Pub­lic records and fam­ily let­ters al­low us to tell nu­anced sto­ries about Great War com­bat­ants.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS -

How to un­cover your fam­ily’s Great War story.

Ex­actly one week be­fore he was killed in ac­tion at Vimy Ridge, France, Frank May­nard ex­pressed op­ti­mism about prospects for the Al­lied cam­paign, and for him­self. In his last known let­ter to fam­ily in Vic­to­ria, Bri­tish Columbia, he wrote: “Looks as if I may be home for Christ­mas yet.”

May­nard was my wife’s un­cle — her fa­ther’s older brother. I tell his story not be­cause he was a great war­rior; he lasted barely three weeks at the front and was a lowly pri­vate. Nor was he note­wor­thy for his so­cial sta­tus; he was the son of mis­sion­ary par­ents of hum­ble ori­gins and mea­gre re­sources. And he had no great ac­com- plish­ments apart from school prizes for ath­let­ics; he was only a teenager, after all. In­deed, no claim is made here that Frank was more heroic or more de­serv­ing of at­ten­tion than his many trench-mates.

In fact, that’s the point. Even though May­nard was not a prom­i­nent per­son, we know a great deal about him due to the sys­tem­atic col­lec­tion and anal­y­sis of fam­ily mem­o­ra­bilia and mil­i­tary records. If we can evoke a nu­anced por­trait of him more than one hun­dred years after his death, it is sim­i­larly pos­si­ble to memo­ri­al­ize many oth­ers, per­haps in­clud­ing your Great War fore­bears. I can as­sure you that you will value, and may be deeply moved by, the dis­cov­er­ies you make.

Whether May­nard ac­tu­ally be­lieved his bravado about Christ­mas is hard to gauge. Cer­tainly he sup­ported the Al­lied cause un­re­servedly. In De­cem­ber 1915, just four days after be­com­ing el­i­gi­ble to serve on his eigh­teenth birth­day, he en­listed in the newly or­ga­nized Van­cou­ver Is­land Tim­ber Wolves, the 103rd Bat­tal­ion of the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force.

After ar­riv­ing in Bri­tain with the Tim­ber Wolves at the end of July 1916, May­nard spent the next sev­eral months schem­ing about how he might undo his “rough luck” and get to France, de­spite the re­luc­tance of se­nior com­man­ders to send teenagers to the front. Hav­ing failed to win en­try into his brother’s unit, the sig­nallers, May­nard un­der­took train­ing for the bomb­ing sec­tion. It was com­prised of small teams of fight­ers who en­tered en­emy trenches at night, toss­ing grenade-like bombs and en­gag­ing in hand-to-hand com­bat. Not sur­pris­ingly, they were also known as the “Sui­cide Club,” a fact May­nard re­ported al­most offhand­edly in a let­ter: “Of course it will be pretty dan­ger­ous work…, but it is very in­ter­est­ing.” His in­tel­lec­tual fas­ci­na­tion with his work must have of­fered cold com­fort to his par­ents.

May­nard did even­tu­ally get to prac­tise his Sui­cide Club skills. He reached France just be­fore Christ­mas 1916, hav­ing been re­as­signed to the 2nd Cana­dian Mounted Ri­fle Bat­tal­ion (2nd CMR). After much shuf­fling about, he made his way to the front late in March 1917, and, in a let­ter to his mother, he de­scribed an en­counter with the en­emy: “I have been in a real scrap for the first time. We made a bomb­ing raid on Fritz’s trenches & … in­flicted a great many ca­su­al­ties on him & re­tired to our own trenches with­out any dif­fi­culty.” This raid ap­pears to cor­re­spond to one re­ported in the 2nd CMR War Di­ary for the wee hours of March 31, 1917.

The 2nd CMR War Di­ary also gives a clue as to how May­nard may have died. On Easter Mon­day the Cana­dian Corps had fa­mously and ef­fi­ciently achieved the goals set for it in the at­tack on Vimy Ridge. The next day, Tues­day, April 10, 1917, was largely given over to con­sol­i­dat­ing gains, with only one in­ci­dent ex­plic­itly recorded as re­sult­ing in ca­su­al­ties. Dur­ing a heavy snow­storm at 4:00 p.m., the di­ary

Pri­vate Frank May­nard dur­ing mil­i­tary train­ing.

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