When Jack Babcock joined the Canadian Army at the age of 15, it’s likely he never imagined that he’d be the last soldier standing more than 94 years later. But that’s exactly what Babcock was when he died Feb. 18, at the age of 109.
Babcock was remembered Saturday afternoon at a memorial service at Messiah Lutheran Church in Spokane. The service was attended by a list of Canada’s top dignitaries.
Babcock was the last Canadian veteran of World War I, and the last link to what many Canadians consider the country’s coming-of-age era.
“He captured the spirit of adventure,” and was a beacon for the 650,000 Canadians who volunteered to serve in the “Great War,” said Gen. Walter Natynczyk, chief of the defence staff and Canada’s top soldier.
“Jack was a part of that generation who went forward with great courage,” Natynczyk said. There were only 11 million people living in Canada during World War I; of the soldiers who served, more than 60,000 died.
To honor Babcock’s passing, Natynczyk and the Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Canada’s minister of veterans affairs and minister of state, as well as members of the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Regiment – the unit in which Babcock served – traveled to Babcock’s services in northwest Spokane.
Blackburn presented Babcock’s wife, Dorothy Babcock, with the Canadian flag that was flying over the Peace Tower at the Canadian parliament in Ottawa, Ontario, the day he died. She also received a Canadian Regimental Flag. A Regiment bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” for the postlude.
“We have to remember that Mr. Babcock was only 15 years old when he enrolled and decided to defend and value our country,” Blackburn said.
Born John Henry Foster Babcock in 1900 on a farm near Kingston, Ontario, Babcock outlived 10 siblings.
He enlisted in the Canadian Army during World War I, although at 15 he was not old enough to fight.
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 could be shipped to France.
After the war, Babcock 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.
In the early 1930s, he moved to Spokane, where he operated a heating business for 26 years. Babcock became a naturalized U.S. citizen when he was 46 years old, and didn’t earn his high school diploma until he was 95.
At his memorial service, his grandson, Paul Babcock, described his grandfather’s life spanning 11 decades as “an adventure novel from the get go,” one that “didn’t let up.”
In recent years and as his age reached the triple digits, Babcock became the last living veteran of the war that defined a nation. As such, he became a bit of a celebrity, especially in Canada.
Well wishes for his 109th birthday in July were sent from Queen Elizabeth II, and the guest list included the Canadian consul from Seattle.
Babcock was married to his first wife, Elsie, for 45 years. His second wife, Dorothy, was a nurse who helped care for Elsie. They were married for more than 30 years.
Other survivors include his son, Jack Babcock Jr., of Spokane; a daughter, Sandra Strong, of Hamilton, Mont.; stepsons Eric and Mark Farden; 16 grandchildren; and numerous great-grandchildren.
With Babcock’s passing, Frank Woodruff Buckles, 109, of West Virginia, is the only surviving North American World War I veteran.