It’s been over one hundred years since my paternal grandmother’s brother, Tom, died on the World War One battlefields of France, roughly five weeks before the final assault on Vimy. It seemed to me that Grandma bore his death with pain right up until her own death in 1991. She was already acting as home-maker to her widowed father and perhaps she thought he should have been staying home on the farm.
Perth newspaper accounts were quite limited, but brought the war home.
My father, who died in 2002, was given the first name of his late uncle (Thomas).
Any memories of Grandma talking about him are filtered through the eyes of the child that I was when these stories were told – less interested than I am nowadays. How I would love to hear them again. I can only imagine he went off to war because. at the very least, it was the thing to do at the time.
Though I’m sure there was at least an official telegram this is how Tom’s death was reported in the Perth Courier:
My sister has a formal portrait of Uncle Tom, in his handsome uniform (different from the one in the press clipping), taken in Perth before his deployment, as well as a cloth belt which was sent home completely covered with various regimental pins from across Canada.
The newspaper clippings come from Veterans Affairs Canada, as do these copies of Uncle Tom’s ‘attestation papers’. (Looking at his signature, I can see an amazing resemblance to my grandmother’s penmanship, as well as my Dad’s!)
Only tonight, watching the first part of “The Great War”, a film on CBC-TV by Brian McKenna, did I learn that “Complexion: Fresh” was racist code used to distinguish non-white soldiers, gladly accepted when county-by-county quotas were low, from their ‘fresh-faced’ comrades.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) web site provides these stark ‘Casualty Details’ (I have added links):
Regiment/Service: Canadian Infantry (Central Ontario Regiment)
Unit Text: 75th Bn.
Date of Death: 01/03/1917
Service No: 787151
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: VII. D. 17.
Cemetery: VILLERS STATION CEMETERY, VILLERS-AU-BOIS
There’s a bit more of an online tribute, however generic, here.