.  [LAC, RG 28 Volume 179]  So there Mr N de Kennedy!


Once I knew this, the archivist helped me choose which part of the department files I wanted to see to see when grandfather Leitch was in the department.  And here again stuff!


In the course of this visit a tour and review of the organization under the Director General of Shipbuilding was made in the company of Mr HJ Leitch, who dwelt  at length on the functions of the various departments, and on the manner in which these functions were organized and carried out. [Letter 9 May 1942, HR Carlson to DA Clarke, LAC, file 1-1-166, RG28 Series A, Vol 77]


I take pleasure in announcing that Algoma Steel Corp., Limited have made the service of their General Sales Manager, Mr Hugh J Leitch, available to the Shipbuilding Branch. . . .We attach copy of our revised Organizational Chart, Shipbuilding Branch, date 27 February, 1942, from which it will be noted that Mr Russell Yuill is now appointed to the position and title of Director, and Mr Hugh J Leitch to the position and title of Assistant Director General of Shipbuilding, and Executive in charge of production. [Circular Letter no. 8, 27 Feb 1942, from DA Clarke, LAC, File 1-1-166, RG28 Series A, Vol 77]


So there it is, what my grandfather did in the Second World War.  I would love more information about the mystery of the uniform for the end of the First World War, so if anyone out there sees something they recognise, please feel free to contact me.  Would love to solve this.