When James William Morrison enlisted in November of 1914, he was ready to fight for his adopted country. Born in Scotland, he had a made a life for himself in Canada as a carpenter in Ontario. James’ war on the front would be cut short when at the age of 29 he was taken prisoner and sent to a German camp near Stuttgart. Until 1918, his mother in Scotland would only be aware that James was ‘missing in action’.
While with the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles on the Western Front, Morrison was injured and taken prisoner by German troops. James was treated in Stuttgart hospital for a bullet wound, but the German doctors left behind a piece of shrapnel embedded in his femur, which caused a limp that would plague him for the rest of his life. While in hospital, he met a man by the name of Turnball, who became his constant companion throughout their stay in Germany.
The two men were sent to work around a village by the name Schwäbisch Gmünd. There, they were sent out in small parties to work on surrounding farmland to bolster the rapidly dwindling German workforce. It was during these years that James first felt the debilitating back pain that kept him from working alongside Turnball in the farms. The two feared that James’ disability would keep them apart. In 1918, Turnball and Morrison, as well as one other camp member, decided to take action. After months of planning, they managed to cut their way out of their locked room and escaped into the surrounding woods. On August 11, 1918, it seemed that they were finally free.
The two weeks they spent free were grueling. It rained nearly constantly, and the soldiers were forced to move only under the cover of darkness, moving as quickly as they could with only ten minute breaks every hour. Turnball maintained that they managed to cover 300 miles in those days, but James, with his limp and the acute pain in his back, only slowed them down. Determined to not leave a man behind, Turnball and the other soldier supported James as they continued to flee.
All three men were eventually recaptured, and each was sentenced to two weeks in the detention block, or the “Black Cells”. The cold concrete only made James’ back worse, and he was eventually taken out of detention by the sentry on duty, as his cries of pain became too intense. However, after being cleared by the camp doctor, James was still made to serve out the rest of his sentence.
James and his companion Turnball remained in Germany until Armistice, whereupon James finally returned home to Canada. There, he tried his best to regain the normalcy of life before the war, taking up carpentry again and marrying in 1921. But the pain in his leg and back eventually became too much for him, forcing him out of work. James was also diagnosed with lumbago, and despite testimonies from his companions in the work camp, the Pension Board maintained that it was a post-discharge condition and therefore not pensionable. The shrapnel embedded in his leg and the pain caused by two years of labour, though far from the front line, would never be deemed worthy of a decent pension.
Click Here to access James William Morrison’s Military Service File at Library and Archives Canada