Pte John Danaher

"G" Company, 21st Battalion

What follows is a sad story of a soldier who wanted to fight for his country, but drowned in Lake Ontario before he had that chance.

Newspaper accounts of the event are very confusing.  The Kingston Daily British Whig reported the drowning as a suicide, but the evidence eventually proved it to be an accident.  Another confusing point was that the newspapers reported different names for the soldier, but none of them got it right.  Tracking this story down and trying to find a grave for this soldier proved to be very difficult because of this.  As noted in the articles below, it was reported as suicide in one paper, an accident in another.  He was reported to be buried in St Mary's Cemetery in one article, as well as being buried in Cataraqui Cemetery in another.  It was also reported in the newspaper accounts that he had been rejected for medical reasons and was to be returned to Ottawa.  There is no evidence of that in his file.

The real difficulty came in that even though there were 3 different names used in the following newspaper stories, none of them were correct.  I made several attempts to locate the grave here in Kingston under all 3 names, but to no avail.

At the end of a 2 year hunt, the office manager at St Mary's Cemetery, Bernadette Freeburn, contacted St Mary's Cathedral Archives and the problem was ultimately solved there.  Below is a copy of their entry for November 10, 1914.  The name was John Danaher.  We now have the correct name and the cemetery he is buried in, but not the actual grave.  Over the years, St Mary's Cemetery records have been lost and the grave location is unknown, and a grave marker was never put in place.  There are several unmarked graves in the military section that have no names recorded.  It is assumed he is in one of those graves.

Once the name was known, his service record was located at Library and Archives Canada.  There were no Attestation Papers in the file, as he had not been sworn in.  It would also appear that no medical examination had taken place prior to his death, as no report was in the file.  Other than official letters between Militia Headquarters Kingston and Ottawa, the only item of real interest is the proceedings of the Court of Enquiry, which is transcribed below.

I should reiterate that many of the "facts" in the newspaper articles below are in error.  He did not commit suicide, he was not rejected for medical reasons, and there is no evidence that he was being rejected and returned to Ottawa.  It is a classic case of the media not getting it right.

I would like to thank Bernadette Freeburn of St Mary's Cemetery for her time and effort in helping to solve this puzzle.


(from the archives of St Mary's Cathedral, Kingston Ontario)


Court of Enquiry

Held at the Armouries, Kingston Ontario


Major CC Bennett, 21st Battalion CEF 


Captain Elmer Jones, 21st Battalion CEF
Captain SM Gray, 21st Battalion CEF 

1st Evidence 

Acting Colour Sergeant John Fee, “G” Company, 21st Battalion CEF states: 

I am Acting Colour Sergeant of “G” Company, 21st Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, on the 7th inst about 12 o’clock noon, I was speaking to the late private J Danaher. He was lying in his bunk in the Cereal Building. He had been discharged that morning from custody after being confined to Barracks for drunkenness. I asked him how he was feeling. He said he was feeling very good, and so he joined me and we went down to lunch together. I lost track of him at lunch. After lunch I saw him again standing at the entrance door of the building, which was the last time I saw him alive. He appeared to be in a sane and rational state of mind. 

(signed by J Fee, Col Sergt)

2nd Evidence 

Provisional Corporal Murphy, 21st Battalion, “G” Company, CEF, states: 

I knew of Danaher, didn’t know him personally. I saw Danaher at 1.30 pm on Saturday 7th November. I helped to take the body out of the water. It was the body of John Danaher dressed in Civilian Clothes. 

(Signed by James Peter Murphy, Corporal) 

3rd Evidence 

Captain Scott, “G” Company, 21st Battalion CEF, states: 

I had Danaher parade before me the morning he was drowned. He was perfectly sober and in a good frame of mind. He said he was anxious to go to the front and to make a good soldier. 

I arrived at the Cereal Building shortly after noon and I was told a man had fallen into the water off the dock about half an hour before. When he was brought to the surface by means of grappling irons shortly after my arrival I recognized him as Private Danaher. 

I questioned all bystanders, but was unable to find any one who had seen him fall into the water. 

Danaher had been passed by the Doctor as fit, but had not been attested. 

(signed by RTM Scott, Capt., 21st Batt. CEF) 


The document is recorded as being forwarded to the Acting Adjutant General of the 3rd Division and “Recommended”. 

It is signed by Lieut Col WS Hughes on December 4, 1914 and stamped “Dept MILITIA & DEFENCE, HQ CANADA” Dec 6, 1914


The following newspaper stories appeared between November 9 and November 12, 1914.


Kingston Daily Standard, November 9, 1914


Drowned Off Cereal Wharf Saturday Afternoon

 John Banaher Came From Ottawa With GGFG—Ex U.S. Army Man

              John Banaher, a recruit of the 21st Battalion, was drowned early Saturday afternoon in the waters of the River St. Lawrence immediately in front of what is known as the Cereal Works.  The man came to this city with the detachment of the Governor-General’s Foot Guards of Ottawa, who are in this city fitting themselves to take their place in the second contingent. 

            The drowning took place shortly before two-o’clock.  The unfortunate man was seen going on to the dock by a number of civilians but he was not seen falling into the water.  Shortly after he had gone to the end of the dock the sound of a heavy splash pierced the rather noisy atmosphere and in a few seconds there were many soldiers on the end of the dock. 

            The man was seen struggling in the water and some ropes and planks were thrown out to him but it appears that the heavy sea that was rolling and the coldness of the November waters had benumbed the man’s senses and he either did not see the articles thrown or he was physically unable to aid himself.  Seeing his condition, one of the officers of the GGFG, who is a champion swimmer, threw off his coat and was about to jump into the water when he was stopped by many of the men who saw that the attempt to recover the man, who by this time had gone to the bottom, would be foolhardy.  The strong wind that was blowing towards the city made the water in the vicinity of the elevator a seething caldron and it was next to impossible for even a strong swimmer to exist in the heavy and cold waves. 

            Hundreds of pairs of anxious eyes searched the waters below them in an effort to discover at least the outlines of the man should he rise, but they were not to see their comrade, as he had sunk for the last time and his battles were over.  The wind was blowing at a terrific rate and it was with much difficulty that the men, civilian and soldier, kept themselves on their feet.  When it was seen that the recruit would rise no more a heavy sigh went up.

            A call was sent to the Police and SS Corbett’s ambulance and they arrived on the scene with dispatch.  Grappling irons were procured, and the gruesome task of searching for the remains was commenced.  In about an hour the body was brought to the surface and was at once viewed by coroner Gardiner, who deemed that the death was accidental and that an inquest was unnecessary. 

            When the man was at the bottom of the river an attempt was made by officers and soldiers in the vicinity to establish his identity, as some had said that he was a recruit but he did not have a uniform on.  After some inquiries it was found that no one appeared to miss a friend or comrade.   Finally a big soldier from Ottawa stepped on to the dock and seeing a cap lying there asked where it came from.  He was informed that it was that of the drowned man.  On examining it he conveyed the sad intelligence that it belong to John Banaher. 

            In the pockets of the deceased were found discharge papers from the United States army and a sum of money amounting to $76.05.  His comrades knew very little of him except that he had enlisted at Ottawa and that he had said that he had relatives in Ireland.  He was about forty years of age and was of heavy build and at Ottawa had passed a strict medical examination. 

            The news was telegraphed to Lt-Col W.S. Hughes, who is making inquiries in Ottawa as to the friends of the deceased. 

Military Funeral


          The sad death of Pte Banaher, who was drowned on Saturday afternoon, has caused widespread sorrow throughout the entire battalion.  Inquiries by the military authorities show that the deceased soldier’s nearest relatives are in Ireland.  A quiet military funeral will be held tomorrow morning.



The Daily British Whig, Monday, November 9, 1914 



He Wanted To Go Overseas With 21st Battalion –The Sad End of John Donnughue, Ottawa. 

John Donnughue, aged thirty-five, committed suicide off the Cereal works wharf on Saturday afternoon because he was rejected as medically unfit from being a member of the 21st battalion.  On Tuesday the deceased came to the city with the detachment of the Governor General Foot Guards of Ottawa.  They were assigned to “G” company under the command of Capt Scott.  Donnughue was a very good looking man, was broad – Scotch and six feet two inches in height.  The deceased attended the drills regularly on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  On Friday he was examined before being sworn in but was rejected as medically unfit.  The cause of the rejection being bad teeth.

On Friday night, the guard of the corridor remarked to several of the men that the deceased did not sleep at all on Friday night as he noticed him several times lying on his back in his bunk with his eyes wide open.  He did not attend the drills on Saturday morning as he had been given transportation back to Ottawa and was supposed to be waiting for train time.

The deceased was an exceptionally quiet man since his joining the battalion volunteers in Ottawa.  He asked a comrade for a match to light his cigarette on Saturday afternoon and immediately became confidential.  He said that he had had a great deal of personal trouble in the last few weeks and had lost $400 in the last nineteen days.   Speaking as if very nervous he finished his conversation by remarking about being turned down by the doctor.  He walked along the wharf dock opposite to the bow of the steamer North King and without another word, jumped into the water, first throwing his cap a way.  The second time he came up within reaching distance of a plank but made no effort to touch it.  Death was considered a clear case of suicide by Dr. RJ Gardiner, the coroner who made inquiries the result of which made an inquest unnecessary.

The deceased had $76.05 and a letter addressed to his brother in the United States army at present stationed in Vera Cruz, Mexico.  From the contents of the letter it was found that the deceased was himself a soldier in the United States army prior to coming to Canada. Which is all that is known about him.



Kingston Daily Standard, November 10, 1914 


Was Buried With All Military Honours Possible


           The funeral of Private John Banaher, who was drowned Saturday was held this morning to St. Mary’s Cathedral, where a solemn requiem mass was sung for the happy repose of his soul by the Rev. A Hanley, BA.  The officers and members of No. 7 Company, GGFG attended the funeral and accompanied the remains to the cemetery.  Eight of the comrades of the deceased carried the casket.  As there are no rifles issued, the military funeral was without a firing party.


Bowmanville Canadian Statesman, November 12, 1914


Saturday Nov. 7 at 1:45 p.m. a member of “G” Company of 21st Battalion, stationed at Kingston, was drowned by falling in the dock. The life-saving crew was soon on the scene, but the body was not recovered until near 4 o’clock. The man’s name was Donahue from Ottawa and was attached to the Governor-General’s Foot Guards.”  


June 26, 2008

Fast forward now to June 26, 2008, almost 94 years later.  With funding from the "Last Post Fund", a grave marker was finally placed on John Danaher's grave.  For 93 plus years, he was in an unmarked grave and received no recognition for his desire to go to war and defend against what he felt was wrong.  Below are photos of the crew installing that grave marker.


Research  by Al Lloyd
Transcriptions by Al Lloyd and Brian Paudash


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