Joshua Graham was born on 31 July 1890 at Guide Post near Choppington in Northumberland. He was the youngest son of James, a coalminer, and Mary, née Flockhart. His brothers Henry and James became miners also, but Joshua attended King Edward VI Grammar School at Morpeth from 1904 to 1908, probably after passing the scholarship examination.
He attended Bede College to train to become a schoolmaster from 1908 to 1910, and qualified in the 1st class with a Class 1 pass in Divinity and marks of merit in Science. Members of the College customarily volunteered in a Bede Company of the 8th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, and Joshua was no exception. Something of the spirit of the times and the attitude of the company members can be found in the following passage from the “Junior Jottings” column in Bede Magazine.
All Juniors assembled in the Junior room to try to find suits of Khaki Uniform to fit each man. It does not seem that all succeeded because at the first parade one man stuffed his chest with a pillow. Bede Magazine, June 1909
The column also describes a route march to Farewell Hall and back through Durham, with appreciative comments from passers-by in North Road, and of a training camp at Ripon the previous summer.
By 1911 Joshua was lodging with the Burliston family at 3 Rosslyn Terrace, Sunderland and working as a teacher in a Sunderland Borough Council Elementary School. Inspired perhaps by Arthur Wilbraham, who was his contemporary at Bede College and was quoted on the joys of a Canadian winter in the December 1911 issue of the Bede Magazine, Joshua sailed as a passenger in steerage on the RMS “Hesperian” from Glasgow to Québec/Montreal on 7 June 1913, again listed as a schoolmaster, and declaring an intention to settle at Regina, Saskatchewan. Soon after war broke out, in October 1914 he volunteered and enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Having shipped to England in the same month, he camped with them on Salisbury Plain in appallingly wet conditions, as reported in Bede of December 1914 – a good preparation for the Flanders mud.
Graham was a Sergeant in 10th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry, 4th brigade, 1st Division, which first came under fire on 22 February 1915 when digging trenches during training at Ploegsteert. In April they moved to the salient south of Poelcapell & Paschendale and on April 22 at Grafenstafel Ridge during the Second Battle of Ypres the battalion was among the first to be attacked with chlorine gas. By chance, 8 DLI was engaged in the same battle, and some of Graham’s contemporaries at Bede College may have been fighting close to his unit’s position.
When the Canadian Corps was formed in early September 1915 after the arrival of the 2nd Canadian division the Corps took over the line from Wulvergem to Kemmel and St Eloi. From water logged trenches they carried out raids which identified and occupied enemy units and tested their defences as well as breaking the monotony of trench warfare. Christmas 1915 was spent in billets. From March to June 1916 the battalion manned trenches at Hill 60 on the Ypres salient alongside the 8th DLI which was part of the 50th Division. In his spare moments Graham may have taken the chance to catch up with old Bede friends serving just along the line.
It was here, in the Battle of Mont Sorrel that Graham was mortally wounded.
It was about 10 a.m. on June 2nd when the German preliminary bombardment of the Canadian position burst with the suddenness of a summer thunderstorm. A terrific drumfire of mixed shrapnel and high explosive swept over Hill 60, Mont Sorrel and Observatory Wood - the right apex of the Salient - isolating the sector absolutely. Warfare had never witnessed such a stupendous concentration of gunfire. Storms of explosives rolled over the Canadian front and support lines with hurricane force and more than a hurricane's destructiveness, wrecking position after position with ghastly thoroughness.
At 1 p.m. the German infantry emerged from their trenches and trotted over the scarred, shell-tossed earth where three hours previously had been well-built trenches manned by the best blood of Canada. They met with no resistance.
The 10th Battalion in the Brigade Reserve when the storm broke was at once ordered up to Mont Sorrel support lines in Armagh Wood, to assist the 7th Battalion, which was about to counter attack. After a hard day's fighting under frightful shell fire the 10th Battalion was pulled out, but were back again in the Hill 60 trenches on June 6th.
J. A. Holland, The Story of the 10th Canadian Battalion 1914-1917
Sergeant Joshua Graham was wounded on 2/3 June, and was repatriated to England where he died of his wounds on 23 June. He is buried at Choppington St Paul, Northumberland and commemorated on the Morpeth King Edward IV School war memorial and Roll of Honour, the Bede College 1914-1918 Cross, Plaque, and Roll of Honour, and the Canadian virtual war memorial.