A Sol­dier’s Story

The Expositor (Brantford) - - LEST WE FORGET - By Evan Habkirk

Tucked be­hind the rail­road tracks off McMur­ray and Al­bion streets is a small street with an amaz­ing his­tory. Lo­cated in an old fac­tory dis­trict, Alonzo Street was de­signed to be a 1910s “worker’s par­adise,” where fac­tory work­ers could pur­chase a three-bed­room home for them­selves and their fam­i­lies. For the work­ers of the fac­to­ries and rai­l­yards that sur­rounded the area, th­ese “Di­a­mond Cot­tages” served as a blue­print for mod­ern day sub­di­vi­sions in a city whose pop­u­la­tion and in­dus­tries were boom­ing. In this boom, Alonzo Street be­gan to flour­ish, with 15 new homes be­ing added to a street that pre­vi­ously con­tained only two.

With the com­ing of the First World War, this work­ing class neigh­bour­hood of 17 homes pro­duced 9 en­lis­tees. One of th­ese men was Wil­liam West.

West was a Bri­tish im­mi­grant who came to Brant­ford in 1910 for work. Soon af­ter im­mi­grat­ing, he would move his wife and four chil­dren to 13 Alonzo Street to be closer to his place of work as a shoe­maker at the Bran­don Shoe Com­pany.

A sports­man, West was a rugby player for the Saints Rugby Club in Northamp­ton, Eng­land. Once in Brant­ford, West con­tin­ued his love of sport, join­ing the Brant­ford cricket club, be­com­ing their team cap­tain in 1915.

West ded­i­cated much of his spare time to the club, car­ing for the grounds and coach­ing a strong team that would beat the West Toronto Cricket Club on Do­min­ion Day in 1915. In recog­ni­tion of this work, the club pre­sented West with a watch be­fore go­ing over­seas.

In 1916, the 35 year old West would en­list in the 84th bat­tal­ion. Not hav­ing any pre­vi­ous mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence, West en­tered ba­sic train­ing and would be sent over­seas to Eng­land in June 1916. He trans­ferred to the 75th bat­tal­ion in July and was sent to France in Au­gust.

Still car­ing for his wife and fam­ily, West sent them $20 a month from his pay and, in case of his death, willed all of his pos­ses­sions and pay to his wife.

On No­vem­ber 18, 1916, now Lance Cor­po­ral West was part of an at­tack on a Ger­man po­si­tion in the Somme on the West­ern Front. Wounded in his legs and chest, he was sent to the No. 9 ca­su­alty clear­ing sta­tion where he died of his wounds on No­vem­ber 23rd.

In Brant­ford, word of his wounds was re­ceived on De­cem­ber 2nd to the shock by his wife Maud, who, the Fri­day pre­vi­ous, had just re­ceived a let­ter from him telling her he was go­ing into the front lines.

On De­cem­ber 5th, news of West’s death was de­liv­ered to Maud by a po­lice of­fi­cer ac­com­pa­nied by a let­ter from West’s com­mand­ing of­fi­cer Ma­jor Jef­frey Bull.

Bull stated that West was “an ex­am­ple to oth­ers” with both his men and of­fi­cers look­ing up to him. “He was hon­est and true in faith and duty…Al­ways cool and col­lected, he was not only will­ing to do his bit but his all.”

Bull com­forted Maud. “You lost a hus­band. I have lost more than a sol­dier and non­com­mis­sioned of­fi­cer. I have lost a man whom I con­sid­ered a friend and whose in­flu­ence was of the best. His mem­ory was a true hero, giv­ing up his life for duty, will be a source of com­fort to you.”

For his ac­tions, Bull would rec­om­mend West for the Mil­i­tary Medal for “for con­spic­u­ous ac­tion in lead­ing, di­rect­ing and con­trol­ling his men in the ad­vance.”

No mat­ter the com­fort­ing words, the re­al­ity of West’s death de­prived his mother of a son, his two broth­ers and sis­ters a si­b­ling, his wife a hus­band, and his four chil­dren a fa­ther.

Like all neigh­bour­hoods, the orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants move on and new peo­ple move in.

Maud would re­marry in 1918 to car­pen­ter Robert Farn­worth. She and her four chil­dren left their home on Alonzo Street, mov­ing to 17 Al­lenby Street in Ea­gle Place where they would add an­other child to their grow­ing fam­ily.

The loss of many fac­to­ries in the area led many to for­get about the small work­ing com­mu­nity on Alonzo Street. Sue and Steve Dungey pur­chased the home at 13 Alonzo Street in 1999.

Des­per­ately need­ing re­pair, they set on 2 weeks of hard labour, re­plac­ing wiring, in­stalling in­su­la­tion, fix­ing walls, a col­lapsed ceil­ing, and the re­moval of many trail­ers of garbage from the back yard, mak­ing a home for them­selves and their two chil­dren. What they did not know was they had pur­chased the home of a First World War ca­su­alty.

Sit­ting in Sue and Steve’s din­ning room, it is hard not to see how both World Wars have shaped their fam­i­lies. Their walls, adorned with fam­ily pic­tures, con­tain many pho­tos of men in uni­form and news clip­pings re­mem­ber­ing their wartime ser­vice.

Steve’s grand­fa­ther, Wal­ter Dungey and his two broth­ers en­listed in the First World War in Al­lis­ton, On­tario. All three sur­vived the war and Wal­ter en­listed again in the Sec­ond World War. He would later be memo­ri­al­ized with a street be­ing named af­ter him in Al­lis­ton.

Steve’s fa­ther Norm never for­got his fa­ther’s ser­vice, be­ing ac­tive in Bee­ton, On­tario’s Royal Cana­dian Le­gion un­til his death in 2017, serv­ing as their poppy cam­paign chair­man for 30 years.

Sue’s fam­ily, from Paris, On­tario, served in the Sec­ond World War, with their un­cle Bernard Bar­rett be­ing killed in ac­tion in Si­cily and their aunt Christina Ber­rett Gil­roy serv­ing as an auto me­chanic. Last year, Sue and her sis­ter Chris­tine were in­vited to lay a memo­rial wreath at the Paris ceno­taph in hon­our of their rel­a­tives’ mil­i­tary ser­vice.

Af­ter search­ing the Great War Cen­te­nary As­so­ci­a­tion of Brant­ford, Brant County, and Six Na­tions web­site, Sue found out about her house’s his­tory and Wil­liam West.

“We had no idea the his­tory be­hind our home un­til a few years ago. Of­ten peo­ple are con­tent to re­model and pre­tend it’s brand new. Af­ter learn­ing the his­tory of this home it made sense why the in­su­la­tion was news­pa­per and why noth­ing in the add on kitchen is square and seems out of place.”

Al­though be­ing buried in Con­tay Bri­tish War Ceme­tery in An­cre Heights, Somme, France, West’s mem­ory in Northamp­ton and Brant­ford, al­though faded, con­tin­ues to be re­mem­bered.

He was fondly re­mem­bered by his fol­low crick­eters at the Brant­ford cricket club as they strug­gled to reestab­lish them­selves in 1917 in the wake of 35 of their mem­bers en­list­ing, and oth­ers, like West, be­ing killed in the war.

West is also re­mem­bered in Brant­ford with his name ap­pear­ing on the war memo­rial plaque at Grace Angli­can Church and on the Brant County War Memo­rial.

His name was also in­scribed on the Saints Rugby Club war memo­rial at Franklin’s Gar­dens to their play­ers who were killed in the war.

Due to the ef­forts of BBC sports writer Gra­ham McKech­nie and fel­low ex-Saint player Len­nie New­man, the mem­o­ries of West and the other slain mem­bers of the Club have been re­vived and re­mem­bered in a spe­cial cer­e­mony on No­vem­ber 13, 2015.

Maud and her chil­dren re­mem­bered their late hus­band and fa­ther. Al­though not re­ceiv­ing the Mil­i­tary Medal Ma­jor Bull nom­i­nated him for, Maud was sent a Memo­rial Plaque, re­ferred to as a Death Penny,” Wil­liam’s Bri­tish War and Vic­tory medals and, be­ing a widow, also re­ceived a Memo­rial Cross and a mea­ger war gra­tu­ity for the loss of her hus­band.

Wil­liam and Maud’s 10 grand­chil­dren in Canada and Eng­land also re­mem­bered Wil­liam. With Wil­liam’s chil­dren be­ing so young at the time of his death, per­sonal recol­lec­tions of Wil­liam are few and far be­tween.

Grand­daugh­ter Donna Buth of Kelowna, Bri­tish Columbia said her mother re­mem­bered very lit­tle of her fa­ther, but does re­call him hold­ing her as a child.

Fel­low grand­daugh­ter Mary West of Brant­ford, re­calls only two sto­ries. One from her fa­ther re­called the dis­tracted po­lice of­fi­cer, when de­liv­er­ing the news of Wil­liam’s death, step­ping on and brak­ing his toy truck. The other was given to Mary’s aunt some 70 years af­ter the war by a vet­eran who served with him about Wil­liam’s fi­nal mo­ments on the bat­tle­field.

Al­though few in recol­lec­tions, Mary and Donna both say all of Wil­liam’s grand­chil­dren still think of him and just not on No­vem­ber 11. Donna still gets emo­tional think­ing of him and her mother not know­ing her fa­ther. “He did more than his duty, he gave his life.”

Mary also notes the hard­ships Wil­liam’s death caused her fam­ily re­mark­ing “If this had been the war to end all wars’ the hor­ren­dous car­nage and loss could have been eas­ier to ac­cept. But it wasn’t!”

Mary, Donna, and other fam­ily mem­bers in­clud­ing fam­ily ge­neal­o­gist Leslie Young, are happy that oth­ers, like Gra­ham McKech­nie, Len­nie New­man, and the Dungeys have taken on the mem­ory of Wil­liam. “I

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.