February 18, 2010 in City, Region

Only Canadian WWI vet dies at 109 in Spokane

 
Video: Canadians fete WWI vet in Spokane
Jesse Tinsley photo

Jack Babcock, right, photographed his 109th birthday at Rosauers Restaurant in north Spokane on July 23, 2009, died Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010. To his left sits Greg Thompson, minister of Veterans Affairs in Canada.
(Full-size photo)

The last Canadian veteran of World War I died Thursday at the age of 109.

John Henry Foster Babcock, who went by Jack, died Thursday at his home in Spokane, his family confirmed.

“He fought a good fight,” said Dorothy Babcock, Jack Babcock’s wife of more than 30 years. “He just had a great time.”

Babcock, who has lived in Spokane since the early 1930s, became a bit of a celebrity in the last few years, especially in Canada. Well wishes for his birthday in July 2009 were sent from Queen Elizabeth II, and the guest list included the Canadian consulate who joined Babcock and his family at the Rosauers on North Division for birthday cake, French fries and tartar sauce.

“I was deeply saddened to learn today of the death of John Babcock, Canada’s last known First World War veteran,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a news release Thursday. “As a nation, we honor his service and mourn his passing.”

“John Babcock was Canada’s last living link to the Great War, which in so many ways marked our coming of age as a nation,” Harper added, noting that 650,000 men and women served in the Canadian forces during WWI.

With Babcock’s passing, Frank Woodruff Buckles, 109, of West Virginia, is the only surviving American World War I veteran.

Babcock was born in 1900, on a farm near Kingston, Ontario, Canada; he outlived 10 siblings.

He enlisted in the Canadian Army during WWI, at the age of 15.

By the time he got to England, the army had figured out that Babcock and hundreds of other teens it had shipped over were too young. They stayed in Great Britain in the “Boys Battalion,” training until they were old enough to fight. The war ended before Babcock was old enough to be shipped to France.

After the war, he returned to North America and later served in the U.S. Army from 1921-24. For a time Babcock was stationed at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, later moving to Oakland, Calif.

Babcock became a U.S. citizen when he was 46 and earned his high school diploma about a decade ago through correspondence courses.

He was married to his first wife, Elsie, for 45 years. He met Dorothy when she cared for Elsie.

Other survivors include his son, Jack Babcock, Jr., of Spokane; a daughter, Sandra Strong, of Hamilton, Mont., stepsons, Eric and Mark Farden, a great-great-niece, 16 grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at Messiah Lutheran at a time yet to be determined.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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