British woman hopes to honour uncle who died alone in B.C. after enlisting in Canadian army during WWII

·3 min read
Volunteers in Quesnel, B.C., believe they have found the grave, seen here, of Ferdinand Ainslie Oxenford, a British man who took his own life after being discharged from the Canadian army during World War II. (Submitted by Faith Johnston - image credit)
Volunteers in Quesnel, B.C., believe they have found the grave, seen here, of Ferdinand Ainslie Oxenford, a British man who took his own life after being discharged from the Canadian army during World War II. (Submitted by Faith Johnston - image credit)

A British woman is hoping to honour the life of her great-uncle, who died alone and was buried in an unmarked grave in Quesnel, B.C., after joining the Canadian army during World War II.

Stephanie Leigh of Worthing, England only recently learned the story of Ferdinand Ainslie Oxenford — her grandfather's older brother — while researching her family tree.

Oxenford was born in England in 1902 and moved to Canada to work as a farmhand at the age of 17. During the war he enlisted and was placed in the Canadian Forestry Corps., a military division that was used to harvest and ship wood needed to support Allied troops. Records show he was enrolled in October 1940 and was on kitchen duty in March 1941.

The next record Leigh found is from November 1941 in the Quesnel Cariboo Observer. The newspaper reports Oxenford had placed a lit fuse of dynamite under his head in the Quesnel Hotel and taken his own life.

According to a notebook found in his room, Oxenford had become despondent after being discharged from the military in May. He made his way to B.C.'s Cariboo region to work as a miner before ending his life. The paper says police were seeking relatives and that Oxenford had been buried in the local cemetery.

LISTEN | Searching for her great-uncle:

Leigh said none of this was known to her, nor does she believe it was known to Ainisle's siblings, including her grandfather who also served — and died — as a member of Britain's Glider Pilot Regiment during the war.

"They were told that their big brother had been killed in a farming accident," she said. "So they were guarded from the truth."

Leigh said despite never knowing Oxenford, the details of his death came as a shock.

"It made me feel quite sad … It sounds like he just did his best in life and everything just went wrong. It's such a tragic ending, isn't it?"

Now, Leigh is hoping to commemorate him. Using a local Facebook group she's found volunteers in Quesnel willing to help, and already they believe they've found his unmarked grave, a place Leigh hopes to visit someday.

Military records indicate Oxenford  joined the Canadian Forestry Corps. in October 1940.
Military records indicate Oxenford joined the Canadian Forestry Corps. in October 1940.(Canadian Forestry Corps War Diaries, Library And Archives Canada)

She also wants to learn more about why he was discharged from the military and, if appropriate, make the case to provide him with a Commonwealth War Grave; an official recognition for fallen veterans of the world wars.

Short of that, she says simply putting his name on his gravestone with some details about his life would make her feel she was honouring her family member's life.

"A marker of some sort would be just amazing. I think he deserves it, really. Everybody does."

Stephanie Leigh and her father at a memorial honouring Britain's Glider Pilot Regiment, which her grandfather served in during World War II.
Stephanie Leigh and her father at a memorial honouring Britain's Glider Pilot Regiment, which her grandfather served in during World War II. (Submitted by Stephanie Leigh)