IT’S THE STARKNESS of the telegrams sent to soldiers’ next of kin that strikes you most.
There’s no room for sentiment, no mention of heroic deeds to ease the pain of their loss — just a few short lines that, once read, hit like a punch to the gut.
“To Mrs. E. Mitchell … Deeply regret inform you 406357 Pte. William Mitchell, infantry, officially reported killed in action April twelfth, nineteen seventeen.”
Mrs. E. Mitchell — Ellen — was William’s wife. One can only imagine her grief as she relayed the news of Daddy’s death to their four young children.
William Mitchell was born in England in 1877 and fought in the Boer War. He moved to Canada and lived in Merritton, Ontario, at the time of the war. Active in his local militia, he enlisted in Hamilton on April 15, 1915, with the 36th Battalion. In France, he was assigned to the 58th Battalion. He took part in the assault on Vimy Ridge, and sometime between April 10 and 12 he was killed and then buried in a common grave. After the war, his body was exhumed and reburied in La Chaudiere Cemetery in France.
Ellen and William Mitchell and family, circa 1911.