The official start date of World War I was June 28, 1914. Gavrilo Princip assassinated Franz Ferdinand, the archduke of Austria-Hungary. Escalations from that event continued until Britain went to war on August 4, 1914. As Canada was part of the British Empire, they automatically joined the fight.
Now in 2014, we have reached 100 years since such a historical war, which in a 1914 clipping found in the Pontiac Archives was deemed a struggle – ‘Most awful the world has ever seen.’
Over 600,000 men and women in the young country of Canada served during the war, and when peace was declared in 1918, around 67,000 never saw home again.
At the end of Main Street in town, there is Memorial Park, a place to honour the people from the area who served in World War I, WWII, Korea and the Gulf War.
The names etched in the stone monument for WWI are 63 in total. Twenty of those names each have a star, indicating they died overseas. Who were those 20 people who went off to battle, never to return here again?
Records in the Archives are informative, but some names have only their basic Attestation Paper to enlist in what was then called the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force. Other names have included pictures and newspaper clippings to elaborate more on who they were and why they never returned.
From the papers and clippings, two names offer up a tale, which has the most surprising twist. They are Corporal David Hodgins and Private Lee Elbern Hodgins.
David, born April 3, 1882, enlisted in March, 1915. On his Attestation Paper, he wrote his next-of-kin as W.H. Hodgins, his father. David spent five months in the trenches until he was killed in action on March 11, 1916 at 31 years old.
Lee Hodgins, who enlisted at the end of 1915, wrote on his paper he was born in February, 1899. For his next-of-kin, Lee put down W.H. Hodgins because the man was his grandfather. David and Lee were father and son. Lee was killed in action on November 18, 1916, which would have made him 16 years old at the time.
The twist is – Lee was not 16. A newspaper picture tells of father and son making the supreme sacrifice. Lee was actually born, February 4, 1902, making him 14 years old when he died, three months shy of turning 15.
Imagine a 13 year old kid, courageous enough to fib to be allowed to join his father overseas, and his family maintaining bravery as they saw him go off to war? Curious thoughts, indeed.
Names on a stone
Pte. R.V. Anderson is in the same group as David, they are among the oldest of the 20 names because Anderson was 32. He had been born in Renfrew, but was living in Shawville when he enlisted. He wrote a Mrs. Anderson for his next-of-kin, since he was married. He died on April 22, 1916 at the disastrous Battle of St. Eloi, with 1,373 Canadian casualties overall.
Pte. Wilmur Armstrong joined the No. 9 Field Ambulance for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force. Being part of the Canadian Army Medical Corps, he died on September 30, 1916 at age 26. Another Private recounted Armstrong’s sacrifice. As he attended a wounded man, a shell hit and exploded. Armstrong shielded the man and he was struck with a piece of the shell, penetrating his lung, while the wounded man survived.
The next name is Pte. R.W Atkinson. Nothing was found on him.
Pte. Hugh Brownlee considered himself in Shawville, a farmer. He was apparently a sniper in battle, but a German sniper eventually killed him on November 12, 1916. Hugh’s brother, Joseph received a letter the year before, which Hugh wrote, “When we capture a trench, it is thick with dead Germans and sometimes we can’t get them buried for a couple days. The war can’t end any too soon for me.”
Pte. Ben Carey is believed to be one of more than 4,000 Canadians who died at the battle of Passchendale. He was 26.
Pte. Duncan Benjamin Draper of Shawville was honoured with a bell tower for his supreme sacrifice in October of 1916. The Clarendon Women’s Institute gave the dedication and the bell can still be found today, in the Memorial Park.
Pte. Louis Ethier hailed from Westmeath, ON and Pte. Lawerence Freeman Grant wrote he was in Pontiac County. Ethier was a tailor and Grant a carpenter. They both died in battle and are buried in cemeteries in France.
Pte. Lorne Hodgins was born in Shawville and worked on a farm. He was killed in action at 20 years old.
Pte. Asa Horner also was killed in action at 22. Horner was born in Charteris and is buried in France. He had also written a letter back home that said, “I am proud and glad to be here to fight for my country.”
Pte. John James Howard, a farmer from Shawville, Pte. Edgar Johncox, a lumberjack from Clarendon and Cpl. John Landry, a stone cutter from Shawville, all took part of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. A major assault and an important piece of Canadian history, they died there among the 10,000 other casualties. Howard was 23 and Johncox at 21. Landry had sustained gun-shot wounds in his hand and arm during the Battle of Ypres in 1916. He returned to duty, where Vimy Ridge he met his end.
Sgr. Milton Kreek of Shawville died at Etaple, France on October 15, 1918 at 22 years old.
There is one aspect of Pte. John Sheehan which sets him apart; he was born in England. He was living in Charteris as a farmer, when he enlisted in December, 1915 and died 11 months later. He was 21.
Pte. Robert Lorne Smiley lived in Quyon, but he was born in Shawville in 1894. He died during battle at 23.
Pte. Carleton Wainman of Shawville was born in November, 1897. He was only a school boy and was part of the Canadian Mounted Rifles. He had written his family on arrival in England that he was enamoured with the beautiful scenery. Wainman was 19 when he was killed in the Battle of Ypres, where Cpl. John Landry (above) received his gun-shot wounds.
Pte. Irwin Wilkie is the 20th name on the WWI monument. Other stories at the Archives refer to him as Irvine and Ervin. Wilkie, of the 21st Battalion died November 11, 1915 at 20 years old. A story from December, 1915 said he died, while attempting to rescue a wounded comrade. Wilkie was buried as Silas Erwin Wilkie, with ‘E.Wilkie’ on a gravestone in Belgium.
While these 20 people have been highlighted, the rest are equally as important. Also found at the Archives are passages of a poem, the author is unknown.
“…The fires of World War One were lit, then World War Two and the Korean Conflict
They marched away…
…For the liberty of others they would pay. They put their lives on the line
For our freedom, both yours and mine
From such a quiet tranquil place
The hell of war they had to face
Though most of them are dead and gone
Their heroism still lives on
Let’s build a monument, a place to lay a wreath, in silence, on Remembrance Day
Toward the setting sun to face, so in the many years to come
We won’t forget, not even one.”
By: Scott Campbell