Sarson, Noel Cecil

Noel Cecil Sarson was born in Liverpool on the 23rd May 1896. He was possibly an orphan, as the 1901 census records him as a 4 year old boarder at the home of Thomas and Elizabeth Williams and their daughter Jane, in Church Street, Rhuddlan. Mr Williams’ occupation is recorded as, “carter on farm”. The Rhuddlan National School admissions register [Ancestry], records Noel’s admission to the school as the 13th November 1899. It confirms his date of birth and also his address in Church Street.

According to that census, this was a bilingual household and Noel is recorded as being able to speak both English and Welsh. One might therefore assume that he had been living with the Williams’ from a very early age. At some point after the 1901 census, the Williams moved to Odyn House, in Parliament Street, where they appear on the 1911 census. Mr Williams circumstances had by that time improved, as his occupation is now given as “Farmer” and Mrs Williams occupation as, “assisting with Dairy Work.”

On the 21st February 1907, Noel sailed from Liverpool on board the s.s.Dominion, arriving in Portland [Maine USA] on the 5th March. Possibly a portend of engagements to come, the s.s. Dominion had been built as the s.s. “Prussia” in Belfast for the German Hamburg America Line in 1893, but subsequently sold to British interests in 1898 and renamed [Wikipedia].

According to the US Immigration Passenger Manifest, his fare had been paid by “Dr Barnardo Homes” [Ancestry]. He was described as being in good health both mentally & physically. Noel was one youngster amongst many on that voyage, in the same situation.

All these children were being sent to Canada under the British Home Children scheme, which commenced in 1869 and finally ceased in the 1960s. Under the scheme, many UK Children’s charities, felt that orphaned, pauper and abandoned children, might have a better start to life if placed with families in the developing colonies. Highly principled in its origins the scheme might have been, but it was open to abuse and frequently was, both by the host families and sometimes the charities themselves. Canada was the first country to accept these children, a long time later Australia, New Zealand and South Africa became recipients.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a formal apology for this policy, which had resulted in over a 130,000 children between 3 and 14 years old, being sent abroad. The last child actually sailed in 1967. [BBC News 24th February 2010]. Dr Barnardo’s Homes alone, sent about 30,000 to Canada. Apparently over 10% of the current Canadian population are descendants of Home Children. []

From Portland, he would have been sent by rail to a Canadian reception centre, possibly Toronto or Peterborough, before being placed out. The 1911 Canadian Census [Ancestry] records him in the household of Farmer, 64 year old John & Madena Oliver at 18 Percy Township, Dartford Village, Northumberland County, Eastern Ontario. He was 14 years old. His relationship to John Oliver was given as “adopted”. It recorded his nationality as Canadian, that he had been at school for 4 months and could read and write. The household was completed by 75 year old domestic, Annie Lynn.

Percy Township, lies just in land from the northern shore of Lake Ontario, in the county of Northumberland. It was named for the wife of Hugh Percy the first Duke of Northumberland. The area was initially settled by United Empire Loyalists, fleeing the former 13 British American Colonies in the late 18th century [Wikipedia].

Noel enlisted in the 139th Infantry [Northumberland] Battalion, on 8th December 1915 [Records of the 4th Canadian Battalion].

This Battalion had begun recruiting in Northumberland County in November, eventually reaching a strength of 1153 Officers & Men. The Battalion left Halifax [Nova Scotia] aboard the s.s.Southland on the 27th September 1916 and arrived in Liverpool 6th October.

Shortly afterwards the Battalion was absorbed into the 36th [Reserve] Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force, which itself was absorbed into the 3rd Reserve Battalion the following month. Reserve Battalions fed replacement troops into front line units to make good casualties. Noel was subsequently transferred to the 4th Canadian Infantry Battalion on the 9th April 1917 [Records of the 4th Canadian Infantry Batt].

The 139th Battalion was officially disbanded in May 1917.

Original members of the Northumberland battalion would serve in every major engagement of the Canadian Corps from Vimy until the cessation of hostilities with individuals serving in more than 10 different front line units as well as the Canadian Railway Troops and the Canadian Forestry Corps. No fewer than 12 members of the 139th would receive awards for Gallantry”. [CEF Study Group “The Matrix Project”]

On the 12th July 1917, whilst “in the trenches at Vimy”, Noel was killed in action [Canadian War Graves Register {Ancestry}. He was 20 years old. The Casualty report was addressed to; Mr & Mrs Sarson, Odyn House, Rhuddlan. [Ancestry]

Disadvantage from childhood, Noel was subject to the whim of the charity charged with his care until he joined the Canadian Army and placed himself under that authority. Did he enjoy his time in Canada? Who knows, although it would seem that despite being recorded as an adopted child, his loyalties remained with Mr & Mrs Williams in Rhuddlan. “He never forgot his Welsh foster family and kept in touch with them by sending letters and postcards” [Rhuddlan in Peace & War]. It would be nice to think that they might have managed a brief reunion when his Battalion landed in Liverpool?

There is a Flintshire War Memorial Record Card for Noel at Hawarden undated, but signed by the Vicar Revd. W. J. Davies, which gives Odyn House, Rhuddlan as his home address. He is commemorated on the Rhuddlan War Memorial, St Mary’s Church Window & Scroll, the RBL Roll of Honour in the Community Centre and the North Wales Memorial Arch at Bangor. In addition he is commemorated on page 321 of the Canadian Book of Remembrance of the First World War.

I am indebted to Sarah Hodnet of Rhuddlan Local History Society for her help in compiling this record.

Additional Material.

In October 2020, Flintshire War Memorials received additional information and images from Dewi Owen Hughes. Dewi’s Grandmother Jane Hughes was one of the foster sisters of  Noel Cecil Sarson. His account repeats some of the information on this page but we reproduce his e mail in full.

Noel Cecil Sarson … was the foster-brother of my grandmother Jane (Nain Hughes) and her older sisters Annie and Lizzie … was killed in action in the trenches at Vimy Ridge, just a couple of months before his 21st birthday in 1917.
My late father thought that Noel’s natural father was a Canadian army doctor, based at nearby Kinmel Camp, Bodelwyddan, and that his natural mother was a local nurse, named Mary.
About ten years ago, I received an email from Noel’s natural great-niece who had seen on the Rhuddlan Local History Society’s website, details that my great-grandmother Elizabeth Williams had fostered him from when Noel was an infant until he was 11 years old, when Dr Barnardo’s Homes sent him to Canada, under the British Home Children Scheme, and she wanted to thank my family for fostering him. Elizabeth Williams was also the village midwife, as well as working on the family’s dairy farm, Tynolirodyn in Princes Road.
Noel’s Canadian cap badge, which I have, was sent to my great-grandfather, Thomas Williams at Tynolirodyn (Odyn House) in Rhuddlan, with a photograph of Noel’s temporary war grave, see attached, together with a letter informing them of Noel’s death. My great-grandfather was so upset that the letter was burnt. It is interesting that Noel’s adopted family in Ontario, Canada, the Oliver family, was not sent these, as Noel said that his next-of-kin were the Williams family.
Noel’s name is inscribed on the Rhuddlan Cenotaph; Rhuddlan’s St. Mary’s Church First World War Memorial window; the North Wales Memorial Arch in Bangor . . . and at the Cenotaph in Warkworth, near Toronto, Ontario in Canada, see link below.
Many thanks to


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