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The Sarnia Journal

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saying ‘thank you’ to current and fallen veterans

S

arnia’s military contribution to Canada’s defence is second to none. More than one in 10 residents of the city enlisted to fight in the First World War, and a staggering 16% of the population signed up for the Second. From the Boer War to Afghanistan, the call to action resulted in the sacrifice of 306 local men who fell in service to the nation. The special publication you see before you is both a tribute to the men and women who serve today, and a commemoration of those who so often bravely fought in the past.

GEORGE MATHEWSON Most of the stories owe their genesis to the Sarnia War Remembrance Project, a meticulous record of the city’s military contributions initiated five years ago by retired teacher Tom Slater and a group of volunteer researchers. The vast majority of the stories here have never been told before, beyond the families of the participants, and they

represent countless hours of original research, interviews and fact checking. The roster of skillful writers who contributed to the project includes Slater, fellow researchers Tom St. Amand and Lou Giancarlo, Journal columnist Phil Egan and military historian Randy Evans. Gratitude as well goes to our sales team, graphic artists, carriers, and especially all of our advertisers, without whom this special edition would not have been possible. Sarnia Remembers is our own small way of keeping alive the memory of those who serve to protect our freedoms, and to say thank you. Lest we forget. Cover artwork by Tyler Viscount of The Journal. Image used: “Canada's part in the Somme advance: a brilliant affair at Courcelette,” drawn by Fortunino Matania. The scene depicts the capture of the sugar refinery at Courcelette in Northern France by the Canadians on Sept. 15, 1916.

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Sarnia Journal

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Point Edward man determined to see front-line action TOM ST. AMAND & TOM SLATER

T

he grave marker reveals little about Albert Edwin Potter, beyond the fact he died at the age of 22 on Aug. 6, 1918. It certainly doesn’t tell us about the determination of the man, or the extraordinary steps he took to fight for his home and country. Three times Albert Potter tried to see active duty on the front line of the First World War, and three times his superiors rejected him. But, as one person observed, the Point Edward man had “a spirit that would not stay down.” Potter was just 19 when he enlisted in No. 3 Stationary Hospital Corps early in 1915, but after four months of duty with the unit he contracted pneumonia and was discharged. Rejection number one. He convalesced for

three months and rejoined the Hospital Unit, but only for one day. The pneumonia came back and he was discharged again. Rejection number two. Potter returned to his hometown and could have easily stayed there. But when the Lambton 149th was organized, he re-enlisted with the Battalion Band in February of 1916. He was determined to fight, and Private Potter was at least headed back overseas, even if it was as a musician. He was stationed in England until drafts for active service in France led to the band’s dissolution. Once more he volunteered to fight in France and again awaited the decision. He was deemed unfit to serve. Rejection number three. Instead, he was transferred to the 156th Battalion Band and toured the hospitals in England, giving musical concerts to cheer up wounded

ALBERT POTTER

soldiers and sailors. Then, in February of 1918, Potter finally achieved his goal.

He was sent to France with the Canadian Infantry in the 21st Battalion of the Eastern Ontario

Regiment, and almost immediately rushed to the front lines. Private Potter had no illusions about war. He saw two of his best friends killed in two months. Despite sadness and heartache, he remained cheery and optimistic in his letters home. In the final one, sent to his parents on Brock Street, he asked them not to worry, that he hoped to see them soon. On Aug. 6 as Canadian troops began the final Hundred Days Campaign his battalion pushed past Villers Bretonneux to occupy new positions in the front line trenches. An enemy shell hit an ammunition dump and the blast killed Albert Potter and several others instantly. Back in Sarnia, his family received a letter from the chaplain. It said young Albert “suffered no pain” and “was a good soldier.” His remains are buried in the Longueau British

Cemetery in Somme, France, and his name is inscribed on the Sarnia Cenotaph. A local tribute was written for Albert Potter. It began with the words, “What a price we are paying for liberty.”


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The Sarnia Journal

Saturday, November 11, 2017

How suit-wearing ‘generals’ in Sarnia changed the tide of war PHIL EGAN THE JOURNAL

N

ot every general during the Second World War was in uniform. Though they went to work each day in suits, J.R. Nicholson, E. Ralph Rowzee and Roger Hatch were as critical to the war effort as any officer in the Allied forces. And their battlefield was right here in Sarnia. As the Japanese Imperial Army swarmed across the islands of the South Pacific in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, they created a crisis for Western nations in their conquering wake. As the rubber plantations of Southeast Asia fell under the Japanese yoke, the ensuing rubber shortage threatened to ground Allied aircraft and jeeps, trucks and armoured vehicles for lack of rubber tires.

THE PARKING LOT and gate of the Polymer Corporation, as it appeared in June of 1952. Photo courtesy, Lambton County Archives, Sarnia Observer negative collection, 05016-02

Two weeks after the attack on the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt met with

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Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in Washington. King was accompanied by his Minister of Munitions and Supply, Clarence Decatur (C.D.) Howe. The leaders decided to initiate a revolutionary new program for the mass manufacture of reliable synthetic rubber. The site they selected for the $800-million investment was the little city of Sarnia, population 18,000. It was partly chosen for its transportation advantages, but also because the presence of Imperial Oil ensured the availability

of needed petrochemical cracked gases for the production of butadiene, to be used in the polymerization process. Dow Chemical would also build a plant in Sarnia to provide further raw materials to Polymer. Both plants opened together in 1942. On the eve of war in 1939, the prospect of manufacturing synthetic rubber on a mass scale was a daunting challenge. A 1944 Maclean’s article said the feat presented complications “to even such deft broth blenders as Shakespeare’s three witches.” Roger Hatch was a

graduate student in organic chemistry at McGill University at war’s outbreak. He joined the Polymer team, working under general manager J.R. Nicholson to expedite the delivery of scarce wartime components and raw materials. In the meantime, E. Ralph Rowzee, an executive at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, was busy designing a prototype facility that would become the model for the future Polymer Corporation. All of these “best and brightest” future citizens of Sarnia worked together

to produce the first fully integrated rubber plant in the British Empire, as the book, Profiting the Crown: a history of Polymer, described it. The creation of Polymer would change the tide of war in the Allies’ favour, but it would also forever change Sarnia. A period of large-scale industrial and population growth would follow, as the Chemical Valley began to take shape and flourish. The Polymer rubber plant was an achievement of war, but it set the stage for a coming era of peace.

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The Sarnia Journal

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Couple’s love story ended tragically in German forest TOM ST. AMAND & TOM SLATER

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he house was in ruins, but he found a box to sit on and placed a blank sheet of paper on a rickety table. It was February 1945 in war-ravaged Germany. When he picked up his pen in the candlelight, Lieutenant Bill Graham, 26, couldn’t have known he had just days to live. He had no idea when he started writing another letter home that he would never see again his beloved wife, Dorothy, or their baby daughter, Susan. He knew only that when Dorothy received

the letter she would realize he was safe. A closing line carried an assurance: “We’ll all be together soon. Kiss Susan for me, darling.” The letter was mailed on February 24, 1945. On the morning of March 2, during the Battle of the Rhineland, a German mortar bomb exploded near Bill Graham in Hochwald Forest. He died instantly. People who served with Lieutenant Graham spoke of his competence and his bravery. His letters home portrayed a loving husband and proud father, a professional soldier who served his country admirably, but one anxious to return home.

NEVER FORGOTTEN

BILL AND HIS beloved wife "Doodie" Graham.

Tall and handsome, Graham was the sort of man who remained calm in trying times, or “reliable and inspiring confidence,” as one officer put it. He needed those qualities as a sergeant-major during the Dieppe Raid of August 1942, when he and his brother Jack were with the Essex Scottish regiment. Bill Graham returned to England safely, but Jack was captured and remained a prisoner until the war’s end. In 1943, Bill Graham wrote to his parents in Sarnia that the nightmare of Dieppe still stayed with him. He also disclosed that he was recommended for a commission in Canada. During his return, he

married the lovely Dorothy Davies in London on May 21, 1943. Bill’s affectionate nickname for Dorothy was “Doodie” and the young couple was ecstatic when they learned she was expecting six months later. Graham desperately wanted a little girl and received his wish when Susan was born on September 3, 1944. He was attending the Officer Training Centre (OTC) in Brockville at the time and in October he was transferred to the Canadian School of Infantry in Vernon, BC. One instructor noted Bill was “quiet, not easily excited . . . well liked by his men [and] capable of leading an infantry platoon.”

After receiving his commission as a lieutenant Graham was recalled overseas and he left on Christmas Day, 1944. His letters came often, the homesick lieutenant providing snippets of news and much affection. Jan. 22: “Your description of Susan’s first Christmas made me feel I could see all the things she received.” Jan. 30: “There is no fun in being so far away and depending on snaps to watch your daughter growing up. Feb. 6: “Oh happy day! I received a letter this evening. Believe me, darling, I wish I was home too.” His final letter said: “It will be so nice to settle down and live peaceful, normal lives again. I adore you, my dear wife.” Then came Hochwald Forest, and the letters stopped. Four days after Lieutenant Graham died a letter from Doodie arrived, bearing two small snapshots—one of a Christmas tree and the other of baby Susan. The big news was that Susan, whom Bill affectionately called “The Pablum Eater,” had rolled over in her playpen. “I love you with all my heart. Susan and I will be waiting right here for you,” Doodie wrote. The letter was returned to Doodie stamped: “Reported Deceased.” Lieutenant Bill Graham is buried in Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, Netherlands.

Continued on 7

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

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some photos in 2005 as part of the 60th anniversary of VE-Day. In Sarnia, Bill’s brother, Jack, “pretty near fell over” when he saw a photograph of his brother on the front page of the Globe and Mail. The pictures evoked good and bad memories, but Jack was ultimately pleased and proud that others were remembering Bill. Further investigation led reporters to Fredericton where Susan was living. Her mother had never shown the letters to Susan, so she was pleasantly surprised to learn of them. The only memories she had of her father were from various photos and the stories her mother told. Susan remembered that once, during a power outage, her mother and she sat on the floor and, in the glow of

candlelight, Doodie regaled Susan with stories about her proud father. Remembrance Day was always extremely difficult for Susan because her classmates’ fathers had all come home; but her childhood was mostly ordinary, filled with anecdotes about her father. “It was just like he was part of our family,” she recalls. She has never visited her father’s grave, but has asked her children to bury her ashes on his grave when she passes away “so that my father and I will be together.” Lieutenant Bill Graham died a hero in 1945, and today, more than seven decades later, his wartime letters keep his memory alive.

SARNIA'S BILL GRAHAM, wife "Doodie" and baby Susan, shortly before the new lieutenant returned to Europe. Submitted Photo

Continued from 6 Doodie Graham kept her husband’s wartime letters for the rest of her life. Soldiers overseas wrote thousands of letters home in WWII, but Bill’s letters affected others decades

after he wrote them. Doodie visited her husband’s grave in Holland shortly after the war ended. They had known each other for only a few years, but their love for each other was genuine and intense.

Bill was her first love, her special love. She re-married in 1958, worked as an assistant hospital administrator and passed away in the late 1990s. Only then did members of the family discover

Bill Graham’s steamer trunk in her house. It contained his wartime personal effects, and his letters to Doodie. A family member contacted The Globe and Mail, which ran the letters and

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The Sarnia Journal

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Was Sarnia mayor a victim of invisible war wounds? another parishioner. Born in 1871 in Scotland, he rose to prominence in Sarnia as a physician, a community leader and became the city’s mayor in 1911. His legacy as mayor included convincing the federal government to dredge Sarnia Bay and create a harbour capable of berthing overwintering ships. He was an early war enlistee into the British Army Medical Corps in 1915 and served in Egypt and France, and notably during the bloody rout of the British at Gallipoli in November and December of that year. That should clearly have

made Captain Henderson a candidate for the church’s Honour Rolls – except for two fter the First World War facts. He didn’t die overseas or the congregation of St. on active duty. Andrew’s Presbyterian On Aug. 12, 1916 the doctor decided to erect an Honour returned to Sarnia and a Roll to commemorate the public reception at Victoria church’s fallen. Square. Speeches by dignitarThere was no question the ies followed band performancnames of Bentley, Bissett, es and a parade of motorcars Chapman, Cowan, McGibbon, through the downtown. Soper and Towers would be The Observer ran a multiadded to the Roll. After all, page report on the reunion the remains of these serthat didn’t mention any vicemen lay in marked and war-related injury suffered by unmarked graves overseas. the doctor. On the contrary, But what about Cpt. Wilhe appeared to be in the best liam A. Henderson, a local of health, and began re-engagdoctor? Should his name be ing into an active professional included? and civilian life. Dr. Henderson was not just Unfortunately, that ended just two months later. On Oct. 25 the doctor was involved in a single-car accident, and its circumstances were singular. Witnesses said his car went out of control for no apparent reason. Dr. Henderson was seen falling over sideways in the car “We slip the bonds of gravity and soar into the sky, before it collided with a remembering those who fought for us and made us free to fly.” coal wagon. Clearly, the deceased The pilots and flight enthusiasts of COPA Flight 7 and the pilots of the had been in distress 403 Honour Flight formation flying team remember the sacrifice of those prior to the impact. No cause of death was who fought for our freedom and those who continue to do so. released to the public. The Observer imThe Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) provides a unified mediately attributed voice for general aviation, currently representing 17,000 members in every Dr. Henderson’s death province and territory. COPA Flight 7 is one of over 200 regional and local to his war experience. chapters. We welcome private pilots and flight enthusiasts to join our ranks. Similarly, in a speech For more information, contact COPA Flight 7 at: to St. Andrew’s faithcopaflight7@hotmail.com ful, Rev. J.J. Patterson stated, “It might well

A

RANDY EVANS

We honour those who fought for our freedom

MAYOR BILL HENDERSON

appear that Dr. Henderson is another victim of The Great War … His strenuous year at the Front with his enthusiastic advocacy of the Red Cross movement since his return have proved too much for human strength.“ That conclusion was well founded. Within Sarnia it was well known that some World War One veterans died very soon after returning home, and not all of war-related injuries. Other circumstances prevailed in some cases.

Dr. Henderson was one of 14 returnees who met such a premature demise. Even after the Armistice, the war continued to claim lives. Dr. Henderson’s name was indeed included on the St. Andrew’s Honour Rolls, which is fitting and proper. Along with the others, his service is most deserving of Remembrance. The name of Captain W.A. Henderson does not, however, appear on the Sarnia Cenotaph. Lest we forget.

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Sarnia Journal

The Staff and Members of Carpenters’ Local 1256

thank our Veterans as well as the men and women of the Canadian Armed forces for everything they have done and do to keep us safe

THANK YOU

“YOU ARE OUR HEROES”

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The Sarnia Journal

Albert Potter, 19

Elliot Watson, 18

Geoffrey Stone, 17

Saturday, November 11, 2017

John Dowding, 16

Leonard Meere, 18

Old men declare wars, it’s the youth who fight and die TOM ST. AMAND & TOM SLATER

D

onald Nichol was 19 when he was taken by pneu-

monia. Norman Brearley was 17 when an exploding enemy shell felled him just after the Battle of Vimy Ridge. And Robert Batey, a

kid from Savoy Street, was 15 when he died at the Battle of the Somme. When the death of local soldiers in the First World War became known back home in

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Sarnia, families and friends were stricken with grief. One local writer was shocked by their age, observing that many of those who were dying were fresh out of school. “The youngsters are the ones who are paying the toll in this great carnage,” he observed. Many young Sarnians did indeed pay the ultimate sacrifice in The Great War, and the trend continued into the Second World War. Stanley Teskey, John McKernan, George Esser and James Banks — to name a few — enlisted in their teens. Instead of attending high school or continuing to work, they went to war and died fighting. Stanley Teskey was killed aboard a Halifax bomber on a bombing mission over Germany; John McKernan lost his life fighting in the Battle of Normandy; George Esser died in the Battle

of Scheldt in the Netherlands, and James Banks made it to the age of 21 before being fatally shot in Northern France. Certainly older Sarnians distinguished themselves in both wars, but many who left Sarnia to fight and die were young. Sixteen percent of the city’s fallen in the First World War enlisted as teens. The median enlistment age was 24 and the median age of those killed just over 25. In the Second World War — “the young man’s war” —almost 40% of Sarnia’s fallen enlisted as teens and 61% who signed up were 21 or under. Nearly one-third of those killed were between the ages of 17 and 21, and their median age was 23. They were not professionally trained soldiers before they enlisted. Many were students, or left jobs as farmers and firemen, machinists

and butchers to sign up. They were ordinary young men who chose to respond in times of extraordinary circumstances. For many, it was the first monumental decision of their lives. No one knew how long either war would last, but they were prepared to accept indefinite absences from home for causes they believed were right. Their reasons for enlisting in both wars ran the gamut. Many wanted to be part of a “great adventure;” others wanted an opportunity to travel and earn money or to escape a difficult home situation. A few enlisted to be with their brothers or emulate their fathers, and some went because their friends were doing so. Robert Batey, Norman Brearley, John Dowding, Ross Stevens and others were so eager to Continued on 11


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The Sarnia Journal

Ralph Mellon, 18

Continued from 10 enlist they lied about their age at recruitment

Orval Evers, 18

centres. Regardless of their reasons or their age, all

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Royal Crawford, 18

put their lives on the line for their country. Sarnia is proud of its

Stanley Teskey, 17

military heritage—and rightly so. When duty called, many answered.

Stuart Carr, 18

Perhaps U.S. president Herbert Hoover said it best when he noted:

“Older men declare war, but it is youth that must fight and die.”

Schedule for city Remembrance Service

R

emembrance Day services in Sarnia on Saturday, Nov. 11 will begin with the parade form-up at the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch, 62, at 10:20 a.m. The Hall is located at 286 Front St. For those involved in the parade, the March on the Colours will be followed by the laying of wreaths at the tank

Calamity, which is at the front of the hall. The parade will begin marching at 10:35 a.m. to the Cenotaph in Veterans’ Park. The route will head south on Front Street, east on George Street, south on Christina Street, and then east on Wellington Street. It will arrive at the park at 10:57 a.m.

The traditional service will include O Canada, the Last Post, two-minute silence, prayers, speeches, the reciting of In Flanders Fields, and the laying of wreaths at the Cenotaph.

Christina Street will be closed, so plan accordingly. Following the service, the public is invited back to the Legion for refreshments.

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The Sarnia Journal

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Doug Dunn Sr. escaped twice from notorious POW camp

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oug Dunn was a pal of mine from our first days of Grade One, and eight years later we attended high school together. The last Halloween in which I dressed up did not start off well. I stopped by Doug’s house on South Victoria Street, the two of us planning to attend a high school dance. I thought I looked pretty good. With my hair combed from right to left and wearing a dark trench coat and officer’s cap – both adorned with swastikas – a Sam Browne belt and Hitler moustache, I might have passed for the German dictator. What I remember most about that night was Doug’s dad and his disappointed, stricken face. Until that memorable night

PHIL

EGAN

I didn’t know he’d been a German Prisoner of War throughout much of the Second World War. Doug and I never made it to the dance. As I rapidly changed my appearance Douglas A. Dunn, Sr. told me exactly what he thought of my costume and my unintentional glorification of one of the worst men to ever live. Doug Dunn had lied about his age when war broke out. He enlisted at 17 as a sapper in the 11th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers. Canada suffered 3,367 casualties during the Dieppe Raid on August 19, 1943. Doug Dunn was one

of them, shot on the beach that disastrous day. Treated by nuns in a French hospital, he became one of 1,946 Canadian soldiers captured at Dieppe. Later, he was transferred to the notorious German POW camp at Lamsdorf in Silesia, Stalag 8B. Originally used by the Germans to house British and French POW’s in the First World War, the site had been in use as a prison camp since the Franco-Prussian war. At Lamsdorf, Dunn helped build a successful tunnel from which seven POW’s managed to escape. He himself made a bid for freedom when he and a group of his companions were being transferred to Stalag 17B, near the Austrian town of Krens. He was returned to the camp after three days of freedom, but

REMEMBRANCE DAY We honour those who have given their lives serving Canadians and helping people of other nations.

DOUG DUNN, CENTRE, still on crutches recovering from wounds suffered at Dieppe, is shown with a few fellow prisoners in Stalag 8B, the largest German POW Camp. Submitted Photo

later tried again with two other Canadian prisoners. This time they made their way to Vienna, arriving just eight days before the war’s end. After everything he

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Sarnia Journal

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Sarnia mother’s poem questioned the cost of the Great War

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his following poem was written by Margaret Louisa Foulds Johnston (1860-1964), a member of an early city family. Johnston was the mother of Gunner Gilbert Sutherland Johnston, who served in the First World War with the 63rd Battery Canadian Field Artillery. The 63rd was raised from towns all across Southwestern Ontario, and took part in the allied ‘100 Days’ offensive, the final push that drove the Germans out of France and ended the war. Her son survived, but like many mothers, Margaret Johnston was so certain Gilbert would perish that she gave away all of his clothes and worldly belongings.

Who Paid the Price? I paid the price said Belgium

I paid the price said Belgium.

I paid the price said France I paid bravest men Old men, young men, - and then Youths - all that I had: Peace can but give Shadows that live On the walls of Romance I paid the price said France.

there” Sang the air That heartened every one We won everything in sight My boys know how to fight And oh! How proud I am I paid the price said Uncle Sam.

************ They silent lie Who won the war, ‘neath wave and sod. Nor you, nor I Know how they paid, but only God. - Margaret Louisa Foulds Johnston, Sarnia, Canada

We paid the price said John We paid with all the strength Of Britain’s ships - and length Of Britain’s arm At the first alarm We paid the price said John We paid - still pay on and on. MARGARET JOHNSTON

I held the gates through shot and shell Through all the fires of hell My little band of men

David Johnston Photo

Kept back the horde That over the border poured ‘Til France’s cry “I come”!

I paid the price said Uncle Sam I sent munitions, when They were most needed, then “Over there, over

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Lest we forget In honour of Canada’s veterans, military personnel and their families. It’s because of these brave men and women that we have the ability to experience a wonderful quality of life, freedom of expression and democracy. We’re grateful to all of the veterans who have fought for our freedom, and for the lives that have been given. We’ll always remember you, as we share your memories and stories. To all of you... we salute you.

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The Sarnia Journal

Saturday, November 11, 2017

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

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The Sarnia Journal

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Sarnia Remembers

Aamjiwnaang teens distinguished themselves in action TOM ST. AMAND & TOM SLATER

T

he Aamjiwnaang First Nation Cenotaph features three vertical stone columns atop a stone base. Inscribed on the centre column are the words “To our glorious veterans who have served our nation and its allies for peace and freedom—Lest We Forget.” The side columns bear the names of two soldiers who fell in the First and Second World Wars: Fred Doxtator and Harley Williams. They both died young and in different circum-

stances. In late 1915, Fred Doxtator enlisted at age 19 with the 149th Lambton Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. By April 1917, he had embarked for England as a member of the 25th Battalion. He arrived in France seven months later, but in ill health. Doxtator was by then showing symptoms of the disease that would take his life. He was suffering shortness of breath, his laboured breathing punctuated with persistent coughing. Despite his condition, Doxtator continued to fulfill his duties. On June 21, 1918, he be-

came a sapper with the 4th Battalion, Canadian Engineers “B Company and two days later he was at the front lines. Two months later his fighting days were over. Too sick to fight, Sapper Doxtator was eventually invalided back to England. The diagnosis was grim: pulmonary tuberculosis. He remained in an English hospital until the end of October when he was transported to the Cogswell Street Military Hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia. On Nov. 11, 1918, the world rejoiced as the Great War finally ground to an end. But on that

day Ed Doxtator in Sarnia received a telegram stating that his son was dangerously ill. Four

days later, Sapper Frederick Doxtator lost his battle to tuberculosis. He was 22.

At his funeral, Fred was given full military honours with members Continued on 17

Remembrance

DAY

November 11

THE CENOTAPH BESIDE the band administrative office honours Aamjiwnaang's veterans, including fallen soldiers Fred Doxtater and Harley Williams. GEORGE MATHEWSON The Journal

On the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

WE REMEMBER

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Teens:

Continued from 16 of the Great War veterans and Sarnia Citizens’ band in attendance. A firing squad paid its final respects to Sapper Doxtator before he was buried at the Aamjiwnaang First

The Sarnia Journal

Page 17

Sarnia Remembers Nation Cemetery. Years later, another Aamjiwnaang teenager enlisted. Fluent in English and Chippewa, Harley Williams was active in sports and enjoyed hunting and fishing. He had a good job and a steady girlfriend, but because his brother was in the army Williams was eager to join as well.

When he joined the Canadian Army in March of 1944 at the age 18 he did so with the full intension of returning to his job at the Morton Salt Company in Port Huron. At basic training, he was assessed by an examiner who described the teen as “a rugged lad, good natured and strong . . . has an excellent Army

attitude . . . should make a good rifleman.” Private Williams embarked overseas on Oct. 12, 1944 and became a member of the Essex Scottish Regiment, Royal Canadian Infantry Corps. But as the Allies advanced into Germany early in 1945 Private Harley Williams was killed on March 8 during the

Battle of the Rhineland. Exactly two months later the war in Europe was over. No circumstances of Williams’ death were forthcoming. His parents received a telegram in April 1945, stating that Harley “was killed in action against the enemy in the Western European Theatre of War. We pay

tribute to the sacrifice he so bravely made.” Nineteen-year-old Harley Williams is buried in Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery, Netherlands. The names of Fred Doxtator and Harley Williams, two of Aamjiwnaang’s glorious veterans, are also inscribed on the Sarnia Cenotaph.

Yet Indigenous people throughout Canada had every reason not to volunteer. During the Great War, First Nations people did not have the rights of Canadian citizenship. As wards of the Crown they could not vote; they couldn’t own land; and residential schools were attempting to strip away their culture. By the Second World War the situation had not improved greatly. In fact, both the Canadian Air Force and Navy required volunteers to be “of pure European

descent and of the white race” until 1942 and 1943 respectively. The military hierarchy also worked almost exclusively in English, a language many Indigenous soldiers did not understand. Only on the battlefield were things different. As one First Nation veteran recalled, “the fighting zone … [was] the only time in my life I was equal to the white society or anybody else.” Two aboriginal units were formed in the Great War, and its recruits were valued for

their skills at tracking, navigating without instruments, scouting and marksmanship. First Nations soldiers left a remarkable record of wartime accomplishments. They served in all branches of the service, fought in every major battle and campaign, and were decorated for their bravery. Corporal Mike Mountain Horse, a Vimy Ridge survivor, later said, “The war proved that the fighting spirit of my tribe was not squelched through reservation life.” The Remembrance

Day ceremony at the Aamjiwnaang First Nation Cenotaph is held on Nov. 10th. It is planned that way to gives residents an opportunity to

honour all those from Aamjiwnaang who served, and to attend the ceremony at Veteran’s Park on Nov. 11th.

Indigenous vets had every reason not fight for Canada TOM ST. AMAND & TOM SLATER

T

he Aamjiwnanng First Nation has a proud military history, with at least 34 men and women enlisting to serve with the Canadian and U.S. military during the two World Wars. And they are part of over 8,000 First Nation soldiers who served. Stanley Jackson, the last surviving Amjiwnaang veteran from WWII, passed away just two years ago at the age of 94.

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Page 18

The Sarnia Journal

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Unlucky teen first Sarnian to die in Second World War TOM ST. AMAND & TOM SLATER

The say that “Bad luck comes in threes,” and that old adage certainly proved true for Stephen Powell. When Powell was killed in 1940 he became the first Sarnian to die in the Second World War. And the circumstances of his passing remain tragic and puzzling to this day. The eldest son of Cora and Ernie, Stephen attended Sarnia’s public schools. He was an active youth, becoming a member of the Servers’ Club at St. George’s Anglican Church and completed a course in electricity at SCITS. Powell also became a member of the 26th Lambton Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery in Sarnia. At the age of 17,

and before the war began, he joined the Royal Canadian Navy in April 1939. Ordinary Seaman Powell was first assigned to the HMCS Fraser, a C-class destroyer. On June 25, 1940, the ship was heading to Bordeaux, France to help in the rescue of approximately 4,000 refugees trapped in the area by German forces. Accompanying the HMCS Fraser were the HMCS Restigouche and the British destroyer HMS Calcutta. At 10:30 p.m. that night and facing rough seas and poor visibility, the Fraser’s captain decided the three ships should move closer together and ordered a turn to port to bring his ship behind the Calcutta. In the rolling sea the two ships collided, and the bow of the heavier Cal-

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cutting it into three pieces. Forty-five members of the Fraser crew and 19 men aboard the Calcutta perished. Stephen Powell survived that accident at sea, but bad luck continued to pursue him. Following the Fraser sinking he had a second close call when the ship he was on was bombed at a London dock, and a number of crew members were killed. He was then transferred to the HMCS Margaree, a D-class destroyer. In October 1940, the Margaree was the sole escort for a convoy of five ships heading for Halifax. They were about 750 kilometres northwest of Iceland and zigzagging without lights in a submarine zone, when the identical circumstances that doomed the Fraser claimed the HMCS Margaree: Nighttime and poor visibility. Rough seas and a fateful turn to port. Another collision in the Atlantic. The Margaree struck the freighter MV Port Fairy and took the brunt of the collision. The entire bow section of the Margaree was sheared off and sank instantly. A total of 142 men died, 86 of them crew members of the ill-fated

Fraser. This time, Stephen Powell did not escape. The reason for the collision remains a mystery. All the officers who were issuing the orders were gathered on the bow of the Margaree, and they too perished. The ship’s aft section floated long enough for the 34 remaining crewmembers to be rescued from the icy ocean. After Powell’s parents received the official notification of their son’s death, two of his letters arrived in the mail. In them, he expressed hope he’d be able to make a trip home to Sarnia soon. He was just 18. At a memorial service at St. George’s Church, Stephen was remembered for “his uprightness and splendid physical, mental and spiritual characteristics.” In July 1941, a Memorial Cross would be issued to Cora Powell for the loss of her son. Also referred to as the Silver Cross, it was engraved with Stephen’s name, rank and service number. Able-Bodied Seaman Stephen Powell deserved better luck. He has no known grave and his name is inscribed on the Halifax Memorial and the Sarnia Cenotaph.

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We at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 46- Locals 1590/1494 would like to say

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Page 20

The Sarnia Journal

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Soldier died a hero’s death trying to save wounded officer LOU GIANCARLO & TOM SLATER

I

gnoring the advice of his parents and brother, Gerald Kelly enlisted in the Canadian army in May of 1943. The eighteen-year-old reasoned he should go because his chums were going, and together they could “get the war over sooner.” Such sentiments were echoed time and again by young men who were bound by a sense of loyalty, both to their country and their friends. Kelly came from a large

family of three brothers and five sisters. He was born, raised and attended school in Sarnia and began work at the age of 17. But as soon as possible he answered a greater call. During basic training in Listowel, Ont. an army examiner noted he had “a high degree of self-confidence and an assertive personality, adding he was a bright, pleasant lad …[who] should be watched for evidence of leadership ability.” Kelly embarked for England in February 1944 and became a private in the Algonquin Regiment Infantry Battalion, Royal Canadian Infantry

Corps. His sanguine outlook shone through in a letter he wrote his mother that April, in which he said he greatly enjoyed the regimental dance. Tellingly, he also asked his mother not to save his remitted pay for him and to deposit his 5th Victory Bond in the bank in her name. Kelly arrived in France in July and served in the Battle of the Scheldt, near the Dutch-Belgium border. As a prelude to battle, the Algonquin Regiment was tasked with clearing the Scheldt estuary of German defenders, and it had soon suffering 158 casualties. Kelly had his birthday on Sept. 13, and one day later he died trying to save his wounded sergeant. His mother received a letter shortly after from a Major Cassidy, who wrote: “It may help you to know he died a hero’s death. After 24 hours of the hardest fighting this unit has ever seen or known, during which time Gerald distinguished himself on several occasions for bravery, the unit was ordered to withdraw across a water obstacle. Gerald was already at the obstacle and about ready to enter a boat, when it became known that a wounded

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sergeant, who was supposed to have been carried by another party, could not be found. Gerald and another sergeant, without being ordered or asked, at once returned through heavy shell and machine gun fire to bring back the wounded party. He was on his return with the sergeant on his back when a shell struck close by, killing him instantly. The other rescuer was wounded, but managed to get back, and he told me this story.”

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 530 would like you to join us and our members as we commemorate Remembrance Day on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year.

Gerald Kelly was posthumously awarded a Certificate of Recommendation in January 1945 in recognition of his bravery and devotion to duty. The Ministry of National Defence expressed its sincere regret “that your son did not live to receive this award.” He rests in Adegem Canadian War Cemetery in Adegem, Belgium. And his legacy remains, as he would have wished: a true soldier and a true friend.

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The Sarnia Journal

Page 21

After decades of silence, a Dieppe veteran opens up TOM ST. AMAND & TOM SLATER

F

or 62 years, Jack Graham never discussed his wartime experiences. The memory was simply too painful. A soldier with the Essex Scottish regiment, Graham was one of nearly 2,000 Canadians captured at Dieppe in 1942. During his 34 months as a prisoner of war in four different German stalags, the 22-year-old from Sarnia had plenty of time to reflect. On the bloodstained water of Dieppe, on the eight hours of hell on the beach, and on his own situation. The Germans used twine to bind the “Dieppers” wrists for six months, forced them to march, and fed them meagre rations of black bread and turnip soup. When he was finally liberated, the 6’ foot 2” Graham weighed just 100 pounds. He also had time to think of Doris, a young woman in the RAF he had met in England. And he thought often of his parents back in Sarnia, Arthur and Florence, and of his brothers, Bill and Lloyd, who were also serving in the war. Jack Graham knew of the turmoil his parents suffered back home with three boys away at war, and they remained his heroes for the rest of his

life. When the war in Europe ended, things changed dramatically for Graham. He returned to England and married Doris in June 1945, beginning a 66-year union that produced three children: Lynne, Lloyd and Marsha. He also learned both his brothers had been killed in action. Graham’s war years soon became a subject off limits, hidden behind a door that remained closed as he worked in Sarnia and supported a growing family. Once, he objectJACK GRAHAM WORE his blue jacket and ed when Doris had medals every Remembrance Day. cooked turnips for a Submitted Photo meal, daughter Marsha said. On another that read “Rememtrigued, his teacher occasion, Marsha ber Dieppe,” and pay asked the family if recalled, she and her his respects at the Garrett’s hero would brother opening a cenotaph. consider talking to large tin box that But he never disthe class. held their father’s cussed his own warAfter six decades, diaries, medals, and time experiences. Jack Graham finally other war effects. And then, one decided to break He told them to day in 2004, his his silence. The close it immediately. great-grandson Gar- younger generation Yet his nearly rett brought home a had no connection three years spent in Grade 3 “Show and to the war and they the camps someShare” assignment. deserved to learn how never soured The boy had drawn about it so they Jack Graham’s a picture of his hero, wouldn’t forget, he outlook. Far from his great-grandfareasoned. it. He enjoyed life ther, in his soldier’s After that, he was — his children, his uniform and shown asked to speak to grandchildren, his it to classmates. In- another class, and, great-grandchildren and ballroom and square dancing. And on every Remembrance Day he would McCormack Funeral Home - Stewart Chapel wear a 254 George Street, Sarnia Ontario, N7T 4P2 blue jacket Phone: 519-383-7121 Fax: 519-383-6193 pinned with Cameron McCormack - Funeral Director 2016 Award Winner for the Sarnia Chamber of Commerce medals, Outstanding Customer Service Award. carry a sign

until he passed away in 2011, Jack Graham never really stopped. He wore a poppy every day and brought extras for those not wearing one on Remembrance Day. He posted “Remember Dieppe” signs throughout Veterans’ Park. He spoke to service clubs, to church

groups and at different schools. And his message never varied: those who fought for our freedom and those who perished doing so must always be remembered. He reserved the last part of each talk for his parents, his personal heroes.

Marsha Guthrie still treasures the sketch Garrett did of his great-grandfather, which her father was so proud of he had it laminated. Those who were fortunate enough to have known Jack Graham are the proud ones, and they will never forget him.

LEST WE FORGET

Join us at the Legion on Front Street for our Candlelight Vigil at 7:00 pm on November 10 and our Remembrance Day Service on November 11 at 11:00 am at the Cenotaph at Victoria Park. We are always open to the public, come in and see what the Legion is all about!

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Train in the St. Clair tunnel targeted by wartime saboteurs PHIL EGAN THE JOURNAL

I

t was still early in the Second World War when the attack came, right here in Sarnia. Shortly after 11 p.m. on June 15, 1940, a Canadian National Railways freight car departed Port Huron, Michigan – part of a train travelling through the rail tunnel beneath the St. Clair River and bound for the station in Sarnia. The freight car was carrying four aircraft engines. The valuable freight was coming from California and headed to the Fleet Aircraft Corporation of Fort Erie, which produced planes for the Canadian Air Force.

When the train arrived in Sarnia, Const. Thomas Laing of the CNR police detected the odour of smoke, which was coming from the car carrying the aircraft engines. Police soon confirmed an attempted act of sabotage. Strips of burning blanket drenched in flammable linseed oil had been stuffed through holes drilled in the floor of the railcar, directly beneath the aircraft engines. One of the crates had caught fire, but the Sarnia Fire Department soon arrived and extinguished the blaze. Though the crate was badly charred the aircraft engine itself was undamaged. It was obvious the fire had been set in Port Huron, before the train

THE PORT HURON side the old St. Clair Tunnel, where an attempted act of sabotage was committed during the Second World War. Submitted Photo

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tunnel from Port Huron. A full investigation ensued. The superintendent of the CNR investigation department at London contacted the chief of the Grand Trunk Western police in

Detroit and railway detectives in Port Huron. Two RCMP officers stationed in Sarnia and a pair of provincial police officers were also involved in trying to identify the saboteurs. The freight car and aircraft engines were ultimately allowed to proceed to Fort Erie, where the car was again thoroughly examined. Though the OPP

criminal investigation unit and FBI agents took over, the culprits were never found. However, the failed plot resulted in 24-hour armed guards at both the Port Huron and Sarnia tunnel entrances. And for the rest of the war, civilians were prevented from accessing the tunnel mouths and the rail yards surrounding them.

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Sarnia Journal

Page 23

Silver Cross awarded to one of Sarnia’s fallen returns home before being shipped overseas. John Northcott lost his life in England on May 2, 1943. While on weekend leave in London, he was struck by an electric tube train, the last one of the night. An inquest determined his death was entirely

PHIL EGAN THE JOURNAL

D

ave Thomson has been called a human “medal detector.” It’s an accurate moniker for a man who has, to date, recovered and returned an estimated 800 medals from E-Bay and other auction sites to family members, museums, historical societies, legion halls and military regiments. This fall he brought his campaign to Sarnia. Thomson, who has been recognized by Veterans Affairs Canada for his work, spotted a Canadian Memorial Cross on eBay. The medal, also known as the Silver Cross, is presented to the next-of-kin of soldiers who fall on active duty. The medal was presented in 1943 to the young wife of John Henry Northcott following his tragic and accidental death in England. Information about Northcott is available on the Sarnia Historical Society website, thanks to the indefatigable research of Sarnia military historian Tom Slater. The author of the Sarnia War Remembrance Project has poured years of research into publishing the definitive history of the city’s fallen soldiers. Thomson found Northcott’s name, made the connection to Sarnia, and contacted the Sarnia Historical Society. When informed the eBay price to bring the Silver Cross back to Sarnia was $260, society president Ron RealeSmith didn’t hesitate. “Make the purchase,” he told Thomson. “This is why the Sarnia Historical Society exists,” RealeSmith said. “We see it as our critical duty to bring these sacred artifacts

accidental. Slater, who has spent the past five years researching and updating the history of Sarnia’s fallen soldiers, plans to add a photograph of the Northcott Silver Cross to the material. Northcott’s entry has grown substantially

since the War Remembrance Project’s was first published in 2014. The Sarnia Historical Society plans to put the Silver Cross on display at its November public meeting.

AT MANLEY’S WE REMEMBER home.” “John Henry Northcott was born on April 17, 1921,” according to Slater’s research, “the son of Jack Northcott and Iva Luxton Northcott.” A truck driver, he married Johanna, a

woman from Sudbury. He signed up in Sarnia five days after war was declared and joined the Royal Canadian Engineers 11th Field Company, with the rank of Sapper. He did his training at Camp Petawawa

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Doctor gave up practice to heroically save countless lives town. When Bentley joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps, 2nd Field Ambulance, with the rank of Major, he left behind his wife, Alice, and four children. Thirty-one months later Dr. Bentley was dead, but not before he had treated thousands of wounded soldiers, saved many lives and gained a sterling reputation. And he never stopped dreaming of returning to Sarnia. The No. 2 Canadian Stationary Hospital was initially located in England and treated a revolving complement of 300 sick or wounded men. The work was strenuous, but the

doctors who performed the surgeries had a high rate of success and were recognized as “a credit to the Dominion.” When the unit was assigned hen most Sarnians to France, the task, already enlisted in the Great demanding, became even more War they were in hectic. their teens or early twenties, In a letter to his wife Alice, but a few defied the trend. dated April 30, 1915, Dr. BentDr. David Bentley was ley briefly described the effect 49 when he volunteered in of Ypres: September of 1914, more than “I was at the main dressing double the age of most soldiers station and during the four he would care for in Europe. days there passed an averBorn in Warwick Township age of 600 wounded daily. I in 1864, Bentley graduated in worked through it all . . . I had medicine from the University two tables going and had one of Toronto before living in Oil patient being prepared while Springs and Forest. He moved attending to another. We went to Sarnia in 1894 and estabon for hours and hours with lished a medical practice in the no let up.” Pte. John Carolan of Sarnia was one of those who owed his life to Dr. Bentley. Carolan was shot through the head and was carried to the rear of the battlefield. Nearly unconscious from blood loss and exposure, he was lying in a crowded tent when he spotted a familiar face through his hazy vision. He remembers Major Bentley saying, “Why, that’s one of my boys.” Bentley went to work on his fellow Sarnian. One account described how “the wounds in his skull, where the bullet entered and plowed its 1426 London Road, Sarnia, ON (519) 337-1614 way out, are [stable],” Help Support Joint Ministry with The Bible League of Canada. adding the private was “well on the road to TOM ST. AMAND & TOM SLATER

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SARNIA'S OLDEST FALLEN soldier in the First World War was Dr. David Bentley. Submitted Photo

recovery.” His was one of many saved by the good doctor. After serving on the front lines between Armentieres and Ypres for three months, Major Bentley’s return to England was long overdue. He assumed command of the Canadian Convalescent Hospital in Kent, and three months later was appointed to command the Canadian Medical Stores, Base Depot in Southampton. Major Bentley was never entirely well after his time in France, exposure to mustard gas having apparently taken its toll. Nevertheless, he

Lest we forget

always completed his duties. Bentley was eventually diagnosed with pneumonia, from which he never recovered. Confined to a hospital bed in his last few months, he said he wanted nothing more than to return to his beloved home on Wellington Street. On April 5, 1917, Major Bentley died in England with members of his immediate family at his bedside. For his unselfish care of others, he was awarded the British War Medal, the Silver Memorial Cross, and the 1914-1915 Star. Major David Bentley, 52, was laid to rest with full military honours in Ramsgate and St. Lawrence Cemetery, in Kent. The name of Sarnia’s oldest fallen soldier in the Great War is also inscribed on our cenotaph.

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The Sarnia Journal

Page 25

City cenotaph drew inspiration from grieving mother’s pen TOM ST. AMAND & TOM SLATER

F

or nearly a century now the cenotaph has been the centrepiece of Veterans’ Park on Wellington Street. But Sarnia might never have had the monument if not for a soldier’s death and a mother’s grief. On the morning of May 25, 1918, Private Leonard McMullin, a 19-year-old from Sarnia, died in battle near Neuville, France. Growing up on Vidal Street and later Davis Street, McMullin was just 17 when he enlisted, becoming a member of the 149th and, once overseas, a member of the Western Ontario Regiment, 18th

LEONARD MCMULLIN

Battalion. He died six months later. Mercifully, he didn’t suffer. When a German “fish tail” mortar dropped near his front-line trench Pte. McMullin died instantly. He is buried in Wally Or-

chard Cemetery, France. It was Irene, Leonard’s mother, who suffered. Like thousands of Canadians, she grieved without closure, the body of her teenaged son lying in an overseas grave she could never afford to visit. To cope with the loss of her only child she composed a poem entitled “Somewhere in France.” Two verses capture a mother’s love and sorrow.

Somewhere, a mother so lonely is waiting, Craving good tidings from over the sea: Praying ‘O God, should it be Thy good pleasure. Send my darling in safety to me.’ Tho’ poppies may fade, or the lark’s wing grow weary.

We Will RemembeR

Mother love—oh so boundless—no living, no end! Sleep well, son! Dear Heart, we ne’er shall forget thee. For thy life thou hast given, for country and friends. And Irene McMullin wasn’t finished writing. Immediately after the Great War ended Sarnians were debating how the city should honour its fallen soldiers. The proposals included the creation of some type of community memorial building or construction of a “Veteran’s home,” which would not only commemorate the fallen heroes but also allow returning veterans and their families to make use of a swimming pool

and billiards room. But others, including Irene McMullin, wanted a more traditional monument. Late in November of 1918 she penned a heartfelt letter to the editor of the Canadian Observer. Beginning with the words, “May I speak for my boy? He is sleeping somewhere in France,” she spoke of how, before enlisting, her son had taken great pleasure in the public library and the park surrounding it. She could now picture in the park a monument of “suitable design, bearing the names of all our city’s fallen heroes.” After all, she argued, the graves of the city’s fallen heroes were far beyond the reach “of our loving

hands . . . with no mark save a temporary wooden cross.” Sarnia and Canada were prosperous, she wrote in closing, and could well afford to give our beloved dead a separate memorial. What better than a granite monument that would stand the test of time? The powerful words of a grieving mother must have resonated with others. On Monday, Nov. 7, 1921, the Sarnia Cenotaph Memorial was officially unveiled. We can only wonder what Irene McMullin, now living on Samuel Street, must have felt to see her only son’s name inscribed on a monument that has withstood the test of time.

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

City threw big party as 149th Battalion headed off to war PHIL EGAN THE JOURNAL

T

he years 1915 and 1916 were a busy time as Canadian regiments and local military battalions boarded trains across the country to fight in the First World War. Their trains took them

to troop transport ships in Halifax where they set sail for further training in England before landing on the beaches of war-torn France and Belgium. In Sarnia, the mobilization was an occasion for pomp and circumstance, and the weekend of May 28-29 was one of them. It began at 8 a.m. on Saturday as Lambton’s

We Will Remember Them SARNIANS GATHERED TO cheer on the first contingent of local soldiers headed to the First World War. This scene was captured at Ferry Dock Hill as the troops boarded a train preparing to depart. Photograph courtesy of the Lambton Heritage Museum, Grand Bend.

departing 149th Battalion staged a grand parade through the streets of the newly christened ‘Imperial City.’

It gave the soldiers, resplendent in new uniforms, a chance to bid farewell to their home and friends

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and family. At 2 p.m., the battalion formed ranks and marched to the “Links” on Exmouth Street, on the city’s northern frontier. Here the troops put on a “field day,” displaying prowess at military sports and staging exhibitions of precision marching drills before the gathered crowd. There was a display of bayonet fighting and other feats of physical training. The balance of the afternoon was devoted to games of baseball, football and golf. Following a break for dinner, wrestling and boxing bouts continued to entertain the crowd. An evening of music by the battalion’s brass band concluded the Saturday of the mobilization weekend. The ceremonies continued Sunday morning, when the entire battalion formed up in Victoria Square for the march to church services. On Monday, they boarded trains for London where they were joined by other departing battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. All across Ontario, local battalions were saying goodbye to their communities – the 142nd, 118th, 135th, 153rd, and 161st. Some would not return to their hometowns. In Sarnia, a remarkable percentage of the city’s able-bodied men enlisted to serve in the Great War – more than 1,300 in a city of just over 10,000. Sarnia Mayor William R. Paul, in a remarkably progressive act, decided something had to be done to protect the economic security of the loved ones the departing soldiers were leaving behind. He determined Sarnia should buy life insurance for every city soldier. With more than 100 Sarnia men ultimately losing their lives in battle, it became an unusual and generous benefit for many families. It was a formidable display of love for King and Country, and for the spirit of the troops in a city that would become known for its patriotism and martial spirit.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Sarnia Journal

Page 27

Affable candy-maker killed in last great cavalry charge TOM ST. AMAND & TOM SLATER

T

he First World War was a turning point in the evolution of human warfare. New and more lethal weapons emerged, including tanks, flamethrowers, poison gas and tracer bullets, which caused unimagined carnage, killing thousands of men from a distance in trenches and muddy battlefields. At the same time, a million horses were sent to fight in the war. These cavalry charges saw riders, swords held high, advancing at full speed toward enemies with wild-eyed mounts beneath them. The latter was the world of Thomas Knowles, a Point Edward-born member of the Royal Canadian Dragoons. Knowles fought at the Battle of Moreuil

Wood in 1918, what historians have called “the last great cavalry charge.” Knowles was a popular guy with many friends in Point Edward, where he spent his boyhood days, and in Sarnia, where he lived as a young man. He found a job at the Mooney Biscuit Company in Stratford, Ont., and when he enlisted in October 1915 the 24-yearold listed his occupation as a candy maker. By November of the following year Lance Corporal Knowles had seen action in France, and in late March of 1918 the Canadian Cavalry Brigade was preparing to engage the Germans 20 kilometres south of Amiens. That spring, the Germans had been able to advance until they occupied Moreuil Wood, on the riverbank of the Avre River. From here, the German

A DRAMATIC CANADIAN cavalry charge at Moreuil Wood on March 30, 1918, reveals the impact of modern rapid-fire weaponry on horses and soldiers. Alfred Munnings, Charge of Flowerdew's Squadron CWM 19710261-0443 Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum

23rd Saxon Division could control the railway line between Amiens and Paris. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade, comprising Lord Strathcona’s Horse and the Royal Canadian Dragoons, was tasked with confronting the Germans. By that point in the war, mounted cavalry charges were of limited use against barbed wire, deep trenches, mechanized artillery and machine-guns. But on the morning of March 30 the battlefield opened up and the Canadians seized their chance.

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It must have been unnerving for the Germans to see and hear the Canadian cavalry riding at them en masse, their heads lowered to their horses’ necks, their

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razor-sharp swords raised. The Royal Canadian Dragoons encountered enemy fire at 9:30 a.m. and were forced to dismount. The Canadians charged

into the woods on foot with speed and fury and routed an estimated 300 enemy troops. One of the casualties was Lance Corporal Knowles, who was killed instantly when a bullet from an enemy rifle struck him just below the heart. By the end of the day, the British and Canadian cavalry had cleared the woods, brought back prisoners, and captured enemy guns. The victory at the Battle of Moreuil Wood contributed to the halt of the German Spring Offensive. John Knowles, now living on London Road, would later learn his son had been killed in action on March 30, 1918. A local account spoke of the cavalry’s splendid achievement, but rued “the many empty saddles.” One of them had been occupied by a popular young man from Point Edward and Sarnia. Twenty-seven year old Thomas Knowles has no known grave, but his name is engraved on both the Vimy Memorial and the Sarnia Cenotaph.


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The Sarnia Journal

Saturday, November 11, 2017

We shall remember the Men and Women who have sacrificed for our freedom.

Constituency Office: 805 Christina St. North Suite 102 • Point Edward www.bobbaileympp.com Tel: (519) 337-0051 Email: bob.baileyco@pc.ola.org

Sarnia Remembers  

A special Remembrance Day edition of the Sarnia Journal featuring stories of local veterans.