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The Mystery of Rolla Ray Hannah

Not a real mystery per se, just a person I am curious about. Rolla Ray Hannah was born April 23rd, 1891 in Bidwell Township on Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada to Richard and Lura Hannah. He had a younger brother, Arlie, born on March 22nd, 1896 at Spanish Station, Ontario. Richard Hannah was a cook, farmer, and also did prospecting along the north shore.

The two brothers grew up on a farm in the area of Manitowaning, Ontario; and on Dec 11th, 1915, Rolla enlisted for service in the 119th battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. On the very same day, his brother Arlie Albert Hannah was married in Owen Sound to one Dora May McLennan. Arlie then enlisted in the 147th battalion of the C.E.F. on January 16th, 1916.

Rolla was hit in his right hand by a German bullet on Nov 15th, 1917. The hand was amputated at some point in time (discharge paper only mentions a gun shot wound to the right hand). However, the paper also lists the reason for discharge as physical unfitness. Arlie died in Europe sometime in 1918--exact cause unknown at this time. Rolla was officially discharged from the C.E.F. on Sept 16th, 1918 at age 27.

During the 1920s, Richard Hannah went about purchasing various properties and mining claims along the north shore of Lake Huron. Richard died on about March 6th, 1932. Lura passed on Nov 2nd, 1936. Both were buried at the Hilly Grove Cemetery near Manitowaning. Rolla then became executor of the Hannah estate as the last surviving heir. During the fall of 1937, ownership of all the properties previously acquired by Richard Noble Hannah was officially transferred to his surviving son Rolla.

In 1938, Rolla had a fishing cottage constructed on one of the mining claims. The cottage was positioned on the north shore of Charlton Lake, Ontario in Curtain Township. He also outfitted the cottage with a 1938 DeForest-Crosley battery operated radio, which fascinated some of the locals, particularly a young man by the name of Angus Holman, who often visited Rolla to just sit and listen.

In 1947, Rolla--then 57--sold the cottage. According to the purchaser, Rolla left the cabin on foot after completing the deal, leaving behind--among other items--the radio and some personal items. The personal items included several photos, service medallions, his dog tag, a prosthesis, two German bullets and various papers. Some of the papers included land transfers for some of the various properties, and his discharge certificate from the C.E.F. Oddly, the one thing he did not leave behind was any contact information. 

Many years later, the purchaser of the fishing cottage conducted a search on Manitoulin island--including Manitowaning--in an attempt to locate Rolla, or at least find out what became of him. The search turned up empty.

The present: Out of curiosity, and to pick up where the purchaser left off, I have conducted several internet searches in an attempt to learn myself what became of Rolla, with no luck at all until recently. I ended up with the personal items he left behind at the cottage, including the two bullets. One of the bullets is copper jacketed and one is steel jacketed, by the way. One, I don’t know which, was removed from his right hand--legend has it. I’m not certain about the other. I just recently discovered this genealogy website that included the Hannahs, but no date of death given for Rolla. It is the only info I have discovered on the web. The site lists his niece (Arlie’s daughter) as “living” although if so, she would be at least 96 years old at present (2011).

The only scrap of info I have ever found pertaining to what became of Rolla is also at the above website. I believe it pertains to the delayed filing of a birth registration, and according to the website anyway, it was filed by Rolla himself in Toronto on March 5th, 1958. I put this web page together using the genealogy website and information from Rolla’s own papers, with the prospect that someone might fill me in on what became of Rolla after 1947. After putting this together, I have also become a bit curious as to the time and circumstances of Arlie’s demise.

Rolla (left) and Arlie (right) in June of 1916, six months after enlistment. Photo was taken at night by flashlight.

Update 5/2/11

Here is what I have learned since posting this web page: I have learned, thanks to the Freda, who works for the Township of Assiginack, that despite the fact that Rolla remains the rights holder to eight cemetery plots at the Hilly Grove Cemetery in Manitowaning, Ontario, he is apparently not buried there. His parents are buried in plots 2 and 3; the others are apparently all empty.

Thanks to Sophie at Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario, I have learned that Rolla’s and Arlie’s service records are stored there on microfilm. The public is free to browse the records and make copies, however, I am quite a ways from Ottawa. Since I am not up to a trip to Ottawa any time soon, and their records could be up to 75 pages each, I will have to let things stand for now in that regard. Well, what the heck, if anyone there in Ottawa has some time to kill, here is the pertinent information needed to look up their records; with the reference number being the most important. There should be pension information in Rolla’s file, which--I think--might shed some light on things.

Regimental number(s): 754424
Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 4021 - 3
Date of Birth: 23/04/1891

Regimental number(s): 838630
Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 4019 - 43
Date of Birth: 22/03/1896

I recently recieved an email from the granddaughter of Arlie's wife's (Dora May McLennan) sister. According to her, Dora thought Arlie had survived the war and was still alive; and the couple had a son, Rupert, born August 29th, 1916, as opposed to a daughter.

Here is some info that may be of significance, or maybe not--who knows: There was a pension statement for February 1939 in with the items Rolla left at the cabin. The envelope for the statement is addressed to Rolla R. Hannah c/o Mrs. Regan 510 Hudson St. Hoboken, N.J. U.S.A. The address for Rolla on the statement is 1141 Park Avenue, Hoboken, N.J. I have some later correspondence related to a tax matter, dated 1943, that was addressed to Willisville, Ontario--a small village north of Manitowaning on the shore of the lake where Rolla built the cottage. I would take the fact that Rolla was receiving mail at Willisville to mean that Rolla had sold his farm by then down at Manitowaning. The cottage, by the way, was not suitable as a permanent residence.

Update 5/17/15, revised 2/12/16

My simple quest to discover where Rolla went, and perhaps why, after he simply packed up and left the north shore area of Lake Huron, has taken a turn that I never could have predicted. The granddaughter of Dora’s, Arlie’s wife, aunt, mentioned earlier—who shall be referred to as Kate, from this point on—has taken up the case and has acquired Rolla and Arlie’s military files. And she was right: Arlie did survive the war, by going awol from Camp Borden two days after his son’s birth. So not only was he not killed somewhere in Europe in 1918, he was never deployed. Well, he volunteered, he changed his mind, he didn’t abandon his comrades during a firefight, and the British and Canadian governments have pardoned all WWI deserters, so in my opinion—big deal. Despite what Kate had been told—that Arlie simply never came back—my initial suspicion was that he left Camp Borden with the intentions of meeting up with his wife and child, and I stumbled across some evidence pointing in that direction.

After sending Kate some photos of some of Rolla’s papers, she happened to notice something peculiar on an address list, written by Rolla sometime between 1938 and 1948 (R.R.H. 246 , 13th St. East, Toronto 838630, C,). Kate pointed out that the numbers at the end happen to be Arlie’s regiment number and that “Toronto” was penciled in later. A Google search I conducted of the address turned up nothing in Toronto, but one of the first search results to pop up, to my dismay, was that exact address—only in Owen Sound, Ontario. Owen Sound is where Arlie lived when he married Dora and enlisted in the C.E.F.

According to, Dora remarried in 1926, in Owen Sound, to one Anthony Joseph and had three more children. It looks as though the Josephs had moved to Toronto by the time Rolla sold the cabin, as evident by the fact that the Joseph’s then 17 year old daughter was married in Toronto on June 7th, 1947. Anthony Joseph is listed a having died in 1977 in Toronto, but there is no birth location or birth date information. I believe there should be such information on microfilm at Archives of Ontario building in Toronto.

The only other information I have, in regards to Rolla’s movements after 1947, also comes from Kate. Kate claims to have been contacted by a relative of Rolla’s mother who’s father remembers visiting Rolla in Scarborough, Ontario (Toronto) in 1970. According to him, Rolla was living in the basement of a house owned by an Edward and Gladys Gould, census info shows the Goulds moved often and Rolla moved with them, and other records show Rolla was working for the Toronto Transit Commission in 1958. Sparse information, and doesn't do much to explain why he packed up and left the north shore, but I’ll take it.

Other: They really seem to be dragging their feet, but according to Kate, Archives Canada should be posting Rolla and Arlie’s military records sometime this fall (2015), so the truth about Arlie would be out, anyway.| I notice that now acknowledges Rupert Hannah; still lists Arlie as having died in Europe in 1918, though.

Update 5/26/16

According to Kate, Anthony Joseph was born in 1903 in Owen Sound. As for other news, Arlie and Rolla’s military records are now online in pdf form. Rolla’s file is large at 50MB, Arlie’s—about 10MB.

Back before Rolla’s records went online, Kate had given me a rundown of all the hardships that Rolla went through while he was enlisted, and she wasn’t kidding: All the misery the guy went through is a story in itself. He spent 13 days in Camp Niagara Hospital with the measles before being deployed on Aug 8, 1916. After arriving in England, he was hospitalized with severe enteritis and put in an isolation ward from Sept 7th to Nov 22nd. From there he went to a convalescent hospital, where his recovery was apparently hampered by a swollen knee. Altogether, he was hospitalized for nearly four months before being released on Jan 4th 1917. On May 23, 1917, he was transferred to the 124th Battalion and sailed for France.

On Nov 15, 1917, he received a severe injury to his right arm while putting up barbed wire near Ypres, Belgium. His records list the cause of his injury as shrapnel, with the abbreviation G.S.W., or both. Ypres was the site of some of the fiercest fighting during WW1, with what is known as the Third Battle of Ypres having took place from July 31st to Nov 10th 1917. However, according to a 124th battalion war-diary page, the time period when Rolla was injured was relatively quiet. The entry for the 15th mentions only one casualty—an accidental one. How one receives an “accidental” shrapnel injury putting up barbed wire is another mystery in itself—a grenade accident?, a fragmenting bullet or artillery shell from friendly fire? Whatever the cause, it certainly blows the whole German bullet legend.

Rolla would be transferred from one hospital to another before being sent back to Canada on March 11th 1918. However, he essentially arrived in Canada complaining of a sore throat. Before being discharged on Sept 16th, 1918, he would have his tonsils removed, his adenoids removed, plus four toenails—two from each foot.

mysteries, commentary, sci-fi

3-09-11, last rev = 10-14-21